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Ghost in the Machine

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Tony yawned and stumbled his way to the kitchen. It was weird, having all the Avengers in his mansion. Well, it was okay, since after all he had all this space and it wasn't like any of them ever had to run into each other if they didn't want to, so sure, that was okay, but seriously: weird. Tony wasn't used to people being a part of his space. Ever. When he was a child his parents weren't really ever around and generally left him to his own devices. When he went to college he used his father's money for something worthwhile: an apartment, so he didn't have to share a bathroom with a hallway of boys who were half a decade his senior. And as soon as he graduated he got his own place. Pepper was always around, but she was practically like JARVIS: just a presence in the back of his head, not really a different person being there, living with him.

But now there were four men and one woman, all of whom had their own very special insanities , and they were living in his house. And it was weird.

When Tony entered the kitchen, his eyes immediately started to track to the coffee pot. But they were stopped halfway, stuttering over an unfamiliar image in their path. It was Steve, sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of eggs and glass of orange juice. In a sweatsuit. Tony grinned.

“Hey.”

Steve's eyes flickered up to Tony's, then looked quickly away. Tony frowned. Not the warm reception he was exactly expecting. Especially not after the – and Tony didn't feel that he was being the slightest bit egotistical here – frankly amazing blowjob and fucking he had given Steve the night before. Was it because he hadn't invited Steve to spend the night? They had agreed to keep the... whatever they were doing... quiet until they knew where it was going. And with the whole team now holed up in Tony's house, chances were someone would notice if Steve didn't sleep in the bedroom Tony had given him.

Okay, whatever it was, it was definitely bothering Steve. He seemed heavy and exhausted, like he hadn't gotten any sleep the night before. That wasn't good. Damage control time, then.

With a quick glance around to see if any of the other Avengers were up yet, Tony swept over to Steve and pressed a kiss to his head. Pressing a hand to his shoulder, Tony held it there as he sat down next to him. “Hey, what's up? You sleep okay?”

Immediately Steve shook his head, bags under his eyes even more pronounced as he looked over at Tony from beneath heavy lids. “I...” He paused, glancing around nervously. Tony frowned. Steve wasn't acting remotely like himself.

“Steve, come on buddy. What's wrong?”

“I think your house is haunted.” The words fell from Steve's lips in a whispered rush, like he was afraid of being overheard. Which, actually, was probably an accurate assessment. Because Steve thought Tony had a ghost.

Carefully, Tony removed his hand from Steve's shoulder and considered his response. Laughing probably wouldn't go over too well. “Why do you think that?” Tony finally asked.

Steve's eyes darted around the kitchen before he leaned in. Tony leaned forward with him, figuring he could humor Steve until he got to the bottom of Steve's odd beliefs. “There's a voice. It talked to me as I was trying to get ready last night. Asked me if I wanted to set an alarm for tomorrow morning, if the room temperature was okay, stuff like that. It was like a butler. A ghost butler.”

Not laughing. Tony was definitely, definitely not going to laugh. If he laughed, Steve would get embarrassed, and offended, and then Tony probably wouldn't get to fuck him for a good week or two. Steve was sensitive to being made fun of when it came to things about that present day that he misunderstood.

As kindly as he knew how, Tony set about explaining. “That's just JARVIS. It's a... a computer program. But instead of being on a computer screen in front of you, it's all around the house. I programmed it.”

Steve eyed Tony warily, but he didn't seem offended. Good. Apparently Tony could do something right in a relationship... thing... when he put his mind to it. “It didn't sound like a program. It sounded like a person.”

It's supposed to,” Tony explained. “It's an AI, too: Artificial Intelligence. Basically, where most programs are just set and then run and do what you built them to do, JARVIS can learn and figure stuff out on his own.”

So he can think?” Huh. The expression on Steve's face as less than reassured.

Yeah.”

So he can think, and doesn't have a body, but talks to us and can see us?”

Tony nodded slowly, considering the description. “Yeah. That's accurate, I guess.”

So he's a ghost.”

Okay, Tony couldn't be blamed for laughing at that. It was just the certainty with which Steve came to the conclusion: his face set, eyes still a little frightened and most definitely tired. When Tony laughed Steve's face hardened, and he stabbed at his eggs viciously.

If he doesn't have a body but he can think and talk and see us, he's a ghost,” Steve grumbled.

Tony shook his head and let the issue drop. At least if Steve knew JARVIS' name, and that he was supposed to be there, maybe the poor guy could get a good night's rest.

**

Unfortunately, Tony hadn't considered the other ramifications of Steve's conclusion.

Come on,” Tony murmured. It was later that day – that night, really – after the rest of the Avengers had all gone off to their respective rooms for the evening. The two men were holed on in Tony's rooms, while Tony's hand did its best to shove its way down Steve's pants and get things moving. But Steve patiently batted his hand away for the umpteenth time, and eased Tony's kisses into something less desperate and hungry, and more chaste.

Okay,” Tony pulled back, panting slightly. He was trying to fuck Steve, not have a puritanical make-out session. Normally Steve was perfectly happy with that plan of action, so something was obviously off tonight if he was keeping their actions so frustratingly innocent. “What's wrong? Not in the mood? Because if you're not, fine, I'll take care of myself and head back downstairs to the workshop, but seriously-”

No, no!” Steve shunted himself up on the pillows, looking distraught. “It's not that.” As if to reassure Tony, Steve let a hand trail down his side and cup over the swell of his ass. But immediately upon making the gesture Steve flushed, eyes darting around nervously. “It's just... the ghost...”

JARVIS?”

Yes, sir.”

Tony rolled his eyes. “Nothing, JARVIS. Just talking about you.”

The disembodied human voice – and okay, maybe Steve had some sort of antiquated point, there – was dry as it replied: “Of course, sir. Enjoy yourself.”

When Tony turned his attention back to Steve, he noticed two things immediately. First, Steve was staring up at the ceiling, face pale and eyes wide. Second, if the dips and swells of the thin sheet Steve had pulled over his lap were anything to go by, exhibitionism was decidedly not one of Steve's kinks. Well, fuck.

Listen, Steve: he's not really watching us.” When Steve looked incredulous and glanced back up at the ceiling, Tony stopped, collecting his thoughts. “Okay. It's like this. If you've got your eyes closed, it's dark. You can't see anything. But if someone flashes a light over your eyes, okay, you notice that, even with your eyes closed. With JARVIS, if we're not talking to him, it's like he's got his eyes closed. But when I say his name, that's like a light flashing over his eyes, telling him: 'Hey, open those guys up, I got something I need you for'. Does that...” Tony hesitated, running over the analogy in his head. Didn't exactly work, but he thought maybe it'd do. Short of explaining – and convincing Steve of – the fact that even though JARVIS may read all of their vitals and know what they were doing, he didn't really know, and even if he did it didn't matter because he was just a computer program, the analogy would have to do. “Does that make sense?”

Steve still seemed doubtful. And those sheets were still covering his lap, with no telling bulge. Tony thought fast. “What if I block him off from your room?”

Steve's eyes lit up. “Can you do that? Like a ghost-shield?”

Tony bit back a growl of frustration. “Sure,” he gritted out. “A ghost shield.” Rolling over the side of his bed to his nightstand, Tony grabbed at a tablet he had lying there. “Here, you get over to your room, I'll be there faster than you can say 'Mjölner'.”

Steve's face brightened, whole demeanor suddenly a lot perkier. And that was good, that was definitely good: Tony wanted a perky Steve this evening. With a quick kiss, Steve hopped out of bed and shucked his clothes on. Tony dutifully stared down at the tablet as Steve got ready, opening and closing command lines and windows at random. He pretended to glance up and smile at Steve as he left, then turn his attention back to the tablet. When his door clicked shut behind Steve, Tony tossed the tablet aside and started getting dressed himself. Seriously, the trouble he put himself through just to fuck Steve Rogers. Then again... yeah, it was kind of totally worth it.

JARVIS!”

I take it you actually need me this time, sir?”

Yeah.” Tony stumbled as he pulled on his jeans. “New protocol. Don't talk in Steve's room. Don't reply, don't suggest things, nothing.”

Do you still wish me to regulate the temperature and light levels?”

Yeah, yeah.” Tony waved an arm as he tugged on a t-shirt. “Do all the things you normally do, just never ever talk to anyone in that room. Scratch that,” Tony's mind was already whirring with all the possible emergency scenarios in which he'd need JARVIS in Steve's room. “If I execute emergency code... uh... beta? Let's go with beta. Emergency protocol beta, then you talk. Go it?”

Your every whim is my command, sir.”

Great.”

Standing by his door, Tony checked his watch. Two minutes. That was plenty of time for Steve to think he had set up a “ghost net” or whatever. Right? Tony glanced at his watch again, then down at his erection stuffed into his jeans. Yeah, it was enough time. Without another second wasted, Tony flung open the door and raced down the hallway to Steve's “ghost shielded” room.