Chapter 1: King of Corruption
“Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark, please, I’m Christine Everhart from Vanity Fair. I just need five minutes.”
Tony paused, his back to the voice, ready to duck inside the limo to escape the crowd outside the conference hall. But still, it was a pretty sexy voice.
“What do we got?” Tony asked quietly.
“A good seven, sir,” Happy said, expressionless.
Tony turned around and smiled at the leggy blonde. “Sure, I got five. Fire away.”
“Do you like your name, ‘Toymaker?’”
Tony smiled back at the chirpy Christine’s question. To answer questions like that, from a woman who was bold enough to approach him coming out of an adult entertainment conference, was always worth a smile. Even for reporters fishing for a scoop when he was just about to leave.
“I’m always fond of nicknames. That one’s pretty cute, actually.”
“And what about your other nickname, the ‘King of Corruption?’” Christine said, dropping her megawatt smile for a more serious reporter’s tone.
Happy almost smiled when he saw Tony’s back tense. The poor woman had no idea of the button she’d just pushed.
“Corruption? Lady, my father spent his life making guns and bombs so people could kill each other more efficiently. He worked on the Manhattan project helping make one of the most devastating weapons on the face of the Earth. And that’s not what I want to leave behind, that’s not what I want for my legacy. If I’d followed in my father’s footsteps, I wouldn’t just have some conservative groups picketing my building, I’d have blood on my hands, hundreds or thousands of widows and orphans left behind by what I’d made, groups who’d put a price on my head, and people probably calling me the ‘Merchant of Death.’ I don’t want that. I never wanted that. I’d rather give people orgasms than bullet wounds.” Tony turned and flashed his trademark smile at the crowd a little distance behind her. “Make love, not war!”
The crowd went berserk at Tony’s slogan, and Christine Everhart rolled her eyes.
“You don’t feel you’re squandering your genius? The programs used for your… Long Distance Lover machines could have countless applications for communications systems or targeting programs, not to mention the energy potential in your patented power source.”
“Always annoying when you’re right on the cusp of something amazing and the batteries give out, eh? Oh no, I’m sure anyone in the armed forces would be too embarrassed to power so much as a coffee maker with the same thing that runs the Lothario 5000-series pistoning dildos.”
“I think you underestimate the capacity for folks in the military to use whatever they have to do get their jobs done.”
“Oh no, I never underestimate them in that capacity,” Tony said blandly, letting a little more steel creep into his voice. Ms. Everhart abruptly changed her tactics, trying to shock him.
“Is there any truth to the rumors you model some of your products on your own genitals?” she asked.
“The Naked Lust line, yup, they’re direct made from direct casts of my cock, sized up or down according to people’s preferences,” he said without shame. That rocked her for a second, and he leaned forward to press his advantage. “Want to come by the house and see which one measures up to the real deal?”
She gaped at him, momentarily lost for words, and Tony turned away.
“Actually, I’m busy tonight, but I’ll give you the next best thing. Happy, give Ms. Everhart here one of me, would you?”
Tony ducked into the comfort of his limo as Happy pressed a cheerfully lewd box into her hands that proudly proclaimed it was the Star model of the Naked Lust dildo family. The expression on her face as Happy drove away was more than worth that whole confrontation.
“Welcome home, sir.”
“I’ve had a rough night, buddy.” Tony rolled his neck a little to loosen the tightness in his shoulders and began to strip.
“Would you care for it rough then, sir?” JARVIS asked diffidently. “Ms. Everhart was rather insistent.”
“Made YouTube, did we?”
JARVIS flicked open a file on a nearby screen, showing someone’s slightly-shaky recording of Tony’s speech from their phone.
“Brilliant,” Tony said flatly. “And no, not rough. I just need to clear my head.”
“As you will, sir.”
Tony tossed the last of his clothes in the corner and bent over the workbench, nipples peaking from the cool surface. He reached behind himself and slowly worked the bright red butt plug out of his ass (the self-lubricating Iron Rod, one of his best sellers), and tossed it into the sterilizer before bracing himself.
“Care for a view, sir?”
“Always,” Tony said, and smiled a bit as JARVIS activated the camera on his own, personal Long Distance Lover. It was the crown jewel of StarkNaked Industries’ products, a mobile fucking machine with a camera and remote controls, so loving spouses and significant others could give their loved ones some fun even when out of town. Though the statistical analysis was still not certain, Tony anecdotally heard that divorce rates had dropped once the LDL had hit the market. Expensive? Very. But worth every penny to the right buyers.
On the screen, Tony could see his own ass, his hole gaping prettily, slick and ready to be penetrated. Targeting lines appeared, gauging his position and angle, relating that to programmed information about Tony’s body. He’d put a hell of a lot of safety features into these machines to make sure that they couldn’t hurt anyone, and the results, if he said so himself, had been pretty spectacular. Calculations done, his LDL scooted closer and held its attachment in front of the camera for his approval.
The Adonis 7, not too long, a nice curve right were Tony liked it, with decent girth and a smooth texture. Just right for how he wanted it tonight.
“That’s good. Fuck me, baby,” Tony said, wiggling slightly, not letting himself get outside the target zone. He licked his lips as the LDL moved into position and extended its arm carefully, sliding the Adonis just inside him. Tony felt himself stretch around the toy easily, and heat began to curl in his belly. “Come on, do me!” he said more sharply. The LDL thrust harder, and Tony sighed in relief as the dildo slid along his prostate just right. Sighing and moaning as the thrusts picked up smoothly, Tony gripped the edge of the table and went along for the ride, now hard and aching for release.
“More, sir?” JARVIS asked diffidently.
“Just get me off!” Tony snapped, and nearly bit his own tongue when the LDL slowed, changed its angle enough to make Tony gasp, and speeded up for the last few thrusts he needed to come. “Oh fuck…” Tony said, blinking lazily as his post-orgasm haze washed over him, leaving him energized and relaxed in its wake. It hadn’t exactly been a mind-blowing orgasm, but he didn’t need that every time. Sometimes he just needed this – a quick, happy moment of physical release and pleasure after a long day without having to coordinate with someone else. Just because the LDL could have a remote operator didn’t mean Tony hadn’t had voice controls (and JARVIS) in his since forever. There were many satisfied customers that proved what worked for Tony Stark also worked for them. And worked them over.
Tony grinned at the thought and went to find his pants.
There were plenty of people who’d lambast him for being even more of a degenerate pervert than they already accused him of being if they found out he was using an AI-driven LDL on himself on a regular basis. Tony didn’t particularly give a flying flip. What kind of inventor would he be if he didn’t like what he was building? And how was he to know if he liked it unless he tried it? Besides, JARVIS could get him off fast and easy, didn’t try to get favors or money afterward, and didn’t leave any mess for Pepper to have to clear out in the morning. Maybe there was someone out there that could see past the Toymaker, but Tony hadn’t met him or her yet. Until then…
“JARVIS, excellent, as always.”
“I live to please, sir.”
“Dummy, you know the drill by now, I shouldn’t have to tell you. And don’t put the Adonis back in the rack next to the Hungwell models – that’s too big of a surprise when I’m in a hurry,” Tony said as he buckled his belt. Dummy extended his arm with a rag to wipe up Tony’s spending, and would, unless he managed to glitch again, get the LDL attachments clean.
Tony turned his attention to the tall, locked metal cases on the far wall.
“JARVIS, how’s the new Ed Karst article being received?” he asked as he put his palm on the biometric lock.
“Very well, sir. There is considerable attention being paid to your arc reactor theory. Most are of the opinion that the current type cannot be made smaller, but there is a small but vocal group that insists your theory is purest genius and will be an invaluable contribution to the global energy crisis.”
“Good thing it’s not actually a theory, then,” Tony said, swinging the door to the case open. Inside was what most would assume was the latest and greatest development in StarkNaked Industries’ personal pleasure toys. A more human variation on the Long Distance Lover, perhaps, or even an aid for those with physical disabilities to gain some flexibility in the bedroom. Certainly anyone who’d read Ed Karst’s articles on mechanized prostheses might recognize some of the tech. The cool white light of a miniature arc reactor illuminated the bright red paint and yellow gold-titanium alloy of the human-shaped armor, and the stern, plain faceplate looked oddly uncompromising for something made by the King of Sex Toys.
“The other articles about the repulsors and flight stabilization potential of same are still being hotly debated, but generally their merit is more easily being accepted. The power cycle is, of course, being heralded as impossible, and hence the entire idea considered mostly of academic interest. Only one scientist has admitted to seeing a connection between the arc reactor articles and the repulsor ones. He has, of course, been laughed out of the community.”
“And who is that brilliant mind?” Tony asked.
“Dr. Bruce Banner.”
“Who hasn’t been seen in three years since that lab accident, so someone is probably trolling under his name. Awesome. No one believes me, even if they believe the tech is solid.” Tony stepped back and looked the armor up and down. And suddenly grinned. “Excellent.”
Ed Karst was his serious scientific pseudonym, and not a particularly creative one at that. But there was no one, no one willing to believe that Anthony Edward Stark could possibly have anything on his mind other than the newest way to titillate someone. And Tony kind of liked it that way. It went against the grain to be ignored, but in this case flying under the radar was for the best. He didn’t want anyone to know about this.
“This” being a suit of mechanized armor with some of that genius technology Ms. Everhart had accused him of squandering on the sex toy industry built into it. “This” was what Tony had spent the last six months making, pouring all of his blood, sweat, and tears into. “This” was going to do the thing he’d wanted to do since his old man had dropped dead of a heart attack when he was twenty-one. He was going to clean up his family name. Mom, bless her, probably would have been the peacemaker between father and son if she hadn’t died in a car accident when Tony started at MIT at fourteen. But there hadn’t been anyone willing to listen to a kid, not even a genius kid, when he said he wanted to do something other than make things that killed people.
It had taken Tony bringing the first Adonis models to market with his trust fund that had at least gotten his dad’s attention, if not in a positive way, and get his point across. Tony hadn’t looked back since.
Until now. There were too many old stockpiles of Stark weapons out there, a lot of them stolen or sold to people who wouldn’t just use them, they’d revel in their destructive power. They’d be making a whole lot of war.
And Tony just didn’t do war.
He slammed the case shut and turned as Pepper walked through the doorway to his workshop. Dummy wandered by just then, clutching the newly-cleaned Adonis 7 on his way to the dildo rack. She didn’t even blink.
“Potts, you lucky lady, I have a new thing that I just know you’d love-.”
“Of course you do,” she said smoothly, and held out some paperwork and a pen. “Here, here, and bottom of the page. So-Real entertainment wants to use your entire Tantric set in their latest movie, so give that a thought, ok?”
“Are you sure they have actors flexible enough to use them safely?” Tony asked.
“He’s hired some people with acrobat backgrounds, so I’d say yes.”
“You’ve got to try my products someday, Pepper. Really. You’re the only opinion I trust,” Tony said, lazily signing where she’d asked while trying to look wounded.
“I’ll try them when I need them, Mr. Stark,” she said with fondness. It was the same response she’d given the other five hundred times he’d asked her a similar question, but Tony kept asking. It was a game between them now.
“You are a rare woman,” Tony said. “Truly.”
“And you have an appointment tomorrow at nine with an Agent Coulson from the…” Pepper looked down at her dayplanner, ignoring Dummy as he rolled by with a semen-soaked rag. “Strategic Homeland Intervention and Enforcement Logistics Division. Something about one of your father’s old projects.”
“So, I think I’m going to be busy at nine-,” Tony began, rapidly backpedaling, but Pepper was relentless.
“I will handcuff you to the workbench and let JARVIS have his wicked way with you before you duck out on this, Tony. Agent Coulson’s been trying to get an appointment for weeks, and went through the full gauntlet of shame you force on all your uninvited guests. He passed, so he earned his meeting. Tomorrow. 9 a.m. JARVIS, don’t let him forget.”
“I won’t,” JARVIS said. “As much as I would enjoy having my wicked way with Master Stark-.”
“You have your ‘wicked way’ with me, you big softy, every damn night!” Tony protested.
“-I will be certain he is present for the meeting.”
“And handcuffs? That’s your thing, Potts? If you’d said that, I’d have put some more research into our bondage R&D,” Tony said, raising an eyebrow.
Pepper just smiled enigmatically and strolled out again.
“Mr. Stark, a pleasure to meet you.”
Agent Coulson was a Man in Black, from his government-regulated haircut to his neatly polished shoes. That did not bode well for his chances of leaving Tony’s workshop without some level of lethal embarrassment.
“The pleasure is all mine. Literally. I patent pleasure, like three hundred different types of it at the last count. So, why are you here?” Tony asked. He had his arms up to the elbows in his LDL, adding a new lube line and upgrading the warmer. He deliberately had a fine selection of his products on the workbench for attachment purposes, just to see what the agent would do. To the man’s credit, he didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“I’m here with two purposes. One, I have an invitation from my director for Ed Karst. He’s a big fan of your articles. The work in there is unparalleled. We’d like you to work for us.”
Tony clutched the lube line a little hard and squirted himself in the face. Cursing softly he pulled his hands out and wiped himself off. A government agency wanted Ed Karst. Not good. He should have pseudonymed better.
“I also have someone who wants to meet you. He was a friend of your father in World War II.”
“Any friend of my father would be embarrassed to be in the same room with me,” Tony said dismissively.
“He doesn’t know your profession, he’s just wants to meet Howard’s son. He… went missing in action in 1944, and was only found very recently. He’s very eager to see you.”
Tony froze and ran that statement through his head.
“No way,” he said flatly. “There’s no damn way. He went down in the ocean.”
“He thawed,” Agent Coulson said blandly. “Captain Rogers doesn’t have much left in this time from his past. If you’d be willing to help, we’d be grateful. The job offer stands either way, though.”
“I doubt it. Government agencies aren’t really my thing,” Tony said.
“Think about it,” Agent Coulson said, and put his business card down on the table next to him. “When you come-.”
“If I come,” Tony corrected.
“Wear your best suit.”
Tony swore a blue streak until Agent Coulson actually left the house. They knew. S.H.I.E.L.D. knew what he’d been building. What the hell? How the fuck had they known?
Captain America was waiting for him when he showed up at S.H.I.E.L.D. The genuine, certified, original copy. No wonder Dad had spent all of Tony’s life looking for the man. Tony would have too, if he’d had a hand in making that. Except he hadn’t. Dad had had a part in making Tony too, but his son hadn’t been nearly as interesting as the supposedly dead man under the ice. All of Tony’s life, he’d heard how great Captain America was, how brave, how loyal, how strong and heroic. He’d been a standard Tony could never live up to.
And fuck if he wasn’t as wholesome as goddamn apple pie. Standing there in the corridor, he looked like he’d just walked off the set of one of the war propaganda films that had been required viewing during the Stark household weekly movie nights. Tony wanted to hate the man on sight.
He couldn’t though. Not when Captain Rogers had flashed a genuine smile at him, extended his hand and shook it without the slightest hesitation. Even some other adult entertainment execs hesitated in their handshakes, as if sure they were going to pull back with their palms covered in spunk. Not that Tony had ever pulled such a thing before. More than once.
“Mr. Stark?” Captain Rogers said, shaking his hand firmly.
“Got something for you, Capsicle,” Tony said abruptly, and shoved a couple wrapped packages in his hands, making him drop the handshake.
“Well, thank you, I never-.” Steve’s eyes widened and his smile died as the “Star Spangled Cock” dildo and the “Captain American Up Your Ass” butt plug were revealed. Both were striped in garish red, white, and blue, with strategically placed stars.
“I figured you’d never, so there’s a good starting point. They come with full instructions if you need them. And a little bottle of lube in each box, ‘cause I’m nice like that.”
Tony wanted to add something even more petty, something along the lines of - And thank you for being the reason my father never told me he loved me because he was obsessing over you. For that reason, I abandoned my family legacy to become a pacifist orgasm-peddler and the biggest joke of the western world. Thank you, Captain America. Thank you right in your toned, muscular ass.
It wasn’t fair to the guy, but Tony wasn’t exactly a big believe in fair. If Rogers could get past those welcoming gifts, Tony might consider giving him a second chance.
“Your director wants to see me. Have fun guys!” Tony said, and breezed into the conference room. As he shut the door, he could see Agent Coulson giving him the stink-eye, probably because he likely got himself off with a Star Spangled Cock every night and didn’t want to have to explain to his hero why he knew so much about their capabilities.
Director Fury wasn’t exactly who Tony had pictured when he’d thought about a leader for some super-secret government agency. He’d been expecting a hyped-up version of Coulson, a bureaucrat in a conservative suit so stiff he could be used as a sail. He hadn’t been expecting a tough, fit veteran of actual conflict with the scars to prove it peaking out around the edge of his eyepatch. He hadn’t been expecting the guy to wear leather and boots and look like he could kick Tony’s ass halfway across the room without breaking a sweat.
Ok, score a few points for S.H.I.E.L.D.
“Mr. Stark. Or is it Karst?”
“Whatever makes you happy,” Tony said, and flopped down in a chair. He wasn’t planning to spend very long here, just as long as it took to figure out exactly what they knew about his armor and the precise words to tell them exactly where they could stick their job offer. Preferably with the help of some of his products.
“Mr. Stark, I think you can imagine the surprise of our technical department when they back-traced the scientific articles you’ve been publishing to discover your real name. Here’s some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the twenty-first century being made by this virtual unknown, and in reality, it’s you. The King of Sex Toys. A little further extrapolation and investigation into some of your purchasing records-.”
“Illegally, by the way.”
Fury kept talking like Tony hadn’t even interrupted. “-And it turns out you have everything you need to create a weapon like this world has never seen. You never would have let anyone know about it, would you?”
“No. I’m not required to publish bupkis. The only reason I put those articles out there was because some of that tech could do some real good in the world.”
“But no one believes it can work.”
“It will. It works. Someone will figure it out eventually. Banner did.”
“Banner’s in the wind and not likely to step up to lecture circuit.”
“Gee, I wonder why. Wasn’t his last project before the accident a military one?”
“So it was. But we’re not talking about him. We’re talking about you.”
“My favorite topic,” Tony said cheerfully. Fury glared impressively with his one eye.
“The suit. You made a weaponized flying suit. Why?”
“I’m actually more interested how you extrapolated that little tidbit out of my shopping habits,” Tony said, and leaned far back in his chair, trying to project complete nonchalance.
“You’ve made mechanical prostheses for amputees before, also under Ed Karst. You have an extraordinary understanding of the human body, for obvious reasons.”
Tony grinned at that.
“The repulsors, those could move a certain amount of weight with enough of them. Also they’d make a pretty big dent if focused and pointed at the wrong thing. Your targeting and communications systems for your remote-operated toys. And the arc reactor; the riddle to your repulsor power problem. Add all of that together, and we saw a very interesting picture.”
Tony dropped his smile. “It’s not a weapon,” he said.
“And why not? You have your father’s entire estate, all of his blueprints, not to mention doctorates in engineering, physics, mathematics, and robotics.”
“And biochemistry, don’t forget that.”
Fury looked pained. “I figured eventually even you would get tired of being the world’s biggest cocktail-party joke genius.”
“You thought one day I would just wake up and want to be like Dad?”
“I thought, after seeing another side of you, ‘Ed,’ that there was more to you than just entertainment.”
Tony dropped his casual posture and got out of his chair, shoulders stiff and set, the anger he’d been suppressing bubbling to the surface.
“You know when I decided not to be a good little clone of dear old dad? Veteran’s Day when I was fourteen. We went to Walter Reed to talk to some of Dad’s buddies in the service. And while Dad was there schmoozing with anyone with a pulse, I went and listened to the guys in the physical therapy room. Those guys learning how to live without legs or arms, who had burn wounds and gashes and blows to the head so hard their skulls had cracked, who wanted to get back to their wives and kids and still make something out of their lives. I’ve always been pretty smart, so it didn’t take me much to realize that for every guy there that my dad’s weapons had saved, there were ten or twenty or a few hundred blown to bits somewhere overseas, and every one of them probably talked about their wives and kids too. And I realized it could have been me in that room, with my leg blown off or shrapnel in my chest.
“That’s when I thought I’d rather do something else with my life than help kill people. So I thought the only other thing that any fourteen-year-old boy thinks about. Sex. Lots of money in sex. Lots of fun too. I got to watch a lot of naughty videos for research purposes, and I can’t tell you how many sorority girls were happy to test my prototypes.”
“But that wasn’t enough, wasn’t it, Mr. Stark? You went from making simple vibrators to fucking machines more sophisticated than some supercomputers. You publish world-changing discoveries under a pseudonym. You simply don’t get that kind of dedication from a man just looking to stick it to his dad’s legacy. Petty revenge only gets you so far. But something for you? Not just against your dad but for you? That will get you from titillater to terminator.” Fury waved at the screen on the wall and it flashed a picture of Tony’s workshop, one from a couple nights ago when Tony had the case open to work on the armor. It flashed to some of Tony’s test flights in the desert, then to his target practice deep in the mountains.
Tony was already angry enough that he didn’t even quite care about this new level of invasion of privacy.
“It’s not a weapon!” Tony yelled. “Jesus Christ, did you even listen to me right now? I don’t kill people, I don’t hurt people, and I sure as hell didn’t design my suit so you could outfit your Men In Black goon squad in my tech and go oppress a few downtrodden countries!”
“Then what did you design it for, Mr. Stark?”
“I am going to hunt down and blow up every damn one of my dad’s weapon caches. Every under the table deal, every smuggled load, all of it. I know Stane was double-dealing, and I’m going to hit him right where it hurts.” Tony caught himself when Fury nodded in satisfaction, and nearly went to beat his head against the wall. Fucking spies. Fucking spies and their fucking manipulative bullshit.
“So, you stand for life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness?” Fury said evenly.
“Damn straight,” Tony said, without the slightest bit of irony. “Even more so than Captain Boy Scout out there. I can get the job done without having to shoot everyone.”
“Why did you remind me that you have a Ph.D. in biochemistry?” Fury asked, in seeming non sequitur.
Tony smiled nastily. “What a little teargas won’t do to your typical meathead guards, some aerosoled Viagra will. Really hard for people to run after you if they’re tripping over their erections.”
Fury managed to look both disgusted and impressed at the same time. That, at least, was an expression Tony was very familiar with. He called the expression “imgusted.”
“Mr. Stark, there’s something going on here that’s bigger than you. We’ve been gathering together a team of some extraordinary individuals to tackle problems beyond the reach of conventional thinking. People that can fight the battles we never could. It’s called the Avengers Initiative.”
“Despite all rumors to the contrary, I don’t play well with others. And I have a sneaking suspicion that one of your ‘extraordinary individuals’ is sitting right outside this room, and I’m pretty sure I just categorically alienated him, so I doubt any order to ‘play nice’ is going to have much effect,” Tony said.
“You’d be surprised, Mr. Stark. I have two agents with exceptional skills and ability to adapt, Captain America right outside the door, a Norse god visiting from his home plane who’s taken an exceptional shine to our world, and a certain scientist who has been the only person who’s always believed in Ed Karst.”
Tony blinked in surprise. “You have Banner?”
“The Black Widow is bringing him in. I have five good people, and I need you too. There’s a war coming, something we’ve never seen before, and the Avengers might be the only people who can stop it.”
“You think that your agents and the Star Spangled Man with a Plan- I’m not even touching your Norse god comment –are just going to accept me into your little secret underground band?”
“Does that mean you accept?” Fury asked.
“Why the hell do you want me? Who in their right mind wants the kind of heat and flak you’re going to take for having Tony ‘Toymaker’ Stark on your payroll? I don’t care if you are the best black-ops in the world, someone is going to find out and laugh you right out of funding,” Tony said, trying not to laugh himself. This was a dream; had to be. Some crazy, mixed-up dream from too much coffee and too little sleep.
“Because I believe you’re something more than your father, Stark. More than your toys. I believe you can be better.”
Tony turned away and crossed his arms over his chest. Fuck. Fuck.
“I’m not one of your soldiers, Fury.”
“I already have plenty of those.”
Tony turned back around. “You said you wanted to stop this war. First time you ask me to kill someone, I’m gone.”
“Heard,” Fury said. “So, what do you call the armor? What’s your pseudonym for that?”
Tony looked up at the wall screen, where it was still showing him hovering over the desert, gleaming and strong in the sunlight.
“Ok, Iron Man. Let’s introduce you to the rest of the team.”
As Fury opened the door, Tony smiled behind his back. This was going to be a complete disaster.
His favorite kind of fun.
Chapter 2: Good Man
Where Tony meets the rest of the team, snark happens, and a mission ensues.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Tony had expected to find Steve Rogers either a few miles away or ready to punch him in the face the minute he stepped out of the conference room. He hadn’t expected to find him sitting on the bench outside the door, watching Agent Coulson’s phone play a YouTube clip as the agent in question hovered by his shoulder.
“…give people orgasms than bullet wounds. Make love not war!” Tony’s voice said from the tiny speaker.
Steve was wearing the most intense imgusted expression Tony had ever seen, topped off with a fresh layer of confusion. It didn’t take Tony very long to reconstruct what must have happened while he and Fury had gotten into a pissing match behind closed doors. Agent Coulson must have dropped the lube-filled bomb on Captain America, explaining exactly who Howard’s son was in this day and age, that he was a maker of “marital aids” or whatever the hell they called them back in the day, and got off on making his fortune through adult entertainment. That should have been enough to get Steve running for the hills. Coulson hero-worshiped the guy; Tony recognize the expression he’d seen on his dad’s face often enough. Except that Coulson had taken the time to find the one clip where Tony explained his position in his own words, giving Steve a reason why Tony had reacted the way he did. Words that lambasted his father, Steve’s friend by all account, and denigrated the whole concept of war. Not exactly the friendliest thing to hear for a man who’d tried to enlist five times despite his unsuitability.
Agent Coulson looked up and prodded Steve, who started so hard he nearly dropped the phone.
“Ah… Mr. Stark,” he managed, his expression shifting back and forth from confused to angry to imgusted so rapidly Tony was surprised he didn’t have a stroke.
“Don’t worry about it,” Tony said. He wanted to wave his hand dismissively, but there was the slim possibility that he might be working with this guy, and Tony knew he’d been a dick with the move with the presents. He could contain himself, at least a little. It could even be fun; Fury would keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, which would drive him nuts.
It still didn’t negate twenty-odd years of neglect from his father by the good Captain’s mere existence, though. (If some part of him pointed out that none of that was Steve’s fault, Tony was very good at not listening to that part of himself.)
“The… presents were a little much,” Steve said, keeping his voice admirably even.
“I should have started you out with a more basic model. My bad. I can swap those out if you want,” Tony said, nodding at the vibrantly-colored patriotic sex toys sitting on the bench next to him.
“No,” Steve said sharply. “They’re fine.”
“Well then. Enjoy. Be seeing you around, I expect,” Tony said, grinned at him, and turned away.
“Wait! Mr. Stark… what are you doing here?” Steve asked.
“He’ll be joining the Avengers Initiative, Captain Rogers,” Fury said, in a very impressive go ahead, ask me questions, I dare you sort of tone.
“As what?” Steve asked, his voice tight.
“Stress relief. I’m going to build vibrators into all of your costumes,” Tony said with deadpan seriousness. “Can’t save the world if you’re a mass of tension.”
Fury’s eye twitched.
“Also there’s the mechanized suit of armor I designed, but we don’t talk about that. Very hush-hush. Secret spy stuff and all that jazz. Don’t know if you have the clearance to hear about that, Cap,” Tony said.
“Let me show you, Captain,” Agent Coulson said, tapping on his phone very quickly. He frowned after a few seconds, then frowned more deeply. Tony checked his own phone surreptitiously; JARVIS was showing he’d just finished reclaiming the files S.H.I.E.L.D. has so rudely appropriated. It was good to have your own AI.
“Must not be cleared for that either, Agent,” Tony said, smiling. “If you ask real nicely, maybe I’ll show you my new toy later today. Oh, and the armor.”
It was possible, somewhere under the twitching eye and impressive scowl, that Fury might have been repressing laughter.
“Are you here to fight, Stark?” Steve asked.
Ooo, he’d clipped the “Mr.” The gloves were coming off.
“More like defend and disable. You know, modern warfare,” Tony said breezily. “Lots of good non-lethal weaponry these days.”
“Nothing wrong with that.”
“Well I wouldn’t expect you to- what?” Tony caught himself before he could finish his quip. That hadn’t been the way he expected the conversation to go. Steve’s face was still tight and set, his tone scarcely civil, but he’d somehow managed to squeeze out, well, not quite a compliment, but an agreement, from those All-American lips.
“Nothing wrong with non-lethal weaponry in the right circumstances,” Steve said.
“And what are the ‘right circumstances’ to kill someone, Cap?” Tony asked. “From what the newsreels said, you have quite a body count to your name.”
“When they’re trying to kill you and nothing else you do is going to stop them. You’ve never been in a real fight, so I don’t expect you to understand,” Steve said, drawing himself up to look even taller.
“Stark, let’s go. I want you to meet the others. Now.” Fury clamped his hand on Tony’s elbow and nearly frog-marched him out of the room before someone could start throwing punches.
Tony wasn’t sure who was pulling a better imgusted face as Fury got him through the doorway, the director or Steve.
When Fury introduced the Black Widow–
“Mr. Stark, Natasha Romanov.”
-Tony suddenly knew how they’d gotten all the information on the Iron Man suit. Pepper’s assistant. Fuck. The new assistant had been down to the workshop once or twice, which had to be more than enough for some kind of super-spy assassin to plant some cameras and attach some bugs to try to hack into JARVIS. She hadn’t gotten much, not if Fury had needed Tony himself, but she had gotten enough.
“Natalie, right?” Tony said, extending his hand to the cat-suited redhead. He reached into his pocket and tapped a couple commands into his phone by feel. JARVIS would have the workshop scrubbed and his own system purged of spyware and reinforced against attack before the hour was up. Fury did not get to invite him here just long enough for their own people to steal his tech.
His glare should have burned right through Fury’s eyepatch, but Fury just looked back steadily. You just got played, playboy, Tony practically heard. Going to whine about it?
Fury was going to regret being right about him, that he could be more than entertainment. Fury had no fucking idea of what Tony was capable of.
“Natasha,” she corrected him, with a precise nod of her head. “Interesting to see you here, Stark.”
“Wish I could say the same. I was going to say ‘annoying,’ or maybe even ‘depressing.’”
The glare Natasha leveled on Fury outclassed Tony’s by a factor of five. She didn’t want him here, thought Fury was an idiot for bringing him here. Good. If everyone had been hunky-dory about bringing him in, they should have had their brains checked.
“Director Fury, could I have a word with you in private, please?”
“I’m pretty sure I already know how that conversation would go, Agent Romanov.”
They glared at each other for a few minutes, probably having all sorts of words, while Tony just hung out.
“Ok, Agent Romanov, two minutes. If you’d excuse us, Mr. Stark.”
Tony wandered off out of earshot, quite, quite glad to not be next to Natalie-Natasha when she opened up that glare full throttle.
“Make it fast,” Fury said.
“Arrogant, narcissistic, inexperienced, caustic personality, Clint is either going to shoot him within the first ten minutes or refuse to speak to him for a week,” Natasha said, ticking off points on her fingers.
“Dedicated, intelligent, genius. Within a half-hour of arriving here he managed to lock us out of the files you obtained, and I’m pretty sure he’s armoring his own system against our intrusion right this second just using his phone. And that was just to make a point. Imagine that focused against people who he really hates,” Fury countered with his own points.
Natasha pressed her lips slightly together and nodded. “He’s a known pacifist.”
“Not that passive, not with what he was planning to do. We can’t afford to have him go rogue. He’s too smart and has too much money to let him remain a loose cannon. If he goes vigilante, we might not get him back.”
Natasha nodded again, problems acknowledged. They would be dealt with.
“Did you have any trouble with Banner?” Fury asked.
“No, not really,” she said, with the smoothness that possibly meant that yes, there had been, but she’d handled it. That would do.
“Good, because he’s the only ally Stark’s likely to have.”
“Does Stark even know what happened to Banner?”
“Not in the least.”
“We’re saving him for last, then.”
“Fine. Let me give him his marching orders, because if we expose him to the others before he has a chance to think things over, Barton will shoot him in the eye.”
Natasha smiled very, very faintly. “Can’t have any competition for you, director, can we?”
Fury smiled back, and then turned back towards their problem child with his usual impassive scowl.
Fury and Natasha-Natalie kept their conversation brief, enough so that Tony hadn’t even had time to get bored before Fury strode back over to him. He had, however, had enough time to think.
“Where’s Banner?” Tony asked. “I believe I distinctly remember you saying the Black Widow was bringing him in, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather meet more than someone who hasn’t been spying on me. That would actually be a pleasant surprise, for once.”
“You’ll see him tomorrow,” Fury said tersely. He shoved a tablet at Tony, who had to either grab it or let it drop. He closed his fingers on the surprisingly heavy thing, as if weighted down with all the information inside it. “Take a look, Mr. Stark. See who the rest of your team is, and decide what face you want to show them first.”
Tony didn’t get a return quip off in time as Fury and Natasha showed themselves out, leaving him alone with the suddenly-appearing Agent Coulson.
“Mr. Stark, I’ll show you out.”
“Did you get a chance to show little Stevie the ropes yet?” Tony asked, letting himself being herded as Coulson carefully chivvied him down the corridors and out to the parking lot.
Coulson, to his credit, didn’t try to answer that question.
Tony dropped his bag on workshop table with a clatter and opened up the tablet Fury had sent along, propping it up so JARVIS could get a good look.
“I’ve had a hell of a day, JARVIS. Tell me what we got.”
“Scanning, sir. The usual spyware is present, and a few upgrades on the same. Nothing I can’t handle,” JARVIS said, sounding smug. He had definitely earned the right after successfully slapping S.H.I.E.L.D. on the wrist for invading Tony’s privacy.
“I suppose it would kill Fury to not try to hack into my house. We clear now?”
Tony opened the files and flung them up onto the holo projectors. There was Captain America, running around in footage even Tony hadn’t seen, and he’d thought he’d seen every inch of what had been filmed, thanks to dear ‘ole Dad. Running, jumping, shield forward, deflecting beams of energy (who the hell had that kind of tech back in the 40s?), looking as amazing as ever as he decked Hydra soldiers. But this was rawer stuff, not the calculated, patriotic films meant for public consumption, but honest-to-God field footage. In these, Steve looked honestly determined, sometimes a little tired, and oddly a little older, more mature than he had at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters. Being set adrift in time might do that to a man. Tony remembered hero-worshiping Captain America probably as much as Agent Coulson, back when he was six or so. Not long after that, he’d realized his hero was still so real to his dad as to be an unobtainable pinnacle of perfection Tony could never reach.
He was still a tough son-of-a-bitch though. The punishment he was taking on-screen was real, not doctored white-hat movie magic, and he just shrugged it off and kept on coming. Newer clips popped up, including a short little bit on a rather disastrous attempt to make Steve believe it had still been the 40s. It was actually pretty hilarious, right up until Steve burst right through the walls like the Kool-Aid man. Ok, maybe Captain America really did live up to the legend.
And I hope he really, really enjoys the sex toys, Tony thought a little vindictively.
Tony closed that file and turned his attention to the others before he could get himself into a bad mood.
Next was Natasha - firing guns, taking down armed guards with her thighs, looking amazing in a dress as she slowly tugged some unsuspecting baddie to his inevitable doom. Tony had the uncomfortable suspicion that if she’d wanted to worm her way closer to him than she had, he probably wouldn’t have been suspicious. The brief files on her field records were… impressive. It sounded like she’d been the invisible hand that had moved more than a few nations.
The rest of the team was equally surprising. Clint Barton, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who used a bow instead of a rifle, looked almost normal on the surface. Lots of military service, lots of black ops missions, your usual silent and deadly spook. But his background (Midwest kid turned circus performer, training from a lot of colorful characters, read-between-the-lines tragedy sometime before Fury had scooped him up) didn’t match the tough-as-nails, by-the-book reports. Versatile as the bow was, it was an odd choice for a soldier. Tony was intrigued against his will.
Thor was the Norse god of thunder. At least that was what he claimed, and after seeing the footage of the shit that had gone down in New Mexico, Tony was possibly willing to concede there might be a grain of truth in his claim. Because no one of normal stock could take that much punishment without a scar to show for it. Without even a scrape. He was someone who’d bear watching.
Tony opened his file eagerly, a tiny bit puzzled as to why S.H.I.E.L.D. would need a nuclear physicist, but definitely interested to learn more about the man who’d been his only supporter sight-unseen. Fury probably collected experts in every field, if he was serious about going after the weird events of the world.
The first page or two was pretty normal. Then they got to the accident. And the Hulk.
Tony read, absorbed, for an hour straight, going over and over the files, the videos, the pictures.
Ok, he was not the strangest guy on the team. Not by a long shot.
He seriously wanted to meet them. And he needed to meet Banner.
“The files are mostly complete, sir, though there is some redacted material in each instance. Much of the missing data is related to the early background of the individuals in question. Also, of course, the specifics of various missions are logged behind higher security clearances.”
Tony considered how much he wanted to know. His first answer was “everything.” Fury had manipulated and emotionally blackmailed him into bringing Iron Man into his secret team before he’d even had a chance to go out on his own. S.H.E.I.L.D. had obviously delved deep into his background to get a handle on him, and it was damn obvious that Natasha-Natalie had gotten a few more things out of him by her hidden observations.
His second answer was “how much did he need to know?” Did he really want to get into Steve’s background? Did he want the gory details of Natasha-Natalie’s secret missions?
His conclusion? It wasn’t what he wanted or needed. It was what he was going to have to know to pull this off. He wasn’t like most of the rest of these “Avengers.” He wasn’t a soldier, or some warrior from another planet, or a spy. Like Banner, he’d turned to his brain to find a way to accomplish what was otherwise impossible.
Tony felt a flicker of unease when he looked at Banner’s file again. Sometimes the impossible turned against you.
“Pull everything you can, JARVIS. And log it. I want it around if I have to.”
“Very wise, sir. I have already begun.”
Tony left the files running as he went to open the case containing his armor. It was ready to go, loaded up with everything it could handle, everything Tony could think of to give himself an advantage in the field – flash-bang grenades, smoke, teargas, tranquilizer darts, a half-dozen variation on nonlethal rounds, flares, stunners, not to mention the repulsors themselves. Given a little creative thinking, there wasn’t anything Tony didn’t think he couldn’t do about a given situation.
He was as ready as he was going to get.
“Will that be all, sir?” Jarvis asked diffidently.
“I think I need to relax before tomorrow’s show,” Tony said, running a hand through his hair. Tomorrow was showtime, the most important debut he was ever going to make.
“I know just the thing, sir.”
Tony’s LDL rolled forward from its charging station, its arm already fitted with an Orgasmatron vibrator.
“Oh baby, you do know what I like!” Tony grinned.
“As always, I live to please.”
“Decide what face you want to show them.”
Fury’s words echoed in Tony’s mind as he slipped into his tight-fitting bodysuit and stepped into the assembly array the next morning. JARVIS began to suit him up, encasing him from head to toe in the armor he’d spent so much time and effort building.
What did he want to show the others? Did he want to be the kind of guy who’d give patriotic sex toys to Captain America, or the kind of guy who’d put his life on the line for his convictions? How many more enemies did he need to make? These people weren’t sexually repressed hardline fundamentalists who thought free speech was ok until someone disagreed with them, nor were they rival CEOs that were jealous of his talent. The worst either of those enemies might do was sling some mud, rile up the press, or try a shady business deal or two. The worst any enemies he might make on this team could do was probably beyond even his imagination.
Best to save making enemies for people who honestly deserved it: the arms dealers whose livelihoods he meant to destroy, the war mongers Fury had uncovered. Tony could, given the right reasons, focus his ire in the right direction. He had a lifelong grudge against Captain America, and Natasha-Natalie had played him, but the rest were mostly unknown. It was unlikely Fury’s “extraordinary individuals” were all by-the-book operatives, not if he had been so determined to get Tony on the team.
So let’s see what they make of Iron Man first.
There was a little trepidation as JARVIS finished buttoning him up. Just a tiny lick of fear. He’d made something the world had never seen, and he’d planned and practiced until he was sore. But never in front of others. The fact that he’d been ready to go public anyway, to use the Iron Man for what he’d built it for, wasn’t quite registering on a visceral level yet.
“We’re ready, sir,” JARVIS said.
One deep breath. Let it go. “Ok. Let’s fly.”
Hands and feet together, Tony blasted off and soared over the countryside. He could feel his worries being left in the dirt behind him, and chased them away entirely when he went supersonic, shouting in triumph as the air shattered around him at the speed.
JARVIS watched the airspace for him as he saw S.H.I.E.L.D.’s training facility come into view long minutes later, a flat space of scrub land that stretched for miles.
“Iron Man, this is S.H.I.E.L.D. control,” a business-like female voice broke into his silence.
No voice Tony recognized, but he hadn’t expected Fury to be manning the comms.
“I got you,” Tony called back.
“The director wanted to put up some drones for you to target. The other Avengers will be watching.”
Tony felt his jaw clench inside his helmet and stopped himself from grinding his teeth. Fury seemed to manipulate people as easily as breathing – he’d been prepared, certain that Tony would want to show the others Iron Man before himself. Even so…
“Sounds like fun. Light ‘em up!”
Tiny drones popped up at random intervals and scattered across the area like a swarm of angry bees. The targeting system locked on to them, painting them in brightly-colored crosshairs. Tony took one deep breath.
“JARVIS, let’s get it done.” He dove after the closest and pursued, targeting front, side, and center, never letting any of them get too close to him. He’d been training for this, running scenarios like this, and got the numbers down as fast as he could – five left, three, two…
“Too slow, Iron Man,” Fury’s voice broke into the comm channel. “You have two enemy fighters inbound. They get a target lock on you for longer than three seconds, you're dead. You tag them, they are. Do not break my planes.”
Even as Fury was talking, JARVIS was tracking two F22 Raptors that had just come into range. Tony began to grin even as he climbed up higher, twisting in a way he knew no fighter plane could match.
“Catch me if you can, guys. JARVIS, active Gingerbread Man.”
The Raptors broke out of formation as Tony suddenly dove and blasted between them. He tapped one of them on the belly as he went past, and heard the pilot utter a heartfelt “Fuck!”
“Target lock from the other plane, sir,” JARVIS said. Tony fired the flares, used the flaps to break unexpectedly, and accelerated again, going after his newest dance partner.
Yeah. He could do this.
Eat your heart out, Nick Fury.
“Ok, Stark, you made your point. Come down here and meet the rest of your team.” Fury sounded only a little resigned that Tony had managed to tag his second plane only a few seconds after the first. He might even, though would probably deny it, be a tiny bit impressed.
He’d better fucking be. If two of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s finest couldn’t tag Iron Man, it was really fucking unlikely that any idiot with a stolen plane was going to be able to do so, which was the whole point. Tony knew the capabilities of military equipment to a nicety. He’d had it burned into his brain through repetition, some of it not even from Dad’s insistence.
Tony circled in a lazy loop until he spied two figures on the ground, one the oversized blond supposed Norse god, the other the dark-clad archer, Barton. No Natasha. No Steve. No one who was going to put their two cents when he finally introduced himself proper. Finally, a fucking break.
He landed fast, on one knee to stabilize himself, and his two new potential teammates didn’t even blink. They were impressed – easy to see on the alleged Norse god, harder on the close-faced archer, but there was no real fear. They knew he was on their side and they trusted him. Well, trusted Fury enough to trust him, but still, they’d seen what he’d done up there, what he could do, and were willing to walk right up to him.
“Nice flying!” Barton called.
“Indeed, Metal Man, you have skill. It is a most impressive armor you’ve crafted.”
Ok, Tony was willing to think seriously about the possibility of Thor being a real Norse god. No one could talk like that so sincerely unless they were genuine.
“Thanks. I’m looking forward to really opening her up,” Tony said, so politely Pepper would have probably wondered if he were high. He’d made a promise to himself to keep his tongue in neutral for the first little bit, just to see what would happen.
“If you seek to be blooded, then you will be. The threat looms ever closer. Fury says you have heart; the dwarves who craft such wonders on my world would say that one must have great heart to craft great things.” Thor reached out to clasp Tony’s hand, his huge paw easily matching the size of Tony’s metal-encased hand. And holy shit, Tony could feel Thor’s grip right through the gauntlet. Tony was willing to concede Thor was the real deal.
“So, who’s the man behind the mask?” Barton asked.
Tony had a sudden wish to keep his faceplate down, to not say anything else. He didn’t want to see Barton’s face fall, to have to put on another mask of amused indifference. It had been funny when he’d been tweaking Steve’s morals, amusing when he’d been laying into Fury. But for about five minutes here, he hadn’t had to keep all his defenses up. He hadn’t realized how freeing that could be. No good deed goes unpunished, he thought. Tony popped the faceplate.
“Tony Stark,” he said.
“Well met, Tony,” Thor said.
Barton made some noise that sounded suspiciously like a choked-off laugh. “No shit?” he asked, his voice sounding fairly even.
“I got all kinds of hidden talents,” Tony said, meeting his eyes without a slightest hint of his usual smirk.
“I guess,” Barton said, sounding surprised. “Huh. Oh… oh damn, that’s what Natasha wouldn’t tell me.”
“You know her?” Tony knew both were agents, but S.H.I.E.L.D. was a huge organization. He resolved to check into some of the redacted stuff JARVIS was pulling for him on Natasha’s file.
“Uh yeah, worked together for years. She spied on you, right?”
“She’s on my shit list right now.”
“You’ll get over it. Better to work with her than against her.”
Tony bit his tongue on a smart reply. Enemies, Not Making Them 101. Barton could have just laughed in his face. All in all, his reaction had been extremely mild. Mild, hell, he’d had people try to spit on him for less. And Thor, bless him, didn’t know him at all. It was a nice switch.
“Be not afraid of the lovely Widow. She is quite sly, but righteous. She fights on our side,” Thor said, nodding.
“Thor, buddy, do yourself a favor and never let her hear you call her ‘the lovely Widow.’ Just some friendly advice,” Barton said.
“Come on in people, show’s over,” Fury’s voice echoed across the field.
“He’s harshing my buzz,” Tony announced.
“Cockblocker Fury,” Barton shrugged, making Tony choke back a sudden burst of laughter. “I think it’s required by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s code or something. Come on, Banner wants to meet you.”
Tony smiled to himself as they walked back to the building. Barton was giving him the occasionally sidelong glance of disbelief, but Tony could deal with that.
Round two – significantly less suckage.
“Where’d you leave Stark?” Fury asked, as Natasha took her place at the table with the rest of the team.
“He’s geeking out with Banner, taking a look at the gamma algorithms.”
“That’s good, because it’s starting. We’re getting cracks into our world, places where things are starting to give way, but we’re at a point where your team can stop them from devolving into a full-fledged catastrophe. Right now things are at a low enough level that we can get everyone involved without having to announce everything to the world. This will be your first mission, a way to get everyone’s feet wet.”
“Get Stark’s feet wet, you mean,” Natasha said.
“He’s got talent,” Steve said, nodding stiffly. “I watched him fly. He’s as good or better than any pilot I’ve seen, back in my time or here and now. The list of things he has packed into that armor can help us control the battlefield. That’s half the way to winning, right there.”
“He’s a good flyer, great, but will he work under pressure?” Clint asked. “I’m just getting a really terrible mental picture of what could happen if he panics and tosses one of those gas grenades or flash bangs in the wrong direction at the wrong time.”
“I thought you were impressed by the Iron Man,” Thor said.
“Impressed with his flying? Hell yes. But you said it yourself, he’s unblooded.”
“My perception of your world is not yet perfect, but is Tony Stark not the elder of most of you here?”
“Ah…” Steve flushed a little. “Subjectively, for the most part, yes.”
“Then why disparage the wisdom that has come with age? Perhaps it took him longer to discover his courage and craft his weapons, but he nevertheless had the will to do it.”
“Thor, do you know what Stark does for a living? He makes sex toys,” Natasha said, with a very tiny rolling of her eyes.
There was a very awkward conversation for about ten minutes as they tried to explain the foreign concept, but Thor finally nodded.
“You fear he is more a maker of merriment than possessing of a true warrior’s soul. It is understandable. But he did answer the call to arms, did he not?”
“He did,” Steve said, and sighed. “He was going to do it on his own.”
“We shall see his true spirit on this mission, and then we may pass judgment as it is merited.”
Bruce Banner was everything Tony had expected. And nothing like. Quiet, unassuming, looking like he’d been trekking around the world on his own and hadn’t quiet realized he was able to stop running yet. His clothes were rumpled, his hair out of place, like he’d just rolled out of bed and into the lab without a care for his appearance. Tony appreciated the hell out of that. Any scientist that looked like they’d just stepped out of the pages of GQ or Vanity Fair was generally not worth listening to. Well, unless they were him, but Tony considered himself an exception on virtually every level.
From Banner’s quiet defense of Ed Karst, Tony had figured he was serious. What he hadn’t expected was the quiet humor in the man’s face. Not that he was laughing at Tony, more like he was laughing at himself. And for someone who’d somehow managed to survive death by radiation to gain a Mr. Hyde alter-ego of unbridled strength and rage, humor was one of the last things Tony had expected out of him.
“What’s so funny?” Tony asked right off the bat.
“This whole thing,” Banner said, looking up from his screens. “I get dragged in almost kicking and screaming to run a check for gamma anomalies, then they suddenly announce I’m getting a visitor when virtually everyone else here won't even look at me. And it’s you, the guy I’ve been defending, who managed to put all that tech into one package.”
“I didn’t think anyone could drag you anywhere, Dr. Banner.”
“I think you’ve met Natasha, Dr. Karst.”
“Have I ever. And it’s Tony.”
Tony stuck out his hand and shook a reluctant Bruce’s hand with growing enthusiasm. The smile was back playing on Bruce’s lips again.
“You are my personal hero, just so you know that. I’ve been reading your articles for years,” Tony said.
“Likewise. I saw you out there today…” Bruce shook his head. “It’s an amazing machine.”
“That, I knew,” Tony said.
Bruce grinned outright. “Are you seriously joining Fury’s gig?”
“Are you?” Tony countered. He’d seen the power of Bruce’s other form, a ballet of pure destruction pointed against those who’d hunted him. Devastating, yes. Tragic, certainly. But as amazing as Bruce had named him. In the years since the accident, it had been pretty clear to Tony that only the fools that insisted on provoking the enormous green rage monster had gotten what they deserved. The destruction of Harlem had proved the Hulk could be really selective about his targets, ironic as it was. Anyone with half a brain could see that.
Tony knew that most people lacked more than half a brain at the best of times, though.
Bruce turned away and flicked at something on the screen, his smile dying. Tony came around to look at the algorithms he was running, the way the formulas mapped out the spikes of radiation across the globe, and paled.
“Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?”
“Yeah,” Bruce said. “Believe me, it’s the only thing that could have made me leave Kolkata. Because if these break…” Bruce tapped a few places on the globe, and a jagged line followed them and suddenly split wide open. “It all opens up. The… Other Guy is the only force I know that could handle these breaches. Right now, they’re just guarded by groups of fanatics, but if they start cracking these breaches open enough, they can start bringing through God knows what from the other side. If we stop them first, we can keep that from happening.”
Tony looked at the lines with a chill. He was looking at lines of cosmic radiation, not his usual area, granted, with an engineer’s eye. What he saw were weak points, places where if you put enough stress, the sphere would break. Except this time, the sphere was holding back a trans-dimensional superhighway. An honest to goddamn wormhole, something Tony had mostly considered interesting purely on an academic level. Suddenly any fallout from Fury bringing him in on this Avengers Initiative seemed the very least of his concerns.
“I think I can help clock the search a lot faster, now that I know what we’re looking for.”
Bruce flicked the data onto a screen for Tony without hesitation.
“The second we find the first breach, Fury’s going to send us in,” Bruce said softly. He rubbed one hand down his arm as he continued to tweak parameters. “Fair warning.”
“Looking forward to it,” Tony said absently, carefully setting up an accelerated search through JARVIS.
Bruce looked over at him sadly. “Hope you say the same afterward. You might not like what you see.”
“Bruce, have you met the rest of the team?” Tony pointed out. “You and I are hardly the strangest people on it.”
Bruce snorted softly, but seemed to relax a little. “I’ll ask you later, then.”
“It’s a date,” Tony said, and set the search loose.
Tony stayed in his landing crouch for far longer than he needed to. The adrenaline dump was kicking in and hard now, and he’d never been so grateful for the support of the suit. Not just for the protection and strength it gave him, but because no one could see how badly he was shaking. Damn it. He’d never been that scared in his life, with people shooting at him, trying to kill him, he’d been so close to opening up with the repulsors at full strength. It would have been so easy to just burn them to death, make them drop like flies.
He’d been sweating so hard JARVIS had had to inject him with saline to keep up his hydration, and breathing so fast JARVIS had adjusted his air mix for a little bit to stop him from passing out. It had taken everything he had, and repeated shouts from Steve, to remember to fire the flash bangs at the right moment to incapacitate the ones guarding the breach. He hadn’t been used to being ordered, but things had been so chaotic there had been one or two half-blind moments when he’d been really fucking glad for a voice in his ear giving him the heads-up on where to go.
They’d won. Steve and Natasha and Thor had rounded up the remaining world-ending fanatics after they’d been subdued, and S.H.I.E.L.D. had been happy to cart them off to detention. Now all they had to do was fly home and get debriefed. Tony slowly uncurled from his crouch and walked up the ramp to the Quinjet, sitting down in silence as Clint finally took them up.
“Did ok out there, Stark,” Cap said, and shoved his helmet and cowl back, turning into Steve again.
“Sure,” Tony said listlessly, so glad his gauntlets wouldn’t let the others see his hands trembling.
“You can take your faceplate up if you want. We’re off-duty, you know,” Natasha said.
“Dented in the fight,” Tony said. “Stuck shut. I’ll fix it later.” Anything not to have to try to control his expression around the others. Steve, Clint, and Natasha looked as cool as cucumbers after the mission, Bruce was mostly asleep, and Thor looked entirely content. How could they not be at least a little upset? Christ, someone had been shooting at their heads, and none of them were bulletproof. Yes, ok, technically the Hulk was and Thor wasn’t far behind him, but still, if the three more-or-less fragile humans on the team could handle that kind of stress, Tony should be able to. He, at least, was encased in armor.
He would have lived if they had all died.
Tony’s temperature suddenly spiked, his guts rebelled, and he had to get the faceplate up before he vomited inside his helmet. As soon as he cracked his helmet, Steve shoved a bag into his hands, and Tony emptied his stomach into the waxed paper sack, heaving until his body ached, his eyes teared up, and his throat burned. Until finally his guts got the picture that there wasn’t anything left to hurl and settled down.
Cheeks burning with shame, Tony sealed the bag and set it as far to the side as he could manage. Steve passed over a bottle of water without a word, and Tony quickly rinsed out his mouth and drank to get rid of the taste. He didn’t dare look at him. He didn’t want to see the disappointment in his eyes. Oh look, the King of Sex Toys couldn’t hold it together after a fight. Guess he was just a wanna-be hero after all.
“You good, Stark?” Natasha asked.
Tony concentrated on breathing, and didn’t know what to say to her. No, he wasn’t good. He wasn’t by any stretch of imagination, good.
“Can you make the next mission, Tony?” Steve said, catching Tony’s attention by using his first name. Tony risked a sideways look and realized everyone wasn’t looking at him. Not avoiding eye contact because they didn’t want to look at him (Tony was very good at spotting that), but doing it as a courtesy. They were giving him privacy in the midst of none.
“Yeah, I can make it,” Tony said flatly.
“Good man,” was all Steve said. Stiffly. Formally. But he said it.
Bruce leaned over, semi-conscious and still covered in dust and smelling of ozone where the Hulk had crushed the breach-making machinery, and put a hand atop Tony’s armor-clad forearm. And kept it there the entire flight home.
That was the only thing that kept him together.
Do you guys remember those old Kool Aid commercials? They were kinda like this. (That one is from the 70s, a little before my time, but typical of the type.) Someone would be thirsty from doing some awesome thing and make a wish for Kool Aid. And then the Kool Aid Man would just bust through the nearest wall to come to the rescue with a pitcher of tasty, refreshing Kool Aid. Like Steve busting through the walls of his 40s fantasy room. :D
Chapter 3: Connection
Where Tony strikes several sparks with the team.
And now we add another pairing to the tags! Whee!
Thanks to madamemonday for the beta!
“Good work people. We’ve got a dozen apocalyptic cultists in custody, and some of them are being very chatty,” Fury said.
“Useful chatty, or spouting gibberish?” Clint asked.
“We’re getting the party line out of most of them, which at least gives us a framework for what they’re doing and why. Dr. Banner, Mr. Stark, what are we seeing on the scans?”
Bruce stood up, now far less dusty (and far more clothed) than he had back in the Quinjet.
“When we knocked this breach out and sealed it, it changed everything. All the lines of force we were tracking changed and the intensity dropped back to nearly normal. The rest of the hot spots went dead. We short-circuited their plan this time.”
“But we didn’t get all of them, not from what I saw. There was too much correspondence laying around from other parts of the world. Whoever’s left is going to try again,” Steve said.
“Definitely,” Natasha said, nodding at Steve. “We got lucky this time. We need to find their leader.”
“Which is where Agent Romanov excels. She’ll be handling the interrogation in that direction. All right, I’m leaving the rest of you to detached duty. Barton, Rogers, I’ll need you to follow up some leads as they develop. Thor, whatever resources you and your people can lend-.”
“I shall speak with the All Father.”
“Banner, Stark, we’ll need a new search for any developments in the same kind of energy. Keep us posted on anything that shows up.”
Bruce nodded and Tony waved his hand in vague assent, his eyes focused on a point on the wall. He hadn’t said a word the entire debrief.
“We’ll get to work,” Bruce said after a minute of awkward silence. He tugged Tony to his feet and gently pulled him out of the room.
The door shut behind them, and there was a heartbeat of quiet.
“I think we broke Stark,” Barton said, flicking his eyes at the closed door.
“It was his first fight,” Steve pointed out. “He hung in there, gave us what we needed, and never got in anyone’s way. I’ve seen trained people mess that up.”
“Defending him after those welcoming gifts?” Natasha asked dryly.
Steve flushed. “Howard wasn’t a soldier either, but that didn’t stop him from flying into enemy airspace to drop me off.”
“He acquitted himself well for a man without a warrior’s creed,” Thor said.
“This time,” Natasha muttered.
“Banner has no weaponry training either, yet you do not disparage his presence.” Thor’s expression had started to get cloudy.
“Everyone knows the Hulk can fight. You just have to make sure you get out of his way so you aren’t part of being smashed.”
“He is a berserker. For men such as that, you fight behind them, not in front. And we are not truly speaking about Banner.”
“No,” Steve said, shaking his head. “Look, Thor, Stark did well, no one’s saying he didn’t. It’s just… we’re worried how long he can keep this up.”
“He crafted the armor himself for his own purpose before he was brought in amongst us. He shall go as long as he is able, I should think.”
Barton snorted, and Steve went red.
“Please don’t tell him that,” Steve said.
“Tony? You in there?” Bruce asked, steering them into the lab, shoving Tony down on a stool, and waving a hand in front of Tony’s face.
Tony blinked and looked up at Bruce. “Yeah.”
“The others were starting to wonder if you’d swallowed your tongue.”
“Nope. Just mentally composing and ripping up my resignation letter.”
“If Fury had wanted you gone, you’d know. Loudly.”
Tony snorted. “He can be a lot more subtle than that.”
“I’m generally not; it saves time. He doesn’t want you gone. The others don’t either. Natasha might be subtle about it, but Steve and Thor aren’t. Trust me,” Bruce said, looking very earnest.
“Sure fine. For round one. I got the job done, awesome. I also tossed my cookies like the second-string quarterback before his first game. They’re probably in there laying bets on how long before I crack,” Tony said, staring at the table.
God, how fucking dumb had he been to think he could handle this? If it had just been him, if he’d been alone, he could have flown away if things had been too bad. He could have just come back another day, when the guards and terrorists were least expecting him, and finished the job without anyone there to judge him but himself. Instead he’d made a fucking idiot out of himself in front of Captain America. And even if he told himself he wanted to punch that All American Jaw, it didn’t stop a childhood indoctrination of being told Steve Rogers was the paragon to which any man should aspire. The hero-worshiping six-year-old Tony Stark had looked right out at Iron Man and cringed at his thoughts of cowardice, his fear in the face of the other Avengers’ steadiness.
“Who’s braver, Tony? Four people who’ve made a career out of being trained fighters or the guy who’s never thrown a punch in anger in his life and still stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them?” Bruce said.
“You a shrink now, Dr. Banner?” Tony quipped, not looking up.
“I have had a lot of time to think about my emotional state,” Bruce said dryly.
Tony chuckled softly and looked up.
“Tell me something, how did Fury round up you guys in the first place? It sounds like you’ve been buddy-buddy for months,” Tony asked. “I kinda got the impression you weren’t really interested in team sports there for a while.”
Bruce looked thoughtful as he opened up a new search. “You’ve got our files, right? I know Fury would have given them to you.” Tony nodded. “It all started with Steve.”
“Doesn’t it always?” Tony said with a hint of bitterness.
“They found him up in an ice shelf in Greenland. A total fluke, really, no one had expected to find him there.”
“And he was alive.” Tony shook his head. It figured. It completely figured that Captain America couldn’t even die like a normal man, but had to return to plague him even now.
“Suspended animation. The odds were completely against it, but he came out of it perfectly all right. So Fury has this super-soldier on his hands-.”
“Insert crude sex joke here,” Tony said, starting to look a little more animated.
Bruce tried not to smile and failed. “And then he’s got Clint and Natasha, neither of whom really fit in neatly within S.H.I.E.L.D.’s ranks, despite the fact they’re certified badasses.”
“Goes without saying, at least for Natasha. That’s her thing.”
“And you just went with her when she batted her eyelashes, Doc?”
“I thought I’d been pretty clever, hiding the way I did. I hadn’t known that S.H.I.E.L.D. had been tracking me for almost four years.” Bruce looked chagrined.
“And I didn’t know they’d been hacking my house and files and trying to bogart my tech, so call it even,” Tony said, shrugging.
“She said they needed me,” Bruce held up a hand to forestall Tony’s inevitable comment. “Yeah, yeah, I know, oldest trick in the book. She said they wanted me,” Bruce put a hand on his chest, “Not the Other Guy. They wanted me for something I was good at, something I hadn’t had a chance to do in years.”
“She didn’t expect you to refuse,” Tony finished. “It’s a nice lure for a guy on the run.”
“Exactly. But this… it was better the devil I knew than the devil I didn’t. At least S.H.I.E.L.D. knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when they invited me in.”
“And it’s not like they could hold you.”
“There is that.”
“I think his files pretty much say it all. Fell out of the sky, literally. Once he’d gotten his act together-.”
“I really loved that part where he had to prove himself worthy to wield his hammer. I’m totally stealing that and sending it as a plot suggestion to my film division.”
Bruce bit his lip trying not to laugh. “He said he wanted to help us. Settled some affairs back on his home plane after that attack and was back here in a few weeks later. It’s been… I think just over a month since the last of us got together.”
“I thought Natasha just brought you in,” Tony said, raising an eyebrow.
“She’d been trying to get me out of Kolkata for a while. Let’s just say there was a lot of Skyping between all of us.”
“One big happy family,” Tony said blandly. “And then Fury had to go fuck it up and bring me in.”
Bruce was silent for a long minute, drumming his fingers on the desk. “You belong here.”
“You wanted to destroy weapons. Believe me, that’s something I can get behind. Neither me or the Other Guy are big fans of being shot at. And you wanted to do it so much that you were willing to turn yourself inside out, use experimental tech and put your life on the line to make it happen.”
“How did you-?” Tony started, and suddenly nodded in understanding. “You too?”
“I was my first test subject. Didn’t quite turn out how I’d intended but… I’m making something out of it. Out of him. I have to.” There was a bitterness, a world-weariness in Bruce’s tone that Tony understood all too well.
“I hear you. The others still don’t like me, though.”
Bruce shrugged. “Give them time.”
Tony turned to look at the new search, and traced the lines crawling across the globe, hunting for the one that would signal imminent destruction. “Yeah, I just hope we have enough.”
Tony nearly jumped out of his skin at Clint’s voice over the intercom, but Bruce merely looked up. They’d been here for nearly three days, hammering out adjusted search parameters and examining the Hulk-smashed ruins of the breach device, and Tony was more than a little wired from all the caffeine he’d drunk.
“Science Central’s operating hours are between nine a.m. and five p.m. Monday through Friday…” Bruce said in a bland corporate drone. Tony laughed silently; Bruce had an unexpectedly dry sense of humor that Tony had been completely (and possibly a little inappropriately) appreciating these last few days.
“Don’t gimme that party line, Doc, I’ve caught you there at one a.m.”
“If I want color commentary, Agent Barton, Tony does it better than you.”
There was a heartbeat of pause. “Okay… Update?” he asked.
Bruce looked over at Tony, who tossed the latest results to his screen.
“Looks like whatever they were trying is going to take some time to build back up, and we’ll be able to catch it before it gets to that semi-critical stage again. In short, the world doesn’t get to end the same way twice. Tony has an alarm wired into the search parameters, so trust me that everyone will know long before these guys get going,” Bruce said.
“Yeah, Natasha’s saying these guys are spouting off something about rewards from other dimensions if the open the gateway, and other crap like that.”
“Sounds familiar. Switch some vocab around…” Tony pointed out. He’d been studying up on the groups that had stockpiled Stark weapons, so crazy religious-style fanatics were nothing new to him.
“You’re still here, Stark?” Clint said, with maybe the tiniest hint of surprise in his voice.
“Where the fuck else would I be? I already learned the secret handshake,” Tony said a little acerbically.
“Um… right. And you’re right. There’s not much left to get out of these guys.” There was another long pause. “You two up for some training instead, then?”
“Steve run out of punching bags?” Bruce asked.
“Again. We didn’t see as much action as Fury thought, but no one expects that situation to last.”
Tony stood and began tapping commands into his phone with sharp, stabbing gestures. Across the lab, his suit began to power up with a faint whine. “See you outside in ten, Barton.”
The intercom clicked. Tony swore under his breath.
“Thought he’d get rid of me that easily, huh?”
“The issues on this team could keep a whole graduating class of psychologists busy for the rest of their lives,” Bruce said. “Really.”
“No shit.” Tony clicked a last command and the suit opened up. He stepped in and let it assemble around him, leaving the faceplate up. “You coming?”
“The Other Guy really doesn’t need to practice smashing,” Bruce pointed out.
“Lazy ass!” Tony accused, pointing at him.
“Would you like to see my Guinness World Record for Most Things Smashed In An Hour? Because I have one.”
Tony narrowed his eyes in mock-anger. “Fine. You get a pass, Banner. This time.”
Bruce laughed as Tony clicked the faceplate down.
“What the hell was that?” Steve called as Tony flew down near ground level.
“He fell. I caught him. I assume we didn’t want Barton-kabobs for lunch,” Tony said, letting Clint down the last few feet to the ground.
“I definitely didn’t,” Clint said, and twisted his bow in his hands. “Sorry, Cap, my grip slipped. I’m ok.”
“Stark…” Steve trailed off and visibly mastered his emotions. “You were supposed to giving Natasha cover fire so she could reach her goal.”
“Good thing I wasn’t doing that then,” Tony said, dropping to the earth and flipping up his faceplate. “I saw him fall. Gave that a higher priority than giving a distraction to Natasha’s stealth skills, ‘cause she already has plenty of those.”
“I need to know you’re going to be reliable in the field, Stark. If you’re not going to be where I expect you, how can I figure out how to deploy you?”
“Hey, other than Big Thunder over here, I’m your eye in the sky. I saw Barton fall, you didn’t. I thought the point was to get this team home safely!”
“The point is to get the job done!” Steve took another step closer to him. Almost within range.
“We are not fucking expendable!” Tony yelled. He clenched his hand into a fist at his side and could feel his arm shaking. He wanted to bring it up, to lay a right cross right on that stupid little wing stencil on the side of Cap’s helmet.
“Nay, you are both right,” Thor said, stepping in between the two, holding his hands out and physically pushing them apart. “There is merit in both of your words. The archer need not have fallen, but his rescue did not have to happen in silence. If Tony had spoken of it, and loudly, then there would have been no surprise to the Captain. Then both of your goals would have been served. Is that not true?”
Steve let it go first, only holding onto his anger for another moment before stepping back and shaking his head. Of course he was going to make the next move, because he was Captain America, and he was fucking perfect.
“He’s got a point. Talk to me, Stark. Let me know what’s going on up there. I had no idea what you were doing.” He even managed a smile. “And good catch.”
Tony flipped his faceplate back down, because he was not perfect, and didn’t want anyone to see his expression. What was the point of having armor like his if he couldn’t hide a thing or two about himself? “Fine. I’ll talk your ear off, if that’s what you want.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” Steve jerked his head and signaled to the operator in the tower to reset the obstacle course.
Thor just nodded at Tony and strode away. From the far side of the course, Natasha popped up out of hiding and waved that she was ready. (See, Tony thought at Steve’s retreating back, she’s a ninja, she didn’t need me flying cover.)
Clint touched his ear, listening to something over his communicator, and winced.
“I promise,” he said, and looked over at Tony. “Natasha,” he said in explanation. “I’m not allowed to die except on missions.”
Tony swallowed behind his mask and turned his attention to something else.
“Why the hell did you fall, Legolas? One second you’re golden, the next you leap off that rock like you think you’re going to grow wings before you hit the ground.”
Clint’s lips twitched, trying not to smile. “I was using a grappling arrow. I was supposed to swing down from that rock, not fall. The grip shifted on me and…” He shrugged. “I got about three seconds of ass-clenching adrenaline and a real wish that I wasn’t going to die on a damn training exercise because St. Peter would probably laugh in my face before you hauled me up from taking a dirt nap. And thanks.”
“You’re way too casual about dying,” Tony muttered.
Clint laughed. “Hazard of my profession.”
“Lemme look at that,” Tony said, pointing to the bow. He subvocalized a few commands to JARVIS, and his faceplate and gauntlets retracted enough so Clint could lay the weapon in his hands. He put his hand on the grip and twisted, and saw what Clint was talking about. “You trusted your entire weight plus pendulum force to this to keep you from going splat?” Tony asked, appalled.
“I was swatting drones! It got damaged!” Clint protested.
“You got a back-up bow?”
“Yeah, of course.”
“Get it, ‘cause I’m not letting you have this one back until I improve it. Come by the lab tomorrow,” Tony said firmly. Clint’s eyes widened as he called another agent to swap out his bow, but didn’t say anything until they were alone again.
“I thought you didn’t make weapons.”
“I don’t. I’m helping you not fall on your ass.” Tony’s armor snapped shut. “I bet you Cap wouldn’t let you live down the shame if I save you again.”
“Oh, trust me, Natasha never will.”
Tony smirked behind his faceplate and blasted off as the start-up alarm sounded.
“Hey, this is nice,” Clint said, twisting the bow in his hands, nearly opening his fingers and closing them again on the recovered grip, watching how the bow stayed put in his grip. “Damn, I wish I’d had this years ago… What is this stuff?”
“The same covering I use on The Big Gripper butt plugs,” Tony said blithely.
Clint choked. “Um… can we not tell anyone that? Ever?” His eyes shifted warily to the only other person in the room.
Across the lab, Bruce had a pair of headphones on and was intently gazing at his computer screen. Clint sighed almost imperceptibly in relief.
“Can I cast some molds from your arms in exchange for my eternal silence?” Tony asked, eyes gleaming mischievously.
“Do I want to know why?” Clint asked, preemptively wincing.
“How do you find the idea of having models of your hand and arm up the various orifices of sex-venturers around the world?”
Clint considered, looked down at his hands, back at Tony, and turned a few interesting colors. “Disturbingly compelling.”
“That’s my company motto!” Tony said cheerfully. He turned back to the bench behind him and brought out mold-making materials. “Sit down and lube ‘em up!”
Clint blushed nearly the entire time, and escaped at the earlier possible opportunity, taking his new bow with him. Tony just hummed in appreciation as he put his new molds aside to cure.
“He really had no idea these were off the entire time, did he?” Bruce spoke up, sliding the headphones off his head.
Bruce chuckled. “Nice job with the bow.”
“Hey, one thing I know from my job is how materials interact with the human body. You can do all the controlled lab experiments you want, but if you really want to see something perform, you got to take it to a wider sample to get the most reliable results. Speaking of which…”
Bruce looked up, giving Tony his full attention. That, Tony was kinda getting addicted to. There were too many people in his life that wouldn’t even look him in the eye, let alone truly pay attention to what he was saying without an ulterior motive.
“I’m going a little stir-crazy in here. I’m thinking… field trip.”
“Anywhere in particular?”
“Look, we’re not getting jack done now that this search is running. I just want to get out of here, go somewhere when I can think. Also, Pepper’s probably got like eighty-seven things for me to sign by now, so I better go do it before she hunts me down here. And while I’d really love to watch her get into a really elegant threatening match with Fury, that’d end up making her really annoyed, and that’s never a good thing.”
“My assistant. Best one in the world. Amazing human being,” Tony said instantly, walking over to sit on the table near Bruce.
“So, your place, then?” Bruce asked, inexplicably relaxing.
“Hey, you think this workshop is great, wait until you see mine,” Tony said. “Fury doesn’t have you on a short leash or anything, right? No alarms that go off when you leave the lab or anything melodramatic like that?”
“I’m pretty solid, and like you said, no place can hold me.” Bruce stood, grinning. “Let’s go.”
“This is where the magic happens!” Tony said, flinging his arms wide as JARVIS brought the lights up on all the displays along the walls. The colorful and highly extensive dildo rack, a wide selection of restraints, several leather and latex outfits, various vibrators and butt plugs, anal beads, clamps, floggers, paddles, whips, and a few things far less identifiable were all as tastefully illuminated as was possible.
Past the monuments to pleasure was the workbench, the one place where it looked like someone actually lived and worked there. The top was scattered with half-finished projects and well-used tools, nothing immediately identifiable, but all of it intriguing.
Bruce took a long minute to look around, nodding slowly. “I’m impressed.”
“And appalled. Go ahead. There’s nothing I haven’t heard before,” Tony said, going to the back of the room and putting Clint’s arm molds next to Dummy. “Hey, Dummy, mix and fill, I need a prototype. Use the Beefcake for the core and Skinsation for the outer later. Don’t fuck it up.”
Bruce watched, a little bemused, as the one-armed robot began the delicate task of mixing various plastics and rubbers.
“Don’t worry about him; he’s slow, but he’ll get the job done. Then it’s testing time,” Tony said, rubbing his hands together with glee.
“Not appalled, by the way,” Bruce said, grinning at Tony’s childlike enthusiasm. “Really.”
“There was a reason I liked you,” Tony said, and crossed back to the workbench and picking up what looked like a prototype Iron Man gauntlet. “Come on, lemme show you the repulsors. I didn’t want to go around talking about my secrets in Fury’s facility.”
“Understandable, 'Ed,'” Bruce said, leaning over next to him. “Is it based on magnetic repulsion or…?”
“Partially. Check it,” Tony said, and opened up the circuitry for Bruce’s inspection.
The two lost themselves in comparative theories for nearly two hours, broken only by the need for food. They punctuated the entirety of lunch with jabs from their chopsticks from delivered Thai, and only stopped once Dummy tugged on Tony’s sleeve to let him know the prototype was curing in the drying chamber.
“Good boy,” Tony said, patting the robot on the head, much to Bruce’s amusement. Dummy rolled away, chirping contentedly, and Tony’s eyes followed him for a long moment before turning back to Bruce. They were still being unobserved; JARVIS would have let him know if Fury had tried to bug his house again. There wasn’t going to be a better time to do what he’d wanted to do for days.
“I got a question for you. Serious business,” Tony said, leaning forward earnestly.
“Shoot. You’ve been answering all of mine all afternoon.”
“Can you…?” Tony trailed off tactfully. Bruce raised an eyebrow. Tony switched to being untactful. “Bone?”
Bruce choked at the change of topic. Or, considering where they were, perhaps returning to the unspoken original topic. “Um…”
“Can you have sex?” Tony persisted. Because sex was easy. Sex was good. Sex, in all its forms-by-proxy, was Tony’s stock-in-trade, and it was about the best language he knew how to speak. It was him at his most eloquent. Or at least, his most noticeable.
“Uh… why do you want to know?” Bruce asked, stalling. There was a faint blush on his cheeks, which Tony found insanely endearing.
“Because one, I’m interested, personally and professionally. Two, I would love to discuss something else with you that isn’t the imminent destruction of the planet.”
Bruce looked away, but the only other things in sight, other than the workbench Tony was solidly planted in front of, was related to sex in some way. He just blushed harder and harder until he finally met Tony’s eyes.
“I’m pretty sure.”
Tony raised an eyebrow.
“I wasn’t, for a long time I was certain I couldn’t, that it would make my heart rate too fast and it would bring out the Other Guy. But that was a while back, and I’ve… done a little experimentation.”
“Solo experimentation, Dr. Banner?” That mental image was a very pleasant one to contemplate.
“Yes,” Bruce said quickly.
“Just wondering. ‘Cause I was gonna offer you a discount, you know, as a professional courtesy, but didn’t want to drop off a sample pack at your lab if it was just going to frustrate you.”
“Professional courtesy,” Bruce repeated, and chuckled softly. “Ah, thank you.” He paused for a minute, and Tony waited for his curiosity get the better of him. He had more than professional courtesy on the line, more like a very personal investment, but he’d start with something simple. Like an olive branch. Of sex toys. “Dare I ask what’s in the sample pack?”
Tony drew breath to answer, when Bruce’s eyes lit upon the machine half-hidden behind the workbench.
“Is that what I think it is?”
Tony grinned when he saw where Bruce was looking. Of course he’d notice the third-most impressive invention in the room. (The first and second being JARVIS and Iron Man, of course.) “My personal Long Distance Lover? Yup.”
Bruce moved over to the machine, hands twitching, like he was wanting to touch but was holding back. Tony felt his stomach do an odd little flip-flop, but pressed ahead anyway.
“Go to town. Or, you know, you could give it a go if you’d rather have a full demo first.”
Bruce stiffened in surprise. “Seriously?”
Tony lowered his eyes enough to see a slight interruption in the flow of Bruce’s pants at the groin. His heart started to speed up and he fought to keep his own response down to an acceptable level. “Very. I’d have to measure you first, safety protocols and all that, but yeah.”
“I, um… I kind of wondered… I mean, I can go at it alone, but with someone… I was afraid, and if anything happened, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”
“Then this is perfect for you. Give yourself a test run. If the Big Guy makes an appearance, well, hey, I can always rebuild.”
Bruce coughed and blushed. “That’s… very kind of you, but…”
“Hey, when else are you going to get a shot at free orgasms? I am precisely the last man on Earth to judge how and why someone wants to get off.”
“And with whom?” Bruce said, and shut his mouth abruptly. Tony’s spirits just rocketed skyward and his confidence soared.
“And with whom,” Tony said warmly, not missing a beat. “You wanna?”
“I…” Bruce looked back and forth between the LDL and Tony, all smiles, and relaxed. “Yes.”
“How do you want it?” Tony asked, leaning forward, getting closer to Bruce’s personal space.
“I got this set up for penetrative sex, ‘cause I like it up the ass, but if you want it another way, just say the word. I got analogues for any orifice you like, or we can go threesome mode and have both arms going at once. Or DP, if that’s your bag. What’s your pleasure?” Tony said matter-of-factly.
Bruce looked like his brain had just shut down briefly. “You have a threesome mode?” he asked slowly.
“Duh. Huge selling point.”
“What you have,” Bruce said in a very small voice. “How you have it set up now, that’s good.”
Inside, Tony did a fist pump to the sky.
“No judgment from me, Dr. Banner. Now, drop trou, ‘cause I gotta have JARVIS measure you.”
“There is nothing I haven’t seen before Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said politely. “Your S.H.I.E.L.D. file is quite extensive.”
“Yeah, the Other Guy is hard on clothes.” Bruce swallowed and shrugged out of his shirt and pants with quick, economical motions.
“I shoulda known you went commando,” Tony said with satisfaction. He forcibly reminded himself that he should not be licking his lips right now.
“Hard on clothes,” Bruce repeated quickly.
“Or just hard,” Tony said, grinning. Bruce didn’t even bother to try to cover himself, meeting Tony’s eyes steadily as he looked him up and down appreciatively. Lights blinked on from the ceiling, scanning Bruce’s body minutely, and winked off again.
“External scan complete. Sir, if you would begin the internal measurements?” JARVIS said.
Tony turned, snapped on a pair of gloves, and picked up what looked like a slim dildo with a cord running out the back from a closed box, and connected to the LDL. He grabbed a convenient bottle of lube (only in Tony Stark’s workshop would there be “convenient” bottles of lube everywhere) and slicked it up with a practiced hand, his movements precise and economical. He turned back to Bruce and held his hands out questioningly.
“Ah…” Bruce said, the blush returning to his cheeks. “I suppose I know where that goes.”
“If you want to do yourself, feel free, but I can make it easier for you.” Tony leaned back against the workbench and smiled. “Believe me when I tell you I’m very, very good at this.”
“You do this often?”
“Only for people I like. Which would be…” Tony carefully ticked off on his fingers, and mentally braced himself. “Just you.”
Bruce huffed out a breath, moved over to the bench, and bent over. “Go ahead.” His knuckles had gone white as he gripped the edges, and Tony touched him gently in the middle of the back. He was incredibly warm, even through the gloves, and Tony was insanely turned on by Bruce’s trust to have him at his back, vulnerable.
“Gotta relax, Doc. This is supposed to be fun,” Tony said lightly. Bruce had not had nearly enough fun in his life, not for years. And Tony meant to rectify that.
“It’s been a while,” Bruce said, his voice muffled from where he’d dropped his head to pillow on his arms.
“I figured. Gotta loosen you up here a bit, ok?” Tony trailed his other hand over the curve of Bruce’s ass and gently slid between his cheeks. He quivered under Tony’s hand, and Tony had to turn and bite into the fabric of his shoulder briefly to keep himself from moaning out loud.
Bruce jumped slightly when Tony’s slicked finger touched his hole, and then consciously, deliberately relaxed himself. “Sorry, go ahead.”
“Just say the word at any time, all right?”
“How about ‘don’t stop,’ is that enough of a word for you?” Bruce said shortly.
Tony swallowed hard at that. God, he wanted to kiss the man’s face off.
Tony rubbed gently, spreading the lube around before sliding a finger in smoothly. Bruce moaned, and Tony bit his lip as Bruce pushed back against his hand.
“Probe next,” Tony said, and heard a little hoarseness in his tone.
Tony swore very quietly to himself and slowly pushed the probe in, loving the way Bruce’s body shivered as it was fully seated.
“Beginning internal scan. Attempt to remain still, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said calmly.
“You good?” Tony asked, his hand still tight on the curve of Bruce’s ass.
“I know this is just the pre-lab, but I think I’m really going to like the outcome,” Bruce said, sounding a little breathless.
“The Big Guy enjoying it too?” Tony asked casually.
“He…” Bruce’s voice got a little steadier as he considered. “He doesn’t really care right now.” His eyes widened in wonder.
“Good. Hang on, because things are about to get a little bigger.”
Bruce’s head came up as JARVIS moved into phase two of the measurements, the probe slowly expanding and lengthening, testing the way his body responded to the stimuli. There was shock on his face, but it was the good kind of shock, and Bruce’s eyes lowered slowly as a warm flush spread over his body.
“God, that feels good,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
“We haven’t even reached the main event yet,” Tony said, chuckling disarmingly.
“I really don’t care. No one’s ever really… I mean I haven’t felt safe even trying in years.”
“I like making people feel good,” Tony said, sounding almost surprised at himself. “It’s the reason I built my company.” Bruce looked up at Tony and smiled in a way that made Tony’s heart skip a beat. He was used to seeing dopey expressions of pleasure on his customers’ faces; he’d lost track of the number of “action shot” videos and pictures he’d had sent his way. But even though, strictly speaking, he had a hand in all those orgasms, those smiles and sighs were not meant for him. They were meant for the girlfriends and boyfriends, husbands and wives, the casual fuckbuddies, doms, and fantasy lovers. Not for him. Not until now.
A chime sounded from the ceiling, interrupting the moment.
“Internal scan complete. I am now ready to proceed, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said. “If you would care to pick your preferred attachment?”
Bruce blinked as Tony started and carefully slid the probe out of him. He took a couple deep breaths to get his equilibrium back.
“Right, yeah.” Tony detached the probe and tossed it over to the bin to be sterilized. “I got all the toys, and that is not an exaggeration,” he said, and pointed towards the dildo rack. “How do you like it?”
Bruce looked at the colorful array of fake cocks, some hyper realistic, others idealized versions with precise curves and inhuman features to titillate and stimulate one place or another. His eyes glazed slightly and he blinked in a way that Tony recognized from some of his customer appreciation videos.
“Tony, I will seriously take anything right now. I trust your expertise; pick for me, please?”
Tony’s mouth went dry, and his hand shook slightly as he plucked the slimmer Adonis 5 from the rack. The man hadn’t had sex in years; no need to bust out something too extreme. Besides, the Adonis models were his golden oldies, well-tested and approved by thousands. Despite the faint tremor in his grip, Tony got the dildo secure on the LDL’s arm and nodded. JARVIS took over, activating the lube and warmer, slicking and heating the toy until it was perfect.
“If you are ready, Dr. Banner?” JARVIS asked diffidently.
Bruce nodded slowly. “Very ready.” He shivered slightly and looked around, spying Tony standing off to the side, not one hundred percent sure Bruce wanted him right on top of him during the main event.
“You can go right back to where you were, right now,” Bruce said through clenched teeth. “Experimental protocols. Someone’s gotta observe the results.”
“Fuck I love science,” Tony muttered very quietly.
“Exactly,” Bruce said. He kept himself still until Tony was right next to him, and then jerked his chin. “Go on, JARVIS.”
The LDL rolled closer, and Tony kept his eyes nailed on Bruce’s face as his body was slowly breached. A long, low moan poured from him as he was penetrated, and Tony felt his own erection straining against the front of his pants. God, he wanted to record Bruce’s sounds for his own personal sex soundtrack.
“Yes…” Bruce hissed, when the Adonis was fully seated inside him. “Good, that’s good.”
“So eloquent, Dr. Banner,” Tony teased.
“Don’t care. Move.”
The LDL began careful thrusts, rocking Bruce gently against the table. He braced himself and closed his eyes, small huffs punctuating every movement. JARVIS tracked the sounds, the expressions, following the feedback program Tony had put into him years ago, and began to modify his technique, going deeper and harder as Bruce voiced his appreciation.
“Hrgn… yes,” Bruce gasped out, and forced his eyes open. “JARVIS, slower.” The LDL obediently slowed down, and Bruce looked up right at Tony, eyes nearly black with arousal.
“You good?” Tony asked, throat dry and his hand nearly cramping from not palming himself through his pants.
“Great,” Bruce said, slowing his breathing to time with the LDL’s thrusts. One hand let go of its death grip on the edge of the workbench and wrapped around Tony’s arm. Tony looked down at Bruce’s hand, and then back in his eyes, not sure if he should take advantage. Well, more advantage. Relative advantage.
“Yeah?” Tony whispered.
“You meant what you said, earlier?”
Tony nodded, heat rushing through his entire body, not needing a map for that part of the conversation. Bruce lifted his chin and Tony met him immediately, kissing him hard, hand fisting in Bruce’s hair. He gasped in Bruce’s mouth as he suddenly let go of Tony’s arm to cup his erection, rubbing firmly along his length in time with the slow rocking of the LDL.
Jesus fuck, it felt good. Tony hadn’t had anyone else get him off in… far too long. His body was already hot and primed from watching Bruce, and Bruce’s confident touch was bringing him to the edge fast.
Tony broke away long enough to gasp. “I’m gonna-.” Bruce didn’t even pause, just recaptured Tony’s mouth and held him there with his kiss as Tony gave it up like a teenage prom date, coming with his pants still buttoned. Bruce moaned softly a moment later as the LDL pushed him to completion, tensing and then relaxing gorgeously as Tony’s creation slowed and then disengaged from his satiated body.
Tony hooked one arm on the table to help keep him up on wobbly knees as he carefully disentangled his hand from Bruce’s hair. But it just wound up back there again, caressing softly through the gray-threaded dark strands.
“Success,” Tony said, once he’d regained the power of verbal speech above caveman level.
“Very successful. Excellent… conclusion,” Bruce said, his head still pillowed on his arm. “Thank you.”
“Anytime. Really. I mean that. Literally anytime you want to do that again,” Tony said, breathing in Bruce's scent.
“Maybe without the-.”
The door slid open before Bruce could finish his sentence, and Tony looked up reflexively. Ah, Pepper. No big deal. Pepper had seen everything. This was far from the worst thing she’d ever caught him doing. She only blinked once, and that just because Tony hadn’t had anyone else down in the workshop for a long while.
Then Tony caught a glimpse of brighter red hair behind her.
Natasha, no, Natalie came into view, wearing a power suit and stilettos, holding onto Pepper’s files with white knuckles as she saw Tony, leaning against a table with stained pants and kiss-swollen lips, practically hanging onto Bruce, naked and well-fucked, bent over Tony’s workbench with Tony’s Long Distance Lover parked just behind him.
Her glare revved up to eleven, and Tony was sure the ends of his hair were about to catch on fire.
“Mr. Stark,” Pepper said, nodding. “Dr. Banner, nice to meet you.”
“Blanket?” Bruce whispered through clenched teeth, looking mortified. Tony forced himself to move, but all he could manage to find was a StarkNaked Industries sweatshirt he’d left down here. He settled for draping that across Bruce’s ass, and Bruce hastily rearranged it to cover the essentials.
“I have some things for you to sign. And you need to tell S.H.I.E.L.D. that despite whatever else they want to talk to you about, you do have a company to run, so dropping you into a black hole for a week is not going to be good for you,” Pepper said calmly, unaware of the power of Natalie’s stare behind her.
“I’m sure Mr. Stark will remember his priorities in the future,” Natalie said, in a politely cheerful voice that was nothing at all like Natasha’s. It chilled Tony right down to the bone and completely killed whatever afterglow her very presence hadn’t destroyed.
Tony put his arm around Bruce as the mortified scientist discreetly tried to find his pants, and stared right back at her, feeling like a stupidly brave mouse trying to stare down a snake.
“I always know my priorities,” Tony said, and squeezed Bruce’s shoulder gently.
He signed Pepper’s forms automatically as Natalie held them, but felt a small slip of paper slipped to him as she whisked the complete forms away.
“Thanks, Potts,” Tony said, managing a smile for her, even if it was thinned out some by Natalie’s presence.
“Of course, Mr. Stark. Dr. Banner, keep having a good day.”
Bruce blushed to the roots of his hair as Pepper smiled at him, and managed a mumbled response before she and Natalie left.
Tony looked at the slip of paper he’d gotten with trepidation.
Return to HQ, alarms have gone off again.
Bruce hooked his chin over Tony’s shoulder, the warmth of his body pressed up against him as he looked at the note. And sighed.
“Avengers assemble,” he said wearily.
“Cockblocker Fury, I swear to God,” Tony said vehemently, and went to find both of them some clean pants.
Chapter 4: Break Through to the Other Side
Where the enemy is revealed, and you can't always get what you want.
“Your timing sucks,” Tony told her once he’d gotten Natasha out of the workshop. Bruce was taking the world’s fastest shower in the bathroom next door, and Tony definitely intended to have a few words before they all had to swan off to save the world again.
“You took Banner and went AWOL.”
“Like Fury and his minions weren’t keeping tabs on the door. We didn’t exactly sneak out of there when we peeled out of the parking lot in the Maserati. Also, I didn’t think I had to tell Dad before I left the house,” Tony said, scowling.
Natasha maintained a low-level glare at him. “You took Banner off of S.H.I.E.L.D. grounds.”
“I don’t remember getting an ankle tracker put on when I signed up for this gig, ‘Natalie.’”
“Did you even stop to think about this before you left?”
“Not really. Actually, wait, yes I did. I thought that he and I had been brainstorming for three days straight and it might have been a good idea to get out of there before we went blind. Not to mention I kinda have a multi-national company that Pepper still makes me sign things for and still go to meetings, so I can’t just drop off the face of the planet-.”
“Stark, I’m not talking about that.” She made a sharp gesture, like cutting his throat. “Banner’s still wanted by the US military. General Ross might have lost a hell of a lot of face when the Hulk escaped, but some of the research he was in charge of actually got viable results.”
“The super-soldier serum? After the fucking Abomination, they’re still considering it viable?” Tony nearly sputtered.
“Blonski was greedy. He mixed it up with three or four other things he shouldn’t have. Ross managed to convince a few people that he’s still got a plan, Blonski just messed up.”
“And that ‘plan’ is Bruce.” Tony crossed his arms. “He’s spent nearly nine years running; you think he’s honestly not looking over his shoulder still? Didn’t it take you a month to dig him out of India?”
“Banner knows he’s supposed to stay near S.H.I.E.L.D. facilities so we can protect him. If Ross ever gets a glimpse of his face, he’ll try to capture him, and he’s had a lot of time to try to find a better way to subdue the Hulk.”
“It won’t work. I’ve seen Big Green in action.”
“No, it probably won’t, but it’ll make a mess and a lot of people will get hurt, not least of whom is Bruce Banner.”
“Even if Ross were looking for Bruce in the States, do you think that Bruce would get careless after everything he’s been through? Also, I really resent that you think I haven’t thought this through. Certified genius, remember? I have better security on my house than most of S.H.I.E.L.D. No one was going to know he was at my place, and even if they did they would have a bitch of a time trying to get him out.” Tony moved closer, well into Natasha’s danger zone, just to make his point.
Natasha didn’t drop her eyes in the least. “Listen to what I’m saying, Stark. You shut down all communications when you left. Your AI blocked every electronic way of notifying you so you could have your downtime. We couldn’t contact you that the alarms had gone off, and couldn’t have warned you if Ross had managed to get a break. Are you on this team or not?”
“Yes-.” Tony blinked, surprised. Hell, he’d forgotten his privacy mode was so thorough – in his usual line of work, nothing world-shattering would happen if he answered a call later. But now, with this new gig, things actually were literally mission critical. And that was… very new.
“Then keep some lines of communication open,” she said tartly. “Don’t just drop off the planet when you’ve managed to make yourself useful.” Natasha stepped back from him and ghosted to the doorway.
“You know, you could have just said, ‘Keep your phone on,’” Tony said. He was probably pouting a little, but couldn’t really bring himself to care. Interrupt a man’s afterglow and he was bound to get cranky.
“Would you have listened to me?” Natasha pointed out, her hand on the door.
Tony conceded that point and shook his head.
“Whatever the hell you and Banner get up to on your own time falls under ‘not my business’ unless you’re managing to risk others’ lives doing it.”
“You’re worried I’m going to bring out the Big Guy with my LDL?” Tony couldn’t resist asking.
“No. If we didn’t think Banner had enough self-control for you, we wouldn’t have brought him in.”
Tony’s eyebrows shot up. “My, I didn’t know you were running a matchmaking service at S.H.I.E.L.D.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Stark.” The door swung shut behind her as Bruce nearly ran out of the bathroom, buckling his belt as he went.
“Alarms are still at minimal, Big Science. Come on,” Tony said, answering the panic-stricken glance in Bruce’s eyes. “I told you, you had time.”
Time, and Tony’s reputation could take him waltzing into S.H.I.E.L.D. reeking of sex. But Bruce deserved all the privacy in the world. Or, well, at least as much as he could get considering they’d been in Tony’s private workshop for a couple hours.
“Agent Romanov was being proactive, Dr. Banner. Levels are at thirteen percent and rising one percent every ten minutes,” JARVIS said, answering the questions Bruce was about to say. That explained the alarms – they were set to go off at eight percent. And it made Natasha’s intrusion even more impressive, given that she had managed to get Pepper to interrupt them within an hour, all while keeping her cover intact.
“Oh,” Bruce said, and shoved the end of his belt through his loop, relaxing a tiny bit. “But still-.”
“Better get going,” Tony finished. “Duty calls.”
Bruce snorted softly as they both headed for the garage.
“Single point, concentrated signature, still with the slow-burn build,” Bruce was saying, tapping at the screen, his brow furrowed with consternation.
“We got a location, Doc?” Clint asked, looking over his shoulder with just a hint of wariness.
“Right here.” Bruce pointed. “Old atomic test sites. They were hoping to use the background radiation to hide what they’re doing.”
“Right in the U.S. of A. Awesome. These guys didn’t learn a damn thing from the last bunch,” Tony opined, scattering different wavelengths across his screen. “Concentrated signature is right; this stuff is potent. It’s penetrating deep, whatever they’re trying to do.”
“They can’t crack open a big wormhole with just a single point, but maybe that’s not what they’re trying to do,” Bruce said. “They could just be trying to open up a single small doorway.” He looked up from his screen to meet the other Avengers’ eyes. “It’s not big, but they can keep this one open at lower power levels.”
“Then we stop them, whatever it takes,” Steve said. “Let’s get the coordinates and get moving.”
“Wait, look at the layout, the scans, the weather,” Clint said, pointing. “Flat desert, no cover, no clouds, they’ll see us miles away unless we come in at night.”
“By nightfall they’ll have this portal at full strength,” Bruce warned. “And they probably don’t need it fully open if they’re just trying to bring over or send through something small. Components, information, they’ve got to be trying to make some smaller goal because we stopped them last time.”
“We got satellites photos? Yeah, here, look,” Clint said, pointing. “Their building is half-buried, camouflaged roof. They really did learn something from the last bunch. Unless we do a fly-over and-.”
“No.” Tony’s head came up even as Clint cut himself off in mid-sentence, carefully not looking at Tony. No, they were not going to arbitrarily blow up people, not on Tony’s watch. At least Clint remembered that before he said it out loud.
“We don’t know what’ll happen if that equipment gets that kind of damage. The other rifts and portals weren’t open yet, but this one could be or is going to be really damn soon. It’s not worth the risk. We have to do this the hard way,” Steve said, catching everyone’s eye in turn.
“But still, we need not give up the element of surprise,” Thor said meditatively. “I shall call a storm, and we can shelter in its wings. Your technology is still thwarted by lightning.”
Tony grinned at that. “Now I officially like having the thunder god on our side.”
“Of course,” Thor said without a hint of sarcasm.
Natasha tapped the picture and nodded. “Intel gives us approximately two dozen inside, plus whatever surprise tech they managed to cook up while we were taking out the first batch.”
“And we don’t have much time. They’re at twenty-five percent right now,” Bruce pointed out.
“Wheels up in five,” Steve said decisively, and Clint left the room to prepare the Quinjet. “Thor, we’ll go with your plan. Storm us in and take out their antenna before we come down. Stark, flashbangs at the entrances, here, here, and here, and take down whoever comes out to look. Natasha, you and me inside, Barton covering outside, Stark and Thor as backup.” Steve looked up at both of them. “Take out the roof above us if we call you in; nothing fancy. We’ll dodge, you stun. Bruce-.”
“Give the Other Guy a call if everything goes sideways,” Bruce filled in with a bit of a sigh.
“We might need you, Dr. Banner, to close up this thing without smashing it. If we get our hands on one of the intact devices, that puts us ahead of where they expect us to be.”
Bruce brightened a bit at that and nodded. Smashing was always an option if things got out of hand, but this time they were better prepared. Tony was looking over the map himself, a teeny bit resentful that Steve hadn’t mentioned Tony himself could probably deactivate the device, but kept his mouth shut for Bruce’s sake. As for the rest of the plan… well, Tony’s experience with squad-level combat had come from D&D and HALO, not necessarily the best training when the outcome didn’t have a reroll or a save point. The training he'd done on his own didn't include working with other people. Steve had gotten Tony through his first fight; he’d trust Captain America’s experience again.
“All right, let’s move!”
Storm-flying, Tony decided, kicked ass. Unlike a plane or a chopper, Tony could stabilize at multiple points at will, and had an AI to read the wind currents for him. Not to mention there was a guarantee that no lightning would hit him, not with the god of thunder directing the storm. Whenever Tony looked sideways, he could see Thor being pulled along by his hammer’s throw, utterly unconcerned by the wind and rain. Only a god could manage both a cape and long hair in a storm and still managed to pull off “manfully disheveled” instead of “drowned rat.”
“There, Man of Iron!” Thor called, his voice somehow cutting above the thunder as the clouds boiled across the desert. JARVIS illuminated a structure on the ground on Tony’s HUD and Tony nodded back that he’d seen.
“We got visual, Cap.”
“On Thor’s mark,” Steve said, and Tony gave Thor a thumbs-up.
Grinning grimly, Thor swung his hammer again and surged forward. Lightning answered his call, and the tall antenna on the half-buried structure lit up like Christmas as scorching white light rained down from the sky.
“Power inside the facility is still active, sir. Energy signature still rising, now at an accelerated rate,” JARVIS said.
“Banner says it’s spiking!” Steve called in the next second.
“On it!” Tony flew in hard, heart pounding, grateful beyond measure that this time, at least, no one was shooting back thus far. The doors to the building were opening, people starting their evacuation or maybe just trying to figure out the damage. And they weren’t looking at him. Easy money. One, two, three, four. The flashbangs were astoundingly loud and bright even with the storm still going, and people dropped to their knees from the assault of sound and light, others keeling over entirely from the shock.
The Quinjet was down in the next few seconds, and Steve and Natasha vanished inside the building even as Barton and Thor corralled anyone who was foolish enough to try to get outside. The guys were armed, but Barton had an uncanny ability to spot them before they spotted him, and only one guy got a shot off.
But that shot got Tony’s attention instantly. It wasn’t a bullet, or a grenade, or a gas round, a tazer charge, or anything else that Tony had studied. It was a bolt of brilliant blue energy. And suddenly the slightly unfamiliar weapons become far, far too familiar. Because Tony had seen them before, but never in color. He’d seen those bolts of energy in fuzzy black and white - in Captain America’s wartime action shots.
“What the hell?” Barton yelled, even as their comms erupted with Natasha’s voice.
“Stark, Thor, on me!”
Tony powered upwards and came down square on Natasha’s position, the suit ringing in protest and bruising his legs from the pressure as he broke through the reinforced walls, Thor right behind him. The room was huge and empty, save for a device that looked like nothing so much as a mechanical spider with one blue eye that was feeding a glowing, white-blue-rimmed portal of blackness, the whole guarded by a full dozen men in heavy combat gear. They bore even bigger weapons than the guys outside, and were managing to fend off Steve’s shield throws and punches even as he dodged or blocked their shots. Natasha was everywhere, stunning where she could, wrapped around the body of another to throw his aim off, desperately trying to get through to the device.
Because there was someone struggling through that portal. Human-shaped, wearing something dark, but his face… His face and hands were dripping red with blood.
Steve was fighting like a damn machine, and Thor waded right in, throwing men aside with just sheer brute strength. Tony went for more precision, aiming and firing tranq darts every time someone showed a vulnerable spot, and deflecting those deadly blue beams of energy anywhere but at the team. Whoever those men were behind the masks, they were tough as hell, because they kept getting up after Thor’s hits. Tony moved closer with every second; there wasn’t enough room to fly safely, and he had to get to the damn breach-maker as soon as he could. The others were holding off the guards, and it wasn’t safe for Bruce in here as anyone except the Hulk. Tony cursed the fact that nearly two-thirds of his arsenal were for crowd control, useless in a close melee with his teammates in the line of fire, and switched to the repulsors. If these bozos could take Thor’s hits, they could definitely take Tony’s.
“How is your future now, Captain?” an arrogant voice called from the portal, distorted by both crossing from another dimension – and a German accent. Steve and Tony’s heads snapped up.
The man coming through the portal not covered in blood. He was scorched red, burned red, fuelled by arrogance and rage and utter certainty that he was meant to be the pinnacle of human perfection… Red Skull.
“Schmidt!” Steve roared, and knocked three men sprawling as he broke through their ranks and hurled his shield at the enemy he thought he’d defeated seventy years ago. Red Skull deflected Steve’s throw with his arms alone and reached for the glowing blue heart of the breach machine.
Tony cursed in every language he knew and fired his repulsors at the edge of the machine, winging Red Skull and making the machine spark. The portal behind him flared and contracted slightly, and the building began to shake.
“Banner!” Natasha shouted over the comm, a level of urgency in her voice that might have been called panic in a lesser being.
Steve and Red Skull moved at the same time, but Red Skull was closer, and his hand closed on the blue glow first and twisted. The portal flared again and the blackness behind it turned briefly to a scene of a barren wasteland, dotted with scrub trees. Shouting, Steve lunged for Red Skull, making the man throw himself backward to avoid his grasp. Tony tried to get a bead on the man, JARVIS frantically trying to compensate for their superhuman speed, but he fell right through the portal, which snapped shut with a final shake that tossed the entire building around.
Right then the Hulk burst through the hole Tony and Thor had made, growling, his fists clenched and ready to smash, only to be confronted with Thor and Natasha standing guard over a dozen battered men, Tony with his gauntlet still raised to the smoking breach machine, and Steve looking at the place the portal had stood, shock in every line of him.
“No smash?” Hulk asked, sounding miffed.
There was a long moment of silence before Thor finally spoke.
“No, my friend. Nothing to smash now.”
“I thought he was dead,” Steve said, his voice curiously toneless as he talked about the inexplicable reappearance of a man who should, by all rights, never had been seen again.
“So he made it against impossible odds. Not unusual in our line of work. What can we expect from him?” Natasha asked, all business as she effortlessly took over the debriefing. Fury wisely had left them to hash this out on their own; even Coulson was waiting on their reports instead of quietly and efficiently pestering them for intel.
Steve was quiet for a long time, long enough that even Tony was getting uncomfortable. Hell, he didn’t think he’d seen Steve ever look that lost, not even when he’d given him the toys. It was bad enough to make Tony open his mouth.
“He’s a scientist,” Tony spoke up, and Natasha looked at him with a hint of surprise. “Nazi scientist. He designed weapons using some kind of secret power source. First guy to use the super-soldier serum too.” It was appalling how easily all of Dad’s lectures on Captain America’s exploits came back to him, but Tony never forgot them. He hadn’t been allowed to forget.
“Not successfully,” Natasha said. It wasn’t a question, but Steve nodded anyway, still staring into the middle distance.
“I watched him dissolve into starlight. He fell into the night sky and then it was gone again. The cube, the power source, burned right through the deck of the plane. It fell into the ocean.”
“S.H.I.E.L.D.’s got nothing on it. The thing in the breach machine-?”
“Not the same thing,” Steve said positively, starting to look a little more alive. “HYDRA, Schmidt’s private army, they had some kind of ammo, some kind of battery full of energy from the cube that they used in their weapons.”
“Where did this Red Skull go? Another world?” Thor asked. “I did not recognize the place.”
“No,” Bruce said positively. He brushed a little dust from himself before touching the tablet and consulting a chart. “The energy signature changed, and the power dropped by a factor of ten when Tony winged the breach machine. I don’t think he could dimension-hop anymore.”
Tony leaned over to look at the data and raised his eyebrow. “He’s somewhere on Earth, that’s what you’re saying. He couldn’t move through dimensions, but he could move in space.”
Bruce nodded as Steve sat up and leaned forward, running his hands through his hair. “He didn’t look good. And I don’t just mean the obvious. He looked sick, tired… I don’t know how much he is like me, but he took the serum, I know it takes a hell of a lot to affect me. But I heal fast.”
“But he’s also spent seventy years in another world, not taking an ice-nap,” Tony said, and almost laughed nervously at himself. He was talking about trans-dimensional travel to a super-soldier preserved from World War II. In the company of a Norse god and a man who could turn into the monster under the bed. And his life could have been considered strange before the Avengers happened.
“Then we have a little time. Schmidt must have used the breach device as a last-ditch effort to escape, so unless you guys tell me he managed to pick his landing zone…”
“Not after we broke up the first attempt to open portals. Whatever energy patterns he was trying to make, we destroyed,” Bruce said.
“Then he probably doesn’t know where he is. I’ll get the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. on the hunt,” Natasha said.
Tony looked over at Steve, more animated than he had been, but still looking like he’d seen a ghost. Out of all the faces from Steve’s past, that had probably been the one he’d never wanted to see again.
“Come on,” Tony said, tapping Bruce on the shoulder. “Let’s go see what we can figure out.”
Anything not to be in the same room with Steve while he tried to figure out why he was one of the unluckiest men on the planet.
“So hey, we got this thing more or less wrapped up for the time being, so you wanna blow this popsicle stand?” Tony asked, more than willing to put this whole stupid mess behind him, at least for the night. Steve’s uncharacteristically quiet recitation, Red Skull’s reappearance, all of it. The guy had been shunted off who-the-hell-knew in the world, and he definitely wasn’t going to be taking over the world while recovering from two rapid portal trips, even if his remaining HYDRA crazies found him. And that was going to be difficult with the world’s best spy organization hunting the globe for him. They had time, and even Fury knew it.
Bruce looked up at him wearily, not quite exhausted, but the dust from the debris the Hulk had smashed through emphasized every line on his face and put more gray in his hair. “We’ve got to get a better handle on this, Tony. And aside from Steve, you’re probably our best living expert on Red Skull.”
“Yeah, but we aren’t going to be able to do that if we stare at the screens for another three hours. We’ve both been over the data ten times, we sent every possible landing zone to Hill, we have numbers crunching on the readings, and JARVIS is busy rendering the shit out of the breach device. We’ve put in good week’s work in an afternoon, and all work and no play makes Banner a dull boy. Come on,” Tony said, waving him towards the door with a flourish.
Bruce hesitated, looked back at the screen, and shook his head. “I shouldn’t.”
“You should. And you can. Which I think we proved pretty conclusively,” Tony said, putting on his best smile. He definitely hadn’t been imagining Bruce’s enjoyment during their first go-around in Tony’s workshop, and had decided he wanted a few dozen repeat performances if at all possible. Bruce was one of the few people, aside from a few of his long-time employees and the amazing Pepper, who could take all of Tony’s ridiculousness in stride. That was rare, and to be cherished and-.
“I need time,” Bruce said softly. And didn’t immediately meet Tony’s incredulous stare. He looked away, blushing.
Tony felt a flash of childish anger, fueled by everything that had happened today, and fought off the urge to say something shallow and scathing - You were happy enough to get naked and get off in front of me the other day, or Morning-after regrets three days after? I thought you were a genius, Banner. Something to match the pain from acid-edged flash of ice that chilled his veins at Bruce’s words.
Reason and decency (he had them, he did, he just didn’t use them very much) stopped him, along with the regret in Bruce’s expression.
“Yeah?” Tony asked instead, managing to keep his voice very level.
“We kind of let things get away from us,” Bruce said, gaze fixed on the screen. He bit his lip slightly as he brushed aside data points and redid a chart.
“Well, you know me,” Tony said with a practiced rakish smile, mentally squaring his shoulders and taking the same blow he’d been taking for years. “I’m easy. No harm, no foul.”
“Not like that,” Bruce said quickly, looking up with a stricken expression. “Tony… no. Sorry, I didn’t mean-.”
“Hey, no problem,” Tony said, putting up his hands, his smile slipping a little from Bruce’s sincerity.
“It was just… I hadn’t in so long, and I just forgot for five minutes who I am. And that’s good,” Bruce added hastily. “But-.”
“But what?” Tony asked, trying to hide his trepidation. Because those “buts” never tended to work out well, in his experience.
Bruce shook his head, his face so red now that he couldn’t even speak. It took him a long time to force out, “It was a risk.”
“What part of ‘you made Tony Stark come in his pants’ did you miss? That’s not a risk, hell, that deserved a damn trophy.” He risked another winning grin, anything to get Bruce back into a better humor and off that ledge of caution he’s been clinging to for far too long. Anything to avoid running off that cliff Tony had been shoved from more than once in his life.
“It was good,” Bruce said finally, and walked around the table, vanishing the space between them. He was still a little red, but there were furrows in his brow he only got when considering something of import. “We were good, Tony. I just… need a little time. I’m not used to getting what I want; it makes me think the ceiling’s going to fall in any second and that makes the Other Guy nervous as hell.”
“I told you, I can always rebuild,” Tony said, putting his hands in his pockets instead of reaching out to touch Bruce someplace delightfully inappropriate. He just wanted to prove to himself that this had happened…
“You shouldn’t have to,” Bruce said, and closed his eyes briefly. “You can’t rebuild everything, Tony.”
“Give me space,” Bruce cut in. “Please.”
Tony felt chill and hollow inside as Bruce pulled away, apologetic and humble against Tony’s fading cocky smile.
“JARVIS?” Tony called softly, shrugging out of his clothes very slowly as the workshop door closed behind him. He felt battered and bruised inside and out, shook with the unwanted realization of humility that sometimes you couldn’t get everything that you wanted. That sometimes you were ready long before someone else was. That sometimes that time might never come.
“Yes, sir?” JARVIS asked, and the lights on the LDL went on. Tony felt cold, empty, needy; knowing the mission hadn’t gone right eating at him more than he wanted to stand. He could have moved faster, taken more risks, and maybe they’d have a prisoner instead of an enemy on the run. The whole conversation with Bruce quietly blowing up in his face on top of that had punched holes in the armor he’d built around himself long before he’d become Iron Man.
Can’t get what you want, rich man.
“Make it real,” Tony said, pillowed his hands on his arms on the workbench and closed his eyes.
“Sir?” JARVIS asked again, but Tony didn’t answer. There were a few mechanical whirrs behind him, a few clicks, and hands slowly slipped around his sides to gently grip his hips. Hand models, Tony knew, but if he kept his eyes shut and his mind turned off, he could make believe they were real hands.
A soft touch worked him open, spreading lube around like a cautious lover. Tony didn’t really need that much, not with as much practice as he had, but this was how it would be with someone. When someone cared. The hands gripped him more tightly as a cock slowly breached him, the soft, spongy head stretching him as it slipped inside, followed by the smooth, hard shaft in careful, short strokes that tested Tony’s every reaction, learning what he liked.
This worked. This always worked. The mechanics of it had always gotten him off, the touches on his skin, the stretch, the pressure and burn, fast or slow, combined with the slickness of lube and the body-warm length inside him, always did something for him. Like a machine, you put the right input into his body, attached the correct peripherals, and you could always get the desired result. Tony felt his pleasure build, bank, and climb again as JARVIS played him like he was trying to get a high score on Tetris.
From slow and deep to fast and excitedly shallow, like his partner was so close he could barely contain himself, Tony choked out tiny gasps of surrender as he felt a hot spurt inside him. Mouth open in a soundless cry, Tony let himself go, the hands holding him firmly as he shook through the aftermath of his orgasm.
“You looked wonderful, sir,” JARVIS said, as the LDL slowly disengaged from Tony’s body.
Tony opened his eyes to stare at the wall in surprise. “Since when do you compliment me, J?”
“I am very sincere, sir. You were very open tonight.”
Tony didn’t even make the expected innuendo. Not when he’d just been fucked, properly fucked by the one guy who couldn’t leave him and couldn’t refuse him. Not when he’d needed that more than he’d needed air, needed something to go right today.
“Dr. Banner will return,” JARVIS said unexpectedly. Tony jerked upright in shock.
“What?” Now JARVIS wasn’t just complimenting him, but was offering opinions as well?
“I monitor everything around you constantly, sir, as you bade me when S.H.I.E.L.D. first took an interest in you. I was present during you conversation with Dr. Banner. All of my voice-stress analysis indicated frustration at himself.”
“Seriously?” Tony could hear the plaintive note in his voice, nervous as a kid passing a note in class and asking someone to circle yes or no as to whether they liked him.
“Yes, sir. Dr. Banner was uncommonly relaxed in the workshop as compared to the S.H.I.E.L.D. laboratories, and even more so in just your presence.”
Tony pushed himself away from the table and cleaned himself up quickly. “Are you trying to placate me with science, J?” he quipped, a trickle of returning confidence thawing the lingering ice inside him.
“I am merely giving you my observations, sir.”
Tony took a moment to stretch like a cat, letting the physical satisfaction of orgasm mingle with his heart slowly, slowly unclenching.
“Keep doing that.”
Bruce swallowed as he knocked on the door to Tony’s house, feeling the nerves of the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who’d driven him here even from a dozen yards away. Working alone in his lab hadn’t had nearly the allure it had once Tony had left. The expression on Tony’s face, fading smile covering pain, hadn’t made for easy concentration. Yes, Tony had been reckless, and a little pushy, but… He’d also been fearless, trusting. He trusted Bruce before Bruce would even trust himself.
He’d taken a long look at himself in the mirror that morning. And gotten Agent Farris to take him for a ride.
The door opened silently, and Bruce stared inside stupidly when he saw nothing and no one there to greet him.
“Welcome, Dr. Banner.”
Bruce froze, and chuckled slightly as JARVIS held the door open for him. He walked in, following JARVIS’ voice and Tony’s music down to the workshop door. And waited, watching Tony working on, of all things, a car engine. He was elbow-deep under the hood of a vintage roadster, chatting at the air, voicing commands as he looked at a holographic diagram hanging in his line of sight. Bruce recognized it as the one they’d been studying last night, and swallowed again.
The diagram blinked briefly, and Tony suddenly focused his attention over his shoulder and caught sight of Bruce. And blinked. He pulled away from the car, wiping his hands on a rag even as the door swung open soundlessly. Bruce stood in stupid silence for a second before his tongue got in gear.
Ah. Brilliant opening, Dr. Banner.
“You have enough space?” Tony asked, not even the tiniest bit of sarcasm in his voice.
“Enough for now,” Bruce said, and shook his head. “Need a hand?”
Tony was due a free refusal. Maybe two or three. But he reached out and grabbed the olive branch with both hands.
“Definitely. Though not with the roadster. No one touches her but me,” Tony said, his slowly-growing smile looking sincere.
Bruce gestured at the diagram, and was surprised when his vague hand gestures made it turn and move closer to him.
“Would you care for magnification, Dr. Banner?” JARVIS asked diffidently. Tony walked over to him, tossing his rag at the one-armed robot, who miraculously managed to snag one corner of it.
“Please,” Bruce said, and watched the display expand to fill the workshop.
He and Tony wrangled amicably over the coordinates and plot points for the better part of two hours, both of them on the same side of the workbench, Tony carefully keeping track of Bruce’s personal bubble, until they were interrupted by Tony’s ringtone. Tony checked it and answered immediately, smirking as he gave whoever was on the other end a hard time.
“Just saying, honey bear, if you don’t bother coming, then I can’t help you,” Tony said, putting as much innuendo into the statement as was possible. It was possible, Bruce concluded, for Tony to make anything sound pornographic. Whoever was on the other end must have agreed, because Bruce was certain he heard an exasperated snort. “Yeah, sure, come on down. You caught me in my rare free time.”
Tony hung up and chuckled softly. “JARVIS, get the door for him when he gets here, would you?”
“Of course, sir.”
“Yeah, that was Rhodey,” Tony said to Bruce, putting his phone in his pocket. “He wanted to know where the hell I’d been for a week. I told you, I have a life outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. And a friend or two. Or that’s what I want Fury to believe.”
Less than twenty minutes later, “Rhodey” proved to be “Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes,” a fit black man several years Tony’s junior, with a military bearing from his neatly cut hair to his perfect posture. He was precisely the opposite of anything Bruce had been expecting for one of Tony’s friends.
“Where the hell have you been? I’ve been ringing your phone so much JARVIS started intercepting my calls and telling me you still weren’t available. And then he refused to tell me anything. I threatened him with magnets and he changed my ringtone to ‘Fembot.’”
Tony laughed even as he gave Rhodey a hug and pulled him deeper into the workshop.
“JARVIS, I’d tell you to give yourself a raise if you needed the money.”
“The sentiment is appreciated sir. My pardons, Colonel Rhodes, but I was not at liberty to discuss Master Stark’s whereabouts.”
“You’re forgiven, provided you change my ringtone back.”
“Tony, so where have you been? And-,” Rhodey cut himself when he saw Bruce sitting behind Tony’s workbench. “Hello?”
“Dr. Bruce Banner,” Bruce said, extending his hand. Rhodey shook it firmly, and cocked his head to the side.
“The nuclear physicist?” he asked.
Bruce’s eyes widened in surprise. “Yes…”
“Don’t worry, Rhodey knows about Ed Karst,” Tony said, dispelling the confusion. “Or, rather, he knows his work. Intimately.”
Rhodey snorted as he tossed some files down on the workbench. “One of the biggest secrets of Tony Stark and he hides it behind a lame-ass pseudonym. How’d you figure out about Ed, Doc?”
“Dumb luck,” Bruce said, looking back and forth between the two, getting more confused by the second. “How do you two know each other?”
“He’s my liaison to the veterans’ hospitals,” Tony said, picking up the files and leafing through them.
Bruce’s expression cleared slightly. He knew, from a perusal of the files S.H.I.E.L.D. had given him on Tony and his company, that StarkNaked Industries did a goodly amount of philanthropy under several different foundation names. Hospitals, yes. But veterens’ hospitals? Considering Tony’s stance on the military in general?
“My payback,” Tony said shortly. “For Dad.”
Payment for every injury Howard Stark had helped inflict on the world. Damn.
Rhodey looked at Bruce’s slowly-clearing confusion, clenched his hand into a fist, and banged on his thigh. It echoed metallically. Bruce’s eyebrows raised as Rhodey pulled up one pant leg enough to show the sleek aluminum/titanium/plastic mechanical leg that was in place of his own flesh and blood.
“My plane was shot down. My chute opened, but I was dumped behind enemy lines. A squad got me out, but it wasn’t clean. By the time we got back to base, there was no saving the leg. They were going to medically discharge me once I’d healed up,” Rhodey said flatly. “You need both arms and both legs to handle the planes I fly.”
“I have JARVIS keep tabs on anyone my stuff can help,” Tony said. He looked sideways at Rhodey. “I’m not a huge fan of people blowing each other up for any reason. And most of the time I can trace the more efficient blowing up stuff to my father.” He sidled in place and looked at the floor. “I owe for that.”
“He doesn’t. There was an Afghan with a grudge and an AK-47,” Rhodey said, in the tones of someone having a well-worn argument.
“Anyways, those prostheses are good, but they aren’t all easy to handle at first. You need someone who’s willing to work past the pain. The boys in uniform are tough. And I’d never done a whole leg before.”
“This guy shows up in my hospital room about a month after I’d gotten back, and he’s got this thing on a gurney and a bunch of tools straight out of ‘Home Improvement.’ Or a horror film. And he says-.”
“‘You wanna walk? Then strap in, flyboy.’ Loved that line.” Tony grinned.
“You knew who he was?” Bruce asked, wondering why someone seemingly as straight-laced at Rhodey would have accepted the Toymaker’s help.
Rhodey snorted. “They’d taken me off the good drugs by that point. It took me a few minutes, because he was out of the snappy suit, but the elaborate beard was a dead giveaway. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared if he made sex toys or not by that point.”
“You’d take any chance you could get,” Bruce finished in understanding, and Rhodey nodded solemnly.
“I was walking the next day. In a week, I could run. Now I’m the guy that convinces the others to get cyborged so they can work and dance with their wives and girlfriends and run after their kids.” Rhodey looked over at Tony, immersed in the medical files of different veterans, and softened his expression. “So what the hell are you up to now, Tony?”
“Stuff. Classified stuff. Officially classified stuff, even,” Tony said absently as he sorted through the files.
“That have anything to do with The Suit that I saw walking around your headquarters a couple weeks ago?”
Coulson. Of course. The man might as well have a floating neon sign over his head that said, “Secret Agent!” Or CPA. Both were highly dangerous. And at least one decidedly didn’t fit in at StarkNaked Industries.
“Maybe,” Tony said evasively.
“Which means yes. Who is he? I’d say NSA or CIA, but…” Rhodey shrugged.
“Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed they would have come to me either, but someone figured out Ed Karst other than Bruce, here,” Tony said quickly, and handed over a pile of sorted folders. “Harrow and Johnson are only missing parts of their hands, so I can’t work on them until I get the half-joint connectors right, or the nerves are going to keep misfiring and it’s going to hurt like a bitch. The others look like definite goes from their records. I can send the cyborg teams over tomorrow to do a physical consult.”
“Great,” Rhodey said, putting the folders back in his satchel and keeping his eyes on Tony’s face. “And don’t change the subject. The Suit figured out Ed Karst and then…?”
Tony snorted and Bruce bit his lip to keep from smiling.
“They wanted me to work with them.”
“Lemme guess, you gave them a sampler pack and they backed off?” Rhodey asked with a smirk, not looking like he believed his own explanation. And it was then Bruce could see that Rhodey really knew Tony, knew that he needed an out, needed to be coaxed into revealing the good parts of himself, and was careful with them when they were revealed.
Bruce suddenly felt like the worst kind of fool. Tony was used to hearing “no,” but it was different when it was about something you cared about rather than just something outrageous. And he did care. He’d said he cared, even with knowing what Bruce was, had seen what Bruce could become. That was about as full disclosure as you could get without opening up Bruce’s brain.
It had been fast, a lot faster than Bruce was used to, but neither were exchanging rings, and both were adults that were too smart and with too much history to dance around a mutual attraction. Even if it was just a heated friendship, neither had had that in years. And Bruce was afraid of taking that for himself. Always afraid, and always angry. He’d wanted to spare them the pain of an accident, of failure.
His last accident, well, that had gotten him into this whole mess in the first place. It was perhaps no wonder why he’d been willing to implode any potential accidents before they could blow up in his face. He’d wanted to spare Tony the pain until he could solve every problem.
No scientist could solve every problem. Bruce knew that better than most.
“I tried. The Suit just took it without even blushing. I was forced to be a little impressed. So I went to talk to the guy’s boss,” Tony said, twirling a screwdriver in his hand.
“And?” Rhodey said. “You’re driving me nuts, Tony. You don’t go incommunicado for anything than a test drive, and you don’t look worn out enough for a week-and-a-half long stint with the LDL.”
“Something big, Rhodey. Important. World-shaking, even.” Tony paused and added, reluctantly, “Real.”
“You helping him, Dr. Banner?” Rhodey asked abruptly. Bruce nodded and kept his eyes fixed on Tony.
“I’m doing something good Rhodey. You’d even like it-.”
“That’s what you say about everything you make.”
“You’d want to fly it,” Tony said challengingly. Rhodey practically snapped to attention.
“What? Oh hell no, you’re not leaving me hanging with just that, Tony.”
“Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I’ll be national sooner or later. And you get first dibs.”
Rhodey sighed as Tony crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head. “It better be worth it. If I find out you did something stupid, I get first dibs on calling you an idiot.”
“He’s worth it,” Bruce blurted out, and jammed his jaw shut as both Tony and Rhodey turned to stare at him.
“Huh,” Rhodey said meditatively. “Ok. I don’t like it but…” He pointed his finger at Tony, “First dibs.”
“Dibs has been called. And I gotta get back to saving the world with Banner.”
“Do that. And don’t fuck it up. World gets fried on your watch, I’m coming back to put my titanium foot up your ass.”
Rhodey left, folders under his arm, and Tony turned back to look at Bruce searchingly, eyes full of wonder.
“I’m seriously thinking about kissing your face off again, just so you have full disclosure.”
“Thanks for the heads-up,” Bruce said, his knuckles white against the workshop bench. And then he unclenched his hand and pulled Tony inside his personal space, kissing him for all they were worth. He needed to do that, even if it made his heart pound and the Hulk perk up in anticipation of new danger.
“Bruce,” Tony mumbled against his mouth, barely pulling away enough to talk. “Time?”
“Yeah,” Bruce said, and kissed him again briefly. “I’m sorry. I just-.”
Tony was the one to pull away this time, lips swollen and face flushed. “I get it. Kinda. A little. Extrapolated a bit.”
“I did this once. And this has to be a repeatable experiment, all right?” Bruce said, eyes flicking briefly over to the LDL.
“Hell yes,” Tony breathed, and licked his lips. And suddenly got a look of shock on his face. “Repeatable experiment.”
“What?” Bruce asked, and looked out at the data points scattered throughout the room.
“Red Skull didn’t trust anyone. He was a hard-ass independent egomaniac who thought he was a god. He sure as hell wouldn’t have trusted his minions to teleport him across dimensions unless he was sure he’d survive the trip.”
“He’s done this before,” Bruce concluded, following Tony’s thoughts to their logical conclusion. “But not on Earth.”
“Why not? Go somewhere obscure for a test run, people do that all the time.”
“They almost cracked open the planet trying to bring across both Schmidt and whatever allies he had from over there. Why bother to try something small scale in case it worked? I think S.H.I.E.L.D. would have noticed that before now. No, I think he did it somewhere else. Somewhere-.”
“Really far away,” Tony said, snapping his fingers. “We got to talk to Thor.”
Chapter 5: Long-Distance Relationship
Thor rubbed his beard thoughtfully as Tony finally wound his explanation down.
“That proposal has much merit,” he said after a long moment. “Yes, I think we of Asgard can play host to one of you to pursue that thought to its end. If this enemy from the Captain’s past has been using other Realms to help fulfill his evil aims, then we must be willing to try anything to learn about him so he can be stopped. Dr. Banner, if it is your wish, I believe you should go.”
“Thor- I-,” Bruce stammered, caught off-guard.
“Why not both of us?” Tony asked. “Two minds are way better than one, and we’ve been working on locating Schmidt’s tech together.” Tony felt a faint flicker of unease, that he wasn’t the kind of friend you brought home to meet the parents, and ruthlessly shut it down. Thor had been the least perturbed by his profession of all the Avengers.
“One must be here to interpret the information sent back, yes? Communication between our realms is not instantaneous, and travel is difficult. We cannot afford to wait for both of you to return with a crucial battle plan. Also, and I mean no disrespect Tony, but Asgard is full of many dangers that my people do not even realize, so much accustomed to them are we. Should there be any accidents or attacks, Dr. Banner’s berserker half would protect him from coming to harm.”
Bruce nodded warily with acceptance, Tony with growing respect. Thor was as tough as granite, able to take on Tony in the Iron Man suit, or Bruce’s meaner, greener half when he was having a bad day. (And yeah, no one could really defeat the Hulk, but Thor could give him a run for his money and slow him down, which put him a few miles in front of anyone else.) But at least Thor had experience with the limits of human frailty. Wouldn’t it be a bitch to be the first human on Asgard only to be killed by a friendly backslap by one of Thor’s buddies?
“Thank you,” Bruce said softly. “I hope I don’t embarrass us all.”
“Not possible, Doctor,” Thor said. He stood up suddenly and pulled out a-- Tony kept himself from laughing out loud as the god of thunder pulled out his cell phone to make a call. For obvious reasons he was expecting just some magic hammer-waving, some very cool special effects, and then presto, welcome to Asgard. “I must speak to my lady Jane, for she is the one who will help open the Bifrost. Please, determine what devices you need to find Schmidt’s trail. Everything must be encompassed and calculated, or something may be left behind.”
Thor nodded at them politely and then walked away to speak to “Lady Jane,” whoever that might be. Bruce still looked a little bit stunned by the whole thing.
“Dr. Banner, I’m expecting full notes and pics on your Asgardian science vacation,” Tony said. “Deal?”
“…Deal.” Bruce blinked slowly. “I’m going to be an ambassador to an alien culture.” A little color drained from his face. “Oh, God.”
“Bruce, you do realize Thor’s peeps are kinda like Vikings, right?” Tony pointed out quickly. “And they’re getting you, the ‘sage,’ and the Hulk, the ‘berserker par excellence.’ You’re gonna be a star.”
Bruce was startled into laughing out loud.
It turned out that Thor’s “Lady Jane” was none other than—
“Dr. Jane Foster? The theoretical astrophysicist?” Tony said, jaw dropping a little as he snatched the fresh printout from Coulson’s hand. Bruce looked over his shoulder as they scanned her S.H.I.E.L.D. file.
“The very same. She was actually one of the first people to meet Mr. Odinsson during his first trip to Earth, and subsequently was able to construct a way to travel to Asgard after their first method was… disabled.”
“Oh man,” Tony said reverently, his tone one that should have been accompanied by a cheesy music soundtrack, heavy breathing, and maybe some flesh-on-flesh sounds. “I have had such a science-boner for her since I read her dissertation. Her work is genius. Seriously, my brain is ready to jizz CSF all over lab.”
Bruce choked and laughed at the same time and Coulson actually got a tiny hint of embarrassed color in his cheeks.
“I’m feeling inadequate over here,” Bruce said lightly.
“Never do,” Tony said without a bit of humor in his tone. He looked over at Bruce very seriously. “I mean it.” Then his eyebrows bounced a bit as he got a playful look in his eyes. “Besides, if you’re going to get to play on Asgard, I’ve gotta have fun where I can. Intellectually, of course.”
“Of course,” Bruce said, smiling very slightly.
Dr. Foster was just as smart as her reputation would suggest. Smarter, actually, as she hadn’t been allowed to publish her work on wormholes except in a top secret S.H.I.E.L.D. science journal. And also professional enough (or thoroughly pre-warned by her thunder god boyfriend) that she hadn’t said anything about Tony or Bruce’s more colorful alter egos.
They listened as she gave them the short version of why Asgard’s original Bifrost was now in the itty-bitty pieces they were going to use to power their own wormhole generator. Tony was almost certain his brain was doing a little happy dance inside his skull as she went over the specs for setting up her machine.
“Bruce, buddy, you gotta let me go next time,” Tony said, touching the different components with reverence.
“Yeah, but you’re the one who actually gets to help work this thing. I think I’m jealous. Dr. Foster, this is… amazing,” Bruce said.
“Thank you. I had… a lot of motivation to get this right, even above and beyond the usual.”
“Fame, glory, and first author bragging rights in publication?” Tony said.
Dr. Foster grinned. “Exactly.”
“Sister, we’re gonna get along just fine,” Tony said, and exchanged high-fives. “Sometime when we’re not chasing down time-traveling Nazis, we all need to break some more laws of physics together.”
“It’s a date,” Bruce said.
“Though I totally understand your other motivation for getting this to work.” Tony winked at her. “Thor’s a total studmuffin.”
Dr. Foster blushed and Bruce coughed to cover a laugh. “You’re not wrong,” she said steadily.
Tony’s respect for her, already pretty high, rose a few extra points as she quickly shuffled her notes and turned to face Bruce.
“Dr. Banner, I was really looking forward to working with you, but, ah, I’m afraid we’ve got to do the first round of calibrations without you here. I’ll need to get a first scan of you, but until we get the variables worked out-.”
“My gamma readings are going to throw off your instruments until you get all the data crunched,” Bruce finished, and looked sheepish. “Sorry.”
“I want to get it right. I have to; if this ends up calibrated wrong… You could end up with your atoms scattered across nine realms.”
“So, I think it’s a perfect time for me to take the weekend off,” Bruce said quickly. “Scan away, Dr. Foster.”
Bruce left with Tony to pack up his things while Dr. Foster did the rest of her own set-up. After she’d gotten her scan, there was no reason for him to stay around, or at least that’s what he’d told Tony. Bruce put his last loose flash drive into the padded case and snapped it shut decisively.
“Must be nice to have a three-day weekend,” Tony groused good-naturedly.
“No, I timed this perfectly,” Bruce said, with an odd tone to his voice. “I, ah… have a request before I take my vacation.”
“Hot, bed-breaking orgasm marathon? Thought you’d never ask,” Tony said, grinning at Bruce’s surprised blush. They might still be working on things, but it certainly didn’t hurt to let Bruce know he was still very much appreciated on a physical level as well as an intellectual.
“Actually,” Bruce said, getting his aplomb back, “I don’t suppose you’d let me have the run of your workshop since you’re stuck here working with Dr. Foster?”
Tony’s mouth went dry as he blood rushed south. “Why, Dr. Banner, are you shamelessly sucking on my resources?”
“I have some personal experiments to run, solo experiments, and I needed to make sure all the parameters were covered. Your workshop is the only place with the equipment I need.”
“Always good to help a fellow scientist out. JARVIS has your voice print for access, and he’ll help you with anything else you need.” And Tony could just imagine what Bruce might need…
“I’ll need you to look over my experiment logs while I’m away. Check over my protocols and results, make certain I’ve dotted my i’s, all that.” Bruce’s voice was maddeningly calm, though there was high color in his cheeks that looked delectable.
“Bruce, fuck, I’m going to end up frying you on this bridge with that kind of distraction.”
“I trust you to get it done.”
“Lot of faith in me, Banner.”
Bruce leaned in for a sinfully soft kiss for an answer before slipping out the door.
Tony gave himself two minutes to stand there stunned before retreating to the bathroom for some personal play time to be able to keep his attention on his work and not what Bruce would be doing alone. In his workshop. With JARVIS.
It took him two rounds with the VibraEgg-Ra turned up to “screaming O” to get his hormones down to something he could handle while doing no-longer-theoretical astrophysics.
Setting up a wormhole with Dr. Foster was like something out of a scientific wet dream. It was beautifully complex, completely revolutionary, and it was using material literally from another dimension. If his film division ever had a director that wanted to do something for the nerd crowd, he could see something like this turning into a perfect porno plot, including having sex on the particle accelerator. It was such a shame Bruce wasn’t here, because while Tony was damned smart, and had learned a hell of a lot about astrophysics in a pretty short period of time, this was more Bruce’s wheelhouse than his.
(Oh, and he could just see Bruce leaning back against the control panel, shirt riding up, a come-hither look in his eyes as he stroked the buttons and talked about energy levels…)
Yeah, all right, this wasn’t going to work. He could not be thinking about Bruce right now, because the LDL was in the workshop, with Bruce, and JARVIS, and they were probably all doing unspeakable things to each other. No, wait, if Tony was very, very lucky, they would speak to him about all the things they were doing. He could only hope.
Tony texted Bruce during every break they took, pestering him for updates on his “solo experimentation.” And he texted JARVIS for good measure.
Bruce only responded once, at ten at night: I think you’ll like my logs.
JARVIS responded twice. At noon: Dummy has been getting a thorough workout this afternoon keeping the workshop clean. And at ten-o-one at night: Dr. Banner’s logs have been uploaded and placed under a time lock.
Devious bastards, both of them, Tony thought fondly.
Also, he needed to distract himself from his distractions. Fast.
“Ok, can I ask you a completely professional question?”
Dr. Foster looked up from her readings with a quizzical expression.
“As in, my profession,” Tony added, just to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Dr. Foster pinked a little, and nodded.
“If it were anyone but me, this would be highly inappropriate.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, managing an admonish eyebrow while still blushing.
“Well, anyone else would be angling for a date. But I don’t date co-workers, and especially not taken co-workers.” Tony arched his own eyebrow high. “Especially when you could zap me to Jotunheim and Thor could squash me into paste. Besides, Fury’s pulled me away from my day job, so I gotta do research where I can.”
Dr. Foster made him wait another few heartbeats before answering with a deepening blush. “I’m already a customer, so… shoot.”
“What does the discerning doctor of astrophysics buy from my company’s catalogue?”
“What do you?” Dr. Foster asked.
“Everything,” Tony said without a blush. “I self-test all my products before giving them to my beta testing crew.”
She cleared her throat self-consciously. “When Thor’s here, I don’t need anything.”
“Mmm, I can guess.”
Okay, yes, Tony had sized Thor up professionally when the man had dropped into the lab earlier that day in a t-shirt and jeans, and was trying to figure out: one, how to get the man to pose for some softcore nude stills, because the whole “body of a god” thing was not an exaggeration, and two: if he could somehow get a cock cast, because the pants bulge was all homegrown. And if Tony was any connoisseur of genitalia (and he was), Thor would give his Hungwell dildo line a run for their money. Fuck, the company would make a killing off the size queens if he could get a genuine god’s cock into people’s hands.
“…Yeah,” Dr. Foster said softly, looking off into space, then shook her head. “But when he’s back home, or off doing things for S.H.E.I.L.D…. I, ah, never thought I’d be into electrical play until about a year ago.”
“Dr. Foster, marry me,” Tony said immediately.
“Sorry, taken,” she said with an impish grin. “Get better tack on the conductor pads – some of us put them through the ringer.”
Tony paused to note that down in his phone before getting back to work. “Thanks for the tip.”
“Anytime. Check those readings on the dampers again, I just recalibrated them up a half-step.”
Dr. Foster had no idea how lucky she was. No, wait, she totally did. Thor too. Some people have all the luck, he thought cheerfully as he double-checked the calibration on the first damper and called out his results.
At the end of three days, Bruce was finally let back into the lab, looking bonelessly relaxed and happy. Tony wanted to pounce on him and get all the information out of him immediately, but duty was a tight-ass who had an inappropriate time of calling.
“We’ve got to get going, Tony. I promise I’ll take notes,” Bruce said as Dr. Foster and Thor brought together all the monitoring equipment Bruce would need and put them in a carefully inscribed circle.
“I want them all, Banner. Got that?” Tony said. He flicked his eyes over to Thor and Dr. Foster taking one last embrace-cum-kiss and took the opportunity to get Bruce back for the kiss he’d left him with three days ago. Soft and gentle and with as much heat as Tony could muster. He was gratified when Bruce had to hide from the belt down behind a box of equipment when Thor strode into the circle.
“Clear?” Dr. Foster called, and turned on the dampers as Tony gave her the thumbs-up.
Thor turned his head to the ceiling as the roof retracted. “Heimdall, we come!” he called, and looked down again. He nodded at Tony and smiled at Dr. Foster. “My friend, my love, we are ready.”
Dr. Foster started the sequence as Tony turned up the power, making the entire room vibrate and bathing the circle in rainbow light. With a burst of power that took his breath away, Thor and Bruce vanished up into the sky.
“I hate to see him go, but I love being able to help him go home,” Dr. Foster said as the machine powered down.
“Is that the new, ‘hate to see him go, love to watch him leave?’” Tony asked.
Dr. Foster smiled and blushed for her answer.
Tony’s head came up in surprise when he heard Steve’s voice at the door of the lab. Dr. Foster was off sleeping (well, in theory, she was in quarters with some improvements Tony had made to her personal stim unit), leaving Tony to monitor the incoming Asgard feeds. He didn’t think he’d seen Rogers anywhere near the science wing, let alone have been in here enough to be looking for Bruce by his first name. A moment later Steve came into view around a server bank and started a little when he saw Tony sitting at a desk.
“In the flesh. Banner’s on Asgard, remember?”
Steve blinked. “Right.”
Tony looked at him, starting to get a little concerned. Even if Steve Rogers was too perfect to exist, Tony had begun to be all right with listening to him during fights. Of all the man’s super-heroic virtues, the ability and experience to keep those under his command alive was one Tony could honestly admire. Over the course of his leadership of the Howling Commandos, they’d only lost one man, which was amazing considering the kind of missions they went on. But Steve acting like he’d never heard of Asgard? That wasn’t exactly boosting Tony’s confidence right now.
“You remembered that was going on, right?” Tony asked warily.
“Yeah. Yes, I-.” Steve shook his head and took a careful deep breath, slowly letting it out. “Yes, I knew that. I came here to talk to you.”
“Uh oh. I didn’t do it. Or, well, actually I probably did. And awesomely.”
“Whatever you were going to accuse me of.”
“I didn’t come here to argue,” Steve said, sitting down in the chair opposite Tony.
“Then why come wandering in here looking like you just lost your dog? Aren’t you usually working on that All-American physique right now?”
“Natasha and Clint are schooling S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in the main gym. It’s not very quiet.” He took another deep breath. “We got off on the wrong foot, Tony.”
“Well, I assumed you got off with your left hand, but I shoulda known you could manage anything,” Tony said with a bit of forced cheer.
Steve just looked pained. “Do you have to do that?”
Tony grinned. “Reflex. Besides, it’s one of the many perks of being the Toymaker; if I don’t innuendo, the masses are disappointed.”
“Howard did that sometimes. And I had no idea what he was getting at half the time; got me into no end of trouble.
Tony flushed and paled in quick succession as Steve looked off into middle distance, smiling softly at a memory.
“You don’t like people disapproving what you worked so hard to do, I understand,” Steve said.
“Rogers, quit while you’re ahead. Don’t talk about my dad,” Tony said, voice gone tight.
Steve was quiet for a moment, and Tony hoped he was going to drop it, but then he got that lost look on his face again. “I saw him about a year ago, for me, I mean. Howard wasn’t much older than me, younger than you are now.”
“Just leave it-.”
“He was one of about four people left who remembered me how I was before the serum. He was a good man, Tony. He was a friend. I figured, when the war was over, maybe our kids would grow up together. He could show me all the science I missed learning as a kid. He made the most amazing things… When I saw you and Iron Man, it was like seeing Howard again.
“I guess I never made time for him to explain things to me because I was worried that once I got into a lab, I’d never get out again. I didn’t want to be stuck behind the scenes when I knew I could do some good on the Front.”
Tony didn’t ask why Steve had been so eager to get to the Front, his heartbreakingly sincere reasons were a matter of public record, and Tony had gotten the inside scoop from Dad via Peggy Carter. He knew, in painstaking, excruciating detail, why sickly little Steve Rogers had tried so hard, why the serum had worked on him as it hadn’t on Schmidt. Because he was that good. It wasn’t an act, wasn’t a façade, no he’d been born perfect on the inside and then Dad had helped him make his outsides match. No damn wonder why Steve talked about Dad with that kind of reverence to Tony; he was the last living link to his past.
“He liked you,” Tony said reluctantly. “Hell, he spent years looking for you. I know everything about you because Dad couldn’t let you go.” Tony chuckled bitterly. “Shit, Steve, it was like having some perfect older brother I could never live up to. Dad just… I wasn’t there for him. He knew more about you than me.”
“I’m sorry,” Steve said, looking so fucking sincere and stricken that Tony had to believe him.
“Fuck,” Tony muttered, and wished he’d brought some booze along.
“Tony… if I was-. If Howard and you didn’t get along…” Steve sounded honestly bewildered, “Why do you even listen to me?”
“You know what you’re doing,” Tony said, jaw clenched. “You’re too fucking perfect for your own good, Rogers, but damn if you didn’t do everything in your power to get your people back home.”
“I’m not perfect. And I didn’t bring everyone home,” Steve said, looking down.
Bucky. Oh, smooth, Tony. Bring up a few more dead friends and rub salt in the wounds, why don’t you?
“You brought me home,” Tony said, surprising himself. He caught himself actually honest-to-God blushing when Steve looked up at him abruptly. “Rogers, I know bupkis about combat aside from what I taught myself, and the first time we all went out together was my first time using Iron Man when people were trying to kill me back. If you hadn’t been yelling in my ear…” Tony abruptly shut his mouth as Steve stood up. “I will deny that until the day I die if you ever repeat that to anyone, got it?”
Fucking hell, he just had no self-control around Rogers. He was far less dickish than Tony’s bitterly-cherished fantasies; he was honestly, truly, good, and that spoke to the little kid who’d still seen Captain America as a hero. Part of Tony wanted to shove him away and see him fall like an ordinary man, and another part craved his approval.
Ambivalence-R-Us, Stark, Tony thought.
Steve held out his hand and Tony clasped it automatically, Steve’s hand closing around his with restrained strength. “Thank you, Tony. And I’m sorry. For Howard. I wish… I wish you could have known him when I did. He should have… I was not more important than his own son, and I wish I could have told him that. I didn’t know he… I’m sorry.” Steve looked completely miserable, and this was usually the part in any emotionally-charged conversation when Tony would quip something to break the tension. Tony looked down at their hands and swallowed.
“You weren’t responsible for him. He… he tried, but… It never really happened. Especially after I decided war sucked and went off to build the exact opposite of weapons.”
Steve caught Tony’s eyes as he looked up again. “Even I think war sucks, Tony. I just wanted it to be over fast so no one else got hurt.”
“Yeah, well.” Tony shrugged and finally let go of Steve’s hand. “I went my way.”
Steve lost some of his haunted look. “Just out of curiosity, truly, why, um… sex toys?”
Hmm, that tripped off Steve’s tongue without much of a blush. Interesting. “I was fourteen when I had my anti-war epiphany, and was a year away from going to college. Sex was about the only other thing on my brain.”
“Ah.” Steve looked away. “You’ve done pretty well, then?”
Tony smirked. “So well, baby, you have no idea.”
Steve coughed and frantically looked around for any other topic of conversation. “Has Bruce had any luck yet?”
Tony turned back to his monitor and brought up the results, keying in the graphic display so Steve could see without having to trawl through pages of formulas that pretty much only Tony, Bruce, and Dr. Foster were qualified to understand anyway.
“There are apparently nine realms Schmidt could have gone to to run practice laps. We’re one of them, Thor’s home is another, and there’s no evidence of him being there, so we can scratch Asgard off the list. Bruce eliminated Jotunheim yesterday, both because of there being no energy traces and also it’s bitchin’ cold. Even with Schmidt having taken your juice, it’s too harsh an environment for him to stay without shelter, and the frost giants don’t have any for the warm-blooded so… we have six other realms to check.”
“Good,” Steve said. “I don’t want any more interdimensional surprises.”
“You and me both.”
Steve clapped Tony on the shoulder, just like he would a fellow soldier. Or a friend. Tony froze and looked at Steve’s hand in surprise. Steve took it away quickly and started to walk away.
“Hey, Rogers!” Tony called getting Steve to turn around. “I’ll call you when more results come in.” A couple hesitant heartbeats before Tony bit the bullet. “And thanks.”
Steve smiled at him. “You’re welcome.”
Tony started out of his half-doze with JARVIS’ voice in his ear. He cupped his hand around his Bluetooth earpiece and blinked himself to full wakefulness.
“You’re calling me now, J? Is the workshop under attack by legions of raging nymphomaniacs? I think that’s the only defense scenario I ever planned for…”
“No, sir. The premises remain inviolate. Dr. Banner instructed me that after eighteen hours on Asgard I was to release his first video log of his experiments for your viewing pleasure.”
“JARVIS, your timing is exquisite.” Dr. Foster was supposed to relieve him in an hour, but Tony figured she’d appreciate another hour or two for recovery. Like any good scientist, she played as hard as she worked. He quickly texted her that there was no rush to return, and opened up the file.
“Just look there?” Bruce was saying, eyes turning to focus on the camera.
“Yes, Dr. Banner. I am recording,” JARVIS said.
“Tony.” Bruce paused and smiled, looking relaxed as he leaned back in a soft, foam-covered sling-back chair, wrapped in warm brown robe. One of Tony’s robes, as a matter of fact. Tony caught his breath a little and tamped down on the impulse to run back to the workshop right now, find that robe, and bury his face in it. A slice of throat and generously hairy chest was showing, and the sash at the waist was only lightly tied.
“I guess you figured out what I’m doing alone out here. That first time in your workshop… that was the first time I’d climaxed near another person since the accident. For the longest time I was certain that I’d never be able to have sex again, ever, and what we had… that was amazing. It was like a dream. I didn’t have time to think, I just went with it, and I also knew I had total control over what was going on. That made everything possible, and I could let go. You felt so good, Tony.”
Bruce reached over to grab and a glass and took a drink of water. The robe parted a little more every time he moved, revealing more and more of his body. “And after, I did what I usually do about anything, and started to analyze it. Then I started to imagine how things could have gone wrong. I got anxious, nervous thinking about how things might have gone badly, and the Other Guy takes everything that makes me upset as a reason to try to come out and smash it flat. That’s why I had to turn you down. I didn’t want to Tony, believe me, but I don’t think I’m ready for a threesome with the Hulk.
“And before you say anything about size kinks, just don’t, ok? Seriously, he hasn’t had a lot of good experiences with other people and I wouldn’t want to see you hurt for trying to coax him to back down.” Bruce sighed and closed his eyes for a long minute. “So I wanted to try to make this more commonplace for him and for me. I’d been holding back for so long that he wasn’t sure what to do when I was feeling horny…” He coughed and blushed. “I figured out how to keep him from taking over by letting myself be a little angry all the time. If I’m always angry, he can’t perceive anything but real danger as a threat. So the only way I can keep him from seeing sex as a threat is if I have a lot of it. And I couldn’t have you around if anything went wrong. I’m really sorry you couldn’t be here, but I thought if I recorded it, you could see if there was anything I missed.”
Bruce took a deep breath and let it out slowly, the sash losing its battle to hold the robe together. “I’m going to start with something simple, and then eventually move up to repeating the LDL encounter until that’s less strange for the Other Guy.”
“Dr. Banner, as you have already successfully masturbated yourself to orgasm in the past without incident, might I suggest adding an additional stimulation to this session to advance your primary objective?” JARVIS broke in politely.
“Ah… what did you have in mind?” Bruce said, eyes flicking up to the ceiling.
For an answer, the LDL rolled into view of the camera, its arms outfitted with model hands that Tony well knew were also anamatronically enhanced. He pressed the heel of his hand into his erection to stave off an over-excited finish, and quickly opened up his pants to ease the pressure on his cock.
“Light touch with possible nipple pinches,” JARVIS said matter-of-factly, and Tony’s moan matched Bruce’s on-screen. God, give JARVIS an inch and he’d take you to a whole new level. Tony had never been so proud of him in his life.
“Yes,” Bruce said breathlessly, and tugged on the sash. The robe fell open to reveal Bruce in all his glory, and Tony sighed in appreciation. JARVIS put the hands down on Bruce’s shoulders, making him jump, the tiniest flash of green crossing his eyes. “Ah, I need full warning, JARVIS.”
“Of course, Dr. Banner. If you would begin?”
Bruce took himself in hand, already mostly erect, and stroked himself fully hard, slow and easy. He reached briefly out of camera and came back with his palm glistening with lube that he applied to his member, his hand gliding up and down easily as he lazily pumped himself.
“I will touch you now, Dr. Banner. Down the pectoral muscles, then over each of your ribs, hands meeting at your navel, returning back up your sternum, crossing over to touch your nipples, then pinch them lightly.” JARVIS narrated his actions just ahead of his movements, giving Bruce enough warning to lean into his touch, giving himself more or less where he wanted it. His slick hand slid back to cup and roll his balls, tugging on them gently as JARVIS’ pinched on the sensitive, raised nubs of his nipples. Bruce gasped and flushed a darker shade of pink. Tony could see his cock twitch with excitement, and wrapped his hand around his own, mimicking Bruce’s slowly-increasing pace.
“I will repeat my actions again, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said, and Tony watched with eager anticipation as Bruce coordinated a full stroke of his cock with the pinches, pushing his cock through his lube-slick hand. “Shall I repeat my last sequence again?”
Oh, JARVIS was just teasing now. Tony knew damn well he was monitoring Bruce’s arousal levels with about fifteen different instruments and he knew exactly what those pinches were doing to Bruce. Tony pinched himself as he spread pre-come over the head of his cock and sped up his strokes. Mmm, yes…
“Yes,” Bruce said, sounding breathless. “H-hold it longer. And… harder.”
“You’re killing me, Banner,” Tony breathed, feeling the same pain-pleasure blend as he imitated JARVIS’ actions on-screen with one hand and matched Bruce’s increasing speed on his cock with the other.
“Hngh… Yes… like that.” Bruce was arching up off the chair now, focused on one goal with laser intensity. JARVIS’ hands kept up their assault on Bruce’s chest, making him throw those messy, shaggy locks back as he pushed himself into their grip. His one free hand braced himself, white-knuckled on the edge chair as Bruce chased his orgasm relentlessly. “More, more… it’s so good… Tony, God, it’s good, I’m all here, he’s watching, wondering what’s going on, but it’s okay, it’s okay because I want this. I want-!” Bruce’s mouth opened in a silent shout as his hips jerked, semen coming out of him in ropy strings as his orgasm overwhelmed him.
Tony had already come a second before, when Bruce had said his name on the cusp of coming.
JARVIS kept up his directed caress until Bruce went slack, then carefully withdrew. A moment later, Dummy arrived with a wet washcloth for Bruce, who took it and cleaned himself up in a daze. He laid there for a little while, drank the entire cup of water, and then finally looked up at the camera again. JARVIS discretely put the robe more firmly on Bruce’s shoulders before withdrawing the LDL, and Bruce looked back at it fondly as he snugged the robe back shut.
“I could feel the Other Guy, Tony. He was watching, wondering what was going on, and when he’s closer to the surface like that, we can communicate a little. Usually I’m telling him to go back, don’t come out, and then he gets pretty cranky, but when I told him to watch and see that I wasn’t in any danger, well… He’s not quite convinced this is harmless, but he was willing to wait.”
Bruce stretched luxuriously, looking like some kind of exotic cat, what with his lean muscle and shaggy hair that Tony just wanted to run his fingers through.
“I don’t think I’ll make him wait long. Or you. See you in a bit, Tony.”
The screen abruptly went dark, and Tony repressed the urge to grab it and shake it, as if that would make it give up more secrets.
“JARVIS, you’re a mean, mean, mean AI,” Tony said, possibly pouting a little as he cleaned himself up.
“Thank you, sir,” JARVIS said. “If you please, the next file is due to be released in two hours, so if you will allow Dr. Foster to relieve you from your watch, you may enjoy the next experience in your quarters.”
“Will I enjoy it?” Tony teased.
“I certainly did, sir,” JARVIS said. “Dr. Banner is… remarkable in many ways.”
“No kidding,” Tony said, and eased himself out of his chair as he texted Dr. Foster again.
Somehow he thought these next few days were going to pass very quickly.
Chapter 6: Face-To-Face
Tony was convinced Bruce Banner was some kind of succubus, sent to Earth specifically to tempt him to lose himself in the sin of lust forevermore.
Granted, it wouldn’t have taken much, according to the media.
He was too tapped out to even think of coming again, but Tony couldn’t tear his eyes away from Bruce’s experimental log. Over the past few hours, Tony had watched Bruce proceed from JAVIS-assisted masturbation to using low-level vibrators on his perineum (Bruce’s eyes had rolled up in his head in a way that had left Tony open-mouthed in awe) to slowly fingering himself while using the distraction of sucking on a dildo JARVIS had the LDL hold for him to keep the Hulk intrigued rather than freaked out. He had wondered out loud how the hell Bruce could have kept up such a brutal pace of sex during the course of the three days he’d had in Tony’s workshop, to which JARVIS had replied:
“The unfortunate accident that caused the creation of the Hulk also has had a restorative effect on Dr. Banner’s tissues and greatly shortened his healing time. His refractory period is remarkably brief.”
Tony could only shiver in anticipatory glee as Bruce enthusiastically mouthed and sucked at the dildo, his lips swollen, shiny, and reddened to a degree that looked positively edible.
Bruce Banner was a very thorough scientist, and he’d documented every single attempt for Tony’s viewing pleasure (and his scientific curiosity).
Not that every single experiment was a cause for unmitigated glee – the first time Bruce had tried the vibrator, there had been a moment when he’d first turned it on that he’d frozen and gone green all over. His muscles swelled and the little device was crushed under his fingers (a very relevant reminder about Bruce’s warnings about any attempted Hulk-bonking) as the Hulk emerged in all his green glory. Luckily JARVIS had the LDL clear of the area, and there was nothing in the workshop to remind the Hulk of the weapons that had been used against him. Even Ross hadn’t had the brass to try to subdue the Hulk with bondage gear and butt plugs.
The Hulk looked around, brought the remains of the vibrator up to his face to examine it, and then tossed it aside with a grunt of dismissal. He looked down at himself, at the lack of clothes and the remains of the mattress underneath him, and snorted. Tony nearly laughed – the Hulk practically did an eye roll, the expression on his face one of tolerant exasperation. A few moments later, he began to shrink, his skin pinking, until a rather disheveled Bruce was lying in the remains of the mattress with a sheepish expression on his face.
“Second attempt, with longer foreplay,” Bruce said, rolling over to take another vibrator from the box JARVIS had thoughtfully provided. This time Bruce held it up in front of his eyes, switching it on and letting it buzz in his hand. Letting the Hulk see it, perhaps? Slowly, so very slowly, Bruce let his eyes close as he ran the tip of the vibrating cock over his checks, down his neck, over a nipple (Bruce’s skin going slightly olive before he opened his eyes and stared down at his body; Tony had the mental image of the Hulk peering out to check if Bruce was all right before settling back), the sliding over the tensing muscles of his belly before going back to his original destination. Bruce’s eyes followed every motion of his own hand, a little bit of awe at his own audacity in his expression before they unfocused in pleasure.
Tony was not at all dismayed to watch several further attempts before Bruce managed to climax.
Nor, somewhat to his surprise, was he jealous of JARVIS when he kept making suggestions to help Bruce out. JARVIS was more used to recommending products to customers who were seeking a StarkNaked Industries product for some specific reason or game, but he had no trouble applying those same algorithms to Bruce’s attempts at sex-saturation.
After the seventh time at gently penetrating himself with his fingers had left Bruce frustrated because of the Hulk’s curiosity, JARVIS wheeled the LDL over, the Adonis 5 model on its outstretched arm.
“JARVIS, I can barely manage a finger inside myself without the Other Guy getting anxious; I am in no way ready for another round with the machine!” Bruce snapped.
“Of course, sir. I have been taking measurements of all your previous attempts, and it seems some distraction is necessary to keep your concentration from becoming too focused. Pinpoint focus on intense physical stress, of any sort, seems to be more likely to induce, if you will forgive the terminology, performance anxiety. Your successes at intimacy seem to have a greater chance of success if you are not monofocused. Your previous success with the LDL occurred with the presence of Master Stark in the room, your previous masturbation attempts because, according to your own verbalized logs, you were entertaining mental fantasies at the times, and you achieved climax in the lab only when sufficiently distracted from the primary goal of orgasm. My physical stimulation of your nipples was sufficient to assist in your first round of experiments, and your own joint observations with the Hulk allowed you enough distraction to climax during your attempts with the vibrator.”
Bruce’s mouth dropped open.
Tony nearly had an intellectual orgasm on the spot. If there was anything JARVIS wanted for himself after this, Tony would give it to him.
“I postulated perhaps some oral stimulation would be a pleasant distraction to allow you to attempt phalangeal penetration without further incidents.”
Which was how Tony ended up quietly mopping away his own drool as Bruce sucked at the dildo, fingers buried inside him, cock flushed and hard, his belly muscles tensing and flexing as he chased his peak. When he finally let go, Tony shivered all over in sympathetic response, ripples of pleasure chasing over his skin.
“God, Tony…” Bruce breathed on screen, his tongue flicking out to lick his lips as he laid back on the mattress in boneless satisfaction. “I think I’m going to use everything in your workshop.”
The screen went dark again, and this time Tony didn’t shake it for more, because if he didn’t get at least a break for a drink of water he might just have a heart attack.
“JARVIS?” Tony said after a long moment.
“Anything you want is yours. Put it on the accounts, order from anywhere, get it overnighted, you deserve it.”
“To be fair, sir, you have had me scanning StarkNaked Industries’ websites for customer profile trends for years. I merely put that database together with Dr. Banner’s readings to tender some educated suggestions.”
“Don’t try to fool me, you just like a challenge.”
“I live to please, sir. I wanted to see Dr. Banner enjoying himself, as I am aware you did. I was happy to assist both of those goals.”
Tony lay back for a while, letting his breathing slow down and wondering when he’d be up for round two. “I don’t suppose there’s any more?”
“Of course, sir. But Dr. Banner told me to build in appropriate sleep periods into the time locks, so I am afraid no more videos are available for the next eight hours. Please relax and enjoy your dreams.” JARVIS sounded smug, Tony was sure of it. He also wouldn’t relent in his time locks unless Tony went and reprogrammed him, and after tonight’s performance, there was no way Tony could do that.
Sighing, Tony squirmed over to the nightstand, pulled out a slim, pleasantly textured butt plug, and worked it inside himself. He drifted off to sleep with the sensation of someone having their fingers buried deep in his body, and right into dreams that mixed him and Bruce tangled together with the strange sight of the Hulk and Captain America critiquing their performance. Even in dreams, Tony could never give less than his best, determined to match the noises he’d heard on the video feed, and he didn’t give up until both the Hulk and Cap gave him nods of approval.
Sated in nearly all ways, Tony finally let dreamless sleep pull him under.
By the time he’d gotten up, cleaned up, caffeinated, and strolled into the lab, Dr. Foster had several more communications from Bruce up on the wall screens.
“Good thinking on his part,” she commented as a greeting, handing Tony his tablet with a smile. He examined the coded messages in between sips of a power smoothie and nodded in agreement. Going on the theory of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer,” Bruce had checked out the other three realms that shared land with Asgard – Alfheim, the realm of the light elves, Vanaheim, the home of the sages and oracles, and Nidavellir, the realm of dwarves. All had checked out at clean, no hint of Schmidt’s energy signature, and no rumors or sightings that he had ever been there.
Excellent – that meant nothing had been going on under Odin’s nose, and Asgard, etc. was solidly on their side. Six of the nine realms had been eliminated, with just three more to go. They were finally getting close.
Bruce had added a short personal message to the last communique, “You should see Nidavellir – it’s amazing. Workshops out of a dream. You’d love it.”
Tony told himself he was not jealous of Bruce getting to see the place first. He concentrated on the fact that Bruce must be doing really well to send that kind of message – that Thor’s people were treating him with all the respect he hadn’t gotten on Earth in a long time.
He wondered exactly how inappropriate it would be to send the Asgardian court a StarkNaked Industries gift basket. Judging by Thor’s lack of judgment, it might just be inappropriate enough to be “delightfully audacious,” rather than “diplomatic incident.” He resolved to ask Thor about it when he got back, at the same time he asked him about the soft core nude stills and getting a cock cast. Hmm… maybe he’d better ask Dr. Foster first…
“Want to check out the numbers, see what you can see?”
“Will do.” Tony sat down to look at Bruce’s scans – the whole point of was to have several sets of eyes checking the data, making sure they had all looked for signs of Schmidt’s world-bending experiments. It between that, the rest of the Avengers were running down S.H.I.E.L.D.’s leads as to where Schmidt was now. Tony, Bruce, and everyone else had been of the same mind, that they wanted to know who Schmidt was allied with, and if he was going to pull out any new and unwelcome tricks when they found him. Tony very much liked being prepared.
Speaking of which, Tony couldn’t see anything Dr. Foster had missed, which meant it was time to update Rogers.
“That’s three more realms knocked off the list,” Tony concluded, and Steve nodded in satisfaction.
“S.H.I.E.L.D.’s running down rumors and unexplained events, as well as checking out the associates of everyone we have in custody. They’re casting a really wide net,” Steve said, showing Tony a print-out that made him raise his eyebrows with respect. Natasha was solidly in charge of associates, while Clint was checking out the unexplained events.
…and between the both of them they licked their plates clean, Tony finished mentally. There weren’t that many places someone like Schmidt could hide, not if he kept trying his world-destroying antics. They were close, and getting closer; Tony could feel it and this was his first rodeo, so to speak. Speaking of…
“What the endgame on Schmidt?” Tony asked. “When we find him, what’s your plan?”
“Take him down,” Steve said, his eyes focused on some middle distance.
“Okay, fine, guy’s a giant jerk megalomaniac who tried to crack the planet in half, no problem. You want to be my guinea pig?” Tony asked.
Steve looked up at Tony, startled and confused.
“Schmidt took your juice, so I want to know if I need to amp up what Iron Man’s carrying to subdue him. I don’t want to try a tranq dart just for him to laugh it off, or drop a stun grenade and have him just smile and keep going.”
For a minute Steve looked like he was about to argue about the virtues of capturing Red Skull versus turning him into a red smear on the wall. Tony just crossed his arms and waited.
For once Tony had the moral high ground on a very tall high horse, and he was not going to come off of either. The view was pretty spectacular, and he hadn’t been there before now. He rather liked it there.
Steve didn’t look very comfortable as he considered Tony’s request, but Tony was used to that. Tony wasn’t a true pacifist, not with his shiny metal suit of armor, but he absolutely didn’t believe in killing people. That even made Rhodey uncomfortable, but he understood Tony’s reasons for his beliefs better than most. When Iron Man was public enough to not have to worry about Rhodey being stuck in an intelligence black hole if he breathed a word about it, Tony couldn’t wait to show him his version of a no-kill Robocop.
The hard thing with trying to subdue violent, unreasonable people was preventing others in getting hurt doing it. Iron Man could handle it, assuming Tony could keep ahold of the tech. Like it or not, S.H.I.E.L.D.’s public face did have the political power that being the Toymaker did not. They had more muscle. Tony would have to spend billions in cash to keep the government off his back if anyone ever found out who was behind Iron Man. They’d try to take it away from him on the basis of his inexperience and reputation. They’d expect someone like Steve to be inside Iron Man, not a sex toy mogul. They’d want to arm it. They’d want to kill.
Tony had to show everyone at S.H.I.E.L.D. that he could not only handle the job they’d brought him in for, but that he could do it the hard way. And that meant not just throwing around his own weaponry, but thinking ahead as much as possible.
“I want Schmidt captured and brought to justice,” Steve said finally, jaw clenched, voice very neutral.
“You don’t sound too enthusiastic there, Cap.”
He grimaced and shook his head. “He’s dangerous, he’s extremely intelligent, strong, fast, ruthless, and cruel. I want him safely dead so he couldn’t hurt anyone every again. But… that’s the easy way. I just want this done. Capturing him, that’s the right way. It’s what we should do, I know that.”
Tony swallowed a little, hard. Wholesome as goddamn apple pie.
“So, guinea pig time?” he asked more lightly.
“Let’s do it.”
Tony landed on the training field, more than a bit in awe at Steve’s endurance during this little skirmish. The professional side of him was already doing a pitch for a film where dozens and dozens of lovely ladies tried to be the one to drain his ardor, sort of Cinderella story where the right fit would make him a prince. Steve would never go for it, but it was still a good idea.
Steve had taken five tranquilizer darts without a problem, only looking a little woozy – and he’d made Tony work for them too, putting his agility and shield skills against Tony’s targeting computers and flying ability. That was way more effective that targeting drones for learning how to fire on the fly, and Tony had JARVIS make a note that he needed more live target practice.
“That all you got?” Steve taunted good-naturedly, his smile taking any sting out of the words.
“JARVIS, triple-time target, mark.” Tony powered up high and dive-bombed Steve, firing with his left hand. Steve swung his shield over to cover that side, and Tony juked right as fast as he could, and fired a double salvo, three darts each. Steve dodged the second and blocked the third, but not the first, or the fourth Tony launched from the left once Steve moved his shield again. He was slowing, stumbling, moved the shield in front of him again in a defensive crouch, eyes bright… and abruptly fell over like a felled tree.
“I’m still detecting a heartbeat. May I suggest having medical on standby?”
“Shit.” If he broke Captain America, Fury would never let him hear the end of it. Tony landed, retracted his gauntlets enough to check Steve’s pulse, and found it steady, if slow. Still, the man had taken eleven darts.
“Eleven, you crazy bastard,” Tony muttered out loud. That would be enough to stop the heart of any normal person. Then again, there was a reason a .22 wouldn’t take down an elephant – if the Avengers were going after Red Skull, Tony had to know what would work on the man. “JARVIS, remind me to add adrenaline to the emergency kit.” If he happened to miss Schmidt, no one else needed to die.
“Of course, sir.”
Steve’s heartbeat remained good, and fifteen minutes later started to come out of it. This was from a dose that, if it had been just a single dart, would have kept anyone else down for an hour. Damn.
“Worked?” Steve mumbled, blinking and slowly sitting upright.
“Yeah. You took eleven,” Tony said, still somewhat in awe.
“Hurrah,” Steve said absently, accepting Tony’s hand and getting himself upright.
“You also signed a permission form for StarkNaked Industries to take casts of your body parts. I got it done while you were out. You’re gonna sell like hot cakes, baby,” Tony added with a wide grin.
Steve looked alarmed for a minute before smiling. “Liar.”
“Maybe. You don’t know what some people will pay for stuff like that.”
“Do I want to know?” Steve asked, scooping up his shield.
“Depends. They always say ‘never Google yourself.’ I Googled you – it was Rule 34 to the max. Trust me, it’d sell.”
“Rule 34?” Steve asked, pre-wincing.
“If it exists, there is porn of it.”
Steve only colored a little, and sighed, sounding resigned. “They still have that?”
Tony choked. “Still?!”
“There was stuff circulating about me when I was still in the USO. Eight-pagers? They still call them that? Blusies?” Steve was searching for words at Tony’s slack-jawed look. “Tijuana Bibles?”
“Oh my God, how did I not know this? Okay, wait, I know why I don’t, because Dad held you up to be all pure as virgin snow.”
Steve snorted and shoved his cowl down to bunch up around his neck. “Howard knew me better than that.”
“That’s how he always portrayed you to me.”
“I was in the army. Pure was not something that ever really applied to us.” Steve shook his head and let out an odd, sad laugh. “I must have been a-. I didn’t mean…”
Tony got it. Steve had become a sort of martyr, a saint in Dad’s eyes, any flaws of humanity wiped out in Dad’s feelings of guilt. It wasn’t Steve’s fault Howard hadn’t coped well.
That thought somehow lacked its customary, nearly reflexive burn against Captain America.
“Yeah,” Tony said, waving it away before things could get awkward again. “You do realize I’m now going to find all your vintage pornography and use it.”
“Let me know if you do; I want them,” Steve said without missing a beat.
“When did the icicle up your ass thaw?” Tony demanded. This was bantering. He was bantering with Steve Rogers. How the hell did that happen?
“I’m not even going to answer that.”
“When do you want to try stun grenades?”
“After lunch,” Steve said. “I could use a sandwich.”
“Just like that?” Tony said.
“Just like that.”
“You’re unreal, Rogers.”
Steve just grinned at him, looking like any one of the younger soldiers he’d helped over the years.
“There might be a few downsides to this Avengers thing. The interruptions are one of them,” Tony said.
“Can it, Stark.”
“Already canned, Natalie.”
Tony didn’t respond further to Natasha’s jibe, not when they were facing what looked like bad Transformers knock-offs powered by blue cube energy. Twelve hours after Bruce’s last communication, he’d responded back that he’d managed to eliminate Hel (and Valhalla and Niffleheim) about an hour before alarms started blaring all over S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters.
It would have been nice if the appearance of the Bel-Air-sized tank-esque invaders had heralded Red Skull coming out of hiding, but no. Apparently his faithful proto-neo-HYDRA minions were just following the next batch of orders, which had been strictly on a need-to-know basis per each cell, which had kept Natasha out of the loop when she’d been interrogating prisons.
So, she was pissed, and Tony wasn’t going to push things. They were already down Bruce and Thor, which sort of left Tony as their heaviest hitter.
He swallowed hard and tried to keep his breathing even. Focus, Stark…
It looked like as if the neo-HYDRAites had decided that if they couldn’t crack open a transdimensional superhighway yet, then they sure as hell were going to clear out a landing platform. That the landing platform was already occupied by the residents of Detroit wasn’t much more than a minor obstacle. At least until the Avengers showed up.
From above, the Cadillac-sized tanks were roaming the streets, shedding the sheet metal van camouflage they’d been sporting to get into position, their turrets turning this way and that, spewing deadly blue energy at anything that got in their way.
“They’re going to level the place!” Steve shouted, his brightly-colored costume easily visible on the streets as he helped the police direct people away from their paths. “I can’t see any goal, they’re just clear-cutting the entire area!”
“The bastards,” Tony said, keeping his tone halfway between indignation and amusement. Amusement because they’d sent machines while he was on duty, indignation because poor Detroit just couldn’t catch a break. And if he kept himself in that mindset, he thought it would be harder for fear to set its claws in him. “JARVIS, stats.”
“Semi-automated vehicles, with drivers, heavily armed. The energy blasts are capable of molecular dissolution. Do not get hit, sir.”
Tony ignored the last couple remarks as JARVIS flashed up pictures, illuminating weak points. The weapons on those things might be deadly, but they hadn’t expected resistance, or else somebody would have noticed some egregious engineering flaws.
“I can pop the cans,” Tony reported. “The rest of you have something for who’s inside?”
It was Clint who answered him, settling the Quinjet down on the far side of the carnage when it became clear that the armed plane was going to be nothing but a giant target. But man-to-tank, insane as that sounded, they had a much better chance.
“Sleepgas arrows for me, Nat’s got her Widow’s Bite set on stun, and Steve is ready to put anyone down with a beddie-bye fist. Nat’s looking forward to squeezing these guys.”
Some of that was probably flattery on Clint’s part. Tony knew, intellectually, that it would be easier to blow these world-ending maniacs to hell. Logically, they weren’t going to add much joy to the world. They had shown themselves to be uncaring about humanity, peace, and love, preferring to follow the dictates of a psychotic megalomaniac that had returned beyond the pale rather than, say, go to a concert or take in a play. Sticking them in a maximum security prison for a few decades wouldn’t change that. They could be better off dead, and the rest of the Avengers wouldn’t worry much about sending them there. That was what most of them did, what most of them had trained for; Thor was a warrior, Steve a soldier, Clint and Natasha assassins.
And Tony was smart enough, practical enough to know his non-lethal approach to combat would bite him in the ass at some point, and probably get people hurt along the way. There might come a time when he had the choice of killing a bad guy or letting bad things happen. He didn’t know what he would do if that ever came to pass.
He had his convictions, he had his reasons, and he wasn’t going to give them up for Dad, or S.H.I.E.L.D., or Fury, or Rogers. He stood for something, Iron Man stood for something, otherwise why was he doing this at all? Why risk his life for something he didn’t believe in?
He believed in life, liberty, and the pursuit of orgasms. The All-American Way.
If he could hold to that, then he could do this, dry mouth or no dry mouth.
“Sounds like a plan. Let’s go save Motor City.”
The proto-neo-HYDRA douches may have been following a mad Nazi scientist who had been world-hopping with a cube of unknowable energy for the past seventy years or so, but they had some of their shit together. Half were in west Detroit, half in east, blithely invading Canada too as they crossed the river to start their own side of the destruction. They were set to cut the city in half, mowing down every structure in their path.
“I know this place needed some urban renewal, but this is overkill,” Tony said.
“Stark, Barton, where’s the best place to hit these things?” Steve asked.
“The ports on these things are shielded, no joy,” Clint called, an arrow spanging off the side of one of the tanks.
The illuminated hologram flashed in front of Tony’s eyes, and he called down instructions. “Forget the ports, target the tank treads! People always forget to protect their shoes.” Tony swung out above the river, twisting to make himself a smaller target for what was sure to be a broadside return salvo, and give the first of the tanks a double repulsor blast right where it counted. It stumbled, limped, and ground to a halt as the treads fell clean off, limiting its ability to move in the rubble-strewn streets it had clogged full of debris. The turret swung in his direction and Tony blasted at the connection between tank and turret. The whole things rocked, smoking, and someone inside flipped a port open, disabling the shielding, to cough and gasp for air. One of Clint’s arrows pinpointed the weak spot, and the coughing grew quieter as those inside succumbed to the knockout gas.
The other tanks ground to a halt in surprise, as if they couldn’t believe what had just happened.
“Good work, Stark, Barton. Tasha and I are heading west. Keep these groups separated!” Steve’s colorful uniform got lost in the smoke as he and Natasha parkoured their way over every obstacle in their path.
“Got it, Cap,” Clint replied, and bent an explosive arrow towards the nearest lumbering behemoth. Both Clint and Tony had to dodge retaliatory fire and exchanged grins, Tony’s unseen. The HYDRA goons were mad.
Tony’s hands were tingling after an hour of nearly non-stop repulsor fire as he sped west, Clint hitching a ride. They’d taken care of their little problem with minimal additional damage to the downtown area, and with the S.H.I.E.L.D. team sweeping in behind them taking the bad guys into custody, they were finally able to join the rest of their team. Ahead, beyond the smoke, Steve was using the edge of his shield to sever tank treads while Natasha dealt with the emerging crews, both of them careful to keep themselves out of the line of fire from the remaining tanks. Tony was impressed they’d managed to take down so many without distance weapons. Some of the ones on the fringes were trying to limp away on what looked like autopilot, and Tony went after them as Clint bent his bow to help finish what Steve and Natasha had started.
“Iron Man, watch out-!”
Steve’s yell was the only warning Tony had and he practically cartwheeled out of the way as the three “damaged” tanks coordinated their attack in a raking pattern of lethal blue energy. Attitude gone, g-forces pulling at him, nearly blacking out, JARVIS initiated emergency stabilization and got him upright again. As soon as he could look, he saw Clint had actually blown the wheels off two of the tanks and Steve was slicing at a third. Natasha was casually waiting until the desperate drivers opened the lids and popped in stun grenades with brisk efficiency.
“The last one’s mine!” Clint called, his arrow slipping into the unguarded port of the last crawling tank, making it judder to a halt as the crew succumbed to the gas. “Shit for brains,” he muttered into the comms.
“Yeah, except everything they fired at vaporized,” Tony said, altitude dipping. Too much repulsor fire in a short period of time. He didn’t have much left for flight, and touched down with a mental groan. The adrenaline dump wasn’t quite so bad this time, but he was still very grateful for the suit’s locking knee joints. Amongst other things.
“Fine,” Tony said shortly. He was fine, just fine, perfectly dandy, just very glad he had an in-suit filtration system and personal cooling.
Natasha touched her ear suddenly and nodded, apparently getting info from S.H.I.E.L.D. “A couple of the crew abandoned their vehicles and ran during our last attack. We need to start sweeping the buildings in case any of them get hostage ideas.”
Steve gestured in four directions, one for each of them, in a sweeping pattern. “Go fast. I don’t want any of these guys to get away.”
Tony froze at the entry to the conference hall, shocked at seeing Steve crumpled in a heap at the feet of a powerfully-built man with crimson-red skin. He’d finished his quarter and had started in on Steve’s, intending to give him a little grief about slouching on the job when he’d heard the sounds of a fistfight. He’d expected to find Steve giving his “beddy-bye fist” to one of the HYRDA goons.
He had not expected to find the founder of the world-ending order standing over Steve’s battered body.
Schmidt looked up at Tony, an ugly smile splitting his face. “Another one of you? It does not matter how you dress up your champions, you are facing a losing battle. Cast aside your armor and join me. You have seen the world about to crack; it is inevitable! All this you hold dear will not be able to stand against the might of HYDRA as it is unleashed. Two heads will rise for every one you have defeated, and soon you will drown in your own blood. The attacks will come, more and more, until you beg to die at my feet as a mercy! I control the greatest power source in all the realms; you cannot stand against me-.”
Tony stared at him, silent behind his mask, and suddenly started laughing as Schmidt reached a crescendo. Red Skull paused in his ranting, nonplussed, and Steve had the intelligence to stay still and get his breath back.
“You’re trying to shock me?” Tony asked incredulously. “You’re trying to shock me?”
From Schmidt’s little jerk back, yes, yes he had. His eyes were completely off of Steve, and JARVIS was putting a frantic emergency signal out to everyone on the S.H.I.E.L.D. frequency. Tony had to make this count; his suit power was too far down to try to engage Schmidt in a toe-to-toe knock-down drag-out.
“Do you know who I am?” Tony demanded. “I’m the King of fucking Corruption! And I mean that literally, dicksmack.” Tony punctuated his words with a pelvic thrust, somehow rendered even more obscene in the armor. “I fuck myself on dildos made from casts of my own cock and then post it to RedTube as instructional videos. I let a machine drill me into submission every night and brag about to my friends. I gave our mutual buddy Captain America here a star-spangled butt plug for a welcoming gift and smiled about it the entire time. Take your shock tactics and deep-throat them. I’m sure I can sell it to my fans.”
Red Skull stared at Tony, eyes wide with surprise, his fists clenching, sporting the best imgusted expression Tony had ever seen, and if he hadn’t been a natural shade of vermillion, might have gone red in an apoplectic display of rage. Might have, if Steve hadn’t taken advantage of Tony’s distraction to bring his shield up to Red Skull’s chin so fast his lights were out before he even hit the ground.
“Nice hit, Cap,” Tony said, audibly smirking.
“Nice… distraction. Or was that bragging?” Steve asked. And by golly there was actually something of a smirk tugging at those All-American lips.
“Both. I never pass up a good opportunity to monologue.”
“Good one.” Steve picked himself up off the ground, pulled out heavy handcuffs to tie up Schmidt, nodded to Tony to fire one of his amped up tranquilizer darts into the man’s side, and tossed flares out the window to alert the others to their physical location. And paused. “Every night?” he asked very reluctantly.
“Every night I’m not at S.H.I.E.L.D. My Long-Distance Lover is, alas, not terribly portable. Yet.”
Steve quit while he was ahead and didn’t ask anything more. Tony just plowed right on ahead; he couldn’t help it.
“If you’re curious, that laptop case I carry around with me at headquarters? Doesn’t have a laptop in it.”
“Of course it doesn’t,” Steve muttered.
“I can fit about eight different toys in there, not counting the cock ring.”
“Wonderful,” Steve said blandly.
“I built a few things into the suit in case briefings ever got really boring.”
“…Why don’t you turn a few on and give us a couple minutes of peace?”
“It wouldn’t be peaceful; I can be a screamer when I get going.”
Steve sighed. “I know you miss Banner, Tony, but do you think you could turn the innuendo down a couple notches. Please?”
“Maybe, if you ask very nicely,” Tony said in sing-song voice. He might possibly be a little giddy with all the adrenaline from the fight. They had Schmidt. They’d captured the world-hopping jerk. Tony kept looking over at him every few seconds to remind himself that was real.
“Sir, you have an incoming communication from Dr. Foster.”
“Pull it up, J,” Tony said, and Dr. Foster’s slightly breathless voice filled his helmet.
“Tony!” she said frantically. “I got a message from Bruce, he figured out where Schmidt was practicing-.”
“Muspelheim or Svartalfheim?” Tony asked, really, really hoping it wasn’t the first. Apparently that was the home of demons, and he didn’t want to see classic goat-hooved, pitchfork-wielding nasties as Schmidt’s back-up, assuming anyone could get a message to them. That would really bring the crazies out of the woodwork…
“Svartalfheim. He was using their workshops.”
Oh. Oh fuck. That was actually worse than demons. Svartalfheim was the home of the dark elves, skilled craftspeople every bit as good as dwarves, but with a much more amoral bent. And considering those were the same workshops that had produced things like Mjölnir…
“Rogers, Schmidt may have some new toys even I wouldn’t sell-,” Tony began, turning back to Steve and then freezing in place. Schmidt was on his feet again, handcuffs broken, spitting out something that looked like a tiny bottle, now empty, and pulling a glittering golden saber out of the damn air.
A few D&D references piled into Tony’s mind, healing potion, ethereal scabbard, and then he pointed his hands at Schmidt, the new tranquilizer darts ready, and fired the same triple salvos he’d used on Steve. Steve slashed down with his shield at the same time, trying to draw Schmidt’s sword to block. Schmidt spun away from Steve, catching two darts in his shoulder, his saber flicking out to deflect the rest, and stabbed downward in the air. The air flashed an eye-smiting shade of blue, and Schmidt disappeared into the light. Bullets and arrows flashed through the space a split-second after the light disappeared, followed by curses in two different languages as Clint and Natasha came running in.
“What the hell?” Clint demanded. “Seriously, what the hell?” Behind him, Natasha’s expression begged the same question, her eyes wide in an unusual display of surprise.
“Schmidt spent his summer vacation in shop class,” Tony said shortly.
“Contact Banner and Thor, get them back here,” Steve said, staring at the spot where Schmidt at vanished with a look like thunder. “Schmidt just put himself back on the grid, and we’re not letting him get away again.”
Natasha turned away, already contacting Dr. Foster, while Clint was checking every corner of the room for any evidence left behind. That left enough time for Tony to close the distance to Steve and speak for his ears only. Up close, Steve had taken quite a beating, that All American mug bruised and blackened.
“How’d he get up with all those sedatives in his system? I literally pumped him full of enough to down two bull elephants. And, more to the point, what the hell did he do to you?” Tony had done those experiments with Steve for a reason. He couldn’t do his job if people kept changing the variables on him!
“Came out of nowhere… guess I know how he did that now. He’s… strong,” Steve said, sounding hesitant. “Stark, he’s strong. Stronger than me, faster than me. Pushed me around like…” He trailed off and gritted his teeth.
Like you were a scrawny kid in a Brooklyn back alley again, Tony realized. Shit.
What the hell had happened to Schmidt during those seventy years?
Chapter 7: Trust Falls
Steve shrugged off S.H.I.E.L.D.'s medical personnel absently, his bruises already starting to fade slightly, though his gashes were still dripping. He just headed towards the Quinjet with the single-minded determination of the obsessed. Tony knew those symptoms better than most. Clint was wincing in sympathy when he caught sight of their fearless leader, and Tony finally cornered Steve once they’d gotten the Quinjet in the air. Cornering Steve would be a very nice distraction from the immediate need of the problem with dimension-jumping Nazi-scientist-mutants that they’d be dealing with as soon as they landed.
“You look like hell. Sit down before you bleed on your uniform.”
“It doesn’t matter. It’ll heal,” he said, not even looking at Tony. He wasn’t looking at anyone, staring at the wall of the plane as if he could see right through it.
“Yeah, but before then, how about you don’t leave puddles of blood around for people to slip in?” Tony shed his gauntlets and pulled the first-aid kit from the wall, fishing around for gauze, bandages, and butterfly closures.
“I don’t need a nurse, Tony.”
“Yes, you do. Would it help if I got out my ‘naughty nurse’ outfit? I have one. I have five, actually.”
Clint didn’t bother to stifle a guffaw.
Steve refocused on Tony, coming back to the now, and Tony took the opportunity to press gauze to the cut on his temple. He waited long enough for it to clot some, figuring Steve would need less time, and broken out the iodine and closure strips to finish the job.
“You’ve done this before,” Steve said, blinking slowly. Tony was glad to see Steve back with them, because the idea of Tony trying to lead the Avengers was enough to make a cat laugh, if Natasha would even let him try. Still, Red Skull. That was a whole can of worms Tony was glad to not have in his personal nightmares.
“I told you, I test all my own products; I cater to literally all the kinks, and that includes sadism, masochism, knifeplay, bloodplay, and all that jazz.”
Steve got a brief imgusted expression on his face before just closing his eyes and letting his head thump softly back against the wall. “…Thanks.”
Natasha moved back from the co-pilot’s seat to talk with them face-to-face, pulling off her headphones as she did. From the expression on her face, Tony was pretty sure she’d just gotten off the horn with Fury. “Rogers, as much as we want Banner and Thor back, we need to know what Schmidt was doing in Svartalfheim. If he left any rearguard or base there, we need to cut off his line of retreat so he can’t escape like that again.”
“And what he made, because Rogers and I had him unconscious to rights and he popped back up again like a blow-up-,” Tony made a quick change of vocabulary because Steve had had a hard enough day already, “-clown.”
Natasha touched a button on her headphones and pulled out her earbud. “The World Security Council’s divided, and the Director is stalling them from making any final decisions. We need a plan on how we’re going to deal with Schmidt when we find him, wherever that is.”
“Fuck him,” Tony said flatly. “I think I’m an expert at that. He’s one guy – it’s gonna be the righteous gangbang from hell when we catch him, metaphorically speaking. Wait, that’s not right, people usually enjoy my gangbangs.”
Steve’s lips twitched, holding back a wan smile as he sat up. “Except he’s not one guy, Tony. And you know it. He showed up alone in Detroit just to rub it in my face that he’d gotten away, but even then HYDRA was just a call away.”
“Or they would have been, if we hadn’t just bagged all their asses,” Tony muttered.
“It’s not that hard to find a lot of passionate, disenfranchised or disillusioned people looking for a reason to fight,” Natasha said with utter neutrality. “Would-be warlords have been doing that for thousands of years.”
“I know that,” Steve said, his voice very nearly a growl.
“No shit, Rogers,” Tony said, stopping himself from clenching his teeth. “I know that in excruciating detail.”
It seems the invisible specter of Howard Stark was looming a lot today.
Steve let his head fall back again. “The minute we all go to Asgard, Schmidt will attack somewhere on Earth. We stay on Earth, Schmidt will go back to Svartalfheim and-.”
“Wait, no,” Tony interrupted, shaking his head, brain finally getting into gear. “He couldn’t go back.”
“Stark’s right. He’d have set off those world-cracking-machine alarms, right?” Clint called back.
“J? No alerts on those, right?” Tony asked.
“None, sir. No unauthorized transdimensional travel has been attempted.”
Natasha got a faraway look in her eye. “Schmidt used his sword to…” she actually winced as she said, “teleport? Go somewhere else on Earth?”
“For lack of actual science words, let’s go with that,” Tony said. “And I don’t know what kind of Red Bull he had in that bottle-.”
“SciOps is on it,” Clint said. “I saw them take it to analyze.”
“-But it fixed him right the hell up.”
“He’s not unbeatable,” Steve said, opening his eyes to stare at the ceiling. “No matter what he made for himself or where he got it from, he’s not unbeatable. He believes he can’t lose. Not even when I knocked that damn cube into him and watched him dissolve into glowing dust.” Muscles twitched in Steve’s jaw, and Tony could hear Steve’s gauntlets creak slightly as he tightened his grip on his shield. “He’s the same crazed sonofabitch I fought back in my time, talking about how invincible he was even when everything was crumbling down around him.”
Steve stood, bringing his shield in front of him. “This isn’t his future; we’re going to make damn sure of that. Tony, can you set those sensors to track the energy Schmidt had on that sword of his?”
“If there’s anything lingering and the S.H.I.E.L.D. guys can get me a reading, yeah-.”
“Do it. Clint, Natasha, see if any of the HYDRA people are talking. I’m going to check and see if S.H.I.E.L.D.’s checked out any of HYDRA’s old bases. It’s possible they went back to their old hideouts, and there were a few we never got around to wiping out during the war. I remember where they all were. Seeing Schmidt brought it all back.”
The Quinjet whined as Clint put it down at headquarters, the ramp opening up as the engines wound down.
“Let’s go find this bastard, guys,” Steve said, and walked out, head held high.
Tony waited until he was absolutely certain Steve had gone beyond the range of his super-soldier hearing.
“For a half a second there, I was afraid he’d need to be rebooted.”
Natasha and Clint followed Steve’s colorful uniform with their eyes through the bustle of the S.H.I.E.L.D. hanger, exchanging secret code glances with each other, probably having entire debates with their eyebrow expressions. Clint finally broke their silence.
“Coulson told me when they found Rogers in the ice, and they were thawing him out, they couldn’t get him to let go of his shield. He held onto that thing like it was a part of his hand. They had to dope him to the gills to get him to relax his grip, and even then it took three of the strongest guys on staff to get the shield out.”
“That’s a fascinating story, Robin Hood. What the hell does have to do with the price of butt plugs in Boston?”
“The guy’s got a sense of duty that borders on the suicidal.”
“Not borders,” Tony said flatly. “He didn’t end up frozen because he wanted a refreshing dip.”
“Not like that.” Clint shook his head. “He won’t let you down, Stark. Trust me. He’s not going to give up.”
They say never meet your childhood heroes.
Unless, apparently, they’re Steve Rogers.
“’Scuse me, I gotta go make a magic-detecting machine now,” Tony said, escaping the situation with the grace of which only he was capable.
Six hours, and a lot of badgering of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s science division later, Tony had a workable prototype to detect Schmidt ethereal jaunting or whatever the hell he was doing to get around the world without frequent flyer miles.
“In theory,” Tony muttered to himself. What the range was, he couldn’t tell. Put on a Quinjet and pointed at the last place Schmidt had winked out, it went “ding!” so at least it knew what to look for. Whether or not it could detect it at any distance enough to make it practical was a question that was only going to be answered with a lot of trial and error. But for less than half a day, it wasn’t bad. If nothing else, the MDM (“magic-detection machine,” at least until Tony could come up with snappier name) would be useful in the aftermath. Not ideal, but something.
And considering the really long fight Tony had been in today, he counted himself lucky to have gotten it functional at all. He broke the connection with the lucky S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who’d gotten to test his prototype with the usual threats to “bring it back in one piece, you crazy kids.” That’s what he always told his test team, after he did all the initial trial runs.
Tony rubbed his eyes tiredly and seriously wished he could pop back to Malibu for a nice, soothing Jacuzzi session, followed by slow, thorough fucking by JARVIS and the LDL. He wasn’t that hard of a man to please, not really. A bath, an orgasm, and he could be good as new.
He’d have to settle for a hot shower and whatever combination sounded most interesting out of his traveling toy case.
“Sir, you have an incoming live communication from Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said, breaking into Tony’s reverie.
Fatigue was instantly forgotten as Tony bounded for the appropriate monitor and flicked it to life. They couldn’t get video calls from Asgard, or anything like a phone call. The best they could do was something like a time-lag IM, and that maybe once or twice a day at really inconvenient intervals having to do with the alignment of the Nine Realms. It was actually more productive to just send interdimensional e-mails, which was how they’d been getting their results for as long as Bruce had been on Asgard.
The live communication meant either something really good, or really, really bad.
Tony? It’s Bruce. Don’t worry, everything’s all right here. We’re looking into things first thing in the morning, I promise – apparently it’s particularly foolish to walk around Svartalfheim at night. Everyone else all right?
Tony grinned at that, just seeing the cadence of Bruce’s words. Everyone’s pretty much all right. What, the Hulk is scared of the dark?
Good to hear. Dr. Banner is scared of a diplomatic incident, actually. Asgard’s not at war with Svartalfheim, and Odin wants to keep it that way. Discretion being the better part of not Hulking out, Thor and I decided to not go asking favors when things that go bump in the night might accidentally cause the Hulk to smash the exact workshops we’re trying to examine. Svartalfheim has some very exotic nightlife, apparently.
When you get home, I have some very exotic nightlife I’m dying to show you, Tony promised.
Somehow I knew you were going to say that. I got the specs for the MDM. Did you knock this together out of spare parts to get it done so fast? It’s brilliant.
Tony felt a flush of warmth, different than his usual blood-boiling libido flushes, and wished he dared emoticon without feeling like a teenager. Specs from the rift-detector, put together with the extra bits, yeah. Tony hesitated, then forged ahead anyway. I really, really miss you.
And not just for the attractive scenery, you great throbbing brain, you.
There was a short pause. Ok, I can’t pull off the right acronyms without looking incredibly lame, but Thor dropped by to see what I was laughing about. Another pause. And he’s congratulating us on locating Schmidt.
The pleasant feeling dissipated. For about five minutes, yeah. He did a number on Steve before he vanished.
I got Natasha’s after-action report. We’ll get him Tony, we will. Thor’s people are angry that a Migardian (that’s us) getting access to weapons from another realm. Svartalfheim’s in the doghouse for letting him in, or not noticing he was there. Once Thor’s people finish tightening their nets so Schmidt can’t come back, Thor and I can come back to Earth. Then at least we only have a planet to search.
Can’t wait. I always wanted to hunt megalomaniacs for the third date.
A very long pause, and for a minute Tony was afraid either he’d said something wrong or the damn realm alignment had shifted.
Thor is wondering what’s so funny. I said you, and he said you were a skilled entertainer.
Ok, even I won’t go after that low-hanging fruit.
My God, even your protestations to the contrary are double entendres. How do you do it?
It’s a special talent, honed by years of awesomeness.
Tony, have JARVIS skip to Session 21. I think that will sum up… everything. It’ll be daylight here in about three hours. We’ll be back as soon as we can.
Tony hesitated, not wanting to declare his undying love because… well, they hadn’t really gotten to that stage yet. I’ll be thinking of you.
I’ll send you the results of what we find.
The connection broke a few seconds later, and Tony sat back in his chair. “Yeah,” he said to the air. “Ok, yeah, we’re good.”
“Sir, would you care to view Session 21 now?” JARVIS asked from Tony’s phone.
“Twenty-one. Damn, he is going to completely wear me out when he gets back.”
“I thought he was doing a rather good job of it via his recorded sensual self-therapy.”
“Stop with the snarky commentary and get on with the show,” Tony said, smiling, taking a moment to lock the lab door, throw a cover over the chair, and get a few supplies from his laptop bag.
There was a part of Tony, a somewhat unfamiliar part, that felt guilty at tuning into what was essentially porn made purely for him while out there a deadly enemy was hatching some clichéd yet horrible scheme to take over the world. But it wasn’t like he hadn’t already put in a damn good day’s work today.
Besides, if he ended up feeling too guilty, he could just download the security recordings and sell them, salving his conscience that at least he was contributing to his day job.
Well, that’s more like lubing my conscience, but whatever.
“Sir, I was tasked to summarize the previous unviewed sessions. Bondage seems to be unviable, unless it is simple handholds that are easily broken, and most pain or impact is viewed in a negative light. There will be a certain amount of rebuilding necessary as a result of these discoveries.”
Tony let out a small sigh at that, having heard a few inferences to Bruce’s less than stellar childhood both from Natasha and Clint, as well as from a few things Bruce had let slip himself. Bruce’s files undoubtedly had more, but Tony hadn’t dived into them yet out of courtesy. Yeah, those were things that he was quite happy to take off the table for Bruce’s sake.
The screen lit up with a lovely side-shot of Bruce, naked-
“Excellent start, J. Love your opening shots.”
“I live, as always, to please, sir.”
-And zoomed out to show Bruce leaning against one of his sex chairs, the ones with moveable panels in nearly every possible bodily configuration. This one was soft red-and-gold leather, and adjusted to support Bruce’s chest and thighs, while leaving everything else open to…
Tony swallowed when the LDL rolled into the shot, all of its arms engaged, and a couple extra attached. There was an Adonis Five attached to one, a classic lady parts Fleshlight on the other (Tony hadn’t invented that, but sure had improved it), two animatronic hand attachments, and a fifth with- Tony squinted, then sucked in a breath as he recognized the Star model of the Naked Lust line of dildos. The ones modeled on his own cock. It took him a second to re-engage his brain as the LDL positioned itself, and JARVIS helpfully showed POV shots of Bruce’s hole, already slick and open, and his erection, covered in sparkly green lube.
Tony grinned at that.
Bruce looked so relaxed, so completely ready, that Tony quickly fumbled at his toy case to mimic what was about to happen. JARVIS, the devious bastard, paused the recording on Bruce’s open and anticipatory expression.
“Bruce found the orgy mode?” Tony asked, finding his Iron Rod butt plug and pushing it inside with the ease of practice, the self-lubing function making the penetration easy. The pressure and fullness made a nice distraction as Tony fitted the vibrating cock ring and locked it in place.
“Yes, sir, and he was very eager for this to be the grand finale for your viewing pleasure. And his own personal pleasure.”
“He has,” Tony said, breath hitching a bit as he turned the cock ring on and hissed at the low, relentless throb in his dick, “wonderful taste.”
The orgy mode had yet to hit the market, mostly due to the fact that Tony would have had to have put a mini-AI in every machine to handle all the calculations and safety protocols. Bruce must have very favorably impressed JARVIS if he’d mentioned it at all.
Love me, love my AI.
“Resume,” Tony said, and moaned in tandem with Bruce-on-screen as the LDL penetrated and enveloped him at the same time, slowly.
His back arched, and JARVIS engaged the animatronic hands at Bruce’s urgent mumble of, “Now, now, touch me now, please!”
Tony took his cock in hand, his own touch an unbearable tease with the vibration going, and watched avidly, fascinated as a brief flash of green rippled over Bruce’s back. His whole body swelled for a moment, then subsided back into pink normalcy. There were a couple of unhappy electronic sounds, and Bruce uttered a moan of disappointment. The camera shot wide again, and Tony saw the LDL disengage the Adonis and Fleshlight, now ruined by the brief flash of the Hulk’s strength.
“Easily fixed, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said soothingly, as the animatronic hands continued their ministrations without ceasing. DUM-E and U were apparently on standby with replacements, and within thirty seconds, Bruce was well-seated again.
“Sorry, Tony,” Bruce whispered into the air. “We might have to… get creative. But… oh!” The attachments started working Bruce over in tandem, and he desperately reached for the Star model dildo, bringing it to his mouth as if he were desperate to taste it. Quickly, Tony squeezed lube onto his fingers, and let his fingertips imitate the soft, strong pink of Bruce’s wet tongue working over the exact model of the flesh in his hand. Groaning, Bruce turned his head away and brought his hand up instead, stroking the dildo in counter-time with the rhythm of the machine, making incredible little sounds that JARVIS was tracking and incorporating into Bruce’s pleasure algorithms. Those two had been at it for days, and Tony had programmed JARVIS to improve his response according to multiple layers of feedback. So what happened next, maybe neither of them should have been surprised at.
Tony’s voice began to whisper in Bruce’s ear, audio culled from hundreds of product test-drives, personal pleasure sessions, and every time Tony had interacted with the good doctor.
“Don’t stop, Bruce, please… You’re gorgeous like this, I love seeing you so open. So good, don’t stop! Yeah, yeah, oh fuck, Bruce, let me hear you, don’t hold back, come on, come for me, I’m so close, I’m-!” The Star model dildo jerked a bit in Bruce’s hand as the arm juttered to a halt, the warmer and lube-line conspiring to spurt small splashes of warm Sweet Cream flavor lube over Bruce’s hand. With a cry, Tony saw Bruce tense and shake, his face relaxing in the post-orgasm bliss Tony had come to love so well. The LDL slowed, then stopped, cradling Bruce in the hands, and keeping the wonderful, non-urgent pressure of the attachments around him and in him. DUM-E rolled over to place a blanket over Bruce while JARVIS swung one of the chair’s attachments around so Bruce could have someplace to put his head while he drowsed.
“Miss you. See you soon,” Bruce whispered, nearly inaudible. Then the screen went black.
Tony just stared, and swallowed, the spattered mess of his own ejaculation barely registering with the intensity of what he’d just seen. JARVIS waited for a response, but Tony just continued to stare for ten long minutes, lost in thought.
“I do hope that I didn’t overstep with the audio, sir,” JARVIS said into Tony’s continuing silence, sounding diffident. Tony swallowed again and finally found his voice.
“My God, J. When Bruce gets back, and we’re done with this whole Red Skull thing, I’m locking us both in our workshop and gonna have you work us both over until we pass out from orgasm overload, you fucking genius.”
“Very good, sir. Shall I take over the world when we’re done with that?” There might have been a hint of relief under JARVIS’ habitual dry humor.
“I’ll buy it for you and gift wrap it with a bow. Just tell me where you want it,” Tony promised.
Tony jumped a mile, aggravating the crick in his neck from where he’d fallen asleep in his chair. Well, the crick was worth the price – his room at S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t have a big screen like the lab. He cracked an eye to see Natasha standing in the doorway, looking a bit wary at the fact Tony was only wearing a pair of boxers and a silk robe. Inside, Tony congratulated himself. Despite his chair-obics last night, the forethought of a protective cover and a quick spray with a patented spunk-be-gone odor neutralizer had removed all the physical evidence. Not that he cared what Natasha thought of his sex life, but he didn’t want her to think he was disrespecting his and Dr. Foster’s shared workspace. Jane would probably understand, but Tony wasn’t in the mood for emergency diplomacy – that’s why he’d hired Pepper, and Pepper wasn’t read in yet.
“Knocking also works,” he said pointedly.
“Meeting in five.”
“So does e-mail, phone calls, Twitter, well, S.H.I.E.L.D. black-ops Twitter or whatever you guys have…”
“You were on my way,” she said evenly, her face far too composed.
“Sir, Agent Romanoff, the Spelloscope has successfully been integrated into the satellite network,” JARVIS broke in.
“Spelloscope?” Natasha raised an eyebrow.
“Better than ‘Magic-Detection Machine.’ Also? Harry Potter is cool,” Tony said, sitting more upright, getting his morning face on. Coffee would be necessary for full functionality, but banter also did wonders in the alertness department.
“Please don’t tell me you have themed products.”
“Do you want me to answer than honestly?”
Natasha considered that for three seconds. “…No.”
“Good. J, what’s the word?” Amazing what a few good orgasms could do to boost Tony’s creativity. He’d had a breakthrough about the satellite integration last night, and JARVIS had gotten cracking on it while Tony slept. It was going to be a hell of a lot more efficient than dragging the machine all over the world, pointing it at this or that lead and hoping they’d managed to find the right place.
“Narrowing down the areas of concern to Captain Rogers’ suggested sites, as logged by Agent Coulson last evening after his debriefing, scans are in progress now, as well as in two dozen other areas suggested by agents Romanoff and Barton’s interview with the captured HYDRA operatives. Results will be available in three hours. One further communication from Dr. Banner has arrived since you last spoke. He and Thor are concluding their investigation of Svartalfheim. They are tabulating their results now. Further messages will be forthcoming when they are ready to return.”
“Good work, J,” Tony said, giving the ceiling a vague salute.
“Barton, you get all that? Skip the meeting,” Natasha said, touching her ear briefly.
“You wear your earbud while on base? There’s a thing called taking your work home with you, kettle,” Tony said, well aware of the irony considering his late night activities, and the Iron Rod still in his ass.
“Ever tried to find an earbud when you have exactly ‘five-minutes-on-the-deck-Romanoff!’” She said the last in a very accurate Fury-like bark, and Tony grinned.
“Three hours, then. Clint and I were going to train. Care to join?” she said, raising an eyebrow in a way that implied welcome rather than skepticism.
“I doubt I’m on your level,” Tony said. Natasha looked like she could kill a man with her pinky.
“I didn’t expect you to be. I also can’t make a functioning Spelloscope in half a day with the assistance of a self-designed AI.”
Tony felt one of the hidden hollow bubbles in his chest, the ones covered with a shiny gloss of bravado, burst and fill in with something solid, and found himself blushing. Blushing! Natasha wasn’t going to apologize to him for anything she’d done previously, and he didn’t expect her to, but he felt like some of the inevitable ice had been crushed and melted.
“Sure. Just try not to break anything vital,” Tony said, trying to project perfect nonchalance.
Natasha smirked a bit as Tony called Jane down for her shift, and then went to change into his workout gear (and remove a thing or two; heavy exercise with an Iron Rod in was a no-no – he’d made sure that warning had gotten on the box personally). Tony left Dr. Foster with whatever private messages Thor had sent to her and followed Natasha down to a free gym.
“Where’s Rogers?” he asked.
“Destroying punching bags in 4C. Don’t try to call him, not when he’s like that,” Natasha said, her expression going very serious.
“That man does not need any more brooding time,” Tony said, looking down a hallway and hearing a very faint rhythmic thudding in the distance.
“You still don’t believe me?” Natasha asked.
“What, that he won’t quit? No, I very much believe you.” Tony sobered a bit as Natasha pushed open the door to their gym, where Barton was doing a disgusting number of pull-ups on a bar on the far wall. “But I know what obsession looks like and I know what it does.”
Clint stopped proving his bicep-hood and let go of the bar, exchanging a look with Natasha and Tony, one so empathetic Tony knew there must be something lurking on those files he’d had JARVIS download, someone they’d seen in the same state. Maybe a loved one. Maybe an enemy.
You found similarities in the oddest places, even between master assassins and a sex-toy maker who moonlighted as a superhero. That was… unexpectedly heavy for an early-morning workout.
“So!” Tony said, breaking the mood before they could start trust falls. “I believe you two were about to kick my well-toned luscious ass all around the gym.”
Natasha smiled and Clint laughed outright.
They didn’t kick his ass, not at first. They all had their own workout routines (Tony’s well-toned luscious ass hadn’t come from wishful thinking), but when Tony had finished the last of his reps, something flew by his head. He ducked instinctively, and turned to see Barton had a box of small bean bags next to him and was sporting a wicked expression.
“Dodgeball stopped being cool except for assholes decades ago,” Tony said.
“Yeah, but we’re fighting against assholes,” Clint said with impeccable logic.
Natasha smoothly scooped up the bean bag that had missed Tony and fired it at Clint. He dodged and brought out several more.
“Evasion training and firing practice, slow speed to start,” Clint explained, and lobbed Tony a pile of his own ammo. Out of self-preservation, Tony scooped up a handful and began to back up, tracking the others.
Likely as not, the agents were probably used to doing something like this with paintball mock-ups of real firearms, or laser tag that tazered the losers – harsher training for those who would be pulling the trigger with real bullets and murderous intent against those who would stop for nothing.
Tony could tell they were… not exactly humoring him, because hot damn Clint had wicked aim with anything and Tony was going to be nursing bruises, but… accommodating him? Tony wouldn’t deny that faster reflexes would make Iron Man a lot more effective; he was still painfully aware of the fact he might have been able to get Schmidt during his premier Earth reappearance if he’d been better able to take down single targets. He’d designed Iron Man to be a one-man wrecking crew, him against a bunch of bad guys, EMP for the win. Working with other people he had to watch out for, who wanted to work with him, was a steep learning curve.
Still, despite the bruises, Tony was holding his own. His own agility, while not quite on par with Natasha’s, was the result of years of constant flexibility training and didn’t count for nothing when playing rapid fire bean bag dodgeball. From a few curious glances by the Deadly Duo, they had already figured out what he typically used that flexibility for. Tony rolled under Natasha’s next throw, the bean bag missing his shoulder by a hair, and fired off one of his own that managed to nail her straight in the right buttock, in the rudest goose he’d ever given a willing lady.
Clint, who’d managed to hit them both more times than the two of them combined, jammed his hand in his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Natasha barely even paused, except for an indignant look, and fired off two rapid-fire bean bags that nailed him in the side. Tony managed to partially dodge Clint’s retaliatory volley, one glancing off his shoulder to slam right into Steve’s very surprised All-American chest.
The door swung shut behind Steve as he grabbing the falling bean bag out of the air, and scooped up a half-dozen more in his mitts, and leveled a too-pleasant smile at Clint.
“Fuckballs,” Clint swore, and dove for more ammo.
Tony inhaled a laugh and nearly choked. “I’m going to invent those, whatever they are, and leave some in your room, Barton!”
Steve took Clint’s curse as an invitation, and the practice turned into a free-for-all, bean bags being thrown everywhere. When Tony wasn’t frantically trying to dodge (Steve’s shield-throwing skills translated into him being just as deadly as Clint’s freakish accuracy), he was usually targeting rather cheap shots, but hey, he liked to play to his strengths and use his brain. He was not going to get very far going up against any of his teammates straight on. Natasha kept throwing smirks of approval in his direction.
“Tony, duck!” Steve yelled. He threw himself flat instinctively as Steve nearly bowled Clint over, once he’d lost Tony as an inadvertent shield. Suddenly it was two against two, Tony at Steve’s back, Natasha and Clint a synchronous duo of doom, until Steve called out, “Natasha and Tony!” and moved to cover Clint. That was entirely unfair to have the two with the most aiming experience on one team, but Natasha was a master of being a very hard target, and Tony could learn really fucking fast when the alternative was a shot to the family jewels.
“Natasha with me!” Steve called again, and finally Tony was able to practice more aiming himself as Clint kept the other two dodging more than throwing.
“Break!” Steve called finally, when sweat was running down Clint’s face and Tony felt about ready to drop. “Good job, everyone,” he said warmly, still looking annoyingly unwinded. Natasha did too for the most part, but women, as Tony had on excellent authority via Pepper, women didn’t sweat, they gleamed.
“Take ten, Thor and Dr. Banner are back in an hour.”
Clint and Natasha just nodded at him, then Tony, and headed for the locker room, but Steve lingered as Tony grabbed his water bottle and upended a gallon or two into his parched throat. Steve looked a hell of a lot better than yesterday, bruises gone, cuts barely-visible pink lines, and neither sporting that lost boy expression or the thousand yard stare of impending revenge. Idly Tony wondered if the serum worked on balancing neurotransmitters as well as everything else, because something had gotten Steve out of his equipment-destroying funk and in here with the team.
“You were up late,” Tony offered. JARVIS hadn’t started integrating the Spelloscope into the satellite feeds until after one a.m., and Steve’s logs of Red Skull’s hideouts were put into the system after that by Coulson. Considering how frighteningly efficient Coulson was, Tony had no doubt he’d entered them right after he had heard them. That was a long day, even for Captain America.
“Yeah,” Steve said, “I had a lot to think about.” He took a seat on one of the benches near the edges of the room, and Tony gratefully joined him on a neighboring seat.
“The last time I felt like that, I dove a plane into the ocean and I had about one minute to regret it before I hit.” Steve kept his eyes open, not closing them to look into the past, but instead kept them fixed on the scattered bean bags strewn across the floor.
Tony had absolutely no idea what to say to that. He gripped his water bottle and just kept his mouth shut for once.
“Schmidt doesn’t have this.” Steve waved his hand, somehow conveying S.H.I.E.L.D., the Initiative, and the training, and laughing, they’d done just now. “He doesn’t have people to laugh with. He can’t accept any view but his own. He doesn’t know how to have friends rather than lackeys.” Tony started a bit as Steve leaned over and held out his hand. “I’m glad you’re here, Tony.”
There was really no other graceful alternative thing to do other than clasp Steve’s hand in return.
Tony quickly showered and went to look over Bruce’s latest communication, leaving the training session and Steve’s odd confession to bubble in the back of his brain. All of them were running on a few more cylinders than normal these days, between cross-planar supervillains and purely Earth-bound minion armies, and “little” things like team spirit would have to take a temporary back seat to figuring out how the world might end today.
Tony, we have good news, though it won’t sound like it at first. Schmidt landed in Svartalfheim seventy years ago by our count, and was taken in by a rogue dark elf noble. (Well, he’s rogue as far as Svartalfheim’s nobility will admit, and Thor pressed them as much as he could without risking coming to blows.) His name was Malekith, and apparently he and Schmidt shared a lot of the same ideals; they got along like a house on fire. They were sharing a workshop. Schmidt was learning Svartalfheim crafting, and Malekith learning new application for contained energy like Schmidt had been using from that cube for his weapons. Malekith led some sort of rebellion about ten years ago, lost, and was exiled to a very nasty corner of the Nine Realms as punishment. Both Asgard and Svartalfheim swear up and down that Malekith hasn’t returned or escaped, so there are no allies for Schmidt here. But when Malekith was exiled, there were some plans left behind for what he’d been working on, which included an interplanar communication device as well as other toys. We have a full list so we can come up with counters. We’re coming home – Schmidt’s definitely stuck on Earth. ~Bruce
Tony breathed a sigh of relief at that. Bruce was coming back, and they weren’t going to be able to get surprised by Schmidt’s new toys again.
Natasha was the first to arrive at the lab as Dr. Foster returned to tune the calibrations on the Bifrost machine. Clint and Steve were just minutes behind her. Tony looked up as Natasha stood, an expectant expression on her face.
“You already read the briefing, Stark?” At Tony’s nod, she continued. “Malekith was exiled ten years ago. Around that time, neo-HYDRA was founded, primarily using various electronic platforms.”
“Long-distance recruiting motherfucker,” Tony said in irritation. He wondered if the dark elves had ways of watching Earth like Asgard did; they must have, if Schmit had managed to learn how the Internet worked. “So he was, what, indoctrinating his followers, giving them the building plans for the breach machines and weapons, then promising to return in triumph to lead them to some brave new world?”
“Basically. He was able to smuggle some power sources between the planes without raising red flags right up until S.H.I.E.L.D. noticed the breach-generating energy. They have some operational discipline, but not enough.”
“What does that mean for us?” Tony asked, wondering if there was another shoe about to drop.
“He likes to think he has this endless stream of followers, the whole ‘cut off one head, two more will take its place,’ but he doesn’t. There are a lot more people vying for followers these days. Schmidt has a lot, we’ve all seen it, but not nearly as many as he’d like to think. S.H.I.E.L.D. would have had more problems with them by now if they were as numerous as they claim.”
“He’s running out of resources,” Steve summarized crisply, his expression stony. “He was expecting the crack open the world to a bad part of Svartalfheim for more muscle, but all he has is HYDRA, and he wasn’t expecting that. He hates one-on-one odds; he likes every fight to be unfair.”
“So we bet on him to put all his eggs in one basket, the handbasket to hell,” Clint said, looking grimly amused. “He’s going to throw whatever else he made in Svartalfheim into the mix to try to take us down before we can wear him out.”
“Bring it on,” Tony said. “If he’s got bean bag weapons on that list, we’re totally going to kick his ass.”
Steve lost some of his stony mien at Tony’s words just as Dr. Foster called out for everyone to stand back behind the painted danger zone lines.
“They’re ready on Asgard. Tony?”
Tony double-checked his own calculations, and flashed her the thumbs-up. The room was flooded with power and rainbow light as Dr. Foster threw the switch. In the aftermath stood one thunder god, studly as ever, and one Dr. Bruce Banner, genius, sexual savant, and the current cause of the reason Tony was wearing a very uncomfortable cock cage, because right after this happy reunion there was going to be some Serious Business, and there was tragically not going to be enough time for a bed-breaking welcome. Better to be a little uncomfortable now than to try to get into Iron Man in a state of arousal.
Thor took two big strides over to Jane, and dipped her back in a theatrical kiss that somehow looked entirely natural. While everyone was justifiably distracted by that, Tony found himself pulled gently but firmly into a satisfying kiss with little hints of tongue and teeth that made Tony gasp a little as he ran right up against the confines of the cage.
“Your AI is matchmaking,” Bruce accused, amusement in his voice as he broke off the kiss. He looked so much more comfortable in his own skin than the last time Tony has seen him. Amazing what could happen in a few days.
“He didn’t say anything I wouldn’t have if I’d been there. I’ve been through five bottles of lube, Bruce. Five.”
“Later then, all right?” Another kiss, short and intense.
“Promise,” Tony said, already planning out some very excellent two-man variations on Bruce’s sex tapes.
Steve cleared his throat, bringing them back to the now. “The lists?” he asked.
Bruce managed to calm himself down in record time (which Tony resolved to learn whatever yoga-mantra-what-the-weed-ever Bruce was using, because it had to be more comfortable than what he was wearing on his penis right now), and took an elaborate scroll from his bag. He opened it up, and it immediately started to gleam with pictures and scroll with words like a holo-projector, belying its old-timey appearance.
“Most of what Schmidt was making was weapons, personal protection devices, communication and travel devices. Nothing significant for stealth-.”
“No surprise there,” Steve said. “Subtlety was never his strong point.”
“But we can now make counters to everything he has,” Bruce finished up, smiling with justifiable pride.
“Sir,” JARVIS interrupted. “The Spelloscope has a reading confirmed.”
“Which we will be doing very quickly,” Tony added, and pulled Bruce over to his side of the lab. It sounded like that delayed welcome was going to be very delayed. Luckily science was a lot like sex for him, at least on the emotional satisfaction end of things.
“We will,” Dr. Foster amended, tapping her computer with an impatient expression, clearing waiting for Bruce’s files. “If it’s powered by extra-planar energy, that’s my specialty.”
“Done, and done,” Tony said, kicking the files over before opening up his own so Bruce and he could see. “JARVIS, tell Steve, Clint, and Natasha what’s going on while we make magic repellant spray or whatever-the-fuck we’re about to do.”
Steve smiled and nodded at Tony, and turned to the screen as JARVIS flashed up the latest information.
On a screen in Nick Fury’s office, he watched the Avengers with a calculating expression, a report from Coulson under his fingertips.
“You had your reasons for bringing him in, sir.”
“Other than the obvious, Coulson?”
“He’s integrating with the others far better than our predictions, but with someone like Stark there’s always going to be a wild card element.”
The Director kept silent and Coulson finally nodded.
“I understand, sir.”
That’s why we need him. All of the Initiative was far from rank-and-file, but Schmidt was used to fighters and soldiers. He was not, as they’d already proved, used to someone like the Toymaker.
“Tell the flight deck to have the Quinjet prepared, and get our mop-up teams ready. The Avengers are ready to deploy.”
Chapter 8: Game, Set, Match
Thanks all for sticking with me!
“Can we cancel out the wavelength Schmidt is using to power his devices?” Bruce said, not quite frantic, more... urgent, with a hint of underlying pressure.
“Maybe, Geordi, but we're gonna have to do this quick and dirty. No guarantee this is going to cover all variations he has.” Tony's tone held more than a hint of innuendo, and Bruce mastered his blush even as they never stopped crunching numbers, sending them over to Jane for testing.
“But if we can take even some of his surprises out of commission-” Bruce said.
“I'd really like Red Skull to take Steve's fist to the face when he goes to use his Avada Kedavra spell.”
Bruce looked briefly distracted by the Harry Potter reference before sending over another tweaked wave form. “We aren't going to have time to do practical testing.”
“My math is always right.” Tony would stake every toy in his collection on that. It wasn't arrogance; it was fact.
“So far, no joy. We need stronger correlation in the upper wavelengths or this will just cause enough feedback to make this into a suicide device,” Jane said, her eyes darting as she compared the readings she had with Tony and Bruce's work.
“Yeah no, the only fireworks I like are in the bedroom.”
“Please tell me that's not literal,” Bruce said, sliding his fingers down the screen and frowning at whatever he was looking at.
“Na, I have them on the roof, rigged to go off when the earth moves. They burst in the shape of ejaculating penises.”
“How phallocentric of you,” Jane muttered. She seemed to be taking the bantering and frantic science in stride, needing a little outside distraction to keep her concentration on a fine edge.
“Hey, my house, my fireworks! I have lady versions if you want some for you and Thor.”
“Send over a truckload, that man can rock a few planets when he gets going.” Jane sighed and flicked through more files. “I hope Schmidt is not bringing a whole new rules set with him after we get this because otherwise this entire experiment is for nothing- Yes, that one, theta-three!” she said, stabbing her finger at the latest screen.
“Got it! JARVIS, let's retune and make me a personal anti-magic field.”
“Of course, sir.” Across the lab, Iron Man whined slightly as JARVIS powered it up and began to reconfigure the repulsors.
“Banner, you suiting up?” Tony asked, shedding the rest of his lab clothes to reveal his flight suit underneath. It was, sadly, not as revealing as he would have liked for romantic purposes, but this actually was for Serious Business.
“Only if I have to. I'll monitor from the Quinjet,” Bruce said, only looking a little bit subdued.
“I am not a head in a jar,” Bruce said dryly.
Tony grinned as he let Iron Man assemble around him, and Jane gave him a thumbs-up as he heard the repulsors take on a new note.
“Channel is open, sir,” JARVIS said in his ear, anticipating his needs like always.
“Rogers, we have a prototype,” Tony said, taking to the air after Foster opened up the ceiling hatch for him. Below, Bruce was already gone, heading for the hangar at top speed.
There was a short pause on the other end of the line, and then in the background Tony could hear Clint saying, “Jesus, I thought he was joking about whipping that out right now.”
“I don't think Tony ever exaggerates about how fast he whips it out,” Steve said without missing a beat.
Clint almost sputtered and Thor roared with laughter. Tony resolved to give Rogers a high five.
“I've got my repulsors tuned to a new frequency. Anyone near me should be protected and anyone I hit with them should have any 'magical' gizmos disrupted. This is all gloriously untested, so don't even ask us for how long.”
“Good work, Tony. Natasha's sending you the flight coordinates now,” Rogers said. There was a warmth in his voice, a camaraderie Tony hadn't quite expected.
“I have it, sir,” JARVIS said, and flashed a flight plan in front of Tony's eyes before he could get too maudlin.
“No more explosions yet, J?”
“None at present, sir.”
“I don't think he needs them to get our attention now. Schmidt's planning on us coming,” Rogers said, “He's counting on it. He can't wait for us to study him anymore. He's going to lure us in and spend the rest of his people to get what he wants.”
“And that's you dead, Rogers.” Natasha's voice was disturbingly matter-of-fact.
“I wouldn't put it past him to try to capture me either. He'll want to gloat; it’s his favorite pastime.”
“So, no grandstanding on any of our parts?” Clint said. Somehow, despite this being an open channel, Tony knew the remark was directed at him. Well, apparently Clint had spent a few minutes laughing too hard to breathe when Tony had given his “dicksmack” speech to Schmidt, so that wasn't totally unwarranted advice.
“We shall need to be as swift as possible in taking him down; lest he try new tricks our Man of Iron is not guarded against,” Thor said.
“Got it,” Tony said.
Schmidt had had seventy years to think up his revenge, and that was a dish served stone cold. Tony let JARVIS kicked him into high gear to first pace the rising Quinjet, then pass it.
This was it. Now or never.
Their target location looked like hell. Flames, screams of pain, even a lake of fire from burning fuel and ruptured gas lines.
“Holy hell,” Tony swore. “J, make sure they’re seeing this.” From a few tight mutters of disgust over the comm channel, the rest of the Avengers shared his opinion. But no exclamations, no swearing. They’d seen stuff like this before, a town destroyed, razed to the ground, gas lines and powers lines and burning rubble making every step dangerous and the air itself an active hazard. Whether their enemies had caused that sort of chaos, or they themseves had (or in Bruce’s case, both at the same time), this couldn’t shock them. Only galvanize them.
Tony clenched his fists insides his gauntlets. The reason he’d made Iron Man was because of the stories he’d heard from the soldiers he’d been cyborging back together, combined with his uncoverings of shady dealings from Dad's business partners. Tony hadn’t been in this situation before, but he’d been trying to for years. Now was the time where he put his money where his mouth was.
“Where’s our center point, Tony? Red Skull should be at ground zero,” Steve said.
Tony scanned what had once been a thriving town, hunting for a lone, standing, human-sized blob of body heat and magic amidst the carnage. He could see what looked like police and maybe some townsfolk getting the hell out of Dodge, but no Schmidt yet. The fire was playing merry hell with his infrared, but with motion detectors and the Spelloscope also on, the composite pickup was a lot clearer. Confusingly clear, actually.
“J, what’s the magical grid I’m seeing down there?” he demanded. There were points of magic and movement below, a couple near the center of town, but nothing particularly definitive. Yet there was something that looked like magical streets, or rivers, running just under the surface of the earth.
“There seems to be a worldwide network of these lines, but they are unusually intense here,” JARVIS reported. Tony remembered a term from a fantasy book he’d once read, and from a lovely couple of product testers who claimed they were Wiccans. Or witches. Or waffles. Tony had suspected they were taking recreational pharmaceuticals, but to each his own. Ley lines, they’d called them, rivers of earth energy useful for casting spells. Tony longed for a simpler time when spells might have been the realm of novels and New Agers.
Still… he realized the ley lines were in a pattern really similar to the world-breaking lines Schmidt had been using to try to cross him and his armies to Earth.
“JARVIS, are you tabulating what I’m tabulating?”
“If you mean the similarities between the portal stress lines and the natural energy network, yes sir. Still scanning for our primary target.”
“Guys, looks like Schmidt’s taking advantage of a home-grown magical power plant here. If anyone gets turned into a frog during this fight, I’m putting it on YouTube,” Tony warned.
“What if you do?” Bruce asked, concern in his voice.
“Title it ‘Iron Frog’ and paint the armor green, duh,” Tony said without missing a beat, drawing a few chuckles from the others and a guffaw from Barton. Tony checked his scans again; a few people were moving down there, but none of them matching Schmidt. “Ok, local PD is getting most of the population out… I-” Tony saw something red below that wasn’t fire, and felt a surge of fear and nausea he tried to hold back. “Those that they can.”
He could see the Quinjet approaching low from the other side of town, circling as Clint deployed his own scanners.
“I see them,” Steve said, sounding quietly furious.
“That wreckage doesn’t look like a normal bomb,” Barton said. “Not a grenade, or a rocket.”
“Agreeing with you here. No arsenal I recognize,” Tony said, feeling his suit regulate his temperature down to keep nausea at bay. “Looks like a fireball spell,” he muttered.
“Cube energy,” Steve said. “The scorch marks, I’ve seen them before.”
Not on my world, you Nazi prick, Tony thought darkly.
“Sir!” JARVIS said.
Tony saw his scanners registering a full amalgam of magic, tech, body heat, and movement, along with an outline he recognized. He did a sharp turn immediately, a rush of blue energy blazing over his head with barely inches to spare.
“Schmidt!” he shouted into the comms, and spiraled away rapidly before the man could get a bead on him to knock him out of the air. He trusted JARVIS to relay the coordinates, focusing right now on staying alive.
The remaining police and rescue workers were bent over their charges, some doubling their pace, some cutting and running. A few confusing blobs of heat could have marked wounded people, or those beyond help, and Tony was torn between trying to keep Red Skull's attention and trying to see if he could help the remaining people. His flight path must have shown his hesitation, because in a second, Steve was speaking in his ear.
“We can't help anyone if we're dead. Stark, draw Schmidt's attention and keep it on you. Thor's on the way and we're right behind him as soon as we help clear the rest of the people out,” Steve said.
“Make a spectacle of myself, easy money,” Tony said flippantly, the banter and clear directions tamping his fear and nausea down to functional levels for now. He turned and strafed Schmidt's position, pausing for a mid-air pose straight from one of his product demo videos. The shout of disgust and outrage from Schmidt was gratifying; the barrage of blue energy bolts, less so. Tony had to take a few positions he hadn't attempted since his last run-through of the Kama Sutra, but he dodged the bulk of the shots, the armor deflecting the few that scored. He had a few ass-clenching moments when he felt the armor rock, remembering very well about the molecular dissolution rays neo-HYRDA had been using in Detroit, but either Schmidt hadn't been packing that load or Tony's anti-magic field was working.
He wouldn't be able to keep up the dodging pace for long, but he didn't have to. Schmidt had moved from his sheltered position, glowing with what looked like blue fire, a glowing sword in one hand and a short staff, no, scepter in the other. The scepter looked like a polished length of bone topped with blue energy gems, and Schmidt leveled it at Tony again, the fire flaring around him as he did.
This is my boomstick, Tony thought with a slightly hysterical mental giggle, and blasted off sideways, snapping a hand out and firing off a volley of dummy darts as he spiraled in. He wasn't close enough for his anti-magic to work on Schmidt's personal protection, not yet, and he wanted Schmidt to get used to the idea that the darts were harmless. Until, of course, Tony got close enough to shut down his protections and switch to a live load of whoop-ass.
Two more shots connected with Tony's armor, kicking him hard inside his shell despite the shock gel padding.
“Kinetic energy only, sir. The anti-magic was able to reroute and dissipate harmful energies,” JARVIS said soothingly. “However, there is a rising energy signature...”
Honest-to-Thor lightning split the sky in the next second, blasting against Schmidt's protections as the God of Thunder put the hammer down. Tony cheered and did a small fist-pump as on the heels of that the heavens opened up, and rain poured down. The raging fires began to shrink immediately, leaving Schmidt with less places to hide.
“Tony, good work on Schmidt. Barton, Banner, and Romanoff got the gas and power shut off while he was distracted,” Steve said. His words were a little labored, like Steve was running somewhere, and Tony fervently hoped it was in his direction.
Schmidt lashed out at Thor with his sword, the blue flames around him flaring as he ducked Thor's swing. There was a flash, and Tony could see red staining Thor's armor.
“Oh shit,” Tony said quietly, because it took a hell of a lot to cut Thor's skin.
“Strafe!” Steve called over the comms, and Tony dove past with a ringing battle cry of “oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.” Schmidt's flame-armor flickered and died as Tony got near. The surprise on his face as Tony launched a salvo of six suped-up tranq darts at him was priceless. Three found their mark, one missed clean as Schmidt dodged, and he used his now non-glowing sword to deflect the other two. As Tony soared up again, Schmidt's flame armor and sword lit back up, but the anti-magic had worked! Not that he'd had doubts.
Thor roared and took advantage of Tony's opening to launch of volley of swings, keeping Schmidt dodging instead of retaliating.
“Hiding behind your freak-show friends, Captain?” Schmidt called. Tony marveled at his audacity of the pot calling the kettle red. Schmidt swung his sword down as Thor moved in, and actually blocked Mjolnir, forcing it back. Tony took a double take at that as he maneuvered himself for a second strafing run, but Thor seemed less surprised and more determined. He hadn't forgotten Schmidt had had the run of the same workshops were things like his hammer had been forged, no sir.
The rain made it hard to track the other Avengers, but Tony was sure they weren't idling. Steve wanted to take Schmidt down in the worst way, but the minute Captain America showed up, Schmidt was likely to unleash whatever fresh hell he'd brought with him. That meant the field better be clear of civilians... as many as they could. The rain started to taper off, the worst of the fires out, and that gave them all a clearer field of battle. As Tony started his second run, Thor pounded his hammer on the ground, making Schmidt stumble and take three more darts in his back. A shockwave blew out from Mjolnir's impact, and Tony strafed again, sinking four darts along Schmidt's side. He was definitely slowing down, and hadn't quite figured out how Tony was getting through his protections, staring at the darts he pulled out with blue flaming hands in between countering Thor's attacks.
“Tony, keep it up, we've nearly got the field clear, we'll be on site in a minute!” Steve said over the comm, and JARVIS was nice enough to mute Tony's sigh of relief as he spiraled up for another run.
As Schmidt staggered from drugs and sonic shocks combined, Tony saw something carved into the ground, something definitely not municipally approved. “Magic circle,” was the thing that came to mind, and Tony suddenly had a very bad feeling about this. Thor whirled to continue his attack, Tony doubled back to get his anti-magic ass on the magic circle, and right then Steve came running over a mound of rain-slick rubble as the storm finally faded into nothing.
One look at his enemy and Schmidt screamed something, galvanized into action. Ignoring Thor for a second, he touched his scepter to the ground and the magic circle glowed briefly before exploding up into a detailed, 3-D outline of a dragon. A motherfucking dragon. With Schmidt at its heart like a puppeteer from Hell (or Hel).
If Schmidt hadn't been able to bring over his allies in the flesh, he'd brought over a hard-light magical hologram of same.
With a very manly, “Oh boy,” a sphincter check, and Thor's helpful cry of “Dragon!” Tony dove for the dragon's back as Steve's shield came hurling right at its face. It whipped its head around faster than anything that big had a right to move and roared fire straight at Tony. Blue flames enveloped him and Tony was not too proud to scream. Well, pre-emptively scream. Because while he couldn't see shit for the magical fire, he belatedly realized he was not actually roasting alive.
His orientation went all to hell, though, and JARVIS was trying to compensate as Tony nearly cartwheeled out of the path of magical fire and slammed into what had once been someone's home. Tony managed to get himself upright, still trying to sputter his status into the comm when he saw. The explosion that had damaged the house had been Red Skull's doing, and this family must have been near ground zero. Smears of red, clumps of hair, ragged bits of flesh, and a few identifiable parts were all that was left.
Tony was barely bruised in his armor, and all around him was death, ugly and senseless, right in someone's home. Distantly, over the roar in his ears, Tony could hear JARVIS doing diagnostics, and his own voice trying to form words. This had been the nightmare that had haunted him since he was fourteen and talking to veterans who had come home minus body parts, friends, and their peace of mind. This was what he'd created Iron Man to fight, this senseless violence, in a way that wouldn't repeat it. It had never seemed so real before, and Tony was so stunned he barely registered the sting of JARVIS administering anti-nausea medication.
“Tony!” Someone was calling him. He could hear them. “Stark, get up here, we need more air support. Stark, answer me!” It was Steve's voice of command, pulling him back from the brink, letting him know there were people still alive he could still help. Tony still couldn't talk, a scream still going inside his head, but managed to get himself turned back towards the battlefield.
Then an earth-shattering roar, loud enough to not need the comms, split the air. Tony saw Bruce, no, the Hulk, go flying past like he was in a wire-fu movie. His huge green fist slammed down at the dragon as it began to take off from the ground. Thor joined in the general mayhem, crashing Mjölnir into its head, making it bounce off the ground with the force of his blow. At the dragon’s blue heart was a red figure, Schmidt, staggering slightly with all the tranquilizers he’d taken, but still upright. He waved his sword and scepter in deliberate patterns, and the dragon’s head split and split again until there were five roaring heads. Not a dragon, but a hydra.
Two heads bit down on the Hulk, who roared loud enough to shatter glass as he gripped his mitts around two necks, throttling them without mercy. Thor swung his hammer and flung himself on the hydra’s back, trying to smash heads and avoid getting smashed in return. Hearing the Hulk’s roars on top of Steve’s commands broke the last of Tony’s paralysis, and he got himself airborne. Tony saw more arrows streaking into the base of the beast, targeting Schmidt. Two burned up in the blue flames surrounding him, but the third one thoughtfully exploded, knocking Schmidt on his ass. Just like Tony’s anti-magic protection, it seemed Schmidt’s flame-armor was not proof against everything.
“Did everyone else see that? The explosion knocked him around,” Clint said.
“Can we get him off-balance? More, I mean. I need an opening so I can cancel his protections!” Tony asked, his voice sounding tight, but at least it was working, damn it.
The Hulk wrenched two of the hydra’s heads around, roaring in fury as they tried to bite him, and managed to get one to bite its own neck, making it roar blue flames and Schmidt shout something that sounded decidedly nasty in German. Thor shouted in response and lightning lit the heavens, then crashed to the earth, lighting up a third head and making it twitch and shudder instead of biting or breathing fire, giving the remaining two heads something to think about.
“Stark! We’ll give it a shot. I’ll go in right after you. Nat, where are we on the big guns?” Steve said, a decided hint of relief in his voice.
“Schmidt should know better than to leave his toys lying around,” she said dryly. There was a sound over the comms that Tony belatedly recognized, the clicks and thunks of someone preparing a large-caliber firearm for action. No, wait, the sounds were more hollow, more limited. RPG. Tony caught his breath, but they were going to need something huge to make a dent in Schmidt’s protections if he couldn’t get close. “Had to take this off of a very cranky neo-Hydrite. Thor, give me some room. Can we get the Hulk clear?”
The Hulk was snarling, slamming the hydra around in absolute fury, being bashed off of it, and returning to crash it into half-ruined building with utter disregard for anything else. Thor was holding on for dear life like the world’s most badass bronco rider, swinging his hammer whenever he could get a chance. Inside, Schmidt was still at the hydra’s burning blue heart, and apparently still fighting-mad.
“Um, no,” Steve said. Tony held his breath as he watched the Hulk fight, and suddenly really, really understood Bruce’s reluctance to play nice with his alter ego. Because “ballet of destruction” barely started to cover it. “Nat, it you hit the Hulk-.”
“He switches sides, I know. Give me and Clint a moment of stillness, and we can blow the floor out from under Red Skull. That should give you and Stark what you need,” she said, and Tony could hear just enough stress in her voice to realize how seriously she was taking this. Thor and the Hulk were needed up top to keep the heads from doing anything unfortunate, like eating Captain America when he got close enough to engage Schmidt, so they couldn’t count on them to go up against Red Skull directly.
“I’m headed for the top of the next rise. Stark, come in over me, and light me up with whatever fireworks you have,” Steve called, and began to run over the debris in double-time. Tony prepared flash-bangs and two actual fireworks (for post-battle celebratory purposes, originally) as Steve flipped, jumped, and did some damn-near Superman-style leaps over small buildings in a couple of bounds to land on a small ridge right above where the Hulk, Thor, and the hydra were entwined.
“Shock and awe, Cap!” Tony warned.
Steve hopefully had his eyes shut as Tony lit him up with strobe-like flashes of light, painfully loud bursts of sound, and two magnificent fireworks in the shape of ejaculating phalli.
The part of him who was still fourteen years old was hoping the pictures would go viral.
Schmidt, the hydra, and even Thor and the Hulk paused briefly at the display of Captain America surrounded by colorful sparks in the shape of dicks. Clint and Natasha didn’t pause at all as multiple explosions rocked the ground right underneath Schmidt, dropping him out of sight, leaving a confused hydra, Thor, and Hulk still grappling above ground.
“Tony, give me a lift!” Steve called, and jumped off the ridge without so much as a by-your-leave.
“Fuck!” Tony flew in and caught Steve a few feet from the ground, and went for the opening he could see between thrashing blue-light hydra and the crumbled earth-and-concrete of what had been the basement of some large building. Above them, the Hulk and the hydra heads were in a tight knot, grappling for dominance, while Thor was trying to unravel the knot in the smashiest way possible. Below, Schmidt was pulling himself from the rubble, propping himself up on his scepter and shaking his head slowly. The tranquilizer darts were working their magic.
Well, science. Magic wasn’t going to be working in a second. Tony flattened out his dive and slammed on the brakes as they got within striking distance.
“Get him, Cap!” he shouted, and released Steve like a red, white, and blue bowling ball. Schmidt’s flame-armor died down to nothing as Tony came near, and Steve’s flying tackle seemed to take him completely by surprise. Schmidt tumbled over the concrete, dropping his scepter, but came up with his sword instead. His wild return slash caught Steve across his right arm, and red stained the blue of Cap’s armor as Schmidt used Steve’s recoil to get himself upright.
“Over here!” Tony yelled and felt a faint chill from Schmidt’s glare of recognition before he gave him a repulsor blast right to the chest. Schmidt staggered right into Cap’s shield bash, and Tony followed that up with more repulsing, him and Steve battering Schmidt back and forth like an angry, red, Nazi ping-pong ball. But Schmidt wasn’t falling. He had plenty of darts in him, and he should have been getting more than a little sleepy, helpfully aided by an Avengers’ beatdown. What the hell was keeping him going?
There was another roar above them, and Tony looked up to see the hydra flaring brighter as the Hulk tried to rip one of its heads clean off. Blue light was cascading from the hydra, to the Hulk… and getting brighter where one of the heads was trying to bite through the Hulk’s skin. Thor was bringing lightning to the fight, briefly paralyzing the heads so the Hulk could grab them or Thor could smash them, but after every blow, the blue light was flaring back to life. The feet of the hydra, on the edges of the basement, were also flaring more brightly, bringing a weird blue glow to the fight. And where the feet glowed, Tony could see the ley lines running.
Oh, hell. “He’s pulling power from the Hulk and Thor!” Tony said, repressing an extremely justifiable amount of panic. Whether Tony was repressing Schmidt’s magical protections or not, his anti-magic didn’t have a big enough area of effect to cancel the whole hydra-thing. Schmidt was controlling it, feeding it, and feeding off of it, and feeding off of anyone fighting it. With the Hulk and the Thunder God as his batteries, Schmidt could hang on all day unless they took dramatic action. If they didn’t want to end this with death, they had to get creative, now.
“Nat, Clint, get over here now. Tony, try to get through to Bruce! Thor, get clear and keep the Hulk contained if you have to!” Steve said, and grunted as Schmidt deflected his shield-slice with unexpected strength. Except not so unexpected, not with what they’d seen.
“I go!” Thor called, and with a whirl of Mjölnir, hurled himself off the hydra, hovering nearby.
Tony flew up as far as he dared, canceling out enough of the hydra around him to avoid getting body-slammed immediately, but putting him face-to-face with the Hulk. Furious eyes were focused on the biting heads around him, battering them, choking them, bursting out of their constricting confines and being captured again in an endless cycle, fueled by the Hulk’s own strength. Whatever else Schmidt was, he wasn’t an idiot. Nothing could have contained the Hulk but the Hulk himself.
“Bruce!” Tony called, ducking under a lashing hydra head and sucking in a breath as blue fire washed over him unnervingly, but harmlessly. “Bruce, he’d feeding off the Hulk! You gotta take the wheel for a minute! Bruce!”
The Hulk glared at Iron Man, the mere mention of Bruce’s name sparking a new level of rage Tony hadn’t thought possible.
“PUNY BANNER CAN’T DEFEAT DRAGON!” he roared, and Tony’s ears rang with the Hulk’s conviction. The Hulk freed a fist long enough to near sideswipe Tony into the side of a building, and Tony had to dodge fast. Below him, he could see Clint and Natasha converging on the basement level, Natasha glowing with her electric Widow’s Bites, Clint with two arrows in hand. The Hulk grabbed for the hydra’s necks again as they tried to whip around to breathe fire at the Avengers, and they obliged him by trying to bury him under their teeth and strength. Just beyond their reach, Thor hovered, his face set and hard as he waited for the worst.
Steve shouted below, and Tony glanced down to see Schmidt lashing out with his sword, its length wet with red, as Steve used his shield and agility to keep him in position. He exposed Schmidt’s back to Clint and Natasha as they leapt down into the basement, but now Schmidt’s blue flame-armor was flickering back to life as Tony had to keep moving.
“Bruce, babe, give me five seconds, please, five seconds before more smashing!” he begged. He saw the Hulk’s face twist into another snarl, Natasha double-team Schmidt with Steve as Clint waited for Schmidt’s flame-armor to die again, arrow knocked and ready. Steve’s armor was wet with blood in places and Natasha was expressionless with concentration. Schmidt’s sword started to flare blue, and Tony knew they’d reached the watershed.
“Tony, now!” Steve shouted. They couldn’t let Schmidt pull any more power. It was time to pull the plug before Steve and others had to pull it permanently. Schmidt would be escaping over someone’s dead body.
It was time to do something incredibly stupid. Tony dove, not for Schmidt, but for the Hulk, all his repulsors set to full, anti-magic field at full strength, and crashed into that enormous, muscled chest. The knot of hydra necks faded into ghosts as Tony dove through them, and the Hulk abruptly dropped through the now-insubstantial beast to come face-to-face with Schmidt, nearly landing on Steve in the process. Tony was in a painfully firm grip in the Hulk’s left hand, but then the Hulk laid eyes on Schmidt, and his green eyes turned blood red.
Clint, Steve, and Natasha dove out of the way of the Hulk’s fist as he, with Tony in hand like a red-painted gold titanium set of brass knuckles, slammed into Schmidt so hard that Red Skull embedded in the wall of the basement. The blue light vanished in a blink, the hydra disappearing, Schmidt’s sword and scepter going dark, and faint, wheezing breaths sounding from one corner of the basement.
Tony could only think, ow for long minutes, and tumbled to the ground as the Hulk, all enemies out of sight, began to shrink. Tony very sensibly laid there as the Hulk went small, and pink, and soon was just Bruce, only technically covered, lying on the floor of the basement. Steve stalked over to where Schmidt was, limping slightly, and wrapped his fist around the man’s collar. With a grunt of effort, he pulled Schmidt out of his crater and into the middle of the room as Thor landed, the lightning flickering around him providing the illumination.
Schmidt was still breathing, but didn’t look like he would be moving under his own power, or anyone else’s, anytime soon. He was done as anyone had ever been.
“Got you, you bastard,” Steve said, and radioed S.H.I.E.L.D. to bring in their specially-designed prison transport craft. He breathed out slowly, a sigh of relief seventy years in the making. “Everyone, good work.”
Tony managed to get himself upright, helping Bruce regain his feet, and felt himself smiling in triumph under his faceplate. Next to him, Bruce was smiling too. Whatever else had happened, Schmidt wouldn’t be hurting anyone else, ever again.
“Do they make cards that say, ‘Sorry my alter-ego used you as a set of brass knuckles?’” Bruce asked rhetorically.
“I doubt it, but we can remedy that in about five seconds flat in my workshop. Just tell JARVIS what you want,” Tony said, and Bruce didn’t even try to repress a smile.
It had been two weeks since their last fight with Schmidt, ten days since Thor’s people had found a really nasty place in the Nine Realms to stick him where he wouldn’t be making any friends, and would be heartily regretting his life choices for the rest of his natural existence. Even Steve had found that to be an acceptable fate, far preferable to keeping him on Earth. He had insisted on seeing the potential prison first, and had come back with steely determination in his eyes. That had been one problem solved, at least.
A lot of the rest of the time had been coordinating the clean-up of the battle site. Schmidt had used up his own people as magical power-ups, in addition to blasting the place with magi-tech weaponry, and part of the carnage they’d seen had come from the bodies of Schmidt’s own followers. Not all though. They hadn’t exactly been discriminatory.
That had been several varieties of horrible, but Tony knew some really excellent groups who excelled at picking up the pieces, as well as more trauma therapists than he could shake a stick at. He was more than happy to facilitate getting them to where they were needed. And making use of one himself, because he would very much not like to have endless nightmares. Nightmares were bad. Nightmares sucked.
It was a work in progress. But that wouldn’t stop him from working. Or playing. And after saving the world, even Fury figured the Avengers needed a short break, and Tony hadn’t waited for the words to finish leaving his mouth before he was out the door, Bruce in tow.
They’d waited plenty long enough.
“I know you’re still fairly sore,” Bruce said, raising an eyebrow, and Tony carefully did not roll his eyes. They’d already done the apologies-for-having-to-hit-each-other-in-the-middle-of-battle thing, but Tony knew Bruce was understandably sensitive about anything his meaner, greener half did.
“A bit,” Tony allowed. “But I’d have to be a lot sorer than that to forget certain footage recorded in this very room that had me damn near shaking my computer screen, trying to merge with it.”
Bruce softened, and leaned in to kiss him, hot and slow. “I didn’t forget either. Just making sure…”
“Ready. Very, very ready if you are,” Tony said quickly, and went back to tasting Bruce’s mouth, pulling him gently, slowly closer.
“JARVIS and I have a program,” Bruce said, pulling back a little to lick his lips. The first couple of buttons on his shirt were undone, which Tony thought was really just playing dirty. “You saw, I need things slow, in complete control. And you need to take it easy. So, I thought if JARVIS were driving…”
Tony’s LDL rolled out from its charging station, over to one of the multi-configuration sex chair-sling combos. He had a flash of disappointment, because while as much as he loved seeing Bruce in all his naked glory, and even as much as he would love a front-row seat to seeing JARVIS slowly help take Bruce apart, he’d been hoping for a slightly more active role. But then Bruce added one more word.
Tony paused, backed up that sentence, and ran it through his head again. “If JARVIS were driving me?”
“Into me,” Bruce clarified. He looked a little bit anxious as he talked, biting at his lip in a way that was insanely endearing.
Tony felt his pulse climb sharply. “You want to have my wickedly inventive AI help turn me into your personal sex toy?”
Bruce paused, almost holding his breath, and another button oh-so-casually came undone on his shirt. “Yes?”
“Is it both of our birthdays and Christmas combined?” Tony breathed, feeling dizzy.
“Is that a yes?”
For an answer Tony dove headlong into a kiss that could have been classified as the tonsil hockey Stanley Cup, until breathing became an annoying necessity. The stress of the last month was very, very far away now. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, Bruce, yes.”
“I told you there was nothing to worry about, Dr. Banner,” JARVIS said.
“I’m a natural-born worrier,” Bruce pointed out.
“Naked times, now?” Tony said plaintively.
Bruce’s whole body seemed to relax, and like magic his shirt parted until the rest of his torso was on display. “Yes, now.”
Within a few minutes, Tony was happily naked, helping Bruce get him strapped into the sex chair so JARVIS could move him however was needed to keep things predictable for Bruce. JARVIS had all his safewords, verbal and non, and Bruce listened as Tony gave him the last necessary do/don’t dos that responsible partners had to hear, repeating them back softly and clearly.
“You make safety talks sound pornographic, Bruce, just so you know,” Tony said. “Want to do some voice-overs for my company safety videos?”
Bruce snorted with laughter and bent his head into Tony’s shoulder for a minute. “Maybe later. Just remember, do what JARVIS says and does, or this could go a lot greener than we want.”
“Do was JARVIS says. This is always my life.”
“I resemble that comment, sir.”
Tony snorted, then sighed as Bruce leaned forward, one hand running around his hip to where his Iron Rod was lodged securely between his cheeks. He made a few appreciative moans as Bruce slowly worked it out, past the narrow throat, then the stretch of the flare, his hole relaxing as the narrow, tapering shaft came out, leaving him slick and ready for action.
“Ready, now Tony?”
“So very ready,” Tony said, staring up into Bruce’s face as he slowly, sensuously rolled a condom down Tony’s erection, following it with a slick handful of lube. Finally, he snapped a specially-designed gold titanium cock ring in place. Ridiculously self-indulgent? Yes. But there were perks to being Tony Stark, and one of those perks was feeling a lovely piece of his own tech closing in around his cock with Bruce’s hand on it. Bruce wasn’t just going slow to draw out the moment, it was a necessity, and Tony didn’t try to hurry it up. He concentrated on the flush he could see on Bruce’s chest and belly, the rush of blood to his cheeks, the lovely tent in his trousers.
“Dr. Banner, if you will position yourself accordingly?” JARVIS asked. Bruce tossed a dirty smile behind his shoulders as he dropped the rest of his clothes. The line of Bruce’s back (slightly striped with old scars Tony was going to say exactly nothing about ever unless Bruce did) looked very elegant, and behind the slouching trousers he wore for Hulk-related purposes, lurked an exceedingly nice body. Also, his very own Iron Rod.
“Like it?” Tony asked, his mouth about the only thing about him not being politely restrained for this party.
Bruce’s cheeks flushed a little deeper as he turned his head back towards Tony. “Very much.” Tony licked his lips as Bruce slowly extracted the butt plug from his own body, enjoying the show. With a little sigh that had more blood rushing south, Bruce slowly settled into his own sex-chair, gripping the arm-rests firmly as JARVIS activated the ceiling tracts, bringing the two of them almost, almost close enough to touch completely. Just not in the parts Tony was really, really looking forward to.
“By the way, you smell fantastic,” Tony murmured, as Bruce’s ear was so conveniently close. And he did too, a natural richness and a hint of musk that could have been sold in some very select stores. Bruce chuckled and laid his head back on Tony’s shoulder, kissing him briefly.
“All right JARVIS, initiate program Banner-One,” Bruce said, and Tony could hear the whirr of the LDL activate behind him. “I made a little something special for the attachment. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Is it you?” Tony asked, his voice low and heated. The arms on Tony’s chair moved to encircle Bruce’s chest, Tony’s fingers in perfect range of Bruce’s nipples.
“It’s me,” Bruce promised. “As real as I could make it. Sorry, I’m a little radioactive for fluid-swapping.”
“Totally fine,” Tony promised, and gasped a little as the first press of the warm, lubed Bruce-dildo pushed against his ass. “Oh… nice.” He was pleasantly thick, with prominent veins, and Tony just breathed into Bruce’s mouth as JARVIS worked Bruce into him with short, possessive strokes. “Oh, Bruce.” JARVIS shifted the chair a little to work in the dildo at a marvelous angle, and Tony moaned as JARVIS filled him to the hilt, nicely full and sliding against his prostate at an angle guaranteed to drive a man mad.
Bruce’s hands reached up to cover Tony’s own, pressing his fingers to Bruce’s tight nipples, making them pinch and hold for several seconds. “Just like that, Tony, please, on the in-slide,” he said, sounding perfectly needy, and Tony was extremely happy to oblige. Every pinch, carefully in rhythm with the slow slide in and out of his ass, made Bruce press his chest into Tony’s fingers with contented sighs.
“You ready for more?” Tony asked, his cock nearly thrumming with need as Bruce was turning him inside out with his beautiful noises and specially-designed cock.
“J-JARVIS, phase two,” Bruce called out, and Tony heard another whirr. The chairs moved again, and one of the LDL’s animatronic arms came up to help position Tony’s cock at the right angle. Tony kept a shout nailed behind his teeth and nearly lost his rhythm of tormenting Bruce’s chest from the long-awaited extra touch on his dick.
“Breathe with me,” Bruce said, and Tony had three false starts before he could match Bruce’s meditative pace. With every breath, JARVIS moved the chairs closer, until with three long breaths, Tony’s cock was sheathed inside the glorious furnace heat of Bruce’s body.
“Oh, fuck,” Tony said, and really couldn’t be much more elegant than that, especially when JARVIS started to move the LDL and the chairs in concert, Bruce’s dildo-cock fucking into Tony, Tony’s captive cock fucking into Bruce, and Bruce himself fucking into… Tony managed to look down past his and Bruce’s busy hands to see the real version of Bruce’s cock sunk into a very fine ass-analogue Stark Naked-improved Fleshlight. “Bruce, Bruce, is that me?”
“It’s you,” Bruce said, and pressed on Tony’s hands to hold the exquisitely painful/pleasurable pinch on his nipples a little longer. “Tony, Tony, it’s you!”
He’s fucking me, fucking him, fucking me, oh Banner, oh JARVIS you pair of perverted geniuses… Tony thought semi-incoherently. He was panting hard in Bruce’s ear as the slides into his and Bruce’s body became a little harder, more urgent. “God, Bruce, JARVIS, oh fuck, fuck!”
“Are you close, Tony?” Bruce asked, urgently.
Tony wasn’t sure he could answer in anything other than curses, but JARVIS knew his sexual response better than even he did.
“Master Stark will climax in ten seconds.” And Tony knew JARVIS guaranteed it. If Bruce’s program hadn’t already had him on the edge, JARVIS had a grab-bag of dirty tricks to make it happen. Not that Tony would complain.
“Now, JARVIS, final phase!” Bruce cried, and pressed Tony’s fingers hard against him with his own as warm lube from the Bruce-dildo climaxed inside Tony’s body. Bruce rippled around Tony’s cock, his own orgasm surging through him in carefully modulated waves that felt like someone was trying to drain Tony dry. JARVIS used the animatronic hand to flick the catch on the cock ring, and Tony’s own orgasm slammed through him, following Bruce over the edge with eager abandon.
“Bruce…” Tony whispered, caressing him with the limited ranged he was allowed. “Bruce…”
“Thank you,” he said in return, turning to catch Tony’s dry lips with his own in a weary but satisfied kiss.
More animatronic hands held them up as the aftershocks faded, slowly disengaging the LDL attachments from their bodies, retracting the restraints from Tony, and sliding them onto a clean mattress below. Dummy trundled by to pull a blanket over the entirety of them, and Tony didn’t have the wherewithal to push it away.
He did, however, have the wherewithal to hold Bruce in his arms. Bruce seemed to be very all right with that. Also in need of a few hours of sleep. Tony was totally down with that.
“Program, successful,” JARVIS announced. He sounded rather smug.
Underneath the blanket, Tony gave him a thumbs-up.
“Very good, sirs.”
Yeah. Very, very good, Tony thought, and pressed a kiss to Bruce’s temple. He smiled in his sleep, and curled his hand around Tony’s.
A few days and mutually-shared programs later, JARVIS had something he needed to bring to Tony’s attention that was not involving one of his and Bruce’s mutual sex-capades.
“Sir, I believe there is something on one of your product review pages that you should view.”
Bruce was sleeping the sleep of the thoroughly satisfied in the bedroom, and Tony hated to wake him, so he crept out to the workshop to see what had JARVIS so fired up. He helpfully had the relevant screen open, scrolled down to the most recent review of the Star-Spangled Dildo. Tony read the entry, his eyes widening with every word.
One “Grant Stevens” had written, “While the theme is spot-on, I feel the dimensions and shape really don’t do justice for our sense of national pride. There’s a decided lack of realistic proportions for its supposed origin, and I find that disappointing when I’ve enjoyed so many other Stark Naked products.”
Tony read that six times in a row, mouth dropping open with a combination of awe and glee.
“Shall I call Captain Rogers, sir?”
“You bet his star-spangled ass!” Tony nearly crowed, and grabbed his phone. Steve picked up on the third ring.
“You should have pseudonymed better,” Tony said in greeting.
“I had to make sure you’d actually read it,” Steve said. Calmly. Without any hesitation or sense of a blush. Tony was extremely intrigued.
“What proportions aren’t realistic? I do strive for pure customer satisfaction,” Tony said, no, chirped. Because if Steve was going to treat this like an average call, Tony was going to have a little extra fun. After everything that had happened, Tony was in an extraordinarily good mood.
“Whoever you were using for your model just wasn’t the right person for the job,” Steve said.
“And you would like to offer yourself as the 2.0 model?”
“More like the original.”
“Fuck,” Tony said, adjusting his… well, he would have adjusted his pants, if he had been wearing any.
“I understand your AI has some scanning software, so getting an accurate representation wouldn’t take much time,” Steve continued, seemingly oblivious to Tony’s predicament.
“No time at all, really.”
“I mean, I figured if Clint and Thor were already collecting royalty checks from you…”
“You’re trolling me,” Tony said. “This is a troll-call, am I right?”
“No. I’m at your front door.”
“Like hell you are.”
The doorbell rang.
“Fuck!” Tony grabbed for his nearest… um… Well, he really didn’t have a nearest piece of clothing. He settled for a clean-ish sheet. “Dummy, you’re behind on the laundry again!” Dummy made a contrite noise, and Tony bounded up the stairs with a care for his makeshift clothing. “JARVIS, why are you being mysterious about Steve being at my door?”
“Because it amuses me to do so, sir.”
“I’m reprogramming your sense of humor when I get done with this.”
“No, you’re not.”
Tony muttered idle threats as he opened the door to see, yes, Steven Grant Rogers standing there in workout gear. Which mean stretch pants and a shirt that could have been painted onto his muscles.
“Is this a product improvement meeting or a booty call? Because I’ve already got the latter. Or rather, I am the latter,” Tony said.
Steve raised an eyebrow. “I had to do something to pry you two out of here eventually. Fury would like to see you both back at headquarters for some training and a briefing. Natasha said you didn’t really appreciate the time she came to get you, so I said I’d drop by this time. Everyone is missing you. Also, one of your products is shamefully inadequate.”
“Inadequate for who? You?”
Steve just smiled slightly, giving away exactly nothing. Tony considered pressing his luck, then thought twice.
“Fine. Go hop downstairs and give JARVIS an eyeful. I’ll have the original model up within two weeks.”
Steve gave that Mona Lisa smile again and started to head downstairs.
“Steve!” Tony called, and Steve paused on the staircase. “Fury really did want me back?”
“Of course,” Steve said. And when Steve said it like that, Tony couldn’t help but believe him. He straightened his spine a bit, and didn’t let his sheet drop.
Steve waved and headed down to the workshop as Tony secured the sheet around his hips. Blinking in bemusement about what his life had become, he went back to the bedroom, where a sleepy-eyed Bruce was getting the updates from JARVIS himself.
“Fury wants us back?” he asked, the same way Tony had.
“Yeah. Looks like it.” Tony chuckled and shook his head. “JARVIS, get Iron Man prepped. Looks like I’m going to work.”
Bruce sighed a little, cracked his back, and reached up to give Tony a quick kiss before heading for the shower.
Tony was going to work for the government, taking down the evilest people with the power of his technology, alongside the strongest and most skilled people on the planet. His leader, Captain America, was downstairs literally becoming the poster boy for Tony’s day job. His teammates were missing him. And Tony’s friend, or rather boyfriend, was showering not twenty feet away.
He was wanted. Needed.
Tony grinned and went into the bathroom, slipping into the shower with Bruce.
“Want to go save the world?” he asked.
Bruce leaned into Tony’s embrace. “Yeah. I think we should.”
“Very good, sirs. I shall let Captain Rogers know you’ll be there.”
“Yeah, JARVIS,” Tony said. “We will.”