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Strong Independent White Boys (who don't need no sophistication)

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He’s not really awake, merely hovering on that edge in between where everything is cozy and marvellous and he will not leave it for anything less than life or death situations, so help him god. Seriously, there are sleep cuddles. From Bruce. There is no end to the ways he can use that kind of blackmail, also, it really is as comfortable as romance novel drivel will have you believe.

Their schedules haven’t magically aligned just because they went public with their epic romance so quality alone time is scarce. Tony has needs, okay? Since no one but Bruce is eligible to fill those needs (okay, there was one time he entertained the thought of cheating on Batman but in his defense, he was drunk at the time) there is a lot of frustrated pining and a truly staggering amount of phone sex. This, admittedly, has its plus sides—the Batvoice? Yeah—but is not proper sex.

The situation is dire, okay? He won’t go so far as to say he will wither and die without the healing powers of Bruce’s dick but, again, he’s not willing to risk it. No one can therefore be in doubt why he is not fucking amused, god damn it, when a helicopter shows up outside his fucking window bearing fucking reporters armed with fucking megaphones. It’s the rare and elusive ‘naked time’ and that is sacred.

“What’s it like to sleep with Iron Man!” one of the vultures screams.

Bruce growls something and sleep-throws a pillow at the window. Right after that his eyes fly open and he sits up so violently the momentum propels Tony out of bed—sans sheet—and all he can think is fuck, fuck ow, fuck, arc reactor, fuck. His hand flies to his chest and he makes sure he lands with his back to the window while he tries to figure out which way is up.

The roar from the bastards outside his window after this glimpse of his ass is deafening even without the megaphone.

“Mr Stark! Mr Wayne! A comment for your adoring public!”

“Who’s on top?”

“God damn it! JARVIS! Blinds!” Tony barks. The windows are blacked out immediately which solves one problem, but he can still hear them jeering out there and Bruce is getting up and his hip stings in a very unpleasant way. He is seriously pissed off right now.

Bruce pulls him to his feet with the mightiest of scowls on his face and hey, guess what? The morning just got worse because now? He is so not getting any. Bruce drags him out of the bedroom which kind of seals it.

“Well, that was unpleasant,” he mutters.

Bruce glares at him like it’s all his fault, and, yeah, okay this one is maybe a little bit his fault. He throws himself onto the sofa and settles in for a pout.

“Would it be a violation of any Gotham law to put up anti-aircraft weaponry? Because I am seriously considering one last foray into warmongering,” Tony whines.

He gets a lip-twitch. All is not lost, hurrah and hallelujah. Bruce submits to a hug and listens to Tony’s detailed plans for solar-powered lasers and heat-seeking missiles. Tony keeps going because the longer he talks the more Bruce seems to relax. Go figure, the way to the Bat’s heart is violence—who would have ever guessed? He’s gotten as far as incorporating experimental requests he’s had from SHIELD and Asgardian artifacts before Bruce unbends enough to chuckle and kiss the top of his head.

“You own Gotham,” Tony says brightly, “Get me some permits.”

He gets a kiss instead, which, hey, all part of the plan. Bruce wraps himself around Tony because he is smart and understands the notion of sharing body heat for the great noble cause of preserving erections.

“I’ll see what I can do about those permits.”

Tony decides to show his appreciation for that beautiful display of altruism with careful application of lips and tongue. Bruce doesn’t complain.


He's staring down at the detritus on his workbench with a critical eye. There is junk everywhere. Not even his robots escaped the blast radius of Nuclear Missile Pepper On A Mission. It has all the signs—she took his query, involved an army of specialists, weeded out the pretenders and incompetents, then returned victorious with their blood under her nails and the satisfied air of one who knows her will shall be done for reasons other than her employer's bank account.

She's looking at him expectantly and he realises he's not said anything for a while now. He can spot the beginnings of frustration in the way she's standing and knows that if he doesn't make an attempt at a decision she will take over and proceed without him, which would be defeating the purpose. She's hardly believed he'd wanted to be involved at all—never mind that it was his idea to begin with—and clearly she doesn't trust him to see this through.

Right. He might as well, really. It's not like he's in doubt, he's just a teensy bit overwhelmed.

“Yes to the blue, no to the poop. Honestly, what are they thinking? It looks like poop. I am not even joking.”

“It's ochre and does not, in fact, resemble poop. It's a very popular shade right now in interior design.”

“Oh my god, I am decorating an office, not desecrating a toilet. Please, tell me you can find me someone competent in an entire city of passingly sentient people. I realise the city is Gotham, but honestly.”

She's definitely irritated now. Those poor interior designers.

“Did you ask him for his opinion? He might prefer the ochre.”

He waves away her suggestion because, please, she's not even trying now.

“It's my bat. I know what he likes and that's black, black, and black. Sadly, I'm not building a crypt but rather decorating—trying to decorate an office for his personal use so he can put some stone age tech in there and therefore stop scoffing at my toys. Show me the blue again?”

The doors whoosh and in walks Rhodey, oddly, in his suit. He eyes the clutter and hesitantly nudges a mood board with a metal-encased foot. “What's this? Tony? Are you looking at swatches? Tell me the world isn't coming to an end. Is there pollen involved?”

“Funny, very funny. What can I do for you Rhodey?”

“You can take a look at the jamming gun on my left shoulder, nearly lost my head because of it—but later. Why are you looking at swatches? Wait, no!” He pauses and takes a hurried step back with a hand over his mouth. “Tony Stark, are you pregnant?”

“What?”

“How could you? I thought you'd learned about the sanctity of life!”

What?”

"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for the little life inside you to fly the Iron Man suit? And god, Tony, I saw you with alcohol in your hands only days ago!"

“I repeat—what?”

“Does the baby-daddy know about this? I don't think Bruce would like you flying around in your condition.”

That is it. So he's wearing the most advanced weapons technology on the planet, Tony doesn't even care, he will cut a bitch if this doesn't stop right the fuck now. “Out, get out! I will reprogram the War Machine to dance the cancan every time you fire a gun do not test me Rhodey, out!”

James' shit eating grin widens to incorporate eve more teeth while he backs away slowly. “Don't get too worked up now, I hear that's bad for expecting mothers!”

He exhales reciting prime numbers under his breath. He says a silent apology to Bruce's ass as well because the balance needs to be restored and that has consequences.

Pepper clears her throat so he looks up at her.

“Yes to the blue, no to the poop, Pep. Make it so.”

“Yes, Tony.” She starts collecting all the crap off his workbench into one big folder and he really wants to punch something, or crush some beer cans on his forehead or something.

“Tony?”

Maybe he could take Thor up on that offer of hunting wild boar. Of course first he'll have to slap together some kind of harpoon, or even a crossbow.

“Hm?”

Motion detection? No, of course not, useless, useless. Heat seeking. Calibrate for size of course.

“Folic acid is very important. I will contact a dietician for a properly balanced meal plan.”

No, wait, that would end up spearing Thor. Perhaps he should just stick to sedative instead of pointy? Wait.

Traitor,” he hisses at her. “Get. Out.”

She smiles impishly. Of course she does, she's ginger.

“Yes, Mr Stark.”



 The difference between him and Wayne is that the general consensus at Stark Industries is that Tony taking up with Bruce is the best thing he’s done since ever. The gay thing isn’t even a blip on the radar as far as the board is concerned. Tony Stark is in a relationship with the owner of Wayne Enterprises, they probably wouldn’t have cared if said owner was a hermaphrodite transvestite with T-rex arms and a squint. The fact that Bruce is attractive and even personable is just icing on top of their big capitalistic cake.

Of course there’s also how he’s only sort of kind of CEO. Sure, Pepper quit the actual position—she still does most of the work associated with it while at the same time running his life. The two go hand in hand though so it’s not much of a surprise. All he asked is that she consult him on things he actually may give a shit about, which she does. This arrangement means he gets credit for her brilliance and she has a scapegoat for unpopular decisions. This is fine with Tony, he’s quite used to blame and disdain so it all works out smoothly. Maybe that’s why he’s so unprepared for being cast as the Big Gay Hero of America.

It’s nice at first, sure. People cheer for him and he gets a bunch of fan mail from repressed queers who put him up there with Gaga and Ian McKellen. His past vices are dissected and he’s declared a misunderstood victim of modern masculinity with, oh yes, a heart of gold. Bruce points out this is a perfect example of the stupidity in today’s media but Tony thinks he can work the angle. It’s a lot better than warmongering manwhore with more money than sense and only the barest shade of morality, which as Bruce points out is far more accurate.

Bruce—and man, does he love this—had to roll out some of that brain he keeps behind closed doors and do a lot of fast talking and even some threatening, which, hey, Gotham (not that he’s judging or anything), to placate everyone on his end of the deal. He’s told Tony in no uncertain terms that the only reason they’re getting away with this is their combined worth.

This is unequivocally true, if not the only reason. It kind of makes Tony hard that both their companies are scared to death of the two of them joining hands and starting up a new company together should they be given any reason to do so. For one, they would take all the best of both with them if they went and everyone knows it.

There’s no question about it, they would decimate everyone except maybe Luthor (this is all Bruce, Tony knows Luthor wouldn’t stand a chance against a united front). SI knows it, WE knows it, and they know Tony and Bruce know it. They show it in their own ways—Stark Industries by being nice to Tony, Wayne Enterprises by being difficult to Bruce (and maybe a little baffled).

Speaking of Bruce, as he so often does, he hates being a media darling. Oh, he’s not necessarily bad at it. He just doesn’t like it. It doesn’t help him that he smiles and waves when they catch him but spends the majority of his time running and hiding.

After a while, Tony can’t blame him. He damn well copies him.



“You have to give them something,” Pepper tells them. “It’s only going to get worse if you don’t.”

This is how they end up on a New York talk show.



Bruce turns to Tony with a stern look on his face. “Do not, under any circumstances, propose to me.”

“Well there goes my master plan,” he says rolling his eyes for effect.

“You planned to get rejected on television? As far as bids for sympathy go, it’s not the worst idea. Where’s Pepper?”

“Stalking celebrities.” Tony ruffles the already artfully messed hair on Bruce’s head because he knows pinching his cheeks would get him smacked. “It’s cute how you still pretend you can refuse me anything.”

“Try me,” Bruce grins.

Tony snorts at him. “You’re the Spock to my Kirk, honeybee. It’s Kantian transcendent next-level shit. Soul bonding and all that jazz.”

“Who writes your lines?” Bruce murmurs.

“Say, how do you feel about blue?”

“What?”

Tony doesn’t elaborate because at that moment the hostess runs past them, patting him on the back as she goes and the audience goes wild.

“Hello everybody!” she shouts cheerfully. “So this friend of mine has recently fallen head over heels in love—yeah, beautiful right?—and baby let me tell you the man is fine as in capital F - extra long I - N - drawn out E—fine!”

Bruce, bless him, glares like it’s a vicious, vicious lie and Tony’s the one who came up with it.

“Friend?” he growls.

Oh, right. That actually makes sense.

“I met her once for all of five minutes, and Pepper was chaperoning,” Tony makes up on the spot. It’s probably true anyway.

“Now I know what you’re thinking: why are you telling us this Tyra? Hell, I’m not going to keep you in suspense—Tony, honey, come on out here!”

Tony slides his glasses on and tries to run a quick hand through his hair but Bruce slaps it away. He wants to pout but he’s kissed before he can.

“Knock them dead,” Bruce whispers in his ear.

Glasses on, outfit impeccable, grin in place, Tony struts out onto the set to AC/DC’s Bad Boy Boogie. He raises his hands in victory signs and the audience goes wild. Tyra is up and running at him and he’s ready—of course he is, a beautiful woman throwing herself at him? He’s got a Master’s in dealing with that.

She has her arm around him and gestures exuberantly. “Everybody—Tony Stark!”

He laughs and sits where he’s told. “Calm down you crazy kids! You’re acting like it’s the second coming—wait, what am I saying—please, continue.”

Tyra grabs his arm with her acrylic-clawed hand and they huddle together like conspirators. He laughs it off but damn, the woman has got a mean grip.

“So, Tony, how have you been? There have been some mad changes going on in your life, haven’t there? And barely a peep out of you or your boy Wayne. You’d better spill boyfriend because I have to admit, I’m a little sad you didn’t call.”

“It wouldn’t have been fair, beautiful, and you know I’m all about fair,” he tells her, winking at the audience.

“Fair? Who gives a hoot about fair? One of the biggest players in the game puts himself on the bench and you expect me to care about fair? Give, give, give!”

“Give what?” he teases, for which he gets smacked on the arm. Oh, she’s good. It might actually be believable they’re friends.

“Gossip, I am talking about gossip! You can’t expect to hook up with Bruce Wayne and not give us any details.”

Usually these things are scripted. The guest hands over a list of acceptable questions from which the host does not deviate, which gives those less blessed in mental capacity the chance to prepare some artificial wit. Now, considering Tony has built artificial intelligence that can outwit some of the greatest minds of today, one can probably guess how he feels about this.

This episode of the Tyra show is not scripted, despite Pepper’s best efforts, so he’s ready for anything. To be honest, he's hoping she asks him something inappropriate just so he can cackle malevolently and say 'mine, all mine'.

Tony leans back and looks satisfied with himself—it’s not a stretch.

“I did good, didn’t I?”

She goggles at him. “Bruce. Wayne. Nobody saw that one coming—did we boys and girls?”

He laughs again, letting the crowd cheer him to a high. “Yeah, you don’t have to tell me that, I’m still surprised. It’s mind-blowing and wonderful all at once. There I was, being bored to death in Gotham, when in walks Bruce Wayne and, you know how they talk about love at first sight? Yeah, it wasn’t that.” He leans in closer to her and beckons her closer to him. Once she’s sufficiently close, he mock-whispers, “It was greed.”

She pretends to be shocked and the crowd follows. “What are you talking about, you crazy thing?”

“Have you seen him? No, really, have you? How could I not want to have that?”

“But then you got to know him,” she says all sagely.

He nods in agreement. “But then I got to know him. And I wanted to own him.” He pauses to let them ooh and aah and hiss. “I just didn’t count on the Wayne factor.”

“I’m sure we’d all like to know what the “Wayne factor” is before you talk yourself into a corner.”

He shrugs. “He owned me first. I should have known, really. You don’t go head to head with Wayne when it comes to takeovers.”

Tyra moans and throws her head back. “Romance is dead.”

“Is not! I’m very romantic,” he protests. “I’m a hundred doves and trucks of flowers kind of guy. As long as you don't expect me to write you sonnets we can get along just fine." He shuffles a little, averting his eyes. "Me and Bee, we didn’t have a conventional start. Look, we all know I’m not known for my moral fibre, but I’d like to think that I’ve found my groove, you know? This better half business isn’t all talk. He really is a better man than me, and I embrace that.”

Tyra goes all serious there. “Moral fibre—you’re a superhero for crying out loud! Speaking of which—Iron Man. That’s gotta be a thing. How does Bruce deal with your other identity?”

Mustn't laugh. He must not laugh. No one would understand what is so funny.

“Well,” he says, trying his utmost not to giggle like an idiot, “why don’t you ask him?”

Tyra nearly jumps out of her skin when announcing Bruce which is funny as shit when Tony pictures the resigned face of his lover backstage. Still, they agreed to do this so out Bruce walks, stunning as usual, with a cheerful smile. His backing music is Zeppelin, which isn’t very Bruce but is in keeping with the theme here. He looks a little bashful because of it and of course they eat it up.

“Bruce Wayne everybody!”

He waves a little and takes a seat next to Tony, who scoots closer immediately. United front, it’s all about the united front.

“Before you ask me anything, let me clear something up for you all: Tony Stark is the biggest liar in the world,” Bruce says firmly. “Underneath all of this”– he gestures at all of Tony –“is a gooey centre.” He takes Tony’s hand and interlaces their fingers. “It’s one of the reasons I love him so much.”

Tony looks at him and the sincerity is just dripping out of every pore. He is impressed.

“Don’t you go spoiling my reputation now honeybee,” he says lightly, trying to salvage some of the situation.

Bruce smiles at him and it’s the grin of a great big wolf which no one sees but him because of course Bruce is the good one.

“Darling, it was just a matter of time anyway.”

He knows what this is. Payback, clean and simple.

Tyra is wiping away imaginary tears. God damn it.

“You guys. You guys, it’s just too beautiful,” she enthuses. Bruce, the fucker, nods very seriously.

“The bond we share is special. Tony put it in words for me earlier and I was just so moved by what he said.” Bruce turns to Tony and near-simpers at him. “What was it again, darling? Oh, yes. Kantian transcendent next-level shit, I believe you said. Unquantifiable and not of this world.” He turns the adoration up a notch and Tony has no idea how he’s doing any of this. “Tony is much smarter than I am and we all know that, but sometimes I am still stunned at the things he comes up with.”

“Baby, you inspire me to new heights every day,” Tony tells him, bringing their hands to his lips and placing a light kiss on Bruce’s fingers.

He will not fucking lose a popularity contest. He is Iron Man, for Christ’s sake.

...

Bruce wins on every level which means Tony comes off as a sap. He is now officially one of the good guys, which, okay, no. He's not in Doom's league, but he'd like to think he's at least a little ambiguous.

Tony retaliates by very publicly buying Bruce the Victoria's Secret 70’s Fantasy Bra (as worn by Tyra) and having it shipped to him at WE in a big pink box with a yellow bow. The clever part is the bow—it’s covered in stylised Vs that look a little, but not quite, like bats.

Unfortunately Bruce takes his cue from that and responds by sending him a box of cherries delivered by a female model wearing the Red Hot Fantasy set, riding a cherry red chopper. This is evil beyond Tony's ability to parse. It would serve the bastard right if he bent her right over that chopper. Sadly, he's not that stupid. He sulks instead.

Pepper can't stop laughing when seeing the colour red for the next two weeks. This may not sound too bad unless you know that the fetish bat arranged cherry-flavoured deserts to be sent to him daily for lunch.

He doesn’t even like cherries.

...

JARVIS makes him a list of interesting vids every morning and during the day, he watches some and laughs a lot. He doesn't often bother to watch live broadcasts, but when Bruce actually consents to a solo interview, he can't help himself.

“Hello, and welcome to Veruka's corner, Gotham's premier source of all celebrity news and exciting developments! With us here today is the one and only Bruce Wayne to talk about his crazy affair with the infamous Tony Stark!"

Bruce is trying, but Tony can tell he’s edging right up against annoyed. He’s dressed up in his business attire this time. Tony appreciates the view.

Veruka is a bottle blond with saline implants that push her tits up to her chin. He dislikes her immediately, but she’s some kind of society guru there in Gotham which explains why Bruce is suffering her invasive touching and silicone smile.

“So, Brucie, tell me, does the truth live up to the legend?”

Tony cocks his head to the side and blinks. He cocks it to the other side and closes one eye. No way did she just ask that. No way did she just ask Bruce Wayne that.

“I’m not sure I follow,” Bruce tells her, his eyes narrowed a little.

Veruka rolls her eyes dramatically, pursing her tarty lips. “Oh come on Bruce, you have to know the Stark legend. The man’s seen more action than Tiger Woods, there has to be a reason for that. I’m just wondering if that translates well when it’s about playing for the other team, eh?”

Bruce tries to smile at her but it’s more of a grimace. “I think that’s a little private, don’t you?”

“Oh come on, Bruce! The two of you are public domain!” He glares at her a little and she relents. “Fine, fine, if you won’t talk about that, how about the question that’s on every one's mind?”

Bruce cocks his head to the side (and there’s that neck bit Tony likes so much). “Oh?”

“Wayne is gay for Tony Stark! How did that happen?” she cries. “Last I saw you, you had a girl on each arm and a spare in case one of them grew tired.”

Oh shit, Bruce looks ready to blow.

Pulling up the interface on the coffee table he does some creative hacking into the studio networks in order to make his opinion on this farce known. It's rather sad that it takes him longer to decide just what he wants to do than to actually get into their pathetic system.

In the end he settles for having all their speakers blast 'Born This Way' at deafening volume and watches them panic. Bruce doesn't panic. Bruce smiles ruefully and looks seconds away from a face-palm. He look straight into the camera and raises an eyebrow.

“Tony.”

Busted.

He whips out his phone and sends Bruce a text.

In my defense, she’s being a bitch. -TS

Bruce almost smiles when he reads it and yeah, he’s a little proud of that.

“Ah, we seem to be having some technical difficulties …?” Veruka tells her public. Ha, she has no idea. Bruce ignores her—he’s texting.

Don’t make me buy you a pink mustang. -BW

Oh, Bruce. You shouldn’t be giving people ideas.

“Veruka? I’m so sorry, but I have a meeting I can’t put off. You’ll notice we’ve run out of time as it is,” Bruce tells the heifer sweetly. He smiles and waves at the studio audience, which cheers for him.

“You go, girl!” screams one of the twinks in the audience. “Fuck this bitch anyhow!”

Bruce kind of smolders at him. “I think you’ll find you’re wrong about the gender. But no, of course you won’t. I’m taken.”

Tony is out of the room and into the suit in record time.



One day Fury will learn that calling him and ordering them to get his ass into his red metal bucket and show up 'now, now, fucking now’ is not the best way to ask for assistance no matter how screwed the Avengers are because Tony has some pride left, thanks. Okay, so he does do it but only so he can sneak into Fury's office later and fill it with red buckets. He sends Pepper a quick text on his way there telling her to get her hands on at least fifty of the things, preferably dirty ones.

He's already hacked his way into the Avengers battle com-channel and boy, they sound fucked. Good thing he's here again, to save the day.

“Hawkeye, to your left! No! Duck!” Rogers shouts, followed closely by explosions and all that good stuff. Somewhere in the distance, the Hulk roars.

“I love the sound of carnage in the morning!” Tony sing-songs.

“To—Iron Man? What?”

He's grinning from ear to ear. “Hey there, Cap. Fury thought breakfast would be boring without me, so! Look East and hang tight, ducklings. Daddy's coming.”

Thor laughs, loud and boisterous. “Best be hurrying, my friend, I am disinclined to leave any for you.”

“Why did I ever decide you're my favourite?” he whines.

“Enough with the chatter!” Captain America reprimands them.

He can't help himself. “Fine, gees, spoilsport. Way to crush our budding romance.” He shuts up just before Rogers is liable to start growling and kicks his speed up a notch.

He sees the Apocalypse, happening smack-dab in the middle of Queens. What the ever-loving fuck? He's not one to judge, but if you have an army—which this clearly is—why take it to Queens? He pushes the thought to the side for later analyses and focuses on what he's seeing.

He wishes he hadn't.

Droves of man-shaped sleek black death glints in the sunlight.

“JARVIS,” he snaps, but the readouts start popping up without him having to finish his demand.

Robotic and unmanned. Not suits. Not suits, thank you baby Jesus.

“Hey, Thor. Let's play a game,” he says, his voice dangerously close to Batman's low growl. “It's called 'I bet you can't blow up as many of these bitches as I can'. Loser buys the winner shots all night.”

Captain America is chastising them again but Thor makes a noise that sounds like sex and throws Mjolnir up in the air so he can crack his knuckles.

“Amend the wording to 'crush', and you have yourself a deal,” he nearly purrs.

Tony laughs and holy fuck what is happening to him. “Do you one better deity—let's make it 'destroy'.”

“Deal,” Thor says, launching himself hammer-first at the biggest cluster of robots.

Tony doesn't think. He aims and fires.



He’s tired and sweating despite the suit’s climate control. Queens is in ruins—well, more ruins than usual. Robot parts and superhero blood litters the streets along with a generous amount of debris. Some of it is being used as a Hulk-sized chair. He figures he might as well, seeing as he’s a joiner today.

He’s barely scrambled onto his own piece of building when Thor lands next to it. Now there’s a pile of unfair if he’s ever seen one. The Asgardian looks nothing like a battle-weary soldier. No, he’s windswept and radiating satisfaction like one who’s just been on a light jog around the park. Bastard.

Tony opens his faceplate and spits out some blood. Yeah, he’s the height of charm, he is. If only his new-found fanbase could see him now.

“It has been a while, my friend,” Thor says (not shouts—this is an important distinction to make when speaking of Thor and conversational volume).

“You know me big guy—busy, busy, busy.”

Thor frowns. He doesn’t argue for which Tony is stupidly grateful.

“You have been missed. Will you be returning with us?”

Tony mimes checking his watch and shakes his head. “No can do, I have a conference call in... right about now. Give everyone my love, wish I could have been there, et cetera.” He lets the faceplate fall shut and boots up the thrusters. He needs not to be here, right now.

“Anthony,” Thor calls out, so he turns to him. “My greetings and best wishes to your beloved. He seems a good man.”

Tony nods, thankfully not required to speak over the roar of the thrusters, and takes off.

He’s just in time, too—Steve was right behind that piece of road to the left of Thor and clearly heading their way.

...

The Stark New York mansion is his least favourite house of all he's ever been in, let alone owned. It reeks of Howard Stark and although Tony is sorta kinda making peace with his father's ghost just in case that entire Christmas past thing is a possibility, he still doesn't feel like he fits in it. It also is not nearly as impressive as the rebuilt Wayne ancestral home, damn it.

He'd have liked to tear the bitch down and replace it with something ridiculous, like a petting zoo or an ice-cream shop, but it's his house no matter how far he ran and that was not going to change.

The house has six floors of which three are below ground level. He was free to do pretty much anything with the underground floors so he builds some laboratories and workshops, impregnable rooms to stash dangerous toys in, and, sadly, something of a mini-hospital as he really doesn't need to add the injured feeble superhero angle to his already substantial reputation—and SHIELD medics are assholes.

Of course the first order of business was updating the embarrassing system running the place to something more JARVIS and unleashing Pepper on the interior of the top three floors. The rest took a little more cloak and dagger, but in the end it turned into a Tony Stark house instead of the house Tony Stark grew up in.

Recently he's also added a workout room and honestly, he can't wait for Bruce to show him every corner of it. It's just such a shame it will result in injuries instead of orgasms but Tony knows that if he plays his cards right he can turn that 'instead of' into 'as well as'.

That's something he's been doing a lot, actually. Not the bit where he likes it when Bruce beats him up, but the bit where he's creating niches in his life for Bruce to slot into. The freak out has passed with little fanfare—Pepper was there to hold his hand throughout his realisation that he is now, essentially, married to Batman—and he's cheerfully resigned to his lot.

It could have been worse. It was worse, before he went ass over tit at the sight of Bruce Wayne.

“It was a circus from start to finish. I mean, sure, it always is when superheroes are involved but usually there's less rainbow paraphernalia involved. So what have you been up to then?”

Bruce chuckles on the other end of the line and Tony closes his eyes, just floating on the sound of it. They haven't seen each other face to face for a week now—far too much happening on opposite ends of the world for that to be possible. At least they have this.

“Mainly Wayne Enterprises related meetings, lunches and suchlike. You remember how I told you it would be a disaster?”

Tony snorts so he doesn't snicker. “Yeah, but have there been rainbow flags in your life? I think I'm still ahead here.”

“I'll take your flags and raise you a parade,” Bruce tells him dryly.

He sits up suddenly, excited. “Tell me there was video coverage. I'm injured and I can't see my boyfriend. I deserve a consolation present!”

“You deserve a kick in the ass. You were being reckless for no apparent reason.”

Tony thinks back to flying with Thor while Captain America screamed at him through the communicator. Clint's arrows were coming slower and slower, Natasha was crouching in pain, and no one could reason with the Hulk any more. Thor was laughing so he was too. The X-men were supposedly on their way but who was going to wait for that with an army of robots flooding the streets?

“Worth it,” he says.

Bruce is silent for a while.

“Yeah,” he finally says, “I know.”

“So.” He clears his throat in lieu of thinking of something to say.

“Are you all right?” Bruce asks him because he's a bastard and he knows Tony far too well.

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, I'm all right. New York isn't exactly Malibu but when have I let that stop me?”

“Tony,” Bruce says in that voice, the one that calls bullshit.

He sighs and settles back against his pillow. There's no use in bothering to lie. He picked himself a smart one and now he's suffering for it.

“I'm offended and Fury's a dick, but in other news the world is round and revolves around the sun.”

Tony listens to Bruce typing something on an old-school keyboard and smiles. There's a pleased sounding hum and the typing stops.

“Give me two days.”

He finally inhales air that doesn't hurt his lungs.

“Okay. Two days.”



“Incoming call from Nick Fury, sir.”

“Tell him I'm not in, JARVIS. My head's going nova and Bruce should be arriving within the hour. SHIELD can do without me,” he grumps.

“I regret to inform you he is aware you are lying and threatened to have you fetched in handcuffs should you feel inclined to ignore him further,” JARVIS tells him regretfully, insofar an AI can be regretful.

“But of course he put me under surveillance, the fucker.” He gestures tiredly, he just wants to get it over with so he can take a shower or a nap or both before Bruce shows up. He finally has a day off so of course Fury wants to ruin it. It's karmic shit, he knows it is.

“You can stop glaring at me,” he tells the Fury on screen. “I'm too tired to remember what I did wrong this time so you'll just have to scold me with full details.”

“There was an Avengers meeting today,” Fury bites out.

He rolls his eyes at this. You'd think this was the first time they played that game. “How thrilling. Tell me why I should care.”

Fury doesn't bristle. He doesn't need to, does he? He always looks a shade away from homicidal as it is. “The meeting, Stark, was about you. Hence me bothering to call you there.”

Tony stands up and makes his way towards the kitchen, the screen following him along the walls. Instead of a short consultation he spent all day correcting the stupidest mistakes being made right in his own company. He's had Pepper fire three engineers and a chemist. He's turning into a businessman and oh god he is tired and he wants coffee more than he wants air.

“Nope, no guilt yet. Try harder,” he says.

“As a member of SHIELD--”

“Consultant, please,” Tony corrects him.

“You worthless cretin!”

“Bored,” Tony shoots back, unimpressed. He's heard worse than that from his friends. Fury's losing his touch.

Then, Fury goes in for the kill. “Your father--” he starts all sad and serious and Tony is not having it.

“Hey, now,” he interrupts defensively. “No need to get personal. I was out doing my job. You know, running my multi-billion dollar company, which I also use to make a fuckton of your operation's toys—they operation I am only a consultant for.”

Fury tries to talk but it's a gesture's work to mute him.

“I was an Avenger. I remember that, there was this thing with godly family feuds and many millions in property damages, which, if you'll remember, I helped pay for. What I also remember is that I am no longer an Avenger.” He pretends to think. “What was it again? Unstable, unreliable, uncompromising, looked at too many people sideways to be excused. In conclusion—fired.” He stops there to give Fury the pleasure of his full attention before continuing. He knows he's showing off but he's been waiting to do this and damn everything, he's going to enjoy it.

“You used me, Fury. Don't think I don't understand because I understand, I do. I'm a businessman and we know all about supply and demand. I'll still help where I can because I mostly believe in what you're doing, but please, don't try to order me around again. We both know I react poorly to authority.”

He takes Fury off mute. He may as well not have bothered, he's getting the silent treatment. What the fuck ever, he still hasn't got his coffee.

They say an addiction is never defeated, only replaced. As substances go, coffee isn't the worst he could have chosen. At least it isn't that horrible tea Bruce has flown in from Somewhere, Asia, which he pretends to like because it's supposedly super healthy and good for one's liver and kidneys and Bruce is a champion manipulator. The things he does for love, Christ.

“Stark.”

“You're still here? I thought you'd hung up in disgust,” he says nonchalantly.

He barely understands what follows because Fury says it through clenched teeth but he does get it. He can tell by the way his heart starts a rock band in his chest.

“There's been a vote by Captain Rogers' request. Congratulations, you're an Avenger.”

Chapter Text

Tony decided early on in life that the less people were involved in his daily life, the better. This translates to everything being run by JARVIS, and occasionally Pepper. Therefore Bruce arrives with little fanfare. He is in the system and passes both the retinal and biochemistry scans at the door. These days JARVIS doesn’t even bother to announce him. He’s part of the household, more or less. Bruce pretty much comes and goes as he pleases and Tony thinks that’s a bit of all right. So, when Bruce walks in he drops his jacket on a nearby chair and pads into the kitchen on socked feet. Really, they may as well move in together and get it over with, Tony thinks.

Bruce doesn’t greet Tony in the usual way when he sees him slouching against the kitchen counters, which is a shame. Rather, he maneuvers the two of them to the sitting room sofa and lays Tony out on it. He then takes a seat at one end and does something magical—he takes hold of a foot and begins to knead.

Tony loses it just a little.

“Is there any noise in your repertoire that doesn’t sound vulgar?”

“Not in your presence there isn’t,” Tony answers, exaggerating a groan for effect. “How’s Gotham?”

“Much the same as you left it.”

Tony smiles with his eyes closed. “Shame.”

“Burning my city to the ground will not endear you to me,” Bruce warns him.

“Drat, foiled again. How’s Alfred?”

“He sends his love.”

Tony opens one eye and attempts to convey his disbelief. He realises he’s trying to stare down Batman but he’s nothing if not ambitious. It did after all snag him the world’s second-most eligible bachelor.

“He baked you a pie,” Bruce elaborates.

“Holy shit, you aren’t even kidding. Wow. Wow. I’ve been approved by your butler. Wow.”

Bruce tickles his foot mercilessly—the bastard—and they engage in a short scuffle for possession. Bruce, naturally, wins.

“One down, six billion to go.”

“Hey,” Tony protests, sitting up. “There have got to be more people who approve of me. Three more at the very least. Maybe four.”

“Pepper might like you enough to put up with you, but she certainly doesn’t approve of you.”

“Hey!”

“And I don’t even want to know where you got the idea James approves of you. Or that I do.”

“Heresy!” Tony exclaims, pointing an accusing finger at Bruce. Bruce pretty much ignores him and continues the foot massage. “I’m surrounded by liars and traitors.” Tony falls back on the sofa and throws an arm over his face. “Woe! Such woe is me.”

“Your life is very, very hard,” Bruce agrees.

“Money in the bank, hot babe in my bed, and the most superlative jetpack-slash-prosthesis on the entire planet—I don’t know how I’ll survive.”

“I didn’t know they taught drama at MIT.”

Tony kicks him a little. “They didn’t, at least I don’t remember it if they did. In my case it’s just natural talent.”

“It’s certainly something.”

“Did you bring me more of that tea? I left my stash back west.” Bruce stops kneading which is not on, so Tony kicks him again to get that across. He’s tickled in retaliation but gets his way in the end, as usual. “Well?” he prods.

“You hate that tea,” Bruce finally says.

“Do not,” he denies indignantly. “I love that tea truly, madly, deeply. My favourite person ever had some wise man on top of a mountain far, far away devise this tea especially for my benefit. Of course I love that tea!” he says in tones of see, I really am a full person.

“Pepper coached you on that, didn’t she.”

He decides to repeat his performance of woe. “Oh my god why do I even like you!”

Bruce squeezes his foot viciously. “Because I don’t put up with your shit and you have a weakness for pectoral girth.” He even does the muscle-jiggle to illustrate said girth.

“Yeah, okay,” he says, because, well, true.

“Now, have we filled the prerequisite chitchat quotient or do I need to comment on the atrocious draperies before you actually talk to me?”

“Okay,” Tony sighs, heaving himself up, “that’s not a laying down conversation.”

“Should I be worried?” Bruce asks and while he sounds amused enough, Tony can tell he’s bothered. He resists the urge to coo. One does not coo at Batman.

“Don’t imply there’s anything about me you don’t know, Bat-detective.” He raises his arms up in a preemptive block just in case. He is not wrong. “No, okay, sorry, sorry. I’ll talk.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Bruce mutters. “Please, do.”

“Do you like this house?” Tony blurts out. “I mean, sure, it’s been Peppered to death which means it’s cutting edge yet classy, and JARVIS makes everything better, but do you like it?”

“Tony.”

“Personally I think it’s a little unimaginative, but what can you expect of the nineteenth century, right?”

“Tony.”

He takes a breath. “The thing is—”

Tony.”

“The thing is I might be moving here,” he rushes to say. “Sort of permanently.”

Bruce is quiet. He’s really good at it too, unlike Tony, who can’t manage to not be doing or saying something for more than five seconds unless he’s unconscious.

“You’re joining the Avengers. Again.”

Tony swallows past the tightness in his throat. “I’m joining the Avengers.”

“I see.”

“Don’t I get a pat on the back?” he wheedles, but really he’s testing the waters.

Bruce snorts at him. Well that’s definitely not good. “You don’t need me to validate your self-flagellation Tony. Please don’t ask me to want to.”

His first instinct is to flinch. Yeah, no, Tony Stark does not flinch. “Pot,” he accuses.

Bruce smirks. “It certainly is my favourite colour.”

Tony waits for some monologuing about his flaws and mistakes but apparently Bruce is not feeling very loquacious. Although he does learn one thing—he has really got to be less obvious when it comes to Bruce Wayne. The prince of Gotham rolls his eyes at him and flicks him on the nose.

“There. I don’t want to chastise you like a child because you aren’t one and it certainly isn’t my place to chastise you even if you were, but if you feel you must be punished somehow, then so be it.” He pauses to look stern. “I can also whack you with a newspaper, if you prefer.”

Tony really, really doesn’t want to think about any of the things Bruce just said. He latches on to the first thing that comes to mind instead. “You know, I’m dating the fetish bat. A little kink might be healthy for this relationship. How about you come punish me in the creative way I know you can?” he leers.

Again, Bruce catches on lighting fast. This time though, the consequences are much more preferable.



Pepper is wearing black. A starched shirt which is all angles and sharp edges, and perfectly pleated trousers. He notices they’re perfectly pleated because her shoes are extra spiky today and he is a cautious individual. Even her hair is pulled back tightly with a black tie. Tony can only conclude that Pepper is unhappy with him.

Naturally this doesn’t show in her work. Pepper is a tornado of terrifying efficiency regardless of state of mind, and if to achieve said efficiency she needs to run roughshod over his feelings, so much the better.

“Not the purple. It brings out the bags under your eyes.”

He’s not a delicate blossom, really he isn’t. It’s just that if Pepper gets her way, he’ll be heading off to SHIELD headquarters in his jammies (which is to say naked). “You really need to give me a hint here,” he says. “I could start indiscriminately buying you diamonds again, but the last time I did that you told me to grow a soul despite it being a tried and true method for gaining forgiveness which men have utilized since the dawn of time.”

“I can’t say I understand just what you mean, Mr Stark. No, no, the blue makes you look sallow.”

“That’s it.” He bunches up the shirt and throws it across the room. “I’ll just have to become a naturist, but you get to explain to Fury why.”

“This is not the time for shenanigans Mr Stark,” she says implacably.

A sardonic little laugh calls attention to the one and only Bruce Wayne, who’s been quietly enjoying the show in Tony’s sweats (the lucky bastard). Tony doesn’t kid himself into thinking Bruce stayed for his benefit. He knows Bruce wants to stick around so he’s there when the Avenger initiative proves to be as big a disaster as he thinks it’ll be because Tony would have done the same.

Hell, he’s still waiting in the case of Kevlar versus Iron Man suit.

“Bruce, be an angel and save me from flashing Nick Fury because Pepper is a meanie.” He throws in a pout and eyelash-flutter to ensure victory. Then he remembers. “ Please .”

“Don’t wear a suit,” Bruce tells him, which is all kinds of unhelpful. He follows it up with, “You don’t have to impress them with your eagerness to belong,” which is.

“You’re saying jeans and T-shirt, then?”

Bruce touches his forehead and mutters something to himself. “All right. Where is your closet?” He reconsiders and turns to Pepper. “Does he own any thin scarves? How about long sleeved shirts? We’re looking for layers here. Maybe dressy sportswear, that kind of thing.”

Tony looks on in bafflement. “Nothing you just said makes any sense to me. Why do you even know these things?”

“It’s a good thing I require no input from you then, isn’t it?” Bruce tells him. He and Pepper disappear into the closet—and of course he thinks of a million horrible jokes, why is his brain such a dick? After some deliberation, he follows after them.

The minute they spot him he’s seized and dragged into position where after they commence with the most scarring Barbie doll dressing session of Tony’s life. Clothes are flying everywhere, Pepper and Bruce are conversing entirely in grimaces and noises of disapproval, and all this time Tony doesn’t see a damn thing because he’s being spun and dressed/undressed at insane speed. Honestly, he’s beginning to fear for his life a little here.

Finally they step back, inspect him critically with their judging eyes, then nod.

Apparently he shouldn’t have been fearing for his life, merely his dignity.

“I look gay.”

“Yes,” Bruce and Pepper chorus.

Why?” he cries.

“It makes a statement,” Bruce says seriously.

Tony almost goes for it. It would send Fury into a shitfit to be sure and Rogers might just choke on his tongue, and while those are all good incentives it’s not enough. Objectively he looks damn good, of course he does.

“It’s not me,” he says.

“You’re sure about that?” Bruce asks him. God, really? He needs to ask?

“Of course I am! Look at me, this is what Zachary Quinto would see if he looked into a mirror of the future. I’m like the aged lovechild of George Michael and John Barrowman,” he splutters.

“Then get fucking dressed and go to prom, princess. Stop acting like an imbecile,” Bruce says and flounces off dramatically. Pepper smirks at him and follows Bruce out.

Oh. Oh, they are good.



He takes a car and driver to SHIELD and convinces himself it’s not because it makes him feel safer to show up with a babysitter like Bruce implied. Agent Supernanny is there to greet him when he arrives. 

“Coulson, it’s been far too long. I’ve missed fearing for my balls, I have, really. Pepper tries, but she’s just not on the same level when it comes to intimidation,” he babbles. “Dude, smile a little. You could freeze the piss inside of someone with that glare.”

Coulson remains dour in the face of all of Tony’s charm—not that he’d expected anything else, but it’s a shame.

“Here is a temporary access pass. It will serve until a permanent one can be made for you,” Coulson says, flicking a little plastic card at him. “Try your hardest not to lose it, break it, modify it, or otherwise cause me to have to interact with you more than strictly necessary.”

Tony looks at him over the rims of his glasses. “I can recommend a great masseuse for that tension problem you seem to have. Great girl—decent rates, magical fingers. Just give me a call anytime. I’m here for you Coulson. I promise.”

“They are waiting for you in meeting room six. Goodbye,” Coulson says with no expression at all. Tony shrugs and swipes his card on the screen by the door.

“I can take a hint. See you around, dude.”

Out of sight of Supernanny XL, Tony scans the card with his phone. It gives him a detailed map of all the places he’s not allowed, which is most of them. It might be Coulson’s idea of a joke but that would have to mean he has a sense of humour and he patently does not, so it’s for real. He’s not going to lie, he’s a little hurt here.

Since Tony’s been gone SHIELD security’s been in the hands of SHIELD techs and private contractors. This means that by his standards, it’s laughable at best. It was childish, he supposes, to leave them to their own devices when they fired him from the Avengers because he felt slighted by Fury and Rogers, yet if he thinks about it now all he really feels is nyah. Hey, they were fighting Nazis and serving the country long before he was born and can get on fine without him—only they can’t.

It’s not spite. It’s not. He’s seen better firewalls at Gotham kindergartens, surely that gives him some justification.

His little plastic guest pass lets him into the common areas and also meeting room six. He deliberates over giving his pass a few super abilities for all of five seconds. Of course he’s going to do it. With what he’s seen so far it would take SHIELD about a year to notice anyway.

“You’re late. Come on, we’re in here.”

“It’s nice to see you too, Banner,” he says with exaggerated politeness.

Bruce sighs in a good imitation of annoyance. “It’s been very quiet without you.”

“Are we talking ‘quiet like the grave’ quiet, or quiet ‘finally some peace and quiet’?” he asks lightly, following Bruce into the meeting room.

“There, he’s here, can we get this over with now? I have a date with a gorgeous read-head and some mats,” Clint exclaims the minute he spots Tony, gesturing widely.

“I had no idea you were so eager for another beating,” Natasha says.

“His dedication speaks well of him,” Thor adds solemnly, but he’s smiling.

Tony can’t help himself. He grins widely at the lot of them. “Is this all for me? You shouldn’t have.”

“No, we shouldn’t. It’s not like he’s a newbie we need to intimidate into obedience. That never worked on Stark anyway,” Clint grumbles.

Steve shifts in his seat. “It’s the proper thing to do,” he says, which shuts Clint up at least temporarily. Then he turns his baby blue eyes on Tony. “Welcome back.”

Tony tells himself he’s not been avoiding Steve’s eyes. He hasn’t been. He just hadn’t noticed him because it’s easy to overlook over two-hundred pounds of physical perfection, okay? These things happen.

“It’s good to have you back, my friend,” Thor booms at him.

Tony cringes a little but he’s still smiling. It’s hard not to smile at Thor. It’s like kicking puppies or something. “I’m glad to hear you say that because I have the distinct impression Fury disagrees with you there. I’ll be sure to use you as a meat-shield should he choose to express that.”

Thor laughs while Steve scrambles to disagree. “Director Fury knows you’re more than capable,” he says.

“He just doesn’t like you,” Clint adds.

“This is touching, really,” Tony says, wiping away an imaginary tear. “But  I’m here now, so lay it on me,” he says and sits down expectantly. He is not not looking at Steve. Thor is blocking the view with his godliness.

The Avengers kind of blink at him. Bruce picks at his fingernails. Natasha draws circles on the table with her finger. Thor is beaming.

“There is nothing to lay,” Clint says finally in tones of utter boredom. “Nothing has changed.”

“Clint,” Steve says warningly, but Clint ignores the good Captain and ploughs on.

“Your locker is still here, untouched. There’s an old MIT sweater on a hook in the gym which has been labelled Tony Stark. It’s like the safest place in the world, because both Thor and Cap protect it with their lives.” He huffs in annoyance and glares at Tony. “So yeah, nothing has changed.”

Natasha nudges Clint. “That’s not entirely true,” she says meaningfully.

“Oh yeah, you take it up the ass now!” Clint cries happily. “Oh man, that was the best day ever. You could hear Fury swearing from two floors down. You should have seen Steve’s face when he got out of that office, it was priceless.” He collects himself and turns serious. “I’m going to ask something now and you’re not allowed to think it makes me a girl because this is purely out of the goodness of my heart as taught to me during that respect in the workplace seminar and no mushy feelings for you whatsoever. Here goes; is he a gold-digging bitch?”

“Is Bruce Wayne a gold-digging bitch?” Tony repeats sort of incredulously while Natasha whacks Clint over the head.

“Ouch, what? What’s with the looks? He’s an Avenger now. You wouldn’t stand by and let a gold-digger take advantage of Steve.”

Tony has no words, not even about the re-instated Avenger comment because he’s too busy trying to pick his jaw up off the floor. Natasha is trying very hard not to laugh and Steve looks as lost as Tony feels.

“Barton, Bruce Wayne owns Wayne Enterprises,” Banner explains patiently. “We’re looking at you like that because Bruce Wayne has the disposable income of Scrooge McDuck.”

“Together we’re richer than god,” Tony adds cheerfully.

Clint hums thoughtfully at this information. “I hereby invite you and your boyfriend to my birthday, for Christmas, and any other gift-giving holiday I can think of.”

“I’m so glad to hear you have sound priorities, Agent Barton,” Steve grumps, and wait a minute—is he sulking? He is definitely sulking. Tony swallows an evil cackle. Now here is some potential.

“Didn’t you just hear what I heard? More money than god,” Clint says.

“I’ll see what I can do.” He winks at Steve. “Don’t you worry Cap, I’ll be sure to invite myself and my boyfriend to all your birthdays.” He smirks because he’s a smug bastard and Steve is blushing.

“Well,”Steve says, pushing himself up, “we’d best fill you in on everything you’ve missed.”

Clint snorts. “I bet his boyfriend fills him just fine.”

Steve splutters while Banner looks Zen and Natasha rolls her eyes. Thor is quietly amused and Clint is doing a weird fist-pump of victory. Tony is laughing, because he is back and everything is just fine.



Bruce is waiting for him out front in a sleek little convertible that gives him just the right dash of sexy boy-toy. The shades are a nice touch.

Of course Bruce has zero clearance so Tony has to walk through all the checkpoints on foot before he can even see his present for being oh so good. It’s worth it just to see Bruce reclining nonchalantly while surrounded by agents and military types.

“You’d have been proud of me today,”  he says before he swoops in for a kiss.

Bruce endures the display with good grace. He’s probably seething inside but Tony will take all he can get and then ask for more. It’s just how he rolls, all right?

“I doubt that.”

“No really—ow, crap—you would. Their security is for shit—why is there a can on my seat? Damn it. So, listen, I think we need to inspect the new bath I had installed,” he rambles on.

Bruce rolls his eyes at him and gets them the fuck out of there with minimal tire damage. Man, Tony is really in love. “Hey, guess what—Clint asked me if you’re just with me for my money.”

“Nope, your ass,” Bruce deadpans. “I keep a laminated collage of paparazzo shots of it in my wallet.”

Seriously, Tony has hearts in his eyes and shit.

If he’d believed that everything would suddenly be all right now he’s back with the initiative he would be sorely disappointed. Pepper still hounds him day and night about Stark Industries only she’s stepped it up with the excuse of trying to get as much done as she can before he dies tragically at the hands of some supervillain or another. She has already made him update his will and all of a sudden it’s perfectly acceptable for him to coexist with the robots in his workroom as long as he keeps making things she can use. Bruce is still Bruce only now there are these looks which feel a little like an x-ray and cavities search in one like he’s just waiting to be proven right. Tony has mixed feelings about all of these things.

The one perk he can’t deny is the proximity to Gotham. It’s a hop and skip away from NY to Gotham and he’s taking advantage of that every chance he gets. He likes to think Bruce is silently pleased with this, but chances are he’s just resigned to being pestered more than before.

On Tony’s end it’s something akin to watching a terrifying documentary on workaholism.

It’s the ass-crack of dawn. He feels the bed dip beside him and forces himself to open an eye. If there’s something he’s not willing to do again it’s wake up in sheets that look like the end result of a vampire porno, something Bruce is incapable of giving a shit about—much like his own physical well-being.

“Rough night?” he croaks without feeling the least bit humiliated at his lack of verbal proficiency. They have evolved past all pretense at charm and perfection and are comfortable with (Tony) or accustomed to (Bruce) each other’s deficiencies.

“Just long,” Bruce sighs. There is no groaning or weird tension to indicate some injury Bruce is failing to hide from him, so Tony relaxes.

“Think you can sleep?”

Bruce shifts a little. Right, so it’s like that. Tony sits up and shuffles over to where Bruce is sitting. He drapes himself over that powerful back like a blanket, his arms dangling over tense shoulders. They breathe together until he feels Bruce’s heart rate slow to something resembling normal.

“They had three girls in a warehouse. By the time I arrived, he’d amputated the legs off two of them—Carrie Holt and Miranda Jones. The idea was to send the limbs to the fathers as incentive.”

In that moment Tony hates Gotham fiercely with everything he is. He has learned better than to mention that, however, so he sits there, breathing into Bruce’s skin and trying his very best to keep the tension out of his body and the anger away from his mind.

“Gordon was there to take them in. He is a good man.”

Tony hears the bits Bruce doesn’t say.

I wanted them dead,” he hears.

Gordon is the reason they’re alive,” he hears.

I am a monster,” he hears.

“What about the third girl?” he asks even though he knows. He’s known for days because it’s all Bruce has been doing for days.

“Frances Livingston,” Bruce tells him. “Her father’s a banker. She was taken by mistake.”

“They’re all alive, I assume.”

“Yes,” Bruce breathes.

“Well,” Tony says resolutely, pretending for all he’s worth that it’s just another night, “we’d better step up our prosthetics venture. Get to sleep. We have a shit ton of work and I am a beast without my beauty sleep.” Bruce huffs a little laugh at him. “Hey, you don’t know what it’s like! I’m dating this young stud and he’ll drop me like a bad habit if I don’t keep my girlish figure and rugged good looks,” he whines.

Bruce relaxes minutely turning the slouch into something more like a hug. “You’re an oxymoron.”

“Baby, for you I’d be an ox and a moron as long as we can sleep. I have no doubt that Alfred will be here within the hour to kick me out like a stray dog polluting your stately manor and tomorrow will be a long day. If you remember, I’m the one who has to actually design the working prototype while all you have to do is sign things and smile for press releases.”

Bruce relents, letting Tony drag him down into a pile of blankest and pillows (so he’s a burrower, so what?). He’ll hold on for as long as Bruce lets him. It’s only fair when he knows Bruce is always there to catch him when he crashes.



Alfred doesn’t show up until well past noon.



He’s hanging out in the workshop of Stark Tower (Gotham Edition) when the call comes.

“Hold that JARVIS, if I fuck this up I will slaughter whoever is on the other end of that line,” he mutters. He’s fiddling with bits no bigger than one-celled organisms and hating his tendency to over-complicate things. He doubts a prototype limb prosthetic actually needs to have the ability to anticipate brain impulses, but screw it, he’s getting this done come hell or high water.

“It’s Captain Rogers, sir. He says it’s an initiative matter,” JARIVIS relays. Tony promptly cuts a lightning bolt over his work.

“Motherfucker! Fine! Christ, put him on.”

“It’s just JARVIS, sir.”

“Ha, ha,” he spits, pushing everything on his workbench away. “‘Sup, buddy?”

Steve is silent for a moment and Tony wonders if he’s been hung up on. Then of course he remembers this is Steve .

An incredulous “You’re in Gotham?” is the first thing out of Steve’s mouth.

“JARVIS, visual,” Tony mutters, and there he is, the super soldier himself. He, of course, is on the base. Tony looks to his left, then to his right. Then he looks straight at Steve. “Obviously.”

Somehow, this takes Steve by surprise. Tony is a little confused but apparently he’s not the only one.

Why?”

He cocks his head. “Is that a rhetorical question? I live here. Well, part-time,” he corrects.

“But,” Steve splutters, then cuts himself off. “I’d expected you to be in New York.”

“Welp, I’m not,” Tony says, shrugging. “So what can I do for you?”

Steve glares at him. “You can come to New York.”

It’s Tony’s turn to be surprised. “Okay, why?”

“Because you’re supposed to be here!” Steve near-shouts at him. “You’re a member of the Avengers, Stark. Your place is with us.”

“That did not just happen.” He takes a breath. “Rogers, my place is wherever I damn well choose to put myself. Right now that place is Gotham. Now if there’s nothing pressing, I have work that needs doing.”

Steve chuckles dryly, shaking his head. “I’d honestly thought it’d be different this time,” he says. “It’s why I asked Fury to call you back. I thought that maybe you’d grown up.” He sighs. His eyes are really very blue. “You haven’t changed, have you? You’re still irresponsible and selfish.”

Tony’s eyes narrow. “And you’re still a repressed dick, but have I called you on it? No. So do me the favour of leaving my personal life the fuck alone unless it interferes with the Avengers. Then and only then will your opinion of me make a difference because right now I give fuck all about what you think of me.” He shoots Steve a tight smile and cuts the connection.

Clint was totally right. Nothing has changed at all.

“JARVIS, hold all calls and pull up playlist four. I’m getting this done.” He snaps his fingers and motions Dummy II to come closer with the magnifying glass. “Please don’t be useless like your big brother. Hold that. No. No, higher—hold. Good boy.”



“Tony. Tony. Tony.”

“Issat coffee?” he mumbles.

Pepper mercifully produces the four takeaway cups and lines them up on the empty bits of his workbench—he’s finished one of them by the time she’s done. He smiles at her in thanks although he’s not entirely sure if that comes across right. He’s almost certain his face is a dented mess of grease and red spots. By the feel of it, a burn mark or two aren’t outside the realm of possibility either.

She takes a sniff and wrinkles her nose.

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad,” he protests.

Pepper obviously disagrees. “You’ve been here for days. JARVIS wouldn’t let anyone in. Have you even eaten?”

“Eh,” he says nonchalantly.

Tony.”

No one can put that much meaning into his name, not even Bruce. Pepper has a way of imbuing her pronunciation with years of hardship and frustration topped with I Am Disappointed In You. Tony has the unshakable conviction that Pepper could broker world peace with a look and a well-placed sigh.

“You should shower, we need to be in New York in three hours. I’ll have Happy run out for breakfast but we need to get moving.”

Tony downs the rest of the coffee like he would shots and pushes himself out of his chair. There is a disturbing amount of popping joints and old-man pain which he ignores for the sake of his own sanity. “Which one is this? Refresh my memory while I shower,” he tells her, already walking away.

He can feel the look somewhere between his shoulder blades.  

“The relevant papers are all in the car.”

“Oh come on, not even a little peek? I know you want to,” he says teasingly.

“No thank you, Mr Stark, but if you feel the burning desire to explore your exhibitionist tendencies I can set up a video conference to Wayne Tower?”

He laughs all the way to the shower. “Pepper, you are an inexhaustible fount of good ideas and this is why I love you best.”

“And here I thought it was because of my tolerance for homo-eroticism.”

He doesn’t exactly have phone-shower-sex with Bruce because he’s too busy being responsible.

“If you could have Lucius pack up everything on my workbench I’d owe him one. I need all of it in New York so I can finish it,” he says. The hello is implicit.

“I’ll take care of it. It’ll be there tonight at the latest,” Bruce assures him.

Tony believes him. Out of everyone Bruce is least likely to berate him for overworking himself to the point of collapse because that would make him a filthy hypocrite. There’s no need to actually go into the reasons he wants to work himself to oblivion because Bruce is also the most likely to berate him for avoiding the issue.

“Thanks honeybee. Talk to you soon.”

Bruce laughs. “Oh, yes.”

“Tony! We will not be late even if I have to drag you naked through the streets!”

“She really should just admit I make her moist,” Tony says quietly.

“I bet you do,” Bruce agrees dryly. “I bet you’re the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up and the last thing she thinks of when she goes to bed.”

Tony!” she shrieks.

“Don’t be jealous baby, you’ll always be my number one!” he shouts back at her.

That shuts her up for a bit, but it doesn’t last.

Pepper has the magical ability to make threats sound actually reasonable. She does not use it this time. “If you make me deal with the fallout of your public messy breakup with Bruce Wayne I will fill the Iron Man suit with gasoline and burn you to a crisp inside it!”

“Oh yeah,” Bruce says, “you definitely light her fire.”



The meeting is boring and superfluous. Unfortunately it is also in New York, which means he feels obligated to check in with SHIELD. This promises to be just as boring and superfluous but try as he might he just cannot shake that fucking conversation.

He knows what people think of him, all right? It’s not a great mystery of mankind when it’s been plastered all over newspapers and the Internet in equal measure. Yes, his image has been going through a rehabilitation process ever since he came out as first Iron Man and then boyfriend but that hardly negates years of bad opinions so no, he’s hardly surprised it’s followed him to SHIELD.

He’s never tried to hide who he is anyway. It’s just that he’s not sure he is who Steve seems to think he is. At least he hopes he isn’t. Is he? Well, what ever. It’s not worth the head space it occupies as any space in his genius brain is prime real estate.

He arrives at SHIELD HQ and lets himself in with his still temporary pass. He tries not to over-think that one.

The team is lounging in front of a television and merely glance at him when he walks in. Steve especially is doing his best interpretation of a corpse. Oh, yeah, Tony can totally see how he’s needed here. He inserts himself between Thor and Natasha and sets an alarm on his phone—he gives himself thirty minutes before the idiocy drives him to do something stupid, like set off the fire alarm.

“Hey, since you’re back on the team does that mean I get to pulverise you in the name of physical training again? Awesome,” Clint says suddenly.

Tony is ready to talk his way out of that one before Clint’s even finished speaking. Then, he reconsiders. “If it’s in the best interests of the team, then I guess so,” he says instead.

Steve is frowning a little. Seriously, with those broody worry lines he looks more constipated than anything. Tony beams at him just for the hell of it. “Now, Clint,” Steve says in this peacekeeping tone he sometimes has. It’s exactly the opposite of what Tony was expecting, after their little tête-à-tête.

“What? He needs to be in shape. He’s been out of it for months now, it’s necessary,” Clint argues with his mouth while his entire attitude is practically a manifesto extolling the virtue of kicking ass in the name of kicking ass. Tony huffs to hide his laughter, but it’s in vain. They’re all staring at him.

“I’m hurt that you seem to believe that just because I wasn’t on the team I suddenly started eating burgers and watching daytime television to the exclusion of everything else.”

Clint looks at Tony, then at Natasha. “Them’s fighting words, right? I’m not ‘misconstructing the situation’ again, right?”

“Misconstruing,” Natasha corrects him, “and I’m surprised you even remember that much from the seminar.”

“I would be happy to observe your bout,” Thor says, sealing the deal.

Bruce sighs, rolling his eyes, and disappears to his lab to meditate or smash it up. One can never be sure with him. “I’ll alert medical,” he mutters as he goes. The rest of them troop off to the gym like ducklings following momma duck Thor, who parts the halls like Nordic Moses.

Steve is hovering over Tony looking all grave. It’s pretty hilarious, he’s giving the regular personnel the creeps from what Tony can tell. He wishes it was all due to his amazing powers of observation, but they’re scurrying out of the way like little woodland creatures instead of trained agents and it’s really not because Thor is smiling like a child (which is so adorable it’s making Tony consider Asgardian adoption and if that could be a thing he should look into).

They arrive, and there’s a mass exodus.

Tony watches the departing agents with undisguised curiosity. “Since when have you been abusive towards the mere mortals, guys? I don’t remember us inspiring this kind of terror before.” Steve nearly collapses in on himself and Tony feels instantly guilty, but it passes with a flash of understanding. “No,” he drawls. “No way.” There is no way Captain America took out his issues on puny little humans. Scratch that—there’s no way Steve Rogers did. And yet, it’s staring him in the face.

Steve, of course, says nothing. Instead Natasha, scowly face and all, comes to his rescue.

“Efficiency of the agency has gone up a full twenty percent since you’ve left,” she tells him flippantly, then skips off to find a good spot to watch.

Tony has no words, which has been happening far too often. He raises his hands in surrender and starts stripping. Clint is ready to go but Tony will be damned if he ruins a silk shirt in the name of team building. “No permanent injuries,” he calls out, just to make sure. Apparently not everything had stayed the same.

“Sissy,” Clint taunts.

“I like my limbs where they are, thanks,” Tony grumps and climbs in the ring.

Thor looks at them both solemnly which is hard for him, Tony knows. “Fight with honour, my friends.”

“Until you cry uncle, right Stark?”

Tony smiles at him. “Come at me, bro.”



He’s a little sore which is negated entirely but how justifiably smug he is. Thor practically lit up the room he was so proud of Tony. Hell, even Tasha raised an eyebrow of appreciation when he dropped Clint with a particularly fine throw.

Clint never saw it coming which, hey, not his fault. His new sparring partner is the fucking Batman. It’s their problem if they seem to think he’s just a waste of space filling up a shiny armour. It was just the cherry on the sundae he needs to get all the fuel required to pull this shit off because he’s an Avenger again but he’s no longer sure what the hell that even means.

Speaking of his new sparring partner—never let it be said Tony Stark is above using any feeble excuse to get his way.

“They made me exercise. So I was thinking you could come down here and help me pick the best bath-salt muscle relaxant. Come on, I’m wearing a douchebag headset in accordance to traffic laws, I deserve a reward,” he wheedles.

“You need a reward for obeying basic safety protocols now?”

Bruce is amused at him, he can tell. It’s like this; Bruce wields his voice like a weapon and its uses are many. Tony is getting the hang of it now which makes communication so much more efficient, not to mention fun. “I want a reward for voluntarily looking like a douchebag,” he says.

“You could have waited to get home before calling.”

Tony clicks his tongue and makes a noise of disagreement. “No, I really couldn’t have. You might forget about me and then what would I do?”

“Write some poetry, Stark. You certainly angst enough for it.”

“ Angst ? Moi? You are delusional, honeybee. Listen, I’ve just arrived so I have to say sweet farewell for now, but think about it? I promise lots of perks.”

“You always do,” Bruce chuckles.

“And do I ever not deliver?”

“Lecher.”

“And you love it.”

He hangs up to dump the car and get more comfortable before he launches attempt number two of getting Bruce to come see him. It’s a very cunning plan which may or may not involve a lot of casual nudity. He’s looking forward to it already.
“JARVIS, lights.”

There’s no response. This is mildly unsettling.

“JARVIS, you there buddy?”

He feels a hand on his back and before he thinks, he moves. He twists and makes a grab for the arm but his opponent is quick and evades. Still keyed up from his earlier victory he just goes with it, falling into patterns he’s learned from Bruce—Bruce! He freezes and is instantly captured. The soft laugh he knows so well tickles his cheek.

“I’ve thought about it,” Bruce growls and it’s the Bat voice. Tony shudders in his grip. For a second he thinks about how easy it would be for Bruce to just... not be the good guy. Just the idea makes him shiver before he discards it as impossible.

“H-have you now,” he stutters, leaning his head against Bruce’s shoulder, leaving his neck open. Bruce, not one to discard such an invitation, dives in for a nibble.

“Mhm. I have.” He doesn’t so much release Tony as reposition him, still holding him tightly. “I thought about it all day long.”

“Oh, god, yes .”

There’s that soft laugh again and Bruce’s fingers in his hair pulling him into a kiss.

He gets no warning before he’s thrown over Bruce’s shoulder and carried away. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

He does that from time to time. There’s always a warning involved even though Tony’s never said no. He’s not entirely sure what would happen if he did (as unlikely as that is). It’s not that he doesn’t understand, because he does. He’s perfectly aware that he’s going to have sex with the Batman—not Bruce—and perfectly fine with it. He’s even been expecting it, ever since that one night.

He’s placed on the bed, not so much gently, but with a sense of purpose. There is still no light, and no sign of JARVIS. It’s another one of those things that make him wonder just how brilliant Bruce really is, because it’s not in JARVIS’ programming to allow anyone but Tony to shut him down. Tony isn’t worried.

Bruce leans in and takes his mouth again and again. Tony tries to keep up and automatically reaches out to grip whichever part of Bruce he can and hold him tighter, closer.

“You asked for it. Try not to regret it,” Bruce whispers against his lips.

“Yeah, no, that’s likely,” Tony laughs.

Regret it? While he’s being held like the most precious thing in the world and utterly possessed by the most amazing man he’s ever met? No, really, that’s likely.

He’s swept away by the tidal wave that is his lover. He goes willingly.

Chapter Text

SHIELD is an organisation rife with spies and assorted black ops personnel. This means that generally speaking, they have a little heads up before an actual clusterfuck requiring Avenger attention happens. Sometimes this even means things can be stomped out before they progress to said clusterfuck.

This is in all senses of the word a good thing. There are after all only a handful of them and they can’t all live and breathe Duty, Honor, Country’ every day all day like some people he won’t mention by name but knows the measurements of by heart.

The team has weekly check-ins and bi-weekly training sessions in and out of costume. This is mainly for Tony’s benefit which, thanks but no thanks, he’s not rusty. Generally they keep in touch via phone or email the rest of the time. Clint for example is the progenitor of the most heinous round-robin email ever conceived. The thing is entirely composed of jokes at their expense and pictures of them in various states of humiliation. It should come as no surprise that Tony takes up a good sixty percent of the content and although he’s not contributed to it yet, he does read the damn thing because bastard he may be, Clint has an uncanny way of catching them all at their most hilarious. Anyway, the point is that there really aren’t weekly villainous attacks requiring a full Avenger smack-down.

The first time he’s called in for a natural disaster, he’s a little disappointed. Earthquakes aren’t super villains by any stretch of the imagination and he’s Iron Man for crying out loud. That being said, he’s also one of the three people on that team with the ability to travel long distances in a short amount of time and while the Hulk does count one can hardly reason with the big green one at the best of times, so. This meant that while Clint and Natasha would have to wait for a jet, he could suit up and be off in five minutes or less.

By the time he’s arrived at the scene it already looks like it’s been hit by several bombs. “I want preliminary damage reports. Send them out when you’re done.” Tony and JARVIS kick things into high gear and zoom around doing the best they can.

“JARVIS, use the satellites to scan area and determine possible ground routes to operational hospitals, et cetera. Start from closest all the way up to feasible.”

“Calculating... complete.”

“I’m transmitting maps with marked routes—we need roads cleared to every major hospital. Make it happen people,” he orders without pausing to wonder if he’s allowed or even to see if he’s obeyed. He’s already flying off to catch a man plummeting to the ground in a business suit.

It’s a new thing for him. There is no one to blame for any of it. People a dying by the bushel and he can only do so much. Hell, when the rest of the Avengers arrive, and it’s all of them including Thor and the Hulk, they can only do so much.

“Iron Man is coordinating so stay sharp people and pay attention to what he says!” Captain America bellows, he bellows even though their communicators are all top of the line and it’s not necessary at all.

That’s how Tony ends up in charge of a team of Avengers and the entire relief effort as it trickles in. He’s running on adrenaline and doesn’t even stop to let that sink in, he’s so busy sending people this way or that, telling Thor in words he can understand that somehow he needs to prop that building up because it’s collapsing with hundreds of people inside it. He experiences nothing short of blind panic every ten seconds and it’s hard, okay, to have to send Natasha elsewhere because there’s just no way she can handle a sinking bridge piled with occupied cars or to not send Hulk in her place because he’s already holding one together.

So many people die and there is no one to blame. Captain America rushes around pulling people out of rubble and crushed vehicles, Clint is doing something complicated with rope and arrows that looks straight out of an action movie but Tony, Tony has to stay in the sky and keep an eye on everything but cannot do enough.

When the Fantastics show up with the X-men right behind he nearly cries with relief. He doesn’t know how they even came to be there, but he’s grateful and will take all he can get, because they come with the Professor in tow who can take over for Iron Man and telepathically beat them into one cohesive unit because who fucking cares about mental privacy when so many people are dead or dying and this man sees it all, sees it and can relay it within a heartbeat?

Tony has never been more relived to be taken out of a command position ever in his life. His heartbeat is through the roof and he might collapse any second but every time he’s close he thinks, “Just one more. One more.”

He bursts into Fury’s office and slams the door behind him. He’s given a one-eyed baleful glare which would have been effective were it not for the part where Tony is fucking livid.

“Tell me there’s a reason you haven’t commissioned a transport for the Avengers from me other than your massive ego,” he snarls.

Fury, implacable as ever, leans in, elbows on his desk and fingers interlaced in front of him. “And would you have made it a priority or would you have fiddled with it in between making eyes at your catamite and prancing your way through television shows?”

Tony doesn’t think that deserves any kind of answer so he leaves the way he came—with a bang.

“Throw your tantrums at someone they impress, Stark,” Fury shouts after him, “and make me a god-damned jet!”

Yes, there’s no denying he will build the thing and he knows Fury knows it, but by all that is sacred he will make SHIELD pay through the nose for it and not feel an ounce of regret. He strides through the base with the intention of beating something for a while until he feels better which is new but not unexpected.

It’s times like these that make him hate giving up alcohol for the sake of his health and the far more important goal of getting into Bruce’s pants. The Bat is a bit of a stick in the mud when it comes to recreational substances but he makes up for it in other areas so Tony has learned to deal by drinking a metric ton of coffee. A funny side effect is that since he’s stopped drinking himself into a stupor, the physical approach has gained appeal. This is how he ends up in the gym trying to demolish one of the Steve-approved punching bags.

He doesn’t know how long he’s at it exactly, just that his knuckles ache and breathing is becoming a problem and there’s been an odd silence for a while now. The first he can solve by going from punching to kicking, the rest he ignores. Christ, he might actually need to sign up for the recommended counselling they keep going on about only he can’t, can he. The head of Stark Industries can hardly be unstable, can he.

He loses his mind a little and rains down a flurry of punches on the thing and it’s futile, fucking futile without super-soldier strength. The fucking thing doesn’t even budge, damn it, it just hangs there mocking him with its reinforced synthetic and steel lining.

“Tony. Tony, stop.”

“Kindly fuck off, busy,” he growls.

“Please, Tony, you’re bleeding.”

No. No, he is righteously pissed and no one has the right to interfere with that. Of course this means jack ass shit to Captain motherfucking America, who simply grabs hold of his fists—oh, wow, look, blood—and keeps a tight grip while Tony struggles against him.

“Steve, I know I sometimes talk out of my ass for reasons obscure to all of mankind, but I swear, if you don’t let me go right the fuck now I will murder you gleefully,” he snarls. Somewhere deep down he knows he’s being ridiculous but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t believe every word of his own bullshit right now.

Steve looks at him with those earnest eyes he makes when he sermonises and Tony is fucking undone, okay? He just, he can’t. Let’s leave it at that—he just can’t. A great wall of Captain America is there to catch him when he loses all strength in his legs but he’s too exhausted even to make a white knight joke.

“This is all so many kinds of fucked up,” he breathes.

“I know, Tony,” Steve murmurs against his hair, “I know.”

...

Pepper is waiting for him when he gets back to the house.

“The jet is fuelled and waiting for you,” she tells him. “I’ve taken the liberty to clear your calendar for the week, however this does mean that you’ll be making it up to me afterwards.”

He drops the case by the floor and sags against a wall. “Can I clone you?”

She cocks her head at him. “Tempting, but no. Fatherhood shouldn’t be in your future for a while yet.”

“Oh come on, a tiny Pepper! We can be co-guardians,” he says, fighting a smile. “We can name her Rosemary—no, Ginger.”

Pepper glares at him while pursing her lips and very determinedly not laughing. “That would land you in prison for child abuse and while I am all in favour of your long overdue re-education, you have a plane to catch.” She very demonstratively starts doing something on her tablet. “You have thirty minutes before it’s gone.”

That makes him straighten up instantly. “I thought you said the jet was waiting for me? It’s my jet! Why do you people keep doing these things to me?”

“Watching you sweat is my one joy in life,” she deadpans.

“Okay, okay, you made your point. Dictator,” he mutters sulkily, snatching the case off the floor and turning right back around. He pauses in the doorway, turns back and looks her over again. “You look nice. Date tonight? You can use the house if you promise to keep the parties within police regulations.”

“Twenty-five minutes,” she tells him.

“Is he good to you Pepper? Because if he isn’t I’ll bury him so deep his only neighbours will be fossilised,” he tells her sincerely. He would, too. Pepper is family like Obadiah wasn’t, and he’s learned that means something.

“Oh would you look at the time. There’s a very important meeting scheduled in fifteen minutes.”

“Going!” he yells out cheerfully and flees out the door before she starts getting serious.

...

Alfred lets him in the manor without fuss these days of which he’s embarrassingly proud. As he’s come to understand it, Alfred is less of a butler and more of a dad—not that Tony is an expert on the subject, but he’s fairly sure he’s right about this one. Bruce is out for whatever reason so he entertains himself by snooping through the new gadgetry in the Batcave.

Bruce doesn’t like it when he adds ‘bat’ as a prefix to everything Batman related which makes it no less accurate. It’s also the cause of an adorable twitch right above Bruce’s left eyebrow so Tony’s not about to give it up.

Yes it’s a cave, but he firmly put his foot down several months back and started smuggling in improvements bit by bit. Maybe it would be more honest to say he didn’t put his foot down per se, more like inched it towards the ground until there was touchdown with Bruce none the wiser. The result’s the same. The Batcave now holds state of the art equipment in as many fields as Bruce likes to dabble with some to spare. More importantly—there’s furniture now.

To say he habitually waits up for Bruce would be a gross overstatement and also, an embarrassing blow to his masculinity. He sometimes loses track of time playing with the Batgear—and the spare suits. Additionally, it was one of the catalysts resulting in an actual bond with Alfred.

What happened was—well, what happened exactly isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, it’s the consequences which are important in this case.

Because Bruce has rules about Bat things and Wayne things staying in Bat places and Wayne places, Tony used his phone to call Alfred. Once he had him on the line, he had no idea how to put his request in a way that fails to scar either of them.

He chose to lead with, “Um.”

“What can I do for you, Mr Stark?” Alfred asked him with thinly-veiled contempt—progress.

Tony considered his predicament for a second, weighing pros and cons.

Lie, and say he called about dinner? Pro: Lack of embarrassing explanations. Con: Alfred is not an idiot. Con: struggle futilely for another hour, then wait for Bruce to help him out. Con: Bruce gets to know what he’s done.

“I may need a little help downstairs, if you have a minute?” he finally admitted with great reluctance. He was met with silence. “Way downstairs,” he elaborated.

“Ah. Of course, sir. I will be right down.”

Tony fidgeted, tried to free himself once more, failed, sat and fidgeted some more with a batarang. Alfred appeared from the elevator looking unperturbed, that is until he spotted Tony. “I know,” Tony groaned. “I look like something out of a particularly bad rendition of the Matrix. Please tell me you can help me out of this thing because I don’t even remember how I put it on, and if Bruce sees me there will be no more reason to live.”

It’s sad. Bruce isn’t that much bigger than Tony, and still the costume makes him look fetish-delish while on Tony it was a Halloween idea gone rabid.

Well.”

“You could try to sound a little less gleeful about this Alfred.”

Alfred smiled a sardonic little half-smile. “I’m sure I could, sir.”

“Boy, I just love the wit, I really do. Can we please release me from the bondage suit before Bruce arrives? Please? Rubber is about to be ruined forever for me,” Tony whined.

“We can’t have that, can we now,” Alfred mocked, he mocked, the mocker. Tony hates British humour with a fiery passion.

Alfred came up to him and started unfastening the suit and bit by bit Tony regained his optimism. That is, until he remembered what he was wearing underneath it. When the time came to shuck the thing entirely, he hesitated. “Um,” he said again as Alfred stood there watching him with professional condescension, “Pants.”

Alfred, the saint that he is, produced a robe from somewhere and whipped it around Tony’s shoulders. “I realise it may not be my place to ask, yet I must confess a certain curiosity,” he said lightly.

Yeah, fair enough. If Tony had caught Alfred trying on a Batsuit he’d have questions too.

“I was doing research,” he bullshitted. Then he decided he could spin it. “We have an ongoing argument about equipment superiority—but of course you know this already. I decided to try the hands-on approach. It’s been a great success already, this thing is its own straitjacket. Armour over Kevlar any day of the week, man.”

“Ah, but you see Mr Stark, I’m afraid your data is corrupt. Generally Master Wayne doesn’t break the fastenings quite so thoroughly when putting it on.”

“Balls. I knew there was a reason I automated the entire process,” Tony chuckled, and Alfred, who hated his guts most ardently, chuckled along.

“As I understand it, you have found certain positive aspects to the getup?”

Tony groaned. “Bruce is such a filthy gossip. I just bet you know far more about my private life than I am comfortable with.”

Alfred, amazingly, smiled at him with no hint of malice whatsoever. “I think you’ll find, sir, that a butler of the Wayne family can be unfailingly discreet.” He kind of underscored this by doing away with the Bat costume with the same kind of familiarity as he must have with folding laundry.

“I know that, I do. He’s very lucky to have you for many reasons, not least of all is costume maintenance. I’m still building him a suit,” he told the man. “I don’t care how much he bitches. Yeah, he can out-ass-kick me usually, but I’m right on this one. He doesn’t even have to use it all the time, but I’ll be damned if at some point, something comes along that he could have handled if not for a lack of weaponised armour.” He looked around the cave, taking in the frankly depressing atmosphere. He’s not sure why he couldn’t stop talking, it just happend. “I can’t lose him, Alfred. I refuse to.”

He’s not sure if it was something about the humiliation, or his ridiculous naked confession—Jesus, what was he even thinking?—but something changed that night. Alfred thawed in his favour and somewhere, a pig flew towards freedom.

“Well then Mr Stark, I shall trust you to hold on for as long as you can.”

Psht, yeah, hold on. Tony was nailing the fucker to a wall if that’s what it takes.

He can take being hated—even by Bruce. What he can’t take, refuses to even consider, is an absence of Bruce. Even if he’s off somewhere being a martyr too good to be deserved by any man, Tony can make peace with that.

A life without Bruce is not within acceptable parameters for his own continued sanity. When he realises he would burn the world and salt the grounds without even a twinge of regret if it meant keeping Bruce safe, and the thought doesn’t frighten him even a little, he knows he’s too far gone.

He doesn’t care.

...

“I see you’ve made yourself at home, as usual,” Batman growls at him.

Tony puts as much leering into his grin as he can. “You know me, I get bored easily.” He puts his fingertips on the parts of Bruce’s face that are actually uncovered and slowly rises on his toes to make up for that inch-and-boots. “Welcome home, sweetheart.”

Kissing Batman hello in this fucked up I love Lucy parody is one of the odder experiences of his life, which is saying something. Where Bruce might have smiled, even dipped him back and kissed him properly, the Bat is unyielding. He barely moves his lips, barely breathes. Tony leans against that strong chest and inhales.

There is a distinct odour of singed fabric.

“We are not in the least bit normal,” Tony muses.

Batman stands there solid as a rock. He too exhales a little louder than usual.

“No. We aren’t.”

...

The first time he meets Cassandra Rebbecca—please call me Carrie—Holt, it’s because of the Wayne Foundation (otherwise known as Bruce Wayne’s personal guilt erasure device, please, let us not kid ourselves) which is taking care of all the girls’ medical expenses. He’s there as Bruce’s date as well as business partner, Carrie is there as a flagellation instrument. Tony figures Bruce would have preferred the set but Miranda Jones is recovering somewhere Swiss and expensive so he only gets the one.

The girl looks small and while a part of that can be attributed to her missing everything from the knees down, most of it is just general lack of size and substance. She’s seated in a futuristic looking wheelchair which she operates herself with what looks like an Atari joystick (she gets points for that) with her father never too far away.

As far as flagellation goes, she’s doing a horrible job. The main issue here is that she keeps smiling and laughing, which fries all of Bruce’s synapses. Tony sees where he has difficulty because for a girl who’s barely hit puberty and suddenly lost her legs, Carrie comes across as surprisingly upbeat. The second problem is that while she will not shut up about that night, not only does she not seem scarred in any way other than the obvious, she’s also developed a massive, massive crush on Bruce’s alter ego which very much does not compute—to Bruce. Tony on the other hand can sympathise.

Then someone from the Foundation introduces Bruce to her and the results are nothing short of hilarious.

It basically goes like this: Bruce tries to apologise in a roundabout way for the ordeal she had to go through and asks her how she’s doing. He does this with minimal rich boy sleaze although she kind of gawks blankly at him a little nevertheless. Eventually she answers him that she’d been scared, sure, but then the Batman came and beat the ever-loving shit out of the bastards who’d kidnapped her so she doesn’t count it as a loss (metaphorically). Bruce spends some time staring in incomprehension as Carrie Holt gives him a play-by-play of the Epic Beatdown as performed by Batman.

“His face looked like hamburger meat when Bats was done with him. I’m not gonna lie, it was an improvement,” she tells them with a malicious glee Tony can appreciate in a small person. “It was epic. He’s my new role model."

There’s a second of tension when Bruce just cannot help himself. “The Batman is a wanted felon,” he says with all this fake outrage, or possibly it is real, Tony’s not sure. Bruce can be strange when faced with people who actually appreciate what he does.

Carrie does the long suffering sigh routine and teenage eye-roll. “He saved my life so you can stick that attitude where the sun don’t shine Mr Wayne, sir.”

Her father stands by her clutching the wheelchair while his knuckles turn white and looks on with this expression of helplessness. He alternates between shock and fear when he lays eyes on Bruce or him but mainly he sticks by his daughter and doesn’t reprimand her for her language even though it’s pretty fucking coarse for a tween girl, which Tony respects him for.

Then she mentions Batman’s scorching hotness, and Tony more or less sees Bruce’s brain shut down out of self defence. Because he’s nothing if not a caring boyfriend, he comes to the rescue.

“So you enjoying yourself then, kid? Wait a second.” He snaps his fingers at a sullen looking server and does a pointing-wave thing in Carrie’s direction which, yes, asshole move, but gets her a glass of something sparkly (and probably non-alcoholic). “Right, how about now?” he asks her.

“It’s kind of weird yet awesome,” Carrie muses. “It’s basically like someone showed up with a cake and a banner saying ‘congratulations for being maimed’ or something. Then something with clowns, I’m not sure. I may just be remembering a nightmare I had.”

Bruce is starting to look like he’s not sure if he should be expecting someone to jump out and accuse him of mocking people with disabilities, or a pat on the back for a job well done. Tony loves this kid.

“I suggested something like it. It was shot down,” he tells her because it’s true even though it earns him an elbow in the side from Bruce.

“Bummer,” she says. “Still, it’s a pretty kick-ass welcome to disability all the same.”

“We’d actually like to make it a short stay,” Bruce jumps in smoothly. “Miss Holt,” he says, and Tony loves him a little more for addressing her instead of her father, “I’d like to offer you the opportunity to be the fist beneficiary of our newest venture.”

“What Bruce is trying to say in too many words is that we’d like to make you some new legs because we need a lab rat and you’re eminently suited to the position seeing as you can’t run away,” Tony interrupts. The girl giggles while her father gapes. Bruce looks pained but he doesn’t bother chastising him. Tony ploughs on. “Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises have teamed up to develop a new kind of limb prosthesis and we’re planning to use the Wayne Foundation eventually to deal with the results. However, if we are to have any, we need test subjects. What do you say, are you in the mood for some medical science?”

They haven’t been publicising the actual content of their project with all the attention focused on their epic romance so it’s probably a surprise even to Holt, who does something boring with programming that’s made him boatloads of money. Still, it carries the Wayne name which is probably what makes the man nearly sink to his knees and start worshiping them in gratitude. Tony however, is still waiting for the results of that pensive look on Carrie’s face.

“Are there rockets involved?” she asks him and it’s all he can do not to offer her father a billion in cash right here and now to hand her over.

“There can be,” he tells her instead. His deflection tactic is to grin and wink. There’s need to let Bruce know he’s actually serious about that, is there? “So, Batman, eh? I notice a lot of black in your outfit of choice.”

Carrie’s grin is unrepentant. “You could say I’m mourning my mobility, but the goth look is pretty damn impressive on him. Who’s to say I can’t make it me?”

“Work it, sister,” he says, giving her a thumbs up.

“When you get me legs I’ll show you my intimidating strut in black leather boots, too.”

He doesn’t have angry sex with Bruce because he’s in his workshop the minute he’s out of his suit. He doesn’t even notice the man fell asleep on a chair watching him work. What the hell is happening to him?

Bruce Banner isn’t very hard to find. He lives on the base just like Steve and if he’s not in the labs, then he’s in his room. Apparently it’s a lab day because Tony finds him up to his elbows in test tubes.

“Banner. Banner. Banner. What do you know about the human nervous system?”

“I know how to disable one. Get out.”

“Okay then.”

He’s starting to understand Bruce’s work ethic and it fucking terrifies him. It’s a mad world when he is voluntarily listening to Reed Richards ramble on about genetics, medical technology and god knows what else (Tony lost the will to live about three subjects back). He forces himself to attention because while Richards is a hopeless basket case, he is also a confirmed genius equal to Tony himself. Sometimes. In some cases. The insanity is apparently par for the course.

Anyway, he’s clever and he’s made a study of the human body, unlike Tony, who knows more about the practical side of things than the theory (wink wink, nudge nudge).

“Of course an electrode array is the obvious choice but the negative consequences of such an inelegant solution could very well outweigh the benefits,” Richards goes on. “The human body has proven itself amenable to cybernetic implants however, even going so far as to integrate them—”

“Obviously,” Tony snorts, tapping a finger against his arc reactor.

“Ah, yes!” Richards perks up. “I had wondered if you would just come out and say it. It’s an ingenious piece of engineering and I have ever so many questions but Sue warned me it might be perceived as rude to question a man about so delicate a thing, but now that you’ve mentioned it—”

Tony cuts him off there because, Christ. “First of all, you don’t have to be so sensitive about it. It’s not like it’s a genital wart. Secondly, no, you can’t take a closer look, no I won’t tell you what powers it, and no I definitely won’t go into detail about its design.”

Richards is first stunned, then confused. In the end he settles for a pout. It’s not very effective. Tony’s become immune to Thor. Richards doesn’t stand a virgin’s chance in an orgy.

“I’ve been looking into more than just implants. Now, if we could get someone to say, physically interface with a robotic limb,” he begins, pulling up a full holographic display out of habit.

“That’s the sciatic nerve,” Reed points out wide-eyed. “You want to make cyborgs? But the weight of the Iron Man suit alone—”

“No, no, synthetic,” Tony interjects.

“Yes of course but then there’s the question of durability.”

Of course the man thinks Tony wants to roboticize himself for shits and giggles. That’s just Tony’s life.

“I’m not taking it into a war zone, Richards.”

Reed doesn’t have anything to say to that, so he stares at Tony with big eyes, not unlike a very blue calf. “Oh,” he says finally. “Oh.” His brow furrows and he does that thing where he stretches out an arm to grab something which always makes Tony feel a little uncomfortable in the way you feel uncomfortable when someone else gets kneed in the groin.

“Reed, you home?” he hears Johnny Storm shout. “Me and Ben need that thing I left there last week. You better not be doing anything quantum up there!”

Reed sighs deeply. He rubs his forehead with one hand while he uses the other to close the door on the other side of the room. “One time!” he shouts. “You do something one time, nobody ever lets you live it down,” he grumps.

Tony slings an arm over his shoulders, grinning. “Tell me about it. I still get asked if I peed the suit on a regular basis.”

“You did what?” Reed squawks.

Tony shrugs. “Alcohol, party, near-death experiences, filtering system—you know how it is.” From the look of him, Reed clearly does not know how it is. This is not entirely surprising because from the look of him he knows what it’s like to be the nerdy kid as Tony clearly does not.

“Come on, after we take a look at this I’ll show you the unfathomable joy of bullying an entire R&D department.”

“Pardon me?”

“And you’re in luck! It’s a two for one deal as we get to terrorise Wayne Enterprises as well. Are you excited? I sure am excited.”

Richards looks more frightened than excited, but it’s a start.

“Tony? Are you down there?”

Oh, fucking shit on a stick. Steve is still in the system with full-access which gives him a free pass to anywhere Tony is. He never bothered to change it.

He never thought he’d actually need to.

“Yep,” he calls back, just in case the sound of heavy machinery wasn’t enough of a clue. He’s never entirely sure with Steve. He might think the robots are actually sentient. “JARVIS, turn the music down a bit, will you? We don’t want to knock the good Captain back into the forties by mistake.”

“If you truly are making a foray into considerate hosting, perhaps a change of playlist, sir?” his AI offers.

“Are you serious right now? Iggy is a legend!”

“Captain Rogers having the same appreciation for ‘Butt Town’ as you seem to have seems dubious at best.”

Tony puts the cutter down before he loses a finger. “JARVIS, you are a dirty, dirty AI. Don’t ever change,” he laughs.

“As always, that is entirely up to you sir.”

Steve shows up in civilian clothes, which means friendly visit. Oh boy, he hadn’t known they’d reached that point already.

“Hey.”

“Hey yourself,” he answers. “What brings you around here? Don’t tell me Fury is bitching about the starkjet already.” Tony would hardly put it past him, even though he delivered excellent specs in record time and with an only a little bit outrageous price tag. Whatever else he is, Tony has been a business man for a long damn time. Those kind of things leave an impact, especially when you spent years douching it up on the weapons market where everyone is a dick at best.

“You’re making a jet?” Steve asks, bright eyed and excited. Tony is a little confused about this.

“Yes—No. It’s a work in progress. Shouldn’t you already know these things, fearless leader? Are they easing you into command or something? I admit, seventy years on ice is no joke, but they did give you a leadership position. Least they could do is keep you in the loop.” That was obviously the wrong thing to say (or just the wrong tone, he’s not the best judge of these things). Steve’s losing that perfect soldier stance little by little. It’s almost enough to make him feel sorry, only not.

“Director Fury surely has his reasons,” Steve states.

Hah, yeah, and Tony barely passed high school. “Then I won’t tell you about it,” he says instead. “But if it’s not that, then what are you doing here, Steven?”

There’s something one has to understand about Steve. He is incapable of a good poker face. It’s not even that he ends up looking shifty, he just gives you the impression that he really needs to pee. This is one of the reasons Tony knows he’s about to lie, badly.

“I was in the neighbourhood,” he lies, badly.

“A-ha,” Tony says, looking away from big boy blue so he can choose the best way to tell him he’s full of shit. He’s just about got it only Steve follows up his lie with emotional blackmail.

“And I’ve been worried.”

Once upon a time, that might have been effective. That however was before Steve stood there, nodding along as Fury explained to Tony in a lot of words why he was inadequate and subsequently fired, thanks for all the help, bye bye now.

“I’m fine, everything’s fine,” he says in tones of get the hell on with it. Steve very much does not.

“You’re working on the armour?”

“No,” Tony snaps. Oh come on, he’s about to start tapping his foot. Steve hesitates so Tony decides to head off any more inane questioning. “New project, top secret, so sorry.”

“Right,” Steve says, fidgeting, “sorry.”

They stand there, looking at each other for far too long. Tony was done with that seconds ago, seriously, he has things he could be doing. “Does Fury know you’re here?” he wonders out loud, because if he doesn’t then there a SHIELD invasion may be imminent and this is very much in the category of do not want. Who knows what Fury thinks he might do to Captain America—probably nothing good if his pattern holds.

“I’m not his dog, Tony,” Steve sighs. “I didn’t actually ask if I could come play at your house.”

“I don’t care what you say, we’re not braiding each other’s hair,” Tony says.

Steve grins at him. “I didn’t even know it was on the table.”

“I just told you it isn’t.”

“That’s a relief. I never had a little sister to practice on.”

There are no words for the level of weird his day is taking on. He just careened off the road of predictable and steadily en route towards ridiculous. It’s only reasonable it gets worse, because that is the way of things and he should never expect any different. The doors of his workshop make the noise that announces someone approaching and lo and behold, there is Bruce, smiling vapidly and carrying coffee.

He’s had time to dress down for the occasion so it’s not a business suit but jeans and one of those ridiculous Stark <3 Wayne t-shirts—oh wait, that’s his. He can tell by the way the material stretches over the chest and shoulders and around the biceps. Oddly, it’s a little loose around the waist. Huh.

“Hi baby, didn’t know you had company,” Bruce says lightly. He waves a coffee in greeting smiling kind of sheepishly which he probably thinks masks the suspicion in his eyes but Tony isn’t fooled. He’s not gonna lie, he is a little thrown by the tone—and the baby—but not actually blind.

“It wasn’t planned,” he says indulgently.

Bruce hums and sashays his way over to them, hands one of the coffees to Tony and kisses him on the corner of his mouth. “Honey, I’m home,” he jokes, then kisses him again, properly.

Tony tries to convey all his curiosity/surprise/joy with a look. “And you brought espressos.”

“Pepper called me, said you aren’t answering your calls and if you are building a death ray she needs to know so she can prepare for the outrage but I had better go do something about it anyway. My plan is to distract you with coffee.” Then he smiles apologetically at Steve. “Sorry, if I’d known you were here I would have brought you one too. Bruce Wayne, I think we met at Tony’s birthday party?” he says, offering Steve his free hand.

Steve looks at it and Tony has a vicious moment where he thinks Steve might not take it. He’s wrong, Steve does take it, and shakes it, and doesn’t let go as if burned despite Bruce’s faux gayness—which, by the way, what? How does he even think he’ll get away with it, with the (fake) reputation he has?

“Steven Rogers, and we did.”

He does. Tony loses a bit of faith in humanity.

“A returning pleasure, then,” Bruce says. He flips another switch and it’s straight to charming. “Of course I do know who you are, but I didn’t want to be rude. I will risk it however to thank you for what you do and have done for the people and the country.”

“Ehm, thank you,” Steve says. He seems completely unprepared for Bruce but then many people are. Tony, knowing well on which end his bread is buttered, stays the hell out of it. Whatever Bruce thinks he’s doing, he can get on with it, with Tony’s blessing.

“While I appreciate your work, honestly I do, mainly I’m grateful you’re there with Tony. Heaven knows he’s good at getting himself in trouble and I couldn’t bear the thought of something happening to him,” Bruce continues, pausing to run his fingers down Tony’s bare arm. “It helps a man sleep better at night when he knows that while his boyfriend is out running after criminals, at least he does so in the company of other heroes.”

Steve blushes and looks down at his shoes. “Tony can handle himself, but thank you for trusting us with him.”

“I used to read your comics but what boy didn’t? You were my favourite hero—back before I knew Tony, naturally.” He peers at Steve intently. “They didn’t get your jaw or eyes right at all, did they? You’re far more attractive in person.”

Steve seems to be having a small seizure for which Tony can hardly blame him and at the same time is incredibly entertained by. He drinks his coffee and says nothing which is fucking hard. There are so many ways he could make this awesome—more awesome—only he hardly wants to stand in the way of Bruce’s fun.

“Are you alright, Steve?” He turns to Tony, his worried look momentarily transformed to sly enjoyment. “Shouldn’t we get the Captain a drink? He looks a little warm.”

“Don’t ask me,” Tony says, “I’m hardly Susie Homemaker. Do you remember where we keep the kitchen? Of course you don’t, you have a butler.”

“You’re being mean. Don’t make me take your coffee away,” Bruce threatens him.

“Alfred told me all about the fire of ‘99,” Tony teases back.

Bruce smolders at him, then laughs huskily. “I can show you fire,” he says, voice heavy with innuendo.

“No! I’m fine, honest,” Steve protests, making them both turn to look at him. He tries to smile and fails spectacularly. He doesn’t give up on it, which Tony guesses is worth some points. “I should be leaving anyway. I need to talk to Coulson.”

“Oh hey, can you tell him that I really don’t want to be arrested for having a super illegal guest pass so he should hurry up with my official one,” Tony reminds him. “However much I like feeling like James Bond when I use it, I feel like getting reamed out by him less.”

“You could try not doing illegal things to their systems,” Steve scolds without any actual scolding—he sounds amused instead.

“Yeah, I could do that, or, they could stop treating me like an unruly child,” he sulks. “Or, here’s a novel idea, they could stop using card keys which can be swiped and hacked by any asshole with a little know-how and let me update their system,” he adds spitefully.

Steve raises his arms in surrender. “I don’t think I should get in the middle of that argument. I’ll talk to him.”

He shakes Bruce’s hand again, claps Tony on the shoulder and goes. They kind of remain behind in this weighty silence, looking at the place Steve used to be.

“Wow,” Tony breathes out. “You are such a dick.”

Bruce looks at him sideways, one eyebrow raised. “Did you enjoy your schadenfreude, kettle?”

“I could blow you right now but I’m worried I may jizz my pants,” Tony admits shamelessly.

Bruce, the angel that he is, pus his coffee down, takes Tony’s coffee and puts that down, then slowly unbuttons the top button of his jeans, all while looking Tony right in the eyes.

“Why are you actually here?” he asks later when clothes are back in the picture. He gets a look that makes him regret asking.

“Lucius called. He said you made the R&D people cry.”

“Baldfaced lie,” Tony says quickly. Bruce continues with the looking. “Exaggeration at the very least,” he corrects. “There may have been one sniffle. Okay, maybe two.”

Bruce sighs and mutters what may or may not have been “Why is this my life?” which surely is a bit dramatic, but then Bruce is all about the dramatic so Tony guesses it makes sense.

“In other good news, we should be ready for human trials in less than a month,” he says. He’s wanted to say it ever since Bruce walked in but then Steve and other distractions happened. He can’t be blamed, there’s only so much a man can do in the face of incredible sex.

“Are you serious?” Bruce asks with wonder and he actually looks so happy that Tony can’t not kiss him breathless. He leans his forehead against Bruce’s and closes his eyes.

“Less than a month, I promise you.”

“You are amazing,” Bruce tells him. “I could almost forgive Captain America for his crush on you. I won’t, because you’re mine, but I understand.”

Tony rears back to stare at him but no, crazy doesn’t really show in the face, does it? You can hardly tell Bruce has lost his mind.

“What the actual fuck?”

“Shut up,” Bruce grunts, grabbing him by the straps of his tank top and yanking him back down. “Idiot.” He’s wrestled to the ground, his head pillowed on one of Bruce’s arms while the rest of him is trapped between Bruce’s thighs. “You’re mine,” he’s told and the words lodge so deeply into his brain that for the moment, he forgets everything else.

 

Chapter Text

Pepper is on the phone when he walks in so he wrestles with the most recent crossword a little. In his defence, it’s not a fair fight. Bruce manages to find all the little things he doesn’t know (yet) and his clues are all fucking impossible. It’s like playing charades with a monkey from outer space. He’s held himself back so far, but no more. Next time he’s retaliating with science and mathematics and then they can see how Bruce likes it.

“We need to discuss the robotics expo,” Pepper tells him and wow, she’s suddenly really close.

He puts the infernal puzzle away swearing that he’ll at least win the war. “Which one?”

It’s a valid question, there is absolutely no reason for Pepper to look at him like that. It’s not like it matters either, all anyone ever wants at those things is a closer look at his armour. That’s not worthy of discussion, his answers are all a variation of the words ‘hell to the fucking n-o’ and old hat by now. “Never mind, just tell me why it should matter to me,” even though it doesn’t.

Tony knows he's an engineering genius. It's not boasting, it's fact supported by shiny diplomas stating this to be so and copious evidence (i.e. everything he's ever built). He's built robots that far outstrip anything on the current market back when he was prepubescent. He's created weapons that make a mockery of the atomic bomb because he is a sad, angry little bastard who can't let things go. Clearly the evidence supporting his genius is overwhelming.

Why is it then that every time someone so much as mentions the Iron Man everyone promptly forgets everything else he's done ever? The armour is without peer to be sure and he knows it may just be his greatest achievement, but not for any of the reasons the masses think.

“You could show a little more interest considering you have a three hour slot you’re supposed to fill with something a little more substantial than flash and bang,” she says reproachfully. “They only requested you touch on your work with artificial intelligence but for the rest you’re free to talk about whatever you please. This could be a good thing for us if we do it right and I need you to do it right, Tony.”

“So you're saying there is a robotics expo and they want me to be a guest speaker? You're sure this is what they said?” he asks to make sure. “No armour?”

Pepper doesn't sigh or moan or glare at him. She barely even moves her head and it's enough to radio all kinds of waves of displeasure at him. He deeply respects her ability to control her inner rage so tightly. In another life she would have made an excellent supervillain.

“If you ever read anything I send you, you would have know that yes, the Tokyo Robotics Expo invited you to be a guest speaker sans armour, and you would have known it a month ago.”

“I do read the things you send me,” he argues and Pepper turns the displeasure up to eleven. “Just not the really boring ones about people wanting things like time and money.” This in reality means he skims the comapany lolcat group emails that are CCd to both of them and replies to emails he sent her where she invariably says no to any of his suggestions and demands. Thankfully, she’s not part of the Avenger round-robin monstrosity created by Clint.  

“The TRE contacted Stark Industries months ago to request your attendance. I even remember you being excited about it at the time but what was I thinking, of course this is one more thing in the long line of things you can't be bothered to care about,” she grumps.

“I am too excited! JARVIS, tell Pep how excited we are to go to Tokyo.”

“I don't know about you, sir, I however am most eagerly anticipating the event,” JARVIS’ voice comes through his phone dutifully. “It seems I will even be an honoured guest—pardon my presumption.”

“Presume away. You’re my bestest intelligence, of course I’m taking you with me.” Tony grins at Pepper. It's always nice to know that come what may, someone in this world will always have his back. “See? Excitement abounds.”

“You are both dirty liars but I'll take what I can get. The company could use the publicity,” she says and Tony doesn't understand how she could possibly expect him to generate even more of the stuff than he already does with the whole Avenger with a billionaire boyfriend thing.

“Okay, why?”

Pepper stares at him like she just cannot believe anything that is happening right now. “Someone in R&D finally managed to decode some of your notes, so Stark Industries is launching a line of holographic displays. I emailed you about it last year for the go-ahead. You told me 'fine whatever hey do you know if Wayne owns any classic cars'. I remember it exactly because there was no punctuation at all and you know how I feel about grammar.”

“Wait, wait, you're talking and I haven't heard a thing past some douche in R&D decoding my notes?”

“Desist with the flappy hands, you're not a teen girl,” she interrupts which would usually be fine, he's not in the habit of correcting her behaviour when she has her hands full correcting his, but there is nothing usual about any of this and he is baffled Pepper of all people seems to be missing that.

He sits down at his desk. Although she gets more mileage out of it than he ever did it is still his desk, in his office.

“Run that by me again,” he demands, booting up the built-in desktop system with a swipe of his hand. He's off on a hunt for the files before she even collects herself enough to speak.

“Years ago before you took over the company full time, you left notes in the R&D department. Some are on paper, some digital. I think one enterprising intern even unearthed notes you wrote on sandwich wrappers.”

“How the hell did they verify all of it?” he mumbles, reading through months of paperwork as fast as he can. “Why the hell did they even save it?”

“You have very distinctive handwriting. This apparently also translates to blueprints, sketches and even typing,” she says. “I agree with them on that score. As to why they kept them, sentiment is my best guess”

“Sure, sure, I just don't remember being such a prolific writer,” he mutters back. He's entirely absorbed in the process unfolding before his eyes. It is part mind bogglingly inane, part insane. “What the hell is this?” he wonders, and some furious typing later he still doesn't understand how his R&D department split into two distinct factions—one of which is actually interesting all of a sudden.

Pepper has no answer for him apparently. “I've been told the Baby Stark Notes are something of a legend in the department,” she continues, “It's considered a rite of passage to take a crack at them at least once.”

That catches his attention. “What do you get if you find something in them? Wait, baby Stark?”

She ignores his indignation like a pro. “Bragging rights I imagine. Oh, and a pie.”

“Bragging rights and pie? That's all I'm worth?”

“If you want to know what you're worth these days, I suggest you read Forbes, sir.”

“All right, all right, sheesh. Continue.”

“There's not much left to tell. One Michael Ross took his turn at the Stark Notes,” she says, wisely leaving the baby part out of it, “and it led to the Holo-Interface Unit.”

“Stark Hi-U,” he reads out loud. “He completely butchered my initial design, the little bastard.” He is both insulted and intrigued. “Do we have a background on him?”

She pulls up her tablet. “The usual. Graduated with honours. One Grandmother, parents deceased. More or less clean record.”

Tony leans over and snatches it from her hands. “More or less? What the hell is more or less?” A glance at the records tells him it's quite a bit less than more because there's a little fraud to begin with and he has no doubt it'll get better from there.

He knows he shouldn't blame her for this but he does. It's an issue of trust, and his trust in Pepper is infinite for good reason. That just makes it that much worse.

“There is no way this kid went anywhere near MIT,” he says.

That visibly startles her. “Excuse me? How can you say that, it's right there, MIT, top marks, what do you mean he didn't go to MIT?”

“I know how the system works, Pep. There is a scholarship as well as an internship he would have qualified for and in any plausible scenario these things would be in his records because the faculty at MIT would have signed him up for them. There is no trace of either of these things in the records of Michael Ross,” he tells her. “It’s a small thing, easily overlooked by most people, but most people didn’t set them up personally in a fit of pique.”

“So maybe he didn't want the scholarship, some people don't need them you know,” she says looking at him all meaningfully.

“And some people are paying their Grandmother's nursing home bills with their meagre savings,” he says, then discards the account information and covers his tracks before moving on to criminal records. “He's good, he's not that good. It's a decent fake, enough to fool anyone but me.”

Pepper is suddenly right behind him. “What are you doing? Are you allowed to do that? Tony! Stop that, that's illegal. Tony!”

“As is weed but hey, who am I to judge,” he says.

The life and times of Michael Ross are nothing short of a clusterfuck and while Tony feels sad for him, really, he's not running a daycare. “I need you to put the might of SI behind finding out every last scrap of information on Michael Ross. I want to know how he worked through my notes. I want to know what his co-workers think of him, how he performs during working hours—if he's faking it I want to know. Find out who he knows. I can't have a villainy  minion at my company, nor a military spy. God help him if he's one of Hammer's because I will castrate him.” His eyebrows shoot up of their own volition. “And of course Gotham is involved, that’s just my luck,” he mutters.

“And if he's in the clear?” He gives her a look of his own. “Apart from lying about MIT and the illegal substances,” she amends.

“Give him a raise. Promote him. Unless he's either a plant or the reason R&D is less of an embarrassment than usual, I couldn't care less,” he shrugs. He pulls out his phone and dials blindly. “Hey, you feel like going to Tokyo? I hear the fish is pretty good.”

“I'll hold your hand if you really need me to,” Bruce answers promptly. “Just don't involve me in the presentation because I will trip and break your favourite toy with a smile on my face and joy in my heart.”

Tony hisses in sympathetic pain. “Baby don't go hurting yourself just to make a point. I'll be good.”

“I'm saddened you are willing to settle for merely good and regretting my decision.”

“Ooh, burn,” Tony laughs. “How about I promise to be magnificent and even ask for your investigative help? I'll throw in some grovelling to sweeten the deal.”

“You must want this bad to go to such lengths,” Bruce muses.

“I always want you bad, this is hardly news. Also, Buddhist temples in faraway mountain ranges no one has ever even heard of? You bastard.”

Bruce laughs. “I was all out of pop culture, sorry.”

“Yeah, you will be sorry. Better brush up on your theoretical mathematics lovely because I will be brutal to you, don’t think I won’t. Pick you up in Gotham?”

“Mmhm. Name?”

“Michael Ross, Stark Industries R&D, has roots in Gotham. Around eight?”

“Make it nine.”

Tony frowns. That could mean anything. “Trouble?”

There’s a second’s delay. “No more than usual. Try not to be late, it’s a long flight.”

The goodbyes and love yous are always implicit so he’s not insulted he just got hung up on. He’s uneasy for an entirely different reason.

Pepper is there to distract him from it all. “Do I even need to bother, then? You’ve already got the Bat after the poor kid, does SI really need to get involved?”

He snorts at her. “Overkill is underrated, Pep. Let’s step lightly before we throw our lot in with someone we really shouldn’t. He’s lead on the project, did you know that? I see that you did. And if the situation backfires you know what that will mean? Ah, I see that you do.” He almost laughs at her, the face is just that good. Forget the Batman, pity Michael Ross for the wrath of Pepper will soon be upon him.

“Excuse me, I need to make a few calls,” she states calmly while underneath it there must be a maelstrom of ginger fury just waiting to be unleashed. He’s a little sad to be leaving without a show. Honestly, Pepper is beautiful when she’s mad, and when she’s mad at someone other than him? Wow.

He sees Bruce before the plane has properly landed and doesn’t lose sight of him until it has. It’s a new skill of his—Bruce-detection. No matter what the man is wearing or how bad the lighting is, Tony can identify him by the placement of his legs, the curve of his back, the swell of his lovely behind. Yeah. It’s one of the more useful things he’s picked up lately.

“Hey, hop in, let me show you around—I can’t believe we haven’t used this thing until now—hi, baby.”

“Slow down—is that a stripper pole?”

Tony blinks and starts pressing buttons on the phone in his pocket. “Absolutely not, I’m thirsty—are you thirsty? How about a drink?”

“Tony,” Bruce says, calmly pushing through his bullshit like the Hulk through concrete, “come here,” and suddenly he has a scarf in his hands and Tony is being manhandled. This development helps him puts it together fast.

“Yes sir.”

“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It is my pleasure, no, my honour to introduce to you a pioneer in our field—ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Tony Stark!”

The music starts to play and the applause is deafening, as is the screaming. While most of the crowd is made up of nerds and scientists there is a smattering of fans of both the Avengers as well as Tony Stark, billionaire playboy, in attendance. He saunters out into the light and strikes a pose with both arms raised in victory signs. He’s wearing a pair of red and gold shades partly for the light and partly because he is just that cool.

“Thank you, thank you. Good evening to you all,” He calls out. “I’m proud to be here tonight at this gathering of the world’s most forward thinking people. We will be talking about some of my personal successes—and failures. Progress is nothing without trial and error and I know all about error.” While they’re cheering Tony gestures to the back where some of his buddies are waiting. The robots roll out en masse and surround him to the loud approval of everyone there.

Tony raises his arms up to silence the spectators. “Welcome to the Tokyo Robotics Expo. I am Tony Stark, and this is my menagerie.”

The robots break formation and actually start exploring the stage while he looks on fondly. They’re like puppies, really. Sitting in the VIP section, Bruce smiles widely at him and waves a little before leaning in to talk to the man next to him. It takes Tony a second to recognise Lucius Fox, Bat-tech. So, hey, no pressure.

“Let me tell you how happy I am to be here in a place that celebrates something so close to my admittedly difficult to locate heart.” He peers over his glasses and smirks into the crowd. “JARVIS, tell them how happy we are to be here.”

The lights all dim and there is a swirl of blue sparks next to him, spinning in a cylindrical shape. He’s thought long and hard about how to introduce JARVIS and in the end decided to just go with his usual—dramatically. It’d taken no time at all to put something together that worked for him, even if JARVIS is a little miffed about the details.

The blue sparks are condensing into a humanoid shape of a man wearing a suit, specifically, a butler-y suit—notes were taken from Alfred for authenticity. JARVIS’ blue holographic body bows at the waist towards the crowd. “Indeed,” he says, “we are most excited for this opportunity.” Then, he repeats it in perfect Japanese.

There is a moment of silence like the kind you hear right before an explosion. The crowd does not disappoint.

Tony grins widely and takes his due. JARVIS looks unimpressed which is pretty much how he always imagines him. “Let’s rock,” he says, and with a few gestures fires up several of his interactive holographic displays. There’s a fifty-fifty chance Pepper will be happy with this move. Compared to what he’s doing the Stark Hi-U is a children’s toy. Nyah.

Baby Stark. He has such plans for that manchild, but first.

“I think I’ll start with the first incarnation of JARVIS here which, believe it or not, was inspired by one too many failures to call in sick to school when I was a kid...”

He walks into the VIP lounge, sweaty and still running on the high of a job well done. Bruce ambushes him.

“You are magnificent.”

King of the world is nothing compared to what he feels right now.

...

It’s Tony’s idea to spend the night. He refuses to lose such a golden opportunity so they take a penthouse suite in a nice hotel and make the most of it. Making the most of it involves blankets on a balcony and the Tokyo skyline as well as a platter of food which Bruce orders in Japanese. Tony is not jealous at all. He’s too busy being turned on.

It’s nice outside. They have a pile of blankets and some candlelight for atmosphere, and while it’s all very Pretty Woman, it works for him. Bruce has something that makes him that bit more appealing at night. It’s like his face is made for shadows, they accentuate angles and make his eyes shine and that’s it, he’s officially lost his man card. Next step, handing Bruce his balls—wait, that’s actually not a bad idea at all.

Not emasculated enough, “What do you say to extending this holiday by making a stop in Paris for a late breakfast?” Tony murmurs into Bruce’s chest. He’s the kind of sleepy that makes you feel relaxed and floaty instead of tired stupid so he gives himself good odds for getting his way since he knows Bruce thinks it’s endearing, the sap. At least the femininity goes both ways.

He gets a noncommittal hum as answer and that won’t do. He pushes himself up on his elbow and smiles lazily up at Bruce. “I’ll let you fly my plane,” he offers. “I won’t even comment if you break the speed limit.”

“You are the most ridiculous human being I have ever known,” Bruce chuckles.

“Patently not a no,” he continues in the same tone. “I know the best place to have crêpes in all of Paris—-well Pepper does but we have phones and I’m irresistible.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Bruce says. “I will come to Paris, I will even fly the plane—I know you said it not because you are sucking up to me but have deviant plans for such an occasion—if, and only if, you stop referring to the Christmas party as ‘Christmas with a vengeance’.”

Tony laughs at Bruce’s dry tone complete with finger quotes. “I thought that was a particularly clever play on words myself, but if you insist.”

“It’s bad enough I have to entertain the competition, don’t make it worse by turning it into a circus.”

“Baby, you know Gotham is all yours, every dark, gloomy, dangerous corner of it. The Avengers wouldn’t dream of invading.” He very much doesn’t add that he’s had to do a lot of fast talking on multiple occasions to keep it that way. Bruce doesn’t need to know exactly how interested SHIELD is in Gotham and the Batman, for Tony’s peace of mind if nothing else. Incidentally, there’s nothing that sucks more than being stuck between your lover and a government place.

Bruce sits up, dislodging him from his comfortable place for purposes of being serious. Really, who does that? It’s a human rights violation, that. “Are you honestly that much in denial or are you screwing with me?” he asks.

Tony groans and sits up as well. “Okay, I know it looks bad but I swear I can keep Fury’s big nose out of Gotham. You have to trust me a little bit.”

“He’s honestly that much in denial,” Bruce mutters, rolling his eyes. “Unbelievable.” He takes Tony by the hand and looks him straight in the eye. It’s a little intense but that doesn’t have to be bad. “Are you paying attention?”

“Are you—what am I, five?” Tony exclaims.

“Sometimes,” Bruce chuckles.

“I resent that. I’m fifteen at the very least.” He wiggles his eyebrows. “All parts functional and developed.”

“All right, teen drama queen. Let me put this in language you cannot misunderstand,” Bruce says, enunciating very carefully. “Steve Rogers, Captain America, National Treasure, is in love with you. Capital L-love, in a way that includes the removal of pants as well as various other articles of clothing, and a lot of lotion.”

Tony’s brain sounds the alarm. His OS is in need of an update to deal with this for again Bruce is showing signs of mental instability. It’s the cape, Tony knows. Nothing good ever comes from wearing a cape. Bruce leans in and surprises the hell out of him with the most gentle kiss.

“He can’t have you,” the Bat whispers.

“I need a reboot,” Tony panics. “The Universe is out of alignment and I need a reboot.”

“Idiot,” Bruce chuckles fondly.

He laughs. It’s forced, but he laughs. “Yeah,” he agrees. Anything to make Bruce stop talking about this.

It’s not fair.

Bruce sighs. It’s clear he has a lot more to say but is willing to let it go for which Tony is thankful, really, because he just can’t deal with this sober, which means he will deal with it never. “I looked into your little genius,” Bruce says and Tony takes it for the out it is.

“Terrible mind powers? Super Strength? Mob affiliations?”

“He’s a liar and a pothead with really bad friends but he’s not a supervillain. I sent the details to Pepper—I assume you left her in charge?”

“You assume right. Do you think he’s a danger to SI?”

Bruce hums. “Not likely to be. It’s a classic tale of sad Gotham childhood. The question is only if you wish to keep a man who forged his diploma and lied on his resume.”

“He made sense of my notes,” Tony tells him. “It takes a special kind of mind to do that.

“You’re keeping him, aren’t you,” Bruce says, amused and a little smug. “You’re proud of him.”

Tony can’t deny he is. The kid managed to fool everyone—everyone but him that is. He got into Stark Industries with a faked resume, but he worked his way up to project leader and managed to do something no one else had so far. He impressed Tony Stark. Hell yeah he was keeping him. The question was only was he keeping him in the spot he found him or could the kid be of more use somewhere else?

“You’re scheming. I can hear it.”

“Then distract me, Batboy,” he leers. Bruce, in the way of exasperated spouses everywhere, stuffs a tomato in his mouth.

Late breakfast turns into ‘probably dinner’. This is hardly a problem since Paris is still in the cards and that’s the important thing. He did good, he deserves a reward. City of love should manage that just fine, he imagines.

Bruce is being all serious and competent flying the plane which, while attractive, is a tad boring. He kicks back and does something responsible.

“I don’t believe it. You did as you were supposed to and now you’re on your way back?” He gives her a second to take a good look at him. That is not the face of a man returning home to be put to more use. She rolls her eyes. “All right. I walked right into that one.”

“Where was that place with the cheese I liked so much? That was Paris, right? I’m not imagining this, am I?”

While she does glare, she also tells him that yes, it was Paris, and she can send the address to him once she looks it up. Pepper is no longer at all surprised when he tells her he’s elsewhere and sadly not available for whatever thing she needs him to attend so he gets minimal I Am Disappointed With You from her. Bruce on the other hand gets elaborately thanked for his research on Mr Ross. She is entirely too pleased to be ripping someone a new asshole but that probably has something to do with years of really wanting to do it to him. That kind of thing changes a person.

Of course, he’s never going to make the mistake of offering to pay for any and all therapy she may need. A man can only take so much abuse before giving up.

Pepper informed just leaves SHIELD. Tony, being a responsible man, checks in with them. He expects an unremarkable rookie he can leave a message with only to get Banner on the line. “I didn’t know you had secretarial duties,” he says.

“It’s a privilege,” Banner answers back. “You wouldn’t know, you’re still rewarded with gold stars. The rest of us graduated preschool.”

“That hurts, man. So, hey, I’m not going to be around today. Figured I’d give you a head’s up.”

Banner shrugs and gives him an unimpressed look. “Colour me surprised. While you’re still on the line, can you look at something for me? It’s something I think you should see. I’m getting the creeps from it.”

Tony laughs and pulls up another screen. “Can’t have that. Okay, hit me.”

The second screen fills up with formulae after formulae. Banner is on the other screen, looking at him very seriously. “I’ve been looking through those files you dumped on me without warning—thanks for that by the way, it’s like I have no life outside of work—and while most of it is insignificant, there’s something that stands out. Now I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s--”

“The super soldier serum,” Tony interrupts. He curses under his breath, painfully aware of his current pilot.

“Where did you get this Tony?” Banner asks quietly.

“Richards. Fuck me, Reed Richards.”

His security had been for shit. Tony thought it was funny. It was going to be a prank, to teach Richards to protect his work better. JARVIS had only grabbed the top layer of unencrypted junk—or so he’d thought.

“Well, what do we do now?” Banner looks increasingly green around the edges which may just be the end of Stark Tower (NY edition) if Tony doesn’t think fast.

“We take it to Fury,” he says, every word leaving a bad taste in his mouth. “Make a physical copy, grab a car and hand it to Fury personally. If you could wait until tomorrow I’d appreciate it.”

Banner grins at him. “I’d love nothing more than to let you deal with this. I have a date tonight.”

Tony whistles. “Who’s the lucky lady?”

“Nonya Business,” Banner tells him.

“Very mature Banner. Who’s in preschool now?”

“This from the man blowing off a code red to go cavorting with his boyfriend,” Banner retorts.

“Have you seen my boyfriend? I would blow off world peace to cavort with him.”

Banner chuckles and inclines his head. “Tomorrow,” he reminds him, finger pointing and everything.

“Don’t steal my AmEx Black just to look cool,” Tony jokes.

Banner opts for the one finger salute instead of a witty rejoinder, a fitting end to their conversation.

Things need to be done before he can feel at ease enough to face Bruce without his guilt spelled out in his every move. It’s not that he doesn’t trust Bruce, it’s just that this is top level SHIELD business and Tony isn’t comfortable sharing that yet. There is also the way Bruce has opinions about things and for right now Tony can do without other people’s opinions.

He’s inside his system in the blink of an eye. Finding Richards’ files isn’t hard, they stand out next to his own as being ridiculously easy to access. “JARVIS, I want TED activated on all personal servers as well as the more sensitive company servers. Chop chop, buddy, we need this to be done yesterday.”

“Uploading now, sir. May I suggest at least informing Miss Potts of the change? You might recall her initial reaction to TED.”

Oh he recalls it all right. “Denied. Just do it JARVIS.”

He’s never actually used TED because it’s guaranteed to get him into a crapload of trouble. TED stands for ‘Tag-Erase-Destroy’, all things that will happen to the poor bastard unfortunate enough to run into it. It identifies the machine accessing protected drives, makes a record of it, then proceeds to infiltrate it erasing as it goes. As a finishing touch, it attacks the hardware. He’s always liked the idea of giving someone a permanent thanks for trying to hack him. He also likes the idea of preventing them from ever trying again.

“TED is uploaded and active on all personal servers. Uploading to company servers now.”

The plane lurches, dumping him off his chair. He grapples for a handhold when it lurches again, only this time there’s also an explosion. “What the fuck is going on, Bruce!”

“We’ve got company,” the Batman announces through the intercom. “You might want to suit up.”

“No shit!” he screams back. He’s already trying to reach the suitcase without much luck. What he assumes are evasive manoeuvres keep tossing him around like a rag in a centrifuge. “Come to papa,” he calls to it. He’s not going to die on his own fucking plane over fucking China. That is not his shtick. While he can get behind the whole blaze of glory way to go it would be so fucking embarrassing to die in a ball of fire with the suit only feet away.

Bruce bursts through the door and ninja-flips his way to the case. The Russian judge gives it a nine out of ten for style.

 “We can’t lose them, their crafts are more manoeuvrable than ours. Get ready to jump.”

Tony catches the case thrown at him. “I can fly us out, just make sure you’re dressed for it.” He kicks the case open and thrusts his arms in.

They’re hit.

Tony gets thrown into the wall and he can’t do anything, can’t grab hold of something because he’s up to his elbows in the suit. Bruce takes a running leap and grabs onto him just as they’re hit again. They’re in half a plane, suit partly on and Bruce clinging to his middle.

“Not what I had in mind when I suggested a getaway!” Tony bellows over the noise of their impending death.

Bruce doesn’t answer him. Apparently he’s all out of wit at the moment. Out of wit, but not out of ideas. He twists so Tony faces him and lifts the partly-unfolded suit up to Tony’s chest. Catching on quick, Tony spreads his arms, initiating the rest of the sequence. Bruce nods at him once. They’re going to make it.

Then, Bruce throws them both out of the plane, no longer holding on to Tony but in freefall. He can only watch as his boyfriend hurtles towards the ground wearing nothing but slacks and a polo while he’s being encased in a metal suit.

“Fuck no,”  he growls, readying himself to intercept the minute he has flight. He’s so focused on Bruce, calculations racing through his mind, that he never sees what the hell shoots him down.

He wakes up with the distinct feeling he’s done this before. His first thought is ‘ngraaah’ but the second is a little more coherent. He’s tied up and he’s still wearing the suit. He cracks his eyes open wishing with all his heart for a bed and some bondage cuffs. Oh, correction, with his eyes open he can tell he’s wearing parts of the suit.

“JARVIS?”

Nothing, not even a sizzle. He is well and truly off-line. Fuck. Time to focus on his breathing like Bruce taught him. The last thing he can use right now is a panic attack just because he’s in a cave in the dark somewhere remote and hidden away from anyone who can help him oh god, no. Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.

So he’s in a cave, somewhere in or near China. He has a non-functioning suit but that might be remedied with some elbow grease, presuming he can get his elbows free to apply said grease. Experience tell him the possibility exists.

Bruce, naturally, is alive. This is so because Tony refuses to consider the alternative. No idiot would kill a billionaire after going through the trouble of shooting one out of the sky to find he by some amazing stroke of luck landed two of them. It’s simple logic. Bruce is valuable, therefore Bruce is alive. The same cannot be said for well. Alive is one thing. Well is quite another. He thinks of two little girls who have no legs just because they are worth something.

He can’t even imagine Bruce as a cripple. It’s one of those things that are just impossible to visualise, like Fury with two eyes. It doesn’t make sense.

Tony tries to move into a more comfortable position only to find he can’t. He’s very well tied up, but not only that, he’s injured. His arm feels two sizes too large for the metal encasing it, joy of joys. He can’t even take stock of himself which is bad. There is a tracker in the suit and he can’t get to it to see if it’s functioning, or even still there. Whoever has them isn’t stupid. All the weapons seem to be off the suit and from the lack of weight he can tell the thrusters are very much disabled as well.

He hears a murmur approaching and his heart starts beating faster. In a spur of the moment he decides to play dead until he has a better idea who the hell he’s dealing with. The noises become louder. It’s a conversation, just not in a language he knows. Then there is the sound of a large lock opening, and some grunting. A whoosh follows, creating light. Dear Tesla, they are using fire to see by. He is being held by cave people. The Universe has a shit sense of humour.

“As you can see, he is mostly unharmed. It is up to you if he remains that way,” a voice says. It’s kind of posh in its enunciation and Tony imagines a twit in a suit. Great, corporate kidnapping,

“What do you want?”

Oh god. Bruce.

“Merely your continued cooperation.” Bruce grunts, then there’s what sounds as a bit of a scuffle. “It’s rather disappointing to see how far you have fallen. You could have been great, a beacon of justice and redemption. You could have been my heir.” Tony feels a chill creep up on him. He who shall henceforth be known as Smarmy Cunt is really a piece of work.

“I already have a father,” Bruce growls.

“And he was a good man. An idealist, but a good man. I am proud to have known him,” says the Smarmy Cunt. “Do you think your father would have approved of what you’re doing?”

“He would have understood.”

“Oh, Bruce. You are so blinded by this man you’re losing sight of everything else. I am hardly talking of your hobby as the Batman. Look at him. Look! Hardly the great warmonger his reputation makes him out to be. So much destruction brought about by such an insignificant creature.”

He hears sounds of a struggle. Someone, probably Smarmy Cunt, pulls steel.

“You leave him alone,” Bruce says menacingly. It warms Tony’s racing heart to hear it.

“That all depends on you, Bruce.”

That’s about as much as Tony can take. He groans a little for effect, then opens his eyes. He spots Bruce immediately. He looks roughed up, bruises and some dried blood but all that can be blamed on crashing from the sky. The important thing here is that all parts seem to be accounted for, thank fuck.

“Tony.” He sounds so relieved Tony can’t help but feel it as well.

“Well, isn’t this a conundrum,” he says lightly. That’s an understatement. Bruce is being held by two goons in ninja gear while Smarmy Cunt stands there with a sword. He’s the one without a hood, but otherwise in the same ninjaesque outfit. It would be funny if it didn’t look so intimidating. These are not cosplayers. These are genuinely dangerous thugs. Tony has seen enough of those to be able to tell.

“Ah, Mr Stark. I was wondering when you would feel up to joining us,” Smarmy Cunt says. Tony wants to blast him at close range very badly. “My name is R’as al Ghul, and as you may have already noticed, you are my guest for the time being.”

Tony knows how to play this game too, asshole. He goes for his most patronising look. “I’m not feeling the hospitality here. How about you, B, are you feeling the hospitality here? I don’t know, in my head there is a lot less bondage involved in being a guest somewhere.”

Smarmy Cunt smiles, smarmily. “My apologies for your circumstances, I do the best I can with what I have.”

“Somehow,” Tony says, “I doubt that.”

“I can see why you were initially attracted to him,” he says to Bruce. “He has the same flair for insolence you do.”

Tony laughs but the effect is ruined by a wince. “I am in a league of my own, thanks. B is an amateur compared to me.” He focuses a glare on Smarmy Cunt. “Let’s cut the bullshit. What do you want with us?”

Smarmy Cunt smiles at him again. “All in good time, Mr Stark. For now, you may assure yourselves you are relatively unharmed. We will speak later.”

The goons throw Bruce at Tony’s feet, then flank Smarmy Cunt. Bruce doesn’t move right away. This is terrifying on a deep level. Tony knows just how good Bruce’s reflexes are and just how much he hates being exposed from behind. He sits there, tied up and immobile, while Bruce lies at his feet breathing with difficulty.

The ninja parade hang up the two lit torches on the wall before leaving and Tony is stupidly grateful for the light.

“Are you all right?” Bruce asks him softly.

How does he answer that? He’s being held captive by ninja madmen, his suit is in pieces and he’s tied up. Oh, let’s not forget the probably broken arm.

“Fine. You?”

Bruce chuckles. “Considering the circumstances, fine.” He’s silent for a while. Tony sympathises, he can’t think of anything to say either. “I’m sorry.”

“Pardon?” he asks, taken aback. “What the hell are you sorry for?”

Bruce contorts on the ground and somehow gets into a sitting position. He looks at Tony and there it is—patented Wayne guilt.

“If the next word out of your mouth are about how this is all your fault, I will smack you.” Bruce looks at him sceptically only this time it’s not funny. “I will find a way, don’t test me,” he threatens.

“Seeing how that would mean you getting free and operational, I’m tempted to do it,” Bruce says with less gravitas and guilt. He’ll take what he can get at this point.

“You’re cuffed? What is it, steel? Leather?”

“Rope,” Bruce tells him.

“Oh come on!” Tony exclaims. “Swords, torches, fucking rope. Are we in the dark ages? Has no one heard of technology in this hellhole?”

“It’s not exactly one of R’as’ favourite developments, no,” Bruce laughs.

“Also, insignificant? I am not insignificant!” Tony grumps. “Smarmy Cunt struts around in his cave with his ninja dorks lighting torches and shit while I’m inventing the awesomest shit that ever awesomed. Who does he think he is?”

“A messiah.” Bruce, oddly enough, isn’t trying to be funny.

“There are far too many crazy people in the world. Hey, do you think Smarmy Cunt knows Loki? They seem like they’d be pals.”

“I hope not. He’s enough trouble on his own, no need to add a self-proclaimed god to the equation.” Bruce falls silent again. Tony is just about to ask him what’s up but Bruce beats him to it with a question he really did not want to hear.

“Will you be all right?” he asks, and Tony knows, knows like he knows the laws of thermonuclear dynamics that Bruce isn’t talking about his injuries.

When in doubt, use emotional blackmail. “But of course, caped crusader. I’ve got you, haven’t I?”

He’s not surprised to see Bruce’s eyes tighten at those words, he can’t feel bad about it either. There’s no space for that in his head which is at this very moment preoccupied with running a mantra saying ‘don’t panic, don’t panic, don’t panic’ over and over.

Bruce shifts so he’s on his knees and shuffles forward. He leans in, grunting at getting in contact with the no doubt uncomfortable metal pieces of the suit. They’re cheek to cheek, just sitting in that awkward position, breathing. Tony closes his eyes.

“I will get you out of here. I swear to you, I will get you out Tony.”

Tony wants to cling to him, wants to believe him. Bruce Wayne has been his salvation before. He can be it again.

He opens his eyes. “I know you will.”

Bruce pulls back so they’re facing each other. “Tony,” he says. “Smarmy Cunt?”

Tony grins with satisfaction. “Never underestimate my ability to peg a bastard as being a bastard. I think it has a nice ring to it, what do you think?”

“I think you’re quite amazing.”

“Now you’re just being obvious. Hey, will they feed us, you think? I never did get my cheesy dinner.”

Chapter Text

With the suit off line he is, in essence, stuck in a pair of metal trousers without a convenient zipper. The filtering system isn’t much of a system with nothing to turn it on, so.  All that aside, it is becoming a rather pressing concern. It’s rather embarrassing that his biggest gripe with his situation stems from a biological urge.

“On a scale of one to fuck no, how big are my odds of getting out of this outfit?” he asks one of the stoic guards watching over him. When he woke up it was to the sight of them holding up the wall like identical black bookends. They needn’t have bothered, the minute they took Bruce away they guaranteed his obedience until the moment he sees him again (or, okay, until can’t help himself). “I hate to ruin your silent but deadly routine here—really, I do, it’s most impressive—it’s just that nature is calling and I very much doubt I get the choice to decline if you know what I mean.” The man is either very slow on the uptake or Tony is shit out of luck because he doesn’t get so much as a twitch from him. “Okay then.”

He and Bruce had an entire night—or maybe day, he can’t be sure—to plot their escape. From what Bruce has seen, they are either underground or in a  mountain somewhere. He’s not seen daylight or an obvious exit, but he’s looking.

So far it’s going to come down to Bruce pulling a miracle out of his ass. Let’s face it, Tony is worse than useless like this—he’s an obstacle. Even stripped of some of its parts the suit still weighs over two hundred pounds easily. It’s cumbersome and will slow them both down. Then there is his broken arm which, if his luck holds, is probably shattered.

If only they could activate the tracker. Alarm bells would go off both at SHIELD and for Rhodey, wherever he may be, resulting in a daring rescue with hopefully lots and lots of property damage for Smarmy Cunt. That is of course assuming the absence of a signal disruption device, but seeing as how he’s in a cave tunnel swarming with ninjas, Tony feels it’s safe to assume.

Maybe the team could bring the Hulk along for a nice smashing. After meeting Smarmy Cunt he feels no one could deserve it more.

Gods in Asgard, he’s failing to distract himself. It’s just not fair, any of it. Even if they get out, or the Avengers magically appear to rescue them, he will always be that guy who peed his suit, twice. Ass.

“Oh man this is going to suck. Seriously, if you could just free my dick for me it would make life easier on both of us,” he tells his ninja sentinel. “Or you could fetch Bruce to do it if my man bits frighten you. He’s ace at handling them, let me tell you.” Nope, still not even a glance his way. “All right,” he admits defeat, “so be it, but we’re both going to regret this.”

...

Bruce is escorted back to their cell in better shape than he left it. As Tony understands it, Bruce already kicked the stuffing out of R’as al Ghul and his merry band of murderers twice. It is therefore more than a little illogical how they’re helping him along to a state where he might do it again. Hey, he’s not complaining. If they want peak-condition Batman, by all means, go for it. Gift horses, something, something—he always forgets.

One of them stalks up to Tony and yanks his head back by his hair. He struggles futilely against the grip and the man barks something at him in a language he doesn’t understand. He forces Tony’s mouth open and puts some pills in it, then holds it shut.

There is no scenario where Tony will swallow something like that voluntarily, no matter what they shout at him. Bruce is still being held by two more of those men and he’s shouting at them and struggling to get free which doesn’t encourage Tony to do as they say. Finally one of the men barks something at Bruce which makes him stop fighting them. He looks at Tony, who is starting to panic. “Antibiotics,” he tells him.

Ah. That’s a different story, then. He stops struggling and swallows the pills in his mouth, gagging a little at the taste and difficulty of doing it dry. Now he can only hope this wasn’t some ploy and they walked straight into it.

The man holding him says something no doubt uncomplimentary before releasing him roughly and stepping back. The men holding Bruce throw him down and the three leave silently, Tony’s guards following them out.

“Still whole?” Tony asks once the escort is gone along with the guards—what is up with that, actually? Are they being stupid on purpose just to see what they’ll do?

Bruce nods, derailing the thought. “He brought in doctors. It’s a game. I don’t allow them to treat me, they refuse to treat you. No one wins.”

Yeah, that’s pretty much what Tony figured out already. It’s becoming kind of obvious it’s all about Bruce and he’s just leverage. It’s an interesting experience for him—he doesn’t think he’s ever actually been important enough to someone to be used as leverage.

“What do they want with you?”

Bruce leans against the wall. He’s wound so tightly it has Tony worried. “He wants to re-educate me.” He turns to Tony with something like amusement in his eyes. “He doesn’t approve of you much.”

“He doesn’t? Wow, I am hurt. It’s a dark day when you’re thought of as unsuitable by a madman and a murderer, let me tell you. I’ll just go hang myself in shame for losing his good opinion, shall I?” Tony snipes.

“He’s stalling. The propaganda is a cover for something. I don’t know what, yet.” Bruce lets his head fall back against the wall. “It might have worked, once. It almost did.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” he tells him. “Or you give the smarmy one too much, I haven’t decided.”

Bruce’s mouth stretches into not quite a smile. “Maybe.”

“Speaking of, uh, credit—how are we on breaking out of Azkaban? I’m growing tired of the troglodyte parade.” Bruce sighs and starts crawling towards Tony. He sort of drapes himself over him and sighs again. It’s strange, he actually looks a little drunk, of all things. “Did he roofie you?” Tony cries. “That bastard! If anyone gets to drug you it’s me.”

Bruce sort of giggles. “Shut up. ‘M tired,” he says, then he sighs again. He wrinkles his nose and looks at Tony like he’s either about to laugh or sneeze, but he doesn’t say anything. Tony doesn’t either, he’s too busy wishing for the ground to swallow him whole and glaring at the dopey bastard who’s grinning at him.

“Not. One. Word. While you were off gallivanting with the ghoul, I was stuck here in this very position for hours. I’m regrettably human with all that entails,” he says testily.

“That sounds positively awful. I’m sorry,” he says.

“Yes, well, it’ll be the first thing to go when we get out of here.”

“That’s a shame. I quite like you human.”

Tony sighs and pretends to scoot closer in lieu of wrapping his arms around Bruce. That makes one of them at least.

...

He’s awakened by water. It’s fresh spring water. He can tell by the vague impression of nature he gets from the smell of it—as well as the taste, the little he experiences of it as it drips down his face and hair. Granted, he has to filter out the grime and blood, but other than that it is first class H2O. If you have to be woken by water, this water is by far your best choice. It has the added benefit of being ice cold and terribly shocking. Perfect, really, for the discerning torturer aiming to inflict the most amount of suffering on his subject.

He is the lucky recipient of two buckets full of this marvel. The first to acquaint him with its natural splendour, the second so his benefactor can enjoy the full effect.

“I get that I smell but I’ve got tell you, as showers go,” he splutters, “I’ve had better.”

Silent & Deadly have no comment, not that he’d expected any.

Bruce is nowhere to be found.

...

The water-based wakeup calls continue for another three days. Tony hasn’t lost track of time, fuck, he wishes he could. It’s only three days but it feels like forever and a day to he who is trapped in a metal suit continuously being splashed with freezing water. He hasn’t felt warm or dry ever since it began and he’s starting to think that if he has to live through this much longer, he might just lose his mind. He’s terrified of that very thought because deep down he believes it might just be an improvement.

He’s trapped in rope and his own creation. Bruce is nowhere to be found. Never has he felt more helpless.

...

His bowels are cramping painfully every half hour for at least five minutes at a time. Absolutely everything itches unbearably. Silent & Deadly barely even look at him, let alone talk to him. He talks to himself instead.

Bruce is nowhere to be found.

...

He is beginning to hate the suit.

...

On the umpteenth day he hears a commotion and more ninjas appear. They drop Bruce’s unmoving form into the puddle of mud and piss and laughingly poke his body with their sheathed swords until he groans.

Tony swears at them the entire time, insulting everything from their mothers to their choices in interior design. They bark something back at him, still laughing, and roll Bruce closer to him with their feet.

Tony doesn’t even have the strength to thrash in his bindings.

Having apparently been entertained enough, the minions vanish into the dark leaving them blissfully alone.

“Bruce, my god, Bruce,” Tony breathes, almost sobs.

Bruce turns his head and opens his eyes. They are sharp, not dulled with pain or drugs and Tony chokes out a laugh. He then shifts his position barely but it’s just enough for Tony to realise Bruce’s arms are free and he’s holding something shiny—shiny like metal. Tony has to work hard to suppress tears.

“I never doubted you for a second,” he says.

...

It takes them all night to get Tony loose without being obvious about it. It’s an exercise in being utterly ridiculous for both of them. They don’t find the tracker. Apparently the troglodytes did find it and knew it for what it was.  Tony is grudgingly impressed.

...

He feels Bruce tense up before he hears them approach.

“Ready?” Bruce asks.

No. No, he isn’t. “Help me up and I will be.”

They’ve managed to remove a little more of the suit but it’s still just a heavy obstacle. The pieces are all in Bruce’s possession. Tony doesn’t know if he wants to use them as weapons or what and he doesn’t ask. He doesn’t care. He’s just happy to be doing something other than sitting there, wondering if this is the day he dies and if he has to watch Bruce go first or if he gets the pleasure of preceding him.

Bruce kneels beside him, arranging them so he can drag Tony up quickly, and they wait. The minute the minions are in sight, Bruce uncoils like a spring, pulling Tony to his feet and pouncing on one of the men. He disables him with ruthless efficiency, three jabs and a punch that knocks him down and out. He takes the man’s sword and throws it to Tony.

This is not something he ever planned to be doing. He knows dick about sword fighting other than ‘stick them with the pointy end’ but Bruce has trained him with staffs and sticks so he just has to make it work somehow. He’s slow, but he’s defending himself with moderate success. One good thing about armour, even partial armour, is that it deflects attacks. A good thing about adrenalin, is that is deflects feeling. He can work with this, if he can just stay on that high.

While he’s been busy staying alive Bruce has done away with the rest of the minions, leaving Tony’s for last. He comes up to him from behind like an avenging angel and grabs his head. He twists, then lets go. The man drops lifelessly on the ground.

Tony stares at him in disbelief. They’re both breathing hard and all around them are Smarmy Cunt’s unconscious men. Most of them are unconscious anyway. One of them is very much dead.

“Come one,” Bruce growls. He’s right, time for that later, once they’re out of there. Bruce drags him forward and they run through the tunnel as fast as they can. Tony clunks along, the sound of his footsteps thundering in the silence. There is absolutely no one around and again Tony thinks of horses and mouths or something. The tunnels grow wider the further they get until they reach some kind of large cavern and he realises he cheered prematurely.

R’as al Ghul sits on a throne-like chair surrounded by dozens of men armed to the teeth, and he’s applauding them.

“Good show, Bruce. I never doubted your ingenuity and it seems my faith was not misplaced,” he says. “I hope I didn’t make it too easy on you, son. It wouldn’t do to insult one I personally trained to take my place."

“Oh come on, seriously?” Tony exclaims. “How bored are you, exactly?”

The Smarmy Cunt smiles with too many teeth. “Shall we, gentlemen?” The men around him all unsheathe their weapons and get into a fighting stance. “Let us see you keep your lover alive while keeping to your code, Batman.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see they have no chance at all. Tony grips his pilfered sword tightly. Bruce stands to attention, fury coming off him in waves. They share a loaded look.

No regrets.

“Let’s dance, fucker,” Tony hisses.

It’s about then that the walls start shaking.

...

They did bring the Hulk, however they left him outside to guard the mountain. Let’s just say Not Pleased barely scratched the surface of the Hulk’s displeasure at being left behind. Tony sympathises with the big green one, he does, but it’s just as well he didn’t smash his way in and bury them all under several tons of rock. The shaking of the cave system is all Thor.

The Asgardian crashes his way into Smarmy Cunt’s throne room hammer-first and starts throwing black-clad minions around like little dolls. They try to fight him of course and he laughs at them, bless his godly heart.

Thor is the first on the scene but he is hardly the last. Right behind him come the dulcet sounds of the War Machine’s guns loading and ready. “You just can’t help yourself, can you?” Rhodey says to him, taking up position in front of him and Bruce. “Didn’t I tell you already, you ride with me.”

“You know me buddy, stubborn till the end,” he answers back, feeling like he could finally breathe again.

“Yeah, yeah, we all know you’re as dumb as a box of rocks. You all right there, Bruce?” Rhodey then asks, drawing attention to the fact that Bruce is cowering behind him.

No,” Bruce squeaks, “absolutely not!”

Rhodey laughs. “Well, at least you have sense. Why can’t you pick up some of that, Tony?” They all laugh at that, of course they do. The hysteria was inevitable.

Captain America rushes in holding a gun in one hand and his shield in the other, Clint and Natasha right behind him. The two of them detach themselves from the good Captain’s sides and gleefully join the brawl. It has to be like a candy store for them—non-superpowered martial artists all ready and waiting to be beaten down? Natasha looks as close to blissed out as he’s ever seen her.

“Tony! Thank god,” Steve yells.

“That’s our cue,” Rhodey tells them. “I’ll clear a path.”

Tony anticipates watching that with unparalleled enthusiasm.

...

Their transport is an experimental Stark jet Tony sure as hell never finished, only it is right there, isn’t it, which is weird. All this is unimportant right now, with Pepper waiting inside and Rhodey right behind him. The minute they’re spotted Pepper leaps down and sprints at them full speed in her customary footwear, terrain be damned, then throws herself at him bowling him over.

“Hey,” he says, “it’s okay, I’m okay, everything’s okay.”

“Come on, Pep, wait until we get them inside. We don’t know what’s hiding in the bushes,” Rhodey says, his faceplate open and showing his face, which betrays him. He’s as relieved at she is.

“Phil said they’re clear,” she says, her voice hitching on the last word. “SHIELD has it covered for miles oh my god Tony.” That’s apparently the last straw, she’s crying now. “You promised me!” she screams. Her tiny fists beat the exposed circuitry of the suit and he catches them in his hands before she hurts herself. Bruce is right there, kneeling by his side with his fists clenched tight. He and Tony do the silent communication thing. Tony looks pleadingly and Bruce reaches out to Pepper. She throws herself at Bruce now and he holds on to her while she cries. Good, he’s a whole lot softer than Iron Bits and Pieces should she feel inclined to violence again.

Rhodey holds his hand out so Tony takes it and lets himself be pulled back up. “I could kill for a warm shower,” he says.

“I almost think you’re serious,” Rhodey chuckles. “Let’s make that happen before you make good on it. I bet Bruce here would appreciate something of the sort too, eh?”

Bruce smiles with arms full of Pepper and nods. “Please, yes. Do we wait for the, eh, Avengers?”

“Naw,” Rhodey shakes his head, “this is a Stark vehicle, here to take you home. They can figure out their own ride.”

There’s something odd about the way he says that but Tony is beyond giving a fuck right now. He is still hearing the word home as said by Rhodey on repeat. Bruce is still holding on to Pepper but his eyes don’t leave Tony for a second.

“Come on people, let’s go,” Rhodey orders. Tony needs some help boarding the jet, the suit is still a nuisance even now and he hates it, hates is, hates it.

“You coming, buddy?” he asks Rhodey, who is back to being War Machine.

“Who did you think your escort was going to be, Superman?”

Tony doesn’t dignify that with a response. He wants to sit with Bruce even though it’s a horrible idea with him being sharp and pointy and Bruce being Bruce Wayne at the moment, so he doesn’t. They do share another long look after which when Pepper asks him where he wants to go, he can say Gotham with certainty.

“Prepare for takeoff,” says a voice through the speakers. It’s young, much too young. “Welcome back Mr Stark.”

He blinks up, then turns to Pepper to blink some more.  “Who is that? I am not okay with child labour Pepper, not even a little bit.”

“That,” she tells him, “is Michael Ross. He helped us find you.”

Bruce giggles a little hysterically, probably at him because he knows he’s gaping but shit on a stick, can you blame him? “Bullshit. You kept him,” he says in wonder.

“Oh shut up, like I couldn’t see from a mile away how much you wanted him. You’d hardly have bothered with half the things you did and had us do if all you wanted was to merely ascertain the danger he poses to the company.” She sounds bittersweet about the whole thing. This puzzles him. Pepper barely knows this kid and here she is, talking like she’s recalling a particularly emotional memory. “Stark Industries and Wayne Enterprises came together to find you two. It was the project group working on the prosthetics that started it, I believe. It turned into an epidemic within days. They all worked very hard to get us here, Tony,” Pepper tells him seriously. She smiles at Bruce. “Your people are very loyal to you Mr Wayne, congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Bruce says, playing bashful, “I hardly deserve them but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.”

While all this is very touching, Tony has more pressing concerns. “Where the hell was Banner during all this?” He’s a little hurt to be honest. If anyone could have figured out a way to trace them—or him, his reactor specifically—he’d expected it to be Banner.

Pepper sighs, looks out the window, sighs again.

He frowns. “I’m not going to like this, am I?” Nope, from the look of her that’s pretty much guaranteed.

“Dr Banner was under sedation in SHIELD lock-up for punching out a government official. He was brought out of it yesterday.”

Banner punched someone? Banner, right? Not Hulk?”

“Bruce Banner, human at the time to the best of my knowledge,” she confirms.

“Move him to the tower and employ an army of lawyers. I don’t care how many we have, get me more.” He doesn’t even have to think about this. Bruce nods minutely which just proves he’s doing the right thing. “The closer related to Satan, the better,” he adds. “You should probably look in Gotham for starters.”

Bruce clears his throat. “As distasteful as it may sound, Luthor is a better place to start.”

“Good one,” Tony agrees. He snaps his fingers. “Luthor first, then see who Fisk has on retainer. Might be worth looking into.”

Pepper kind of glares at the two of them. “You better not be plotting world domination. I am not cleaning up after you and I don’t care what you say. No, Bruce, not even for pictures of funny cats so don’t ask.”

“Never even crossed my mind Miss Potts,” he says tiredly.

They tell the manchild to land the jet in Bruce’s yard. While there’s room to spare this still takes some doing as one might imagine. You do not merely park on Batman’s porch without passing a million security checks, or possibly flaming hoops. Luckily they have Bruce, who calls Alfred to let him know of their impending arrival.

Alfred, being the super-butler, barely pauses at being asked for something so banal after having his employer kidnapped from under him. As always his answer is, “Right away, Master Wayne.” It’s his voice that gives him away, the slight waver, specifically.

If there was any doubt about that man’s love for Bruce, this call would have wiped it off the face of the planet. Let’s be serious here—Alfred will never stop seeing Bruce as that child he raised. Tony isn’t even jealous. Okay, maybe a little, but he has Pepper and Rhodey, who would both move worlds for him, and apparently Banner, who would punch people out despite his master of Zen lifestyle.

“I still don’t see why you’re not heading to one of your towers,” Rhodey says through the intercom. “Have you already invaded the man’s house with your tech or are you planning to get out of that with a screwdriver and old-fashioned brute force?”

Pepper knocks on his metal-encased shoulder, for a laugh, probably, but it makes him cringe. He tries to play it off as nothing, pretend it’s the noise that startled him. Pepper is having none of it.

“What, what is it, what’s wrong?” she stutters out, holding her hands firmly at her sides like she has to hold herself back from inspecting him inch by inch manually.

“There’s nothing, I’m fine, or I will be in a minute, come on Pep!” he rattles off.

Bruce is looking at him again with a world of guilt in his eyes and Tony just knows this will not end well for him. “His arm is broken,” the traitor says gravely, condemning him to a fate worse than death or dismemberment.

Rhodey’s outrage comes in loud and clear through the speakers. He’s throwing around military rank, ordering the pilot to turn around and head for the nearest hospital with a landing pad.

“Oh come on—guys, come on! What are they going to do, cut me out of this?”

Pepper, dear, sweet Pepper, has lost all traces of tired grief. She is transforming before his eyes—spine a little straighter, shoulders going back—until there is only Miss Potts, frightening CEO/PA of Stark Everything. “If necessary, then yes, Mr Stark. We shall leave it to the professionals.”

Bruce is on the phone and Tony has a split second where he knows hope, until he too sits up straighter with tightness around his eyes. “Alfred will meet us at Gotham General; it’s the closest hospital with guaranteed proper care for Tony.” There is a little bit of Batman in him now when he faces Pepper. “I will ensure it.”

...

He was so right—he is in hell. The nurses and doctors take one look at him and you can just see their itty bitty minds grind to a halt. They don’t know the first thing about what to do when a man in armour walks in their hospital—and why should they, he doesn’t know the first thing about putting someone’s guts back in so it’s fair enough. Then, then Bruce strides in like a king and he has never seen such a thing in his life, ever. It’s like Arthur returning to Camelot after a long war. Bruce starts ordering around doctors with the ease of one born to wealth, and they obey. It’s the damndest thing. If there’s one thing Tony has learned about people in the medical profession it has to be their complete unwillingness to be told what to do. There’s apparently an oath or something, and here Bruce is running roughshod over them and it.

“I want him moved to a private room, and for heaven’s sake find someone who knows how to deal with this,” Bruce orders and the nursing staff scurries away to do his evil bidding.

It’s not that they don’t try, they do. They try pliers, a saw, and several screwdrivers before Tony throws the mother of all hissy fits and Bruce calls up Lucius Fox. Many threats to people’s jobs and lives are made until he finally arrives to get Tony the hell out of his metal prison. He doesn’t laugh once for which he deserves all the awards in the world. “I never imagined I’d be working on the Iron Man armour quite like this,” he says in that curious yet amused tone he has.

“Yeah, well, don’t take notes. I get poss—ouch! Watch it.”

“I believe you are hardly in a position to make demands, Mr Stark. Please turn this way.”

Thankfully, this is when he loses consciousness. It’s not swooning if it’s completely justified.

...

When he wakes up he is surrounded by plainclothes Avengers. Natasha is talking quietly to Bruce Banner while Clint is throwing some kind of ninja things at the walls. He’s making a smiley face out of stabbing implements. This is pretty much a perfect way to sum up a Clint, he thinks.

“Tony?”

He turns to the noise, or tries to. He’s tied to the bed. They tied him to the bed.

“Ffffff!”

Steve jumps up out of his chair and leans over him, looking concerned. “Oh dear. Oh my. Do you need a nurse? I’ll call a nurse.”

“Fff!” he tries again, lifting his right arm. The left is entirely immobilised by some metal structure not of his own making. “Off!” He’s wasting his strength, Steve just stands there wringing his hands. “I can’t Tony, the doctor said--”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.” Bruce swaps the beverages he’s carrying for a knife thing with Clint leaving the archer staring at cups of hospital coffee in astonishment. It’s a little dramatic but Tony can appreciate that in a man, especially when it gets him his way. Bruce cuts him loose with a little too much skill for his persona. He must be really irritated to slip like that. He glares at Steve, not bothering to moderate his expressions for once. “He spent days tied up in a cave. Fuck the doctors,” he snarls.

“Not to say I told you so, but I told you so,” Clint tells them. “Can I have that back? I stole it fair and square.” Bruce deposits the thing in Clint’s waiting hand and Clint throws it at the wall, finishing his knife-emoticon. “Thanks, man. Can’t have the little dude missing an eye.” Natasha does something complicated and suddenly the face has a nose. Clint cocks his head to the side, humming thoughtfully. He seems to approve and gives her a thumbs-up. Banner rolls his eyes at both of them.

“Why are these clowns here,” Tony asks hoarsely. His mouth tastes like shit, which describes how he feels.

“We’re your friends, Tony,” Steve says looking for the world like a boy who lost his puppy before his very eyes. “We want to make sure you’re all right.”

“It’s almost certain we caught every member of that organisation. The almost wasn’t good enough for team leader over there,” Natasha says.

“He just had complicated surgery,” Steve says defensively. “He needs protection.”

Tony shares a look with Bruce, who makes it exceedingly obvious how he feels about that. Tony understands, it must be a great insult to be told your hospital requires a team of superheroes as security detail for one patient when you’re the fucking Batman, but that’s what you get for having a secret identity.

“How bad is it?” he asks, aiming to distract them all from murdering each other with their eyes.

Bruce grabs his chart and hands it over like Tony can actually make sense of that. “They had to cut open most of your upper arm to reposition the bone fragments. You also have several new plates and screws in you,” Bruce tells him. Tony chuckles and Bruce hurries to cut off whatever he may say. “This is not an excuse for a robotic arm, sweetheart. The cold feet are bad enough.”

Clint mimes cracking a whip at him with full sound effects. Natasha swats him over the head and Tony sticks his tongue out. Banner feels the need to take over from there.

“There is no nerve damage as far as they can tell, so your projected recovery time is six to ten weeks if you’re good. With you being you however, we might just be looking at six months to a year,” he says.

Right, if this is how they are then things can hardly be that bad. He turns to Bruce. “I want to go home.”

“Tony, you can’t. You’re hurt badly, they can’t just release you from the hospital in this state,” Steve argues. “And we still need to know what exactly happened. Coulson is on his way and should be here soon, right?” He looks at Natasha who nods in confirmation.

He hates himself for using this against Bruce, it’s a shitty thing to do to a man you love and who loves you. Feelings aren’t there to be played with, he knows this. It’s immature, and mean, and not worthy of a human being. 

He pouts with what is probably an unattractive amount of stubble in the way of his powers of adorable. He still has faith in his prowess. “You’re not the boss of me,” he whines to Steve. “Bruce, please take me home.”

Steve doesn’t give up, just as expected. “Tony, no!”

Bruce looks at Steve. Then he looks at Tony, who is still pouting for all he’s worth.

Really, it’s very immature of him.

Clint, as if he is out to prove he can beat out Tony in childishness, produces another of those knife things and mimes cutting the air between them, again with sound effects. Banner huffs out a laugh.

“Be reasonable, Tony. You need care for your injuries. Please,” Steve begs.

Bruce’s eyes narrow even further and he whips out his phone. Tony tries to contain his victorious grin. Hey, whatever gets results, right? But of course that’s precisely the moment Pepper walks through the door with Rhodey and ruins a perfectly executed cunning plan with a look and a pointing finger.

Don’t. You are not leaving this bed until I say.”

“Six to ten weeks,” he wails in despair. Pepper has no sympathy for his plight.

“Look at it this way Tony; at least you have company.” Rhodey clearly doesn’t either.

...

The hospital staff found its balls somewhere, or more likely Bruce returned them after he was done with them, and kicked out the Avengers later that evening. Too much excitement, they said. It’s utter crap but no one argues with a small nurse holding a big needle.

Their faces when they saw Clint’s artwork were priceless. He could swear that one nurse was close to grabbing him by the ear and having him pull the things out of the wall one by one. Instead she settled for sending him to the furthest corner of the hospital for a time-out—seriously. Even Coulson was told he would just have to come back tomorrow and put that ID away, no one cares. Did he really think they lived through the Joker to be intimidated by a federal agency?

“I like this hospital,” Tony says to Bruce once the Avengers are all gone. “Still don’t want to spend three months here.”

Bruce makes himself comfortable on a chair by the bed. He looks like he’s settling in for the long haul which is not very useful. Just because he’s out of commission doesn’t mean Bruce has to be.

“Shouldn’t you be checking in with Wayne Enterprises? Surely they won’t let you laze about here for the entire time.

“Pepper was exaggerating. You’ll be out of here in two to five days, barring complications.”

“Thank god. I can stop planning my escape.”

“I’d like to hear that plan,” Bruce says. “The most of the Avengers are still in the building somewhere and you’re unarmed.”

“Ha, ha, you are a hoot. I’ll have you know it was a very cunning plan,” he says sulkily. “They haven’t bothered you, have they?”

Bruce makes a face. “I am in comparatively good shape. This stands out.”

That makes sense. They were held for a while but very bad people. Bruce will have to think of something really good to make this fly. “What did you tell them?”

Bruce shrugs, smiling inanely. “I’m not the hero, am I? What would the League of Shadows want with little old me?”

“I can’t believe that still works for you,” Tony groans. “Say, how did they keep us from going splat when we were shot down?”

“Two of R’as’ men snatched out of the air. They were wearing parachutes.”

“Ah. Must have been one hell of a landing,” he comments.

Bruce inclines his head, confirming it. “How are you doing?” he asks.

Tony considers all the meanings of that question. “Fine,” he answers. “Just fine. The painkillers are super duper effective.” Bruce takes his uninjured hand in his own. Tony turns to smile at him. “They don’t tell you how much this shit itches though, goddamn.”

...

They try to give him a wash and he almost has a seizure, the fit is so bad. They have to sedate him in the end, just to keep him from injuring himself.

Bruce is right there when he wakes up, holding his hand. Tony tries to smile and finds he can’t make it happen for once. This time, when he asks to go home, Bruce doesn’t let god or Captain America get in his way of making it happen.

Alfred arrives within the hour, and nobody gets hurt.

...

He wakes up in Bruce’s bed. The room has changed since he’s seen it last—he doesn’t remember there being much in the way of medical equipment back then. Alfred is right there with a tray.

“Master Bruce has been called away for a short while, but he left this for you,” Alfred says holding up a folded piece of paper, “as well as strict instructions to behave.” He pauses to smirk. “He did not elaborate further.”

“Alfred,” Tony laughs, “you may find this hard to believe, but I have missed you.”

“The feeling, Master Anthony, is mutual. Now eat your breakfast. It comes with a side of painkillers.” He puts the note just out of Tony’s reach. “You can have this after you finish.”

“That’s blackmail,” he complains.

He’s not hungry in the least but he keeps this to himself. One does not argue with Alfred when it comes to the proper care and feeding of errant billionaires. Alfred sets out the food on a folding tray and helps Tony get comfortable with it. He’s surprisingly good at this and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising considering who he works for but Tony hasn’t been in the gentle care of Alfred before so he allows himself the admiration. Then, he spots the tea.

“My old nemesis,” he mumbles. “We meet again.”

Alfred just smirks some more.

...

He doesn’t get the chance to miss Bruce because he falls asleep before that can happen. In any case, Bruce is there when he wakes up again.

“Hey,” he says sleepily.

“Hey,” Bruce answers back. “How are you feeling?”

Tony frowns. “Like a man in a bed with a broken arm. Are you going to keep asking me that?”

“Probably,” Bruce admits.

“Damn. Thought as much. How was work?”

“Distracting. How was Alfred?”

“Amazing. One day I will seduce him away from you,” Tony says lightly.

“You’re welcome to try,” Bruce laughs. “Hungry?”

Tony imagines more tea. The prospect isn’t very tempting. “Nope. You heading out tonight?”

It’s Bruce’s turn to make a face. “Alfred has informed me he is not at all inclined to care for two incapacitated spoiled brats, so no, likely not unless something makes it unavoidable. I have enough to do right here.” He makes a fist, looks at it, then releases it. “This cannot happen again.”

Tony can only agree, the less kidnapping by ninjas the better. They are hazardous to one’s health. “Tony,” Bruce says quietly.

“Yes, honeybee?”

“We need to talk about what happened in the hospital.”

He wants to deny it. It’s right on the tip of his tongue—hospital? What hospital? Something happened? No, nothing happened, it was just your imagination, there’s nothing wrong, let it go, I’m fine. Bruce is looking at him and he’s so tortured, the beautiful bastard. He feels responsible even though that’s utter bullshit, and Tony can’t do it.

“Okay,” he sighs, “okay.”

First, he tells Bruce about Afghanistan. He tells him about weapons, and betrayal, and assassination. He tells him about being dunked until it hurt to breathe. He also tells him about boiling tea in a sock and how even that tasted less of feet than the herbal evil from Somewhere, Asia.

Then, he tells him about spring water. How it felt and tasted, how it could not be shaken off ever. He tells him about being trapped in his own redemption while his body betrays him some more. He describes feeling dirty and wet and cold for days, and Bruce is nowhere in sight.

“But then you came back,” he says. “I thought you were dead at first, and for a second there I wanted to die too. It’s almost pathetically romantic in a way, right? Two heroes, expiring arm in arm in the clutches of the enemy. But then,” he continues almost dreamily, “then you moved. You moved and you were going to get us both out because you are magnificent.”

“I am so sorry,” Bruce chokes out, clinging to his hand. “Tony, I swear, never again.”

Tony squeezes the hand holding his, makes sure Bruce is looking at him.

“I never doubted you for a minute.” 

He didn’t. It wasn’t Bruce who made them go to Paris. It wasn’t Bruce’s plane. It wasn’t Bruce who failed to put on the most advanced weapon in the world and save them, it wasn’t Bruce who failed to see a shot coming and lost them all hope of victory. It wasn’t Bruce

... 

Coulson and Steve come calling while Bruce is at Wayne Enterprises. There is no doubt in his mind they do this by design and not happy accident. Unfortunately for them, they hadn’t counted on Alfred. 

“You don’t seem to understand. I can have you arrested if you do not allow us to see Mr Stark immediately,” Coulson says. 

Alfred merely smiles at the man. “Respectfully, sir, it is not you who signs my pay checks. The man who does has left strict instructions not to allow anyone entry other than himself, Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes, and Miss Potts. So you see, sir I cannot allow you to see Master Stark until Master Wayne tells me so.” 

“But we’re his friends,” Steve protests. “He just disappeared from the hospital! I’ve been worried sick, the whole team has been.” 

Not even in the face of Captain America does Alfred relent. “Son, I know it must be difficult for everyone but Master Stark needs his rest. The best thing to do for now is just leave him to it. I am sure he will contact you the minute he is feeling up to it.” He turns to Coulson and the words and not a minute sooner are tacked on silently. 

Tony cackles madly from his spot in Bruce’s bed. He can follow the whole thing on his tablet as it’s hooked into Bruce’s security video feed. The expression on Steve’s face when Alfred called him son will stay with him until the day he dies. When Bruce gets back they will have to watch it together so they can share in the mirth.

He knows he can’t avoid SHIELD forever, he never planned to. Just a little bit longer. A few days, maybe. Just until he can look Steve and Coulson and Fury in the eye and not feel the strongest urge to tell them all to go fuck themselves.

Chapter Text

The private nurse was vetoed before Bruce even finished talking. Babysitters are a menace and he’s trying to avoid them since his last one went all CEO on him plus they really don’t need any more outsiders in the manor if they can possibly avoid it. Here he is, giving them the perfect reason to avoid it! It’s really a win for the Bat, if only Bruce could accept that.

It takes all his bullshitting skills to convince Bruce and Alfred that just because he has a broken arm he isn’t terminal, Jesus. So he can’t use one of his arms, big deal. Somewhere out there has to be at least one armless scientist. Hell, look at Hawking, he makes do with twitches, surely Tony can compensate by being even more awesome—it really isn’t a difficult concept to grasp.

He’s getting the best care possible they can surely let him get out of the fucking bed once in a while. You wouldn’t believe the amount of conniving it took to get access to the damn sitting room, let alone the kitchen. Now that he’s forewarned he’s fully prepared to do actual battle for more privileges if need be.

“I can type with one hand, beautiful. Let me help how I can,” he wheedles. Tony can tell Bruce is itching to get back out there but he also knows it won’t happen as long as he thinks Tony might need him.

He doesn’t, by the way, not in the way Bruce thinks.

“Have you taken your pills?” Bruce changes the subject.

“Ages ago, I’m not incompetent,” he answers sullenly. “You want to check my ass in case I didn’t wipe properly?”

“Now you’re just being juvenile.”

“Then stop treating me like a child.”

Daddy issues he may be willing to admit to under torture but this coddling shit has got to go. He’s not made of glass despite the fractures and it’s not a funny joke to make anyway.

The point here is that he got out of a crap situation. All the gentleness in the world won’t make it have sucked any less balls but they got out and he wants to put it behind him already. He’s been blown up, a little torture isn’t going to destroy Tony fucking Stark. He’s not having it. Once was bad enough, twice is fucking embarrassing. It’s like the Universe decided to spit on him personally just for kicks. He made the suit, he’s a goddamned superhero, this shouldn’t. He wants this to be over and Bruce isn’t helping. 

“Look, if I have to stay here twiddling my thumbs for one more fucking second something is going to burn,” he says angrily. It’s nobody’s fault. He knows he’s taking things out on Bruce but he can’t take this anymore. Something has got to give. “Just give me this. I can deal with being benched for the time being, but I can’t be useless. Bruce,” he begs, “I can’t do nothing.”

He can see all the thoughts as they fly past Bruce’s wide-open eyes. It’s not a small thing to ask for, he knows this. They’ve worked really hard at keeping their side businesses separate and he’s sweeping all that aside. He can also see it the minute he’s won.

“All right.”

A fist-pump of victory would be in bad taste, wouldn’t it? Fuck it, he’s earned one.

“Suit up, caped crusader. We’ve got patrolling to do,” he says happily. “Hey, do I get a codename?”

Bruce thwacks him on the head with his index finger. Really, they will have to talk about all the spousal abuse happening here.

“You already have one.”

“Yeah, but that’s my public hero persona,” he argues. “I can’t be Iron Man when I’m not being Iron Man, if you know what I mean. There is no ‘bat’ in the name.”

“I wish I didn’t. Sadly, I’ve become intimately acquainted with your psyche,” Bruce laments.

“Shut up, you love my psyche. You want to have filthy, filthy mental relations with my psyche.”

“Your disease is infectious. I wasn’t informed and it’s too late now, but I look back fondly on the days I knew the difference between sanity and this eternal teetering on the edge of a blood rage and carnal desires.” Bruce says.

Tony lifts an eyebrow at him. “Bruce. Bruce, is this your way of asking me to talk dirty to you through the comm-link? Because I think that’s exactly what’s happened and if you don’t correct me it’s also what’s going to happen.”

Bruce gets this look that means he’s having a really hard time deciding if he should beat the ever-loving shit out of him of just fuck him raw and Tony just loves his life, really. He should have just done this in the first place, diplomacy is a crock of shit.

...

If he’d thought he’d gotten off the hook by virtue of falling under the protective wing of the Wayne name and all that entails, he’d have been grievously mistaken. Steve proves as much by being present by his bedside one morning in full military regalia. He looks uncomfortable despite usually being entirely at ease in his uniform, or any version of a uniform. At the moment though he looks like someone stuck him in a glittery bikini complete with ostrich feather fans and asked him to shake his moneymaker.

Hey, that’s something he should note down for future money raising purposes. Steve would go along with that for orphans, right? They’ll have to work on the face, you can hardly expect va-va-voom if you look like you’re not sure what you should be doing with your mouth which only leads to looking like you’re about to vomit or sneeze.

 “Sit down, you’re making me nervous with the looming and the fidgeting—did I mention the looming? Come on, Steve, sit. I’d get up, but, eh,” he gestures at the sheet in a vague way which he hopes communicates buck-naked.

Steve averts his eyes but then he doesn’t know where to look and boy, could he be any more adorable. Tony is starting to believe Clint’s tales of Steve being raised by nuns even thought the nuns of Brooklyn are very unlikely to have instilled this kind of chivalry in anyone, no matter the time period.

“I can step out?” Steve offers, his eyes on the floor which isn’t nearly as interesting as he’s making it look.

“You’re quite lively for someone who’s supposedly inches away from death,” Steve says dryly but he sits and looks at Tony.

Tony disagrees wholeheartedly with that statement, but it’s nice to be appreciated none the less.

“I accept no comments from the man who calls impalement a ‘mere flesh wound’.”

Steve looks unimpressed. “I think you’ll find that was Thor.”

“That’s hardly the point,” Tony says dismissively. “So, what did I do to rate a visit from Captain Rogers?”

“Fury had a talk with the Mayor about the necessity of debriefing you, hence this.” He gestures at his getup and there’s a blush, for god’s sake. “The Mayor then had a talk with Gotham’s Chief of Police, and he had a talk with Bruce Wayne.”

“What!” Tony struggles to get up—if they have Bruce, if anyone has Bruce, he will come down on their organisation so hard their future grandchildren will feel it.

“He’s fine please stop moving,” Steve rushes to assure him. “Both he and Mr Pennyworth are here and unharmed. I swear, Tony. He’s fine.”

Tony calms down but doesn’t let up on the frown. Sure, Steve can say that—wait, what is he doing? This is Steve. No matter what has changed, no matter how hard Fury wishes it to be different, Steve is fundamentally a good person and considers Tony a friend (of sorts). Bruce probably is fine, for a given value of fine.

Okay, what Bruce probably is, is incensed. He hasn’t kept his word. He was going to keep SHIELD the hell away from Bruce and Gotham, and here they are, in Bruce’s house, in Gotham. Is there nothing going his way anymore?

“I guess Fury will be Fury, sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong no matter what,” he grumbles.

Steve doesn’t defend him, which is new. “How are you, truthfully?” he asks instead.

Tony shrugs and regrets it immediately—fucking hell, ouch. “You know how it is Steve, one minute you’re in, the next you’re in the possession of some impressive new internal jewellery.” He laughs ruefully. “You know I never realised how much I use my arms and hands for the strangest things. I keep wanting to gesture or something, but then I get reminded why that’s a bad idea.”

“Pepper must be pleased,” Steve says lightly. “She won’t have trouble finding you, and if she needs to she can just cart you wherever she wants you to go.”

“Please don’t give her any ideas,” he implores, although it’s probably too late. It’s not outside the realm of possibility this same thought has occurred to Pepper years ago, only with less accidental maiming and more violence on her part.

Steve fidgets some more. It’s not quite a sign of the good captain attempting a lie but there’s something not entirely kosher in the state of Shieldonia.

“We need to talk about your abduction.”

“Okay,” he drawls, not understanding why this merits such levels of awkwardness.

“And Wayne,” Steve adds, looking away.

A-ha. Bingo, or rather, shit on a stick. This is everything he doesn’t want. Apparently he didn’t try hard enough to prevent it because it’s happened and there’s no denying it. It’s time for a tactical strike.

“But of course, I always have things to say about Bruce—as a matter of fact, just the other day he developed this new of curling his tongue and it’s just right for—”

“No!” Steve exclaims. “Ehm, I mean, that’s not—you know, it can maybe wait.”

Tony grins, unrepentant. “But I have so much material to work with! You wouldn’t believe that boy sometimes—limericks, Steve, that’s the level of raunchy we’re talking about here. I kid you not, I could make millions writing smut.”

“How is this different from before?” Steve grouses but then quickly recovers. “We’ve looked into this League of Shadows. It’s not good, Tony. I don’t know how they stayed off SHIELD’s radar for so long, but they are very bad news. Fury is concerned. I’m concerned.” He’s back to fidgeting. “We found some things that point to Wayne Enterprises—now I’m not saying he’s a part of it but Tony, something isn’t right about that guy.”

That train of thought? Needs to stop immediately. There are probably many better ways to do it but Tony is fixated on something that’s been on his mind, and while they’re on the subject of concern he might as well.

“Why was Banner in lock-up, Steve?” Yep, that’s a nerve, if the tightening of the jaw is anything to go by. Steve looks more uncomfortable with this topic than he did with Bruce’s bedroom prowess. Tony in entirely unapologetic. “Why, Steve? He’s an Avenger, one of the good guys. There hasn’t been a Hulk-related catastrophe in forever so why was it okay to imprison one of our own?”

Steve shrinks in on himself like a child being chastised. No, no, it’s not going to cut it.

“Speaking of our beloved mother Fury, why the hell was it my company had to get involved in finding me and Bruce, Steve?” he pushes on. “If this League of Shadows is such a big deal, why wasn’t SHIELD all over this?”

“Insubordination,” Steve says so very softly. “Banner was detained because he punched a General in the face.”

Tony starts spluttering without something actually relevant to say. What the hell was Banner thinking? He’s on thin fucking ice with the military as it is, why did he think it was a good idea to make it worse?

“The General was of the opinion expending so much time and money to look for another freak in a long line of freaks wasn’t a good use of resources when we could just get another one. Fury was finding them under every bush anyway, right?” He finally looks at Tony and those blue eyes are full of anger and confusion. “He didn’t know at the time he was talking about Tony Stark of Stark Industries, but that shouldn’t matter. If Banner hadn’t done it, I would have.”

Well. In lieu of being a grownup, he just goes with the first thing that pops in his head. “We are still talking about Bruce Banner, right? Not the Hulk? People have been telling me this but I still want to make sure.”

Finally Steve smiles. “Bruce Banner, as human as anything. It was very bad timing though, you see he had an entire plan ready, but once we lost him we couldn’t make sense of it.” The smile turns sheepish. “Clint gave it a go but all he managed to do was make JARVIS laugh. I shouldn’t be surprised, considering,” Steve says laughingly.

“Oh, god,” Tony groans. “What did he break?”

Steve gives him a deadpan stare. “A thingambob with all those whatsits on the side.”

They look at each other and both of them start laughing at the same time which for Tony is a terrible idea.

“Ouch, ouch, stop making me laugh!”  

“You asked!” Steve laughs back. “It’s good to have you back. They will never admit it, but even Clint and Natasha were worried about you.”

“Yeah. Of course,” Tony says, not quite able to keep the scepticism out of his tone. “I didn’t know they had feelings beyond what SHIELD assigns to them.”

“Tony,” Steve reproaches.

“No, it’s fine. Consider me duly flattered.” He sighs. “I’m tired.”

Steve nods a little regretfully, but he does get up. “All right. Get some rest.” When he’s at the door he pauses, turns back. “Don’t tell her I told you, but I think you should know it was Natalie Rushman who prompted the search for you. She charmed her way into that secretive little group you started with Wayne and dropped a lot of hints in a short skirt.” He shakes his head, smiling. “I don’t know how you find these people but they are amazing and think the world of you.”

Tony pretends he’s asleep, and Steve leaves quietly.

So Banner got himself into a mess defending his honour, which, fuck it, Tony can hardly hold against him considering his own track record, and Fury’s throne of God King Bastard isn’t as steady as it used to be. These are all interesting things, things he wouldn’t hesitate to jump on and twist to his purposes were it not for the neon warning signs popping up everywhere in regards to Bruce.

They don’t know yet and he does trust his better half to keep his tracks covered yet when he thinks about it he can’t but conclude it’s only a matter of time. They’ll be occupied with the League of Shadows for now and Banner as soon as they realise, but if he knows SHIELD—and he does—that’s hardly going to keep them off his ass for good. He is in so much fucking trouble and what’s worse, he’s dragging Bruce down with him.

...

It can’t be put off any longer. He knows this because Alfred made no secret of it with his wrinkling nose and looks of disdain. He’s not panicking as that would be for losers and he is a winner, thank you very much, but he’s not anticipating it with any kind of joy either.

Bruce enters the room armed with plastic bags and thick rolls of tape. As if this isn’t funny enough, the bags are actually red and the tape is gold. He approaches with determination, like a warrior making his last stand. Tony isn’t being super creative here, Bruce’s abs are straight out of 300 and he’s barely wearing pants, let alone a shirt. He does suppose shirts would clash with board shorts, especially when they have bats on them. Wait a minute—bats? Bruce Wayne is wearing bat-shorts?

“Tell me I’m dreaming this. If this is reality then I have obviously lost my grip on it sometime between nine and eleven. I always did say that mornings could kill a man,” he babbles. “Seriously?” he laughs. “I appreciate the gesture, but really?”

Bruce sets the bags and rolls of tape down on the bed, then produces some scissors from somewhere. “I have never been more serious. This is a serious matter,” he growls.

Someone turns on a tap in the en suite.

“Okay,” he breathes. He’s counting seconds because he can’t go too fast, that way lies madness.

The sound of the water is thunderous. It’s not really, he knows that, but it seems like it is. It’s not fair, why do these things keep happening to him, why, why, why—a horrible tearing sound diverts his attention from it. Bruce is standing there with a long strip of golden tape, and he looks ready for battle. He tears it off with his teeth, which shouldn’t be as hot as it is, but it’s also fucking hilarious.

He holds his breath for a second, and another, and then bursts out in laughter.  

They wrap his cast in the Iron Man coloured plastic and tape—well, Bruce does, Tony tries and fails to be at all helpful—and he breathes again. It’s pathetic it helps make him feel better—it’s plastic for hell’s sake—but it does and he’s just stupidly thankful for Bruce and his devious mind.

“What are the scissors for, bat-surfer?” he asks and is immeasurably proud of himself for refraining from the beautiful pun to be made there. He’s aware of Bruce’s concessions to his sense of humour with this exercise and he doesn’t want to push him too far because that’s just ingratitude. Bruce has better be proud though because that was fucking hard, okay?

“Phase two,” Bruce smirks, then attacks his pyjamas.

“This is just getting me dirtier,” Tony says huskily. There’s no hiding that with only torn strips of cloth covering him.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Bruce tells him. “That’s phase four.”

He lifts Tony off the bed—completely unnecessary and ridiculous but undeniably arousing, just like the rest of it.

“Have I told you how much I like your plans? Because I really like your plans.”

“No talking. I didn’t leave any room for talking in-between ‘unclothe’ and ‘ravish in bathtub’.

“You’re the man with the plan,” Tony agrees cheerfully, focusing on Bruce’s heat, smell, and heartbeat, hoping it will just let him forget everything else.

...

It doesn’t.

...

“I am well aware your organisation steamrolled all over the police department so you could invade Master Wayne’s home, but I will not allow you to disturb them while they get some much needed rest,” he hears Alfred say. Bruce is in bed with him on his uninjured side and no doubt wide awake by now.

“Sometimes I regret ever getting out of that fucking desert,” he whines, and Bruce pinches him in the side for it.

“I apologise. I am not doing this to be belligerent. I wish I could schedule a meeting, however both Mr Stark and Mr Wayne are mysteriously booked up for the next millennium every time I try. If this weren’t important I wouldn’t be here Mr Pennyworth.”

“That’s Agent Supernanny,” Tony mumbles. “Of course they sent Agent Supernanny. Bruce, I better talk to him. He’s not going to give up and we don’t want to be trapped in here all day.”

“All right. I’ll be in the bathroom. Shout if you need me.” He’ll be well within range to interfere and overhear without actively hanging over them. It’s a compromise Tony is lucky to get, he knows.

Bruce gives Tony a peck on the lips and gets out of the bed.

Looking at him Tony is struck by the knowledge of how perilous it is for this man to be with him. No one Tony knows can ever see Bruce naked, never ever. He is beautiful like nobody’s business, muscles gained through legitimately hard work, an innate grace that’s only emphasised by diligent practice.  He is also covered in scars nothing can adequately explain. Sure, he can stick to the tired polo excuse when talking to normal people, but the Avengers aren’t normal people. If maybe not Banner, the others would know the marks for what they are—signs of a dangerous man leading a dangerous life.

“It’s all right Alfred, I’m up,” he calls out.

Alfred appears in the doorway first. “Are you sure, Master Anthony?” He asks this in a way that makes it perfectly clear is if willing to bodily hold Coulson back for however long necessary should his answer be negative and while Tony would pay to see such a thing, he’s sadly grown as a person.

“Yeah, I’m sure. He’ll just keep ringing the bell at all hours and you know how much that irritates Bruce.”

Alfred steps aside to let Coulson in only reluctantly. “I’ll fetch some tea for you sir. Tea, Mr Coulson?”

Coulson quirks his lips in that vaguely uncomfortable smile he has. “I would appreciate some, thank you.”

“You better not have brought a taser,” he says. “Alfred disapproves of weaponry inside the house, other than historical junk which isn’t functional anymore. Sit down Coulson, you’re making my neck hurt.” Tony points at the chair Steve used last time trying to look imperative.

“Your medication should make that impossible,” Coulson says, but he does sit.

“I still have the number of that masseuse. Really, I won’t judge you if you ask me for it. You look more tightly wound than my arm.”

“You do unspeakable things to my blood pressure,” Coulson snaps. “Please cooperate and we can get this done quickly and painlessly.”

“Is this where you fire me?” Tony tries to make it sound like a joke. He’s not sure he quite manages it. Coulson just continues to look put upon.

“Regretfully, no. I am here to find out where Banner has disappeared to. As you know I am in charge of the Avengers when it comes to day to day business and a disappearance of one of the team members poses a problem to this duty.”

Tony narrows his eyes at the man. “Are you accusing me of something here? Because let me just tell you how bad of an idea that is.”

His tone is mild but the accusation is clear. “I am here to inquire, not accuse, however coincidental the timing of his disappearance is.”

“I don’t think I like what you’re insinuating,” Tony tells him.

“Every attempt to contact Dr Banner personally has failed. What we have managed to accomplish is a warning against harassment from a law firm I know very well because you have forced me to get to know them very well,” Coulson continues in the same tone. “Now I would rather you not make this difficult and confirm for me what we both already know but I am perfectly willing to bend the pinky on your injured arm until you yield.”

They pause because Alfred appears with the tea and Tony has leaned manners in the time he has known the man out of self-defence. Coulson goes along with the charade because he is unflappable, or maybe he already had manners. It’s difficult to tell for sure.

They sip tea for a while in silence. It is surprisingly not awkward.

“Oh? What did you get?” Tony asks, leaning forward to catch a whiff.

“Darjeeling, I think.”

“Yeah, that one is quite nice,” he agrees, trying not to feel too jealous. He knows better, damn it, even if he really, really hates his tea. “With sugar?”

“No, I prefer it plain. You?”

“Honey, usually.”

Coulson hums. “Banner is in Stark Tower, isn’t he.”

“Good try.”

“It was never much of a secret, Stark. If Captain Rogers’ account of your conversation hadn’t given it away, the legal attack would have. What I want to know is why.”

“Fury ask you to ask me that?” he grumbles.

Coulson smiles his little smile again. “Contrary to popular belief, Director Fury is not personally responsible for every breath taken at SHIELD. As of yet the Director is unaware of Banner’s Houdini act. My question is out of personal curiosity.”

“You know it recently occurred to me that SHIELD isn’t going to protect any of us if we need it,” Tony says suddenly. “I mean, yeah, okay, we’re sort of valued as heroes when the going gets tough, but what about when it isn’t? Steve is Captain America, so he has that. Clint and Natasha are actually SHIELD first and foremost, so they have that. Thor is a god, but he has an evil brother plus he’s an alien from a warrior culture. Bruce—man, just thinking about the mess that is Banner’s life makes my head hurt.” He wants to stare down Coulson which is probably a lost cause, but he tries anyway. “What happens when they’re deemed to be a threat?”

Coulson barely blinks. “Both Thor and Dr Banner are valued members of the organisation. You’re speaking of eventualities that are unlikely at best.”

“I’m not so sure about that. The military already hates Banner enough. What if they decide he’s out of control? Does SHIELD wrap her burly arms around him and press him against her mighty bososm to keep him safe or will he be left to fend for himself? And Thor, he’s not even human.”

“Colourful imagery aside, that sounds a lot like paranoia to me. You went through a traumatic experience—”

“Don’t you dare try and make me sound unstable. This isn’t about that,” he spits. “Let’s make it about me—you know how I like to make it about me. Before SHIELD, was there anything the government wouldn’t have done to take my armour? Yeah, didn’t think so, but then you guys came along and sanctioned me or something—I don’t know, there was paperwork and it was all very official—and all was well, until you grew tired of me and the entire circus starts up again.”

“You continually disobeyed orders. You hacked into classified files at your every convenience,” Coulson interrupts. “No one grew tired of you, Stark. You were unmanageable to the point of treason and we couldn’t justify it anymore.”

He ignores all of that in favour of his impassioned speech because you know what, he’s making a point and it’s a point someone should have made much earlier.  Rehashing the Drama of Tony Stark, Ex-Avenger (reinstated) is cruel and entirely superfluous. 

 “Now me, I have an army of lawyers and money to spare to fight whatever they throw at me. What does Banner have?” He chuckles weakly. “Thor would probably just Mjolnir the fuck out of whatever they throw at him but Banner’s a soft touch. He’d have to run again. He doesn’t deserve that, Coulson.”

Coulson sighs tiredly. It’s a familiar sight—he does it quite often. “So you’ve what, decided to hijack the Avengers because you don’t trust SHIELD with their wellbeing?” he asks irritably.

“I don’t trust SHIELD, full-stop,” Tony corrects him. “No one kidnapped Bruce Banner, Coulson. Think about it.”

“Sometimes, you make me wish for retirement.”

“You give me too much credit,” he says mock-bashfully.

Coulson glares at him through narrowed eyes. “When I say you, I mean all of you children.” He stands up, finishes his tea and sets the cup down gently. “Please ask Dr Banner to contact me. If he has a grievance, I would like to hear it—from him,” he adds pre-emptively.

He rolls his eyes. “Sure, Coulson, I have nothing better to do than play messenger for you.”

Coulson nods like sarcasm is something that happens to other people. “You may also release Mr Wayne from the bathroom now. I’m sure he’s very clean.”

“Will that be all?” Tony asks in an atrocious British accent, trying to hide the panic welling up inside. Oh god, Bruce.

“For now,” Coulson says, smiling. “I’ll be in touch.”

Of course he will. Tony’s not going anywhere so SHIELD can stalk him as much as they like. Fuck, fuck, fuck, are all the Avengers in Gotham? What are they doing and more importantly, how can he make them stop?

He needs to speak to Banner, now, however Bruce comes out of the bathroom and he is very clean indeed, so maybe later will do. Wait, no, he’s already dressed and holding his phone. Bruce wiggles the next generation StarkPhone at him before throwing it his way. Tony isn’t expecting it so he barely catches it in time.

“Watch the head,” he complains.

“Read it,” Bruce orders him, so he does.

It’s a news site, Gotham Daily something or other, so he expects to read about their glorious return. Bruce Wayne is always news in anything Gotham but this time it’s something else. The article is all about an armed robbery in a hotel, only there’s the part where it was stopped by a woman heading for the restaurant. Apparently she used her shoes to disarm both men almost simultaneously. There is a picture, too, and it’s quite obviously Natasha in a dress. He can see Clint standing behind her with his hand in his jacket pockets, the picture perfectly relaxed.

“I always knew heels had to be useful somehow,” he jokes but it falls flat. “I guess they’re all here, then? Other than Banner, obviously.”

Bruce is looking at him. It’s not an ‘I told you so’, not quite. He swallows. There isn’t a lump in his throat. It’s just the tea, it always leaves his mouth dry.

“I have to leave,” Tony says, his voice full of surrender. Bruce isn’t arguing with him. Why did he expect he would, though? “I’d love to stay here in bed forever but we both know it’s not going to happen.”

“Yes.”

“Besides, I can’t leave Pepper to deal with SHIELD alone and there’s our project to think of,” he says more cheerfully and it’s all a lie, lie, lie.

“Of course.”

Tony makes a frustrated noise and smacks the mattress. “I refuse to let everything go to hell!”

“Tony,” Bruce says calmly.

“Tony,” Bruce says again, and this time Tony actually looks at him. “What makes you think you’re doing this alone?”

He gapes at him, at a loss for words because how do you say you’re ruining someone’s life without making it sound egocentric? Bruce sits on the bed with him, runs his fingers gently through his hair. “I did not sit through Tyra Banks for you only to let you run away now, you idiot.”

“Bruce, they have files on you,” he says dejectedly. “They will dig until something makes sense and you know how that story ends. I can’t do that to you. You were right to fight me when I pushed for official but I’m a stubborn bastard and look where it got us. I’m so sorry, Bruce.”

“Are you honestly surprised?”

He can’t say that he is which does nothing to make it better.

“It’s not only that,” he confesses. “I can’t tell you—fuck, how I wish I could—but I can’t. It has all the makings of a spectacular clusterfuck with me at the epicentre. You can’t be involved. It would be bad, very, very bad.”

“This is what’s going to happen,” Bruce says, and there’s no waver, no pause, no room for argument. “You will take my plane and go to New York to take care of your people and yourself while I deal with things here. In a few days you will invite me to dinner and I will bring you flowers. We will give an interview about how horrible our capture was and how grateful we are to be rescued by the Avengers. Then, while everyone is distracted by how rich, successful, and happy we are, we will be rich, successful, and happy beyond their wildest dreams.”

Tony, for once, has nothing to say.

“But that is phase two,” he says, interrupting Tony’s stream of bafflement. Then he kisses him and the world tilts sideways, taking all of Tony’s terror and forcing it to slide away.

“Trust in your magnificent brain,” Bruce whispers into his mouth.

“I’d rather trust in you,” Tony counters.

“Then start now.”

 ...

Pepper fetches him from the airport and it’s a little like old times. She has Happy with her and is looking pleased and disapproving at the same time. It is the most wonderful sight ever.

“Would you look at that. The CEO of Stark Industries, I am so honoured,” he teases her. He’s wearing a designer cast and sling contraption that’s less cumbersome than the everyday version so he’s careful while he hugs her but it can be accomplished without too much trouble.

“Welcome home, Mr Stark,” she says and gives him a watery smile.

“How is Banner?” he asks right away.

“Considering you didn’t actually kidnap him but he is potentially wanted by the military I decided we hardly needed to look elsewhere for legal representation seeing as these things are hardly new territory for you,” she says with a note of condescension. “Your usual firm is perfectly capable of handling all these things.”

“Pepper, I wish it were that simple but it never is so why bother. Is he at the tower or the mansion?” he asks instead.

“Tower. He was most interested in the equipment so I let him have at it. He’s been working on something for the past few days—Tony, tell me we didn’t steal anything dangerous.”

“You didn’t steal anything dangerous,” he parrots obediently.

Pepper, who knows him too well by now, huffs angrily. “Well whatever it is, he’s very protective of it. Promise me you will deal with this because I can’t, I can’t take anymore shocks, not with the company to run and SHIELD breathing down my neck every time I turn around.”

“First thing, Miss Potts, I promise. Actually,” he turns to Hogan, “You remember that burger joint from that one time, with the thing in the cheese?”

“Sure do, boss,” he laughs. Pepper walks away muttering angrily about murder not being an option and he follows after her, whistling happily.

...

Banner starts talking at him the minute he’s through the doors.

“So I’ve combed through the rest of the data you gathered and you were right, it really is junk for the most part however entertaining Johnny Storm’s chatlogs were.”

“I see you’ve settled in,” he says eyeing the mess of chemistry equipment.

“Oh, yes,” Banner says distractedly. He whips off his glasses and starts wiping them on his lab coat. “Thanks. It’s very homey. Anyway, I isolated the interesting bits and tried to put it all together into something cohesive.” He swings a screen over to face Tony and points with his glasses. “See this? There’s chunks of data missing here, here, and here.”

He can see what Banner means and from the looks of things he’s been trying to fill those gaps as best he can. “So I take it you didn’t show Fury,” Tony concludes.

Bruce recoils a little, startled by the observation. “No. I was going to, but then...”

Tony flaps his hand at him. “Yes, yes,” he says, “Rocks fall, Fury is a dick.”

“Those would be the highlights, yes,” Banner agrees. “Since I can’t get access to SHIELD databases I’ve been trying to make do with what I remember. I tried my best to recall all the data we have on Steve’s samples while I was here so let me show you what I’ve got so far.”

 “While this is all undoubtedly fascinating and I will enjoy it immensely, we have a more pressing concern,” Tony stops him, making him do that startled twitch thing again. Honestly, for someone who turns into a hulkbeast, Banner sure is excitable. Maybe that’s why, actually.

“SHIELD?”                                                                                                                               

Tony shakes his head. “While they are a massive pain in my ass, no.”

“Richards then.” Banner shoves his glasses back on. “I may have gotten a little carried away—this is all fascinating stuff—but you’re right, we need to find out how he got this. What do you suggest we do?”

Isn’t that a good question. If it were up to him, he’d bring Bruce into this. Investigating is more up the Bat’s alley than it is his, as much as he hates to admit it. All he can think of is invading the Baxter building under the pretext of more biological questioning. He does have Banner now which might be enough of a distraction so he can have the time to break into Reed’s computers and copy everything. With him and JARVIS working on this simultaneously it shouldn’t take long at all.

“Have you considered he came by it legitimately?” Banner says suddenly.

It’s a ridiculous idea. The Fantastic Four don’t have any ties to SHIELD and Fury would rather eat his other eye than give someone else anything to do with Captain America willingly. Of course there is one other option. “You think he walked up to Steve one day and just asked him for a phial of blood?” he says bemusedly.

Banner gives him a withering look. “Would it kill you to ask?”

“Ask? Who? You mean ask Steve?” he exclaims. That’s even more ridiculous. He should just call Steve, ask him about his day and how about them Dodgers, oh by the way, did you give your blood to Mr Fantastic? “Actually, that’s not a bad idea. JARVIS, call Captain Rogers for me, will you?”

...

If Steve’s surprised to be invited to the Tower, he doesn’t show it. They have a chat about the weather in New York, which means he’s still being tracked by SHIELD, great, awesome, and Steve agrees to stop by for lunch or a movie (Tony doesn’t remember which he used to lure him in).

He’s still trying to think of a non-confrontational way of asking if he let Mr Fantastic stick a needle in him however he’s not getting anywhere. It’s one thing if Steve was actually reckless enough to go spreading his bodily fluids around but why the hell did it have to be Richards? Honestly, out of all the scientists in the world, why him? Tony would have preferred it if he’d given his DNA to Luthor.

Banner is there for moral support or to drink his coffee—personally he’s going with coffee.

“I still think this is ludicrous,” he says again.

“Eliminate the possibilities before you draw a conclusion, Stark. If Richards stole his data or is trying to recreate it we’ll have to involve Steve anyway,” Banner says calmly. “I thought you’d be pleased.”

“Why the hell would I be pleased?” Boy, is his voice really that high? Banner’s smirking at him so that answers that.

“I thought you liked Steve. He certainly likes you.”

“Steve likes everyone,” he says nonchalantly. “I don’t see why that’s even a thing.”

“I have to correct you there. He has an ongoing feud with a jogger he met in Central Park.”

Tony tries to gauge just how much of that is bullshit. You wouldn’t expect Bruce Banner to be a good liar but his poker face is immaculate.

“No,” he says, and it’s a long, drawn out sound he thinks conveys his disbelief perfectly.

Banner smiles wider. “Oh yes.”

“But, why?” he asks with a hint of whine. His whole worldview is being upset.

“He litters and has no respect for his fellow joggers,” comes the familiar voice from behind them.

“Steve! Where the hell did you come from,” he demands. He hadn’t been there before, right? What was JARVIS doing even, goddamn.

“The elevator,” Steve says like he’d expected Tony to be aware of this.

“You could have said something,” Tony pouts.

Steve blinks at him. “Bruce saw me.”

Tony glances at Banner who’s examining the contents of his cup, the foul betrayer.

“You look well. Are you back in New York to stay a while?”

Tony glares down at his arm and nods. “Yeah, I am. It seemed like the best idea. Bruce is a bully—my Bruce, not Hulk-Bruce.” He continues quickly at the sight of Steve’s glare. “It’s easier for me to work from here. Less exertion. He’s right, but I don’t have to like it.”

“He could come here?” Steve says with what seems like great personal sacrifice. It’s something to keep an eye on.

“That’s the downside of dating a billionaire business man—he can’t. He has WE just as I have SI,” he explains. “But I didn’t ask you here to whine about my love life—hi, Steve! It’s good to have you here. You’ve been here before, right?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s changed since then though.”

“Pepper remodelled,” Bruce joins in. “Since Tony nominally lives at the mansion she changed a few things here.”

“That’s right, you live here now,” Tony says.

This isn’t getting him any closer to asking Steve about Richards, but what can he do? What’s a good way to work up to asking someone about their super secret altered DNA? He’s not familiar with the etiquette here, so babbling it is.

“I kidnapped Banner so I could keep him in my tower like a beautiful princess,” he goes on. “So far, no knights—not counting you, you aren’t here for a dashing rescue.”

“It’s not kidnapping if you ask, Tony,” Bruce says amusedly.

Steve looks progressively more lost.

“You don’t live on the base anymore?” he asks Banner.

Bruce smiles grimly. “I thought it was in my best interests to find alternative lodging. Tony obliged me.”

“This is about that General, isn’t it,” Steve says grimly.

“Among other things, yes.”

“SHIELD would protect you, Bruce. You’re one of theirs.” Steve says earnestly, and Tony feels a little sad for him.

“My experience with military organisations has been less than encouraging,” Banner says. “I didn’t want to take the chance.”

Steve turns to Tony but he hardly has any assurances to give. By now Steve should know Tony and figures of authority have never gotten along well.

“It was my idea,” he admits. “Steve, do you remember the Tesseract experiments? The Hulk chamber?”

“I remember Tony, I was right there with you,” Steve interrupts.

“Then you should understand why I’m pulling Bruce out before they stuff him in a box,” he snaps.

Steve glares daggers at him. He’s crossed his arms and stands tall, even out of costume there’s no mistaking him for anyone other than Captain America.

“I can’t believe you’d think I’d let that happen.”

Tony believes him, really he does. Steve would protest anything he sees as injustice, but Captain America or not, he is just one man.

 “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

It was the right thing to say obviously. Steve relaxes and Tony breathes easier.

“All right. I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand.” He smiles a little and Tony feels better just seeing it. “Thank you for telling me.”

While it makes him feel like a total dick he still grabs on to it.

“Hey, you’re team leader, it’s only right,” Tony says, the words tasting bitter in his mouth. “This was only one of the reasons I called you though.”

“Don’t tell me,” Steve says with a sigh, “You’ve kidnapped Thor as well.”

“No, but now that you mention it he always was my favourite—no offence, Banner.”

Steve is trying to look scandalised and failing.

“Tony!”

Banner groans and drops his head in his hand. “Can we just ask him already?”

Steve looks at him curiously. “Ask me what?”

Tony drums his fingers on his cast, considering the best way to go about this yet again. He’s not getting any better ideas. Fuck it, he can just be blunt and smooth it out later.

“Steve, have you been giving your blood to strange men?”

“Excuse me?” Steve splutters.

“Richards, Steve, have you given blood to Reed Richards?” he elaborates.

“No,” Steve says with a puzzled frown, “why would you think that?”

Tony and Banner share a look.

“This is not good,” Banner says.

“Very not good,” Tony agrees.

“What do we do?”

“What are you talking about,” Steve exclaims. They both turn to him, equally dour looks on their faces.

“Come on, we’ll show you. You can help plan the next move, oh tactical genius,” Tony says, grabbing Steve and dragging him to the elevator.