"But I'm Iron Man!" Tony Stark protested as four thugs masquerading as beautiful women tried to force him out of his beloved workshop. And no matter what any of them claimed later, it was a very manly protest not a whine!
"Yes, Tony, we know," Pepper Potts said using her height to unfair advantage as she pushed to dislodge him from his death-grip on the threshold.
"I'm an Avenger!"
"That's nice," Betty Ross replied as she pulled from his other side, her even greater freakish height deployed against him.
"Damnit, I'm a guy!"
"If you say so," answered Darcy Lewis, who at least had the decency to be shorter than him, while she worked on prying loose his right hand.
"That all means I can't be a member of your secret Avengers' girlfriends club!" Okay, that may have been a wail.
"Technically, Coulson isn't an Avenger, so we think of it more of a 'girlfriends of major badasses' club," Jane Foster corrected him. She was working on his left hand and, like Darcy, he was more inclined to forgive her since they were the same 'decidedly not taller than Tony' height.
"I'm one of those badasses," he reminded them which was a tactical error since it was basically a rerun of his first point and Pepper hated redundancy.
"Tony, let go or I swear I'll tell Steve you made one of us cry!"
He froze, his eyes widening in horror. Steve Rogers had adapted to the modern world with crazy fast speed, but he still had some old fashioned ideas of how to treat ladies. Even when they were a bunch of bullying thugs. "You wouldn't!"
"I would," she announced without shame. "The guacamole is going to turn brown!"
"We like themed meetings. It's margarita night," Darcy said, and maybe he wouldn't fire her from being his assistant after all. Besides, Pepper would only rehire her like she had at least two other times.
"Do I get one?" he asked – a legitimate question given he'd been banned from anything worth drinking – booze- or caffeine-wise – for a week now.
"One," Betty answered or rather Dr. Ross did given she'd been playing doctor with him – and not in the fun way – for the same awful week. Just his luck that his science bro had hooked back up with his ex and had moved her into the Tower so they had a resident doctor. It was enough to give Tony hives.
"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" he asked and let them drag him off to their stupid clubhouse before they completely overpowered him. Teach him to install a gym in his Tower. He was fit, but so, damnit all, were they, and there were four of the harpies and only one of him!
Of course 'stupid clubhouse' wasn't a great fit with a large room in Stark Tower, especially one designed under Pepper's exacting instructions. It was as elegant as she was; the furniture comfortable and luxurious, the entertainment center state-of-the-art and the overall feel was inviting. Except for one detail – the walls were decorated with various portraits or scenes featuring Lois Lane, including one gorgeous mural Tony just knew Steve had done though Fury knew where he'd gotten the time to do it between saving the world and the highest-maintenance boyfriend of all time.
His staring was apparently enough to ask the obvious question since Jane said, "We call ourselves the Lois Lane League."
"L3 for short," Darcy added around a chip laden with guacamole.
No. Just. No. He tried to bolt. The bitches piled on him and pinned him to the sofa before he could take more than two steps toward the door. And how was this proper care of an injured man? "Damnit! I'm not Lois, I'm –" He almost said Superman, but that would have been stupid since he couldn't get away and, while Tony had many faults, stupidity did not number among them. "Iron Man!" he finished which was lame because he couldn't think of a fictional hero running around in armor.
"No one knows that," Betty said like it should mean something other than Tony not wanting his ass sued every time Iron Man sneezed. She was closest to his head and he glared at her.
"How is that relevant? All the DC heroes have secret identities!"
"Tony, this is the real world and they aren't the norm here." He shifted his glare to Jane. She just stared back at him with those stupid doe-eyes of hers. And no, they weren't. But Richards was always fending off law suits – kind of Tony's earlier point on not admitting who he was – while his co-Avengers were either a citizen/god of Asgard with diplomatic immunity or agents of the government so they had substantial on-the-job immunity and pay checks that wouldn't restore a hot dog cart. But Tony? Damn straight he was as worth suing as he was unwilling to work full-time for any shadowy government agency.
"Less than twenty people know who Iron Man is," Pepper said going for her best scowl of disapproval. Ouch! "But everyone knows Steve is Captain America."
"And someone tried to kill you because he lo – dates you," Darcy finished up and managed to snag another chip, then handed it to him. "That makes you one of us."
He gave them a suspicious glare waiting for some crack about him being the one hiding a slight limp after an enthusiastic evening with Steve, but all he got was three sets of puppy-eyes fixing on him and a deepening of the Potts Scowl. "Fine," he huffed. "Give me my damned drink."
And that was how Tony became an official member of L3. Not exactly the expected outcome of a concussion and he couldn't help wondering if Lois had ever had a week like this.
L3 101: Head Injuries Cause Pain and Sometimes Clarity -- One week earlier
Tony clutched at Steve's shoulders as his lover thrust deeply into his body, swiftly pushing him toward the edge. He tried to delay things, but Tony was always quicker off the mark in the mornings than the evening and with a cry that might have been Steve's name, his release splashed between them.
As always, his body shuddering through orgasm pulled Steve into his own climax and Tony let himself imagine the feel of semen filling him. He didn't even know if a guy could feel it when another man ejaculated inside him, but he liked to think he could, liked to close his eyes and revel in the illusion of that sort of intimacy until Steve recovered enough to pull out of him, condom and all, then disappeared into the bathroom.
What would it feel like, he wondered, to have Steve's release trickling out of him? He supposed it wouldn't be something he'd like long-term and the wet spot would certainly be annoying, but. … He sighed as he heard the sink run. Steve would come back in a moment with a warm cloth to wash away any miscellaneous lube, his torso already cleaned of Tony's seed.
He'd overheard that lecture. One of the SHIELD doctors had made it a point to inform Steve that he might not have immunity to STDs that lasted throughout life and since he was 'dating' someone who had – insert discrete cough here because honest to god the guy had done one – been sexually active, he needed to use protection at all times.
Tony had wanted to interrupt, to say he hadn't been with anyone since before Afghanistan two years ago because it, Stane trying to kill him, and then almost dying of palladium poisoning had sort of kept him out of the mood until a handsome super-soldier had defrosted, but what would have been the point? The doctor had been right – Tony had a disturbingly well-documented sex life even if he had always practiced safe sex.
Later he'd wanted to tell Steve he'd never bottomed for anyone else even though he'd always wanted to because he couldn't stand being that intimate with, at best, a casual acquaintance, and at worst someone who wanted to use him for his money. It sort of came with the billionaire territory. But he hadn't. Couldn't see the value of underscoring his extensive sexual history to a virgin.
At least the doctor had been professional about the whole thing. Others had been less clinical and more direct – Tony was a slut who wasn't good enough for Steve. Or worse had corrupted him. The moment Steve had slipped and kissed him in public, the world had divided into the same two camps as everyone at SHIELD had – either horror at the homosexuality or 'fine, but not with Stark, anyone but Stark.' For the record, the Avengers, Pepper and Rhodey all fell in the latter category.
Each and every one of them, along with Fury and Coulson, had given Tony some variation on the 'hurt him and die' speech. Tony had wanted to protest. Had wanted to scream that none of this had been his idea that he knew he wasn't good enough for Steve, but what could he do? He'd fallen in love with Steve so fast it still made him dizzy to think about it. Had left him totally unable to resist the man when Steve had decided he might as well take his turn on the Stark bicycle and Tony still didn't know how he was going to survive when Steve got tired of … peddling where so many had peddled before.
Suddenly far from in the mood to wait for Steve to return for a post-sanitized cuddle, he got out of bed and walked over to his dresser to choose a t-shirt for the day. So AC/DC or Black Sabbath? Or maybe Led Zeppelin.
Strong arms encircled him, pulling him back against a muscular torso. "Tony," Steve sighed, his breath a gentle puff against Tony's hair.
Don't leave me. His mantra started up as it always did when Steve was with him, but not in him. Would he get lucky enough to have another day, another night? Or was this it?
"Bucky and I are. …" Tony tuned out the rest. Relieved Steve had something on his agenda besides dumping Tony's ass, but not wanting to hear the details. In the first couple of months he and Steve had hung out a lot as Tony had taken on the task of introducing him to the modern world. Then James Barnes had done his own version of defrosting from the deep freeze and had reclaimed his slot as Steve's best friend. It stung since he'd hoped to secure the position as a fallback after the inevitable break up, but there was no way he could compete with Steve's Bucky.
Tony would have had a total meltdown if Barnes had shown the slightest sign of fluidity on the Kinsey scale, but apparently the Winter Soldier had 'encountered' the Black Widow on more than a few occasions and now that Barnes was back in his right mind and both were on the side of truth, justice, etc. they'd fallen for each other and Barnes had moved into her quarters before Tony had even been able to offer him a suite of his own. So Barnes got to be the friend and Tony the sex toy which wouldn't have been so bad if people didn't tend to get tired of sex toys. But Steve was a nice guy and seemed to feel he owed Tony for the pre-Bucky's-back days and always asked Tony to come along for whatever they had planned. He always said no, even though Natasha usually said yes. Couldn't think of a faster way to take the shine off of his toy status than always intruding. Especially since neither Natasha nor Barnes had really hidden their dislike of him -- Iron Man, yes; Tony Stark, no. Hurt him, Stark, and they'll never find your body.
When Steve stopped talking, Tony shook his head. "I have some work to do." And he did. He never lied to Steve. Didn't need to since he always had work to do. What had he had planned for today? "Upgrades on your armor." He'd been tinkering with the idea of an energy shield to substitute for Steve's vibranium one when he couldn't get to it or lost it in a battle.
Steve sighed. A weary, 'tired of all of this' sound that made ice crawl through Tony's veins, but he pressed a kiss to Tony's temple. "Okay, just don't forget to take a break."
"I won't," he said automatically.
"Tony, promise me. I don't want you holed up all day."
He smiled, always warmed by Steve's mother-hen tendencies even though he should probably be annoyed. "I promise. I'll … go out for lunch." Yes, he was overdue for a trip to his favorite deli so it wouldn't be a hardship to keep his word.
Steve smiled, gave him another kiss – this time on the lips – then yanked on his clothes from last night before leaving for his own room. He poked his head back inside a moment later. "I'm telling JARVIS to remind you about lunch."
"Yes, Mom," he said, his smile broadening. He smiled again five hours later when his AI did indeed interrupt his work.
"It is lunch time, Sir."
He thought about delaying, finishing a few more things before taking a break, but his stomach chose that moment to growl. Besides, he knew himself well enough by now to know that if he didn't go, he'd get caught up in what he was doing until it was dinnertime. He put the energy shield design into sleep-mode, did a fast wash-up then headed out of the Tower.
The deli he favored was just up the block and hadn't fared well during Loki's invasion, but since he would have been tempted to sell his soul for their sandwiches, he'd happily financed the repairs for it and several other places the city hadn't put on the high-priority list. He crossed the street, enjoying the sun on his face and made a mental note to tell Steve that since he liked reassurances that he was not in fact dating a cave troll.
Tony reached the other side of the street, took four or so more steps, heard someone yell, "Filthy fag!" then … an explosion of pain, glass shattering, people shouting and he hit the concrete. Hard.
Never completely lost consciousness. Would have preferred it if he had given how much everything hurt. Lost focus several times, but he heard shouting. Sometimes words, shouts to call 911 and did anyone see what happened, got it on film, some jerk threw a bottle, where was –
Thunder split the air and he saw flashes of lightning behind his eyelids. "Be at ease, my friend," Thor's voice told him, while powerful arms he assumed belonged to the God of Thunder lifted him from the ground, "I have you."
The whirl of a hammer, a rush of air upwards, then a bed against his back, the side of his head that hurt so much carefully kept away from the pillow. "God, what happened?" Betty's voice accompanied the gentle probe of long, elegant fingers. "He has glass in the wound. I need my kit."
Running, sounds blurring, his head hurt, grim mutters he couldn't make out but chilled him all the same, then, "Tony? Sweetheart, can you open your eyes?"
Steve. He didn't think it was a good idea so he whined when a familiar hand gripped his. "Come on, sweetheart, do it for me."
Fuck. No way he could refuse that so he obeyed. Hurt, but not as bad as he had expected so he managed to focus on the worried blond kneeling next to the bed. "You okay?" he managed to ask not liking at all how pale Steve looked.
Blue eyes shimmered like Steve wanted to cry, but he gave Tony a small smile, then kissed the back of the hand he was holding. "As long as you are, I'm fine."
Natasha moved into his field of vision, her beautiful face locked in that scary-as-fuck calm expression of hers that said someone was going to die. "Did you see who did this?"
She nodded like he'd confirmed something. "JARVIS is hacking all the security cameras in the area. We'll get him."
He knew he should say something about 'in one piece,' but his brain hurt too much to get the words out before she vanished, Barton and Barnes on her heels.
"Right here," he answered, squeezing Tony's hand.
"Tired? Sleep okay?"
Steve looked at someone. A moment later Betty shifted into view. "You have a concussion, Tony. Nasty one, but no sign of internal bleeding," she told him. "I'm going to run some tests to be sure, but you can sleep through them."
Tony had never been so glad in his life that he'd turned one of the Tower floors into an infirmary. He hated hospitals. "Okay," he sighed and let himself fall into darkness.
Two weeks after his injury got him inducted into the Lois Lane League a body turned up in the city morgue. Tony recognized the face from the security footage JARVIS had isolated and the videos popping up on YouTube. He found himself thinking maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe Natasha didn't hate him. And maybe he hadn't given Barnes enough to go on to have an opinion one way or another. The next day when Steve asked him to come along on one of their day trips, he said yes.
And after a fun day exploring Central Park, he finally worked up his courage and asked Steve if they could lose the condoms. "God, yes," Steve answered, then for the first time in Tony's life bare flesh entered him. And the wet spot? Totally worth it.
Sushi, sake, and a good bitch session
"Steve's perfect," Tony answered, sipping at his sake – it was sushi night and the bi-weekly meeting had settled into the 'bitching about my beloved' portion of the evening. It was often a hilariously informative segment, and he felt awkward about never having anything to add, but hey, Captain America.
His standard answer had resulted in a roll of collective eyeballs all six times he'd given it, but this time Jane didn't take part. She'd had a particularly difficult week as her involvement with a certain Norse god had been the major topic of conversation at a science symposium she'd attended. It seemed her colleagues had deemed this grounds for questioning the credibility of her work and/or deeming it all spoon fed to her by Thor. Tony had made the appropriate sympathetic noises all while making a mental list of who he needed to call and verbally eviscerate before looking into getting their funding pulled.
"You keep saying that like it isn't a problem," she said, "when it makes you feel inadequate and certain he can do better."
Darcy nodded because while she might be Tony's assistant now – something better suited to her political science degree given the global stage he worked in – but she'd started as Jane's intern and was still her BFF. "Besides, if he's so perfect how come he hasn't been able to convince you he's crazy about you?"
That made all of them nod, and no way he was letting Steve take the fall for this. "He's tried, I just. …"
"Don't believe him." He didn't even need to look to know the Potts Scowl was directed at him so he focused on getting the perfect ratio of wasabi versus pickled ginger on his sushi. "Tony, he's not too good for you. No one is."
Darcy was giving his masterpiece a hungry look so he shifted his plate away from her. She huffed, but said, "You're a stone fox, Tony. Not to mention brilliant and funny. Who wouldn't want you?"
He frowned. Hearing it put that way it should be true, but the 'not a chance' list was long and varied, ranging from anyone working at Fox News to most of the known world.
"Right," Betty agreed with an expression that said she'd really love to give him a smack in the head but her ethics wouldn't allow it since it proved a favorite target of villains everywhere. She held up her hand so her engagement ring caught the light. All four ladies had them. Pepper also had the wedding ring to go along with it, while Clint had popped the question to Darcy less than a week ago. "The only reason you weren't wearing one of these months ago is that he knows you'll say no if he asks."
His frown deepened, but he didn't say 'he could do better' since Pepper's scowl was ratcheting up toward homicidal. "He's not –"
"Tony, he showed me the design for your ring two weeks after you finally started dating," Pepper said. "He was worried your love of sparkly things wouldn't translate into wanting an engagement ring. I assured him it would, but you've been too busy wallowing in 'he's perfect and I'm scum land' for him to do anything more than moon over the sketch."
Oh. But … "Why have you all changed your mind?"
Jane poured another round of sake. "About what?"
"Thinking we're a good match." Every last one of them had the nerve to look confused. "You all threatened me!"
Betty twitched, but Jane let fly giving him a hard smack on the back of the head. "Thank you," his bitchy doctor muttered, while Jane all but shouted, "He got the same speeches!"
"Damnit, Tony!" They all shouted it at the same time making the room almost echo. A long series of rants followed, but the gest of it all was 'we're family and we love you, you blind jerk!' Oh.
L3 101: Kidnappings Happen. So Do Tree Roots
Tony was pissed and not afraid to let the world know, especially one particular uptight piece of it. "I have a damned cold, Steve," he hissed stalking along the street. "Not the plague."
Given his lover was on a com half-a-world away and in close quarters with the Avengers minus Iron Man, Steve's response was more hissed than the indignant volume of Tony's own voice. "I won't field my people when they aren't at optimum."
That was such bullshit. In fact, it bore saying. "That is such bullshit. I can operate the suit when I'm three-quarters dead and you know it!"
"It doesn't mean you should!"
"This is about me being your lover, not –"
"Yes, it is!" That was surprising enough and loud enough to make Tony blink.
"You're admitting it?" He'd expected a lot more long-winded 'optimum' nonsense before Steve broke.
"I love you and there is no way in hell I'm letting you deal with the discomfort of a cold at high altitude when this mission doesn't require all of us."
He scowled at his phone. "You took Barnes with you." If they weren't all needed, it didn't make much sense to take everyone but Tony then haul Winter Soldier along for the ride.
"He needs the experience of working with the others in case we do need him."
Damnit that made sense. Like Rhodey's War Machine persona, Barnes was on the 'call in when needed' list, but he hadn't had a chance to suit up with them as often as Rhodey. And much as he hated to admit it, the lingering sinus congestion would have made flying painful. "I don't like being left behind," he sulked.
Steve's voice dropped. "I know, sweetheart, but we'll be home in three days." He chuckled. "Besides, I think you're far angrier about not having an excuse to ditch the board meeting."
That might have been true, but he didn't get a chance to answer. Or at least he didn't think he had. All he knew is that he'd opened his mouth to utter a no doubt epically witty retort, blinked then found himself lying on a wood floor surrounded by darkness, his head cradled in a vaguely familiar, feminine lap. Sort of an 'I've bled on her before' feeling. Surprisingly enough it didn't narrow the field all that much so he asked, "Who?"
"Betty," came the whispered answer and she sounded frightened. Not a good sign given she was the daughter of Thunderbolt Ross and gutsy enough to marry a guy who spent a chunk of his life as the Hulk.
"What happened?" he asked, slowly sitting up, but the room decided to spin anyway. Whatever whoever had used on him, it wasn't playing nice with his cold medicine. Fuck.
"I'm not sure," she answered, her hands steadying him despite her fear. "I was in the clinic." To keep her medical skills sharp, she worked a few days every week in a free clinic in Brooklyn instead of working in the lab with Bruce. "Then I was here."
Matched up with his version of 'oh, shit, this isn't good.' "Where's here?"
"A walk-in closet. I saw that much when they tossed you in a few minutes after I came around."
"Any idea of how long I was out?"
"Hours. I had to give you mouth-to-mouth once to keep you breathing."
Oh. He'd tried to die on her. That's why she was so shaken. Although being kidnapped couldn't have helped. "Sorry. Next time I'll stick to tea with honey and lemon."
She made an amused sound and he felt some of the tension in her body ease so mission accomplished. "I'd appreciate it."
The door swung open and Tony made one of his infamous strategic decisions. He was next to useless and Betty seemed to be firing on all cylinders. Besides, armor or no, he was the goddamned superhero. He glared at the muscle-bound cliché standing in the doorway. "You one of the assclowns stupid enough to think kidnapping the Hulk's wife was a good idea?"
That went down as expected. The guy jerked him to his feet, then backhanded him hard enough Tony went crashing back to the floor. He tasted blood and spit it out for affect. "Can't say roughing up Captain America's main squeeze is a great idea either."
He could feel Betty shaking with what he knew had to be rage. She wasn't the quake in fear sort and she hated bullies almost as much as Steve. But she must have understood he was trying to keep one of them in Steve's favored optimum condition and held her peace as she helped him to his feet.
Even better she played the frightened damsel while he kept Henchmen 1 and his four playmates focused on him when they pulled them into a barren front room to make an 'interfere with our plans and they die' video. It sounded like an after-thought when they added 'and we want four million dollars, too.' Like he'd thought idiots. That was practically pocket change for a Stark.
They did have one good move in them. Of course they hit him a few more times, but then the one Tony had dubbed Henchmen 3 pulled out a knife, jerked back Tony's head and cut his throat. Not deeply. Just enough to ooze. Wouldn't even scar, but it had made their point. Thoroughly.
They threw him back in the closet hard enough he hit the far wall, then collapsed. Betty reached him just as they slammed the door behind her. "Tony?" her hands were gentle, but he could feel them shaking. Or maybe that was just him.
"'m oaky," he lied. "We have to get out of here." It could be another few hours before the cavalry arrived and these guys hadn't done anything to hide who they were. This had to be a trap with them as the bait and it wouldn't take long for even that crew to figure out the hostages had outlived their usefulness.
"There isn't any tech for you to hack."
He snorted. "More than one way to blow up a pop stand." Too bad he couldn't do it literally, but even he needed more than an empty closet to rig a bomb. "But I need a wire."
"Blub is burnt out or the power's off, but there's one in the overhead."
Right. "Can you reach it?" They weren't all that compatible on giving each other a boost, especially with him finding sitting up on the challenging side.
"Yes, but some light would help."
"Have light will carry," he murmured, tugging at his shirt. He didn't like to flaunt the chest accessory, and any shirt he wore in public had a thin, but light blocking lining to help him keep his secrets. It was a nice counterpoint to the chest plate that made the arc light look different in both shape and hue when he was Iron Man.
She helped unbutton it and the blue light of his arc reactor shown into the relatively small space. The light bulb overhead was a dim, but distinct shape in the glow, but good enough. It only took her a couple of seconds to get, then carefully break it so she could extract the wire.
Using his personal nightlight, Tony picked the lock. Both of them winced when it made a distinct click as it disengaged, but they waited for a full minute and nothing happened. He pulled his shirt back into place then put his hand on the nob. "Betty …"
"I'm not leaving you." Her voice was firm and tinged with anger.
He understood. Didn't change anything. "We have to split up. Together we're still bait for a trap. Apart, they have to spend their time hunting each of us instead of waiting for the others to show."
"They can't have anything that could hurt them."
"No, but whoever hired them might."
He pressed a kiss to her cheek. "Love you, too. But you haul ass and don't look back."
She hugged him tightly. "I'll never forgive you if you get yourself killed."
"Same. You ready?"
The closet opened into a small room with a window on two walls. He took the one on the right. She went left. Both opened, neither quietly. He heard shouting from the front room as he dove outside, then started running, counting on adrenaline to get him clear of the house and ... into the woods. Damn, they'd actually been taken to a shack in the woods. Could things get any more cliched?
He lost track of Betty almost immediately and hoped the thugs had done the same -- especially since he made some deliberate noise to attract their attention. He was the rich one, the one with the non-rage monster lover, and the one who had deliberately pissed them off so it didn't take a genius to know he was the one they'd prefer to follow if they had a choice.
After the first few 'here I am, follow me' noises, he moved as quietly as he could, his eyes and ears constantly scanning for his pursuers and damn, he missed JARVIS. One heat sensing display would have told him a lot, but no, he had to do this the old fashioned way with his own senses. Gave them a good run, too. Wasn't certain how much time slipped by while he played cat and mouse with at least two of them, but he had the impression of 'darkest before the dawn' looming when he heard thunder begin to rumble. Lightning flashed suddenly, several bolts arching through the sky to strike a target a few miles behind him.
No way that was natural so Thor had arrived, the others no doubt close behind. A huge explosion tinged with green shattered the night and yeah, trap. At least for the Hulk given what he was certain would play out as a gamma signature. Probably wouldn't have given Bruce more than a headache, but it would have killed everyone else short of Thor. So yeah, he'd called this one from A to Z, right down to his own luck running out.
Between the lightning and the explosion the concealing darkness got a lot less dark at precisely the a same moment one of the Henchcreeps was looking right at him. Without the ill-timed light show, neither would have even known the other was near, but as it was the guy had a gun and a perfect line of sight.
As the light faded, Tony darted to the right, running in a night all the darker for its brief interruption. The crack of a shot sounded no doubt zipping right through where he'd been, but he couldn't move rapidly and quietly so a second shot followed. Close enough he felt the breeze of it passing, he zigged again running two steps before he was suddenly falling, a third crack accompanying white hot pain a moment before he struck the ground. For a moment he thought he'd been shot, but his mind sorted through the hurt and settled on his ankle at the same time it processed the third sound had been different. Like an ankle snapping.
His mind further screamed to move, but his foot was caught and trying to roll made him scream. Brought his soon-to-be killer straight to him. Couldn't see the man's face, didn't know if it was 1, 2, 3 or 4, but he could see the outline of the arm extending, the gun trained on Tony's chest.
"No!" Betty screamed – she'd either doubled back despite what Tony had said or they'd ended up stumbling into the same area.
The man spun toward her, an enraged bellow filled the air and Tony shouted, "Don't look!" a split second before the Hulk landed next to walking-dead-man. Tony took his own advice, but the moist snapping sound of a head being yanked free of a body was different enough not to leave much doubt of what had happened especially when followed by the thud of two separate objects of different size hitting the ground.
Hulk bellowed again, this time his wife's name even as she began a soothing litany of words to calm him. Always priority one – keep Bruce from doing any 'friendly fire' damage especially when Tony was sprawled on the ground and hard to see.
Betty coaxed her husband to her side calming him enough he didn't react to the figure dropping out of the tree to land next to Tony. "Barnes," he croaked, the pain making his mouth dry and he seriously wanted to pass out, but he couldn't. Not yet.
"Stark," Bucky answered, reaching down and ripping the root up and out of the ground, freeing Tony. That done, he carefully scooped him up and began walking toward where Tony assumed the Quinjet had landed. "How bad is it?"
"Broken," he hissed through clenched teeth, the motion jarring despite the care his transportation was taking. "Definitely broken."
Oh, shit. Everything else hurt enough he'd forgotten about the sharp reminder of the cut and what it must have done to his lover to see it happen. "Steve? Where's Steve?"
They both heard the sound of running feet, but Bucky said, "Incoming. Cap! Over here!"
Steve burst into view. "Tony, sweetheart," he said, his voice trembling almost as much as the arms Bucky transferred him into.
"I'm okay," he tried to comfort him despite the obvious lie. Didn't surprise him at all when Steve sank down to sit on something. "It looked worse than it was. I'm okay." The others arrived as he did his best to calm his terrified lover. Tony had no doubts whatsoever no one else was alive in these woods. Superman might have to go all noble when it came to taking bad guys alive, but the Avengers lived in the real world and there was a message they would have wanted to make loud and clear – harming one of their loved ones equaled committing suicide. He figured the only regret in his family's heads was that they had been subtle about the gay basher's death. Not a mistake they were likely to repeat. "Shhhh, I'm here, we're okay. You saved us."
Almost as if the word had conjured her, Betty knelt beside them, her hands doing awful things to his ankle, but when she stood back up she left an air split in place. An expert in calming down freaked out Avengers, she gripped Steve's shoulder. "Cap, we need to get him back to the Tower. You okay to carry him or does Soldier need to do it?"
Steve's hold tightened, not enough to hurt, but firm enough no one was taking Tony away from him. "I'll do it," he answered, his voice hoarse, and carefully stood up. It hurt like a mother, but the splint kept an edge off of it to make it less excruciating than when Barnes had played 'groom' and the urge to pass out eased. Good thing because he figured if he went night-night, Steve would faint.
By the time they landed at the Tower Bruce had de-Hulked and had joined Betty in fussing over Tony while Steve clung to Tony's hand with an intensity that said loud and clear he wasn't letting go anytime soon. Tony would have been embarrassed if he hadn't thought he'd start whimpering if Steve tried.
Others were clingy, too, taking up positions around the room and displaying a certain unwillingness to take their eyes off of either Tony or Betty. Pepper, Jane, Darcy and Coulson assumed a similar attitude as they began trickling in while he was cleaned up, bandaged and his ankle firmly encased in a cast.
Finally Steve carried him back to their room, but the others followed. Tony started to protest, started to say 'hey, he was fine, go get some sleep, people' but he thought he'd climb right out of his skin if Betty left and guessed it wasn't too out of the question the others might be feeling the same way. About her. ... And about him. "Hey, guys," he called over Steve's shoulder and saw them stiffen, their faces settling into variations on a stubborn theme. It almost made him laugh. Or maybe it was the stupid drugs still in his system. In any case, he gave them a gentle smile. "Mattresses, blankets, pillows. If we're going to have a slumber party, no reason you can't all be comfy."
They blinked, then all dashed off in different directions. They returned with the required bed clothes and settled in for the 'night' in one big sea of mattresses with Tony and Betty at the center of a group cuddle. No one said much of anything, but everyone was obviously too keyed up to sleep despite more than enough reason for even Thor to feel exhausted.
Steve held him while Nat was a warm presence against his back, Bucky's arm around her, his fingertips brushing Tony's stomach. Thor insisted on the honor of playing foot rest for Tony's ankle, and he could feel Pepper's fingers in his hair. Betty rested between Steve and Bruce, with Darcy at Bruce's back and Clint between all of them and the door. His family. Loved them all and he ached to do something to take the edge off this awful day, but what?
Steve's hand shifted to rest on his arc reactor at the same time both Jane and Coulson lifted up enough to look at him over the curve of their respective spouses, and it came to him. "Steve?" he whispered and everyone tensed as if they were ready to fight for the right to get whatever he needed.
"Yes?" At least his voice sounded closer to normal.
"Gonna be pretty bored for a few days." His bitch of a doctor had ordered bed rest for at least three days and he knew his even bitchier lover would make sure he did it. Damn it could be hell to be loved this much.
Everyone relaxed. Sort of a communal 'situation normal, Tony is whining' reaction.
"Can't be helped," Steve answered, his tone broking no argument while at the same time sympathetic.
"Mmmm," Tony didn't disagree, but, he also knew himself. "Would help if I had something to do."
"No workshop," Steve, Bruce and Betty all said at the same time.
He pouted for a moment more because he figured it was expected and well, no workshop. "Can I make phone calls?"
There was a pause as if they sensed a trap. "Yes?" Betty asked voicing that 'he's up to something' vibe.
True enough. "Then I could maybe plan our wedding?"
There was a beat followed by a collective intake of breaths as Steve hugged him even closer. "Sounds good," he whispered, then kissed Tony.
They all spent the next few hours tossing around ideas for what obviously had to be the wedding to put all others to shame – except for their own since obviously there was no topping those. And it was a problem. With the exception of Thor and Jane's – one word Asgard, so yeah, lavish on a totally different scale -- they had all been epic as only something combining the collective good taste and imagination in the room with a billionaire's checkbook could. And of course, there was the security angle to deal with. Avenger weddings were definitely no supervillain zones.
One by one they dropped off as mundane things like colors and cake flavors were debated, and yeah, mission accomplished Tony thought as he slipped off into his own dreams. And bonus. He got to marry Steve. Yeah, one hell of a bonus.
Three days later Pepper and the engineers in SI R&D presented him with a motorized scooter contraption he could use in the workshop, so Tony made the engagement ring Steve had designed for him. When it was done, Steve went down on one knee and gave Tony a proper proposal. Being a genius, Tony said yes.
Champagne and Pizza
As had become the L3 'welcome back from your honeymoon' tradition, various pizzas covered the table while the attendees made their way through a case of champagne. Given the great minds behind it, the wedding had been as perfect as the four that had proceeded it and Tony had a nice tan from a few weeks spent in Malibu. Well, mostly in bed, but hey, he'd married Steve Rogers, so yeah, enough said.
The Fantastic Four hadn't had quite the same grand old time given they'd been charged with making the dummy wedding look good, but Richards had owed him for the last three times Tony had rolled his eyes then dealt with whatever weird fallout Reed had caused with his experiments. Maybe it was because he'd spent years working with technology needed for the realities of war or because beneath all his genius Tony was an engineer at heart, but his own brilliance had never leaned toward … stupidity? Seemed an odd way to describe one of the smartest men in the world, but, yes, it fit.
So yeah, Reed owed him for all the clean-up shit. Besides, Doom was really the FF's problem anyway. But because he was an awesome guy … okay, okay, because Steve had insisted, the Richards and crew had a similar case of champagne stashed in the Baxter Building.
"I think Barnes should be a member, too," he said, almost as surprised as the others since he was pretty sure he'd been musing about whether or not Reed would turn into a puddle of rubber if he got drunk.
"Nope," Darcy said handing him a plate.
"Why not?" he demanded because he'd sort of been thinking it all along since Bucky was looking like he would be popping the question to Nat any day now. "He's dating an Avenger. Isn't that the club membership requirement?"
"He hasn't got a secret identity," Pepper answered biting into one of her favorite pizzas – a meat laden thing at total odds with his gourmet veggie one. Yes, it was the opposite of what most expected, but he liked his meat served up with a steak knife, not on a crust. "And neither does Tasha."
Tony scowled, never happy when she seemed to read his mind because one or the other of that couple should be in this room. "So you'd kick me out if I told everyone I was Iron Man?"
She glared at him. "No, but I'd make you pay my medical bills after I had my heart attack." This was said with her 'do it and die' glower which he thought was contradictory, but it worked for her.
"Fair enough, but would I be out?"
"Of course not, once a member always a member," Betty said. She liked Hawaiian and too each her own and all that, but no one better let it touch his cheesy goodness.
"Uh huh, and that's sweet really it is, but it's also not really the reason." A part of him was screaming at him to shut up, shouting that he really didn't want to have this conversation, but. …
The four women shared an uncomfortable look confirming what he'd suspected since they'd first dragged him in here more than a year ago. He sighed. With the help of these ladies he'd worked through some major insecurities all except one. Steve had said it best when they'd first met, back when they'd hated each other almost at first sight and had hurled verbal barbs meant to draw figurative blood. "Without the suit, what am I?"
He could see them bristle offended on his behalf as they often were when he insulted himself. He could see the same answer he'd given to Steve in their eyes – genius, billionaire, (former) playboy, philanthropist. And really that should have shut anyone up, including his persistent doubts, but no, incredibly it wasn't enough. Sometimes it was like … what Nat's report on him had implied – that Iron Man was a different person. Or at least a part of him he couldn't access when he was Tony Stark.
"Human," Jane said.
"When you aren't in the suit, you're the only Avenger who's human like us."
He wanted to answer with the general belief that so were Clint and Nat, but they weren't. Not quite. They moved too fast, could take too much damage and healed too fast to be that. Mild mutations at most – not everyone got superpowers when the DNA slid sideways -- but they'd always had a slight edge beyond what should be there even in the fittest, most talented of humans.
Of course, Coulson was fully human, too. And Pepper was the member, not both of them, but Coulson was … Coulson. Tony had trained with Nat, Clint and Steve as had everyone in this room, but they couldn't manage Phil's level of badassary. Even if they could, Pepper's husband was a SHIELD agent who operated in the background or via phone so the public was largely unaware of him. Truth was, any real threat Pepper faced to life and limb revolved more around being Tony's best friend than who she was married to. Hell, she'd even bonded with her future husband over Stane trying to kill her for helping Tony.
"Sometimes I feel like –"
"No," Pepper said. "I don't care how you were going to finish that sentence, you're wrong."
"You're a superhero with the suit, Tony," Jane said. "The only thing you lose outside of it is the 'super' part."
Darcy smirked. "Well, that and a few inches off the top."
He rolled his eyes, but Betty caught hold of his hand before he could fire his assistant yet again. "Tony, don't get yourself killed trying to prove something."
"Please," the others murmured, their own hands settling on his arms.
"Seriously, bossman," Darcy said, "It would destroy us."
Pepper nodded. "So just don't."
"Or I'll have Thor march into Valhalla and drag you back so we can kick your ass," Jane finished, and they all nodded in agreement.
L3 101: Keep your head down, but get the damned story
As far as Tony was concerned, Steve was the best man who had ever lived and he'd have happily married him all over again if he found himself in an alternate reality where Steve had never gotten the super-soldier upgrade. On the other hand, one of the major advantages to being the husband of Captain Muscles was the manhandling which would have been a huge turn on even without the 'super' part. Add that in and the ease with which Steve could hold him up put Tony on the edge of coming before things even started. Fortunately Tony liked living on the edge.
Case in point, a good twenty minutes ago Steve had hoisted him up against the shower stall wall and fucked into him while he held Tony up with one hand, the other hand being busy pinning Tony's wrists over his head. It had turned Tony into a writhing needy mess busy riding Steve's cock like a pony express rider with miles to go while the Tower's nearly endless supply of hot water kept things toasty warm. It was one of Steve's favorite ways to take him when he wanted Tony to come on nothing but the cock fucking into him – it took longer without the direct stimulation and made him more compatible with his husband's super-stamina.
Tony moaned loudly around the tongue ravaging his mouth while his heels dug into the meat of Steve's ass, encouraging his husband to fuck him even harder, faster. God, so good. Weirdest thing given how utterly helpless he was, but he never felt stronger than in moments like this, when he could take everything Steve had to offer and beg for more. "Steve," he groaned, when their lips parted.
"Come for me, sweetheart," Steve whispered into his ear, then gave the lobe a gentle nip.
Tony tilted his head back as far as he could and howled, his release spurting between them while Steve's pulsed deep into his body.
Neither moved for a few minutes then Steve released Tony's wrists. He let his arms fall down around his husband's neck, and snuggled close, practically purring while Steve used his super-recovery time to shut off the shower and dry them off all while still inside of Tony. Didn't slip free until after he'd gotten them back onto bed, a most dangerous place to be with a smoking hot husband who had a refractory time that could make a teenager weep in despair. Not that Tony was complaining. The way Steve wanted him was such a mental turn on he could and had let his husband take him again long before he could physically respond. But he had an R&D meeting and with Pepper out of town he had to be a good boy and actually go.
The very thought made him pout and Steve laughed before he kissed Tony. "Love to keep you in bed all day, gorgeous," he said drawing back then contradicting himself by hopping out of bed, "but we both have meetings."
Tony sighed, but let Steve pull him up. "Being responsible sucks," he muttered, yanking on his silk briefs, then designer jeans. Seriously not in a suit mood, but Pep would kill him if he didn't go for the nicer versions of his casual clothes. And yes, she would still manage to find out even if she was in Japan. She was scary that way. He finished up with a linen blazer and, because he was still him, running shoes instead of dress boots.
Steve's arms wrapped around him, pulling him back against his muscular chest so he could give Tony the usual 'bye, I love you' neck nuzzle. It made Tony whine and pout even more. He wanted to go back to bed, damnit. "What's the point of having a hot, young husband if I can't play with him?" he grumbled.
Steve laughed again and hugged him. "Sooner started, sooner finished, sweetheart."
"Fine," he huffed, turning in Steve's arms, then wrapping his arms around those oh, so broad shoulders. "But I'm not letting either of us out of bed tomorrow."
"I like the way your mind works, Mr. Stark-Rogers."
"Hmm, you may be biased, Captain Rogers, but I can live with it," he answered, then kissed him. "Have fun with Fury, handsome."
"I'm not sure that's possible. You be good."
"You know that's not possible," he smirked, stole another quick kiss, then reluctantly headed out the bedroom door.
They swapped 'how is your day going, honey?' stories between moans over beefy goodness, but somewhere after the first perfect bites were savored, Darcy smirked and asked, "Hey, bossman, what's SI's maternity leave policy?"
Jane and Tony froze for a moment, then he cleared his throat. "We speaking theoretically or 'time to file the papers' here?"
"Two parts one, working on the other."
He smirked. Looked like he was going to win the 'who first' in the baby pool stakes. "Well, then I'd say it all depended on whether or not the party in question has the good taste to name me godfather." Deciding to head off the jokes before they even started. "Or godmother. I'm not fussy."
Darcy laughed. "I think you can count on one or the other, but we could use a couple of weeks off to seal this deal."
A quip about 'fine with him, but the world saving might interfere on Clint's side' tickled the tip of his tongue, but a huge boom sounded before it could escape and they rushed outside. There wasn't any sign of an explosion he could spot, but he quickly took in other details – like everyone who had an electronic device suddenly throwing a fit. Traffic lights and signs were out, too. "Fuck, EMF pulse," he said, pulling out his own phone which was conveniently shielded against such things. Except it was dead, too. "Seriously not good."
"Oh, my God," Jane whispered, and his gaze followed hers upward to where a huge door had opened in an otherwise innocent looking fluffy cloud and, fuck again, Doombots came flooding out. Even worse – because with Doom things could always get worse – he could feel a crackle in the air that shouldn't be there indicating they were dealing with an EMF field versus a pulse. But that meant the Doombots descending had to be shielded against it. And that gave him an idea.
"Get gone," he told his friends even as the collective crowd turned and headed for subways or at least basements with emergency access to them because if nothing else, life in New York had taught the populace when to gawk and when to get the hell out of there.
The ladies each grabbed an arm. "Come with us," Jane insisted as they tried to pull him toward the nearest exit route. He could see the terror in their eyes, the certainty what all of them had feared was about to happen and he was going to get himself killed.
Wished he could promise them it wouldn't happen, but he pulled loose. It was a violation of standing orders – in an emergency loved ones and an unsuited-Tony hauled ass to safety. "Sorry, but this really is a job for me."
"We're not leaving you!" Darcy protested, but neither moved to recapture their hold on him. He knew they loved him, but they also knew no one could match Tony when it came to robot technology.
"Yes, you are," he ordered, ending the argument by spinning on his heel and sprinting away faster than they could hope to follow in their far less sensible shoes. His family given the slip, he turned toward the Baxter Building which seemed to be the bots' focal point. Made sense since this was Doom, but the FF was in Europe making this the Avengers' problem not theirs.
As he moved toward the screaming and explosions, sunlight flashed on the slim bands around his wrists. In theory he could use them to summon his suit, but not with the field in place. Iron Man's shielding, like the Tower's made what protected his phone seem like plastic wrap, but the armor was more vulnerable when it wasn't locked in place around him. He couldn't risk it failing in mid-flight even if the bracelets' signal managed to activate which was unlikely. But they weren't on, meaning they hadn't been fried in the initial pulse so if he could get rid of the field Iron Man would be back in business.
Damnit, he needed to get his hands on one of those bots, but with most of what he worked with offline, he was blanking on a better plan than one of the stupid things shorting out or getting caught in friendly fire. That left him dodging decidedly unfriendly fire until either his or a bot's luck ran out.
Given he'd been overly optimistic about the common sense of his fellow New Yorkers his money was quickly shifting toward the bots. He constantly had to stop and prod, shove or haul others toward underground cover. Some morons were actually trying to use their smartphones to take video, it not dawning on their pea-sized brains that the damned things weren't working.
Others hadn't reached safety because they couldn't move as fast as the average person fleeing for their lives, and when Tony found himself cornered by a bot, he at least had the satisfaction of knowing it had caught him because he'd had to break cover to shepherd an elderly couple to a subway entrance. Hadn't gotten more than twenty yards further up the street afterwards before the R2D2-wanna be maneuvered between him and any cover. Shit, he thought, his fingers trying to dig into the brick wall behind him like he could burrow into it as the weapon port centered on him.
He saw the muzzle of the energy beam flare, then there was a solid wall in front as well as behind him, shielding him from the blast. Literally, he realized as his 'oh, shit, I'm dead' moment let up enough for it to sink in the new wall was his husband and Captain America's shield was deflecting the beam right back at the bot so it blew itself up instead of Tony.
"Steve," he sighed into his husband's neck, his hands clutching at Steve's uniform while his senses blocked out everything else but the scent and feel of Captain America. City was going to hell all around him, but for one brief moment, Tony felt safe, like nothing could possibly happen to either of them. It faded into the even more fleeting need to beg Steve to get them both out of there, to let someone else deal with it, but, no. He might not be an intrepid reporter after a story, but he had a job to do. He swallowed, then forced out, "I need a bot."
He could see the terror in Steve's eyes, sharper, more immediate than what he'd seen after Tony's kidnapping. Perhaps because he'd been unable to see the first reaction in the dark of that morning, but no, this was worse, because while Tony had been getting in touch with his inner-Lois Lane, Steve had been forced into Superman's role of knowing he couldn't stop his lover from doing what needed to be done. That meant he had to let the man he loved risk his life when every instinct he had was screaming at him to save Tony.
Beneath his cowl, Steve's face twisted in agony, but he turned away from Tony, used hand signals to tell a no doubt watching Hawkeye what Tony needed. A moment later a bot at the end of the street took an arrow in the lower plating. It sparked, shuddered, then dropped a few feet to the ground. "Stay close," Steve said, fairly unnecessary given his tight grip on Tony's hand.
Three times during the run up the street, Steve had to stop and prevent a beam from striking one of them, but within minutes they'd reached the fallen bot and hauled it into the cover of a building lobby. Tony dropped to his knees beside it, pulling out the small miniature tool kit he always carried because tinkering was his life.
"Tony," Steve's voice sounded tortured, but they both knew there were still civilians out there who needed Captain America and Tony was relatively safe.
"I've got this. Go," he said, getting an access panel open.
A gloved hand touched his face and Tony stopped long enough to reach up to take it. "I love you, too. Now, go save the world, Cap."
Steve nodded, then dashed back out into the street. Without Tony to watch his back. And that was just not acceptable. Going to turn Doom into a can opener for this one, he decided, his fingers flying through the electronics, repairing the arrow damage at the same time he analyzed and modified the thing.
Given every explosion he heard could have been the sound of his husband or his family dying, it took the longest fifteen minutes of his life to finish and send it back out into the street. He didn't stick around to watch. Instead he ran for the stairs, dashing up them even as he imagined the bot flying back up to its cloud-base. It would home in on the EMF generator then explode, hopefully with enough force to destroy it and everything around it.
He reached the roof access door and stopped, waiting as he caught his breath, then smiled at the force of the explosion that rattled the building. He gave it another few beats for any falling debris to stop raining down, then stepped outside and activated his wrist bands. They flared to life and score!
At thirty seconds and counting he saw the armor approach and switched on the stealth mode blanking both himself and the undeployed suit from any watching eyes. It would only last sixty seconds, but it would get the job done. Ten seconds later, he jumped off the roof. At twelve the suit formed around him and the hud lit up. "JARVIS?" he asked, arching back up toward the sky and taking out six bots with a fast series of repulsors blasts before the stealth deactivated.
"Here, sir," came the answer and that was one beautiful sound.
"Did Jane and Darcy make it back?"
"Yes, sir. They are in the underground panic room with Dr. Ross-Banner."
"Tell them Iron Man is in business and I expect margaritas when I get back."
"A most excellent idea, shield brother," Thor's voice sounded over the com and the hud lit up with his location. "You are well then?"
"Yep, but I'm pissed," he answered, firing as he swooped and dove. The bots were off balance after the blast, their shielding circuitry no longer receiving signals, but that didn't mean they weren't still dangerous. "Didn't get to finish my cheeseburger."
Hawkeye laughed, the suit pinpointing him on a rooftop a few blocks to the east.
"Hey, we were at Charlie's!"
"Charlie's good!" Hulk roared and he chuckled, his favorite rage monster accounted for.
"Oh, well, then," Widow said from a position near the Baxter Building. Trust Nat to head straight for the lion's den. "Guess we'd better scrap them all."
"Aye, Lady Widow, 'tis a great offense." Now where was his favorite shapely red, white and blue ass?
"Cut the chatter on the com, people," Cap snapped, but Tony grinned easily hearing the relief in his husband's voice and the last locator signal lit up. All chicks present and accounted for.
"Awww, Cap," Tony whined, "I want to make Doom's helmet into an ash tray."
"You don't smoke."
"No, you won't."
"Fine." He swooped in and took out three bots moving in on Hawkeye, then jetted toward Widow. "Paperweight?"
"That works." Unfortunately Doom proved a killjoy and didn't make a single appearance. Obviously, he considered an FF-free New York worthy of terrorizing, but not of his personal attention. Dick.
Took a half hour to clean up all his fucking bots, but when the smoke cleared the area of damage was small. Fortunately the damned things seemed to have concentrated on people moving toward them so no one had been killed and the injuries were relatively minor. A refreshing change that let them return to the Tower before sunset even after doing most of the cleanup while SI engineers swarmed into the area to replace fried circuitry. Things should be back to normal in a couple of days.
Deciding he'd been a good boy for long enough, he swopped down and snagged up his favorite super-soldier and jetted off home. For once Steve neither yelped, nor scolded him. Instead he kind of clung and oh, yeah, they'd come close to having one fatality, hadn't they?
Steve let go the moment they touched down in Tony's workshop, but he all but vibrated while Tony's own bots got him out of the armor. The moment he was free of it, Steve did the snatching up and Tony wrapped his arms and legs around him so they could both hang on tight. Iron Man, yes; Tony Stark, no. Yes, Nat had been right. Not in rejecting him, he'd given her more than enough cause over the last two years to eat those particular words, but in writing up the report like he was two separate people. If he'd ever doubted that, he could see it on his husband's face for the second time in six months.
Iron Man was nearly invincible, could watch the team's back while keeping his own ass in relatively one piece, but Tony? Tony was the 'girlfriend,' the vulnerable love of the superhero's life and as Steve held him like he'd never let go, Tony understood if Steve had a choice he would lock Tony away in an impenetrable fortress and throw away the key. And if Steve loved him any less, he probably would have already done it. "I'm sorry," Tony whispered into his ear.
"For what?" Steve asked, his voice damp with tears, his body trembling.
"For … how much loving me hurts you."
Steve was quiet for a moment, but his hold never loosened. Finally, he said, "It does hurt, but it saves me, too." His lips brushed against Tony's neck. "I was lost, then you moved us all into this place, forced us to become a family, gave me something to keep me getting out of bed each morning until you healed me enough I could love you. It's worth any price I have to pay."
Tony didn't argue with him. Didn't doubt him. He felt the same way even as he knew he couldn't really because his 'Lois' always had his superpowers with him, would never be vulnerable the way Tony was outside of the suit.
They didn't make love, but it was an hour before Steve could let go and they could head upstairs. Even then his hand stayed on the small of his back, and he drew Tony down to sit on his lap while they all indulged in margaritas and enjoyed the simple pleasure of all being alive and together.
The next morning they gathered again for breakfast, the television droning in the background as it always did after a battle – it helped to know what fallout was going to hit the fan before Fury called. This time, it looked unlikely they'd get more than a stern lecture and even that possibility faded as the screen shifted to two people he recognized -- the old couple he'd almost died saving. That shouldn't have a bad spin, but it was Fox News, so fuck. "JARVIS, turn up the sound."
"I didn't understand it until then," the old man was saying. "I thought he was … I believed all the bad things and couldn't see why a nice young man like Captain Rogers would have anything to do with him, but …"
"Mr. Stark-Rogers came out of nowhere," his wife picked up the story. "We thought we were going to die, but he pushed us down, then pulled us to the subway before he ran off to help someone else instead of following us to safety." She glared at the commentator who had numbered among the most vocal of his 'anyone but Stark' critics. "You should be ashamed of yourself. He's a good man. And a hero."
Around the Avengers' table every head nodded while Tony found himself blushing for the first time in decades. "Yes," Steve said, reaching out and giving his hand a squeeze, "he is."
Cake and Sparkling Juice
The Lois Lane League celebrated their second anniversary with a cake decorated with her face and, in deference to Darcy's pregnancy, bottles of sparkling apple and grape juice. She'd laughed when they'd brought them out, insisting the others didn't have to forego the adult stuff just because she did.
"Nope," Tony said, pouring the apple stuff into his finest crystal champagne flutes. "Whatever it is, we're in it together."
"Absolutely," Pepper agreed doing the same with the grape. "Hmmm, maybe we need a slogan."
"All for one and none for booze?" Darcy suggested and they all laughed.
"No Lois gets left behind?" Betty suggested, plating the cake – peanut butter with chocolate ganache icing.
Jane passed them out and offered, "We're living life in the fast Lane?
Tony shook his head and raised his glass toward the painting Steve had done of a 1940s version of Lois and Superman, then offered his own motto, "Shit happens, but it's all fucking worth it."
They drank. Because, in the end, it all was.