Actions

Work Header

Eliminating the Possible

Work Text:

Tony is sleeping. Or rather he was sleeping until a profoundly obnoxious and entirely too loud alarm wakes him up. The alarm is closely followed by a stampeding Steve Rogers in full costume, shield on his back, barging into his bedroom. Apparently he isn’t even trusted to get up on his own anymore.

“Get up, Tony! Emergency call!” he practically shouts in Tony’s (right now very sensitive) ear, shaking his shoulder, just in case the shouting isn’t enough.

Tony looks up at him and then at the clock blearily. “Yeah, I got that, Steve, what with the alarm going and all. Who is it this time?” He checks the clock again. “And why is he attacking at six AM in the fucking morning?!”

“Who do you think it is?” Steve asks drily, moving back towards the door now that Tony is awake. “And super villains rarely take your beauty sleep into account.”

“Right. Stupid question,” Tony yawns, ignoring the dig. “Loki always was good at psychological warfare – where is the coffee?”

“No coffee, Tony, you should’ve been ready as soon as the alarm went off!”

“Fine, fine,” he grumbles as Steve vanishes through the doorway, his words belying the speed with which he’s pulling on one of his under-armor, this one stashed conveniently next to the bed for emergencies. “But you know that I don’t function well, scratch that, at all, before ten, at the least, if I don’t get coffee…”

Steve’s voice carries in from where he’s hurrying down the hall, the trademark urgency mixed with exasperation clearly audible, “Stop whining and just hurry up, will you?”

Tony glares at the now empty doorway, zipping up the last part of the under-suit to head down to the workshop for the actual armor. He is not whining! Tony Stark never whines! Especially not when he has good cause to whine. Like now. Because he is up at six in the morning, without his needed quota of caffeine, and Loki is trying to demolish the city – again. Awesome. This is shaping up to be a stellar day already. No, he isn’t whining at all.

Fifteen minutes later Tony surveys a normal street in New York in front of him. Now, when he says normal, he really means disarrayed, chaotic, and burning. The Hulk is already rampaging through burning cars and flying debris, Thor, never one to pass up some smiting, hot on his heels, though markedly avoiding the last terrified civilians who are trying to escape the carnage. Neither Natasha nor Clint are anywhere to be seen, the latter presumably heading to some vantage point for his sniping, as Natasha scouts ahead. Loki also, seems too averse to showing his face yet.

“Why did they even call us out of bed for this one?” he grumbles, a testament to how bad the last months have been. “Loki could do ten times this damage if he really wanted to.”

The time he made a huge skyscraper explode in its entirety comes to mind, or the equally memorable occasion, during which the god somehow managed to dump what seemed like half the Hudson onto their heads.

Steve, standing next to him as he listens to the others’ reconnaissance coming in over the comm, and not looking even half as tired as Tony felt (sometimes life really was hugely unfair), sighs. “You know the citizens of New York can’t fight him – so they call us. Besides I did tell you to go to bed earlier yesterday.”

“Yeah, but you neglected to mention that I would be thrown out of bed at fucking six in the morning!” Tony complains.

Steve’s only answer is another, if possible, even more long-suffering sigh.

Then they both have to dive for cover when another car explodes in a white-hot ball of flame.

“You know,” Tony finally remarks, picking himself off the ground, “I’m really getting tired off Loki trying to blow up my city. We should really find a permanent solution to that problem.”

He dimly hears Steve mutter something under his breath that sounds suspiciously like ‘Captain Obvious’.

“Hey! It definitely needed saying, you know –“

Another sigh interrupts his tirade. “Shut up, Tony. We’re about to have company.”

And indeed Loki has just appeared down the street, hovering twenty feet above the ground – for no apparent reason.

“Show off,” Tony grumbles.

This time Steve ignores his comment altogether.

“Okay people, let’s move it.” Steve directs over the intercom. “Thor and Hawkeye, I want you to go ahead with Operation Stone Age.”

“Understood,” comes Thor’s reply, at the same time that Clint calls, “Sure thing, boss.”

Tony watches skeptically as Thor takes off in a whirl of wind. He decidedly doubts that what he has termed ‘Operation Stone Age’ because of its uninspiring lack of use of modern technology would actually be successful. Nothing they’ve tried so far has served to neutralize the trickster god and he sees no reason why an arrow of all things (even if it is loaded with a sleeping agent they had tested on Thor with most satisfying results) would do the trick. Ergo, some serious suspension of disbelief is in order.

He lowers his faceplate with a clank and gracefully takes to the air to fulfill his assigned role in this operation – surveillance. And, along with the Hulk, Natasha, who’s now hitching a ride on the green beast, and Steve, creating a distraction that will hopefully keep Loki from noticing Clint getting into position (yes, a complete waste of the Iron Man, but Steve hasn’t listened to him again). In his case the planned distraction takes the form of concussion missiles fired on the ground below Loki – it features a lot less roaring than the Hulk’s part.

As far as distractions go, at least, this one seems to be working, that is until a worrying, green cloud appears around the struggling sibling-gods which even the sensors built into the suit can’t penetrate. Or at least he hopes that that’s what’s going on since they are effectively guessing in the dark (or green as it is) now.

The second – and more worrying – sign of an approaching mess is that even though Steve has signaled Clint to shoot, nothing overt has happened yet (no falling, snoring God for one). That is until suddenly the wafting green mist begins to move and expand. The suit’s visuals pick up Loki’s strained face, even paler than usual, so at least it’s costing him to work his magic, but he doesn’t stop, one hand raised towards the mist.

And then, unsurprisingly, things go from bad to worse.

For once, however, not because Tony has screwed something up (though with that at least he would be on familiar ground). But no, it’s Captain America – which makes matters all the worse. Because down on the ground Steve is standing motionless, staring at the green mist creeping towards him, obviously transfixed. Compared to his usual high energy this presents an even more surreal picture. Magic. Even a supersoldier isn’t immune to it.

Without thinking Tony goes into a steep dive, cursing magic to hell in at least four different languages.

“Sir, at this rate you are set to reach Captain America at the same time as the unknown substance,” Jarvis chimes in, his distinctly British voice calm as always.

More curses. “Divert power to jet thrusters,” Tony grits out, ignoring the numbers scrolling down in the corners of his eyes – it’s not as if he doesn’t know the math behind the probability of impending death already.

“Sir, this is the maximum safe velocity to-“

“Just do it, Jarvis!”                                         

As it is he reaches Steve exactly one point three five seconds before the mist, focusing hard on not panicking in the face of unknown magic tampering with him and his teammate.  It just leaves him just enough time to wrap his arms around the larger man and gain a short distance from the ground, hoping that for once the probabilities are wrong, before it envelopes them both.

 

*

 

The next thing Tony registers is that he’s falling. Face-down. Only a reflexive jerk of his arms in front of him saves him from a face-plant that would have been as painful as it would have been embarrassing.

Unfortunately that doesn’t keep the impact from being bad enough to completely knock the wind out of him and (probably) severely bruise him everywhere. As soon as a sliver of brain starts working again, he asks, “Steve?”

There’s an answering grunt from his left.

“Am I naked?”

“What?!” Some shifting. “No.”

“Good.” He sighs in relief. “That would have been terribly cliché.”

Now that that first pressing question has been taken care of, his mind turns to the multitude of other ones bouncing around in his head. Mainly: where is his armor, why aren’t they dead, and – a little belatedly – where the hell are they anyway?

As he doesn’t find more satisfying an answer than ‘gone’ (he really needs to stop going through armors at such a rate) to the first one, doesn’t manage to come up with any for the second one (except maybe that Loki is possibly even more nuts than he has previously thought), Tony decides to take a look at the last question. Which he, presumably, should be able to determine through relatively simple methods. Or so his mind determines. His body on the other hand protests the first method that comes to mind, which involves getting upright and then looking around, rather vocally.

His efforts do pay off, however (especially the looking around part) and soon his various pains are forgotten (for the moment). For one thing he can confirm that they are in a room (even if it’s a very odd and cluttered one, several normal-looking laptops and a TV present as well as the more odd bookcase stuffed with ancient looking tomes and an ornamental swordstick), which looks like it had been built a few hundred years back. However, the far more interesting objects of notice are the two men sitting at what appears to be a kitchen table used for what looks vaguely like a home-made distillery.

Though the blond one with the (fairly magnificent, he has to admit) moustache is staring at them in open-mouthed astonishment, Tony’s gaze and complete attention are immediately drawn to his companion.

One thought eclipses any other deliberation. Holy hell that man looks like him! Not completely like him, obviously (he would have known if someone had cloned him, right?) but strikingly similar nonetheless. Dark hair, worn in a different, longer and wavy style (which frankly looks way too unkempt to ever make it on his head), brown eyes, high cheekbones… it was all there and yet he (whoever he is) looks different. Sharper, with inscrutable eyes. That’s as far as his thought process goes before it circles back to, ‘but shit he looks like me!’  And the fact that he apparently either has an (evil) twin, a hitherto unheard of clone (he still doesn’t believe that one), Loki is messing with his head, or someone else is messing with his head (oh joy).

His counterpart apparently has no such compunctions.

“John, would you please make some tea?” he asks, his voice a smooth blend of dark and sweet, turning to his blonde companion, “We wouldn’t want to keep our distinguished guests waiting.”

Three pairs of uncomprehending eyes stare at him. Leave it to this twisted version of himself to immediately be better at something than him. Tony has found out through much trial and error that he for the life of him can’t emulate a half-decent British accent, let alone talk as flawlessly like an English aristocrat as this guy is doing. On the other hand some coaching lessons might be in order.

“What?” his evil twin (Tony chooses that option as the safest one) asks, somehow managing to convey exasperation with every line of his body. “It’s perfectly obvious!”

There is more awkward silence, during which Tony and Steve trade a helpless look, and his evil twin manages to look even more exasperated than before (quite a feat, that). The blonde man just sighs, obviously used to his friend’s (?) manner, and then asks, patiently, “Why exactly is it obvious, Sherlock, and who exactly are these people?”

“These,” Sherlock (and that’s a strange name if Tony has ever heard one) answers with a grand sweeping gesture of his arm, “are two of the most famous heroes in America – Iron Man and Captain America, or Anthony Edward Stark and Steve Rogers.”

Tony doesn’t even register that he’s moved, until he’s standing instead of sitting, hands raised in defense. Next to him Steve has adopted much the same stance.

Sherlock doesn’t look daunted by their reaction in the least. “There’s no need to be so defensive. Neither of us means you any harm.”

Well, everyone can say that. Strangely enough Tony still relaxes a little, despite his usually cynical outlook. There’s something about this Sherlock which makes him want to trust him. Frowning, he pushes that feeling away for later examination.

Pointing at Tony, Sherlock continues, now that they don’t seem ready to jump him at any moment, “The whole world knows what you look like, especially since your stunt in court.” His derisive tone of voice conveys very well what exactly he thinks of said stunt. “In addition people don’t normally walk around in perfectly tailored neoprene suits.”

Halfway between bristling at that imposter’s tone of voice and feeling oddly fascinated by him – there’s something magnetic, as well as charming about him that makes it hard not to be – Tony is caught wrong-footed by that announcement and looks down at himself. Indeed, he’s only wearing his black under-suit for the armor, and now that he thinks about it he isn’t sure why he expected anything different. After all Loki would hardly make clothes appear on him, even though he seems to have done so with Steve, who’s wearing a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt.

Next to him Steve sighs quietly, no doubt imagining all the trouble Tony could get into, which would end with photos of him without decent clothing splattered all over the internet.

“What?” Tony asks defensively, “I’m not even showing any skin here. Unless that’s what you’re groaning about… I mean that’s completely natural, I certainly like seeing myself naked,” he trails of suggestively, winking saucily at his evil twin – who seems completely unimpressed. Figures.

Steve just gives off another pained sigh, never having been comfortable with Tony’s excessive flirting. Before he can say anything however, his evil-twin-with-the-weird-name continues as if nothing has happened, “And you fit the basic description anyone can find on Captain America on the internet. Furthermore falling from a height of about a meter you managed to slightly dent our parquet floor, which would be impossible for any normal human physique. And that wasn’t even mentioning the military style boots and bearing.”

“Why did Loki give you clothes anyway?” Tony grumbles into the ensuing silence (or maybe he’s just refusing to be intimidated by this evil-twin-with-the-really-weird-and-old-fashioned-name). “I bet that’s not what you usually wear under that costume.”

After all Tony is intimately familiar with the impracticability of jeans and sweatshirts under armor (hence his current state of sort of undress).

Steve steadfastly refuses to comment.

“So, anyone have any clothes to lend me?” Tony asks cheerfully, after a second of awkward silence.

Now it’s his turn to be stared at.

Then the blonde man – John? – groans with feeling (that tells of a long history – Pepper always sounds like that around him). “Not another one!”

“What? Do you want to me to run around like this? I mean, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing thing… unless you’re going for curves…”

Steve conveniently chooses this moment to excuse himself to go the bathroom, whilst John just shakes his head in apparent resignation. His creepy-evil-twin-with-the-really-weird-and-old-fashioned-name (whom he probably should just call Sherlock because even in his mind that’s getting to be a bit of a mouthful) on the other hand just smirks – and Tony suddenly finds himself falling into the depth of those expressive eyes, habitual control over his emotions starting to slip. For the first time since this entire mess began, he feels like he might be getting in over his head. Attraction he can deal with, it’s an old hat; anything else, however approaches the realm of the problematic, as far as he’s concerned.

When the other offers to go and search for some clothes that might fit him a moment later, he gratefully lets himself be distracted.

 

*

 

Still frazzled, the uncomfortable feeling of being somehow out of his depth (and he doesn’t like that one, not at all) churning in his belly, Tony calls Pepper. Because that’s what he does when he is in trouble, never mind that she isn’t his PA anymore but runs his company instead, and with a frightening efficiency – and if he didn’t update her on the situation as soon as he managed to get his hands on a phone (even if it is a really old and crappy one – honestly who still hasn’t got a smart phone?) he would be hearing about it later, raised volume included be  b. Their brief stint as a couple had done nothing to change her tendency to be both overprotective and rather vocal about anything she considered as him being an idiot, which is to say, most of what he usually gets up to.

(He only feels a little guilty for leaving Steve alone with his nutcase evil twin and his sidekick – or so he tells himself.)

“Hey, Pepper, it’s me,” he says casually, leaning against the tiled wall in the first private room he’d found, which just happens to be a surprisingly non-messy bathroom – it’s also freezing, for no reason he’s able to discern, making him acutely thankful for the borrowed clothing he’s now wearing, at least.

“Tony! Thank god!”

Even without years of training in figuring out Pepper’s moods (or to be more precise, figuring out how annoyed at him she is exactly) her relief is obvious – which means she must have been worried out of her mind to show it so openly over the phone.

“Are you and Steve okay? Where are you? What did Loki do? And-“

He laughs quietly, thankful for the bit of normalcy she’s providing. “Calm down, Pepper. Steve and I are fine, we are in London, and as far as I know Loki didn’t actually do anything except teleport us or whatever he did.”

“…you are in London. Why exactly?”

“Damned if I know.” He shrugs, though he is perfectly aware she would of course not be able to see the gesture.

“Can you get back here somehow?” she asks next, always the practical one.

“Sure we could,” he says easily, “but right now there’s this really gorgeous ass running around in London and I feel myself inexplicably attracted.”

Tony.”

“Right, right, don’t get your knickers in a twist. We’ll get back soon, I’m not planning on hanging around here for more than a couple of days.”

There’s a short pause. “Did you just seriously say that?”

“What?” he shrugs. “I’m in London, I should blend in with the local culture.”

“So you’re basically waiting in London until you get laid, and then you’re actually coming back?”

“…Something like that.”

There is some murmuring on the other end of the line. “Fury says he’ll send the team to pick you up,” Pepper finally informs him.

“Hey, why doesn’t he trust us to come home on our own?” Tony complains. “We’re completely qualified to manage that. And it’s not as if I’m planning on eloping somewhere or something.”

He’s barely stopped speaking when a muted roar into his ear makes him flinch.

“Except for Bruce – he’s had some… trouble since the fight. Apparently the Hulk wasn’t too happy with the color of the cloud,” she adds belatedly, completely ignoring his protest.

Tony groans. “Please don’t tell me he destroyed the mansion again.”

“He didn’t do any damage to the house itself, just parts of the fencing.”

“Awesome. And here I thought this day couldn’t get any better.”

There sounds some indistinguishable noise on the other end. “About that Tony…”

“What is it now?” he asks when she pauses, instantly weary at her tone of voice.

“You won’t like it,” she warns him.

He snorts. “Since when do I ever like anything? Spill it, Pepper.”

“Apparently Loki was just the distraction. While the Avengers were out fighting him, a team of professional hit men tried to invade SHIELD headquarters – fortunately General Fury is better prepared for that sort of thing than they anticipated and they didn’t get far. They’re trying to find out who hired them now.” She pauses. “Loki turned himself in after the fight.”

Silence.

“I must be going senile. I could swear I just heard you tell me that Loki turned himself in.”

“Your senility aside, Tony, you did indeed just hear me say that.”

“You’re right. I don’t like it,” he says, absent-mindedly raking his free hand though his hair. “First he apparently collaborated on an attack on SHIELD and then he turns himself in? Why would he do that?”

“If anyone knows they haven’t told me,” Pepper says dryly. “But you worry about yourself, Tony.”

He grins. “But I have so many other people to do that for me, honey. Besides except for being stuck with an extremely attractive man who just happens to look a lot like me there’s really nothing going on here.”

“Somehow that doesn’t reassure me,” Pepper dead-pans after a pause. “Just be careful, okay?”

“I always am, pumpkin,” Tony protests, doing his best to sound wounded. It goes without saying that Pepper isn’t fooled.

“Which is of course why you manage to land yourself in some trouble or other every time my back is turned for more than a second. If this ends up like that one time in Rome – you can thank that for me not believing a word of what you’re saying as soon as the phrase ‘nothing is going on’ comes out of your mouth, by the way – I might just ditch your company in protest.”

Tony gives in to the urge to roll his eyes. “Now you’re exaggerating.”

“And stop calling me those tasteless nicknames,” Pepper reminds him testily (a futile endeavor of course, Tony likes needling her way too much and she knows it). “Will that be all, Mr. Stark?”

“That will be all, Ms. Potts,” he returns their old ritual, warmth seeping into his words.

His dramatic reentrance is more or less (yeah, definitely more) spoiled by the fact that no one pays him any heed. Steve and John (as the blonde has revealed his – reassuringly normal – name to be) are engaged in a lively conversation about – good God – army rations and horribly outdated weapons of all things. Now that’s a surprising development, if not an entirely unwelcome one since it might just help him devising some reasonable argument as to why they have to hang around here longer (which is not because he’s really intrigued by their current host and may or may not want to screw through the mattress).

Sherlock is nowhere in sight.

“Looking cozy, aren’t they?” a smooth voice sounds from right next to his ear. Apparently Natasha and Clint aren’t his only acquaintances with ninja stealth anymore. In this case he might even be excused for jumping – violently.

“Holy shit! Are you trying to kill me?!” he hisses, whirling around. Only to freeze, his heart starting to beat madly at finding himself in such sudden proximity to the object of his recent indecent thoughts. He firmly reminds himself to breathe normally – and not fidget under the other’s blandly interested gaze.

“If I did, you would already be dead, I assure you,” Sherlock says quietly, amusement lacing his words, which does absolutely nothing to hide the edge present in his voice as well. Tony finds himself reflexively – and belatedly, Steve would have his hide for being so distracted by the other man’s appearance and aura to not do this directly – assessing the other’s potential for being dangerous. His gaze flickers over Sherlock’s hands and arms to his relaxed posture, remembering the way Sherlock had moved, all liquid grace.

“Martial arts?”

His counterpart dips his head in acknowledgement. “Very good.”

He doesn’t offer more on the subject, instead fixing his gaze on the two men chatting so happily at the kitchen table, appearing completely unaware of the two people lurking in the hallway watching them.  The descending silence makes Tony acutely aware of their close proximity. He could just reach out and press his lips to – a sudden bout of laughter from the kitchen brings him back to his senses. Averting his gaze, both annoyed and disconcerted by his sudden and entirely uncharacteristic hesitancy in taking what he wants, he clears his throat and steps back, until his back meets the reassuringly stable and grounding wall. For a second Sherlock’s face remains curiously blank, but then the same secretive smirk that had so fascinated Tony earlier returns, so fast Tony might only have imagined it.

Casting around for something to divert the attention from what has just (nearly) transpired, Tony jerks his head towards Steve and John, remarking, “They seem to be getting along well.”

Sherlock throws him a (probably patented) ‘excuse me while I recover from that blinding flash of the obvious’-look.

“That was to be expected.”

Tony raises a brow. “It was?” When Sherlock just continues regarding him levelly without elaborating, he prods, “How exactly was it to be expected? C’mon, you can tell me, I’m just curious, and, hey, it’s really not like I would do something totally evil with the information, like take over the world or something.”

Being Tony Stark, the other’s continual silence obviously only fuels his attempts to get him to talk. “Seriously, how did you figure it out? Do you have some kind of mind-reading super power?”

Sherlock sighs. “Observation, Mr. Stark. They are both soldiers, without being part of the military anymore. Both of them miss it to some degree. Mr. Rogers wasn’t always this physically imposing, and John was discharged because of medical reasons. Yet they’re both surprisingly gentle and easy-going people. Also each of them has their personal bane and blessing in the form of a genius friend whom they have to mother. Seems like they would have some points to bond over, doesn’t it?”

For a moment Tony just stands there, trying to process all the information this man had just given him in the space of a few seconds. Finally he asks, “How did you know Steve didn’t always look like this?”

“When sitting down he nearly banged his head against the lamp and seemed surprised at the fact, which means he isn’t as used to his height,” he answers, pointing to the kitchen table and the shade lamp suspended above it. “That coupled with the fact that he was injected with a super soldier serum suggests that he wasn’t as tall to begin with.”

“So it’s all just conjecture?” Tony asks nonchalantly, wanting, needing to see if he could finally provoke a reaction from the far too self-possessed man in front of him. If his time spend in society’s upper circles teaches him anything, after all, it’s how to identify and then push someone’s buttons.

He isn’t disappointed. Sherlock fairly bristles, his eyes flashing. “It’s not just conjecture. I think. I observe. I never guess!”

Prove it!” Tony throws back, just as intense, completely ignoring the fact that Sherlock had just done so a minute earlier, but wanting to hear more (see more of the arresting display that is this man figuring out things he shouldn’t be knowing) throwing his arms open in invitation. He doesn’t elaborate, but then he hardly needs to. Sherlock Holmes understands him. And for a moment the other man hesitates, something akin to fear in his deep eyes (Tony is, after all, not the only one who pushes others and often too far).

“Apart from the well-known facts… You like to drink, though it hasn’t developed to be a problem yet. You are used to working with your hands; ambidextrous, if not by birth learned later as a useful skill for an engineer and inventor. You have at least some training in boxing, possibly some martial arts, but you prefer your opponents at a distance. The object in your chest, clearly visible through the neoprene suit, is embedded there – the location strongly suggests it was put there because to protect your heart, possibly bullets or shrapnel. It is also what’s powering your famous Iron Man suit.”

All throughout rattling off that information his eyes never leave Tony’s, who is trying hard not to look too flummoxed and impressed at the same time (and probably failing at that spectacularly).

“That was…” he starts finally, “That was pretty amazing.”

It’s only intended as an honest statement, nothing fancy, nothing that would warrant a big reaction, so Tony’s caught off guard when surprise flickers over his counterpart’s face. “Excuse me?”

“That was some pretty amazing brain work,” Tony repeats quietly. “I don’t think anyone has… I haven’t been read by anyone like this, period.”

That that is also disconcerting as hell goes without saying.

“That’s not what people usually say,” Sherlock asserts, as if it was common knowledge.

“What do they usually say?”

“Piss off, get lost you lying bastard, stop antagonizing my husband… take your pick,” is the dry answer.

For the first time in what feels like years a full laugh escapes his lips. “I hadn’t taken you for someone who jokes,” he splutters around his escaping mirth.

“I’m not,” Sherlock replies, completely straight-faced. Vaguely a half-plan forms in Tony’s mind to take him to play poker somewhere and absolutely bust everyone else; he stops short before the notion can get any farther because shit, where had the expectation that he would be spending more time with Sherlock at all even come from?

By now, roused by his laughter, Steve and John migrate over to their corner of the sitting room (Steve especially looking baffled).

“Tony, what’s going on?”

He trades a quick meaningful look with Sherlock. “Oh nothing.” Briskly changing the subject, he asks, “Anyone else starving for some lunch?”

Two agreements (Sherlock just shrugs, indifferent) and a thorough search of the kitchen (which just turns up an astounding number of shockingly disgusting human body parts) later, it’s clear that there’s nothing edible in the flat (unless one counted a single, dusty can of beans – why beans of all things Tony cannot fathom).

“Someone could go to Tesco and get some quick ingredients,” John sighs, obviously anticipating (and not looking forward) to being the one to be doing it. He brightens. “Or we could order take out.”

“Actually I wouldn’t mind a little walk,” Tony interrupts cheerily, scenting an opportunity to spend some – hopefully quality – time alone with Sherlock, if he could just rope him into accompanying him. After all he’s on a limited time schedule here.

Steve openly stares at him. “Tony, have you ever even set foot in a grocery shop before?”

He shrugs. “Nah. But it can’t be that difficult. Most people manage it on a daily basis.”

Before Steve can open his mouth to protest more (no doubt, judging by his expression which is caught between amused and worried by now), Sherlock interjects smoothly, “Besides I will be accompanying him. Two of us should be up to the task, don’t you think?”

Tony barely manages to repress his glee. Perfect.

Now it’s John’s turn to stare. “Sherlock, you never go grocery shopping. Well, at least not since the last time, which, as you no doubt remember, ended with us getting kicked out because you started to loudly announce the age of the meat and the true origin of the eggs.”

“No time like the present, John.”

Two loud groans follow them out the door.

 

*

 

Throughout the next few minutes Tony is promptly reminded of why exactly he usually thinks that Lady Luck certainly isn’t an admirer of his. Trouble already finds them before they have even reached Tesco (which is, according to Sherlock, only a few blocks away).

As soon as they start walking down the filled streets people start staring at them. That in itself is neither worrying nor unusual, at least not for Tony (Sherlock is certainly looking a little uncomfortable in an incredibly aloof and subtle way). No, trouble is the teenaged girl on the opposite street side, smart phone out and snapping pictures.

“Shit!”

He gives it two minutes, tops, till it’s on the internet and this place will start swarming with fans and (even worse) reporters.

Sherlock raises an eyebrow at him. “Not good?”

“A bit not good. Do you know any other ways to the store? We need to get out of the public eye, preferably right now.”

“Of course I do!” Sherlock snaps back, affronted at the mere suggestion that he might not. And off he goes, leaving Tony no choice but to scramble after him.

When they finally reach the Tesco (after what seems like an eternity to him) Tony is quite sure of several facts. One: he’s dying. Two: Sherlock has to have a racehorse somewhere in his ancestry (not a twin then…). And three: he’s still dying, and his stamina for runs really is abysmal. He leans against the store wall, panting, tiredly resentful of the fact that his companion doesn’t even seem too winded. Given the smirk on his face, he also probably knows exactly which direction Tony’s thoughts have taken him. Damn him.

“Shall we go then?” Sherlock asks, overly polite, repressed amusement still audible in his voice. Tony glares at him, gesturing at the entrance. “Ladies first.”

“That coming from the man who can’t even run zero point eight nine miles without nearly collapsing from exhaustion,” he returns placidly, the slightest hint of sneer curling the edges of his mouth.

“You’re exaggerating.”

“I’m not.”

“I wasn’t close to collapsing!”

“You heart rate was more than just elevated, judging by the way you were gulping for air, you staggered several steps before conveniently leaning against the wall, and your muscles were tired enough to be shaking unduly.”

“…I do have a heart condition, you know.”

“I am aware. Now can we get on with this?”

As it is, getting on with it turned out to be getting stuck trying to get a shopping cart.

“Why do they chain these together anyway? Aren’t you supposed to use them? You British people don’t make sense,” Tony huffs in annoyance, inspecting the row of shopping carts critically.

Sherlock shrugs. “I could probably pick the lock…”

“I don’t think that’s the point,” Tony replies (he isn’t even surprised the other knows how to pick a lock – it figures, really), glaring at the chain connecting his ‘future going to be or else’ shopping cart to the handle bar of the next one in the line of carts fitted into each other. “Look! I think you’re supposed to put a coin in here!”

Sherlock doesn’t comment (a dead giveaway in itself), looking annoyed that he didn’t figure it out first. Then he starts patting his pockets in search for coins. “Neither of us has cash.” He smirks. “I guess I need to pick the lock after all.”

That, Tony decides, is not an auspicious start. But that doesn’t stop him from watching in fascination as Sherlock pulls out an entire belt pouch full of lock picks and chooses one to apply to the shopping cart. It takes his skilled fingers no more than a few seconds work to pop the lock open. Turning back to Tony with a small, satisfied smile, something in Tony’s face give him a minute pause. Tony blinks, banishing the memory of those long, graceful fingers to the back of his mind – for the moment – and gestures towards the entrance.

Having somehow managed to pass off wheeling the cart to Tony, Sherlock now drags him through the store, searching for who-knows-what.

“Do you actually know what we’re supposed to buy?” Tony asks, slightly annoyed at not even being included in the decision process even though he was the one to suggest this whole thing in the first place.

As usual, Sherlock ignores him – he does however stop in the canned food isle.

“I think we should get beans.”

“Why beans?”

“John always gets beans.” Sherlock shrugs. “He makes an adequate pasta dish with them.”

“Pasta with beans?! Are you sure it wasn’t rice with beans or something?”

Looking up from inspecting the label on the bean can, Sherlock throws him an exasperated look. “Why would I say it, if I wasn’t sure?”

Right. He is talking to a crazy look-a-like. What does he expect?

They end up with two cans of beans, a packet of noodles, some bread, a jar of orange marmalade, some popsicles (Tony wisely foregoes asking about that one) and six bottles of milk (he doesn’t ask about that one, either).

He doesn’t end up having actually made a decisive move on Sherlock – partly because he hadn’t found the appropriate moment to do so, and partly because he keeps changing his mind about the wisdom of actually doing so every few minutes (attraction warring with the problematic feelings he’d rather avoid), though that certainly ties in with the first problem, since he’s never bothered with appropriateness before.

Heading back to the flat through the back alleys with the groceries to avoid the public eye, Tony is so caught up in his brooding thoughts that it takes him a second after noticing that Sherlock’s stiffened beside him to realize that the people appearing in front of them spell trouble in big flashing letters. For one they’re holding guns in a definitely threatening manner, and for another there’s ten of them –and they’re fanning out to surround them both.

Reflexively slipping into the state of mind, he usually utilized when threatened – all calculation and strategizing, no time left to panic (it’s served him well until now) – he briefly considers doubling back the way they’d come, but has to realize that it would be an unwise choice considering the amount of guns currently trained on them. Which leaves him with the option of doing nothing and hoping they aren’t here to kill Sherlock, him, or both of them. Needless to say that he isn’t enamored of that option in the slightest.

Next to him Sherlock freezes, muscles tensed in preparation for action. His eyes flicker everywhere, taking in their situation, assessing. Still, Tony doubts that even he could do something against these odds – ten guns pointed at them aren’t exactly inconsequential, which is why he throws the other a warning look. The glance he gets in return doesn’t reassure him of the sanity of his companion’s approaching actions in the least.

“Put your hands up,” one of the men, presumably the leader, growls. Naturally he’s the burliest of ten men built and dressed for intimidation, all in black, faces blank and unforgiving. For a moment Tony’s gaze hangs on the small silver insignia on his sleeve, recognition stirring, but before he can figure it out, the man continues, “If you come quietly no one needs to get hurt.”

Seeing as Tony would rather not be turned into a human pincushion, thank you very much, he raises his hands above his head, hoping that Sherlock would prove reasonable enough to do the same. Not that his own reasonability goes far enough to stop him from saying, “Yeah, because usually people are just kidnapped for their own good.”

Sherlock seems to have similar compunctions in giving in to them, and simply stands still, watchful.

“Either you do what I say, buddy,” says the leader-brute, ignoring Tony’s jibe, an unsettling note of glee in his voice, gesturing with the gun in his hand, “or I’m gonna shoot this guy.”

The gun levels on him (of course).

On second thought Tony doesn’t dislike that plan. He really loathes it. He fights to keep still (it wouldn’t do to encourage those trigger happy people, after all), as Sherlock chuckles condescendingly (holy hell does that man have any survival instinct?!).

“You’re trying to kidnap us,” he points out acerbically, “Killing him wouldn’t be very conducive to that.”

Against his better judgment Tony can’t help but chip in, “Besides it would leave such a mess – blood everywhere, you know. Not to mention how loud your average gun shot is…”

The man just shrugs, his forefinger moving slowly down the trigger. “I don’t need to clean it up. So, you want to test me?”

 “What I want is for you to stop posturing,” Sherlock grouses, but he does slowly raise his hands over his head. Tony exhales in relief. Charming as the idea of a bullet on his torso is, he would rather do without, thank you very much.

Some muttering between their assailants follows, one pointing to Tony, another gesturing a little more animatedly towards Sherlock, until the leader finally firmly says, “It doesn’t matter, we’ll just take both.”

For a moment Tony wonders about that statement, until he remembers that, oh yes, he and Sherlock do look quite similar – if they just wanted to kidnap one of them, there might possibly be some confusion.

Unfortunately their capitulation means that he has to stay still and not punch the guy coming up from behind, a syringe in hand. A slight prick on his arm is followed by oblivion.

 

*

 

Tony finds, not entirely to his surprise that waking from drug-induced unconsciousness is unfortunately similar to the very familiar experience of a hangover. He just hopes that the headache will disappear faster than his usual hangover did – especially seeing that there’s no cure in sight.

What is in sight, however, is the slightly worried face of Sherlock Holmes, bending over him. As soon as he has opened his eyes, the other leans back with a sigh, his expression smoothing over.

“That took you long enough, Tony.”

Tony just winces as the world – consisting entirely of a few white walls, a slightly dirty floor, and a metal door at the moment – spins around him.

“The dizziness will pass in a few minutes. Unfortunate side effect of being out cold for the better part of a day.”

Handcuffs jingle as Tony pushes himself to a sitting position against the wall. “A bit of overkill, don’t you think? What with the bare cell and the handcuffs?” he observes inanely. “Any idea where we are?”

“Several.” Sherlock getting back up and starting to pace. “None of them easily validated without more data. Definitely underground, west side of London. An abandoned factory most likely.”

Tony opens his mouth to ask how exactly he knows that, but thinks better of it. Instead he settles on, “Any idea how on how to get out of here and what they want with us?”

“You heard them outside. They just want one of us, presumably you, since I’m not aware of having made any new enemies recently.”

He’s still smarting a little that the beard hadn’t been a dead giveaway – what’s the point of cultivating a goatee if no one noticed it? Also his hair is a lot neater than Sherlock’s. Though seeing as the other option would have involved Sherlock dead somewhere he can’t manage to muster much righteous anger.

“And getting out of here?”

Sherlock throws him a deeply annoyed look. “I’m working on it. Not that your superhero status helped us any.”

“That’s because I didn’t have the armor with me!” Tony points out indignantly.

“My point exactly.”

Tony crosses his arms, miffed. “I didn’t see your hand to hand combat helping much either.”

“At least I have my abilities on hand whenever I want to use them,” Sherlock shrugs. “And if you hadn’t crashed into my flat I wouldn’t be in this position anyway.”

Touché. Guilt stirs somewhere deep in his belly, but he ignores it – for now. Sherlock doesn’t look too upset, and factually they have a greater chance of escaping helping each other than if they were alone.

“Well, at least they took you as well, thanks to our similar appearance. You could’ve been dead.”

He looks up only to find Sherlock’s gaze on him, searching, maybe for the sincerity in his statement. “I suppose I should thank you. You rescued me from another dull and tedious day. London’s criminals are lying suspiciously low lately.”

Tony recognizes it as the peace offering it is.

“No wonder with you after them,” Tony says dryly. To his surprise Sherlock actually looks shyly pleased at that. But before he can think more on that anomaly (surely someone like him garners enough praise?) the metal door to their little cell clangs open.

In a blink Sherlock is on his feet, ready and waiting. Still reeling a little from whatever drug they used on him Tony is slower to follow. Though, really, he needn’t have bothered in the first place, as there are five of the thugs who ambushed them in the first place, guns at the ready, in addition to the leader from before guarding the only escape route. Everything from their entrance to their bearing screams of a demonstration of power.

“I have a message for one Tony Stark,” the leader rumbles, throwing a roll of parchment tied with a red bow on the ground between them (rather melodramatically in Tony’s opinion).  The action reveals a wide array of knives strapped close to his body when his uniform parts over his chest. Giving them a last toothy smile, he turns and stalks out the door, his men following.

“That was it?” Tony asks, refusing to feel intimidated by such an obvious attempt to show off their power over their prisoners.

“Would you entrust these men to manage more than that?” Sherlock counters acerbically. He bends down to pick up the parchment, examines it for a minute, and then, without opening it, throws it to Tony.

At his questioning gaze he just shrugs. “It’s addressed to you, isn’t it?”

Frowning, Tony undoes the bow and unrolls the parchment. The elegant script reads as follows:

Mr. Tony Stark,

A deal is hereby offered to you; in exchange for detailed specs of both the arc reactor and the ‘iron man’ suit both you and your companion will be set free after completion of said plans. No harm will come to you. Should you, however, prove uncooperative, be assured, more drastic measures will be taken.

You have two hours to decide.

Yours faithfully,

A loyal fan

PS: Just a bit of friendly advice: If you value your life and freedom, do try not to piss of the God of Chaos any more than you already did. Working with him is such a pleasure.

Tony snorts – loudly. Seriously, could this get any more cliché? At Sherlock’s raised eyebrow he just shakes his head and hands him the letter. “Read for yourself.”

Skimming over the short text Sherlock’s eyebrow continues its ascent towards his messy hairline. “Do you know this individual? And what is your connection to this ‘God of Chaos’ he mentions?” he finally asks, in the tone of someone who can’t quite believe what he has just read.

“Loki? Oh, he’s just the fellow who tries to blow up me, myself, and New York City on a bi-weekly basis. Another one of these people with a megalomania complex, though granted, as a God he has more right to it than most. And did I forget to mention that he’s the reason we landed here in the first place?”

Sherlock frowns, processing this new information. “A Norse God? And he’s working with this kidnapper? That seems unlikely.”

Tony shrugs. “Don’t ask me. I’m not an expert on divine matters.”

His mind flashes back to the badge he’d seen on the thug’s uniform – a stylized hand holding a hammer.

“As to our kidnapper… I have a very good idea,” Tony groans, half mortified, half relieved. “Justin Hammer. A business rival with a flair for dramatics and really questionable taste. Not to mention that he’s nursing an old grudge against me – why do people have to react so averse to me getting them thrown into prison?”

“I could offer a few theories,” Sherlock replies dryly, but he looks thoughtful, no doubt accessing any information on Justin Hammer he might have stored away in his brain somewhere.  “And now would you please be quiet so I can think?”

 

*

 

“I’m bored,” Tony announces, an eternity somewhere between an hour and two later. He has shown remarkable restraint waiting till now, seeing as he has counted the spiders on the ceiling (six) three times already and been soundly ignored by Sherlock (whilst sitting in some weird meditation pose with is eyes closed) for the entire time. Really remarkable.

“So you decided to bother me?” comes the entirely too heartless reply. And really, couldn’t Sherlock at least bother to open his eyes when chiding him?

“Yep... I’m bored.”

He finds that Sherlock manages to convey exasperation just fine with just his body language.

“Then go back to counting the lovely spiders on the ceiling – or even better, devise a way to get out of here,” he says dryly, still without opening his eyes.

He does. Honestly, he does. Trouble is there are still six of them (disappointing, really), and one could only stare at ugly, motionless arachnids for that long.

With a herculean effort he counts to fifty – and breaks.

“So,” he starts casually, gazing at Sherlock intently, “straight, gay, or bisexual?”

What?!

Sherlock’s eyes flow open. Tony smirks, satisfied.

“You heard me the first time,” he drawls.

Seemingly recovering from his shock (or at least masking it more successfully), Sherlock asks, narrowing his eyes “And why would you want to know that?”

Tony notes, however, that he doesn’t close his eyes again, but continues to watch him rather wearily.

“Oh, come on, don’t be boring,” he chides smugly, none too subtly reveling in the knowledge that he has found a topic that throws the normally so infuriatingly unflappable man opposite him. Especially since it’s safe (or at least familiar) ground for him. “We’re stuck together in a cell, might as well get to know each other better.”

Somehow, unconsciously, his body has moved, while he was speaking until he’s standing in front of Sherlock, who has risen as well.

“And that is your idea of getting to know each other?” Sherlock replies incredulously, only the slight movement of his Adam’s apple as he swallows betraying that he isn’t entirely unaffected by Tony’s close proximity.

“Yes, well, important things to clear up and all that,” Tony breathes, all too aware that his voice has dropped to a husky octave lower. Taking the fact that he isn’t (yet) convulsing in pain on the floor as encouragement, he edges even closer. Sherlock’s face remains stoic, but a flicker of want runs through his eyes, as if he’s only holding himself back through the virtue of iron control.

Fortunately, control has never been too high on Tony’s list.

The first brush of lips on lips is electrifying. After that everything is just a blur of sensation, drowning out everything else as Sherlock’s lips part, his tongue darting out to explore Tony’s mouth, stifling the moan that threatens to erupt.

It comes as no surprise that their kidnappers choose exactly that moment to barge through the door – his life is a predictable farce after all.

“I swear it’s a fucking movie,” he grumbles once he manages to catch his breath.

Sherlock sniffs (unfairly looking like nothing had happened at all). “Only if the director has a weakness for badly executed romance…”

But his glare at the intruders tells another story entirely.

“This was not badly executed, I will have you know! I spent at least an hour thinking it up!” Tony grumbles, offended.

Sherlock raises a disparaging eyebrow. “Your thought process is not to be commended then. Your move was far too obvious to be any sort of… romantic surprise.”

“…Didn’t see you stopping me,” Tony replies, and is rewarded by a fleeting but grudging look of acknowledgement on the other’s face.

Unfortunately for his gloating opportunity the thugs apparently don’t fancy being ignored for so long.

“Hey!” the leader bellows, advancing threateningly, his hand falling to his gun. “You two quite done? Time’s up! Are you agreeing to the terms or not?”

“You wish!” Tony retorts, at the same time that Sherlock quietly utters, “No.”

(It figures that he would have an opinion on things which technically don’t concern him.)

The leader smirks. “Right then.” Turning back to the door, he calls, “Bring it in, boys!”

At the sight of what two of the thugs are carrying into their cell at the leader’s command, Tony feels the blood drain from his face. Through the sudden onset of panic, he can feel every, elevated beat of his treacherous heart. Only dimly he notices Sherlock’s gaze flitting from him to the tub of water and back again.

Sherlock striding forward, a completely non-fabricated seeming air of confidence around him, and calmly saying, “I really would have thought your employer would hire people with a little bit of brain power, at least,” however, brings Tony out of his panic-induced stupor. What the hell is Sherlock doing antagonizing them?!

The thugs seem to have similar problems with understanding this sudden turn-about. Finally the leader closes his gaping mouth with a snap and asks, a distinct note of disbelief in his voice, “What did you just say?!”

“Oh, so your hearing is impaired as well?” Sherlock snarks coldly. “I was just telling you how your brain would need some more brain cells before being able to scientifically be seen as one.”

Tony watches with a mounting sense of dread as the hulking man’s face begins turning purple with rage. “How dare-“

“For example it seems very obvious to me that you’re having sex with henchman number one over there,” Sherlock runs right over his furious exclamation, pointing at one of the two men guarding the door. “And that said henchman is actually married – how he managed to find a woman willing to put up with him is beyond me – which you didn’t know. Also,” he continues, now pointing at the other man at the door, “henchman number two has an infatuation with henchman number one as well, which is already interfering with his… professionalism as he spends more time looking at his rear than guarding the door.”

For a moment there is a horrible, shattering silence, as the gaping men facing them try to wrap their minds around the fact that a stranger has just loudly announced their secret sex lives. Then, without even really knowing why he suddenly trusts that Sherlock knows what he’s doing, Tony chimes in brightly, proving once again his lack of survival instinct, “I also bet you’re not as good in bed as second henchman apparently believes, or henchman number one wouldn’t look so morose right now.”

That does it. With a muted roar the leader advances on him, meaty fists already raised, knives thankfully forgotten in his rage. Before Tony even makes the tiniest move to defend himself, Sherlock gracefully places himself between him and his assailant (no, Tony, do not get distracted by Sherlock’s ass now). A second later Sherlock’s fist connects with the man’s stomach, sending him stumbling backwards, wheezing. The ensuing scuffle only lasts another few seconds, until, much to Tony’s surprise, the leader punches Sherlock straight in the face and pins him to the ground. It has all been too fast for Tony to follow, let alone intervene, but still it leaves him with a strong impression of wrongness. How did he take Sherlock down so easily?

The feeling of everyone’s hostile eyes on him brings Tony’s focus back from his building concern. It wouldn’t do Sherlock any good if he got himself beaten up as well. “Hey, calm down buddies, I’m not going to try anything,” he says, putting his hands up in the hopes it looked placating. “I’m not stupid.”

“Good for you,” the leader growls, though the effect is diminished by the fact that he’s still wheezing slightly from the exertion. He still hasn’t let go of Sherlock. “You have another half hour to contemplate that,” he nods towards the full tub, “and then the boss wants you final decision.” Looking down at the prone Sherlock, he adds, “And don’t try any other stunts.”

Scarcely a minute later, the door bangs shut again and Tony immediately hurries over to where Sherlock is lying, concern and worry rushing back with a vengeance.

In retrospect, he supposes, he shouldn’t have been so surprised to see Sherlock smirking up at him from the floor, looking right as rain except for a rapidly darkening bruise on his cheek and holding up a cell phone.

“I knew he took you down too easily,” Tony sighs, torn between annoyance at him taking such a risk and hope that it would help them get out of the blasted cell. He settles on holding out his hand in an unspoken demand.

“No signal,” Sherlock informs him matter-of-factly, one elegant, dark eyebrow raised.

Tony holds back an exasperated sigh. “Who’s the engineer in the room again?”

Sherlock hands him the phone without further comment.

“So what’s the tale behind that?” he asks, indicating the tub of water.

Tony’s mouth tightens unconsciously. “Can’t you deduce it?” he asks flippantly, ignoring the way his chest still automatically feels tight whenever he thinks about his time in captivity. He usually avoids talking about it for a reason, and that’s not just the fact that he’s had enough people looking at him gravely and muttering about PTSD to last him a life time. And anyway, it’s not as if he runs screaming every time he sees water (or a cave), even if – maybe, a little – he wanted to, still sometimes feels the irrational panic of being back there in silent moments. But he tells himself he’s stronger than that, and so far he hasn’t proven himself wrong.

“I could. But I would be operating on meager data, the result would be too close to a guess for my taste.”

That means that someone did his research on how to best intimidate me,” Tony offers grimly after a moment’s thought.

Sherlock cocks his head, seemingly considering. “Afghanistan?”

Tony just nods and turns his attention to the phone in his hands (he most markedly does not want to think about it anyway), starting to dismantle it quickly (nothing particularly hard about it, child’s play, really). Sherlock doesn’t comment, but snatches a piece of wire as soon as one is available. After that their handcuffs, at least, are history.

For fifteen minutes he works, rewiring the whole delicate thing, uninterrupted by Sherlock, who seems to sense his need to concentrate, until he holds the finished thing in his hands.

“There, all done.”

Sherlock eyes the half-destroyed cell phone wearily. “What is?”

“Our ticket out of here. This,” he waves the cell phone in the air, “is going to blow up in approximately two minutes when the battery has overheated enough. It should generate a blast strong enough to force the door open.”

“And what about the guards?” his companion inquires reasonably.

Tony shrugs, busy with wedging the cell phone between the door hinges. “Hadn’t gotten that far yet.”

“Oh, so it’s that sort of a well thought out plan.”

He smirks over his shoulder. “Sarcasm doesn’t become you, Sherlock.” His eyes rake over the other’s form appreciatively. “Oh wait, maybe it does…”

Sherlock just smirks in response.

The four guards stationed outside their cell don’t prove to be too much of a challenge. Already dazed from the small explosion that freed them from their cell, they react sluggishly to Tony charging through the door and knocking out one of them with a strong right hook to the temple. The others make the mistake of concentrating on him and get taken by surprise by Sherlock, who distributes a few well-placed blows and has the other three down before Tony has the chance to rejoin the fight.

Of course, that alone would’ve been too easy – and Hammer isn’t a complete idiot, even if he does an astoundingly convincing job of appearing like one on TV. The point is that as soon as Sherlock had dispatched the last guard, an ear-splitting alarm went off.

“Where to now?” he asks, puffing slightly. “We probably shouldn’t hang around here any longer than we need to.”

Sherlock cocks his head (and damn, he doesn’t even look the slightest bit winded). “It’s your escape plan.”

“Hadn’t gotten that far yet,” Tony just repeats in reply, ignoring the other’s exaggerated eye roll.

“I bow before your tactical genius. Go left.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” Tony informs him loftily. But he does start moving down the corridor to the left.

“That would explain why you use it so copiously.”

Tony is getting really good at this ignoring business (not that he wasn’t before, but Sherlock seems to be taking everything to a new high).

They only get a second’s warning in the form of the sound of pounding feet on concrete before more guards burst into their corridor from both sides.

This time the odds don’t look as nice – they’re outnumbered by far, and missing the advantage of surprise. Even while Tony’s mind goes more or less blank except for the probabilities he can’t help but calculate and then discard again, his heart seems to beat loudly in the anticipatory silence, as he feels the rush of blood through his veins.

He trades a grimly determined look with Sherlock, assuring each other that they have no intention of going down without a fight this time. They face the charging guards.

No shot had been fired yet when a spinning shield swooshes through the air from Tony’s side of the hallway, knocking down easily half of the men and leaving their ranks in disarray before rebounding into the direction it had come from. Tony grins, his heart lightening in relief just as the owner of shield runs around the corner and makes short work of the panicked remaining guards on that side. The ones on Sherlock’s side take one look at the powerful blonde and their downed comrades and beat a hasty retreat.

Turning to their savior, Tony says, “Steve! So nice of you to join the party!”

“I’m beginning to believe Pepper is right and I really can’t let you out of my sight without you managing to get into trouble,” Steve returns dryly, but he’s smiling. His gaze flickers over the bruise on Sherlock’s face.

“Are you both mostly unharmed?”

“I’m all peachy, now that I’m out of that cell,” Tony answers as Sherlock nods. “The room service was severely lacking.”

“We should move then,” Steve instructs, hefting his shield on his arm.

Following him, Tony asks, “How did you find us? And how come you have your shield?”

“As soon as we noticed you were missing, I called in to headquarters. They dispatched the rest of the Avengers and located all buildings in London owned by Hammer. This is the second one we’ve tried. Clint and Natasha are securing the perimeter. They brought my shield,” Steve explains, his watchful gaze turned forwards.

“Hm, good thing I built the Quinjet to be fast.”

Trailing behind Steve, Tony suddenly realizes that Sherlock isn’t next to him anymore.

“Uh, Steve…”

“What?”

“We lost someone.”

They quickly double back the way they’d come – the urgency of the situation is clear.

Tony walks around the last corner and the next thing he knows there’s a whirlwind of Sherlock trading blows with Natasha right in front of him. With Steve’s explanation he’d been prepared for running into her someone, but he hadn’t expected to find her doing her utmost to bash Sherlock’s brains in.

“Stop!” he shouts, waving his arms around for good measure.

Somewhat to his surprise, the contestants freeze, Sherlock in the middle of an elbow block to Natasha’s wild hay-maker.

“Natasha, this is Sherlock Holmes, a new acquaintance of mine,” he quickly continues, taking advantage of their unexpected compliance. “Sherlock, this is Natasha Romanov, a SHIELD agent and member of the Avenger initiative.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Sherlock says, relaxing slightly, but his sharp eyes never leave her face. Natasha only nods curtly, her eyes flitting back and forth between them.

“An acquaintance,” she finally says, her lips curling ever so slightly in a smirk. She turns to Sherlock. “If I were you I would be careful.”

Watching Sherlock like a hawk would its slightly too large prey (or maybe like Clint would eye an Oreo cookie), she, judging by the satisfied glint in her eye, does not miss the slight twitch of surprise that passes over his features.

“Oh please, I’m not entirely brainless.”

Sherlock’s lips twitch in a smile.

Tony watches in silent astonishment as Natasha actually smiles back. Here he is, not having managed to get her to warm up to him in nearly a year (okay, he did kinda behave like an ass the first few days – he was dying so what do you expect? – there is totally no need to hold that against him, though). And then there’s  Sherlock, who, after all of four minutes of association, has gotten Ms. ‘Neither-impressed-nor-amused-so - fuck-off’ to smile. It strikes him as patently unfair.

“I do hope you know what you’re doing,” she says, serious again, interrupting his (increasingly depressing) train of thought.

“Of course I do,” Sherlock replies easily. “At any rate, I am usually told that I would be the hazard to a relationship. It remains to be seen which of us is actually worse.”

Something warms in Tony’s chest at this, if slightly taciturn, expression of faith in him. This is shocking. How has Sherlock managed to make his opinion so important to Tony already? He’s only known him for all of a little more than a day, and spent most of that time unconscious to boot.

“Don’t say no one warned you about him, then,” she shrugs. Steve, who’s been watching the proceedings with silent curiosity till then, looks ready to protest at that, but Tony beats him to it.

He is right here, you know,” he interjects grumpily – being so completely ignored has never sat well with him.

But he isn’t surprised when no one listens.

“You have a very unique style,” Sherlock informs, still intensely eyeing the woman in front of him.

Her lips twitch upwards in a smile. “Fancy a spar some time?”

“Naturally.”

Still forgotten on the side, Tony crosses his arms. “This is very touching and all, but don’t you think we might want to, you know, get out of here before having these romantic moments?”

That statement earns him twin looks of carefully modeled annoyance.

“Jealous, Stark?” Before he can even open his mouth to retort, she continues, if grudgingly, “You have a point, though. Let’s get going.”

She takes off down the hallways to the left. For a moment Tony looks after here, dubious, but he knows better than to question her lead (his genitals still haven’t recovered from the last time he asked her if she knew what she was doing).

Two empty, non-descript hallways later he finds himself next to the Black Widow again with Sherlock and Steve scouting ahead. She looks uncharacteristically worried – and he doesn’t think it has anything to do with their escape attempt.

“I know you think you can survive anything and take on the whole world while you’re at it,” she begins, her eyes never leaving his (and he already wants to interrupt, to stop listening because he knows where this is going, but of course she continues anyway). “But it’s not true, especially not after Pepper.”

A part of him hates her for saying it out loud. He doesn’t want to think about Pepper. She was the best thing that ever happened to him, hell, she still is (not that he ever tells her that, which might have been part of the problem). But starting a relationship with her… it was the right, wrong, best, and worst decision he has ever made, rolled all in one, one hopelessly tangled mix of emotion that he’s long ago given up on trying to unravel. The had both known, somewhere deep down, that it wouldn’t (couldn’t) last – not with Pepper so unaccepting of what he did as Iron Man, so afraid that he would get himself killed that she couldn’t see that he needed it; needed to be useful even more than he needed her – yet they had done it anyway, had taken the leap – and ended up better for it. Though nothing had come from it partner-for-life wise, the knowledge that their relationship could survive even a failed (if pleasant while it lasted) attempt at modeling it into something more intimate is more important to him than he originally could’ve imagined. Maybe that is because it’s the ultimate proof that Pepper at least won’t leave him and that, even if he screws one aspect of their relationship up, the rest still remains – on a level of understanding even more profound than before.

That hadn’t made the period after they’d crashed and burned, when Pepper had finally announced that she couldn’t handle the stress of seeing him get hurt so much any longer and that a relationship was depended on both people being there for each other, as basically everyone had predicted any more bearable, though.

With difficulty he tears his mind away from that trail of thought. Going down that particular route for the hundredth and tenth time won’t help any more than the last hundred and nine times had – not at all.

“In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not doing anything particularly dangerous right now – with you guys here I doubt my darling kidnappers will be a problem any longer,” he points out, years of being the CEO of an important company helping to keep his voice steady. Because he is not at all sure he is telling the truth.

Natasha, it seems, isn’t convinced either. “Not what I was talking about, Tony… you seem to care disproportionally much for this man you’ve only just met,” she replies, one delicate eyebrow raised.

“I didn’t know you cared,” he finally settles on saying, because, as a rule, distracting from a given unpleasant topic usually works pretty well for him.

She just shrugs (probably seeing right through his tactic). “You’re important to the team. Besides you put people through enough crap every day without being a completely miserable wreck.”

Again, things go unsaid, but he is fine with that. And in all truth, he had been a horror to live with for at least a few months after The Break-Up.

So he just inclines his head. “Touché. That’s not going to stop me, though.”

“Never thought it would.”

 

*

 

When they finally emerge out of the factory complex, the brand new Quinjet is waiting for them, as well as Hawkeye, who’s apparently neutralized the remaining Hammer cronies already, a very upset-looking John, and what looked like half the London police force.

“What did you think you were doing?!” John hisses once they have reached the jet, voice dangerously low.

We were thinking that we were going shopping,” Sherlock says dryly, appearing completely unfazed by his friend’s righteous anger. “They had other ideas.” After a second of reflection, he adds thoughtfully, “A shame that we lost the groceries. Especially the milk. I don’t suppose you found the alley where they abducted us?”

John’s answer is a renewed glare. “Actually I did – Mycroft does come in handy sometimes. The CCTV footage is how we knew to look for the closest of Hammer’s properties. And then these controlling people,” he jerks his head in Clint’s and Natasha’s direction, “stopped me from actually coming to help you.”

Tony tries hard to muffle the snicker threatening to escape him. Unfortunately, judging by the reproaching look Steve sends him, he isn’t very successful.

Retribution comes swiftly, however, in the form of several police officers coming up to them and bombarding him and Sherlock with a multitude of questions about their captivity and Hammer.

Just when Tony is about to seriously contemplate homicide (seriously, they’d already told them everything like three times), Natasha appears on his right.

“We need to get going, Cap. There’s still the matter of Loki to consider and we don’t want to leave Thor alone with him for longer than necessary. Bruce says he’s already getting a little antsy with the two of them so close to exploding in each other’s faces all the time.”

Steve nods in agreement, then turns back to him.

“Once we’re back in New York you need to get your lawyers onto this.”

Tony nods once. “Sure thing, Cap."

Before Steve can continue talking about work, he turns and smiles brightly at Sherlock. After all he has a priority here.

“So, fancy a trip to New York?”

John’s mouth drops open in surprise on the sidelines, but Tony doesn’t pay him any mind. All of his attention is focused on the reason he asked, the man he only met a few hours ago (and yet the thought of leaving him behind hurts in ways that he had thought forgotten). Sherlock’s gaze, locked on his face as if searching for some hidden truth that even Tony himself doesn’t know, is more intense than he has ever seen it (and that is saying something), sending shivers down his spine.

Finally, after at least a minute of unhurried observation, one corner of Sherlock’s mouth curls up. “I hear the weather is especially horribly hot during the summer. What do you think, John? Lestrade should be able to manage without me for a few weeks.”

John just shrugs his shoulders in a distinctively helpless way. “Sure. You should let Mrs. Hudson know we’re going to be out, though.”

“Flight tickets back whenever you wish are of course included,” Tony adds, a little belatedly.

Sherlock’s smirk widens. “That settles it then. Naturally we need to make a quick stop at Baker Street first.”

 

*

 

“So what’s all this about Loki I hear?” Tony asks once they’re all settled in the Quinjet, lounging on his seat. Only members of the Avengers were present, as John and Sherlock had retreated to the back of the jet to inform various people of their unplanned ‘vacation’.

Clint and Natasha, the only ones who could actually answer the question, since they’d left him with Thor as the ‘big guns’, exchange a short look whilst Steve looks on, expression varying from worried to curious.

“We don’t really know, man,” Clint finally offers, quite unhelpfully. “Loki disappeared right after he set that green mist on you and you vanished. A few hours later he just walks up to the mansion, declaring that he has seen the error of his ways, and handed himself over. He’s locked away in one of the small guest rooms for now, until they can finish that magic dampening room Foster has been developing. Should be done soon.”

Tony stares at him. “He’s what?!”

“It was Fury’s idea,” Clint shrugs in reply. “You know how he is; can’t really argue with the man.”

“So Fury thought it was a good idea to confine a rampant Norse God in my mansion, which doesn’t even have holding cells?!” Tony splutters, his mind already going through all the different ways this could end with in disaster (most of them involving his beautiful house being reduced to a big heap of rubble). “Not to mention that most of the Avengers are here right now and not guarding him!”

Again, Clint shrugs. “Thor is with him.”

Ignoring Tony’s muttered “As if that’s gonna help” he adds, smirking, “Besides we’re just here to bust your ass out of trouble.”

“I will have you know that Sherlock and I were doing just fine without your intervention!” he bristles (because, seriously, why do they always have to act like he is in constant danger of kicking the bucket?  It’s not his fault that an alarming number of villains have decided lately that he needed to be got rid of, preferably after having kidnapped him).

Clint doesn’t look convinced, but thankfully forgoes arguing further. His mood slightly soured, Tony mumbles, “I’m going to go check on the controls.”

Not that he needs to, with JARVIS steering the jet just fine, but right now it seem like more preferable option than sitting around in silence.

Predictably no one answers, except for Steve who gives a distracted nod. He leaves, trying hard not to appear to childishly sulking (or scratch that, he is). Alone in the cockpit, surrounded by humming machinery created by him, Jarvis just a word away, Tony can completely relax at last.

 

*

 

The emergency Avengers meeting Fury calls basically as soon as they touch down on US soil comes as a surprise to no one. Tony did not, however, anticipate being greeted with a poleaxed “You’re early, Stark.” after arriving from dropping Sherlock off at the mansion.

He glances at his watch as he plops down in his seat. “What? I’m ten minutes late.”

“His point exactly,” Clint smirks from where he’s lounging on his leather chair.

“I’m not seeing you standing to attention, buddy,” Tony shoots back, already turning to Fury.

What the hell do you think you’re doing keeping Loki locked up in the mansion?! Our main base, which, incidentally, harbors all of my tech?”

“Cut that tone, Stark,” Fury warns, completely unperturbed by his outburst. “We’re working on it.”

He is tempted to snort, but for once chooses discretion.

“Until Doctor Foster has finished designing magic dampeners, it’s safest to leave Loki under as much Avenger surveillance as possible. Unless you want to try and move him, and then sit on your asses in Guantanamo Bay until we’ve figured this out, only to then get him back?”

Touché.

Somehow no one seems too keen on mentioning that they all know that if Loki really wanted to escape, they sure as hell wouldn’t be able to stop him – whether they’re in the mansion or elsewhere. Sometimes he wonders if being a superhero is more about pretending than about actually succeeding (in between the kicking ass and getting kidnapped anyway).

“You’re paying if he – or Thor – wrecks the house,” he finally grumbles petulantly, sliding farther back into his chair.

Apparently Fury doesn’t deem such a statement worthy of an answer. Figures.

The rest of the meeting Tony spends in his usual half-asleep daze (seriously, he gets enough of this administrative shit at SI) – that is until Clint jabs him in the ribs none too gently.

“Better pay attention now, man,” he whispers. “Fury is already looking like he’s going to blow a fuse.”

With the ease of long practice Tony immediately remodels his face into careful attentiveness (if it’s not Fury, then it’s Pepper, and she’s even worse to antagonize), just in time to hear Fury snap, “Now, if certain team members, who’d well to start listening now, by the way, can refrain from getting themselves kidnapped a few thousand miles away for a time, we need to find Hammer and get him to spill the beans on how he came to work with Loki.”

“There’s been no trace from him ever since he was released from prison,” Coulson calmly voices from where he’s skulking quite dignifiedly in the corner in his official role as superhero babysitter Fury appointed him to. “He’s keeping an admirably low profile.”

Fury crosses his arms behind his back, his one eye serious. “Agent Romanov?”

“Already on it, sir,” Natasha replies, her smile all teeth. If Hammer was any less of a bastard who continuously tried to screw him over, Tony might even feel sorry for the guy.

“And you, Stark, need to get on to making his company’s lawyers’ life hell immediately,” Fury continues, turning to him.

“Pepper’s already on it,” he promises. “The best of SI’s lawyers will handle it.”

The meeting drags on some more, but Tony tunes out again at the point that they start discussing new security protocols. He does surface for a short time when they set up a ‘monitoring the unhinged God in the mansion’ roster, followed by some more threats to better stay out of trouble or else.

It’s still one of the shorter meetings they’ve had. Or maybe he’s just more tired than usual, definitely a possibility.

 

*

 

On the drive home Tony feels drained, suddenly glad that he called Happy instead of nicking a SHIELD vehicle to drive himself. He had forgotten how much he loathed feeling out of his depth. Once upon a time he would have met that feeling with denial, but now he just… well, feels out of his depth.

As if to prove his point, he stumbles over the object of his confusion/concern/whatever else you want to call it, basically as soon as he enters the house. In the kitchen, no less. Between him and the coffee maker he’s been lusting after ever since the first minute of the shitty meeting he had just attended. And, fuck, does he really have to look so bloody gorgeous, deep brown eyes framed by nearly effeminately long dark lashes, black hair ruffled and standing slightly on end and the tantalizing hint of exposed throat below his collar, leaning against the kitchen counter with the kind of easy grace most people can only dream of ever attaining?

He clears his throat, even though he’s pretty sure Sherlock doesn’t need the warning, and asks, “Did Happy get you settled in?”

“Oh, yes, he was most helpful,” he is answered promptly (as predicted without any kind of surprised inflection). “Which one is it again, Jarvis?”

“The first floor’s only guest room on the right, Mr. Holmes,” the ethereal voice replies, with what Tony thinks sounds like a pleased inflection.

“Usually people don’t get the hang of Jarvis so easily,” Tony observes.

Sherlock shrugs. “He was most helpful.”

“Thank you, Mr. Holmes.”

Tony’s eyebrows shoot up. “He likes you.” That doesn’t usually happen. The only person JARVIS talks to without direct query is Pepper. Well, and him of course.

Sherlock just smiles. (And it does something to Tony’s stomach that shouldn’t be legal.)

“It’s quite nice here,” he says, affably. “Except for the most distressing lack of proper water-boiling equipment. How do you even make proper tea?”

“What’s wrong with the coffeemaker? It does tea too.”

All things being equal, Sherlock’s horrified expression is quite amusing.

“You call that defilement of water tea?! You don’t even have a tea pot!”

Apparently the Englishman does show in some things. Tony tries hard to keep his lips from twitching. “I’m sorry, Sherlock. It appears you’ll have to cope without the perfect tea for the time being.”

Was now a good time? Was any time a good time? Here goes.

“So… would you be amenable to coming to dinner with me tomorrow evening?”

For a moment Sherlock looks honestly startled, then his eyes warm. “Yes, I think I would.”

And that’s that. Tony can’t wipe the silly grin off of his face for over an hour.

The next time he and Sherlock are together in the kitchen he tries very hard not to seem to notice the other’s surprised pleasure at finding a tea pot on the stove – and a collection of old-fashioned, loose-leaf teas in the pantry.

 

*

 

Tony’s been restless during the hours since the encounter in the kitchen. Whether that’s the case because of his niggling unease concerning the immediate and not so immediate future – first date nerves, really? He thought he’d been over this when he was, like, twelve – or because he hasn’t actually slept since being so rudely woken up to fight Loki, is anybody’s guess. His thoughts are too scattered for him to be really productive down in the workshop, but when he tried to take a nap his buzzing thoughts made any kind of sleep impossible (it might also have something to do with the three cups of coffee he had imbibed before in order to stay awake and work on the armor – he always gets antsy when unable to work on any tech for more than a day – inconvenient that).

All of that isn’t really a reason why he should find himself standing in front of Loki’s cell, having passed a lurking Clint on guard duty, who’d definitely looked at him suspiciously, at an unassuming four in the afternoon, seriously contemplating going in there. Well, maybe a part of it, but mostly, he reasons, it’s just him being as bat-shit crazy as usual. After all Pepper accuses him of not having a survival instinct to speak of at least once a week, ever since she spent so much time patching him up after missions when she was still his PA and had to see the dangers of his new lifestyle firsthand because he flat out refused to go to the hospital.

And then of course there is the burning need to know. It had been Loki who had sent Steve and him to London, presumably to set him up for Hammer. It also makes him the reason why Tony had met Sherlock in the first place. And it sets him on edge that he has no idea why (or well, technically he does, but he can’t quite believe that Loki just did it to help Hammer – the guy has more style than that).

Banishing all his doubts to the back of his mind until only his usual sleek mask remains, he directs JARVIS to open the door.

He shouldn’t be surprised to see Loki sprawled nonchalantly on the bed, cold green eyes fixed on his face, but somehow he still hasn’t completely caught up with the whole God in his mansion thing.

“Stark. It took you longer than I had anticipated to come,” the prisoner (yeah, as if) drawled, not even bothering to straighten up. Tony gets it – he isn’t registered as a threat, and, honestly, without the armor he isn’t and he knows it.

“Why?” he simply asks, letting coldness seep into his tone unheeded.

Loki raises an elegant eyebrow, but does deign to look a little more interested in the conversation (not that ‘a little more’ amounted too much). “You reveal hidden depths, Stark. Usually it is just the same old what and how. Interesting questions, no doubt, but I found that you mortals usually lack the imagination to think of more… involved ones. humhu

 Crossing his arms in front of his Armani-clad chest, Tony waits. He is determined not to play this game.

The minutes crawl by (he tries not to think about what will happen if Loki simply doesn’t say anything). An uneasy feeling he does his best to control takes hold of him at the growing spark of curiosity in Loki’s gaze – directed at him.

“Why does anyone do anything?” the God finally breaks the silence, and Tony all but sighs in relief.

He shrugs. “Love, hate, thirst for revenge, that kinda thing. But I suppose it’s different for us shallow humans.”

Loki ignores his blatant sarcasm. “Indeed.”

Tony ignores the hint of derision in Loki’s tone, waiting for him to continue. Just as the God’s stare begins to seriously unnerve him, he speaks again, his eyes narrowing.

“What makes you think I’m going to tell you anything, Stark? Are you really so pathetic to need my plans spelled out for you?”

That is, he has to admit, a rather good point. In truth he doesn’t truly know why he bothered to himself – even if Loki had, by some miracle, actually answered his question, there’s no way he would be able to distinguish lies from truth.

Some of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for Loki leans back against the wall and says, in a voice that somehow holds both an undercurrent of warning and danger and is completely matter of fact, “I am the God of Mischief and Trickery, after all.”

It seems clear that, as far as Loki is concerned, this conversation is over. Tony takes the hint and turns to leave, but not without a parting shot.

“Well, at least I haven’t stooped to the level of working with Justin Hammer. You should really rethink your choice in accomplices.”

And if Loki’s murderous glare makes him get out the door a little faster, well, Loki is a God and an angry one at that. Better not take his chances for too long.

As he should’ve guessed, his uneasiness is by no means diminished by his visit with the Trickster; it just acquired a new companion – bitterness at meddling gods and magic in general.

 

*

 

Tony has long before given up on understanding how their entirely dysfunctional housing arrangement continues to defy all expectations – by neither having yielded a dead body, nor a completely wrecked mansion yet.

This morning is no exception.

Burying his face in a deliciously fresh mug of coffee, he ignores Clint’s bouncing on the sofa and Thor’s noisy munching on a pop tart in favor of gazing at the lightly churning dark liquid. Bruce sits quietly reading the newspaper – the paper version, he can’t fathom why.

He doesn’t even look up when more footsteps sound.

“Don’t you think you should introduce your guest? Seeing as you neglected to properly do so yesterday? Or are you too busy trying to discern the meaning of life in your coffee pot?” a voice suddenly whispers right next to his ear, making him jump.

“Jesus!” he hisses. “Are you ever going to tire of this whole sneaking ninja thing?”

Natasha just smirks and moves away.

Sighing Tony emerges from his coffee cup (it hadn’t really communicated anything worthwhile anyway). His eyes immediately fall on the object of an embarrassing amount of his ruminations lately, and his lips twitch at the heart-warming sight. His clothes are rumpled, eyes bleary, and his raven hair is sticking up all over the place (seriously adorable that).

“Okay, everyone,” he calls, and lo and behold, the din actually quiets. “This is Sherlock Holmes.” He swirls his hands in the Brit’s direction.

He points to the couch where Thor is making his way through his sixth pop tart. “The big, blonde guy, who looks like an oversized Calvin Klein model, is Thor, the Norse God of Thunder. A nice guy but I wouldn’t advice fighting him – he’s very good at smashing things with his hammer.”

Thor gives them a cheery wave and a very toothy smile.

“And the smaller guy in the corner is Bruce Banner, a more highly decorated scientist than you’re ever likely to meet. He doesn’t like to smash things, but it still happens to him anyway. Just try to not make him angry. The others you already know.”

Unsurprisingly Sherlock looks intrigued, a dangerously curious glint appearing in his eyes, whereas John just looks like he’s still stuck on the ‘Norse God’ part. After a moment the blonde man just shakes his head, resuming his tea pot ministrations at the stove.

Satisfied, Tony goes back to inhaling his coffee. After his fourth cup he finally begins to feel more or less alive. In the corner Sherlock is deep in conversation with Bruce (after he catches snippets like ‘hydrochloric acid’ and ‘composition rate’, he quickly tunes them out seeing as they don’t even have the grace to talk about something electronic). Pushing aside the slight pang of hurt that he’s managing so well without him – after all why wouldn’t he? Tony’s just the one who brought him here and Sherlock is definitely his own person and a capable one at that – he sneaks out of the room unnoticed (well, when he says unnoticed he means that only Natasha gives him a slightly puzzled look).

There is work to be done, after all.

 

*

 

At six o’clock Tony is leaning against the wall in the foyer waiting for Sherlock. Resting his head on the pleasantly cool wall, he closes his weary eyes. Maybe he shouldn’t have made quite so many micro adjustments to his jet boots. And he still isn’t done. The right boot’s energy output is still higher than-

“Waiting for someone?”

His eyes snap open at the sound of the familiar voice. For a moment his mind seems unable to cope with what his eyes are trying to tell him. He blinks. Sherlock looks… he looks… well, he cleans up extremely nicely to say the least – and he appears to have quite the good taste in clothing.  Tony’s eyes roam up and down his body, drinking in the sight of Sherlock in a snug, white button-down, black dress jacket, not as formal as they come, and black dress pants. The combination is simple, but arresting – especially paired with Sherlock’s raven hair. It’s, for once, lying somewhat flat in elegant waves, by no means completely tamed, but somewhat subdued. He resolutely ignores the stirrings in his groin and licks his suddenly too dry lips.

“Maybe.” Tony blatantly looks him up and down once more and smirks. “It seems it was worth the wait.”

“Indeed,” Sherlock says, returning the favor, though a little less salaciously.

Pushing himself away from the wall, Tony offers his arm to Sherlock. “Shall we leave then? I would hate for the dinner reservations to go to waste.”

“That would be truly disastrous,” Sherlock agrees, lips twitching. He takes Tony’s proffered arm, his hand a solid, oddly comforting weight. Real.

 

*

 

For once Tony chooses an unobtrusive car, a sleek black Maybach Landaulet he’s redesigned to look less like a limousine and more like a bigger sports car – or at least as unobtrusive as he can find in his possession, which means it’s still unbelievably ostentatious and costs more than fifty times of what one would have to pay for a normal car, but at least it doesn’t have Stark written on the license plate.

He is driving. And for the first time in quite a few years he has a passenger who doesn’t seem perturbed by his driving style and isn’t nagging. That in itself, he realizes with a distinct sense of surprise, is quite a gift. Instead whenever he sneaks peeks to his right, Sherlock looks completely relaxed, his eyes nearly closed in contentment (not unlike a cat, Tony finds himself thinking). He also finds, much to his surprise, that he doesn’t mind the silence, for all that he usually abhors it. Normally he surrounds himself with talk, music, whirring machines, anything to drown out the sound of silence beating against his ears. Even if no silence will ever be as complete as the absent of sound in a cave, he’s still liable to panic when there’s nothing to hear.

The loud music in his workshop, which was once a way to shut out the outside world and let him work in peace, has now become a way to remind him of the outside. The gentle whirr of Dum-E and U, which used to be a constant reminder of his genius in creating (mostly) intelligent robots, is now a comfort, a familiar noise even when his eyes fail him. Everything not to remember and flash back to his own personal hell.

Minutes pass until Sherlock speaks.

“Do you listen to music often?”

“What?” Tony asks startled. This is inane, even for Sherlock.

“Do you listen to music often?” he repeats patiently, intent eyes fixed on Tony’s face.

He frowns. Somehow it seems as if there’s more to this question than what he can grasp. “Well, I suppose so. I usually have some music playing when I’m working.”

“What type of music?”

Tony wonders if he’s missing some point here. He shrugs. “Rock, mostly, and some metal…”

Sherlock snorts in a distinctly disparaging way, his expressive hands dismissing his statement with a wave. “I’m talking about orchestral music.”

Tony actually takes the time to think about that, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel absent-mindedly. “I don’t know,” he finally says because it is the most honest answer he can come up with. “The only contact with that type of music I’ve had were more than ten years of piano lessons.” The lines around his eyes tighten a fraction. “My mother used to play for me… I haven’t touched a piano since she died.”

Understanding flashes in Sherlock’s deep brown eyes. “Ah, I see.”

Tony casts him a cautious sideways glance. “I’m assuming there’s a personal reason you’re asking.”

“I play the violin,” Sherlock states after a beat of silence.

He considers that for a moment, thinking back to his childhood when he used to sit on his mother’s lap while she was playing, until he got too big to fit there anymore (and even then he refused to leave the bench, probably getting in the way more than anything else – but he also remembers the warm light in her eyes as she played, and the smile she would unfailingly give him). It was a little bit like magic then, even to his engineer’s mind, something beautifully complex derived from essentially simplistic finger motions. For the first time he lets himself quietly hope that someone else’s music might fill that place again.

“I think I wouldn’t mind a new start.”

The bright smile lighting Sherlock’s face he receives in return is an unexpected reward.

 

*

 

Tony takes Sherlock to a small, but excellent Italian restaurant Pepper had once recommended to him in downtown Manhattan (he likes to think he’s learned of past mistakes concerning dates in too public a setting – not that he had been much of a dating person, it was usually just what came after that interested him).

Exiting from the parked car, Sherlock remarks calmly, “You broke forty-three traffic laws on the way here alone.”

Tony fights the urge to gape. “You counted?!” One look at Sherlock’s face and he quickly adds. “Of course you did. Never mind that question…you aren’t much of a driver yourself, are you?”

“It is as tedious an exercise as it is avoidable,” the other just shrugs.

“Figures,” he mumbles. “Anyone driving would actively try to forget most of the more obscure regulations out of sheer self-preservation.”

Sherlock just grins.

As they slide into opposite positions at the table in the private room he’d booked the day before, Sherlock nods towards the flashy red and silver briefcase he carries with him.

“Paranoid much?”

Tony doesn’t even ask how he knows that. There is bound to be some perfectly logical explanation and he does vaguely remember having used it on live TV during that whole mess in Monaco. Instead he smirks, leaning back into the bench, and says, “Maybe. Or I might just have a hero kink the size of Montana.”

Sherlock casts a dubious look at the suit case. “You’re not wearing the armor while we have sex, Tony.”

Ignoring the fact that Tony’s jaw is in serious danger of hitting the floor (Sherlock talking about sex so freely?! Had he missed something?), he continues quite nonchalantly, “You might want to make at least a small effort to camouflage it.”

“Sorry, who said anything about sex?” Tony asks, when he finally manages to retrieve his mind from whatever place in the gutter it had fallen into as soon as Sherlock had uttered The Word.

“I did,” Sherlock answers, voice and face still as relaxed as if he was just taking a nice stroll in the park (or maybe not a park, you never knew with New York’s parks). When Tony still looks uncomprehending, he expands on his statement, a note of exasperation creeping into his voice, “As it’s clear that that’s what you want with me, after all.”

“I…” Tony starts, but then closes his mouth again, feeling completely helpless. This is supposed to be his area, dammit, but the way Sherlock just brusquely stated that was slightly alarming nevertheless. It sounds as if Sherlock believes he’s only that, a quick lay, when Tony’s clearly lost in this mire of emotions already. Feeling horrifyingly inarticulate, he tries again. “I mean if that’s all you want, a quick roll in the sheets, I can certainly help and it’s totally fine, but…”

To be entirely honest he hadn’t really thought that far ahead, but he does know that the thought of Sherlock leaving so soon isn’t a pleasant one.

And because his life really is a fucking cliché, the waiter choses exactly this moment to interrupt and ask for their orders. Throughout the whole thing Sherlock’s piercing gaze never leaves his face. For once Tony has trouble to sustain his usual public mask whilst placing his order. When the waiter’s finally gone, Sherlock wastes no time picking up the thread of conversation again. Tony can’t quite decide if he’s grateful for that or if he just wants to forget that that exchange ever happened.

“There was little data to go on with,” he says carefully now. “You certainly didn’t indicate wanting more than just a quick shag.”

He can’t quite help the pained twitch that passes over his features at the last bit. It seems that dithering over his own feelings, however vaguely he’s still only interpreting them, have done more damage than he’d thought.

Before Tony can formulate a reply, however, Sherlock asks in the same oddly cautious tone, “What exactly is this then?”

“This,” Tony answers, “is a date.” He holds up his hand to forestall any protest as to how obvious that piece of information is. “What you were missing though, is that real dates like this have become extremely rare for me of late.”

Something that might’ve been relief flashes over Sherlock’s face. “I understand.”

Tony’s lips curl into a wry smile, full of self-mockery. Let it not be said that he doesn’t remember his none too glorious past. “Do you? Do you really?”

Sherlock’s expressive eyes drop to the table. For the first time he doesn’t seem like he’s in full control of the conversation, he even looks a little unsure.

“It is true that I’m… no expert when it comes to relationships.” He laughs, a low, bitter sound. “The only longer relationship I ever had was with a man named Viktor Trevor, during my time at Cambridge. When it ended in flames, I basically decided that relationships weren’t for me. I didn’t try again.”

When he looks up again, Tony is surprised to see a flicker of something that reminds him suspiciously of vulnerability in Sherlock’s eyes. “This would be something of a new venture for me.”

“I guess that makes us the perfect pair,” he says quietly, and, holding his breath, reaches out for Sherlock’s hand. He recognizes surprise on the other’s face, but all other thoughts are quickly forgotten as long, slender fingers close around his. Warmth spreads through him. No more dancing around each other. No more uncertainty of that especially tormenting kind. Apparently a grounding touch is all he needed.

 

*

 

Over the course of the next two hours Tony learns many things about Sherlock (who, no doubt, learns more about him), amongst them that he has a liking for good wine and whiskey, but doesn’t enjoy most other types of alcohol, regularly goes to the opera and classical concerts, and could take up acting if he ever found himself in need of a job.

He also learns that Sherlock’s lips are soft and warm, not at all rough, and that he really is a rather astoundingly good kisser.

For once there is no untimely interruption, no super villain bent on destroying his date – even though he is half convinced that his communicator would go off any second – when he leans forward, gazes locked, trusting that the other would correctly interpret his intention and stop him if necessary, and presses his lips to Sherlock’s for the first time. It’s difference, and it’s bliss. He doesn’t want it to end, basically ever, wants to memorize the sensation of Sherlock’s lips beneath his own and the way they part with a slight moan when he pushes for more. No, he really doesn’t want it to end.

He really should know better.

All but as soon as they part, faces flushed, a very familiar beeping starts emanating from Tony’s belt.

“Fuck!” he swears succinctly. “I have to take this. You never know when there’s actually an impending apocalypse.”

Sherlock just nods, face unreadable, as Tony hits the on button.

“Yes?”

“Tony! Sorry to interrupt, but –“,  Steve’s voice sounds over a truly monstrous din in the background, “ – there’re a lot of those Hammer drones here –“ BANG “We need air support!” CLANG.

Tony sighs, wincing slightly at the sounds of mayhem emanating from his communicator. Seeing as the Hammer drones supposedly had all been disposed of, someone appears to have created a major fuck-up somewhere. Or maybe Loki had managed to dabble in robot duplication in his spare time? The concept is certainly outlandish, but, considering the course his life has recently taken, not outrageously so.

“Sure thing, Steve. Where are you?”

“Lafayette –“ CRASH “ – Avenue. Hurry!”

“I’ll be there asap,” Tony replies, not even caring about the irritation that must be recognizable in his voice.

He turns to Sherlock, already reaching for the briefcase. “I’m sorry-“

“Don’t be. I understand,” Sherlock interrupts, his voice low but sincere. “The only thing I ask is that you extend me the same consideration when I feel the need to disappear for a time.”

A brief smile touches his lips. “Deal.”

He holds up the car keys without hesitation (wondering a little if Sherlock recognizes what a big thing this is for him – it is one of his much beloved cars after all). “You can drive, though, right?”

“I am capable, yes,” Sherlock says, distaste obvious in his tone.

“Will you manage to get yourself back to the mansion then? I don’t want to leave you stranded here.”

“Yes, Tony, stop worrying. I am a grown man, you know.” Sherlock is smiling softly now. “Go on. They need you.”

He nods, flashes his friend (lover-to-be?) a quick smile, and leaves the restaurant, only hoping that Sherlock was honest in his seeming acceptance. Because he can really do without a repeat of the relationship trouble with Pepper over his side-job as a super-hero.

 

*

 

The rest of the night largely goes as predicted. Except for some of the Hammer drones’ new upgrades, which, Tony has had to find out, much to his chagrin and annoyance, appear to be capable of putting chinks in his armor. Literally. He’s going to need to update it again. And then there’s the bit where, on reaching the mansion after having begged off directing the clean-up efforts in order to clean up the suit, he finds the house darkened and Jarvis non-responsive. Standing in the dark hallway, an unbidden shiver runs down his spine. Natasha, who should’ve been on guard duty at the moment, expressively not having joined the fight for that purpose – they couldn’t exactly leave more members of the Team there when there was an army of Hammer drones attacking the city, killing civilians left and right – is nowhere to be seen.

There’s only ever been one man who has managed to crack his code, and after that Tony has made damn sure that Nick fucking Fury would be locked out of his system – permanently. That means – “Ah, I was wondering if you would show up,” Loki says from behind him, voice all silk.

Tony turns around slowly, uncomfortably aware of his hammering heart. Loki is leaning against the wall, in nearly the exact spot he had occupied earlier this evening. In the near-darkness, only disturbed by the muted light of his arc reactor through his frazzled, singed suit, he can only make out a hint of a smile on that too pale face, the rest lies in shadow.

“And I was wondering when this would happen,” he returns, his voice as even as he can make it. As it is, he’s surprised that he isn’t flying out the window at this very moment. There have only been a few occasions in which he’s felt his own vulnerability more keenly than now, and none of them he cares much to remember.

Loki’s shoulders twitch in a half-shrug. “I got what I wanted. I do wish we had had more time to chat, but I’m afraid duty calls.”

A glint of reflected light in his eyes brightens (even though he knows there is no other light source – the implications of that, he doesn’t want to consider).

“Do try not to get killed by those tedious aspiring super villains out there. If this team,” the sneer is clear in his voice, “falls apart, Thor might be tempted to return to Asgard. There are too many meddling, well-meaning gods there already.”

Tony keeps impossibly still, just staring at Loki silently, his mind racing. He isn’t sure whether to be delighted or horrified by the revelation that super-villains are competing amongst each other as to who kills who. Also, if Loki wants to kill him, why the fuck doesn’t he just get it over with?!

“See you soon, Mr. Stark,” Loki whispers, unfolding himself from the wall, sending even more chills skitter down his spine.

Halfway down the hall, the God stops once more. He turns his head, his gaze on him. “You Earth people have quite the interesting analogies. I especially appreciate the one theorizing that Gods play chess with the lives of mortal men.” He smiles, but there’s nothing pleasant about the gesture. “It is both entirely accurate… and profoundly wrong. There is no game – just use and the end of it.”

A swirl of his green cloak, and he is gone.

For what feels like an eternity Tony just stands there, breathing in and out, slowly fighting down the last vestiges of panic. (Sometimes he wonders how much more relaxing his life would be if he didn’t have such run-ins with Gods on a weekly basis.) Finally he pulls out his phone, looking around for Natasha. Not that he believes they’re actually going to catch Loki again, but he’s probably supposed to report his escape anyway. And find out what exactly Loki’s goal had been, since he appears to have met it.

Interstellar relations seem to be more trouble than they’re worth, really.

As he rings Steve’s cell phone, he finds himself wishing that Loki had at least told him why. Had told him what all of this had been about. It’s just his luck that Thor’s brother seems to have the same bit tendency of being highly uninformative on any useful matters.

They find Natasha in Loki’s former cell, unconscious. When asking her what had happened at a later time, Tony only receives a bland stare (which is patently unfair, by the way, Coulson and Fury totally got a report).

Loki, thankfully, doesn’t turn up again in the mansion.

 

*

 

Tony slowly lowers the phone from his ear, staring sightlessly at the heap of scorched and pockmarked armor in front of him. This was the eleventh time he has tried to call Sherlock’s cell. He’d only reached the voice mail every time. Fear wars with guilt. Had something happened to Sherlock? Or had he been, despite his assurances, angry at Tony for leaving him at the restaurant and decided to stay elsewhere?

Mindlessly he starts sorting the pieces of suit in piles of varying states of damage.

He can’t help but replay their conversation over dinner, trying to analyze every word Sherlock had uttered, but he simply can’t find a reason as to why he should be angry at Tony. Except for the superheroing, that is.

His brow furrows as Tony stares down at his disassembled armor. Sorting all done, he starts on throwing away the parts which are completely beyond saving or use.

No matter how hard he tries to keep thinking about his work, his thoughts inevitably return to Sherlock. The man, who, despite his cynical nature and massive intellect, still possesses a certain purity. Most people would disagree on that statement, but for Tony it had been obvious from their very first meeting. The way his lips form a soft smile when amused by something, the way his eyes say so much more than his lips. The way he kissed.

He finds, not entirely to his surprise, that he doesn’t want it to be over already. But he has no idea where Sherlock is, and even if he did, what would he say to him?

For the first time he actually focuses on his work, on what his hands are doing. Everything is better than the mixture of uncertainty and worry that threatens to overwhelm him.

 

*

 

It’s been five days since Jarvis had informed Tony that Sherlock had returned to the mansion in the early morning hours. Every time he lets his brain slow down or closes his eyes he remembers the near physical, desperate urge to barge upstairs and make sure Sherlock is alright, whole, unharmed. He didn’t then (taking Jarvis’ diagnostics by the word). He doesn’t now. In fact, he hasn’t seen him since the romantic dinner. He’d waited for Sherlock to seek him out – and when he hadn’t done so immediately, drawn his own conclusions.

He hides (even from himself) behind the excuse of work, but in truth he just knows that if he actually lays his eyes on Sherlock his carefully constructed resolve to give the other man the space he seems to want – he isn’t about to force Sherlock to like him, after all, even if the other had send mixed signals – will crumble. Which is why he spent the majority of the last five days down in his workshop, only emerging at odd hours to sneak into the kitchen for a bite of food and much-needed resupply of coffee. He even has the perfect excuse for holing himself up downstairs, as they, after finding out that Loki had somehow managed to plunder SHIELD’s databases during his brief stint in captivity, are still trying to figure out how exactly he’d managed that. The only useful thing he’s been able to glean from the data trail, however, is that Loki had been searching for information on Norse artifacts (some kind of Tesseract thing? He definitely needs to research that) supposedly secreted away somewhere by SHIELD. At least it explains why he was willing to ally himself with the likes of Justin Hammer – who they still haven’t found, but with Natasha now actively on his trail it’s only a matter of time – if he wanted that inside information. (Independently he’s been working on upgrading JARVIS even further, as he has no particular desire to have him spontaneously shut down by enemies again – unfortunately magic is still as much a bitch as it was the last time he looked, so he isn’t making much headway there, either.)

He tells himself it isn’t the same as cowardice. Tells himself that he isn’t just afraid that Sherlock will reject him for good. Some days he even believes it.

So far he has managed to fend of three concerned visits from Steve, evade one badly executed booby trap in the kitchen (probably Clint – if it had been Natasha it actually would have worked), and ignore four calls from Pepper (if she were actually in New York he wouldn’t be getting off this easily, but she’s in LA, doing CEO-y things, so he’s safe for the time being).

What he hasn’t taken into account, however, is the possibility of a full frontal assault. In retrospect he really should have seen it coming. Because for all his cloak and dagger creeping around, he doesn’t expect Sherlock to just come barging in through the door with Steve’s emergency override code. Apparently it’s evolved into a conspiracy.

Right now, he is eighty percent panicking and twenty percent thankful that he happens to be standing with his back to the entrance.

“Hello, Sherlock,” he greets him, with what he hopes is a normal tone of voice.

“Tony,” the other returns, voice glacier calm. “You have been avoiding me.”

“I was busy.”

“So busy you couldn’t take the time to talk to me for a few minutes in five days?”

Tony knows him well enough to hear the carefully modulated sarcasm and the raised eyebrow in Sherlock’s voice alone. He wonders when that happened.

“I was trying to figure out what Loki got out of his stunt,” he says, knowing that he sounds entirely too defensive.

“You talked to Steve twice,” Sherlock continues flatly, as if he hadn’t spoken at all, “and you snuck into the kitchen at least five times when you were sure no one else was around. The others are as mystified by your behavior as I am, which means you usually don’t do this. Ergo, it has something to do with me.”

The note of hurt in his voice, not quite hidden enough for him to miss, sends guilt streaking through him at once. But he doesn’t turn around.

“You didn’t do anything.”

A snort of disbelief from behind him conveys everything he needs to know about what exactly Sherlock thinks of that.

He wonders how to best approach this metaphorical minefield. “When you didn’t come back after dinner I was worried.”

“And that made you avoid me for five days?”

Tony can easily imagine the way those dark eyebrows must be trailing upwards right now. And damn his brain for making it such an enticing image.

“…not precisely.”

He waits for Sherlock to say something, anything, but he remains stubbornly quiet, waiting for him to explain. The weight of his expectation, his silence settles on Tony like a physical burden.  He snaps. Why bother evading the question anymore?

“I thought you weren’t interested in me anymore, since you, you know, ignored my calls and didn’t even check back in when you returned here. I was trying to give you space! Besides you’re probably better off that way anyway.”

Sherlock’s tone is still maddeningly inflectionless when he says, “Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. Do continue.”

Tony grits his teeth in frustration, his hands gripping the edge of the work table convulsively. “There isn’t anything else to it. This was a bad idea. You and me was a bad idea. I am a bad idea when it comes to anyone else. So I removed myself from you. Perfectly logical.”

There is a small, almost surprised sound from behind, as Sherlock realizes the extent of the problem, the heart of what is happening.

Tony tenses as soft footsteps sound, closer and closer. He still refuses to turn around (why, he isn’t even sure of anymore, but it does him good to cling to one resolve at least).

“And you didn’t think I might want to have a say in that as well?” Sherlock murmurs quietly, mouth so close that it nearly brushes his ear. Tony can feel his warm breath ghosting over sensitive skin, can feel the heat emanating from Sherlock’s body where it is now pressed against his own.

He swallows around the rush of desire in his belly. “That’s what Pepper said at the beginning as well. Didn’t mean anything in the long run.”

He feels Sherlock pulling away just a fraction. Then a quiet exhale. “And you thought I was angry at you?”

“It was a reasonable conclusion!” he snaps, defensive again. “I rang your phone ten times, Sherlock, ten, and when you came back you didn’t even look for me!”

Sherlock is quiet for a moment. “So you’re feeling rejected because I turned off my phone while… otherwise occupied and then went straight to bed instead of bothering you at three in the morning?”

When put that way, it does sound a little ridiculous.

Finally Tony turns around, ignoring the way their bodies slide together as he does so, to look him in the eye. Because Sherlock may be uncannily observant, but obviously he doesn’t get this, and Tony needs him to understand what a bad idea taking up with him really is.

“The only serious relationship I ever had ended because she couldn’t take the fact that I risked my life on a pretty much daily basis anymore. She never quite understood that being Iron Man was – is – something I need to do,” he says quietly, intently. “I figured you were angry at me for leaving you at the restaurant.”

Sherlock is silent for a moment, then he says, “I stumbled over a murder, you know. Apprehended the murderer and called the police. You have quite the interesting police department here. Some of their cold cases were even moderately challenging and I pointed them in the right direction for several ongoing cases.” The edge of a smirk pulls at his lips. “I daresay they won’t forget me any time soon. That’s why I was so late.”

Tony stares at him in confusion. One minute he’s talking about his feelings, and the next the other is talking about solving crimes? He doesn’t see the correlation. Except… a small kernel of hope flickers to life.

Before he can marshal his thoughts to say something else, Sherlock begins to speak again. “I have no intention whatsoever of letting you go because you believe that you can’t succeed in having a long-term relationship because of your second identity as Iron Man. And I’m not angry at you.”

The intense look is back, yet there’s something else underlying it, which Tony can’t quite place.

“You are not your past, Tony, and I’m not the people you know. You think I don’t know what I’m getting into, but I do. I know more about you, about your shortcomings, about your talents, about your character, than you can possibly imagine right now.” He shrugs. “It’s what I do. And I also know that this,” his graceful hands indicate them both, as they stand so close they might as well melt into each other (and for a moment Tony wonders how he can even think at all in this position, which, he suspects, is quite the point), “doesn’t feel like a mistake. Now, it’s possible that that’s just my unfortunately subjective feelings talking, but don’t you think this, we, deserve a chance?”

Tony can practically feel his resolve melting under the complete conviction and sincerity in Sherlock’s words. The other leans forward, and captures his lips in a hungry kiss, which, even if he could have, he wouldn’t have prevented. There might as well have been bells tolling for his resolve is about to be permanently buried. Hell, this man fights dirty.

“Bedroom!” he manages to gasp out in between kisses and, God, hands tangling in his hair, exploring everywhere.

They make it to his bedroom before any pieces of clothing are permanently discarded – barely. Tony is distantly thankful that the elevator leads nearly directly to his room, but truth be told doesn’t expend too much energy thinking about it. (He doubts he even could have – Sherlock proves to be very talented with his hands, and his mouth and pretty much everything else now that he thinks about it.)

He’s probably managed to unclothe someone as fast before, but he can’t find enough of his scattered brain to remember the occasion. And why would he need to with the gorgeous body that he reveals? He barely even notices Sherlock returning the favor, delicately undoing his buttons, while Tony’s only motivation is to touch, touch, touch, as much as humanly possible.

When all clothing has finally found its way to the floor, Sherlock lets out a low groan and bodily pushes him onto the bed.

What follows is hungry, and fast, and just a little bit desperate. Which is why they nearly immediately follow it up with the sweetness it really should have been

Much later, when Tony is lying on his side of the bed, watching Sherlock sleep peacefully next to him, he reflects that it really figures that he would need someone with basically his looks and his level of intelligence to really fall in love. Hah, textbook narcissism indeed. He would bet his 1932 Ford Flathead Roadster that Fury hadn’t seen this coming.

Oh, the doubts and worries aren’t gone, not by a long shot, but for the first time in what feels like ages, he hopes. Really hopes that maybe everything might work out for him for once.

“Stop thinking so much,” Sherlock mumbles sleepily, not even deigning to open his eyes.

Not so asleep then.

“You’re one to talk,” he returns affectionately, giving in to the temptation to run a hand through his lover’s unruly curls.

Sherlock just sighs in contentment and buries his head deeper into his pillow. After a moment’s consideration, Tony follows his excellent example, not even bothering to wipe the silly grin off his face.