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Tony Stark’s Cottage of Comfort for the Emotionally Tone Deaf

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The distinct buzz of the overhead lights alerted Tony that he had once again fallen asleep in his lab. Judging by the ache in his back, his exhausted self had not even had the courtesy to collapse on the comfortable couch purchased for just this situation. It was a great couch, wide enough for two adult men to crash on at the same time. That had factored into its purchase. And also raised the question of why it wasn’t currently so occupied.

“JARVIS, where my bitches at?” He sat up, reluctantly opening his eyes and wincing against the bright surgery theater lights that he had apparently fallen asleep under somehow. “Never tell them I referred to them that way. Strike it from the record. Remind me never to say it again even to myself.”

“As you wish, sir. Dr. Banner is still at the ICAMDATA conference to return tonight, sir. Ms. Potts is still in Malibu checking in with shareholders with an unknown return time.” JARVIS paused. “You have slept exactly four hours in the last forty-eight, sir.”

It occurred to him as he walked straight into the en suite shower clothes and all that when one had two lovers, one should not have to wake up alone. It should be in the contract. Not that they had a contract. Should he look into that? Was that too much like proposing? Probably.

The thing was that Tony was well aware of the terrible things said about people in polyamorous relationships. Like most terrible things said about him and his preferences, Tony paid exactly as much attention as it took to make those people feel like idiots. But. On one account, they had him dead to rights.

It is said that people with two lovers must be greedy.

Tony’s greed was legendary. He could not remember a time when he wasn’t looking for more. Money, power, love, sex, booze and sensation in tsunami sized waves, more and more until he lost sight of the shore. Tony swam bare skinned in depths few submarines were willing to dare.

Maybe that metaphor had gotten away from him. The point, he thought as he scrubbed his skin with vicious efficiency, was that he had long ago accepted his greed. Once or twice or a dozen times, it had nearly killed him. Each time he recalibrated, refocused and moved on like a particularly tenacious virus. So. If he had managed to find a way to satisfy his seemingly endless appetite for affection both physical and emotional with an unconventional relationship than that was great. Better than great.

Unless both of them were ridiculously smart and competent and thus constantly thinking and doing things that had nothing to do with him at all. He’d gotten spoiled having Bruce with him constantly. There was only so much time that could go by without someone noticing that Tony was keeping one of the world’s fore-leading minds trapped in a Tower like fairy tale princess with the occasional demeanor of a fairy tale dragon. And Bruce had been so clearly mind-blowing pleased to be invited back into the scientific community that Tony hadn’t said anything.

And he couldn’t say anything to Pepper since she was doing the job that he was meant to be doing. The job he had blown off in favor of a job that frequently gotten him blown up. It was a special kind of woman who could put up with his ego and self-sacrificing streak simultaneously without losing her sense of humor.

The point. The point was that he should have woken up to at least one gorgeous body pressed against his and instead had found himself alone. In his lab. Which, granted, had once been the norm, but Pepper and Bruce didn’t let him get away with that anymore. Bruce had this whole crazy thing about regular sleep keeping him from turning into a giant rage monster and Pepper kept making dire statements about Tony not being a kid anymore.

Which. Well. Was true. As his back was telling him at volume at the moment. Not that he’d admit that to her because whatever. He had managed far far worse and wasn’t going to let his own spine boss him around. Tossing aside soaking wet clothing, he pulled on the spare set of track pants and Ramones t-shirt he kept tucked up under the sink for chemical emergencies. The tux from the charity benefit last week was still under there too. The blue ooze from the supervillian that had interrupted the party had hardened the dress shirt into a free-form sculpture. Maybe he should take it upstairs or at least put it where someone on the cleaning staff would notice it.

His stomach rumbled.

“JARVIS, what time is it?”

“Four am, sir.”

“Is there anyone in the kitchen?”

“Mr. Rogers is there.”

“Fantastic.” He checked the mini fridge that usually sustained him through bouts of research. It provided only a sad banana and a bottle of water. “Why wasn’t this stocked?”

“Restocking occurs on Tuesday. You irradiated everything on Wednesday and disposed of it so you wouldn’t consume it accidentally.”

“What’s today?”

“Friday, sir.”

“Goddamnit.” Tony ran a hand through his hair. He could theoretically ignore his bodily demands. But the project that had consumed so much of his attention was essentially done. He’d proven that the Quinjet upgrade was viable and sent off the plans to SHIELD. Maybe he could fuss over some of the details, but that wouldn’t be enough to distract him. The other things on his docket weren’t nearly as interesting or challenging.

JARVIS pointedly opened the door.


“I think you will find that your blood sugar levels are alarming low, sir.”

“Bruce hacked you, didn’t he?”

“I am unhackable.” JARVIS insisted with the kind of arrogance that only something Tony had created could manage. “He and Ms. Potts left me with specific instructions that are in line with my original programming.”

“I know I didn’t program you to nag.” Tony started to take the stairs two at a time, then had to pause while the world spun around him. “Not a word.”

“As you wish, sir.”

Steve was indeed in the kitchen when Tony shuffled in. It looked like he had been to bed at some point. Usually even Steve’s pajama pants held a crisply ironed crease, but now they were rumpled in the way only tossing and turning could provide. He was slumped a little, sketchpad blank in front of him, pencil limp in his hand.

“Hey.” Tony said softly because conversation this early in the morning seemed to call for reverent quiet. Or at least hangover protocols.

“Hi.” Steve didn’t start. Had probably heard him coming from a half mile away. It was impossible to sneak up on anyone in the Tower. Not that Tony had tried. Natasha’s right hook could give a man a concussion.

“I was going to make some coffee, want some?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

Tony brewed it strong, watching the pot with bleary-eyed expectation. He poured two mugs, putting the unreasonable amount of milk and sugar Steve liked into one. Tony was convinced that Steve didn’t actually like coffee. He doctored it beyond recognition and certainly didn’t benefit from the caffeine. It must have been something about the warmth or smell. Tony handed him his mug and sure enough Steve wrapped his hands around it, inhaling the steam without taking a sip.

“You ok?” Tony asked when it became clear that Steve was absolutely not ok and no one else was going to magically appear to ask him.

“No.” Steve set the mug down. “No, I don’t think so.”

“Anything I can help with?” Tony dropped into the seat next to him. “I’m told that I’m not great at the listening thing. But I’m pretty tired. I can probably fake it for a bit.”

“Thanks.” Steve laughed rustily. “That’s reassuring.”

“No problem. That’s what friends are for.”

Steve raised an eyebrow at him.

“Hey.” Tony narrowed his eyes. “Don’t even.”

“You don’t even like me.”

“Ok, one, that’s not true. Second, I let you live in my house, drink my coffee and try to woo my girlfriend with your ridiculous abs, manners and artistic temperament. Not the actions of profound hatred.”

“I’m not wooing anyone!

“Third,” Tony went on, “you don’t make it easy to like you.”

“Neither do you.”

“Well, yeah. Being liked isn’t really on my priority list.”

They sat in silence for another minute while Tony considered his exit options. He still hadn’t gotten food, but the coffee had helped some. Maybe he could get to the bedroom. Bruce sometimes left tiny bags of homemade trailmix in the bedside table. He could probably live off them for the rest of the day until Bruce came home and made something ridiculously good out of orange peels and yogurt.

“It’s a year exactly since I woke up.” Steve finally said.


“It’s been a year and I still can’t quite accept that it’s all gone. I’m walking around the city and I’ll see a building or a face and I recognize it. Just for a second. Then....” He spread his fingers apart. “Poof. Gone.”

Tony reached into his pocket, hand closing around his cellphone. By feel he tapped a message to Pepper:

Steve getting weepy on me. SOS.

“That sucks.” He said for lack of anything better.

“It does.” Steve took a single sip of coffee before pushing it away. “I don’t want to complain. I’m lucky to be alive at all.”

Tony’s phone vibrated and he glanced at the screen surreptitiously while Steve stared moodily into space.

Just listen to him. Offer a hug. Be Nice.

“You know. It’s ok to feel lucky and angry at the same time.” Tony said, surprising himself a little with that one. He thought it over then decided he agreed with himself. “I mean. Yeah. You’re lucky to be alive. Great. You had to give up everything and everyone you cared about. That’s giant elephant ball levels of fuckery.”

“Fuckery.” Steve repeated and Tony winced a little. He knew that he wasn’t actually teaching Captain America how to swear. The man had been a soldier. But still. He was sure there would be consequences on that one.

“Fuckery.” He said again anyway because whatever. In for a penny. “The world is a fucked up mudball with a couple of monkeys clinging desperately to the surface looking for meaning and sex all the time. And that’s horrible, but it’s also pretty amazing when you think about it. So. Lucky and angry at the same time.”

“Is that life according to Tony Stark?”

“I’ve got two gorgeous lovers, all the money in the world and three perfect beachfront houses miles away from another living soul. I could be having acrobatic mind blowing sex by the ocean right now. Instead, it’s 3am and I’m having coffee with a roommate who thinks I hate him.”

“I don’t think you hate me.” Steve sighed. “I’m sorry I said that.”

“You’re a good guy.” Tony allowed. “I may have misjudged you. Maybe. Or maybe it’s your costume. You seem decent in plainsclothes. Maybe your costume has some kind of American Asshole side effect. “

“It’s called being a leader.” Steve said, a little exasperated.

“You’re bossy.” Tony grinned. “It’s cool. It works out. Just you know. I think I like Steve more than Captain America.”

“That is horrible thing to say. You’ll give me an identity crisis.” Steve sing-songed as if repeating some oft heard phrase. “Think of my delicate psyche.”

“Fury been getting your head shrunk on the regular?”

“Every Tuesday until they’re sure I’m not going to suicide.”

“Was that in question?”

Because Tony could understand Bruce and his flirtation with firearms. Bruce was a fundamentally decent person confronted with the worst kind of indecent truth about himself. Integrating that kind of thing could choke the best adjusted people. But Steve...there was nothing of that in Steve. Steve wasn’t good the way Bruce was good or Pepper was good. They were good because they were flawed people who worked hard to make sure their flaws hurt no one but themselves. Steve was good because he believed in the concepts most people gave up on around the same time they stopped believing in Santa Claus. Truth, Justice and the American Way wasn’t a cliche to Steve, it was a religion. Which... maybe that wasn’t here or there. Tony just couldn’t picture Steve confronting despair of any magnitude and concluding that that was the end for him. He was a survivor in a way Bruce just wasn’t. Tony filed that away for later. Maybe he and Pepper should sit down with Bruce and talk about it. Or Pepper could talk and Tony could nod seriously and crack jokes when it got too much. Though Bruce seemed happy enough now so maybe they could skip those kumbayayas in favor of the number of a good, discreet therapist and a series of life affirming blowjobs.

“No. Not really.” Steve said, confirming Tony’s rambling thoughts. “I wasn’t happy. The world is so...cynical now. It wasn’t like anything was better or easier when I was kid. People could be cynical and horrible to each other. I think that’s always true. But there is a feeling now that it’s a crime to take joy in things. You have to make jokes or shove it away or appreciate it ironically.”

“That’s just hipsters.”

“It’s everyone. It’s this fundamental shift in how people see things. I can’t put my finger on it. I don’t know. But it made it worse. Adjusting. And then everything happened and I haven’t had time to think about it in a while.” Steve shrugged. “Volunteering helps, keeps me busy. Pepper set that up for me.”

“She’s good at that.” He agreed because Tony was always happy to talk up Pepper and Bruce’s better qualities. Reflected glory was still glory.

“I met nice people. It got me out more. I don’t know. It’s better. Maybe it’ll keep getting better. Sometimes I just lose sight of that.” Reaching for the coffee again, Steve took a sip. Stalling for time, Tony realized. “Living here....I never did say thank you.”

“Don’t bother.” Tony shrugged.

“No, I should have. You gave up your privacy so that we could work together better as a team.”

“It was really much more selfish than that.”

“Five strangers invading your home is selfish?”

“This isn’t my home. It was my father’s house. Then it was an experiment. Now it’s the nuttiest dorm since Animal House.” Tony finished his coffee and his stomach cramped irritably. “There isn’t any chance at all that you know how to cook is there?”

“I can heat up a can of beans pretty well.”

Tony got up an surveyed the fridge. There were several neat stacks of take out in various stages of freshness.

“How do you feel about cold pizza for breakfast?”

“I’m for it.”

“Let’s take it into the living room, put on a movie and stop talking about anything meaningful. Good?”


They adjourned to the living room. Tony set the pizza box on the coffeetable and looked at Steve as he picked through the movies. The tense line of his shoulders was still clear beneath the white undershirt. Tony sighed, centered himself and decided to take it like a man.

“On a scale to 1 to 10, how freaked out would you be if I offered to hug you right now?”

“6.” Steve said without turning around. “But don’t let that stop you.”

“Ok. You want a hug?”

“Yeah.” Steve turned around, deliberately not looking at Tony. “Yeah, that’d be good.”

It was awkward as hell. Steve was taller and broader and probably fighting the same urge as Tony was to slap each other the back to make it more manly. Tony blamed Bruce with his own new ability to hug sincerely.

He had never been a hugger until Bruce came around. Sure Pepper would snuggle and that was great, but out of bed hugging wasn’t on the radar. Pepper discouraged PDA outside the privacy of home and preferred kissing or hand holding for physical reassurance. Tony had gotten good at discreet gropes and quick kisses that left them both steadier. He had figured that out and felt good about it.

Then along came Bruce. There was something about Bruce that encouraged hugs. Pepper during the day was glossy and sharp around the edges, inviting the kind of teasing that would muss and frustrate. Bruce always looked soft with his broken in clothes, tousled curls and deep brown eyes. An adult teddy bear with a warm smile and brilliant mind. Sometimes Tony found himself reeling the man in for a prolonged embrace simply because he was in reach. Bruce for his part seemed to enjoy it, going boneless against Tony, breathing slowing. There were studies about hugs and serotonin, Tony knew. Maybe he should read them. Because Steve, huge hard-bodied no-nonsense Steve, was going a little more pliable and relaxed in his arms. A long quiet sigh escaped them both, emptying a little of the tension from the room.

“Thanks.” Steve said when the hug had gone on just long enough to get a little creepy. He backed away in stages.

“Yeah. No problem.”

“I’d also like one.” Natasha said quietly.

“Holy fucking shit!” Tony turned on a dime, then whirled back on Steve. “Tell me you didn’t hear her coming. Because that could get weird quick.”

“I didn’t.” Steve was wide-eyed and blushing furiously.

“I didn’t want to interrupt.” Natasha smiled faintly.

“Do you really want a hug?” Steve asked and Tony applauded him for remembering that in favor of not freaking the fuck out.

“Yes.” She held herself rigid, less huggable in yoga pants and tank top than Pepper on her frostiest, Prada wearing day.

Steve went for it and Tony mentally awarded him Avenger’s Biggest Balls for the day. It looked a little unpleasant from the outside. Natasha stayed stiff and still the whole time as if even in a vulnerable moment she couldn't quite let herself commit to being seen less than ready for combat.

“Bad dream?” Steve asked releasing her far faster than he had Tony. Which was. Know what? Tony wasn’t going to analyze that one.

“Yes.” She settled into the corner of the couch, not so much curling up as folding herself into a smaller space. Tony could easily imagine her in the same position in an air duct.

“Right.” Steve glanced at Tony, who offered a wide-eyed ‘Don’t ASK’ look in return. “Pizza and a movie?”

“Cold pizza at four am?” She asked with faint disapproval even as she opened the box and removed a slice.

“Don’t knock it until you try it.”

They wound up watching QVC in lieu of an argument over movies or any channel that might accidentally show them breaking news of an international incident that would mean getting up and getting dressed. The earnest late night saleswoman was hocking an obscene amount of tupperware and a vegetable slicer that looked improbably effective.

“Blades don’t work that way.” Natasha tsked at one point, pulling a dagger from her yoga pants. Tony deliberately did not try to figure out where it had come from. Sometimes, the mystery was better than the solution. “Look.”

She diced up the remaining of slice of pizza into cubes, stacking them. It probably proved her point because Steve was nodding earnestly.

“I could have eaten that.” Clint crossed into the living room, slumping down next to Natasha in a messy pile of limbs that was probably a complete lie. Tony has seen him gone from dead sleep to fighting fury in seconds too many times to count. The boxers made up for the lying body language though.

“Are those Cupid themed?” He asked mildly.

“There is a single Cupid. One does not a theme make.” Natasha ate a single pizza square. “Also, I bought them for him.”

“Does that mean I can’t laugh or that I can laugh harder?”

“What is she doing to that onion?” Steve asked in a pained tone that drew all their attention to the television.

There was a moment of silence for the departed mangled vegetable.

The sunrise found them all in various states of dozing while a cheery young man showed off the incredible power of a chicken roaster. Tony kept nodding off and dreaming of the Hulk slowly cooking Loki. After the barbeque sauce came out, he made an executive decision to take a power nap in his actual bed.

“The couch is rated for three.” He told the rest of them. Steve made a general floppy handed wave while Natasha watched him with disturbing intensity for someone about to drool on a Cupid clad thigh. “But Steve might count as a one and a half.”

No one stopped him from leaving, but he was fairly sure it was because they’d all fallen back asleep. Tony took the stairs two at time to minimize the time of cold marble under his feet. Had someone been playing with JARVIS’ thermostat settings? It was supposed to be a steady seventy-five everywhere in the mansion except private rooms. Natasha’s was a notorious freezer box, but Tony was beginning to think she just did that to keep everyone out and not because she was ‘homesick’ like she said.

“Oh, fucking hell, hello bed.” He flopped face first down into the mattress. “I missed you. JARVIS, wake me in forty-five, ok?”

“Yes, sir.”

He pulled a blanket over his head and waited for the buzzing bastard of insomnia to chase him back out again.

Someone was kissing him. He took a deep sniff and caught sweat, cardamom tea and cheap shampoo. Bruce. His arms went up automatically, tumbling the warm body down.

“Hey.” Bruce said into his lips, laughing.

“Hi. You’re not supposed to be back until tonight.”

“It is tonight.” Bruce wiggling until he was settled exactly where he was supposed to be, half-covering Tony’s right side, one arm slung casually over his waist. Slotted in like a jigsaw puzzle piece.

“JARVIS. Forty-five, I said.”

“You did not specify a unit of time, sir.” JARVIS smugged.

“Please stop hacking him. It hurts me deeply when you scramble my A.I.’s brains and turn him against me.”

“That one you did all on your own.” Bruce kissed his neck apologetically anyway. Nice.

“How was the conference?”

“Uh. Conference-y. Lot of handshaking and interesting discussions.”

“Don’t get too excited, you’ll explode.”

“It was weird. People who used to know me were there and they kept dancing up and away like I might Hulk out while eating shrimp cocktails. Next year you have to come with me.” Bruce admitted in a blur. “It’s all great, fascinating, fun even and I needed about eight more filters than I have to deal.”

“I can do that.” Tony grinned up at the ceiling. “I mean, I might have to move some things around, but I’m reasonably sure I can book stuff a year in advance without conflicts.”



“You know you could have just come with me this time, right?”

“I had the Quinjet upgrade to finish off.” Tony ad libbed, mind racing. Had Bruce invited him? He was sure he would have remembered if he had.

“I know, but...I dunno. You can always come with me.”

That was new. Bruce constantly gave off the very distinct impression that he wanted to be free to disappear at any moment. Sometimes Tony wanted to hold him down and make him promise to stay. Because once there had been a very specific Tony and Pepper shape and it had been a good shape. That shape worked. Then Bruce had been drawn in and changed that shape, moved it, pushed out the sides. Tony wasn’t sure that they could go back to that first, smaller shape if Bruce left. They were bigger because of him.

“I like conferences.” He said instead of ‘I will be there every second of every day that I’m not distracted by the end of the world, the next project or Pepper.’ “Think they’d let me present?”

“I think someone might give up a limb for it. They like quirky.”

“I am not quirky.”

“I missed you.”

“I had pizza for breakfast.” Tony said mournfully, burying his face into Bruce’s hair.

“So you missed my ability to scramble an egg?”

“Bruce. Stop fishing for compliments. Did Clint teach you how to do that? He’s such a bad influence.”

“I learned it from you, Dad.” Bruce said in a mock tearful voice.

“Oh, good. I got home in time for the evening show of Incest Fantasy Banter.” Pepper pushed the door open and shut it firmly behind her as if that would ward off all the things life liked to throw at them in quiet moments.

“Pepper!” Tony cried joyfully, flinging his unhindered arm wide. “Bruce is making dinner.”

“Tony missed us.” Bruce interpreted.

“All of him or just his stomach?”

She does slither into bed, somehow discarding her shoes, stockings and dress. Her head landed firmly on Tony’s other shoulder and he spared a minute to just appreciate the return to rightness in the universe.

“How’d the meeting go?” He asked when it was clear Pepper might bite him in the unfun way if he didn’t.

“The good news is that no one is getting sued. The bad news is their product isn’t worth what they want for it. You’ve already surpassed what they can do with touch surfaces. There’s just no way to make them compact and affordable enough for personal use. I did, however, win a new P.A. out of it.”

“What happened to your last one? Did you lose her in the basement levels?”

“She had a baby. You signed the Congratulations card.”

“Right.” He agreed because it was easier.

“It’s a boy.” Bruce provided.


“The new P.A. is named George and you will not try to scare him off. He’s smart, discreet and doesn’t complain about going through stacks of hate mail.”

“Thought SHIELD was going through my hate mail now.” Tony rubbed a hand idly down her back, the graceful bend of her spine as familiar to him as the curve of her breasts against his side and equally worthy of appreciation.

“They are. But as it turns out plenty of people hate Stark Industries and me without any help from you at all.”

“You have your own hate mail?” He kissed her forehead. “Congratulations Ms. Potts! You’re officially famous.”

“Shut up, Tony. How was the conference, Bruce?”

“It was alright.”

“He wants me to go with him next year.” Tony couldn’t help, but interject. He’d never accepted ‘shut up’ as a viable command. Certainly not one he could follow with any accuracy.

“That’s nice.” Pepper said dismissively, but her hand pressed on his chest in silent acknowledgement of what that might mean. “Did you meet anyone interesting?”

“Oh well...” Bruce lit up a little and started rattling on about some professor searching for Higgs-Boson particles. Tony followed most of it, guessed that Pepper got ten percent less than that, but they were both too pleased with Bruce’s admittance of being around a year from now. He could tell from the type of soft noises Pepper was making that she was listening about as closely as Tony.

“So I’ll have to co-write that paper with him to get there, but it should work out.” Bruce paused, looked at both their faces and let out a soft puff of air. Not quite annoyed or affectionate. Just. Acknowledging.

“Did you help Steve?” Pepper asked, steering them away from deeper waters.

“I listened. I hugged. If he was not helped by that, I can’t be held accountable.”

“You hugged Steve?” Bruce asked, nose wrinkling. “He let you hug him?”

“I was just as surprised as you. It was ok. I’d give it a five out of ten. More interestingly, he hugged Natasha.”

“Why?” Pepper was suddenly all focused interest.

“I refuse to part with gossip unless I get laid and/or fed. Preferably and. Though not at the same time.”

“I missed dinner.” Pepper admitted and they turned the united force of pathetic looks on Bruce.

“Seriously? I’m just as jet lagged.” But he was on his feet and muttering something about polenta only a few minutes later.

Cold pizza had always been kind to Tony. It was there after late nights and there to go well with beer or whiskey. But they were going to have to break up. Because cold pizza had nothing on the meal it took Bruce twenty minutes to make and woke up taste buds Tony thought he had systematically murdered with coffee and cocaine years and years ago.

“This.” Tony waved a forkful at Bruce. “You’re ruining me for my favorite foods.”

“That is called a tomato. Commonly found in salads, sauce and other healthy meals.” Bruce said placidly.

“Spill.” Pepper said after politely and chewing and swallowing. Her plate was already half clean which should have been impossible unless she'd learned to unhinge her jaw like a snake.

“She had a nightmare. She saw Steve and I hug and asked for one. Steve provided. Earning the Cojones of the Week medal, I think.”

“I’ve hugged Natasha.” Bruce offered. “I’d give it a four. It would have been a five, but I could feel she was armed. Doesn’t convey the right level of trust.”

“Did she say what she dreamed about?” Pepper asked.

“Wasn’t going to pry. You know. Because she appreciates those kinds of questions so much and I have this weird fondness for my kidneys.”

Bruce broke off a piece of bread from a loaf Tony was half-convinced Bruce had willed into existence because it hadn’t been anywhere when he was looking for something to eat earlier. Pepper said something that might have been compassionate or witty. Tony missed it in favor of making a decision that actually entirely bypasses his conscious mind.

“I think we should have a contract.” He said as calmly as if his mouth hadn’t just taken a skydive without his brain’s permission.

“A contract?” Pepper lifted an eyebrow.

“Well. Something. Agreement between three people that's legally binding.” Because he’d started the thought and that was the finish of it. He was full, well-rested and sober. As sound of mind and body as it was capable for him to be. And he’d just said that. Maybe mind control? He cast about for some way to salvage the situation. “Or we could go on vacation. I think maybe I need a vacation. The Vence house could probably use an airing out.”

Pepper and Bruce stared at him as if he has just announced he was going to shave himself bald, renounce all his earthly possession and become celibate.

“What? The French Riviera is nice this time of year.”

“We’re never leaving you alone again.” Pepper decided and Bruce nodded fervently. “You cannot be trusted with yourself.”

“That’s patently untrue and unfair.”

“Then why are we getting a very special episode of Tony’s Abandonment Issues?” She asked and that hit a little below the belt, but he could take it. He’d dished out worse to her, possibly in the last few weeks.

“Because I was talking to Steve about being lucky and angry at the same time. And how really, now, I tend to go more with lucky. I think I want to ride that wave until it drags me under.” He shrugged. “I never wanted to get married, but I think I could do this.”

“We are doing this.” Bruce leaned forward, glasses long gone leaving the dark promise of his eyes exposed and inviting. “We’re going to keep doing it unless something drastic happens. We’re here.”

“Yeah,” Tony agreed, voice suddenly rough and out of control in a way that was not at all acceptable. “Yeah. I see you there.”

“Get up.” Pepper insisted.


“Hug.” She said firmly.

Tony stood.

It was a ten out of ten hug: threeway, full of elbows, and sweaty skin and misaimed kisses that glanced off his jaw and forehead. It was what he wanted when he woke up this morning, what he wanted to climb into bed with every night.

The truth was that Tony Stark was a greedy man. He wanted this for as long as he could have it plus a lifetime more. Right now though, he could refocus, redirect and settle for Bruce’s arm around his waist and Pepper tucked under his chin.