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Real Strength Means Not Letting Anyone Break You

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It happened at one of those mindless and generic galas that Tony had to attend to appease Pepper and SI but would rather have been in his dirty work clothes at the lab. It was going on his second straight hour surrounded by greasy men and bimbo women, very attractive women but still bimbos and that seemed to decrease their appeal. Tony intentionally ignored the notion lurking in the back of his mind that a certain moral and irritating blond captain was the cause behind his suddenly elevated tastes in bed partners. Quite frankly, he’d gotten sick of the gushing attention and coy touches and so excused himself to retreat to the bar and order a much needed drink.

Just the one though because he was trying to work on the whole ‘get drunk at every opportunity’ stick. Yet another thing Tony’s subconscious blamed Rogers for. He’d barely gotten started on the glass when a man sidled up next to him and discreetly claimed his attention.

“Hey.” The man said, all slick grin and bright eyes.

“What’s up.” Tony gave in reply, studying his sudden company. The assessing look given to him in return along with the open gleam of hunger told Tony exactly what he was after and honestly, if he were at any other point in his life, he probably would have gone for it. As it was, Tony Stark was kinda hopelessly in love with another man so he wasn’t exactly feeling it right then. Given who he was, he didn’t bother with beating around the bush. “Before you waste your time with me, I’ll tell you right now that I’m off the market tonight. Sorry man.”

The stranger’s eyes narrowed and stared at him a moment longer as if to ascertain how serious he was before nodded shortly. “Alright, well, at least I tried.”

“Amen to that.” Tony said, giving him a smirk and a raise of his glass. The man laughed and tapped their glasses together before retreating and Tony turned back to the bar.

Ten minutes later things started to go hazy, as if he’d drank about a bottle and plus of booze instead of the sedate glass he did, and everything after that was not worth remembering. Even if he still could.

---

The morning after, when Tony’d taken care of his injuries to the best of his ability, he’d entered the kitchen with the sole intent of mainstreaming coffee until he was too wired to ever sleep again and instead found the team, minus Bruce and Thor, gathered there with various and interesting expressions. He almost faltered but only the certainty that they couldn’t possibly know kept him stable and his snark face firmly in place.

“Okay, what’s with all these faces? Did Doom do something stupid again? Please tell me it’s not giant bunnies, I just don’t think I could handle giant bunny rabbits trying to destroy the world this morning.” He didn’t actually look at anyone, far too focused on getting to the coffee maker.

“No bunnies.” Clint said with a snort. “As disturbing as that thought is along with the fact that you said it at all and probably just jinxed us.”

Tony had something to counter that, really he did, but Natasha was quicker. “And the only one who did anything stupid was you.”

“Well, I’m feeling the love this morning.” Tony muttered. “What did I do now?”

“Jesus, Stark. How much did you drink last night that you don’t even remember the sex tape you made with a mystery man.” Clint sounded amused more than anything but Tony was pretty sure his arc reactor had just stopped working. “But hey, at least that explains why you’re walking funny.”

It took every ounce of self control he had to steady his hands and pull out the old playboy ‘no regrets’ mask before he turned around. “Well that’s a good question, Barton. You’ll have to ask someone who was there. Now come on, tell me how you all came to share that video?” And confuse it with a fucking sex tape, he wanted to snarl.

Steve, red-faced and eyes averted, pointed at the TV sitting on the island counter, off now likely because the news stations had been replaying the story like a broken record. “It was, ah, pretty popular this morning. And it wasn’t a video, just some...pictures.”

That explained why they thought it was a sex tape. Tony let some of his invisible tension melt away and shrugged. “Well, guess who’s not going to be talking to the press for about the next three weeks.” He said dryly.

“No, instead you’ll let Pepper field the calls and rumors on this. Honestly, Stark, I thought you were over this phase.” Natasha’s words were cutting but nowhere near as murderous as the glare and Tony internally winced because she was right. Pepper hated dealing with the fallout from stuff like this and now she was stuck doing it again. Well, it wasn’t as though this was the first promise he’d ever broken.

The air was getting a bit too heavy for him now and Steve hadn’t even looked at him, which said a lot because he was unfailing polite about things like that. Abruptly, Tony felt a wash of potent rage because he’d been trying, okay, to clean up his life. Then something like this happens and there went all his work like the effort meant nothing to anyone and fuck them if they couldn’t see the truth behind what they expected to see.

Fuck every last one of them.

“Well then, I guess that just goes to show that if you’re even the slightest bit surprised then perhaps someone needs to retake their profiling class, huh?” More of that anger must have leaked into his voice then he’d intended because Clint actually looked taken aback and Steve’s head jerked up to look at Tony while Natasha was as blank faced as ever.

“Right. So, if those rabbits attack the city I’ll be in my lab.” Tony said, rolling his eyes with as much sarcastic attitude as he could muster, which was a lot, okay, he was a freaking pro at it, and took his coffee and escaped.

---

Back in the safety of the lab, Tony ordered Jarvis to do a complete lock-out. “No one gets in unless I verbally allow it, understand?”

“Yes, sir.” The AI’s voice was just somber enough to tell Tony that he’d already caught the same feed as the Avengers and probably did a lot more looking into it then them.

“And black-out the windows.”


Once he was as cut off as possible, Tony let out a huge breath and collapsed into a chair. His hands were shaking now around the hot mug and Tony just held on tight, lowering his head to hunch over.

Jesus. What was he supposed to do? He couldn’t tell them the truth, no that wasn’t even an option. The most he could do was act like a responsible adult for once and do some damage control. Apologize to Pepper, for starts, and the whole team probably. A sex tape, real or not, was extremely bad press for the Avengers. With some cajoling and promises of new tech he could probably bribe Fury into not booting him from the team.

He was going to have to spend a long time making up for this.

A nudge at his elbow got Tony’s head up to look at Dummy, who was the very picture of dejected robot as he held out one of Tony’s favorite wrenches. The gesture had Tony blinking back a tear or two as he took the tool and rubbed Dummy's 'hand' in that spot with the sensor. “Good boy.” He whispered and just sat there for a long time with the robot that had always been with him.

Eventually, Jarvis spoke up. “Sir, Miss Potts is calling.”

Tony left his hand on Dummy and mentally poked at his emotions to test if he was capable of talking to her yet. The answer to that was a resounding no. Pepper knew him far too well, if he said anything before gathering his defenses back together it was likely she would be able to get the truth from him. That was not happening.

“Let her leave a message or ten.”

Jarvis’ lack of response was tellingly disapproving but he knew it was only because the AI cared so Tony let it go.

“I’m assuming you tracked down the origin of the news photos as well as the original recording?” He demanded suddenly, sitting up straighter and sliding his hand off Dummy.

There was a moments delay before Jarvis’ affirmative and Tony waved a hand impatiently. “Well then play it.”

“Sir, I don’t think-”

“Just do it.”

A halo-screen opened in front of Tony and the digital recording began to play. Most of the things it had to show him Tony already had at least a vague memory for but it certainly helped him put the pieces together much more reliably. Apparently the face fucking had happened before the actual fucking, which was good to know because he couldn’t remember the ordering and Tony hated disorganization.

The visual was fine, he could handle that, it looked like a bad porno, really. The audio though, well, that was less fine.

Despite popular belief, Tony Stark did in fact know the meaning of the word ‘no’. It just didn’t do him much good in this particular case. Still, he didn’t like listening to himself repeat it.

“Mute.”

Tony watched the video on repeat until he was quite certain he had everything memorized, forgetting was dangerous, he didn’t want to forget, he’d just learn to deal. Then he had it turned off and asked Jarvis to pull out the specs for the latest Iron Man suit and proceeded to spend the next nine hours working on just that.

And if his skin shivered and crawled every now and then, well, cold chills were normal. Not anything to think about. He was fine.

---

After the eighteenth missed call from Pepper, third ignored call from Natasha, one unreturned call from Clint and sixth ignored call and fourth ignored visit from Steve, Tony gave in and accepted a audio/visual link from Bruce.

The air thin light screen appeared before his worktop and Tony waved a dirty screwdriver in greeting. After all, Bruce was his science bro and his lab partner, it would be rude to not be available if Bruce wanted to talk science.

“Hey, Thumper.”

“Tony.”

Which he didn’t, of course.

“That’s my name.”

“So, uh, I’m not trying to nag or anything because I know how annoying that is.”

Tony grinned.

“But Pepper’s giving a whole new meaning to fiery red-head and the air of kicked puppy around Steve is just suffocating. Seriously, I had to run away back to my own lab just to escape it so I get why you’re down there but could you at least give me a time frame that I can pass on?”

See? This is why Bruce was his favorite person. A man after his own heart. Still...

“Did you see the photos?”

A pause and Tony looked up to see Bruce studying him and he almost panicked because he’d forgotten, for one second that Bruce was a fucking scientist and he was smart, okay. If anyone could glue tiny, broken pieces together to make a fucking masterpiece it was Bruce Banner.

“No. I wasn’t in the kitchen then. I don’t really care to look either, no offence. I like you and all but there are just some parts of you I don’t need to see.”

Tony’s laugh then was part relief and part genuine amusement and he ended up grinning helplessly at Bruce, an expression that was mirrored. He still had to give an answer though and he just didn’t know. Then Tony nodded and waved a hand at Bruce, “tell them soon. I’m almost done here and starved anyway."

“Okay. I’m on kitchen duty tonight, any requests?”

Not really, Tony thought. He wasn’t actually hungry but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time. Still, he knew the correct answer to this was the same thing he’d say if it were a normal day and he were hungry. “Just the usual, Bruce. You know how much I swoon for the outlander food you whip up.”

“Right, right, got it. Okay, don’t take too much longer then.”

“Aye, aye.” Tony said, saluting Bruce before the screen darkened and vanished. Then he let his forehead hit the table and sighed. He wasn’t sure he was ready to face the team but he was out of time to be ready.

Tony tinkered lightly for a bit longer, mostly preparing himself and pulling together the shields he’d need to get through the upcoming conversations. When he felt he could put it off no longer, Tony packed away what needed to be and had Jarvis save his work.

And if there was the bitter taste of bile in his mouth by the time Tony lifted the black-out and opened the lab doors, well, that was no one’s business but his own.