The smell hits him as soon as he steps foot inside SHIELD headquarters.
Tony feels the hair at his nape stir and the urge to peel his lips back and growl. His steps falter because it's so strong which means there's more than one and that's just insanity. Tony's used to being the only wolf in a ten mile radius because his scent drives others off.
"You've gotta be kidding me," he snaps at an unaffected Fury beside him. "This wasn't-"
"This was part of the deal. I explained that."
"Well, you didn't explain properly."
"Is it my fault you were checking your email and surfing furry sites during the briefing?" Fury asks.
"I like to multitask," Tony says with a roll of his shoulders. The smell is making his skin prickle uncomfortably, giving him flight or fight impulses that are hard to ignore. He brushes a hand down his suit jacket, trying to look as unruffled as possible. He doesn't want to give Fury the satisfaction of seeing him sweat.
"Which is unfortunate because you can only actually concentrate on one thing at a time," Fury says dryly and Tony offers an unimpressed huff.
Fury leads him with a hand hovering at his back but not actually connecting into a large conference room. The smell increases, becomes almost too much to handle because it’s concentrated. The air scrubbers don't do enough to dispel it and Tony feels his skin actually twitch with the need to shift.
He looks over the occupants of the room quickly, dismissing a man and woman already in SHIELD uniform but scents toned down because they must be on blockers and another human in a suit not quite as nice as his but close. His focus narrows on the most mild-looking man in the room who's backed himself into a corner and has on a honest-to-god tweed jacket with elbow patches.
"Now I know you're joking," Tony scoffs and Fury narrows his one good eye at Tony. "I mean c'mon, a berserker, really?" Tony feels a little warmer towards the two agents when they look surprised and wary, shuffling closer together and further away from the guy in the corner.
"Doctor Banner is-"
"If you're about to tell me he's fine and he has it under control, you can just stop right there," Tony cuts off the un-introduced man with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"What Agent Coulson was going to say-" Fury tries but Tony just rolls his eyes and sits, throwing his legs up on the long meeting table.
"Let me guess, he was going to say that, Banner is it?" Tony says, raises his eyebrows at the guy who looks startled to be addressed but nods quickly. "He was going to say that Banner's on blockers, I can smell it. Doesn't make a difference."
"It really doesn't." Tony turns to see another man enter the room. He's tall, blond and broad shouldered. He looks infuriatingly familiar to Tony but he can't quite place him. "He'll burn straight through the blockers the first time he's even a little stressed."
"Captain Rogers, he's going to be field tested like everyone. If there's a problem, we'll find it there," Fury says.
"Um, I'm happy to sit out... of everything," Banner offers with a tentative raise of his hand. Tony feels a little bad for the guy, it's not his fault he can't control his shifting, just a roll of the dice that could happen to anyone.
Then the name Rogers filters through to Tony and he knows exactly who the latecomer is.
"Captain America, really?" Tony says and Steve Rogers winces at the edge to Tony's tone.
"Mr. Stark, I knew your father," Steve says by way of greeting, approaches and holds out a hand to Tony, who looks at it incredulously and then back at Steve's face, unsure the guy is even real.
"Yeah, so did I. That's not really a redeeming quality," he says and Steve drops his hand, face hardening.
"It would be better if we could be civil since we're going to be working together," Steve says, jaw going tight on the word civil.
"I'm not working with you," Tony scoffs.
"If you don't want to be collared and pinned, yes you are," Fury says and Tony rounds on him. He feels Steve grab for his arm, probably because he can feel the aggression coming off Tony in waves and they're in a closed room with humans.
That doesn't matter because Tony sees red.
He's shifting before he can stop himself, wonders if maybe this is what a berserker feels like every time. Halfway through the change, Tony feels something land on his back, there's a sharp pain in his neck and then there's nothing.
"I can't tell you how many laws you broke dosing me against my will," Tony says. He's cradling his head in his hands, the effects of the suppressant leaving him feeling like he has the worst kind of hangover. "My lawyer will be able to though."
"You were shifting in a room with humans. It was justified."
Tony glares at Fury's shoes because his head feels too heavy to lift."You keep telling yourself and my three thousand dollar an hour guy that," Tony says. He uses a hand to push his head up so he can see Fury's face. "You ever read the Lycan Bill of Rights?"
Tony snorts and accepts the glass of water Fury holds out to him. "Yeah, alright so it's pretty dry, but I'm sure there's a bunch of it you just violated."
"You can sue me," Fury huffs.
"Wasn't that exactly what I was saying?"
"Look, you can make this hard or harder. You were an unregistered-"
"Let me take this opportunity to thank you for sicking a sniffer dog on me," Tony spits.
"You were an unregistered lycan. You like parroting the lycan laws at me so much, you tell me where you're supposed to be right now instead of here?"
Tony's back to glaring at Fury's shoes, but mostly because even though they went about it in a dickhead way, he's right. Tony should be cooling his heels in a cell instead of being offered an out. He doesn't have to be gracious about it though and he also doesn't have to like being backed into a corner. "So, we had an agreement," Tony finally relents. He wants to roll his eyes but he doesn't because he's pretty sure the headache he's nursing won't stand for that.
"We're dealing with multiple reality tears and it's not just in backwater, no population truck stops anymore. These things are cropping up in metropolitan areas with a lot of civilians and the stuff these tears spew out would make monsters from your worst nightmares look like fluffy kittens and bunnies."
"I've seen the news."
"What you don’t know is that we're starting to lose. Our people are getting thinner on the ground and we really need an edge here. You'll be part of a team, sent to the worst affected areas-"
"Is the team part mandatory?" Tony interrupts making air quotes around the word team and watches Fury's good eye narrow at him.
"If you want to survive more than a week, yes."
"I can handle myself."
"I don't doubt that," Fury says. "Still, as hard as it is to believe, I would rather not see you left as a bloody smear on the eleven o'clock news."
"Alright. So, just call me when you need me then," Tony says, risks standing and smiles gamely when he makes it to his feet without incident.
"Not so fast, you know better than I do wolves work more cohesively when they're a pack."
"We can all get matching friendship bracelets later," Tony says, derision thick in his voice.
"There's an easy way to force a pack bond," Fury says, gaze unwavering and Tony just stares at him for a moment, before he gets what Fury's alluding to.
"Screw you, no way am I having a bunch of strange mutts in my house," Tony growls. The affects of the dose he was hit with linger, tamp the anger down he knows he should be feeling. It's there, just far off and Tony's used to being able to tap into it whenever he wants, doesn't like feeling so... muted.
"You forfeited any and all property the minute you broke the law," Fury says. He's smiling, knows he has Tony by the balls. "Technically it's not your house any more. I'm only letting you stay there because it's becoming team headquarters."
"I'll burn it to the ground-"
"No you won't," Fury says. "I know you need to yell and posture and I'm happy for you to do that until you exhaust yourself. Or, you could just accept that this is happening. I haven't told anyone why you're giving up your place, you can pretend you did it out of the goodness of your heart."
"Fine, I'll take the cute little brother and sister act and I'll even take the berserker. I'm not having Rogers there."
"Why not?" Fury asks. Tony's satisfied to see that this surprises him. "He's one of you-"
"He's not," Tony snaps. "He's a lab experiment."
"He volunteered. He wanted to do right by his country."
"I've heard the party line, thanks. My dad sang it better than you ever could."
"You take Rogers too, that it not negotiable. Otherwise you can rot in a state-funded Lycan prison for all I care and I'll find a replacement for you."
"There's no replacing me," Tony scoffs and Fury shakes his head.
"You're not that special, Stark. I'm not one of your groupies who'll tell you different. I know your spouting Lycan rights in here, but there's a reason you've kept your status hidden isn't there?"
"Are you really threatening to out me?" Tony asks, eyes narrowed.
"I'm promising it. I know your expensive little lawyer will pry you out of prison but can he do it faster than a news cycle?"
The twin agents beat him back to his place. Tony finds them already ensconced in his sunken living room. The woman is curled up on the couch with a thick book on her lap and the man has rooted Tony's Wii console out from somewhere.
"No, go ahead, make yourselves at home," Tony grumbles and the guy says, "Yeah, way ahead of you," without looking away from the game he's playing. Tony steps down into the space, meaning to make it clear just what areas of the house they're actually allowed in, and they don't include any living spaces he actually uses when he notices what the guy is playing.
"Are you on level sixteen?" he demands. It's a game he designed himself because everything else was ludicrously easy. When the guy doesn't bother answering but Tony recognizes the level anyway, he narrows his eyes. "It's nearly impossible to get past level twelve."
"That's the magic word, nearly,” the guy huffs, sounding annoyingly smug.
"You cracked the back door?" Tony asks, because maybe the guy's just cheating, nice and traditional.
"How long have you been playing?"
"Forty eight minutes."
"You can't make it to level sixteen in forty eight minutes," Tony says.
"I don't believe in the word can't."
"You're cheating somehow," Tony insists, picks up the second controller and joins. The guy looks sideways at him when the game pauses to load the second player.
"C'mon, you're breaking my rhythm," he complains.
"You're in my house," Tony reminds him.
"Point," the guy allows.
"So, what am I supposed to call you guys?" Tony asks as his avatar appears onscreen. "Do you have names or do I just refer to you as Agent Dog and Agent Bi-" Tony's self-preservation instincts are fantastic and they stop him from finishing what he was going to say when he feels the heel of a boot in the back of his knee, pressing gently.
"Nat doesn't like the B-word," the guy says. Tony nods but the pressure only disappears when he adds, "Duly noted."
"I'm Clint Barton and that's Natasha Romanov."
"Not related then?" Tony asks. "That's too bad because I had a whole kinky twin scenario worked out in my brain." Clint's distracted by that for the crucial three seconds it takes for Tony to blow his character's head off.
"Oh wow, sneaky," Clint says, grudging admiration in his tone. Tony just smirks and tosses his controller aside. When Clint sees the game flip back to level one he thunks his own controller against his temple. "Oh man, not cool."
"Save points are for the weak," Tony says, deciding he's willing to let at least Clint and Natasha have a little leeway in the living space department. Barton amuses him and he's pretty sure Natasha will be able to kill him without breaking a sweat or her concentration on a book apparently. That's the biggest problem with blockers, you can't smell an attack before it happens.
"Um, hi." The nervous guy in the tweed is hovering in the doorway, a suitcase held stiffly by his side and a wary expression on his face.
"Doctor Banner," Tony greets brightly, making the guy flinch with his enthusiasm. "Let me show you to the bedroom furthest away from mine."
"That's fair," Banner says glumly as he trails Tony. Tony smiles to himself when he hears Clint curse behind them.
"He had a government override," JARVIS says when Tony watches Steve Rogers enter his house an hour later. He's watching from the security feeds in his workshop, had been greatly amused at the idea of leaving Steve on his doorstep for a few hours cooling his heels.
"I thought I designed you better than that," Tony grumbles, pushing his goggles up onto the top of his head and swiping at grease-streaked hands with a rag. "Wow, that guy picked an era and really committed," Tony adds as he watches Steve in the entryway, looking unsure for the first time but dapper while doing it. He cocks his head as if listening to something for a second and then speaks, looking around like he knows he's being watched.
"Jarvis!" Tony snaps, because it's obvious that JARVIS is the one Steve is speaking to. He suddenly disappears off camera with purpose in his gait.
"I'm not programmed to be rude, sir," JARVIS says. "That would be you."
Tony hears footsteps on the stairs leading down to his workshop. "Did you tell him where I was?"
"He asked, sir," JARVIS says, infuriatingly guileless.
"I'm going to replace you," Tony threatens.
"With what, sir?"
"The toaster. Maybe the toaster won't ruin my life."
"Mr. Stark?" Steve calls from the doorway. Tony whips his goggles off and tosses them across the room. Steve is standing with a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and a come in peace look on his face.
Tony's inexplicably infuriated by it all.
"I see you found your way here," Tony says.
"Um, there was a SHIELD driver and a GPS," Steve says, obviously missing the sarcasm. "Plus, not too many mansions embedded in the sides of mountains around here so it's a little hard to miss."
"You don't drive?"
"Just motorcycles," Steve says, eyes straying to the corner of the garage attached to the workshop and Tony's three bikes covetously. "Apparently SHIELD's insurance doesn't cover the way I ride them."
Tony wants to dislike this man. He'd grown up in Captain America's shadow, articles and charts, memorabilia and movie reels dominating his formative years. He'd been told that Howard had changed after Steve disappeared. He's always blamed Steve in part that he hadn't ended up with the father he should've. He'd instead had a haunted shell, obsessed and impatient.
He'd also blamed Steve for his mother never...
"-take whatever. I'm pretty used to close quarters," Steve is saying and Tony blinks.
"A room?" Steve repeats and Tony sighs, is going to draw the line at playing concierge.
"Just pick one that doesn't look lived in," he snaps.
"I'm suspecting I might end up in yours accidentally if that’s the only caveat," Steve observes, gaze taking in the leather couch with a pillow and blanket thrown on it pushed off to the side, piles of Chinese takeout cartons and empty coffee mugs strewn about.
"Try not to do that," Tony grits out between clenched teeth. Something about Steve puts him on edge and it's not even the history of him. "Jarvis'll point you in the right direction."
"The disembodied voice?" Steve asks, shuffling a little, looking uncomfortable.
"He's not a poltergeist, he's just an AI."
"Right," Steve says, not looking appeased. "Look, we have to be back at-"
"If you're about to try and tell me my schedule, I already have someone for that," Tony interrupts, holding up an impatient hand. "She’s a pretty awesome red head that will kick your ass if you start trying to do her job."
"We're not buddies," Tony says flatly.
"I'm sorry?" Steve says, looking satisfyingly surprised.
"As soon as I can figure out how to get my balls out of Fury's vice I'm out. I just wanted to put that out there before you started trying to do whatever it is you're doing right now."
"I wasn't trying to do anything," Steve says.
"Just keep on keeping on then," Tony says, offers Steve a smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "You're living in my house temporarily but the good thing is that it's big enough that we don't have to run into each other, at all."
"We're going to have to-"
"At SHIELD, sure," Tony interrupts, doesn't offer Steve anything else except a stare.
Steve fidgets for a moment before he says, "I should just-"
"You do that," Tony says.
When Steve's retreated, JARVIS says, "Sir-"
"Toaster!" Tony snarls and JARVIS takes the hint.
"Who the hell is that?" Tony had shocked the crap out of Coulson by turning up earlier than he was supposed to. He figures it’s the only way he’s going to get out of commuting with the rest of his new housemates. Happy had only been too pleased to duck out early since Natasha scared the hell out of him.
Plus, shocking Coulson. The guy seems to be the kind who prides himself on being unflappable and Tony likes having him on the back foot..
Tony is looking down at the training room that currently contains an extremely large guy with an even bigger hammer smashing the shit out of equipment that's meant to withstand the power of Lycans. He looks like a kid stomping sandcastles, and is completely jazzed about it.
"That's Thor," Coulson says, returned back to his bland flat line after getting over his initial shock. "He's the one good thing that's fallen out of the reality tear and he appears amenable to helping us."
"He appears amenable to squishing things," Tony observes.
"He's really just a big sweet marshmallow under all the gleeful destruction," a woman says from behind them and Tony turns to see two dark-haired girls, one younger than the other.
"Doctor Jane Foster," Coulson introduces the girl who spoke. "She's studying the anomalies, trying to find a way to predict or close them." Coulson's attention passes to the other girl. "And Darcy Lewis, her..."
"Gal Friday," Darcy supplies when Coulson seems to flounder at how to describe her.
"How's it going with the predicting and the closing?" Tony asks.
"About as well as can be expected when SHIELD confiscated all my equipment."
"Hostage to The Man," Tony says. "I can relate."
"Everything was returned to you," Coulson interjects, looking pained and like it’s something he’s had to repeat quite a few times.
"Your goon squad wasn't exactly handling it all with kid gloves," Darcy interjects. "And I have not seen my Ipod sine you took everything. Some faceless SHIELD guy is getting down to my tunes."
"Miss Lewis-" Coulson starts and Tony takes the opportunity to slip away, pulls his hand tablet from his pocket and makes for Fury's offices. These people have honest to god hard copies of all their files and all he needs to do is track down-
Tony does not let out a girlish scream when he feels Natasha's hand slip into the crook of his arm and forcibly turn him around. "It's just creepy that you don't smell like anything," Tony complains.
"It's one of the reasons I take the blockers," Natasha says.
"How'd you get to be a government drone anyway?"
"Are we doing small talk now?" she asks, raising an eyebrow.
"God no," Tony says as she moves her hand from his elbow to the small of his back, propelling him towards the training rooms. They collect Clint on the way, who smirks and offers a little salute when Tony grimaces at him. "Is she always this much fun?"
"Nat grows on yo-ow!" Clint skips sideways, cradling his ribs and Tony can't help the laugh that escapes. He didn't even see Natasha move and he has to admit that was pretty badass. He sees one corner of her lips curl upwards just the tiniest bit.
"We're late," she says. "Honestly it's like herding cats."
Tony likes Thor immediately and apparently for once in his life the feeling’s mutual.
"My people once fought alongside the mighty Garou who would shed forged armor for scale and claw. I would very much like to see your warrior form."
"Warrior form, I like it," Tony says.
"Only Tony can change," Clint interjects. "Nat and I are on..." he flails for a second, probably unsure about whether a guy that dropped through a rip in the space-time continuum or whatever would get the concept of drugs. "We just don't."
"You deny yourselves?" Thor asks before he nods, looking impressed. "That is also a warrior's way."
"I would show you big guy, but the last time I... warriored I got a time-out and a hangover." Tony cuts in but Thor only looks confused. Natasha's shaking her head.
"You're allowed in the training room," she says. "We need to learn to work together and you're most effective shifted."
"I'm not exactly the puniest human," Tony says and Natasha rolls her eyes, decides to forgo argument for violence, which results in Tony flat on his back without really knowing how he got there. "Um, ow," he says, or more accurately wheezes while he waits for his lungs to re-inflate.
"Come Tony, show us what you have," Thor entreats, spinning his giant hammer like it's a toy.
"Awesome," Clint enthuses, unslinging a bow from his back and bouncing lightly on his toes. Who the hell are these people?
"No shooting me in the ass," Tony warns and Clint looks disappointed enough that he knows that's exactly what Clint was planning to do.
"Are you really that precious?" Clint complains when Tony starts to strip out of his clothes.
"This is Armani," Tony says with his own eye roll. "You don't shift through Armani."
It's hard shifting when you're not provoked. Tony knows some lycans can't manage it, can't get it going without being scared or excited. He breathes deeply, doesn't think about being in the middle of a SHIELD training room in nothing but his shorts and just wills. Adrenalin spikes, his heart rate sky rockets and Tony feels the moment everything gets denser and tighter, preparing for the change.
It hurts at first, like a son of a bitch, right up until there's enough adrenalin dumping through his system to override any pain signals. Bone re-knits along his skull and spinal column, the torso elongates and the pelvis and shoulders expand. Tony loses awareness for a few precious seconds, trying to shift consciously instead of re-actively is always slower and takes more concentration. Tony shakes out his muzzle when he feels the last joints re-lock into place and before he's even gotten his bearings properly, a hammer is swinging at his jaw.
It's like that, is it, he thinks as he ducks and snaps.
Tony's lying on his back on his workshop floor when Pepper's face appears in his line of sight. "What are you doing?" she asks. He’s getting worried about the amount of time he’s spending knocked on his ass as a result of his deal with SHIELD.
"Trying to re-align my spine," Tony says. He's pretty sure he has a hammer-shaped dent in it. "Can you actually feel it if your internal organs are bruised?"
"Is there something you neglected to tell me?" Pepper asks after glaring at him for a few moments. Tony knows he should probably be upright for this conversation because it sounds serious, but he can't quite manage it. Clint didn't shoot him in the ass, but he did shoot him through the ear which hurt enough.
Clint had been unapologetic, had even offered to track down a giant novelty pirate earring for the hole. He'd said something about Tony looking jaunty right before Tony had managed to bite him on the ankle and push him off a platform.
"Any number of things at any given time," Tony says, not wanting to fall into the trap of lying to Pepper, even if he has no idea what she's getting at. "You keep telling me that there's stuff you don't want to know so I lose track."
"Tony, there are things I don't want to know, there's things you shouldn't be admitting to anyone and then there's the stuff that you should track me down for immediately."
"So we’re talking about an immediately, right?"
"I think the fact that you've started some kind of lycan hostel, yes."
"Ah," Tony says. He supposes it was probably wishful thinking that Pepper wouldn't notice the SHIELD agents that have invaded his house. He just hopes that she hasn't run into Thor because that is going to take some explaining.
Thor wasn't a requirement of Fury's, Tony had just invited him because he can imagine that Thor and Bruce in the one house is going to be endlessly entertaining and possibly destructive, plus Fury had looked like he was going to have a stroke.
"Would you believe that there's a good explanation?"
"There always is," Pepper says, flipping her hands to illustrate her exasperation. She holds one out, waggles her fingers when Tony doesn't move. He eventually takes it, lets her yank him upright with a groan.
He's getting too old for this shit.
When Pepper's look becomes pointed, Tony holds his own hands out. "I can't actually tell you what it is."
"I swear, I would if I could."
"I don't think you appreciate how hard it is for me to hold your life and reputation together when you’re so bent on destroying them," Pepper says, exasperated. "You swan about with no idea the fires I have to put out in your wake, the rumors I have to quash, how much silence I have to wrangle."
"There's an angry point to all this, right?"
"You're single-handedly going to undo it all by having a bunch of lycans lounging around the house." Pepper's voice goes shrill at the end of her tirade and Tony winces.
"It really wasn't my idea," he says. "There was a rock and a jail place kind of situation."
"It's fine, I'm okay. I just had to make some concessions to keep myself out of the pokey."
"Tell me you're joking!"
"Wait," Tony says, something Pepper said filtering through to him. "How did you know?"
"It was a bit hard to miss the people milling about the house, especially the woman with all the knives."
"No," Tony says, slowly. "How did you know they were lycan?"
High spots of color appear on Pepper's face and she ducks her head, a clear sign that she's about to lie. Tony's only ever see her do it with other people, often on his behalf so it's a little jarring to see her do it now.
"Pep," he says gently before she can even start. "Are you a Carrier?"
"I don't see why that's any of your concern," Pepper says, trying not to sound flustered when she clearly is.
"It's not... it doesn't bother me," Tony says gently, shaking his head. "I'm just a little confused. You have One-H on your records."
"You're going to judge me for falsifying documents?" Pepper asks, raising an eyebrow. "After everything you’ve-"
"Pepper, we're not talking about me here for once, shocking I know. I have a lot of money, a bunch of people that owe me favors or would love for me to owe them some and when a government agency found out about me, I got offered a job." Pepper blinks at that and Tony makes a what can you do gesture with his hands. "Don't get me wrong, I'm astounded and a little turned on by the idea of you sticking it to the man but it's fraud, the kind they throw you in the big prison for."
"No one knows," Pepper says, voice small and just a touch frightened.
"What were you thinking?"
"I wasn't," Pepper says, slumping. "I was young and stupid and angry. I would’ve had to register to date, to get married, to have children. I couldn't abide it." Pepper chews on her lower lip, looks at Tony from underneath her lashes. "By the time I realized what a monumentally bad idea it was, it was already too late. I can't take it back now without raising some serious flags."
"I'll fix it," Tony says and Pepper rolls her eyes, hugs her arms around her chest.
"I'm not a good guy," Tony says, holds up his hand when Pepper opens her mouth to argue. "But I'm good at this."
It's strange having people in his kitchen, in his space. It doesn't help that two of the five invaders have tamped down scents and a yen for being stealthy so Tony's not always aware they're around. Case in point, he manages to spill coffee over his hand when Clint leans around him to snag the Captain Crunch off the counter.
"Sorry," Clint grunts, like Tony isn't aware that he does it on purpose, likes making people jump. Tony grabs the rare opportunity to have one of the wonder twins so close and darts in to sniff at Clint's neck to try and get a proper read on the guy.
Clint ducks away scowling and Tony really didn't expect what he got a nose full of.
"Oh my god, really?" he huffs, delighted at the way Clint is now furiously blushing.
"Shut up," Clint grumbles, making a big show of getting a cereal bowl out of the cupboard and hunting for a spoon.
"No, honestly, that's why?" he presses.
"Why what?" Natasha asks, successfully being the second person to sneak up on him that morning but Tony isn't too worried about that anymore.
"I thought the blockers were just a SHIELD requirement or something," Tony says, watching scarlet flood down Clint's neck and curl over his ears.
"They aren't," Natasha says. "We've just got skills better utilized when we're not all...what?" Natasha demands, eyes flicking between Tony and Clint, sensing she’s missed something.
"Smell Clint," Tony invites and Clint smacks the cereal box down, his shoulders coming up. "I think Clint has a different reason for taking them."
Natasha just blinks at them for a moment before a slow, understanding smile crosses her face. "Oh, no way," she says, looking more gleeful than Tony's ever seen her.
"How about you both go to hell?" Clint snaps but it's embarrassed instead of angry.
"I get why you would want to hide it," Tony muses, rubbing his chin. "Plus you don't exactly want to make a guy like Coulson into a chew toy-urk!" Tony's teasing is cut off when Clint tackles him to the kitchen floor.
Tony waits for the rage to hit him, to shift because he feels threatened but a funny thing happens.
There's no aggression coming off Clint, and it's not just because the blockers are doing their job. Clint's... the closest way to describe it is playing and Tony instinctively recognizes it, curls into himself helplessly laughing when all Clint does is make sure Tony's pinned to the floor so he can rabbit punch him in the shoulder repeatedly.
"Oof!" Tony manages to get out as the rest of the wind is knocked out of him when Natasha joins the fray, landing on Clint and squishing them both flat. Tony can see her bright eyes over Clint's shoulder, full of glee and triumph.
Tony gets such a wash of packminepack that it startles him badly, makes him put hands to Clint and shove, sending Natasha and Clint off him in a tangle of limbs to crash into the nearest kitchen cupboard. He doesn't want that smarmy bastard Fury to be right, to be forced into bonding that he never asked for just by proximity alone.
Tony picks himself up, carefully doesn't look at Clint and Natasha who he knows will be confused and possibly hurt. He flees from the kitchen, knocking Bruce sideways when they both hit the doorway at the same time from opposite ends and he only dimly hears Clint yell, "No, dammit, not in the kitchen!" as he takes the stairs back down to his workshop two at a time.
"Recon only, we're not field ready," Natasha's just done saying when there's a terrible wet rip right beside them and something bloated, gray and with far too many legs falls out of the sky.
"Should we call this in?" Tony asks guilelessly and he's ridiculously pleased to hear Natasha swear. At least he's pretty sure that’s what she’s doing from the inflection even if it's in Russian.
Something small and fast moving hits the gray blob and then explodes. Tony and Natasha are thrown backwards and when Tony hits the ground, he taps his comms, says, "Fucking hell, Barton. A head's up would have been appreciated!"
"Fire in the hole," Clint says dryly and Tony rolls his eyes, spots Natasha springing to her feet on the other side of the creature that seems to be uncurling and getting up on its too-many legs despite the gaping tear in its side. It makes a kind of disgruntled noise and starts shuffling forward.
They're in an open air car park of a shopping mall that Jane had sent them to, after trying to explain what she was doing and how in small enough words for them all to understand. She'd been poked by Darcy until she had handed over a set of coordinates. "I'm still only hitting on eighty-six percent accuracy with the predicted occurrences," she had said, sounding weirdly disappointed with herself.
Luckily, it's about three in the morning and the kinds of shoppers up and about at that time don't seem too fazed by a giant slug monster dropping into their midst.
"Get to our location!" Tony hears Natasha call into her earpiece. Thor and Steve had headed around to the front of the mall because Jane's coordinates had given them a rough area to work with about the size of a city block which had required them to split up.
Another arrow smacks into the side of the creature and Tony darts away as Clint barks out, "Hold onto your junk for this one Stark!"
The concussion knocks him off his feet, right when Thor and Steve appear. Steve offers Tony a hand up that he ignores, instead choosing to shift and not put up with anymore of this nonsense on two legs. He hears Thor make a gleeful noise beside him right before the guy leaps into the fray, landing on the creature's back and laying into it with his giant hammer.
"You okay?" Steve asks and Tony's only response is to lay his ears back flat and growl. Steve shakes his head and follows Thor, shield held close to his body and head down. Tony watches him for a moment, intrigued despite himself to see the power of a lycan in the body of a man.
Then the creature spins sideways and Tony has to get to work, not really relishing the thought of sinking teeth into blubbery, slime-covered hide.
When the creature is in quivering, twitching chunks and they're watching it to make sure it doesn't do something really unfair like re-form and start attacking them again, Steve's back by his side, not even breathing hard. "You're red," he says, eyes skating over Tony's heaving flanks.
What were you expecting, Tony grunt-growls and Steve shakes his head.
"I don't know why I was picturing you black. Might've been the facial hair." Tony looks down at his paws, big as dinner plates when he's shifted. When he looks back up, Steve has a hand out like he's actually going to pat him. Tony ducks his muzzle in the way, gets his mouth around Steve's questing hand. He doesn't bite down but the threat is definitely implied.
"Right, sorry, don't know what I was thinking," Steve says with an embarrassed huff.
"Captain America is in your house."
Tony hates that Pepper actually sounds impressed by that. "He's a dick."
"Really? He seemed perfectly polite to me," Pepper says, dismissive as ever about Tony's input. She's making coffee, bless her, and she only holds her cup away for a few seconds before she makes a show of handing it over. "What's that?" she asks, flicking a hand at Tony's arm.
"I think I'm allergic to slime-covered monsters from another dimension," Tony says, touching the irritated skin above his elbow. "You think they make a topical cream for that?"
"I thought you weren't supposed to tell me anything," Pepper points out, pausing in pouring a second cup of coffee.
"Meh, I'm a rebel with a cause."
"Is that cause to give me heart failure at every possible opportunity?"
"It's weird though, right?" Tony says, sitting at the kitchen counter and curling his coffee into the circle of his arms. He feels bone-weary just from the one fight and the strain shifting puts on his body yet he saw Steve heading out for a run looking bright-eyed and annoyingly chipper on his way to the kitchen. "People are scared of the lycans yet the guy who has the concentrated LPV running through his system is a paragon of all that's good and admired, just because he doesn't get hairy?"
"It's easy to like someone when they look like that," Pepper says. "People see the teeth and claws, hear the stories about berserkers and they can't reconcile how some of you could be the same on the inside when you're outside is so different."
"They look at Steve and think he's a superhero. They look at me and think I'm going to eat their kids."
"Well, the story isn't about Goldilocks and that giant blond, handsome guy, is it?"
"I think you wanted to go with Red Riding Hood or Three Little Pigs there. Goldilocks had the bears."
"Right, that's the point of what I was saying." Pepper reaches out and lays a hand over the one of Tony's not nursing his coffee cup. "Are you jealous? Is that what's going on?"
"Of the guy that gets all the advantages of being a lycan without any of the drawbacks? Why would you think that?" Tony says, snorting.
"Or of the guy that had your father's focus, even when he wasn't here?"
"Don't psychoanalyze me."
"I wouldn't dare," Pepper says, but she's smiling in a gentle, infuriatingly understanding way.
"You don't know everything about me," Tony grumbles.
"I know enough. It's going to be hard if you don't make an effort to get along with him like you do with the others."
"Clint and Natasha aren't as bad as I thought they’d be and Bruce is harmless when he's human and as far away from me as possible when he's not. Rogers is just...he's an impostor."
"Ever thought that maybe he feels that way too?"
"About himself," Pepper says, patient. "I've been reading some of the files your dad kept-"
"Pepper Potts, that stuff was classified by the military," Tony says, mock-scandalized.
"Which is why you had copies?"
"Rebel, remember? You’re supposed to be the good one."
"He wasn't supposed to be the only one. Captain Rogers was left in limbo when your father couldn't replicate the serum's affect on any other subjects. He's alone."
"He has the adoration of millions."
"He did," Pepper corrects him. "Back in the forties people loved him but no one knows he's here now. He's been totally displaced, everyone he knew is dead and he's being shunned by the only man who could possibly hope to understand."
"Sorry about before." Tony's not quite ready to apologize to Steve Rogers, thinks he'll ease into it by approaching someone a little less complex than that.
Tony has found Clint in the makeshift target field behind the mansion. Somebody's tacked a crude rendition of Fury to one of the targets and Tony grins when Clint nails him right in his cartoon eye patch. "So, male heat," Tony starts, isn't really sure where else to go with that. "It's... I mean, it happens."
"Obviously," Clint grunts, loosing an arrow. This one finds the middle of Fury's head and Tony winces, rubs his own forehead in sympathy. He knows Clint doesn't have a particular beef with Fury as such, probably just needs to hit something that's not just a bulls-eye.
Tony nudges Clint's back with his peace offering until Clint turns. "What's this?" he asks, not reaching for the rectangular package Tony is holding out.
"I promise you'll like it," Tony says, waggling the box. "I stole the idea from Star Wars."
Clint still looks dubious, but he slings his bow across his back so he can have hands free and takes the box. He rips the top open, plucks one of the white spheres out of its wrapping. "I don't play fetch," Clint says, misunderstanding and looking immediately pissed off.
"It's not a ball you dumbass," Tony says, takes the box back and the sphere Clint is turning over in his hands and runs a finger over a small panel. The sphere makes a whirring sound and then jerks in Tony's grip. "I thought you might appreciate something to aim at that isn't stationary considering most bad guys won't actually stand still and wait for you to shoot them."
Tony lets it go and the sphere whizzes off, spins and circles back, hovering. "I've coded it to you so it's got a range based on your location. It won't completely disappear but it will hide and try to evade as best it can." Tony digs a small square cube out of the packaging with a single button on the top. “This recalls them.”
"Are they all the same?" Clint asks, eyes bright with excitement.
"They're different sizes. This is the largest. There's a much smaller one if you want to really test yourself."
Clint makes gimme hands at the box, immediately digging out the smallest sphere. Tony chuckles, watches Clint activate it and set it free, immediately unslinging his bow again and sighting along it.
Tony watches for the moment that Clint falls into a rhythm and tries the talking thing again. He's found that Clint's more willing to open up when he's preoccupied, like aim, pull, release derails his ability to be evasive.
He tends to ramble when he’s on comms.
"So, male heat."
"It's just being sexually active when on the blockers. It messes my signals up, makes my body think..." Clint doesn't elaborate but Tony can guess. Male heat happens when a lycan's with another stronger lycan partner, like nature re-shuffling itself into alignment. To go into it when with a human is unheard of.
"I suppose Coulson's pretty badass," Tony offers.
"It's got nothing to do with that." Clint grunts when he misses and Tony's pleased. He knows it'll only take Clint a little while to get used to the spheres and start nailing them, but Tony's sneaky, he's made them able to learn and adapt.
If Clint ever gets curious and sets off all of them at once he'll find out they work together.
"How'd you know it was Coulson anyway?"
"I might not be able to get much off you but I got a nose full of Coulson in that first meeting," Tony says. "You're letting it get to you, are't you?" Tony adds.
"It messes with my head too, I guess," Clint allows, makes a pleased sound when he hits and finds the arrow embeds itself into the sphere without damage, ready to be retrieved later. He looks back at Tony with an eyebrow arched and Tony just shrugs. There might be some Stark tech he's not ready to release to the world yet.
"We haven't seen him here in a while," Tony says and Clint lowers the bow, shuffles his feet.
"He wants to. I just... it doesn't feel right."
"Okay, it shouldn't feel right," Clint admits, looking angry with himself. "I should resent it."
"It's... he's human. By nature he's weaker than me but he just turns it around."
"If the sex is awesome, I say fuck the rest," Tony decrees, flinging a hand out. Clint just stares at him for a moment before he's laughing, leaning over his knees with the force of it. "What?"
"Is Tony Stark actually giving me relationship advice?" Clint wheezes.
"I'm imparting wisdom to a pup who doesn't know his tail from his nose," Tony says haughtily and Clint collapses against him, tears streaming down his face, helpless with giggles. "Ugh, get off me," he complains even though Clint's proximity feels infuriatingly good.
"Ow, what the hell?" Bruce has appeared behind them and is rubbing his head, watching the sphere Clint shot doing lazy loops in the sky. "Are you that bored that you have to invent new stuff to attack us?"
Their next time out as a team is a complete disaster, and amazingly it's not even Bruce's fault although he'd been the voice of doom when he'd been told in no uncertain terms that he was accompanying them.
Bruce hadn't even been able to shift, too nervous to get properly angry so Tony had been sidelined protecting him and had watched in horror as the small, purple furry thing with rows of sharp teeth was split in half by Steve's shield and the two halves sprung new legs and got up. Tony, with a basic understanding of how this kind of stuff usually went down, could only watch mutely as both Steve and Thor set about chopping the two halves up into as many little pieces as possible as fast as possible.
It’s no surprise when all the little bits started hopping around, spitting and biting. They’re tiny by this time, but there are a lot of them and no one knows if they’re going to end up growing back to the size of the original one. Steve has to call in a cleanup crew and the only good part of the night is watching half a dozen junior agents trying to round up all the little buggers armed with small blowtorches and harried expressions.
Tony is pretty sure the way their luck is going, more of them will turn up all over the city, maybe some of them growing to gargantuan proportions in the sewer systems just for fun.
When Tony is back on two legs and has been supplied a robe, he strides over to Steve. "Hey genius! If you cut something in half and both bits are left doing the rumba, maybe stop there."
"I know, alright?" Steve snaps, rubbing a hand over his uncowled head. "Maybe if Bruce had done something instead of just standing around-"
"Hey, don't blame Bruce for your poor decision-making skills," Tony snarls, bristling.
"That was bracing, friends!" Thor calls, trotting over, jovial as always. "We have learned a valuable lesson this day."
"Yep, you can't solve all your problems by hitting things."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Steve demands, brows drawing together in consternation.
"Just try and use that lump on top of your neck for something other than looking pretty, huh?" Tony says, retreats to the SHIELD van and tries to figure out why he's so angry at Steve all the time. There's leftover resentment, sure, he's got good reason but Tony's pretty sure it's not history that's his problem.
He's also self-aware enough to know that he's in a bad place, he needs time to cool off so he doesn't do anything he regrets.
Of course, his plans to hide away and not come out until he's fit for human consumption are foiled by the fact that he actually lives with the other people on his team and Steve isn't the kind to just let a fight go.
"What is your problem?" Steve demands, following Tony into his room when they arrive back at the mansion. He's standing there, looking infuriatingly entitled and atrociously perfect.
Tony wants to kick, break, wreck something he's so frustrated.
"You just don't get it," Tony says and he's not saying it just to be a dick, to be judgmental. He's just stating a fact. "You got all the neat little benefits of being a lycan without the drawbacks. You don't have to live with the fear that someday you will kill someone and it will be an accident. You didn't have to grow up with that hanging over your head."
"I hate that you need a separate Bill of Rights to allow you to do what should be protected because you're people too," Steve says, sounding truly incensed. "I hate that you have to register to get married, that you have to apply to date a human. I hate that you hid what you were because investors would run a mile from Stark industries as soon as they found out you were lycan."
"Just listen to yourself," Tony says when Steve seems to have run out of steam. "You try to lump yourself in with us, with me, Clint, Natasha and Bruce but all I hear is separation."
"Tony-" Steve starts, hands clutched into fists, ready to continue arguing the point, but Tony cuts him off, at the knees if Steve's expression is anything to go by when Tony says, "Did you say we even once during your little tirade?"
Color drains from Steve's face and his shoulders slump. Tony approaches, lays a gentle hand on Steve's shoulder. "I get it, I do."
"No you don't," Steve explodes, making Tony stumble back in surprise. He'd thought he'd won the argument, squashed Steve flat. He isn't ready for Steve to come back swinging. "I keep hearing about how hard it's been for you, that's all I hear about. Try being neither. You said it yourself, you, Clint, Natasha and Bruce. There's the lycans on one side and the humans on the other and I don't belong to either one, there’s no cute little classification for me and neither wants me." Steve's voice dwindles into a pained almost-whisper at the last.
Tony's thrown, unable to respond. Standing before him is someone he envied his whole goddamn life, who had his father's attention the way he'd never managed to, had the admiration and love of a country he could never hope for. Steve is the shining bastion of honor and duty, held up as an example to all and all the while he’s felt like he's in a wasteland, cut off and alone.
Tony says, "Steve," while reaching out a hand, cupping the cut of his jaw with perpetually stained fingers and ragged nails. Steve leans into the touch, starved for it. Tony lets Steve's forward sway carry his hand up and around to Steve's nape so he can tug him forward.
He now knows why Steve's been driving him crazy, mistaking the copper taste for fight on his tongue, but it wasn't that at all.
It was mate all along.
Steve makes a noise when Tony's grip becomes firm, digs into the muscle of Steve's neck. Steve's nostrils flare, picking up Tony's intention by scent before Tony can telegraph it with movement, leaning forward to meet him.
It's not so much a kiss as biting at each other's mouths, brutal but more honest than anything Tony's ever done. Steve's scent saturates his senses, overwhelms him and shuts everything else out. He waits for the urge to dominate, to push but it doesn't come. Strangely enough, neither does the sense that he should roll over which is something he was fearing.
"Does absolutely everything have to be a fight with you?" Steve asks, pulling back because Tony has in his confusion.
"It's not..." Tony's not sure what he wants to say but knows he hates the concern that washes over Steve's features.
"Not good?" Steve asks. Steve has a thing about rejection, Tony knows this. If he really wanted to get rid of Steve once and for all, this would have been the perfect way to do it.
"No," Tony's quick to say, getting a fist bunched in Steve's shirt so he knows he's not going anywhere, not now, maybe not ever. "I just don't feel... usually there's..." he's at a loss how to describe it, how he's floundering without the preset role to fulfil, rudderless with no instinct to guide him.
"I've read... it's possible when there are two partners of absolute equal power-"
"Switches?" Tony breathes. He's heard of it but it was always something he equated with penthouse forum letters, fantastical tales that had no basis in reality. "You mean we can just..."
"Do whatever," Steve says, blushing brightly and adorably. The blush deepens when he tugs Tony's belt free of the loops, tosses it aside. He slides to his knees, hands trailing down the front of Tony's thighs and then circles around and cups behind his knees, squeezing briefly.
Tony feels a tug deep down low in his belly that makes him curl forward and over Steve at the sight. He tugs his pants open clumsily with one hand while digging fingers into Steve's shoulder with the other. Steve just waits, patient and Tony digs himself out of his pants, cock gone hard without even a touch.
"Give it to me," Steve says, holds his mouth open and lips parted. Tony groans, has to grip at the base of his dick for a second and breathe through it before he nudges forward and in, warm wet heat enveloping his length and stealing his very breath.
"Dear Penthouse forum," Tony groans, teeth clenched. When Steve makes a noise of confusion, it travels up his cock as vibration and that's it, Tony's done. He gets maybe half a thrust in and is coming, too gut-punched by it to even be embarrassed immediately. By the choked moan Steve lets out, it sounds like he isn't exactly disappointed with the speed either, instead pawing at his own trousers in desperation as he licks filthily at Tony and the mess his own mouth has become.
Tony relies on Steve, ruined as he is, to hold him up. He thrills at the motion of Steve's shoulders under his hands as he jerks himself off, muscles bunching and releasing, still holding Tony on his tongue. Steve lets out an almost hurt sound and stills before getting his own hands back on Tony's thighs, gripping and releasing to the rhythm of the aftershocks.
Tony lowers himself down when Steve finally eases away, wincing when his knees crack and complain. He flops useless hands at his pants before giving it up. He's going to have to wait for his motor control to return before he can put himself back together. He flops onto his back, Steve lying beside him and taking in air like he’s desperate for it.
"That was unexpected," Tony finally manages, letting a hand come to rest on Steve's chest, liking the rise and fall under his palm, proof of life.
Tony hates how much he doesn'thate having the others in the house. He gets used to them faster than he's comfortable with, having Natasha just appear out of thin air, Clint perching on things and Bruce trying to be unobtrusive and always painfully polite.
Even Steve becomes a warm presence, moving about like the most normal guy in the world, wearing sweats and being sleepy-eyed and eating junk food. Tony catches Pepper smiling at him in a fond way, saying I never would have believed it by they're good for you and he'd stormed off, in a huff about nothing.
The thing is, Tony Stark the man might have been a loner, unfit for any kind of extended social interaction, but Tony Stark the lycan craves the company.
Tension Tony hadn't been aware of slowly unravels within him, giving him a sense of peace and contentment he's never felt before. When they have briefings, he still acts bored and put-out because damned if he's going to let Fury know his harebrained scheme actually worked but at home...
It's become a home.
For the longest time, the upper floors of the mansion were an untouched mausoleum, echoing far too loudly with the ghost of Howard that permeated every room. Tony gutted the workshop and garage, rebuilt them so he had a sanctuary and just tended to ignore the rest of the space. He had food delivered and like Steve had suspected that first day he slept mostly on the couch, showered in the corner over an uncovered drain and under the single shower head he'd hooked up.
He really only saw the house when Pepper came over, mostly for show as a pretense of being a well-adjusted guy who wasn't afraid of his own living space.
He might've been asked why he stayed there when he hated it so much, why not sell it and buy something else, something flashier and more him. Tony wouldn't be able to articulate that he was tied there not by Howard's ghost but by Maria's, his mother sunk as deep into the walls as his father ever was.
Tony finds the trunk of Captain America memorabilia he'd almost forgotten about by accident. There's a little room, barely a closet off the workshop that's stuffed full of everything that was Howard, files, research, the kind of stuff the military would pitch a fit about if they found that it still existed.
Tony pulls the trunk out, curious. It's a large, heavy thing, iron fastenings and ornate. The top layer is full of newspaper clippings. Tony grins to himself when he finds the grainy, yellowed shots of Steve in action, Steve at leisure, Steve on-the-go. He was the poster boy for the army, and over-exposed as a result.
See kids, look what can happen when you eat your broccoli.
Underneath those are the comic books. The drawings are hilarious, Steve looking anatomically impossible with a large barrel chest and a tiny waist barely wider than a little finger. His jaw is square and Tony touches the pad of his thumb to the classic superman line of it.
When Tony digs down deeper, he finds folders bundled in brown paper that he'll sit down with later, a few photos that Tony has to look away from quickly because his eyes sting. There are film canisters at the bottom and Tony pulls them free, remembers his father showing him some of them.
This is how Steve finds him later, when Tony's unearthed his father's old projector and carefully loaded one of the film reels, mindful of its age and delicacy. He's watching Steve and a bunch of actors pick their way carefully through a studio forest, ducking and weaving. Hitler pops up like a pantomime villain and Steve punches him in the nose, watches Hitler reel away, comically crippled just by the one blow.
"Oh no, where did you find those?" Steve groans, slumping onto the couch next to Tony. The film is playing on the workshop wall, film-Steve made uneven over the exposed brick.
"My dad kept a lot of this stuff," Tony says, points at the chest with a foot. Steve makes a surprised noise, slides down off the couch and knees across to the chest. Tony watches him pawing through history, feels a little disjointed when he glances up at the screen and sees the same guy, surrounded by people who are possibly, probably dead from old age.
"I haven't even seen-" Whatever Steve's about to say is cut off when he finds the photos Tony had set back in place face down. He shuffles through them slowly, the light from the film washing across his features and making his expression hard to read.
"You can have those," Tony offers. He hadn't been able to bring himself to really look at them, doesn't know if he can handle seeing Howard that way, young and full of promise.
Steve presses the photos to his chest, makes his way back to the couch and this time collapses practically on top of Tony. "Oof, get off, you're a giant," Tony complains even while he slides sideways so Steve ends up pressed along his side and wedged between Tony and the back of the couch, trapped.
Steve places the photos one by one down on Tony's chest so he can look at them again, Tony secretly grateful that he can't really see them from the angle even if he wanted to. "These are great, thank you," Steve enthuses, sounding a little choked. "There's one here of all the Howling Commandos. I didn't think I'd ever see their faces again."
"How'd you get into all of that anyway?" Tony asks, curious. "I mean, how'd you go from that," Tony flails a hand at the film, "To actual missions?"
"I wasn't supposed to be the only one," Steve says after a thoughtful pause. "The program was an expensive failure so they came up with The Star Spangled Man to recoup some of their losses." Steve waves the arm not pinned by either Tony or the couch at the movie still playing.
"Okay, yes, I know that bit but I don't know about the rest," Tony prods, props his chin on the point of Steve's shoulder and tries not to think about how comfortable he is even though they're two grown men on a single couch, jammed together.
"Hydra were trying to create their own lycan soldiers," Steve says. "They'd capture men on the front, weed out the lycans from the humans for experimentation and kill the ones they didn't need. They didn't have volunteers like we did."
Tony opens his mouth, closes it again a little thrown. He thinks about the word volunteers, that Steve thinks that's what really happened. He doesn't want to break the fragile peace between them however, keeps the knowledge that volunteer wasn't exactly accurate to himself.
"My pal Bucky was taken. I was just lucky that he was a lycan so he was kept alive long enough for me to get to him."
"You rescued him?" Tony says, in awe of how matter-of-fact Steve makes it all sound.
"Howard and Peggy flew me into Hydra territory," Steve says.
"There wasn't really time to put together a rescue mission and I wouldn't have wanted any more lives at risk, more soldiers into Hydra's hands. If I died, well..." Steve shrugs, as much as he's able to which shifts Tony.
"How are you even real?" Tony asks and Steve huffs an embarrassed laugh.
"You would'a done the same," he says and Tony just raises an eyebrow at him.
"You give me too much credit."
"I give you just enough, I think," Steve says, smiling. "Oh hey, look at this." Steve frowns when Tony averts his gaze, doesn't want to look at the photo Steve's holding out. "What... Tony, it's Bucky. I just want you to see what he looked like," Steve says, sounding confused.
Not Howard, Tony tells himself and lets his eyes skip back to the photo in Steve's fingers. He's looking at a handsome guy standing next to a kid and... it's not a kid. "Is that you?" Tony demands, almost tipping Steve off the couch when he snatches the photo.
"I was pretty shrimpy."
"I know you've said that but hell Steve, are you twelve here?"
"Full grown," Steve says, embarrassed. "Apparently my full grown wasn't quite on par with everyone else."
Tony holds the photo up, looks at Steve then back at the picture, Steve then the picture again. Steve tries to get it back but Tony holds it out and away. He's closer to the couch edge so even with Steve's monkey arms, he's still just able to keep it out of Steve's reach. Steve gets a calculating look on his face and then changes tack.
"Ow, hey, no!" Tony cries, Steve's fingers digging into his ribs. He's not usually ticklish but Steve is evil and he seems to find the one tiny spot just below Tony's armpit that actually is. Tony curls into himself, waving the photo in surrender. "Dirty pool!" he proclaims, breathless.
Steve's laughing by now as well, the vibrations from it traveling through Tony's whole body. Tony collapses against him when Steve stops attacking, taking the picture back with a smug look. Tony takes advantage of his distraction and leans in to bite Steve's bottom lip.
Steve makes a surprised, pleased sound, shuffles around until he can tug Tony on top of him and not spill them both onto the floor. "Flirt," Tony says, affectionate and Steve just grins at him before he tilts his head up, letting out a gratified noise when Tony rubs his lips over Steve's pulse point.
“I wish I could... what you do,” Steve says as Tony works his way down to the collarbones he exposes when he tugs Steve’s shirt aside.
“Which bit?” Tony asks with a mouthful of Steve’s skin pinched between his teeth. He knows it’s a little possessive but he wants to make a mark Steve can touch later and feel, even if only for a few hours.
“Just... change. Let go and become...” Steve’s words dissolve into a groan as Tony skates a hand down his torso and then under his pants. Steve’s not wearing underwear and Tony’s ridiculously pleased about that, finds it easy to grasp Steve’s length and stroke, Steve curling up into him.
Tony slows his hand, stops and resists the urge to start right back up when Steve makes an almost hurt sound. “You mean shift?” he asks slowly. He’s been made mostly stupid with lust at the way Steve gives himself over to him, but only mostly. He’s got a stubborn fucking mind that refuses to offline itself properly.
“Yeah,” Steve says, licking his lips and blinking rapidly. “It’s just so... you’re so free.”
“Free?” Tony scoffs. "I wasn't born like this, alright?" Tony’s suddenly, and he knows probably irrationally, furious. Steve's silent for a moment, mouth hanging open like he's a surprised cartoon character.
"But... you said..." he starts, can't seem to form the words.
"I know what I said, jesus," Tony spits, setting a foot down on the floor and then rising, dodging Steve’s abortive grab for him. "My life is a polite fiction, I'm just so used to the spin that it's automatic. The only thing that isn't a lie about my life is the One-H stamped on my birth certificate, so for you to talk about being envious, about me being fucking free-"
"One-H," Steve repeats, frowning, also pushing off the couch. "But that's... that's human."
"Up until I was eight years old," Tony agrees, nodding. "Boring, mundane, run of the mill genius-level human." Tony watches Steve, sees the shock sink into him like liquid into litmus paper, soaking him through.
"Howard wasn't lycan," Steve says slowly. He's trying to piece it together but it's a puzzle with no corner pieces, no starting point.
"My mother," Tony says, breathes it out, shaky.
"I've... no," Steve says, shaking his head. "I've seen her paperwork. She was a One-B. She was a Carrier but she couldn't have-"
"She was a Berserker," Tony corrects him. "My father buried it, got her re-classed when they were married, gave her a nice, safe One-B just in case she had a puppy instead of a human when the time came."
"Nothing's impossible when you have enough money, the right connections. There were people falling all over themselves to have Howard Stark owe them a favor. He wanted my mother and no law was going to tell him he couldn't have her."
"Tony," Steve says and his voice is so infuriatingly sincere and understanding that Tony wants to hit him. Suddenly the ball has dropped for Steve, all the pieces falling into place. He has something to blame for why Tony is the way he is, Tony can see it on his face. Steve actually looks relieved.
He doesn't know the half of it.
"Howard met my mother while he was working on a cure," Tony says. "She was a volunteer, terrified of what she was capable of."
"He was working on a cure?" Steve asks, dumbfounded.
"You gotta understand, this was before Liberation, before all the cute little laws came out. It was damn brave of her to come out that way, actually admit to what she was. She had the paperwork, she had the check-ins, she had to state-funded pension and she risked it all for a chance."
"But that's... that's good right?" Steve says. "The way you talk about him, like he's some unfeeling monster and he was working on a cu-"
"It was a lie!" Tony rages, can't take Steve defending Howard Stark for one more second, he'll go crazy. "It was an imaginary tale, it was a fairy story told to desperate people."
"I don't understand."
"That's the smartest thing you've said in a long time," Tony says. "You don't understand." Tony's breathing hard, can't really get it under control but for once he's furious without feeling the need to shift. It's a very human hurt he's been carrying around for longer than he can remember and no amount of fur and claw can do anything to fix it.
"Then explain it to me," Steve pleads, looking stricken.
"You really want to know?" Tony asks, advancing on Steve. He doesn't give an inch, just raises his jaw the tiniest amount, unconsciously baring his throat to Tony in a display of trust that almost breaks Tony's resentment.
"Everyone was told that you were an accident, a by-product while they were searching for a cure," Tony spits, hates the way the fiction tastes on his tongue, rancid. "All the while you were the point. The military made up a story for control, Steve. They needed Berserkers, they needed the strongest strain of the Lupine Parvovirus to play with.
"You can't sedate a Berserker, you can't have them sit still and hold out a paw while you take blood samples and skin cells. They had to appeal to the human side, get the people to cooperate and not feel threatened at all."
"How do you know all this?" Steve's face has gone milk-pale.
"My mother found out. It was after she married my father." Tony's lips pull back in a sneer. "She forgave him. She waited for him to get back to her because she believed that he would eventually, that he'd deliver what he originally promised. She believed and she waited right up until the day she bit me."
"Tony." Steve's voice is a broken moan, an appeal to stop what he's hearing. Tony knows he's being cruel, that all of this is about as much Steve's fault as it is his mother's, that they were both unwitting pawns but Steve asked and Tony can't quite bring himself to pull his punches.
"My father always had a singular focus. It's probably why I'm always working on eighteen things at once, because I don't want to be like him. He was too busy perfecting the serum, then he was too busy with you and then he was too busy looking for you to get around to her."
"I can't..." Tony's not sure what Steve can't because he stumbles away then, looking broken, destroyed. A small part of Tony regrets what he's done, knows that he should have kept this poison locked down within himself, not spread it around. Steve wanted to believe that Howard was noble, that he himself was the result of a people reaching to better themselves and now he knows he was born of deceit, rising on the back of desperation.
"Steve-" Tony says, puts a hand out. Steve shakes his head, stumbles over a box of tools in his haste to get away, made clumsy with shock. "Steve, wait," Tony says because he knows now that there's no satisfaction in this, in what he's done. He's been angry with Howard for so long that he's been blind with it, striking out and hitting the soft, vulnerable parts of Steve who didn't deserve it.
Not at all.
Steve fetches up against a worktable, leans over and breathes raggedly, burying his face in his hands. Tony's not even sure what Steve was told about his origin, about how Howard came up with the serum, where it came from.
It obviously wasn't this.
Tony watches Steve for a few moments, the strain of his bowed back through his shirt, his fingers digging through his hair. Tony strikes out without thinking, always has. He usually regrets it but he doesn't like people knowing that part.
"It was an accident," he says, just a murmur and after another moment, Steve tilts his head sideways so he can look at Tony.
"You just said I wasn't-"
"Not you," Tony corrects, sweeps a hand down himself. "She wasn't trying to hurt me. It kinda looked like... discipline," Tony finally huffs. The lost look on Steve's face clears a little, replaced by uncertainty. "My mom, I must have been playing on her last nerve all day. She was on a pretty damn strong cocktail of suppressants and blockers that was my father's own mix. She did yoga and meditated. She must have been the most Zen person in existence and I still managed to tip her over the edge."
"You were just a kid," Steve says, uncurling, standing upright and hugging arms around himself. "You can't blame yourself."
"I do though," Tony says. "She stopped somehow, god bless her. She stopped and shifted back and got me to my father as quick as she could."
"Most die," Steve says.
"Yep, only a zero-point-o-three transition rate because most people die or end up vegetables, their brains cooked by the fever. The suppressants were enough to hold the fever back to a point where I could survive it. I had only minutes... just minutes before it would’ve been too late."
"You remember it?"
"Not really, but there was video footage," Tony says, chuckles hollowly when Steve looks suitably shocked by that. "I guess my father kept it for research purposes or something. I was being a pain and my mom shifted and then just grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and shook me. I guess she wasn't getting through to me any other way."
"She broke the skin."
"It was an accident," Steve repeats.
"That wouldn't have happened if Howard-"
"Hey, y'know, just forget that," Tony says, winces because he might've wanted someone to blame but it certainly isn’t Steve, not anymore. Probably because it isn't his fault. "We don't even know if a cure was ever possible."
Tony thinks maybe things will be better now, that maybe he and Steve will stop washing up on the jagged rocks they both call personalities, cutting themselves to ribbons. He thinks maybe it's like an infected wound and now all of the gunk's out, they'll be able to heal.
He’d still been nursing some resentment and he hadn’t even realized it until he’d sucker punched Steve with it.
Steve withdraws though, becomes a kind of shadow flitting from place to place. He's still in the house which is a blessing, Tony half-expecting him to just disappear one night. Tony asks JARVIS to keep tabs on his movements surreptitiously but he might as well have not bothered.
If they aren't on a mission Steve's in his room, staring at the wall.
Tony feels the others’ distress like his own, it's one of the reasons he never wanted to get tangled up in the whole pack thing. He knows Fury would love it, be all smug and justified about his decision to force them together because like it or not, they've become a single unit, a team.
Tony wants to hurl he’s so disgusted with himself.
He finds Clint and Natasha in the living room, both despondently watching television. Tony hesitates only for a second before he digs fingers into Clint's hair and rubs over his scalp. He gets such a sense of contentment from doing so that he's a little startled by it, more so when Natasha seems to lose the glassiness in her gaze and slumps sideways into Clint, looking up at Tony.
His other hand traces her temple and she just looks at him, usually impassive face sad.
"Yeah, I know," he huffs as Clint nudges more into his hand. "I'll fix it."
“Let me guess, Thor right?”
“How’d you know?” Jane asks, tipping her head back over his couch and looking at Tony upside down.
“Clint’s taken, Bruce is far too fragile and terrified and I was hoping it was Natasha but I’m just not that lucky lately,” Tony says. “Plus, you’re wearing a man’s shirt.”
“This is my shirt,” Jane says, scowling and Tony just blinks at her.
“Um, sorry?” he offers lamely. “I’m just used to women wearing stuff that... fits.”
“This does fit me,” Jane says, her frown getting deeper. “I think you’ll find that you’re used to women that wear clothes that don’t fit.”
“I really don’t want Thor to smash me into the ground with his giant hammer like a carnival game so how about we pretend I said exactly the right thing to stop pissing you off,” Tony begs and Jane just glares at him for a moment, before her expression softens.
“Oh wow, what happened to you?” she asks, tone excruciatingly kind. They both turn when they hear a startled noise behind them and it’s Coulson. What’s the most priceless about it all is that Coulson is fully dressed but has his shoes in his hand so he can’t even pretend like he’s there on official business.
He looks like he’s contemplating it for a second. Jane ruins that plan though by saying, “Is that who’s taken Clint?” She looks disappointed which is confusing until she adds, “Dammit, I owe Darcy twenty bucks.”
Tony chuckles as Coulson’s usually unflappable facade is ruined by him actually blushing, the color deepening when Clint himself appears behind Coulson’s shoulder, slinging a lazy arm across him and actually nuzzling the side of his face. Coulson looks like he’s about to push away, possibly citing something about professionalism but whatever they have must still be in a fragile place because he just sighs and accepts the affection, challenging Tony with his eyes to say one word about it.
“Hey, I’m just happy you two crazy kids could work stuff out,” Tony says, holding his hands up as Clint grins into the skin of Coulson’s neck, looking happy. The pack thing might not be so terrible when just seeing Clint happy eases some of Tony’s own dark mood.
“Doctor Foster, did you have the next set of predictions?” Coulson asks, trying to steer them back to a place he’s obviously more comfortable in, finally nudging Clint off him with an exasperated but fond grunt.
“Oh, yeah!” Jane says, leans sideways so she can dig a folder out from underneath her. “I did have a non-sexy reason to come here,” she says, aiming a finger at Tony.
“It’s too late to pretend you’re all innocent,” Tony says and she flips him off but she’s smiling when she does it.
Coulson darts forward, takes the proffered folder and makes a face down at it when he flips it open. “Would you say this is likely?” he asks.
“Yes,” Jane confirms.
“I can’t be exact-“
“About twelve hours,” Jane says and Tony looks at Clint who appears to be as out of the loop as he is.
“Someone want to tell us what’s going on?” Tony asks as Clint folds his arms and jostles Coulson with his elbow when he returns to his side.
“We’ve been looking for one of the anomalies with a certain set of characteristics,” Coulson says as Natasha appears behind him and smoothly plucks the folder out of his grasp. “We posited that the tears could feed both ways, both introducing beings into our reality but also taking away. There’s been some disappearances that coincided with the occurrences.”
“You mean someone could be walking down the street and bam, they’re in some other entirely different world?” Tony asks, aghast.
“It happened to me, my friend,” Thor says, appearing in the entryway to the living room. Tony’s used to seeing Thor in his full regalia so it’s a little jarring to see him appear in a Ramones t-shirt and a pair of plaid sleep pants. “I was wrestling with a mighty Dafor one moment and the next was on a road unlike any I had ever seen you call a freeway.”
“You dropped down on a freeway and you weren’t squished?” Clint asks.
“The mighty Dafor is much bigger and stronger than your vehicles of metal and glass. I was able to stop their charge quickly.”
“How did we not see this on the news?” Jane asks, wide-eyed and Coulson says, “It wasn’t easy, I can tell you. These days social networking makes it very hard for us to keep anything quiet.”
“As I was saying,” Coulson continues. “We were looking for a certain set of characteristics, ones that mirrored your spectacular entrance,” he says, addressing Thor. “Jane’s found one so we might be able to-“
“I might be able to travel home?” Thor asks, looking a little choked up at the news. Tony feels disappointment wash through him, he so rarely finds people that he really enjoys like Thor. His disappointment is nothing compared to Jane’s though if her expression is anything to go by. Tony’s actually surprised she didn’t just hide the information since no one else can actually read her equipment or even knows how she does what she does.
Tony’s seen the best and brightest SHIELD has to offer basically scratching their heads when attempting to help her. Darcy’s unique in that she doesn’t pretend to understand, just keeps Jane fed and makes her go outside for at least an hour a day.
Thor notices Jane’s tragic face immediately, crosses to the couch and basically scoops her up. “My dearest Jane, I believe you will find a way to bridge our two worlds in a more permanent way and reunite us.”
Jane looks only partially mollified, buries her face in Thor’s massive shoulder. Tony motions for the others to leave them alone, can’t believe he’s being the model of discretion for once. Coulson follows him to the kitchen, tugging Clint along with him and Natasha following. Tony flips the coffee maker on and hovers by it while Clint and Natasha drop onto the stools at the kitchen counter and Coulson paces, looking pensive.
“I can’t believe you guys are actually letting him go,” Tony says.
“We made a deal with him. I can’t imagine he would’ve helped us for this long if we hadn’t promised to keep working on a way to see him home.”
“It’s nice to know that while you feel it’s perfectly fine to blackmail citizens of this world, you’ll keep your word with someone from another one.”
“Tony,” Clint snaps, annoyed.
“Mr. Stark,” Coulson says, dropping a placatory hand on Clint’s shoulder. “I will deny it if you repeat this, but I don’t agree with the way in which you were... recruited.”
“Phil,” Tony says, noting the way the skin around Coulson’s eyes goes tight when he uses the guy’s first name. “I had no idea that underneath all that uptightness there was a decent person.”
“Tony, seriously,” Clint says, bristling. “Stop being such an asshole.”
Tony opens his mouth to say something cutting back, he knows he’s going to, but for once he pauses to take a breath first. Steve is sitting in his room, his whole life in shambles because Tony didn’t take a moment to think.
He needs to be a better person, if not for himself then for these guys because like it or not, they’re in his life, under his skin.
“You want us to play escort?” Tony asks and everyone looks surprised at him, that he didn’t pick up the fight that was brewing. He hopes somehow that it filters back to Steve that he’s actually growing as a person.
“That would be prudent, yes,” Coulson agrees as Clint relaxes and offers Tony the barest of nods.
They don’t take Steve along, don’t even worry about telling him because they’re not expecting any trouble.
That’s always when trouble happens, of course.
“Eighty-six percent accuracy!” Tony hears Jane shrill as Thor grabs her up and hustles her away from the giant spider creatures that are belching out of absolutely nothing. Bruce standing beside him kind of makes a bitten-off exhalation of denial as the things tumble over each other, cascading in impossible numbers. It’s hard to actually make out details just because of the seething mass.
“Tell me you cleared the area just in case,” Tony says into his comms.
“Of course we did,” Coulson says, sounding unfazed but there’s an edge to it. “Like the good Doctor says, eighty-six percent.”
“I thought that was just about where and when, not what,” Clint complains. He’s hastily unslinging his bow and nocking an arrow. Tony feels someone at his back and catches Natasha out of the corner of his eye. She’s unflappable as always but Tony still can see the tightness to her face that indicates she knows that this is going to degenerate into a real cluster-fuck, and fast.
“You guys are going to have to shift,” Tony says. Natasha might be deadly with her knives and Clint brilliant with the bow, but they need size, speed and strength now. They’ll be overwhelmed otherwise.
Clint and Natasha glance at each other, before both digging into small pockets and coming out with auto-injectors. Tony recognizes his father’s own design, knows what will be in the needles, an adrenalin-based compound that negates the affect of the blockers.
“You too big guy,” Clint says, speaking around the protective cap he’s ripped off his auto-injector with his teeth.
“No...I... no,” Bruce moans, backing up quickly, shaking his head.
“Jesus, just get clear then!” Tony bawls at him, the last word breaking off as a punched-out growl as he shifts. The spiders are almost on them and he doesn’t want to face them as a man. He sees Clint plunge the auto-injector into his thigh, Natasha high up on her arm. Their scent hits him in the face, staggering in its sudden sharpness. Protectminepackmine mutes everything else, blocks any fear he might have been feeling.
Tony surges forward, knowing his pack is on his heels.
He’s exhausted, everything dulled down to just rip and tear. They keep coming, a tide of spindly-legged, bloated creatures that hiss and squeal and Tony really doesn’t want to think about the world they came from. Every now and again he’ll feel a warm, furred body press against his own before darting away and he’s reassured every time to feel Clint and Natasha both alive, communicating the only way they can that they are.
Tony gets pinned down fast, can’t believe how quickly it happens. One minute he’s holding his ground and the next he’s overwhelmed. He feels tiny teeth ripping into him, what feels like thousands of them. He tries to stand but the sheer weight of the creatures is holding him flat against the ground.
Tony would howl if he could.
Suddenly something charges into him, giant and unstoppable and he’s thrown clear, creatures scattered like confetti. Tony looks up and can see a monster of a lycan, dark fur with silver shot through it. He’s looking at Bruce and Tony does howl then, a joyful call for his pack, an announcement that they are finally one.
Except someone is missing, deep down in his gut, by basest instinct Tony knows this. He wonders for a moment if the smell of Steve that hits him only seconds later is just his imagination, a desperate longing, but then Steve himself lands next to Tony, carried by Thor rejoining the fray. Steve spares a moment to tug on Tony’s ear, yell, “Next time don’t leave without me, you jerk!”
Tony would say never again, if he could, figures Steve gets the sentiment anyway when he gets a giant tongue to the face that almost pushes him off his feet. Steve darts sideways, picks up a car and just starts swinging with it, much the same way Thor is wading in with his hammer. Tony spots Clint out of the corner of his eye, holding his front paw up protectively against his body and Tony immediately goes for him, sees Natasha do the same. Bruce is still in the middle of it all, looks like he’s actually enjoying tossing disgusting spider creatures around.
Tony can’t quite believe this is his life.
“This is a common injury amongst my brethren,” he says jovially, takes hold of Clint’s arm and shoves. Clint lets out a noise through his clenched teeth that makes Tony’s hackles rise but he shoves down the feeling, knowing Thor is helping.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” Jane appears, flinging herself into Thor’s arms.
“Is he okay?” Clint grumbles, looking only slightly appeased when Coulson comes over, brisk and professional in his scrutiny of Clint’s injury. Tony leaves them to it, bumps a fist against Natasha’s before he seeks out Steve.
He finds him, sitting on the tailgate of one of the SHIELD vans, looking more tired than Tony has ever seen him. He’s got spider guts through his hair, a smear of something Tony doesn’t want to even think about on his cheek and it’s all amazingly unimportant. “Hey, I’m-“
“Don’t apologize, I couldn’t stand it,” Steve says, darting a look at Tony out from underneath his hair.
“Um, okay?” Tony says. “I’m not sorry at all about those horrible and completely unfair things I said to you...multiple times.”
Steve winces, swipes at his cheek with a gloved hand and grimaces at the sticky residue he finds. “I need about a thousand showers.”
“Luckily, SHIELD comes with a luxury decontamination unit,” Tony says, waving a hand at a guy standing off to the side, looking uncomfortable and holding a hose.
“They spare no expense,” Steve says, snorts a little. “I guess I should-“
“Look, I-“ Tony starts at the same time and they both chuckle. “I was worried about you,” Tony says when Steve makes a go on gesture with his un-slimed hand. “You were doing an amazing job of being a zombie for a while there.”
“I had to... process,” he admits. “It’s not everyday you find out you’re a lie.”
“You’re not a lie,” Tony insists, kneeling down so he’s eye to eye with Steve, gripping his knees. “The method was screwed up but you...you’re the flower that grew out of a pile of shit.”
“That’s a terrible way of putting it,” Steve says, screwing his face up.
“I know,” Tony sighs, drops his forehead onto Steve’s thigh. “Even as I was saying it.” For a second they’re both quiet but then Tony feels a tentative hand on his head, fingers carding through the hair at his nape. Steve’s thigh is trembling under him and Tony realizes with a start that Steve is actually laughing. “Shut up, Pepper is forever lamenting my poor communication skills.”
“You just kind of blurt whatever comes to mind, don’t you?” Steve says as Tony tilts his head up. He’s still smiling, the expression doing breathtaking things to his features.
“Always,” Tony agrees. “So, you want to join me for a freezing, impersonal shower?”
“How did I ever think I could resist you?” Steve says, amusement still in his voice.
“You thought you could? You poor delusional fool,” Tony says, shaking his head.