"We're all getting tattoos!" Tony yells.
No one answers. Why is no one answering? It's a fabulous idea. Best one he's had all day, and that includes putting a nuke up the ass of an alien-bug mothership and going for shawarma after.
"There is not enough alcohol in the world," Romanov moans from the couch, one hand covering her eyes. She's one to talk; the woman can suck down Stoli like a fish with a bendy straw.
"There's enough alcohol in this room. Don't insult my bar." The bar is still standing, despite the damage; okay, damage is a pathetic word to describe the shattered wall of windows and the concrete dust that's only a little less hefty than the concrete chunks strewn about and the Loki-sized crater in the floor. But there's safety plastic over the broken glass and the concrete chunks have mostly been shoved aside and the couches have all been pulled into a nice friendly cluster near the bar so no one's going to have to trip over rubble. And where else but Stark Tower are they going to get the security and the privacy they need for a come-down celebration?
Besides, he's still got the best views in New York City. And, yes, the best bar. "C'mon, we've got to."
"You speak of tribal markings, my friend?" Thor speaks up. Thor's had enough beer tonight to float a Viking funeral but he's still in the cheerful stage of drunkenness, hasn't even reached the boisterous. "I approve. Such a ritual would indeed affirm the bond we all now share."
"If you want to bond, get married." That's Barton, also on the couch; he has Romanov's bare feet in his lap and is massaging them with twisting motions that should make a grown man whimper, but she seems to be enjoying it. Barton jerks his head in her direction, looking at Tony all the while. "Distinguishing marks on an espionage agent? Kind of the worst idea ever?" Romanov doesn't take her hand away from her eyes but nods.
That's an excuse? "We'll make it tiny," Tony wheedles, aware that wheedling is not the tone he's going for. "You can put it in your asscrack if you want."
"That's the first place--" Romanov begins--
"--they look," she and Barton chorus together in finish.
"I believe I did not wish to know that," Thor says, blanching a little. Tony has to agree, except he's not going to say it out loud. Thor looks like he's going to skip the boisterous stage altogether and fall straight through into maudlin, and, hey, they can't have that.
"You guys all suck," Tony whines, another unattractive sound. Well, fuck that. He turns to Rogers, claps his hands together like a stage magician ready to show everyone the really good stuff. "What about our fearless leader, my good buddy, c'mon, Steve, Stevarino, you're up for this, aren't you? We're a team now. Let's do this properly."
Rogers raises an eyebrow. Then he raises whatever it is he's drinking, something he concocted behind the bar when Tony wasn't paying attention, to his mouth, sips and swallows before answering. "Not really keen on it, Stark." He doesn't even shift expression, and that really annoys Tony.
"What--oh, come on, you're a World War Two vet, how is it you're not already swarming with tattoos?" He isn't. Tony checked, back when Steve was yanking off his shirt to suit up.
"Tried." There's citrus in whatever he's drinking, Tony can smell it. Rogers--Steve, he's going to be Steve from now on, dammit--lets a smile flit over his mouth. It doesn't reach his eyes, and what is it with everyone trying to crap depression over Tony's party? "Guess what other side effects I got from the Super Soldier serum, besides not being able to get drunk? No scars. That includes tattoos. My skin drinks them up within two days, tops."
"Convenient," murmurs Bruce from his nest of pillows on the floor. He's getting covered in dust but he doesn't seem to care.
Romanov--Natasha--mmms, taking her hand away from her eyes at last. "Not the way Steve sees it, I'm guessing."
"You can't get drunk?" Tony stares at Steve. "That's--either the worst thing I've ever heard or the thing I envy most about you. And trust me, I brag a lot but I've got envy issues over you all the same, which I never would have said out loud if I weren't already four scotches to the wind. What is that you're drinking?"
"Only four?" murmurs Natasha (Christ, sometimes he hates that woman) at the same time that Steve extends his glass. "Orange Julius," he pronounces.
"I thought those were a secret recipe," says Bruce. "Oh wait, Stark Tower, right, why do I even open my mouth."
"Your invisible robot butler told me the formula." Steve salutes the air with his glass. "Thanks again, JARVIS. Can't believe these are still around."
"Hey, you don't get to thank my AI for things when you won't even support my tattoo idea. JARVIS, no more super-secret formulas for the Captain. He got one seventy years ago and that should be enough for anyone's lifetime."
"Tony, don't pout. It's not pretty on you," says Natasha.
"Actually, it kind of is," says Steve. The smile is actually reaching his eyes now, the bastard. "I really like getting under your skin like this. Pout away, by all means."
"He's right, Natasha," says Bruce the traitor. "It looks good on him." Bruce has settled on bottled Miller Lite for the whole evening. Tony can't even imagine why he ever thought he liked Bruce, let alone wanted him to move in.
Clint is no less eager to join in the Tony pile-on, of course. "Seriously, Tasha, your bromance radar can't be that glitchy."
Natasha pushes out her lower lip a little. "Oh, fine, flirting, like Stark would ever try that with me, how am I supposed to know what it even looks like?"
Clint lets go of Natasha's feet and digs his fingertips into her kneecap; Natasha actually jumps and squeaks. What do you know, she's got a ticklish spot. Tony files that information away for later. Probably not that much later, either. "Because he knows how you'd react, Tash. You've got to get more secure in your masculinity. Like the rest of us." He finishes it with a wicked leer at Tony--wow, Tony had no idea Barton could even do that, and he's not sure if he likes it or not. Okay, he likes it, he's just not sure if he likes that he likes it.
He swallows, then he's determined he's getting control of this again. "All right, equal opportunity pouting and flirting from this point on, I promise," he says, deciding that graciousness is the high road to take here. Then he ruins it by turning smug: "And I call that's the end of 'Stark'-ing me, Natasha." He isn't going to try the "Tasha" thing any time this end of ever, even if some interdimensional wizard with a fucking magic 8-Ball does a body switch between him and Clint someday. "I heard you slip that 'Tony' in there. No backsies."
"We are battle-brothers now, all of us; the lady included," Thor begins.
"Not sure if I should be pleased or annoyed with that terminology," Natasha murmurs--she really has a habit of murmuring asides right when a guy's starting to work up a good speech. No wonder it's been hard to include her in the equal opportunity flirting. Which was not flirting in the first place, goddammit, but if Tony gets hung up on that now he's going to lose ground.
"Getting comfortable with your masculinity, Tasha, what about this are you not hearing," Clint says, looking like he might go for her kneecap again.
Natasha sees it, too. "I know exactly where to kick you to make you incontinent for a week," she warns, eyes narrowed.
"Love you too, babe," says Clint.
"See, Tony, that's how you flirt with Natasha," says Bruce. "Barton can give you lessons."
"Both fondness and conflict," Thor rumbles, and gets the floor again pretty quick, "are natural outgrowings of our state as battle-brothers." He sounds all grave and Asgardian and all that but not maudlin any more. Good. "It would stand to reason that Tony Stark shows his affections with one side of his tongue even as he jabs at us with the other."
"Okay, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with affection metaphors that involve the word 'tongue'--"
Clint snorts. "Please."
"--but what matters is that Thor's on my side in this tattoo idea, so he's my best friend and the rest of you can just find another treehouse fort to hang around. C'mon, someone else back us up on this. Clint, what do you care about identifying marks, you carry a bow and arrow; nothing's going to be more conspicuous than that. Man up."
"What," says Clint, with the patience of a man who knows he's got the endgame--shit, Tony's going to learn to hate Clint at times, too, isn't he--"do you want me to get a tattoo of?"
It's so not what Tony had been expecting him to say that Tony's speechless for a second. What are they going to get? He honestly hadn't thought that far. "Something...you. Something that says us as a team." He raises his hands in illustration. "What if you got a haw--"
"If you suggest anything," Clint cuts him off, "anything at all that's even remotely avian, I will post the video I took of you with shawarma in your beard on YouTube the next chance I get."
Steve salutes Clint with his stupid fruity orange milkshake. "I don't think I got half of what you said there, but you fight even dirtier than Natasha, Clint. I approve."
Now it's Tony's turn for a snort and an oh, please look. "Like that's the worst video of me that's ever been on the internet."
Clint just gazes back at Tony with those half-lidded eyes of his that give him a deceptively sleepy look, but that Tony knows means sizing up your body mass and deciding where to aim the projectile. "You still," he says, "looked stupid."
"Dinosaur?" says Bruce, looking at Clint.
Clint looks back. "A dinosaur could be cool," he says slowly. "Okay, very remotely avian is okay. If I were doing it. But I don't need any other reasons this week for SHIELD to suspend my ass, thanks all the same."
Clint's recent activities regarding SHIELD is a subject it won't do for any of them to dwell on and turn his party into even more of a downer than it already is. "Fine, then," Tony snaps, bringing the discussion to a halt. "Thor and me. Demigod and Iron Man, that's what we're calling the team now. I don't care if it sounds like a buddy cop show." He gestures. "Grab your cape, Hammerhead, we're getting it done at the first tattoo parlor we walk by, because demigods don't have to worry about hepatitis and I don't even have a working liver anymore. And tomorrow we show them off to the rest of you losers." During this speech he's been walking--okay, there's a little staggering in it, he admits that--towards the elevator. He's at it now, but it's not opening; there isn't even the sound of it engaging or any lights announcing its imminent arrival. He waves his hand at the overhead sensor with a continued lack of results. Oh, great, something else Loki and the Hulk managed to break in his shiny new building. "JARVIS?" he calls.
"What's with the elevator? Can you get it here?"
"I can, sir."
Nothing happens, no noise and no lights. Definitely no door opening. "JARVIS?" Tony says again, after way too long of a moment.
"I can operate it, sir. Unfortunately I may not. This floor has gone into lockdown for the present."
This gets Tony's attention. It gets everyone's attention, from the stirrings Tony hears behind him. "What?"
"I'm afraid so, sir. Upon your orders, if you will recall."
Lockdown? Lockdown only happens if JARVIS encounters a protocol that he--No. "No. Oh, JARVIS, you've got to be shitting me."
"Yes, sir," JARVIS's infinitely patient, shitty, evil voice goes on. "According to your set instructions, if at any time on the premises you speak the words, 'I'm getting a tattoo' or something to the same effect describing your intentions--"
"JARVIS, fuck, no--"
"--or perform an internet search for local tattoo parlor locations--"
"--or any other method of search including but not limited to 411 directory, Yellow Book, or 'phone-a-friend'--"
Tony leans his head against the elevator doors and moans.
"--then Stark Tower is to create a lockdown for a period of not less than eight hours from the time you attempt to leave it."
Oh, he remembers. He's not so drunk he doesn't remember. And he's also not drunk enough to need that kind of fucking babying right now, goddammit. "Override, JARVIS. Override right the hell now."
"Unfortunately, sir, or fortunately, depending on one's perspective, you have instructed that the only person who may countermand this order is Miss Potts."
Yeah, Tony remembers doing that. Even if it hadn't been Pepper's idea, Tony's pissed at her now, too. "How close is Pepper now?"
"Miss Potts' jet is still over the Arctic, sir. Estimated time of arrival is still six hours and forty-seven minutes away. Shall I call her?"
Like that would help. "Hell, no. Look, at least let me go downstairs."
"Your lockdown protocol was very specific, sir."
"I was under coercion when I created that protocol. This is not binding."
"I can obtain legal counsel for you through any communication link you desire, Mr. Stark. But I am afraid I cannot operate the elevator for you for the next seven hours and forty-nine minutes."
"I have a terrace, JARVIS. I will fly myself down."
"That would be inadvisable, sir. Also difficult to do without your suit, all versions of which are included in the lockdown. As per protocol."
"No. Stupid idea. Terrible idea. What if there's an emergency?" he says, but he already remembers that contingency.
JARVIS, smarmy little bastard, tells him anyway. "That particular auto-override would apply, but if you will recall, it does not apply to any emergency that you deliberately create yourself in order to attempt to override the protocol. You were quite specific about that, sir."
Tony moans again. "Cutting me off from my suit, you cheap excuse for an AI. I'm having you replaced with a roomba first thing tomorrow." He straightens, turns. The others are enjoying this so much he's tempted to close the bar on them. See how they like that. "Thor," he says, "you can fly us both down, can't y--"
"NO," comes from at least three people. One of which is Thor.
"Tony, my friend, if you have set safeguards against an impulsive wish for tribal markings, I suspect it is best we leave this for the morning, when all of us are clear-headed."
"I could build a lunar colony with larger amounts of alcohol in my system. I have, I'll show you the blueprints. I am perfectly clear-headed."
"Tony," says Bruce, in a voice that makes Tony stop and really look at him. "How come you haven't asked me?"
Tony looks at him. "No, really," Bruce continues. "You asked the captain and Hawkeye directly even after they said no; you were ready to leave with Thor, but you never asked me. How come?"
The quietness of Bruce's voice. "I--" Tony's startled into honesty, both by the scotch and that tone. "I didn't want to make you if you thought you couldn't handle it. If the other guy would get too mad, I mean."
Bruce blinks, and Tony feels his chest freeze in that slow shuttering of Bruce's eyes. "You thought--you thought I wouldn't--well, fuck you," Bruce says, not even raising his voice, still in that awful, quiet tone, "that's--that's not even anger, that's just pain, why would you--you--after everything you--I thought..."
Tony feels the floor dropping away as if he were actually standing on the elevator after all. "Bruce--"
"No, I mean--forget it, you can just--I mean--I thought you of all people--" Bruce just stops there. Oh, Tony's called this one wrong. Very, very wrong.
Everyone is suddenly very quiet. Not a joke, not a single barb at Tony's expense, nothing. No one seems to know where to look; Clint and Natasha won't even meet each other's eyes, and Thor's looking at his lap, while Steve looks from Tony to Bruce and back to Tony again.
The hurt in Bruce's eyes is bad enough, but the weight of disappointment in Steve's--okay that is it, Tony can't bring himself to keep standing here, and there's no liquid courage in his bar large enough to overcome his need to turn and flee those looks. This floor of Stark Tower has at least four bedroom suites on it where anyone can collapse if the terrace company gets to be too much; Tony realizes that the company isn't, has never been the problem, he's the problem. He staggers out of the room and chooses the one that's furthest away. He doesn't even bother to turn on the light when he gets into it, just lets the edge of the bed take him in the shins with a pain he realizes he deserves, and collapses onto the bed's surface and stays there.
It's not the first time he's chased scotch with guilt, but that doesn't make him any happier.
In the morning, there's no sunlight, only the glowing clock numbers embedded in the wall at the side of the bed, because Tony designed this whole building and he knew that bedrooms on the terrace floor were for inebriated collapsing-into, and that to have windows in them would be the stupidest idea known to man. Well, not stupider than alienating your new best friend because your definition of holding your liquor is only limited to not puking, but still pretty stupid.
So Tony pushes himself up, splashes water on his face in the bathroom and drinks a few slugs of it right from the tap, not even bothering with a glass. He's so dehydrated he doesn't even want a piss on waking, that's how much he'd had last night. Yeah, so, definitely more than four scotches.
Well. He can't stay in here forever. Pepper should be arriving soon, if that clock's right, and it might be nice if he looked less bleary before he faces her. Yeah, he'd gotten through to her after--well, after, before shawarma and after that phone call she'd missed, and after all the over-the-phone oh my God, Tony, oh my God, never ever do that again (which he couldn't promise) and the choked murmurings of things he rather likes remembering, there was also his promise to introduce her to Bruce once her plane landed and she got here. Which it looks like isn't going to happen after all, oh well.
Fuck. He'd really, really liked Bruce. Really likes Bruce. He's not going to let himself think in the past tense. Maybe he can get Bruce's forgiveness by buying him something big and shiny and electric. Like, say, CERN.
He steps into the main room, taking a breath to steel himself--sure, like he'd guessed, all of them are gone, chased off by his idiocy--except, no, not everyone's gone, that's a surprise, actually. The one left is--
--is Bruce, nodding a little where he's seated on the sofa, but snapping to attention as he sees Tony. He's still got concrete dust clinging to his clothes. "Tony," he says, and he's standing up, moving towards him. "I'm sorry. Really, really sorry."
"You stayed," Tony says. It's all he can think of to say.
Bruce looks like he's trying out a grin on his tired face; it looks great. "Not exactly. But the others said they'd kill me if I wasn't here waiting for you when you got up, because then you'd keep stewing in your own guilt, which nobody thinks you completely deserve, because I was wrong, Tony. Really. I'm sorry."
I'm sorry doesn't even make sense yet; why is Bruce apologizing? Tony finds himself fixing on a different point: "The others made you stay?"
"Yeah, they're all still here in the other bedrooms somewhere. Though I think Thor made his way to the kitchen two floors down after he ate everything in your bar fridge."
Tony blinks. "They didn't leave either? Wait--Thor's downstairs, that means the lockdown's over, my suit, I get my suit back, JARVIS, I hate you so much but I forgive you--unless, wait, did Thor fly himself down after all?"
"Actually," Bruce looks sheepish, scratching at his scalp, "we circumvented the lockdown hours ago. Didn't help you, of course, since our logic for JARVIS was that you were asleep and in no danger of leaving. If you'd woken up, though, boom, the place would have gone right back into lockdown."
"The lockdown has expired, sir. You are free to exit the building and pursue any ill-advised self-decoration you desire."
Tony hears, but isn't paying attention. He keeps getting sidetracked in Bruce's explanations; rather than get outraged that the five of them worked around JARVIS like this, he says, "You stayed? All of you could have left earlier, but you stayed?"
"They stayed." Bruce exhales. "I didn't. But I left for one purpose. And I came back after." He tugs at his shirt. "Help me get this off, will you? Hurts like a sonuvabitch."
And Tony is too dumbstruck to help as Bruce unbuttons his shirt and slips his arm out of his left sleeve. There's a square of white gauze taped just below the curve of his shoulder.
"What--no," says Tony. He didn't. "You didn't."
"I'm not supposed to take the bandage off just yet. Look at me, what a rebel," Bruce grins. "Hang on--" he's getting tangled in the dangling sleeve, so he just slips his shirt entirely off and tosses it onto the couch. Then his fingers are on the tape and he's trying not to wince as he peels the top edge of it away, revealing a freshly shaved patch of skin with an angry pink flush, and vivid black lettering just below his deltoid muscle in instantly recognizable Stark Industries drop-shadow font.
Tony stares at the letters, feeling the manic grin creep its way onto his face until his goddamn cheeks hurt. "'Stark's Avengers'?" he says, hearing his voice crawl up like his smile. "Oh, my God, oh my God, you did that just to piss off Fury, didn't you?"
"That may have been one of the reasons, yeah," Bruce says, still holding back the gauze so that Tony can look and look and look.
"There are other reasons to do anything in the world besides to piss off Fury? I do not believe it." Tony can't keep his hands away; he knows he shouldn't touch it, but his fingers brush over Bruce's arm just outside the angry pink skin. Bruce has Tony's name on him, holy fuck.
"Well." Bruce shrugs with that shoulder. Tony watches as the logo shifts with that shrug; it doesn't do anything as fun or obscene as those belly-dancing girl tattoos might, but it's beautiful, just beautiful. The man it's attached to is every bit as beautiful, Christ. His hand wraps around Bruce's forearm just so that he can manage to stay standing. "We all think you're the heart of the team, you know," Bruce says. "You poke at us and poke at us until you've found your way inside, and soon everything you want us to do finally feels like the only way to go."
"I'm the heart? I think you just described the prick."
"That, too, if you want it." Bruce's smile is so gorgeous Tony doesn't think he can stand it. "Either way we don't want to do this without you. Besides, the rest of us throw terrible after-parties." He smooths the tape back into place. "Don't expect the others to be getting these, though. This one was all my idea."
And Tony can't stop himself any more than he can stop his own fucking Krebs cycle; he seizes Bruce's face in his hands and kisses him right on the mouth. He's pretty sure a Tony Stark kiss is no prize right at this moment, between the hangover morning breath and last night's garlic paste and onions on the shawarma, but it's not like he's using tongue, it's just a kiss because he absolutely cannot stop himself, because Bruce, oh, God, Bruce did this for him...
It's a woman's voice, and there is no way in the world it's Natasha's, because the world clearly hates Tony Stark. Aw, fuck.
Pepper hasn't even stepped out of the elevator, she's just standing there with her eyes red and puffy and her face drawn like death and her mouth open, and then she bolts out of the elevator toward him, and Tony nearly puts his hand up to ward her off so that he can start babbling I can explain, but then he's in her arms and wrapping his own arms about her, and they're not kissing because it isn't a moment to kiss, only to hold and hold on and keep holding on as Pepper cries, "Tony--oh, my God, Tony, you can't ever, you can't ever scare me like that ever ever again, what were you thinking, you can't just decide it's okay to just die like that, you can't--oh, my God, you weren't lying, this place really is trashed, is that a crater in the floor, oh, my God, Tony--"
And he hangs on and just says, "Hey. Hey. It's okay. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," over and over until it becomes astoundingly clear that Pepper finding him in the act of kissing Bruce Banner isn't even making the top one hundred list of grievances she has for his behavior, how about that. How about that.
He becomes aware of Bruce stepping back quietly. "No, you don't," Tony says, catching Bruce's arm. Hell if he's going to let Bruce back away now.
Pepper pulls away long enough to get her first good look at Bruce. What comes out of her mouth is part sob and part laugh, but it's the good kind of laugh. "Okay, so, I'm guessing this is your Dr. Banner. You did say on the phone that he spends a lot of time shirtless, but I never expected--"
"Um." Bruce does another one of those trying out a grin smiles; it wavers weirdly on his face but Tony can see it's about dawning on him that he's not actually in trouble with Tony's girlfriend. "Hello, Miss Potts. Sorry about the--" he pauses, and Tony can see him choosing a new subject for apology than what he'd originally planned, "--the shirtless thing."
Pepper wipes her nose with the back of her hand. "No, I like it. Really. Casual is good. When you've got chest hair like that, casual is very good." She sniffles, laughs again. "He's cute, Tony. Are we keeping him?"
And Tony holds onto the most wonderful woman in the world even as his other hand keeps hold of Bruce's arm--Bruce, who's starting to laugh in the same way Pepper is. "Oh, yeah," Tony says, already thinking about the tower redesign, and of five team members who could have left last night but chose to stay, and of Pepper's laugh, and Bruce's wavery smile. "We are definitely keeping him."