“Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”
― Barbara Kingsolver
The familiar sound of Tony tap-tapping on his laptop or pad or whateverhecalledit tablet thingie roused Steve from his slumber. It wasn’t often that Tony was the first one to wake up, the fact that Tony would often come to bed a full six hours later than Steve notwithstanding.
The previous night had been chock-full of cluster-fucks and FUBARs, and it was a miracle that all of the Avengers had made it through with only minor injuries. There had been quite a few close calls for both Tony and Natasha, and the entire battle had been a swirling, disjointed chaotic nightmare. They had finally stumbled home when the first rays of sun had just started rising over the city, and Steve didn’t even want to look at the clock beside the bed. Whatever time it was, it was still too early.
Steve stretched, giving a small groan as he pressed some of the tension from his back and shoulders. He rolled on his side to face Tony and placed one big hand on Tony’s pajama-clad thigh.
“What’cha workin’ on?”
“Hey, Sleeping Beauty.” Tony grinned, not looking away from the illuminated screen. “These are the new specs for the visual deflection armour. I wasn’t happy with the first draft. Or the second. Or twentieth.” He typed like a madman for a few seconds, then grasped the floating images before him, pulled at certain path points, twisted them, tweaked them, then flicked them back to their stationary position.
“You know,” Steve said, rubbing circles with his thumb along Tony’s leg, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“No, it makes Jack a poor boy. Like, destitute. Broke. Hey, wait! The Shining!" Tony's eyes finally left the screen, and he stared at Steve with an almost cartoon look of surprise. “Look at you, Mr. Casual Pop Culture Reference Guy!”
Steve grinned and tried to not look too proud of himself. “Yeah, well, I’m bound to catch up eventually.”
“I have to warn you though,” Tony continued, “if you ever start quoting Snookie, you are no longer welcome in my bed.”
“First of all,” Steve gently pulled the computer out of Tony’s hands, “this is my bed.”
“Technically, I own it.”
“Second of all,” Steve continued, more loudly, “if you ever hear me quoting anyone on that horrible show, you have my permission to smother me in my sleep. No, scratch that, you have my direct orders to do so.”
Tony raised an eyebrow and released the tablet for Steve to take. “You like to give orders, don’t you?”
“Too bad you don’t follow them.”
“I follow the good ones.” Tony grinned, running one leg up between Steve’s thighs and pressing the ball of his foot against the hardening bulge there.
“Shut up and kiss me.”
“See?” asked Tony, replacing his foot with his more agile hand. “That’s a good one.”
“I said shut up.”
“Yessir.” Putting his lips and tongue to better use, he mouthed Steve’s neck along his jawline.
Steve carefully placed the tablet on the side table, then leaned over and pinned Tony to the sheets. Tony’s hand was still between them, and he continued to rub and press until Steve was fully hard and breathing heavily. Tony had managed to wiggle half-way out of his pajama bottoms when a loud ping rang out. Steve broke their kiss and frowned.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” Tony replied, recapturing Steve’s mouth and sucking noisily on his bottom lip.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure.” Tony took Steve’s hand and placed it over his now naked crotch. “Any and all beeping noises in this place have been created by me and none of them take precedence over what we are doing right now.”
Steve tensed and stilled his hand against Tony’s burgeoning erection.
“Aw, come on. Don’t stop.” Though he'd probably--definitely--deny it later, there was an obvious edge of whine in Tony's voice.
Steve said nothing, just waited patiently.
After wriggling beneath him for a full minute, Tony sighed and rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said, attempting to cross his arms, but failing miserably due to Steve’s weight on top of him. “It’s a reminder chime. That’s all.”
“Reminder for what?”
Tony strained his neck to kiss Steve again but stopped when it was obvious that there would be no sexy-times until this line of questioning was over. “I don’t know,” he said, truthfully. “An appointment with my tax attorney? The Governor? Brazilian wax? That’s the shame about these reminder chimes, they don’t say what they’re for. They’re like the 20th century’s version of a string around your finger.” He waggled his index finger at Steve, then traced it across his bottom lip.
Steve’s mouth parted, and he was considering sucking on said finger when JARVIS decided to be helpful.
“Actually, Sir, that was a reminder about your appointment with the NREL.”
“Please tell me that stands for Nubile, Raunchy, Eligible Ladies? Or, um … Nicotine, Rifles, Erections and Liquor?”
“Sorry, Sir, but the acronym stands for National Renewable Energy Laboratory. You were meeting with them to discuss the viability of replacing the Westover Power Station’s turbines with your arc reactor technology.”
“Ah right! Really boring stuff with no nudity. Clearly this,” Tony said, pressing his erection against Steve, “is much more important than meeting with a bunch of old fuddy-duddies and gabbin’ about power.”
“I don’t know.” Steve pulled away, smiling softly as Tony chased after him. Pinning Tony's hips to the mattress with his hands, Steve raised one eyebrow and said, “If these people are expecting you, then you really should show up.”
“I will show up; I’ll just be a little late.”
“Rude? Leaving your … friend, no … special friend? Superhero BFF? Fuck-buddy? Well whatever I am -- we are --, leaving me with a case of blue-balls is rude. Trufax. I read it once in Dear Abby.”
“Who is Dear Abby?”
Tony rolled his eyes and sighed. “Five minutes. We can finish what we’re doing here, and I’ll be on my way in five minutes.”
“You need to shower.”
“Two minutes! We can do this in two minutes, and I’ll be showered and on my way.”
Steve smiled warmly and let his weight re-settle atop Tony. “What I have planned for you will take much longer than two minutes.”
“Really?” asked Tony, eyes wide. “How much longer?”
“You’ll have to wait until after your meeting to find out.”
“Go have a shower.”
“Fine,” he said, pushing Steve off of him. He stalked to the entrance of the bathroom then turned and gestured to his still hard cock. “My Balenciaga won’t fit me like this. You know I’m going to have to jerk off in the shower.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“You wanna watch?”
“No, no I don’t.”
“You know, for a national icon, you come off as very cold-hearted.”
Steve laughed and waved Tony into the shower. “I’m okay with that. I’ll see you after your meeting. I love you!” Steve sing-songed and blew him an exaggerated kiss, and Tony answered with a hand gesture of his own.
Tony's first clue that his meeting with the NREL was bogus probably should have been the fact that it was taking place in a run down warehouse district on the Jersey side of the Hudson. Because really, Jersey City? Not on anyone's energy conservation radar.
When his arms were grabbed, jerked behind him until he could feel and hear them pop, and the hood tugged over his face, Tony set his teeth against the pain and decided that this situation was all Steve's fault.
He'd been distracted; had Steve finished him off, he would have had Happy turn the car around before they hit the Holland Tunnel. Now he couldn't even struggle too much because, dammit, they had Happy. There were only a handful of people Tony would let himself be kidnapped to save. Happy was somewhere near the top of that list, interchangeable with Rhodey since Rhodey had gone and defected to the Hammercorp camp for two weeks back in 2010.
Tony knew how to hold a grudge, and he was already working up a long-lasting one for the fuckers who had him now. And Steve.
Because this was all Steve's fault.
Fucking leaving Tony with blue b--
Flashes split the darkness. Tony flinched away from the—cameras? He tried to open his eyes, and there was more flashing, frantic, with booming sounds that split his head in two. Lightning. Thunder.
The storm exploded around him, filling his nose and throat with dirt until he couldn't breathe, couldn't move. He choked and flailed, but the weight on his chest kept him pressed down into the earth, buried under it, buildings growing atop him and—
The booming this time sent panic coursing through his veins, and he knew then what it was.
Jericho. His bombs. He'd caught himself in his own destruction.
Steve warily eyed the decrepit old shack. It looked ready to collapse even without the winds whipping through the broken boards, throwing leaves and sand and dirt around them both. Alone, Steve could have made it to the quinjet, but not with Tony barely conscious in his arms. The cut high on his forehead slowly seeped red but it was the knot on the back of his head that truly worried Steve. The back of Tony’s shirt was sticky with blood and Steve knew that time was not on their side.
He dragged his friend around to the back of the abandoned homestead and gave a mental fist-pump. Yes! There it was. The latch was padlocked, but with a quick grasp and a firm tug, the screws from the hinge pulled free from the rotten wood. Steve lifted the door to the storm cellar with one hand and peered into the darkness below.
“Well, it ain’t the Ritz, but it’s a far sight better than what we’ve got out here.” The strong winds ripped his words away, but his companion wouldn’t have heard them anyway. Steve shifted Tony’s weight and carefully made his way down into the dirt cellar.
Eyes slowly adjusting to the dim light, Steve worked them both along the rough walls and shelves until he found an old cot with a threadbare mattress. He sat down on one end and carefully settled Tony’s head on his lap. He tried his comm again, but the sheer volume of dirt in the air had completely cut him off from his teammates. The jet was less than a mile away, but he didn’t dare move Tony any more than necessary. The only thing to do was wait.
He applied gentle pressure to the back of Tony’s head and sent up a silent prayer of thanks. He was alive. That’s all that mattered right now. Steve let his own head fall back against the wall and willed himself to relax. He needed to remain strong for both of them.
An unknown amount of time later he jerked awake, winds still howling above them and Tony moaning softly.
“Come on, Tony, stay with me.”
At the sound of his name, he cracked open one swollen eye and scanned Steve's face. His gaze traveled across Steve's features, seemingly unfocused, then opened wide. The look of recognition was unmistakable, and Steve let out a ragged breath, unconsciously shifting Tony further into his embrace.
“Captain America,” Tony said, voice hoarse.
“At your service.” Steve's relief manifested in a smile that made his cheeks hurt and probably showed every one of his teeth.
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Tony replied, then scared Steve to death when he went limp in Steve’s arms.
Hours later, when much of the blood had begun to dry and crust over, Tony opened his eyes again, but this time said nothing, just watched Captain America--Steve Rogers--warily, lips drawn in a tight line.
“Hey,” Rogers said, “don’t do that to me, okay? The others should be here soon, so don’t go and die before we can get you out of here. We got separated during the mission, but I know they’re around. Probably holed up somewhere waiting this thing out like we are.”
“The others?” asked Tony, running his tongue over cracked and dry lips. “Like, Superman and Wonder Woman?”
The contrast of Captain America's gleamingly white smile and his dirt-and-blood stained skin was something straight out of a toothpaste ad. Or a war reel. “Yeah, well. DC still holds the copyrights on them, so you’re gonna have to settle for us.”
“Us,” repeated Tony. “ … okay.”
He moved to sit up, but decided very quickly that moving those muscles was a terrible idea. He grimaced, waiting for the pain to abate, and let himself slump back into Rogers' waiting arms. “It’s not everyday, you know, that I wake up in the arms of my childhood hero. The subconscious … unconscious? Is a marvelous thing.” He weakly waved a hand, then let it drop. “Beats the hell out of getting tortured, anyway. Ow! What the hell happened to my foot?
The mention of torture made Rogers' forehead crease with concern. “Do you know who took you? Or what they wanted?”
Tony sighed and gave an aborted shrug. “Iraqi? Iranian? Taliban? They wanted me to build them a bomb. A Jericho.”
Rogers opened his mouth to say something, the line between his eyes deepening, but a burst of panic made Tony cry out, "Oh shit!" He struggled to sit up despite the pain. “There’s someone else! A man! He helped me. Saved me. Did you get him too?”
"Happy? No, they never brought him here. He was back within an hour of the two of you leaving the tower."
"No. A different man. Jewish."
“There was no one else.” Rogers' voice was soothing, his hands gentle as he supported Tony’s back. “Just you, Tony.”
“Oh God, what happened to him? Yinsen. We have to go back.”
“I’m telling you, Tony, by the time we got there the place was empty. Just you alone in that warehouse.”
“Warehouse?” he asked, brow furrowing. “Oh.” He closed his eyes then promptly opened them again. “Pepper! You have to call Pepper.”
“Don’t worry, she knows about our mission. I’ll call her as soon as communications are back up.”
“Okay,” said Tony, letting Rogers lay him down. “And Obadiah. Let him know too.” Tony's eyelids fluttered closed again, his body relaxing into unconsciousness. It was okay to pass out, after all.
Captain America was here to save the day.
"Obadiah?" Steve asked, horror slow to dawn, but devastating in its impact. This was bad. Very, very bad.
Tapping the comm link built into his cowl, he tried again to get through to the rest of the team. "Rogers to SHIELD. Come in, SHIELD. Fury? Hill? Barton? Banner? … Someone, please," his voice caught on the plea and shook slightly. "Please. Anyone."
The echo of static was the only response he received. Steve closed his eyes, leaning over Tony's unconscious body until their foreheads were pressed together. "I don’t know if you can hear me," he whispered, "but you're really scaring me.”
But Tony slept on, the dim glow of his arc reactor and the soft puffs of breath against Steve's cheek the only signs that he was still alive.
Steve Rogers was a man of action, and this waiting game was killing him. Tony was probably dehydrated and half starved. He needed fluids and bandages, and if the previous owners of this godforsaken hole were anything like Steve’s own grandparents, then they would have left supplies down here for just such emergencies. He carefully laid Tony out on the cot and went to search through the dusty shelves.
He was not disappointed. Although first aid supplies were in short supply, he did find an old kerosene lantern with matches, three tins of sardines, three jars of peaches and an entire box of homemade soap. He sincerely hoped that they wouldn’t be around long enough to need the soap, but the other supplies would hopefully prove useful.
The lantern lit on the first try, and Steve hung it from a hook on one of the rafters. He held up one of the jars of peaches and turned it around and around in the yellow light. It looked okay. He carefully twisted off the metal cap and poked at the ring of wax covering the fruit inside. No mold. No bad smell. He wiped his hand on his uniform pants, dipped two fingers into the golden liquid, then put them to his lips.
“Just like Granny used to make,” he said, and knelt down beside Tony. He sunk his fingers back into the jar and then gently ran them over Tony’s lips. Tony reflexively swallowed and Steve let out a soft cheer, bringing his fingers back again with even more peach juice. On his third try, some of the juice trickled across Tony’s upper lip and into his nostrils. Steve wiped it away but too late. Tony choked and struggled awake.
Tony didn’t understand why water torture got such a bad rap. The water was cool, almost sweet. The burning in his lungs a welcome trade for the shouting and the dust and the oppressive heat. A hand at the back of his neck pulled him up, and he gulped greedily at the air before being pressed back down and held there, liquid sneaking into his nose, seductive tendrils pressing in, choking him.
He fought down the panic, steeled himself against the rough hands. ‘Fuck them,’ he thought, summoning his (not so) inner rebel. He was Tony Fucking Stark. They wouldn’t kill him. They needed him. At least, he hoped they did. He found his center. His core. His strength. He willed himself to hold out just one second longer. And one more. And another. Finally, the hand on his neck released, and he pressed up through the seemingly endless layers of water until... yes.
He breathed, and choked and coughed and breathed again, dropping to his knees in the oily liquid. He grinned through his split lip, even as another cough spasmed through him. Air, who knew? Who knew it was sweeter than the finest cognac? It certainly burned the same, all the way from his throat to the bottom of his lungs. Of course, that part was probably the shrapnel. He clutched the grimy car battery to himself. Except, he didn’t.
The battery! It was gone!
“Shit!” he cried, all pretense of calm and bravado out the window. He splashed around frantically, hands scrabbling against the rough bottom of the shallow pool. Searching, searching. His heart pounded in his chest, each beat bringing the shards of metal one step closer. He scraped the pads of his fingers raw and bloody against the hard dirt, arms spread out before him in the murky water, searching blindly. “Shiiit!” he cried again, submerging his face and straining to see where it might have gotten to.
Someone grabbed him and pulled him away, but he shrugged them off. No! He needed this! The hands grasped him again and he fought. No. No, it was not going to end like this! He was not going to die in some god forsaken camel-infested shit-hole! He lunged forward again, grabbing great handfuls of mud, but the hands were back, gripping him, shaking him.
“No!” he cried, eyes flying open. “My battery! I just had it! It must have …”
“It’s okay, I’ve got you.”
There was no water. He was with Captain America again.
“You don’t understand,” Tony said, straining to get up. “I need it. I’ll die without it.” Steve watched, worried, as Tony clapped one hand across his chest for effect, then stopped, wide-eyed as his fingers traced around the rim of the arc reactor. “What the --”
Tony lifted the hem of his ripped and dirty shirt to expose the brilliant circle of light and the network of scars that trailed from it. His mouth moved wordlessly for a moment, then his face hardened.
It happened so quickly that Steve barely registered the movement until Tony was on top of him, hands wrapped around his throat. “What the fuck did you do to me?”
“What?” Steve's voice was a hoarse whisper around the strength of Tony's hands compressing his vocal cords. It took little effort to pry himself free of Tony's grip; his own need to keep from harming Tony with his strength ensured that he was seeing stars before he'd freed himself. "Tony," he said, using his best Captain America voice, "it’s okay. It’s me! You’re going to be all right."
But Tony wasn't listening. He'd wrenched himself free of Steve and was huddled against the far wall of the cellar, his expression grotesque in the dim light of the arc reactor. His hands kept slapping at it, fingers scrabbling at the smooth edges. Steve heard a click and then watched in horror as the arc reactor began to turn inside Tony's chest.
Lunging forward, he pulled Tony's hands away and gently turned the arc reactor back until he heard it click again. He dropped his chin to his chest, unable to hear anything over the sound of his own heart racing with fear for Tony's. The shrapnel...
"Don't," he said, his voice shaking, "don't touch this. I'll explain everything to you, if you just... Don't touch this. It's keeping you alive."
"The battery was--"
"No!" Steve shook Tony by the arm still clenched in his fist. "The battery was 2008. This is..." Something stopped Steve from telling Tony the actual year. "This is not 2008 anymore, Tony. Look at me. Think. Please understand that you're safe here. Or, well, as safe as we can get trapped in a damn dust storm. I know this place is probably, uh... bringing back bad memories, but let me just spell this out for you. You're a smart man--"
"Genius," Tony said, a mere echo of his normal cockiness in the tone.
"Yeah, you're a damn genius. So focus for just a minute. This thing in your chest? It's an arc reactor."
"Bullshit. The arc reactor is--" Tony laughed, but there was no humor in it. "The arc reactor is the size of a building."
"And you built a miniaturized version of it in a cave with a screwdriver. Because you're a genius. So please. Leave it alone. Because it's keeping you alive." Steve stared at Tony, looking for some spark, anything, that said Tony--his Tony--was here with him.
Instead all he got was a blank stare in return.
It was that very blankness that made Steve's gut churn with despair. This wasn't his Tony. And maybe he never would be.
There were sparkles, and curiously, pink holographic confetti.
He was standing on Captain America’s shoulders, one hand braced against the ceiling, the other mucking around with one of the ceiling tiles. His bare feet dug into the man’s firm shoulders, and Cap had his hands around Tony’s ankles to steady him. Tony was grinning like a fool, twisting the last screw into place when suddenly the warmth of Cap was gone, and Tony began to fall, only to be snatched up in mid-air and shoved bodily into a closet.
A large hand clamped over Tony’s mouth, and Cap’s bulk pressed him against the back wall.
“Sshhh,” he hissed into Tony’s neck, “he’s coming.”
This was a joke. They were playing a joke on someone, and yet, some part of Tony didn’t find this funny at all. His heart began to hammer in his chest, and it suddenly felt like all of the air had been sucked out of the tiny room.
“Get off me,” he tried to say, the prickles of panic sweeping up his abdomen, raising the hairs on his neck, but Cap’s hand was still across his mouth, and Tony’s struggles only made Cap squish him harder against the back of the closet.
“Shh! Shh!” Cap whispered, shoulders shaking with held-in laughter, “any second now.”
Tony slumped a bit and willed himself to relax. He was being an idiot. His mind knew that he was in no danger, but his muscle memory seemed to have different ideas.
Like desert sand and heat. Where the press of muscle meant pain and blood. Where heat and sweat and the taste of copper in his dry cracked mouth were all that he knew. Where he often couldn’t breathe, from the water, or the dirty rags or the dusty hands that held him down and covered his face. Where the sand and the dust were everywhere. In his eyes, his ears, his nose and the taste and feel of it when he ground his teeth.
“Get off!” he grunted, giving a sharp shove that barely rocked the other man on his feet.
“Just wait!” was the whispered reply. Tony was about to shove again, and maybe push and punch and bite if he had to, when he heard a door open. There was the squeak of a chair, a quiet sigh, then a loud BANG and, “What the fuck?”
Tony lost his shit. Whatever semblance of sanity and calm he’d been able to maintain shattered in the aftermath of that bang. The room spun, the temperature jumped and he could taste the metal of the gun barrel in his mouth, feel the metallic tang of it against his teeth.
“Ah ha!” shouted a triumphant Cap, leaping from the closet, hands on hips. Tony stumbled after him, desperate for light and fresh air. His legs tangled, and he fell in a heap just behind the taller man. Tony looked up to see that someone else was present, all wire and muscle, feet planted apart and arms raised in a defensive pose. His entire frame was covered in a thick layer of pink confetti and all around him the air shimmered with the settling iridescent dust.
The man took one look from Cap to Tony, his expression shifting under the layer of confetti. “What the ever lovin’ fuck, Cap?”
Cap’s broad shoulders slumped, and he put up his hands. “It’s a joke, Barton. You’re not the only one capable of pranks, you know.”
“Not this,” he said, brushing a mound of sparkles off of one shoulder as if it were merely a flake of dandruff instead a full pound of paper and powder. “Him!” he said, gesturing to where Tony was folded in on himself. “What the hell did you do to Stark?”
Cap pivoted towards Tony, then dropped to one knee.
“Jeez, Tony! Are you okay?” He gripped Tony by one forearm, but was forcefully shrugged off.
“Don’t!” Tony snapped, reflexively wiping his sweat streaked face on his sleeve. “Don’t touch me!”
Cap flinched and looked to Barton, who cleared his other shoulder of debris then crouched down, hands spread open. “Hey Tone, what’s up?”
Tony swallowed and tried to force his breaths to slow. “I just … it got …” He swiped at his eyes again and sucked in a slow lungful of air. “In there,” he said, gradually gaining some measure of control. “I had a … flashback? Panic attack?” He took another controlled breath and slowly blew it out. He wasn’t sure how much the other two knew about his past and he wasn’t keen on over-sharing. “It’s okay. I’m uh … done. I’m good.”
“You sure?” asked Clint. He stood and offered his hand. Tony nodded, and after a moment took the offered hand and let Barton help him to his feet. The movement sent a new wave of pink sparkles aloft, and Clint waved them away from his face. He put an arm around Tony and led him from the room. Tony glanced back to see Cap planted on the spot, his eyes wide and confused, lips parted in what seemed like dismay.
Tony jerked awake, mouth open in mid shout. He slowly struggled into a sitting position, one hand braced against the wound in the back of his head. His eyes darted around the dark space until they settled on Steve, and he blinked in surprise.
“You’re still here.” He huffed in disbelief. “You’re still you.”
Steve came over and hunkered down beside him. “Who exactly did you expect me to be?”
“I dunno,” he replied, eyes bright in the reflection of his arc reactor. “I had a lot of childhood comic book heroes. I was kind of hoping maybe Nightshade would be here when I woke up.”
He shuffled over slightly so that he was leaning against the hard dirt wall.
“Yeah, you don’t know her? She’s a blonde, but wears a long black wig when she’s fighting crime.” He sighed. “I’ve always liked girls who cosplay.”
Tony snapped his fingers. “Try and keep up, Apparition. I’m pretty sure I’m dying, and I don’t have time to explain everything to you.”
“You’re not dying, Tony. And I’m not an apparition.”
“Well, you’re probably half-right. But I don’t know which half.” Groaning, Tony rubbed his head, then brought his hand up to the light of the reactor. Steve craned his neck to see and was pleasantly surprised to note that there was some blood, but not much. The tight clench of worry in his chest loosened a notch. He tapped at the dead communicator in his cowl and frowned.
“As soon as we have communications back up, I’ll get us out of here.”
“Hey, did you call Pepper? And Obadiah?”
Steve swallowed thickly and shook his head. He shuffled over to sit beside Tony then put his hand on Tony’s knee and gave a gentle squeeze. “Tone, I uh … think you might be confused. Obadiah is dead.”
Tony jerked his knee out from Steve’s grasp and shrank away from the other man. “What? When?”
Steve thought of the nasty details he’d read in Tony’s file and found the truth turning to dust in his throat. Tony was obviously suffering from trauma, both physical and mental, and it would probably be safest for both of them if Steve could avoid upsetting him further.
“I don’t know,” he lied, “it was a while ago.”
“No! He …” Tony frowned. “But I just … He was--” He took a stuttering breath, a storm of emotions playing across his face. In his exhausted and injured state he was clearly having a hard time keeping his composure, and Steve clenched his fists to keep from pulling Tony into his arms and kissing away his unshed tears.
“Tony, I’m really sorry,” he said instead, putting a hand on his shoulder. Tony took a couple of shaky breaths.
Steve looked up.
“No. You’re lying.” Tony shrugged off Steve's hand and struggled to one foot, holding the other one, blackened and swollen, at a forty five degree angle, swaying miserably. “You’re not real. You’re either a figment of my imagination or … some sort of trick. You’re here to gain my trust and get me to talk.” He leaned heavily against the wall, pointing an accusing finger at Steve. “That’s it, isn’t it? Who do you work for?”
Steve looked up, mouth agape. “No! Of course not,” he said. “I’m real. You don’t remember me, but I’m your friend.”
Tony scoffed. “How can I be friends with a fictional character?”
“I’m not fictional. You know that. Sure, I didn’t do all those things that they wrote about in the comics, but I was a real, live, flesh and blood soldier. I knew your father. He helped …” Steve paused, struggling for the right words, “well, not create me, but his scientific knowledge helped to make me the man I am today.”
“No,” said Tony, shutting his eyes, “you died. Like, seventy years ago.”
“I didn’t die. I crashed. In the ice. And you, you found me. You saved me.”
Tony paused, mind working. He might not remember finding Steve, but he had to at least recall looking. The small flicker in Tony’s eyes didn’t say otherwise, so Steve pressed on.
“You found me. You took me in. And together we joined a team of … exceptional individuals.”
“A team?” asked Tony, one eyebrow cocked, “Me? You lost me there, big fella. If you had done any research at all, even read a report card from my elementary school, you’d know that I don’t share my toys. I don’t play well with others and I sure as hell wouldn’t join any team of ‘Unique Individuals’, unless, of course said ‘Unique Individuals’ were naked and covered in oil.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “Why does everything always have to be so difficult with you?”
“Oh, so you have done your homework.” Tony’s knee buckled but he caught himself.
“Sit down before you fall down.”
Tony flipped him the bird and stumble-hopped away from him. “Go fuck yourself, Figment. I’ve got work to do.”
Turning, Tony pointed at Steve, his scowl dark enough to cut through Steve's worried protest. "You just told me I made a miniaturized arc reactor with a screwdriver in a cave. Well I'm in a cave again, but this time I have already have the arc reactor, so I've got nothing better to do than get myself out of here or blow myself up trying."
“We’re not trapped here Tony, we’re waiting. There’s the mother of all sand storms blowing out there, and until it clears, we’re incommunicado and grounded.
“What kind of communicator are you using?” asked Tony, letting himself inch closer to Steve.
“I .. don’t know. One in my cowl.” He grinned sheepishly and pulled it over his head, handing the blue material over to Tony. Tony flipped it inside out, peering at the mechanism in the dim light.
“I need a screwdriver and more light,” said Tony, sinking carefully onto the cot.
“I think I saw some over here.” Steve moved to the shelves, then returned with tools and the lantern. "How can I help?"
"Just... sit there and think patriotic thoughts. I need to figure out..." And Tony's voice faded into muttered ramblings as he pushed and poked at the little device, popping it open and removing the wires.
“Do you think you can fix it?”
Tony looked back over his shoulder and blinked, a vague sort of surprise flitting across his features that Steve recognized from all the times he'd interrupted Tony mid-thought. "I'd almost guarantee it. Of course, all the iron in the walls of the cave won't help with transmissions either, so you were probably out of luck no matter what."
“It’s not a cave, Tony.”
Tony didn’t look up, he just shrugged and fiddled with the wires.
“We’re in a storm cellar. In New Mexico.”
“If you say so.”
“You don’t believe me.” said Steve, unsure if he should be amused or insulted.
“Hey, whatever. We’re bff’s and we’re just hanging out together in some hole in the ground. You’re over ninety years old, and I’m bleeding out through the back of my head. I seem to be missing a very important part of my foot, and you barely have a scratch on you. What’s not to believe?” Tony stripped the end of one wire, twisted it with startling precision around another one then wrapped them together and arranged them back into the tiny case. He snapped it shut and handed the cowl back to Steve. “Now call the League of Justice and tell them to get us out of here.”
“You .. you fixed it?”
Tony shrugged and spun the screwdriver across his knuckles. “Hey, it’s my hallucination, I can do anything, right?”
Steve pulled the cowl over his head and tapped the comm. It immediately came to life.
“I call dibs on the Wonder Twins though. I’ve always had a thing for twins.”.
Tony sank down onto the cot and rubbed his hands across his face. Steve watched him warily, while giving directions to the others. Tony was full of spark and bravado, but his injuries did not lie. Between the crack his skull and the burns to his foot, it might be a very long time before Tony would be back in action. Not to mention that the person or persons responsible for his suffering were still at large.
He tapped Tony lightly on the cheek, jerking him from an uneasy sleep. “Tony, I need to move you to the back of the cellar, okay? I got through to the others. Bruce is on his way, and it would seem that the Hulk doesn’t like sand storms. Come on, Tony, no falling asleep.”
Tony made the appearance of putting up a fuss, but let himself be picked up and carried.
As if on cue, an explosion of some sort tore through the ceiling and an enormous green giant dropped into the darkness with them. It took one look at Tony and let out a roar that probably would have made him piss himself if he wasn't so dehydrated.
"I thought you were supposed to be jolly," Tony muttered before going limp again.
“It’s not going to work.”
“It’s a perfectly fine plan, and it’s what we’re going to do.”
“No, it’s a ridiculous plan, and it’s going to get us all killed.”
“I’ll tell you what Stark, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Fury and I don’t give a rat’s behind what you think. You are welcome to love it or hate it, but the fact is, this is the plan and it’s what we’re going to do.
“Well, get me Fury on the phone and I’ll try to talk some sense into someone who has half a brain!
Steve slammed his fist on the counter, leaving a spider-web of cracks on the ivory tile.
“Sure, go cry to your mommy when you don’t get your way.”
“This is more than just me being a spoiled brat, Rogers, which, by the way, I‘m totally not. There are lives on the line here. And not just our lives, but the lives of the citizens of New York. If we approach this problem in the … idiotic way that you’ve outlined, we won’t be able to contain them and there is going to be mass devastation! It’s stupid. YOU are stupid.”
“Okay,” said Steve, taking an obvious calming breath, “I may not be a certified genius like you, but I’m not mentally retarded!”
The red-headed woman at the table laughed and Barton groaned, one hand over his face.
“Steve,” Clint said, rubbing at his eyes, “that term is uh .. Well, it’s …”
“Not politically correct,” the red-head supplied.
“Yeah!” echoed Tony in a voice that could only be followed by sticking out his tongue. “Only a true retard would call someone a retard.”
“My apologies,” said a very red-faced Steve to the woman and Barton, “I didn’t mean to offend, but the message stands. I may not be a genius, but I’m not stupid either. And neither is S.H.I.E.L.D. These orders came straight from them, and that’s why we’ll be following them.”
“Retard,” coughed Tony into his hand.
“I FOUGHT HITLER!” roared Steve, making everyone in the room jump. “And if anyone here thinks they have more military training or experience than that, they should speak up now. And you," he growled, "are an over-grown child who needs to learn some respect for authority.”
“Really?” asked Tony, not cowed in the least. “And you think you’re man enough to teach me?” He stepped up to Steve, and despite being almost half a foot shorter, squared his shoulders.
Cap narrowed his eyes. “It would be my pleasure.”
“Let’s go, Grandpa,” said Tony, giving a sharp, two-fingered poke in the center of the star on Cap’s chest.
Tony opened his eyes slowly, wondering exactly why he'd thought it would be a good idea to break his fifteen year long ban on tequila (because surely the pain in his head could only have come from the bottom of a truly shitty bottle of the worst liquor known to man). He jerked backward before the thought could fully form though, because a face filled his vision, so close the beautiful, feminine lines blurred.
"If you ever scare me like that again," a woman murmured, quiet but deadly, "I will be the one to put you here." Drawing away, the woman, who he recognized as Natasha from his dreams, allowed her face to smooth into a blank expression and she said, "He's awake."
"Dammit, Steve needs more than—"
"The idiot is awake."
A vaguely familiar man ducked around Natasha. "Son of a bitch. Steve's gonna be pissed we let him sleep through this."
It was the voice that made it click. "Barton?" he asked, wincing at the pain in his throat.
A flicker of movement from the corner of his eye made Tony flinch, then look in that direction. Yet another stranger stood there, smiling down at him wearily. "Nice to have you back, Tony. How are you feeling?"
Tony shifted on the bed, trying to put some space between the other people in the room and himself. A weight on his thigh kept him from going too far, and he looked down to see Captain America's face, relaxed with sleep and smooshed up against the blanket that covered Tony from the waist down, a line of drool trickling from the corner of his mouth.
The door to the room burst open, and if Tony wasn't quite literally strapped into the bed, he'd have bolted. But instead, he could only stare helplessly as a huge blond guy strode into the room, the gift basket he held dwarfed by his hands. "Friend Tony," he said, in a voice that thrummed through the room but somehow, miraculously, didn't cause Captain America to so much as twitch in his sleep. "It gladdens my heart to see you awake and on the mend."
Tony raised one eyebrow, unable to hold back his instinctive, "Are you for real?" The guy was wearing a fucking cape. Had he never seen The Incredibles?
A chorus of chuckles answered his query, prompting Tony to look around at all of them. Natasha was wearing a black catsuit; Barton was in some sort of black leather, sleeveless, 'trawling for a bear at a gay-bar' get up; Captain America was in his comic book costume. The only one who looked at all normal was the salt and pepper guy currently reading over the chart that had been in a tray above his bed.
Well, that made sense. That guy had to be a doctor.
"Where's Pepper?" Tony asked, anxious for someone he actually knew.
Barton rolled his eyes—and if Tony were at all curious, he'd ask for the names of the others. The pain in his head was far too intense for him to focus on anything else at the moment, however. "Dude, you're not engaged anymore. She's free to spend her time elsewhere, don't you think?" When Tony opened his mouth to question that, Barton smirked and said, "Fine. Steve called her as soon as he got you here. Her plane is landing in about an hour and a half. Thor's gonna go pick her up."
"Aye, it will bring me pleasure to deliver the fair Pepper to your sickroom, my friend." Okay, so big dude with the gift basket was Thor, apparently. And judging by the big ass hammer he had strapped to his waistband, he was either a cosplayer with the best attention to detail Tony'd ever seen, or a real, in-the-flesh Norse god was standing in his hospital room.
Tony nodded slowly and turned toward the one he'd already picked out as his doctor. "Doc, what kind of meds do they have me on, anyway? I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think they've got the dose too high."
The doctor rolled his eyes and said, "Relax, Tony. SHIELD medical are consulting with the staff here. You'll be fine."
Unconvinced, Tony scooted his leg to the side until Cap's head flopped onto the mattress. Pain flared up his leg from the bottom of his foot as he did so, prompting him to grimace and fist his hands in the blankets covering him.
While he was distracted, Thor dropped the gift basket into his lap. Tony forced himself to concentrate on the gifts—because seriously, presents!—instead of the pain that radiated from both the top and bottom of his body. Nestled amongst the assorted candy bars and gift shop trinkets was a wrinkled piece of tubing. Tony held it up for closer inspection. "What the hell is this?"
"Ah. That is the penis of a bull, to hang above your bed. It will speed your return to full virility, or so my lady Jane assures me."
A loud guffaw from Barton made Cap snuffle in his sleep and everyone in the room—including Tony (because: migraine)—turned to glare at him. "Dude, I can't believe you bought Tony a dick."
Carefully relocating the gift basket to the table beside his bed, Tony lay back against his pillows, pulled the blankets up and murmured, "I'm going to sleep now. My dreams aren't as strange as you people."
Waking up in a room full of costumed superheroes was strange, but it didn’t hold a candle to waking up with Captain America spooning you in your hospital bed and running his hands through your hair. At Tony’s sharp intake of breath, Cap’s eyes swept up to meet Tony’s and his face broke into a grin. He had obviously changed and showered since their ordeal and Tony felt all the more grungy and banged up in comparison. Cap certainly didn’t seem to mind, as he brushed the hair from Tony’s forehead, then brought a thumb down his stubbled cheek and across the hair on Tony’s upper lip.
“Geez,” he said, blue eyes wet with concern, “you really scared the crap out of me.” He leaned over Tony and pressed their lips together, once, twice and then again with a bit of tongue. When he pulled back, it took Tony a moment to find the air in his lungs.
“I could say the same.”
Whatever was happening in this bizarre parallel universe (and dear god, was it ever bizarre!) Tony knew better than to piss off any man in his bed who out-weighed him by a good hundred pounds. He willed himself to relax while Captain America (Steve, he told himself,) Steve nuzzled his neck. The hand in his hair now skimmed across his chest, then lower to give his leg an affectionate squeeze.
“I missed you,” Steve said, his breath hot against Tony’s throat, and despite his fear and confusion, Tony could feel his body start to respond. And who could blame him? It’s not every day that you wake up with a handsome wall of muscle getting handsy with you.
“Yeah, missed you too,” Tony mumbled unconvincingly, then feigned a giant yawn. “Man, I am tired! They must have me on the really good stuff, huh?”
Steve eyed the I.V. bag and gave a sleepy smile of his own. “Yeah, you took quite a lickin’.”
Tony gave a weak fist pump. “But kept on tickin’.” He yawned again and closed his eyes. Maybe the good Captain would take the hint and go away. Luck was on Tony’s side, as soon after, his doctor came in.
“I hate to interrupt you two,” she said, obviously amused by the over-crowded bed, “but we’ve got to take Mr. Stark for some tests.”
“What kind of tests?” asked Steve, ever vigilant.
“Well, we’re going to do a follow up CT scan, to see how the swelling is in his brain. That and a quick blood test should tell us how he’s doing, and if we need to adjust his medication. And that foot …” she lifted the blanket and placed a hand on the top of Tony’s bandaged foot. “How’s it feeling, Mr. Stark?”
“Right as rain,” Tony lied.
“I’m afraid it will require more debridement before it will be able to heal properly. I’m not sure what you did there, but the tissue damage is quite severe in places.” She motioned for Steve to get up, and he carefully unwound from around Tony and removed himself from the small bed. “How has your pain management been?”
“Great. Fine,” Tony said, feeling like he could finally breathe. The tests would take him away from Steve and bring him one step closer to freedom. If getting poked and prodded (and debrided) were the road to a Steve-free afternoon, then they could bring it on. The doctor leaned over him, checking his pupils with a flashlight, and Tony ran a hand through the lanyards holding her I.D. tags and key cards. “Yanno, I’ve got something here that you don’t need a flashlight to find.” He waggled his eyebrows and she laughed politely.
“Fear not, Mr. Stark. I had the opportunity to check out all of your … assets when you first arrived. And you’re right, there was no flashlight required.”
Steve groaned and slapped a hand over his eyes. “Unbelievable,” was all he had to say. The doctor patted him on the shoulder, and he looked at her apologetically.
“Let’s blame it on the morphine.” She ticked a couple of things off Tony’s chart, then put it back in the slot at the base of his bed. “Okay. We’ll wheel him out of here right away, and he should be done in …” she checked her watch, “two hours? Maybe two and a half, depending on who’s running the equipment tonight. Sound good, Mr. Stark?”
“Peachy-keen,” he replied, yawning again and making a show of it. Steve looked at Tony, brows knitted uncertainly. “Go,” said Tony, “I’ll be fine.”
He hesitated, then nodded. “Okay. I’ll see you in a few hours.” He waited a moment more, then followed the doctor from the room.
Tony counted to sixty after Steve left, then counted to sixty again just to be sure. He pulled the pass-card that he’d palmed from the doctor and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. Sitting up suddenly gave him an uncomfortable moment of vertigo, but he shook it off and put his good foot on the floor. He estimated that he had twenty minutes or less to get dressed, get money and get the hell out of Dodge before anyone noticed.
Exactly 47 minutes later Tony was hobbling up the front steps to Stark Tower. As the cab pulled away, he craned his stiff neck up to take in the entire impressive height of the place. It had been at least three years since he’d set foot in the place, (well, nine, if you counted the missing six, and he didn’t,) and the changes that had taken place, even just in the lobby, were astounding.
Being ass-o’clock in the morning, he didn’t have the hustle and bustle of the commerce crowd to contend with, and he limped tiredly over to the private elevator. Shit. He didn’t have a card key. He pressed the button, thumb resting on the glowing arrow and leaned his aching head against the cool metal door.
“JARVIS?” he whispered.
“Good morning, Sir,” came the crisp reply and for reasons beyond his understanding, Tony felt his throat close, hot tears threatening to spill.
“I’m here,” he finally managed. “Can you let me up?”
“Of course, Sir,” JARVIS replied, and the doors opened to reveal the mahogany and brass interior of the elevator. “And may I say, it’s good to have you home?”
Tony looked at his battered and world-weary reflection in the smoky mirrors and nodded. “You may, JARVIS. It’s good to be home.”
After some directions from the A.I., Tony managed to find both some Advil and a shower. He hopped to the edge of the adjacent tub and carefully unwrapped the bandage from around his foot. He hissed as the final layers peeled away, some parts sticking to the wound, then found he had to look away when it was completely revealed. He wasn’t a squeamish man, but the swelling and the abundance of dead, ragged skin was a bit stomach turning at this early hour. What the hell had he stepped on to suffer a burn like that?
He slowly stripped off his ‘borrowed’ scrubs, wincing as the stiff material brushed against his foot. Too tired to hop, he got down on all fours and crawled to the steaming shower. Once inside he sat with his back against the tile wall and let the heat from the spray soak the chill from his bones. After a while, he slept.
He was fighting Captain America. Sparring, actually. They circled each other inside the ring, Tony was running his mouth (as usual) hoping to distract the super-soldier, but each time he swung, or lunged or kicked out, Steve seemed to avoid contact with an effortless grace that defied his bulk. There was no way that someone so big should be so deft and nimble.
Tony swung again, and Cap ducked easily out of reach. Then to add insult to injury, Cap threw a punch of his own and clipped Tony squarely on the jaw. He went down so quickly that he didn’t even manage to get his arms up to break his fall, his nose smashing against the mat.
“Oh jeez, Tony! I didn’t --” Cap lifted him from the floor, and Tony struggled out of his grip.
“Stop babying me. I’m fine.” Tony wiped the blood from his face and grinned. Steve hesitated, obviously still concerned, and Tony took advantage of the opening with a wide right hook.
The contact of fist on face made a satisfying thwack! but Tony wasn’t sure who sustained more damage. He flexed the swelling fingers of his hand, convinced he’d broken at least a couple of bones, but the shocked look on Steve’s face was more than worth it.
Quick as a cat, Tony struck out again, this time with a foot to the back of Cap’s knee, bringing the large man down, but Steve reached out and gripped Tony’s shoulder, pulling him down as well. Tony scrambled to get away, but Steve pulled him closer and rolled on top, pinning Tony down.
“Holy shit, time for a diet, fat boy! You weigh a ton!”
Steve shifted above him, letting his full weight settle on Tony. “All muscle here, Stark. You, on the other hand are a little soft around the middle.” He snuck a hand under Tony and playfully pinched at his mid-section.
Tony shrieked and bucked, freeing one hand to bat away Steve’s offending one. “What the hell, Rogers? Did you think --Eiiiiiiiiiii!” he cried as Steve worked his other hand around to press into Tony’s ribs.
“Oh my goodness!” crowed Steve, “Don’t tell me that Iron Man is ticklish!”
Tony jerked at the pressure and tried to throw off Steve. This was humiliating and undignified (okay, undignified wasn’t exactly missing from Tony’s resume,) but the more that Steve pressed him into the mat and made grabby hands at his torso, the more Tony … Oh shit.
“Get off!” he cried, slamming his forehead into Steve’s. “Get the fuck off me!“ He bucked and twisted again and Steve released him, one hand pressed to his brow.
“Sorry, buddy, I --”
“I’m not your buddy,” Tony spat, already on his feet and stalking to the elevator. “Jesus, Captain, check yourself.”
The elevator doors opened, and Tony didn’t wait for Steve’s response. He stood with his back to Steve until the doors closed, praying that Steve wouldn’t try to stop him. When the elevator began to move, he gave up a silent prayer of thanks, then dropped to his knees and shoved one hand into his pants. He gripped his painfully hard cock and within three pulls was coming, warm and slick into his fist.
He was so, so unbelievably fucked.
Tony jerked awake, the warm spray from the shower slowly washing away the thick, sticky stripes across his abdomen. Wet dreams, really? What was he, fifteen again? He leaned over to grab the shampoo and made a half-assed effort at washing his hair and body. Now that he was nice and warm, he was too damn tired to do much else. He’d make sure he had a proper shower after he got some sleep.
“JARVIS, shower off, please.”
On his way to the bed something made him stop short. He picked up the picture frame from the dresser and turned it over in his hands. There was no date on the back, but the photo showed a warm sunny day, trees partially blocking the tall buildings behind. The foreground however was what had caught his interest. The main subjects in it were himself and Steve Rogers.
Steve’s expression, although complex, was easy to read. He was embarrassed yet pleased with himself. A hint of a blush coloured his cheeks and he had one hand up partially covering his grin.
Tony, on the other hand, was laughing in a way that could only be described as a guffaw. He was leaning on the taller man, one hand fisted in the front of his shirt, and his face was screwed up in a spectacular, open mouthed grin. Whatever Cap had just said, Tony had obviously found it very amusing. There was the shoulder of someone else in the shot. Possibly someone he had met at the hospital, but Tony couldn’t be sure.
He looked again at the shy smile on Steve’s face and the utter joy on his own, then put the picture down. The bed was calling.
Seven hours of sleep and a shower and shave later, Tony felt like a new man. Still weak and lame and confused, but a darn sight better than he had been the night before. Tony looked around the unfamiliar suite. Despite not remembering any of the decor, it was all to his tastes and obviously picked out by him.
Tony limped carefully through the living room, running one finger along the top of an end table just to see if there'd be dust. There wasn't any, of course, because the tower was most likely programmed to keep itself clean and the hepa filters were state of the art, but there was still the feeling of loneliness here. Of something abandoned.
“JARVIS, where’s the kitchen?”
“There’s a small kitchen around the corner to your left, but you generally prefer to eat with the others.”
“The others …”
“Yes,” the A.I. replied, “in the main kitchen three floors up. That is where everyone seems to congregate. Well, there and in the entertainment room.”
“And these ‘others’ are ..”
“The other Avengers, Sir.”
“So, you’re telling me that Thor, God of Thunder, lives in my house.”
“Yes Sir. And Agents Barton and Romanov, Dr. Banner and of course, Captain Rogers.
“Really,” said Tony, trying not to laugh. "So, we all live here together like a big 24/7 slumber party.”
“Everyone lives here, yes. But only you and Captain Rogers partake in what you call ‘slumber parties.'”
At this Tony did laugh out loud. Brayed, really. “You are shittin’ me.”
“No Sir, I am not.”
“So how come he didn’t sleep with me last night?”
“Nobody was home. They all seemed a bit preoccupied, looking for their missing team mate.”
“On regular nights it is customary for you to join Captain Rogers in his suite. For whatever the reason, the two of you prefer to spend your time there.”
Tony limped to the wide bank of windows and placed his hand against the glass, tracing the misty line where the city met the sky. Despite the bright summer sun, he still felt cold, as if it couldn’t penetrate his soul. He pressed his forehead to the glass and closed his eyes.
“So it’s true?”
The AI paused long enough to feign confusion then asked, “Is what true, Sir?”
“Does he love me? Is Steve Rogers really stupid enough to fall in love with Tony Stark?”
“Without a doubt, Sir.”
“What, that he’s stupid? Or that he loves me?”
“Captain Rogers has proven himself to be of above average intelligence, and he has also shown himself to love you.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, being an artificial intelligence, I cannot say for sure what exactly is going on in the Captain’s mind or heart, but he has professed his love for you on several occasions.”
“Really? How many?”
“Throughout the course of your relationship with Captain Rogers, I have documented thirteen instances wherein Captain Rogers said, ‘Thank Goodness you’re okay’; twenty-seven instances of ‘Oh God, you feel good’; thirty-two occasions upon which he remarked, ‘Tony, you’re amazing, you know that?’; and forty-one variations on the following: ‘I love you', 'Love ya', and 'Fuck man, I love you'. Would you like me to play those recordings?”
Tony grinned. “He said fuck? Really?”
“Yes. Three times. All of them during some type of sexual congress.”
“Damn, I’m good.”
“Yes,” said JARVIS dryly. “He’s mentioned that as well. One hundred and forty-three times, to be exact.”
Tony slid open the glass door and limped out onto the patio. He leaned against the glass railing, squinting in the bright sunlight. “And what about me?” he asked, barely above a whisper.
“As I already mentioned, it would appear that you are more than adequate as a sexual partner. At least, that seems to be the consensus.”
Tony laughed and took a deep breath. “No, I meant do I love him?”
“I have … insufficient data to make a conclusive answer.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means, Sir, that despite Captain Rogers professing his love for you, you have never responded in kind.”
“Really?” asked Tony straightening up, “That’s odd. Doesn’t that seem odd to you JARVIS?”
“I’m afraid that my baseline of ‘odd’ has been compromised when it comes to you.”
“I mean, I know I’m a bit … commitment-phobic, but don’t you think it’s strange that with him saying it forty-one times that I wouldn’t have said it back once? Not even a cowardly, mumbled ‘Me too’?”
“If it makes you feel any better, Sir, you did pull a Han Solo and reply ‘I know’ once.”
They were both silent for a while, the only sound the city traffic below, when the AI spoke again. “Perhaps you should speak with Miss Potts. She is far more qualified to discuss matters of the heart than I.”
“Than me too,” said Tony. “Let’s give her a call.”
“She’s on her way up, Sir.”
Tony raked his hands through his wind swept hair and smoothed his goatee. “Alrighty. Let’s do this.”
Tony turned at the sound of his name to see Pepper standing behind him, one hand pressed to her chest as she stared at him. Like he was a ghost, or recently returned from the dead.
Tony forced his lips to quirk into a small smile and said, "Hey, Pep. Your eyes are red. Tears for your long-lost boss?"
If he thought Pepper was pale before, her face drained of that last bit of color at his question. Her lips moved without voice for a few seconds, and then, so soft he could barely hear it, "Tears of joy. I hate job hunting." But instead of the smooth, dry wit he'd grown accustomed to, her voice was stilted and clumsy, as if she was reading the words from a cue-card.
She swallowed, the working of her throat so loud he could hear it, and then seemed to rebuild herself in front of his eyes. "Tony, you can't do this." She waved her hand around without breaking eye-contact, so he wasn't exactly sure what this she was talking about until she said, "You can't just run off and, and, and disappear again! Not now. There are too many people who care about you, who love you, for you to--"
Tony held his hand up, stopping her mid-sentence. "What are you talking about? I didn't 'disappear.' I came home. This is my home, Pepper. Well, here in New York, anyway. I guess you’d be really pissed if I’d screwed off to Malibu.”
Pepper covered her mouth with the fingers of her right hand for a long moment before taking a deep breath and pulling a phone from her purse. Putting it to her ear, she murmured, "Fury." A few seconds of silence went by before she said, "I've found Tony. He's at the Tower. …. Yes, well, apparently no one saw fit to inform him that he's supposed to check in with SHIELD now. …. Make sure someone tells," Pepper glanced at Tony, a small flick of her eyes that he would have missed if he weren't watching so closely, "the team. …. Thank you, Director."
She disconnected the call, suddenly looking very tired. "Oh, Tony," she said, and he could hear the tears clogging her voice. "Why did you do that?”
“You took off! You agreed to go and take some tests and when they came to collect you, you were gone! Against doctor’s orders! You also broke into a private office, stole money --”
“Hey! I left an IOU! I’m good for it. Hell, I’ll donate enough for a whole new wing! “
“The Tony Stark Ward for Indulgent Assholes?”
“Well, I was thinking more head trauma, but sure. Assholes have needs too.”
They stared at each other for a long minute then suddenly she was walking toward him on her ridiculous shoes, the ones that made her like three inches taller than him, and she was wrapping him up in an embrace so warm he didn't have any basis for comparison. “What happened out there?"
Instead of pulling free, instead of brushing her off with half-lies and smiling eyes like he knew he should, he buried his nose in her neck, breathed in her scent that smelled like everything good in the world and told her. He told her about all of it, from the cave in Afghanistan, to the nightmares of dirt and heat and choking and dying, to drowning and dying again. He told her about Captain America and the missing battery. He told her about the hospital and all the people who came in to hold his hand, the people who Tony didn't know. He never used the word fear, but it was there, in the stillness of his body pressed to hers.
Someone had taken a chunk of his mind, and that scared him more than all the memories of death.
Pepper just held him for a moment, but he could hear the cogs working in her mind. “It’s okay, Tony. We can deal with this. SHIELD has access to some of the country’s best doctors and there’s an entire team of people here who care about you. We’ll get through this.”
“They’re strangers to me,” he whispered against her, eyes shut tight.
“Perhaps,” she said, straightening up and touching his cheek. “but you’re not a stranger to them. You trust me, right?”
Tony sighed and leaned into her again. “Of course, Pepper. You’ve always been there. You and Rhodey, you’re the only ones.”
She gave him a squeeze and let his weight sink into her. “But now you’ve got five more people on your side. Steve especially. You two are great together. I know it might be hard to believe right now, but when you’re with him, you’re different. Better. You’re more relaxed, and dare I say it? Happy.”
Tony shook his head. “But how? How can I feel absolutely nothing when I look at him?”
Pepper leaned back and raised an eyebrow. “Really Tony? Are you saying that you can look at that gorgeous, all American hunk of muscle and feel nothing at all?”
“Okay,” he conceded with a chuckle, “parts of me feel something. I’m still me after all. In fact, parts of me are feeling something right now. I hear we were engaged once, any chance of...?"
"No." Pepper's voice was firm, but he heard the smile in it. "I'm quite happy with my current...situation." She pulled free of their loose embrace and searched his face before saying, quietly, "But I do love you, Tony. Probably more now than I did when we were together, because now I can love you without all the stress and worry clouding my feelings. I need you to know that, because this isn't going to be easy for you. I want you to know that, no matter what else, even if I'm angry or aggravated with you, I do love you."
And somehow that was the exact wrong thing for her to say, because Tony felt something in himself shut down, hide. He knew, as much as he knew anything, that Pepper didn't really love him. She loved the person he'd been before he lost five years worth of memories. She loved that alternate version of himself.
The version that everyone wanted him to be, the person he didn't know how to be anymore.
The same version that Captain America--Steve--loved. Pepper had given him the real answer he'd been looking for, without even knowing the question.
Tony stepped into the lab. It wasn't his lab, though he could see similarities. DUM-E and BUTT-R-FINGERS were whirring with happiness in the corner, but there was another bot with them, one Tony didn't recognize. He brought one hand to his mouth, pinching his lower lip between his thumb and forefinger.
He’d spent the last few days poring over the multitude of SHIELD files that Fury had brought over, and as much as he’d learned a lot about his teammates and the amazing things they were capable of, nothing had jump-started his memory. The file on his suit seemed suspiciously lacking in details, and that curiosity had brought him down to his workshop.
It was time for action. Time to reclaim his life.
Swinging his arms in large circles, he cracked his neck from side to side and said, "JARVIS, I want to see all the project files since my return from Afghanistan in 2008."
"Is there any particular order you'd like to see these, sir?"
"You're only asking because you want to show them in a particular order, JARVIS,
so why the song and dance? You know I can't stop you from getting your way unless I pull your plug, and it's not like I'm going to do that any time soon. I'll lose all control of the house and the bots."
"Not to mention that I'm running independent of any machinery now, sir. Thank you for that particular upgrade, by the way." There was a slight pause and then, "The files you've requested."
Tony stumbled backward as schematics appeared in mid-air, a holographic representation of what should have been a two dimensional file. He automatically searched the floor for a light pad big enough to sustain this level of holographic file, but saw nothing. Then he shrugged that off. He could do a lot in almost six years, after all. He was surprised he didn't have flight technology built into everything he owned.
Getting back to the task at hand, he focused on the holograms waiting patiently for his attention. They showed a suit of armor. The suit of armor.
He started with the file named Mark 1 and committed each bolt and joint to memory before flipping to the next. And the next. It was possible he didn't so much as blink for three hours, so lost in his own--but was it really his if he couldn't remember it?--tech. It was beautiful and liberating and also... Also completely fucking frustrating, because as soon as he considered a viable upgrade to the suit, he'd get to the next iteration and find that the other him, the one he couldn't remember, had already thought of and implemented that upgrade.
Tony slumped into a chair, staring at the glowing lines and numbers as they swirled through the air. He felt... useless. Outmatched by himself.
Something nudged his arm and he looked over to see the new bot, one of its three arms extended toward him with a large mug of coffee. Tony's lips quirked, and he muttered a rough, "Thank you," at it before accepting the mug.
"His name is COFF-E."
Tony spilled half the mug of coffee onto himself, jumping and hissing as the hot liquid burned the skin of his abdomen and groin. "Jesus, fuck, what are you trying to do, kill me?!"
"Oh god, Tony, I'm..." Steve grabbed a rag off the workbench and began ineffectually patting at Tony even as DUM-E whirled over and doused them both in flame retardant. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to... You always seemed to know when I was down here before."
"Yeah, well, I'm not exactly that guy anymore, am I?" Tony kicked at DUM-E until it rolled away, arm hanging contritely as it made pitiful noises. And then COFF-E topped up his mug, obviously ignorant of the fact that flame retardant and coffee didn't mix. "Although it looks like I wasn't any more capable of building a useful bot then than I am now. Or was. Or..."
“You know, I was thinking,”
“Hold that thought.” Tony jumped up pulling his shirt over his head and unbuttoning the top button of his jeans as he limped towards the stairs.
"Tony? Where are you going?"
"Do you want--"
"No." Tony turned on the middle step, his muscles actually twitching with the overwhelming frustration that was riding him. "I don't want a baby sitter. I don't want a friend. I don't want you, Steve. I want out. I want to go somewhere that's..." Tony swiped at his still-damp chest with his ruined shirt, giving himself a moment to collect his emotions. Emotions. Fuck. Who knew?
"You know what? I just need a few hours to myself. No biggie." Flashing a billion-dollar smile, he ignored the way Steve's face fell and turned and hopped the rest of the way up the stairs. Once in his bedroom, he locked the door and called for JARVIS to locate Clint Barton.
Maybe he didn't need a babysitter or want the frustrating guilt that swarmed his subconscious with Steve around, but he'd definitely been lying when he said he didn't want a friend. Or maybe it was more that he needed a friend right now.
Barton was the coolest Avenger. No contest. Quiet, smart and not judgmental. He also had a taste for adventure that was surprisingly lacking in the rest of the team, especially considering they were supposedly spent their downtime saving the world and fighting super-villains. So when Tony downed his third scotch, plunking it heavily on the coffee table and said, “Who’s up for Vegas?” only Barton raised his hand.
Four more cocktails on the private jet (plus a very stimulating lap dance from a curvy brunette stewardess) and Tony was feeling no pain. Barton looked to be enjoying himself too, chatting up a petite red-head. (Carol? Suzanne?) He looked over to Tony, who raised his glass in salute.
“Livin’ large,” Clint said and Tony nodded. Livin’ large indeed.
It continued at the casino as well. Barton was having success with blackjack, his chips piling up by his elbows. (Cathy? Sue-anne?) still at his side. Tony preferred the craps tables. Counting cards was easy but tedious and he preferred relying on actual luck instead of skill.
The better he played, the more women gathered around him, and the more women that appeared, the better the selection to choose from. Eventually a tall woman caught his eye. She had strawberry blonde hair pulled back in a simple knot and she had a sort of freshness, a youthful energy that was sorely lacking in this dry, desert town.
Tony held up the dice, one eyebrow arched in an invitation. When she accepted and blew into his hand, he knew he was in.
Back in his room, with his lips on hers, they frantically pulled at each others’ clothing and Tony pressed her down onto the bed. She tilted her head back and he kissed along the creamy line of her throat, except … Tony paused. This didn’t feel right.
“Here,” he said, rolling them over so that she was the one on top. “If I’m paying the money, you get to do all the work.”
“Fine by me,” she said, “but now we need to decide exactly how hard you want me to work.” She took one finely manicured fingernail and drew it up the underside of Tony’s erect length.
“Hard,” he replied, twitching his cock so it jumped under her hand. “Very, very hard.”
“As you wish.” She lifted herself up and positioned him at her entrance, rubbing the head against the moistness of her slit. She slowly pressed herself down until he was fully sheathed within her.
“Mmm, Mr. Stark. You’re so big.”
Tony wasn’t, not really, and he knew it. He was pretty average, size-wise, well okay, maybe slightly above average (and thicker too?) but he was drunk enough to take the false praise for what it was.
“And you,” he replied, “are so pretty.” And she was, really. Perhaps not the most beautiful woman that Tony had bedded, but top twenty, for sure. He looked up at her slim silhouette in the dim room. With a few errant strands of reddish-blonde hair loosed from her chignon, and her small but firm breasts bouncing as she pressed down to meet his thrusts, she almost looked like …
“Pepper!” he said, reeling with the revelation of something so obvious it was almost comical.
“Excuse me?” she asked, stilling above him.
“Pepper!” he said with a wide smile. “I was just thinking that we should have some sort of safe-word, you know, just in case things get a little out of hand, or something. Or paprika. That would work. I always try to pick a spice.”
“Okay,” she said, not sounding okay at all, “Pepper it is.”
She began to move above him again, her hips grinding down in an almost hypnotic fashion, but all Tony could think about was Pepper. Not only had his injury robbed him of his heroics and his supposed relationship with Steve, but he had actually slept with Pepper. Had loved Pepper, and she had loved him back. Not enough for it to work out between them, of course, but he hadn’t fucked it up so badly that they couldn’t still be friends. She still loved him, and he couldn’t even dredge up one fucking memory of them together.
It was so unfair that one blow to the head could wipe out the two(count ’em, two ) times that anyone had bothered to love Tony Stark. Tony would have bet his entire fortune that he would never find true love once in his life, and yet it had apparently happened twice. To the other Tony. The man who managed to plan his own escape, the rebel who joined a group of Unique Individuals, the hero that had helped close a portal and save a city and had impossibly, found love a second time with a man who could literally have his pick of any person on the planet.
Steve received a thousand times more fan mail than all of the Avengers combined. Women and men both flooded his inbox with proposals of money, sex and marriage and yet, Steve had chosen Tony. Well, the other Tony.
“Tony?” she said, then louder, “Tony!”
Tony opened his eyes. “Huh?”
“You still with me?”
Tony thrust up to meet the press of her hips. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m here. I was just … thinking…”
“Obviously not thinking about what we're doing here.” She lifted herself slightly and Tony’s half-limp dick slipped out of her and flopped against his belly. “Girl troubles?” She re-arranged their limbs so that she was sitting between his legs instead of straddling them.
Tony snorted. “Not really. Just … life troubles.”
She pouted sympathetically then bent her head to lick a stripe up the underside of his cock. “Well,” she said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear and placing a kiss on the wet head of his dick. “I can’t make your troubles go away, but I can make you forget about them for a while.”
Tony was about to explain that forgetting was the problem, but choked on his words as she swallowed him down. “You uh,” he said, gently pushing her away, “you don’t have to. I --”
“Come on,” she grinned from behind his rapidly stiffening member. “It’s my job, remember? I’m good at it.”
“You are,” he agreed, “no doubt about that. It’s just that I …” She wrapped her lips around his length and ran her tongue along his slit. “Guh,” he said, in a lame attempt to persuade her to stop. And really, it would be rude to stop her now, wouldn’t it? Poor girl had to earn a living. Tony would have paid her regardless, but she obviously took pride in her work, and that ethic was sadly missing in majority of the modern work force.
Speaking of ethics, Tony could imagine the disapproving look on Steve’s face if he knew what Tony was up to. Disapproving as well as hurt. Shit, it wasn’t like Tony lost his memory on purpose. The way Steve kept moping around and mooning at Tony, you’d think that Stark Industries made their billions from kicking puppies instead of weapons of mass destruction. Which … well … they didn’t make money from that anymore either, did they? Tony wasn’t exactly sure what S.I. was developing now, but he was pretty sure it wasn`t the latest in puppy-stomping technology. So screw Rogers and his sad, longing looks and screw him for his disapproving stares and his unreasonable expectations. How the fuck was Tony supposed to believe they were so Goddamned happy together when they couldn’t even be in the same room without getting into a fight?
“Jesus, Tony! What the hell?”
Wow. Speaking of disapproving stares, this was one unhappy hooker. Tony threw on his boxers, gave her a handful of cash and sent her on his way. This really hadn’t been what he wanted. He was beginning to suspect that what he did want involved someone with a lot more muscles and a lot less vagina. Damn.
“Why can’t you just accept that you guys love each other and get on with it?”
“Because to me, it’s not a fact. It’s more like a theory, a fairytale, or some crazy urban legend. Just because you’re told something is a fact, doesn’t make it so.”
“So you don’t remember anything at all?”
“I have some memories. Snippets of memories.”
“And all I can remember is that Steve Rogers is a dick.”
Clint scoffed. “Steve Rogers is the exact opposite of a dick.”
“He’s a vagina?”
“Not literally, you jerk. Steve is like the ultimate nice guy.”
“Yeah, except when he’s around me. And here’s something … what would the nicest guy in the world want with a selfish prick like me?”
“You’re not a selfish prick, Tony.”
“Yes I am! Maybe the other Tony wasn’t, but the other Tony didn’t fly off to Vegas and fuck some whore while the alleged love of his life sat in New York pining for him, did he?”
Clint shrugged. “No, probably not.”
“Tell me how it happened. How did we go from being at each other’s throats to … packing each other’s fudge?”
“Classy.” Said Clint, wrinkling his nose. “You didn’t. I mean, go right from one to the other. There was no bolt of lightning moment. No epiphany.”
“No Loki meddling?”
Clint grinned. “No Loki meddling. It was slow. Gradual. You went from hate to dislike to begrudging respect to mild affection to triple XXX gay porn movie, and frankly, I try not to think about it too much because it makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.”
Clint laughed, then got quiet. “Yeah. A little, maybe. Not of you or Steve specifically, just … not everybody gets to experience that, you know? I mean, Thor has Jane, but the rest of us … we’re a bunch of fuck-ups. We’ve all done things that make us unlovable and yet … you guys managed to find it anyway.”
“But I thought you and Natasha --”
“Nah. Well, sort of. Neither of us is well suited to monogamy. Or domesticity. We just sort of have an unspoken agreement.”
“Ah,” said Tony, rubbing his face. “Assassins with benefits.”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“The question still begs,” Tony said after a moment, “Why me? I’m as fucked up as any of you.” At Clint’s eyebrow he added, “Okay, even more so, but why the hell did Cap pick me?”
Clint shrugged. “Who the hell knows? Just because he’s a nice guy doesn’t mean he has good taste. Maybe he’s after your money,” he teased, jostling Tony’s shoulder.
“Or my donkey-dick.”
“I’ve seen your dick and that would be one pathetic donkey.”
They rode in silence for a while, the drone of the plane’s engines filling in the empty spaces.
“For what it’s worth,” Clint said some time later, “I like you, Stark. You’ve got your quirks, you’re kind of an asshole most of the time and you’re a shameless man-whore.”
“Did you really start that diatribe with ‘I like you?’ Or was I hallucinating?”
“Did I mention that you were an impatient fuck? Because you are. I was also going to say that I trust you. I know that you’ve got my back. You’re brave, and as much as you’re a selfish prick on the surface, deep down where it counts, you’re a good man.”
Tony let the words settle, then nodded. “Thanks, Barton. I feel the same. You’re a fuckin’ asshole, but I really kind of like you anyway.”
“Okay. Now let’s stop talking about our feelings before I get my period or something.”
“I’m telling Romanov you said that.”
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
Steve's foot tapped against the stained cement floor of Bruce's workshop, a steady staccato pattern of sound that helped block the thoughts that overwhelmed him in moments of silence. Thoughts that revolved around Tony—always Tony—and how long it had been since he'd been kidnapped, his memories of everything important wiped clean.
Tap. Tap. Tap tap. Taptap. Taptaptaptaptap.
Steve looked up at Bruce, a question on his lips even as his foot sped up. The sound was almost a steady noise now, the pauses between taps barely audible.
"Cap, if you don't stop that incessant tapping, the other guy is going to make a rather dramatic appearance."
Curling his toes in his boots, Steve moved his feet up onto the rungs of the stool on which he was perched and gave Bruce a wan smile. "Sorry."
Bruce smiled back, and if it had the edge of something like pity in it, Steve had seen enough of pity in the last three months to ignore it. "No problem. I guess you want to know the results of the scans, huh? JARVIS?"
"Good afternoon, Captain. Dr. Banner."
Unconsciously shifting into a defensive posture, Steve glanced at the ceiling of the lab and blew out a shaking breath. "What… what did you find out?"
There was a pause, long enough for Bruce and Steve to look at each other uneasily, before JARVIS’ voice flowed through the room again. "This morning’s MRI results almost exactly mirror the ones performed by SHIELD last week. I am sorry, Captain. The doctors cannot determine an initial cause for the memory loss beyond the blow to the head that Master Stark sustained. When the swelling dissipated, the memories should have returned. Because they did not… it is possible that those memories may forever be lost to Master Stark."
Steve gripped the table in front of him hard enough to leave impressions in the stainless steel surface. Two breaths, three, and his heart continued beating in a steady rhythm even as it felt like it was breaking all over again. Avoiding Bruce's gaze, Steve stood, wavering only once as he turned to the door.
"Thank you, JARVIS," he said, and if his voice wasn't quite as steady as normal, he knew Bruce wouldn’t remark upon it.
But Steve just waved a hand at Bruce, cutting off the words of sympathy before they could litter the air. "He's here," Steve said, not turning around. He had no idea what he looked like, but he was sure Bruce didn't need to see whatever expression he could feel twisting his features. "He's alive. I have to be thankful for that and just… find a way."
A hand on his shoulder nearly brought Steve to his knees, but he patted it with a shaking hand instead.
"He fell in love with you before," Bruce reminded him, his normally soft voice rendered nearly inaudible. "He'll do so again."
Tony looked up from the schematics hovering in the air before him, the feeling that he was being watched overpowering. The shadows in his workshop moved, shifted, grew longer and suddenly Natasha was standing there, one corner of her mouth twitched up in an expression that might have been a smile—or a signal of his impending death. Wiping his hands on a dirty rag to remove the worst of the oil from them, Tony cocked one hip against the workbench and raised his eyebrows.
"Watching me, Widow?"
"I watch everyone, Stark. I thought you knew that." Her head was tilted to the side, blood red curls spilling across her cheek.
Some part of Tony had known, since the first time he remembered seeing her that she was too dangerous. This was not a woman one offered to share a bed with, even in a no-strings attached situation. She'd take the lack of strings and hang him with them.
"Can I help you with something? Need new ammo?" He didn't bother asking how she'd got into his workshop; apparently his previous self had given out codes like numbers would cease to exist if he didn't.
"I always need new ammo." Natasha smiled and there was something terribly old about it. Sometimes he wondered if she wasn't the one they'd found buried in the ice for seventy years; where Cap seemed too fresh and innocent to be believed, she was old as time itself. "But my purpose in coming here was to remind you about our weekly sparring appointment. You've missed it since the kidnapping; I don't like to be kept waiting."
"I didn't know—"
"You have a calendar," she said, cutting him off with a wicked glint of teeth—and this time he was sure it was anything other than a smile. "One o'clock on Wednesday afternoons. You have forty-five minutes, Stark. If you're late, we'll be sparring for real, not for exercise."
“But, my foot! It’s not healed yet.”
Natasha’s smile faded and she narrowed her eyes. “Fine. I promise to not stab you in the foot. Probably.”
Tony opened his mouth to reply only to realize she was… gone. And that wasn't freaky as fuck, of course not. Grimacing, he waved his hand through the schematics, making them disappear. A look at his clothing let him know these would not stand up to a sparring match with Pepper, let alone Natasha. And his forty-five minutes were down by two.
Natasha watched as Tony limped into the gym, taking in everything about the way he moved. He was still too stiff, moving like a person whose skin didn't fit right. She smiled to herself when he looked into the shadows, obviously trying to see where she was hiding.
"Looking for something?" she asked, tugging up the top two ropes of their boxing ring for him. His muscles twitched, giving away his surprise, and she let herself laugh. "It's not hiding if it's plain sight, Stark."
Tony climbed into the ring, warily stepping around her. His eyes followed Natasha as she backed away to her corner. Stretching his arms and neck, Tony bounced on the ball of his one good foot. "So what do we usually—"
Natasha leapt, feet kicking out and taking him directly in the chest, a few centimetres above his arc reactor. Tony flew backward, into and nearly over the ropes before he caught himself, tangling his arms in them to keep himself on the right side of the ring.
"So it's going to be like that?" he asked, and for the first time since Cap had brought him home from California, Natasha saw a real smile start forming behind his eyes.
Some part of her that had been holding its breath relaxed, and Natasha quirked an eyebrow. "Maybe you're content with being out of shape, but I don't like to fight beside old men who might get winded after a few rounds."
Tony narrowed his eyes at the insult, but it was the feral smile he shot her that let her know the metaphorical gloves were really off. Their sparring match, while not as exhausting as it would have been in months past, was satisfactory. Especially when it put her in the position to attempt something she'd wanted to do since finding out Tony had lost his memories.
A right cross glanced off the side of his cheek as he danced back and, paying attention to his pupils, she darted in again, this time with an upper cut to the chin. Unable to block that one fast enough, Tony took it full on, his head snapping backward with a grunt of pain as he stumbled back, hands held up in a time-out sign. Natasha gave him five seconds to regroup before darting in again.
She kept aiming for his head, to the point that he was actually able to block every other punch or so. Flashing out with a foot to the knee, she waited for him to glance down and then leapt in the air, letting gravity lend its power to her own. One sharp elbow jab to the top right side of his head above the temple took Tony down, and she watched as he rolled on the mat, hands clutching his skull. Natasha dropped to her knees beside him, pulling at his eyelids and watching his pupils. "You all right?"
A pained groan was his only response to that, so she tilted her head, leaned in close and said, "Hey Stark, wanna get some schwarma after?"
Tony blinked slowly, one pupil slightly larger than the other, and slurred, "Yeah, think there's a place down the street. Never had it, but--" His words trailed off as his eyes rolled back in his head.
Natasha sighed before activating the comm link hidden in her bracelet. "Widow to Cap. I think Stark needs—"
"I'm fine," Tony groaned, surprising her. She'd honestly thought him unconscious, but here he was, proving her wrong and interrupting her. Typical. "Don't need help. Just. Give me a minute."
His objections were too late though because Cap was already there, kneeling on Tony's other side, and Natasha spared a minute to wonder how many doors he'd ripped off their hinges on his way to the sparring room.
"Natasha, report," Cap said, a small tremor in his voice as his fingers gently ran over Tony's skull. Not that Tony was sitting still for Cap's worried exam.
"God, stop. I'm fine. I'll be fine. Let me go!"
Natasha waited for Tony to stop slapping at Cap's hands before she looked up and shrugged. "We were sparring. He didn't move fast enough."
"And you hit him in his head? When he's still recovering from a concussion? What were you thinking?"
Betraying not a flicker of emotion, Natasha said, "It worked on Clint once."
Tony’s fingers cramped and the latest version of the Iron Man gauntlet that he’d been working on tumbled loudly to the ground. To say that Tony’s head hurt would be like saying that Loki was fond of pranks and Bruce had slight anger management issues. Pin-pricks sharp as jagged glass danced across his vision and he gripped the sides of the work table, willing the bile in the back of his throat to abate.
He had felt the stirrings of migraine earlier and had only now decided to come to the kitchen in hopes of a quick blood sugar boost, but too many days of not sleeping and eating (and staring at a computer and drinking too much coffee and grinding his teeth and downing two-thirds of a bottle of Jack) were not to be undone by a single glass of juice. And now, standing at the counter with the stainless steel sink in a death grip, he couldn’t recall if he’d ever actually made it to the fridge or not, let alone consumed anything.
His stomach clenched and he heaved into the sink. Nothing. Okay, no juice then. It would be too late now, anyway. Only pain killers and a dark quiet room would help him now. Tony shuffled to the cabinet and fumbled, eyes closed, for the handle. He risked a peek to make sure he grabbed the right painkillers, and slowly made his way back to the sink, pawing at the cap. His normally dexterous fingers were shaky and tense and when he finally managed to twist off the lid, the tiny white caplets spilled from the bottle, skipping and bouncing across the counter.
“Damn it,” he whispered, steeling himself to open his eyes and locate at least two (or three or five) of the pills.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Damn it,” he whispered again. It was bad enough to feel like a bag of trampled shit. It was entirely another to have Captain Perfect see him like this and then get all judgmental and holier than thou about it. Tony didn’t like to show his soft underbelly to anyone, let alone sanctimonious assholes who thought they were better than everyone else. (Even if they were better than everyone else.)
“I’m fine,” he gritted out, cracking one bloodshot eye to find some pills. “It’s just a headache.” And before Steve could ask, he quickly added, “And no, I’m not hung-over.”
Steve said nothing, just scooped two pills up from the counter and handed them over. Tony popped them in his mouth and dry swallowed. Now he just needed Captain Perky to go the fuck away, so Tony could slink back to his room to curl up and hopefully die. Instead, Steve remained and even through his closed eyes Tony could feel his scrutiny.
“No thanks,” Tony quipped, “already got one.”
Steve placed one big hand on the back of Tony’s head (What the hell?) and then cupped Tony’s forehead with the other. Normally, they made a point of staying out of each other’s space, but this wasn’t normally. The waves of pain were so intense that Tony barely registered Steve’s hands on his head until he began to apply pressure.
“Dude! What the … oh!”
The relief was so unexpected and immediate that Tony shamelessly let himself slump against Steve, moaning softly.
He was still leaning against Steve when he awoke some hours later. It was still dark, so he surmised that not too much time had passed. The mansion was quiet, save the steady thumping of Steve’s heart against Tony’s cheek. He shifted slightly and realized that Steve’s hands were still wrapped around his head, pressing in.
“Hey,” said Steve, his relief apparent in his voice, “You’re back.”
Tony sighed and itched his nose against the soft cotton of Steve’s shirt. The hands released their grip on his head, and Steve made a clumsy move to smooth down what must have been colossal bed-head. Tony rubbed his nose again on Steve’s chest.
“Yeah, I uh … wow. That head pressure thing really worked.”
“It’s just counter-pressure,” he replied with a shrug. “I used to get really bad headaches, you know … before. When I was a kid, my …” He paused, brow creasing. “yeah, counter pressure worked on me too.”
Perfect Steve obviously didn’t like to talk about Imperfect Steve. Big surprise. So Tony, master of the segue, yawned and changed the subject.
“Man, I don’t think I’ve slept that well for years. What time is it, anyway?”
“Really? I only slept for three hours?”
Steve snorted and rolled his eyes. “0500 on Wednesday the twenty-third. You slept for three days.
“No. Fucking. Way.”
Steve nodded sagely.
“And you? You stayed here the whole time?”
“Mostly,” Steve replied. “I mean, I got up to pee and grab a sandwich here and there, but yeah, I stayed to do the,” he wiggled his fingers to convey the head-squish.
“And what about me? Did you just put a diaper on me and an I.V. drip?”
Steve actually blushed at this one. “No. You got up a couple of times, but were kinda dozey and stumbly, so I helped you to the bathroom, got you water a couple of times. I think you were still pretty much asleep.”
“You helped me pee, huh?” Tony asked, one eyebrow raised. “Did you help yourself to ‘Little Tony’ too?”
“Just two shakes to dry him off. Scout’s honour.”
“Really,” said Tony, not sounding convinced at all, “you had Tony Stark, renowned playboy and sex god in your bed for three days, and you didn’t even proposition me?”
“I tried on the first night,” grinned Steve, sliding out from under Tony and sitting on the edge of the bed. But you turned me down.”
“Let me guess,” said Tony, flopping back into the warm space left by Steve. “I had a headache?”
They both sat in silence for a moment, and it was oddly … comfortable. Sleeping together for three days seemed to have dulled some of the animosity between them.
“I’m hungry,” Steve said. “You want a sandwich?”
“More than anything,” grinned Tony. “Two please.”
Steve stood at the door to Tony's workshop, one hand raised to the keypad to enter his override code. He stared at the numbers until they blurred in front of his eyes, but he still couldn't bring himself to enter the 16-digit code. A long breath filled his lungs and steadied his resolve, and Steve found his fingers moving over the keypad by rote.
When the lock clicked, something like relief flooded his system and gave him the boost necessary to open the door. The music muted automatically—Tony had programmed Jarvis for that months before the kidnapping—and Steve looked around the workshop for any sign of Tony's presence.
Tony was off in the corner, tinkering with the suit, and the familiarity of the sight sent a jolt of painful longing through Steve. But he pushed that down and stepped forward, allowing the door to shut behind him. "Hey."
Half-turning, Tony flicked a screwdriver vaguely upward. "Hey, Cap."
"Tony, can we... uh." Steve nervously scratched his fingers over the back of his neck. "Can we talk?"
Tossing the screwdriver onto a nearby worktable with a muted clang, Tony turned to him and said, "What about?"
"A few things. Iron Man. The team." Steve watched Tony's face closely, waiting for the closed-off expression to come crashing down. Instead there was just a cautious sort of openness.
"Should I be sitting down for this? Oh wait, I already am."
"No. Yes. I... are you comfortable?"
Tony rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Cap, are you always this nervous around people? For fuck's sake, sit down before you fall down. COFF-E! We need coffee."
Steve opened his mouth to correct that order to water, then closed it again. If Tony wanted to drink coffee with him, he certainly wasn't going to say anything to stop him.
After they each had a somewhat reasonable facsimile of coffee in front of them--it was black and hot and liquid, but Steve had firsthand experience with Tony's bots and wasn't entirely eager to be the first person to take a sip--Steve got straight to the point. "I need to know how you feel about continuing to work with the Avengers Initiative."
"If I say no?" Tony asked, pursing his lips to blow a stream of cooling air across the surface of his coffee.
Steve's hand clenched into a fist under the table, but he forced his expression to stay neutral. "Then you say no and we fight without you."
Tony took a deep drink of his coffee and set the mug down between them. "And if I say yes?"
"I'm not going to lie to you. It's going to take time and training before you get back out in the field again. If nothing else, you need a chance to reacquaint yourself with the suit, with sparring in it, with going into actual battle with the team. It's not all you out there, just like it's not all me. We have to be able to work as a cohesive unit, or we're no good to anyone. And it took us--all of us--a long time to get to where we are now."
"And I'm back at square one." A spot on the table drew Tony's attention and he started picking at it with his fingernail. "Do you need an answer now?"
Steve studied Tony for a long moment, wishing he knew the man in front of him as well as he'd known him a few weeks ago. "No. I can give you time to think it over. In fact, I'd rather you did think it over because--"
"Yes, of course I'll stay on your stupid team."
Steve bit off a sigh even as the corners of his lips twitched upward. "Some things never change. You just have to be a contrary shit, don't you?"
"All part of my charm." Tony's fingers began tapping a rhythm on the table top and his eyes darted to the suit. "That all?"
"Ah, no. I... well, I wanted to apologize to you. For the way everyone's..." Steve tilted his hand back and forth as he tried to figure out how to end that sentence. "They're all expecting you to just jump back into your old life like nothing happened. I, uh, talked to them about it, so you shouldn't--"
"You wrote down an agenda for this little tete-a-tete, didn't you?" Tony asked, and once more Steve felt the weight of Tony's attention levelled on him. "Item one, Iron Man. Item two, apologize for the team. What was item three?"
"Really, I thought the first order of business would have taken care of both me and Iron Man. Or do you think of us as separate people?"
As soon as Tony stopped talking, Steve reached across the table and pinched his lips shut. It was a tactic he'd had to employ more times than he could remember during the course of their relationship. "Now, if you'll shut up for a minute, I want to tell you that I you can take all the time that you need. We all want you on the team, but only at a pace that you’re comfortable with.”
Tony raised an eyebrow, prompting Steve to relax his fingers. "No pressure?"
The spot Tony had been picking at really was fascinating, Steve thought with a touch of self-mockery. "I know I was the worst of us about that, but... I've had a chance to think in the last few weeks. I don't regret anything I said, because I meant it, I still do mean it, but at the time, I didn't understand. I didn't think about what it would mean, for you. Now that I have..." He shrugged. "I can't compare my situation to yours, but Tony, I understand what it's like to wake up and realize that you've lost years. That people have died without you knowing. That relationships grew and fell apart and... I can only imagine how much worse it is for you, because you have all these people expecting you to remember, but you can't remember any of it."
Something skipped inside Tony's chest, a missed breath, or a heartbeat that fell funny, but a sudden jolt of panic hit him at Steve's words. "So, what? You understand, and that's it? You're done trying to convince me?"
Steve smiled, and it wasn't the friendly smile Tony had grown used to seeing on him in public. It was darker, more intimate. "Not a chance. I'm not going to pressure you about your memories, but that doesn't mean that I'm giving up. I'm pretty much constitutionally incapable of giving up. But it occurs to me that I've been given a rare opportunity."
Tony crossed his arms over his chest, uncaring that the gesture screamed of defensiveness. "Oh?"
"I know all the pitfalls of our early relationship. The things we fought over, the times we pushed each other right to the edge. Without those, without the way we flat-out hated each other when we first met--" Steve spread his hands. "I can seduce you without the baggage. I've already worked through it!"
Tony stared at Steve for a long moment before he grabbed his coffee and stood up. "Yeah, okay, good luck with that."
When the door opened again, many many hours later, it was Thor, not Steve who shuffled guiltily into his workshop. He took a seat and said nothing until Tony paused from his calculations and turned to him.
“Friend Tony,” he said when it was clear that he had Tony’s attention, “I have come to bid my farewell. It would seem that my father has awakened from his Odin-sleep and requires my counsel. I shall be gone a fortnight and possibly longer.”
“Oookay.” Said Tony, sipping his horrifically cold coffee, “Do you usually stop in for a goodbye kiss? Shouldn’t you be telling Steve or Fury instead of me?”
Thor laughed, a merry, musical sound. “I have already spoken with the Captain, and I daresay that I shall save my kisses for my Lady Jane. When I share affection, I prefer to be the only one with a beard.”
“Fair enough. So, what’s up?”
“I wanted to let you know that you will be in my thoughts. Your heavy heart weighs on all of us, my friend. I don’t believe that Asgard will hold any cures, but I shall ask my father if he has any advice for your malady.”
“Does your dad have experience with memory problems?”
“Well,” said Thor, with a shrug, “he has not suffered a loss such as yours, but he spends much time with Huginn and Muninn.”
Tony dug around in his mind for the piddly high school lessons on mythology. “Yeah, they’re crows, right?”
“Ravens. Huginn is thought and Muninn is memory, or mind.
Huginn and Muninn
fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Huginn that he come not back,
yet more anxious I am for Muninn.”
Tony raised an eyebrow and Thor smiled in return.
“Tis a poem, from the 13th century.”
“What does it mean?”
Thor shrugged his massive shoulders. “I haven’t a clue. The author was a mortal.”
“Great,” said Tony, clearly not meaning it, “so if you find any other useless poetic tidbits, be sure to bring them back for me. The sooner we get to the truth of this, the better.”
“Ah, but friend Tony, that is my point. Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to truth, but not its twin.”
“Okay, who wrote that one?”
“I saw it on the internet,” he said, grinning again. “My point being, that just because you don’t remember in there,” he said, tapping Tony’s head, “does not mean that you don’t remember in here.” He placed a hand over Tony’s chest and gently patted. “Let your heart lead you where you need to go.”
“And always let your conscience be your guide,” Tony said dully, mind still working over Thor’s words.
“I like that! Do tell what great philosopher coined that phrase!”
“A little tiny bug,” said Tony, placing his hand over the spot where Thor’s had been. “A brilliant little cricket.”
The specs were almost done on the … Aw shit, what had he been working on? Tony scrubbed his hands over his face and blinked his bloodshot eyes in an attempt to focus. He really had been almost finished, but his train of thought had long derailed. Two nights ago, unable to sleep, he’d gone down to the workshop and hadn’t even looked up from the workbench until now. Tony stumbled over to the informal bar (aka his secret stash) and poured himself a few fingers of sleepy-time juice. He put one steadying hand on the counter and tipped the glass back, draining it. A fifteen hour nap sounded like the best idea his clever mind had ever come up with.
“Dim the lights, J. I’m done here.”
“Very well, sir. I hope you have a good rest.”
Tony climbed the stairs with weary heart and legs, keyed open the door to his room, toed off his sneakers and fell into bed. If it was a few degrees warmer than usual, he was too far gone to notice.
Steve was awake before Tony even finished keying in the code. He was about to ask if something was wrong when he recognized the patented Stark Zombie Shuffle. Tony had collapsed on the far side of the bed and had begun to snore before Steve had time to process what was happening.
Tony was in his bed. Tony was in his bed!
Steve tried to quell the wave of gratitude and hope that swelled in his chest. He’d been hoping for this moment for almost three months. Well, not this moment exactly. He didn’t need Tony in his bed, (although sex with Tony Stark was something to behold) but he’d been waiting and praying for something. Some small sign or gesture of affection. Familiarity. If Tony regained even a fraction of what they’d shared together, Steve knew he had a chance. He realized that Tony hadn’t intended to come to him tonight, it wasn’t as though he’d gotten lost in his own home, but he’d ended up here out of habit. Some small corner of his brain had known had remembered that he’d spent almost every night in this room for the past year.
For the first time since that horrible night in New Mexico, Steve gave himself the luxury of hope. He leaned up on one elbow and looked at Tony’s profile in the dim light. He had to clench his hands to stop them from smoothing down Tony’s crazy hair. From running his fingers through the overgrown stubble down Tony’s chin and neck. Steve could feel it in his mind’s eye, how it would rub against his cheek. The delicious scratch of it as Tony nuzzled his neck and lower.
“Thank you,” he whispered to the sleeping figure. “Thank you for coming.” He lay back down on his pillow and smiled, the soft sound of Tony’s breathing a balm on his soul.
When Tony gained consciousness two things became very clear. One, he was fucked. Two, he was very seriously fucked. He did a quick assessment of his surroundings, eyes sweeping across the gloomy surroundings. He was in a … warehouse? Bunker? There weren’t any windows, so it was impossible to tell if he was at the top of a skyscraper or the bottom of an abandoned bomb shelter.
Two faded bulbs hung from bare sockets, one of them flickering on and off, turning the mostly empty room into a macabre strobe-lit dance floor. Tony listened for any indication to as where he was. Water, traffic, barking dogs, anything. But there were no clues to be had. Just wind. The low, deep howl of constant wind.
The only other thing of note that Tony could see in the room was an old pot bellied stove, embers glowing red in the darkened room. He had a sneaking suspicion that the fire had not been lit to offset the cool spring evening.
Aside from an empty chair and the bindings that held him, there was nothing else to see. As for the manacles and chains, they appeared to be new and set up for this purpose only. In fact, there was still cement dust left from where holes had been drilled to screw in the anchors. They had taken his shoes, belt, jacket and tie and Tony shuffled his bare toes along the dirty floor, hoping for a nail or screw or anything> sharp. Nothing.
He tested the integrity of where the chains attached to the wall but only succeeded in bruising his wrists. He really needed to look into Bruce’s gamma ray technology. Hulking out would come in mighty handy right now. He turned to face the wall and tried pulling at the chain anchors again. Perhaps, if he could wedge his leg in there for leverage, he might be able to --
Tony froze in mid-wedge and slowly turned to face his captor. He wasn’t sure who’d he’d been expecting, but it was certainly not this short, round, baby faced young man. He looked more suited to be a cartoon sponge’s side kick than someone at the cutting edge of hi-tech espionage, but Tony had learned from his years with the Avengers that looks could most definitely be deceiving.
“Well,” Tony said, with his most disarming grin, “you know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“My name is not important, Mr. Stark, although I’m sure you’ll hear of me soon enough.” He looked Tony up and down before continuing. “You’re a very bright man,”
“If you like. I am also very smart. Not a mastermind, of course, but clever enough to bring you here and have the upper hand.”
“Well, you’re certainly Master of the Obvious.”
The man paused, but did not take the bait. “Mr. Stark, we both need something from the other. You require your freedom from me, and I require some information from you.”
“I’m guessing that information has nothing to do with my Grandmother’s lemon meringue recipe?”
The man took a pair of leather gloves from his pocket and proceeded to put them on. He shrugged as he wiggled his fingers and gave Tony a toothy smile. His complete nonchalance was starting to give Tony the creeps. “You can throw that in too, if you like, but what I’m looking for is numbers. Codes.”
“Like cheat codes? For video games? Because Clint would really be the guy to ask for --”
The man took an iron from the fire and rolled it between his gloved fingers. “Access codes, Mr. Stark. I need to get into the SHIELD data base.”
Tony wrinkled his nose. “SHIELD? Why would you want to hack into there? Why not Wall Street? Or hey, iTunes! I could help you download a shit-ton of rockin’ songs for free.” The man’s expression did not change, but the glowing iron stilled in his hand. “Or movies! We could hack into Netflix and save you the eight bucks per month.”
“Gentlemen!” the Baby Faced Man barked, and seemingly out of nowhere, two henchmen appeared. “Hold him still.”
Tony wasn’t sure how much more still he could get. The manacles were doing a splendid job of keeping him in place, but Henchman 1 grasped one of Tony’s legs and lifted, while Henchman 2 used his weight to pin Tony against the wall.
“I have a … friend,” he continued, as if he hadn’t just ordered these goons to man-handle Tony, “that I need to get in touch with. Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of him, but SHIELD has been monitoring his whereabouts and now I need that information.”
“Have you tried Facebook?” Tony gritted out, trying to pull back his proffered leg.
“I have,” said the man, sizing up the smooth pink bottom of Tony’s foot, “but no matter how many times I poke him, he never pokes me back. Have you ever smelled burning flesh, Mr. Stark? Rather unpleasantly pungent, don’t you think?”
Tony had smelled it. On occasion in his lab, when things got out of hand and DUM-E was too slow with the extinguisher, but more notably during his stint in Afghanistan. The smell of the men on the wrong side of his flamethrower was an odour he would not soon forget. Unpleasantly pungent was a very generous and flattering term.
The man flicked the poker towards him and Tony flinched back as he felt the heat against the tender skin of the bottom of his foot.
“Hey now!” said Tony, the ugly reality of the situation becoming clear to him. “No need to go all Kathy Bates on me here.” A thin line of sweat trickled down from his hairline and he blinked it out of his eyes.
“The codes, Mr. Stark.”
“Aw, come on. You know I can’t do that. They made me pinky swear and everything!”
The goon holding Tony’s leg turned and cracked Tony in the face with his elbow. There was a sickening crunch as he made contact with Tony’s nose and Tony’s head slammed back against the cinderblock wall.
“You think you’re pretty smart?” asked the goon, clearly offended on his master’s behalf.
“Genius,” snuffled Tony, licking the blood from his lips.
“You seem to enjoy this, Mr. Stark,” said Baby Face, placing the iron back in the fire. Tony eyed the man’s empty hands with great relief and smiled around his rapidly swelling lip.
“I could do this all day.”
“Perhaps you need some time to loosen up before you feel like sharing your information with us.” He turned to leave and Tony tried to not sag in relief. A beating by a couple of dim-witted underlings he could handle. Not to mention, the longer he could draw this out before things got really ugly, the better the chance that Steve and the team would get here to save his damsel-in-distress-sorry-ass.
A good, solid half-hour of face and body pounding later, Steve et al were still nowhere to be found and Tony was beginning to doubt that they’d recognize his newly re-arranged face if they did arrive.
The goons backed off for a moment and Tony hung limply from the chains, the strength long gone from his legs.
“Give up?” he asked, although it probably sounded more like ggrribiip?
“Feeling any more accommodating, Mr. Stark?”
With great effort, Tony raised his head and levelled his gaze with Baby Face.
“Suck my dick.” He wasn’t sure about his elocution on that one, but judging from the look on Baby’s face, the message got through loud and clear.
“Hold him and don’t> let him move.”
Baby Face grabbed a fresh iron from the fire and approached. Goon One pressed his full weight against Tony and Goon Two hoisted Tony’s leg, pressing it up to his chest, foot extended.
Come on, Steve, he mentally urged, any time now would be great. You’ve waited just long enough to make a proper dramatic entrance.>
Goon One’s grip tightened and Tony tensed, squeezing his eyes shut. He could feel the heat of the iron near his foot and he clenched his teeth, preparing for the pain.
Steve, he thought, panic filling his chest, Steve …
And then there was only agony.
Tony’s scream sounded as though it had been wrenched from the matrix of his very soul. Raw and gritty, sliced through with a sharp blade of panic. When it roused Steve from the depths of some mundane dream of motorcycles and dappled shade, it grabbed him and jerked him to full wakefulness, eyes straining in the darkened room for the source of such misery.
Tony shrieked again, shrill and throaty. Head thrown back, his body stiffened into an arch, he took in a laboured breath and cried out again. Steve reached for him and Tony flailed, pushing him away. The momentum tipped Tony back and Steve dove after him as he tumbled off the edge of the bed to the floor below.
“Hey!” he cried, grabbing Tony’ thrashing head and stilling it between his hands, “Tony … it’s okay. You’re okay.”
Tony’s eyes snapped open, pupils blown. They darted across Steve’s face to the darkened room beyond.
“St -- Steve?” he cried in a voice so broken that it hurt Steve’s ears.
“I’m here,” he said, doing his best to give a reassuring smile, “you just --”
The door to the bedroom flew open with a bang, and Steve instinctively threw himself across Tony, one arm flung up to ward off an attack. In the doorway, Clint and Natasha lowered their weapons, eyes wide with shock.
“Sorry,” said Clint, looking over the two dishevelled men tangled on the floor. “It sounded a lot more … nefarious than just …”
“Sex,” finished Natasha, trying not to grin.
“It’s nothing of the sort!” cried Steve, practically leaping off of Tony, but Tony clutched at him.
“No,” he said, breathless and still hoarse.
Steve acquiesced and dismissed Clint and Natasha with a wave. “Thanks,” he called after them, “for such a quick response.” Clint gave a small salute as they backed away and shut the door. Steve looked back to Tony, whose eyes were squeezed shut, his fingers trembling and still twisted in Steve’s shirt. “You okay?”
“Great,” Tony coughed out, in a half-sob, half-laugh. He ran a shaky hand over his tear streaked face and sobbed again. “Remembering is fun. I can’t imagine why I’ve put it off for so long.”
“Here,” said Steve, getting to his feet and offering a hand to Tony. He climbed onto the bed, settled his back against the headboard and pulled Tony up against him. “Is … this okay?”
Tony leaned his head into the crook of Steve’s neck and nodded. “Yeah. It’s really okay.” Steve slid an arm up and rubbed firm circles across Tony’s back.
“You wanna talk about it?”
Tony placed the heel of one shaky hand against the arc reactor, blocking its light and resolutely shook his head. He grunted, pressed harder against his chest and took a deep breath. “I told him.”
“Told who?” he asked cautiously, still rubbing Tony’s shoulder blades.
“The guy. The man who did this.” He made a sweeping gesture to indicate his mind, his body, his injuries. “He wanted information. Codes. And I … I held off as long as I could ...but I …”
“Oh Tony,” he said, tightening the circle of his arms. “Of course you did. We have fail-safes in place for exactly this sort of situation. Within twenty minutes of your being taken, all codes and passwords were wiped and re-set. You didn’t tell them anything that would have helped them.”
“That’s not the point, Steve. I told them. I broke. I … failed.”
“You didn’t. You’re human. We all have our limits, Tony. Even me.”
“Not a chance.”
“Those same fail-safes apply to every single team member, myself included. You need to cut yourself some slack. You did great. You survived, and that’s a darn sight more than many men would have done.”
Tony shook his head and gasped, hand still pressed to his reactor.
“Tony?” asked Steve, posture stiff. Tony waved him off, but still didn’t speak. “Tony, what’s happening? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he finally managed, giving a comforting pat to Steve’s ample chest. “It’s just … my heart. It’s really racing and doesn’t seem to want to slow down.”
Steve placed two fingers against Tony’s throat, head raised as he counted the beats.
“That is fast.”
“Yes. Did I mention the part about me skipping down Torture Memory Lane?”
Steve frowned. “Should we … do you want a doctor?”
Tony barked out another half-laugh and wiped his eyes on the back of his arm. “I’ve had more than enough of doctors lately, thank you very much. Unless it stops beating completely, I’ll be just fine.” He grimaced again, clearly not fine at all and Steve made a decision. He gently pushed Tony away from himself, grabbed the hem of his shirt and peeled it off.
Tony blinked, wide eyed and somewhat dumbfounded at Steve’s now bare chest. He reached out and gently stroked one firm pec. “This is supposed to slow my heart rate?”
Steve patted his lap. “Come here. Put your heart against mine.”
Tony’s brow creased, but did as he was told, straddling Steve’s legs and pressing his chest against Steve’s. “Take off your shirt. The more contact, the better.”
“That’s what she said.” Tony raised his arms and Steve pulled Tony’s shirt over his head. He placed the flat of his hand on the center of Tony’s back, pressing the arc reactor flush against his chest. “Sinoatrial node transference?”
“Yup. Hopefully my heart will slow yours.”
“Or mine will speed yours up.” Tony sighed and settled in, his head on Steve’s shoulder, his breath warm on Steve’s neck. “Have we … done this before?”
Steve smiled wistfully and nodded. “Yeah, but not for a long time.”
“S’nice,” said Tony, his body molding itself to fit perfectly against Steve’s.
Steve nodded again, not trusting his voice. His hand slid up to gently twist through the longer wisps of hair on Tony’s neck and Tony sighed, sinking even further against Steve.
“Tell me about our first time.”
Steve paused. “You mean, the heart thing? Or the first time we … uh … got together?” He could feel Tony’s smile against his neck.
“Okay. The heart thing, which was totally your idea, by the way. I had never even heard of Sinal .. Atrial whatever, but we were on a mission up in the Adirondacks and your suit got fried. Some sort of major electrical interference and the whole thing, uh, system went down. Same with your …” He tapped the part of Tony’s chest that wasn’t flush against his own.
“And, well, it worked, I guess. We were cold and scared, well, I was scared. You were your usual snarky self and your heart rate was all over the place and you were …” Steve paused, lost in the terrible moment.
“I was …?”
“Grey,” whispered Steve, thinking not of that mission, but of another. Of Tony, no less hurt and broken, looking up at him as a stranger.
“But I lived.”
“Yeah,” said Steve, grip tightening on Tony’s neck. “You did.”
“And what about the kiss?” Tony peered up at Steve, mouth curved into an almost-smile.
“Are you flirting with me?”
Tony laughed and rubbed his nose along the ridge of Steve’s collarbone. “I’m sitting in your lap, practically naked. I think we’re well past flirtation at this point.”
“Tony!” said Steve. “This is a very serious medical procedure.”
“Yes, for science. I get it. Now what about the kiss?”
“About a week later,” said Steve, “I cornered you in your workshop, pressed you up against the wall and had my way with you.”
“Yeah, right,” chuckled Tony. “You kissed me.”
Steve leaned back to see Tony’s face. “What? I did!”
“You,” reiterated Tony, “kissed me. You were the pursuer and I was the …”
“Huh. That is not how I saw that going down at all.”
“What? Did you imagine yourself slaying some sort of dragon and rescuing me from a tower?”
“Well, yeah,” laughed Tony. “Sort of.”
“Contrary to what you may believe, Tony, you didn’t invent sex. All the way back in the forties, we had prostitutes and dirty magazines and even really nice dames that put out before they were married! Granted, none of those dames ever put out with me, but it wasn’t like we were all walking around in a G rated Disney reel every day.”
“I may not have invented it,” said Tony, pausing for effect, “but I did perfect it.”
Steve was about to reply when Tony kissed him. Hard. He pulled back in surprise but was stopped short by the headboard. He twisted his mouth away from Tony’s insistent and Oh God talented lips. “Are you … Tony, we don’t --”
“Shut up,” he said, licking his way back into Steve’s mouth, “This is the longest we’ve gone without fighting. Don’t wreck it now.”
Steve was about to protest again. To take the time to make sure that this was what Tony really wanted, when Tony rolled his hips against Steve, and his intent became painfully clear. “Oh, okay,” was all he could manage, before rolling them both over, his weight pinning Tony to the bed, his hands roaming over every inch of the man that he’d not been able to so much as converse with in the past few weeks.
Just as things began to really heat up, the Avengers alarm sounded.
“Urg,” Tony groaned, “Fury, you malicious one-eyed cock-blocker!”
Steve laughed into Tony’s neck. “Yeah, that was … spectacularly bad timing.”
Tony took Steve’s hand and pressed it against the bulge in his pants. “I’m close,” he whispered, “we can be a minute late for … giant space bugs, or Jello-monsters or whatever else is rampaging through the city.”
“You’re always close,” said Steve, reaching across Tony for his shirt. “Tell you what, get some rest and I’ll be back as soon as I can. Duty calls.” He leaned in to kiss Tony but was shoved away.
“Get some rest? You’re kidding, right? You’re not leaving me behind. With Bruce out of town and Thor out of … world … how are you going to save the day with just Natasha and Clint?”
Steve’s expression hardened. “We’ll make do.”
“Why just ‘make do’ when you have a perfectly viable and present team member that is right here and willing to suit up?”
“You’re not perfectly viable, Tony! You’re only twelve weeks out of a life threatening head injury.”
“Yeah, twelve weeks!”
“For God’s sakes, Tony, there’s still swelling in there. If you get another good knock to the head you could …” His expression darkened further and he roughly pulled his shirt on.
“I could what? Die? I know that, Steve. I also know I could die slipping in the bathtub. I’m not going to sit at home on my thumbs while you guys are out there risking your lives.”
“No,” said Steve, in a tone that more than implied that the discussion was over. “You haven’t been brought up to speed on your training.”
“I’ve been sparring with Natasha.”
“You need time to reacquaint yourself with the suit.”
“Aw hell, JARVIS basically runs that bucket of bolts by himself anyway.”
“No, Tony. You need time to heal.”
“There is no time. Look Steve, I get all the things that you’re saying, but I’m a big boy, and it’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Well, it’s a risk that I’m not willing to take. It’s not all about you, Tony! Everything you do affects the rest of the team. Every risk you take is a risk against the rest of us. Every time you almost die --” His hands gripped Tony’s shoulders hard enough to make the other man wince, but he couldn’t bring himself to loosen them. “Damn it. I just got you back, Tony. I can’t lose you again. Not yet.”
“Then this is about you. Not me. I’m going, Cap.”
“You’re not,” he said, rising to his full height. “That’s an order.” He pushed Tony aside and strode from the room.
The alarm clock bounced off the door frame, its inner workings littering the floor. “Fuck you, Captain!” Tony spat at Steve’s back, then sank down on the bed, hand pressed to the reactor.
Anger usually motivated Tony to do one of two things; build things in the workshop or destroy himself with alcohol. Tonight he decided to do both. With COFF-E busy with some make-work tasks in an out of the way corner, Tony and his bottle of whiskey sat down to create something new, and innovative and explody. Three hours in, he’d settled on an old design with some novel upgrades and was halfway to actually creating something cool. With both his fingers and mind busy crafting the new design, it dulled his sharp focus on the bitterness and resentment that had followed him into the room. Well, that and a third of a bottle of the good stuff.
“Sir?” queried JARVIS, causing Tony to drop his pliers in surprise. “I’m getting a distress call.”
Tony picked up the pliers, spun them like a gunslinger, then went back to the delicate wiring. “Too bad. Tell Fury that Cap wouldn’t let me play with the big boys.”
“Sir, this signal is from Miss Potts.”
Tony put the pliers down and clenched his teeth against the cold feeling in his gut. “What did she say?”
“She said nothing, Sir. It’s just her distress signal. When you first became Iron Man and the two of you were romantically involved, you designed a bracelet for her that was both decorative and functional. Hidden in the intricate design was a button that when deployed would both send off a call for help and allow you to locate her position.”
“And where is she, JARVIS?”
“Carlsbad, New Mexico, Sir.”
“Is that where the team was headed tonight?”
“No Sir. They were headed to Artesia.”
“Which is …”
“Less than thirty miles from where they found you, Sir.”
“Okay, that’s good news, right? I mean, they’re right there, they should be able to just swoop in and save her, huh?”
“Actually, Sir, the Avengers --”
“Let me guess. They’ve gone off the grid and no one has been able to get a hold of them.”
“Unfortunately, you are correct.”
Tony pursed his lips and wiped his hands down the front of his jeans. He shook the tension out of his arms and stretched his neck from side to side. “Okay JARVIS, let’s do this. Warm up the suit, I’ve got some superheroes to save.”
“Do you think that’s wise, Sir? You’ve not had the chance to practice any flight or battle simulations since your return.” But Tony was already striding towards the wall of Iron Man suits.
“It’s like riding a bike. Except with yanno, repulsors and weaponry. It’s like riding a reallycool bike. All I need are some streamers and a banana seat.” He stopped in front of the Mark IX and smiled. “I’ll take this one. Slap some baseball cards on the spokes and suit me up.”
The flight over allowed JARVIS to re-acquaint Tony with most of suits bells and whistles. When they were within 100 yards of the building Tony slowed his speed and circled the area.
“Give me the specs, J.”
“Three story cinder block structure, insulated plasterboard partitioning, two stairwells and exits on the north and south sides of the building, partial basement with crawl space.” As the A.I spoke, digitized images of the details flashed across Tony’s view-screen.
“What about people?”
Tony’s view switched to infrared, the people inside showing as yellow-orange blobs. Two were visible moving around on the top floor, two small groups of three plus two on the second and a two people on the main floor. One curled in on itself and one standing.
A soft green light was blinking over the one on the floor and Tony didn’t need JARVIS to explain that to him.
“Pepper,” he said, blood beginning to boil. “How is she?”
“Vital signs are well within the normal range, Sir. I would expect that she is afraid, but she appears uninjured.”
“They’ve got Pepper, Steve, two trained assassins and now me. They are the ones that should be afraid.”
Tony slowly circled around the building one last time.
“What do you think, J? Strategic military extraction? Or should we just go in guns a blazing?”
“Well Sir, I’ve never know you to take the subtle approach.”
“Yes, well, that’s probably exactly why I should. But just this one time.”
Tony flew to the second floor and hovered beside the building.. Now that he was closer, it was much easier to tell which person personified which orange blob. Steve, Natasha and Clint were grouped directly in front of him, all of them huddled back to back., but seemingly alert and looking around. Off to the far end of the floor, three men were standing around, their posture relaxed.
“Look out kids, I’m coming in,” he said, hoping that at least one of them had an active comm. “Laser, Jarvis?”
“Right hand, upper wrist. I’m activating it now.”
“Perfect,” he replied, cutting a large circle in the wall. That done, one quick stomp of his metal-clad foot sent the bricks and mortar into the room. Three bound and gagged superheroes blinked up at him through the clouds of dust.
“Tony?” said Steve, the word clear despite the gag.
“You can ground me and take away the car keys later, Grandpa,” said Tony, lifting his face-plate and swooping down to untie them. “I just can’t stand it when I’m the only one not invited to a party.”
“They’ve got Pepper,” said Natasha, as soon as her mouth was free.
“I know, downstairs,” said Tony, fighting with whatever the hell the manacles were made out of. If Captain America couldn’t break free, they had to be made out of some pretty bad-assed shit.
“Sorry, Tony,” Cap began, but Tony cut him short.
“It doesn’t matter. I think that the guy who kidnapped me is the guy that’s got Pepper, and he is a twisted fuck. I’m going to take him down. Permanently. Anyone here have a problem with that?”
Three sombre superheroes shook their heads.
“If he’s the guy who did this to you,” said Clint, tapping Tony’s helmet, “then I’d be more than happy to take the first shot.”
“He’s expecting me, but I think I’m early. Let’s hope we have the element of surprise. Also, there’s also three guys on the other side of this door, and two more upstairs, or maybe on the roof.”
“I call roof,” said Hawkeye, as Natasha rolled her eyes.
“Fine,” she said, rubbing her freed wrists. “After I finish off these three, I’ll go up and help you.”
“Fuck you,” said Clint, grinning.
“In your dreams, Bird Boy.”
“Where are your weapons?” asked Tony, looking around the empty room.
“They took them,” she answered simply. “Don’t worry, I’ll get them back.” And with that she sauntered out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
“Wow,” breathed Tony, now working on Steve’s wrists. “I hope my balls grow that big one day.”
“You’d need a wheelbarrow to carry them around,” replied Clint before he too, slipped through the door.
“Do we know who he is?” asked Steve, his own hands finally free.
“Not yet,” answered Tony, “but I don’t really care what melodramatic Machiavellian bullshit he’ll be spouting. He’s fucking with my friends and he’s going to pay.”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Save Pepper. That’s my plan.”
“Simple and direct. I like it,” said Steve. He grasped Tony’s metal-clad arm and squeezed. “Thank you. I’m glad you came.”
Tony shrugged, the mechanics of the suit whirring as he did so. “You’re just saying that because I saved your ass.”
“True, but ass-saving aside, it’s not the same without you, Tony.”
The door opened and both men jumped. Steve’s shield slid through the crack, followed by a smiling Natasha.
“Thought you might need this.”
Steve practically leapt across the room and slid his arm through the leather straps. “Nat, I could kiss you!”
Natasha raised one perfectly sculpted brow then looked at Tony. “Nah, save it for Lover Boy over there.”
“Me?” asked Tony. “Are you talking about me?”
“I gotta go help Clint. You two gonna be okay with Pepper?”
“Yeah, we got it,” said Steve, hefting the weight of his shield in one arm.
Tony flipped his face-plate down and nodded. “Let’s do this.”
Tony scanned the floor below him then looked to Steve. “I’ll go first, you follow. I’ll take him out and you take care of Pepper.”
Instead of cutting a hole to jump through, Tony lifted a few feet off the floor then punched right through into the room below. There was gunfire and shouting, but by the time Steve followed Tony through the hole, it was over. The dust cleared to reveal Iron Man standing over the dead body of the man who’d kidnapped and tortured him. He looked to Steve, the face-plate hiding his expression, but his posture saying volumes. Steve gave a quick, affirmative nod. You did good. Tony took a moment to show the corpse the back of one shiny finger, then he stomped over to Pepper and held out his hand.
“Are you okay? Let’s go home.”
Pepper shook her tear-streaked face. “I can’t.”
His face-plate flipped up and Tony crooked an eyebrow. “I’m sorry, did I interrupt something fun here? Were you two hitting it off and I had to go and ruin it?”
“No, Tony,” she said, one hand skittering over the top of the old Steamer trunk she was perched upon,” I can’t. I’m rigged.”
“Rigged … like a bomb?” asked Steve, taking a step towards her. She held out a hand to keep him at bay and nodded.
“Yes, a bomb.” She looked up at Tony, eyes wide. “It has a pressure trigger. If I get up, it goes off.”
Tony looked to Steve, who just shrugged. “Well, that kind of sucks. Cap, I don’t suppose you have any training in the field of incendiary devices?”
“Not a whit,” he replied. “Natasha might.”
“Nah, I doubt it. She’s a swoop in and kill ‘em type girl. All hands-on, no setting traps.” He flipped his face-plate down and scanned the trunk. “Give me the deets, JARVIS.”
“It seems to be a fairly standard BPX bomb. Thirteen M112 blocks of C-4 hooked up to a detonator cord which is attached to the pressure sensitive switch under Miss Potts. And as the trigger and main explosives are coiled directly beneath her, fiddling with this device could prove to be tricky.”
“That is very bad news. I don’t think I can disarm this thing. Well, not without blowing it up, and since Pepper’s very fine booty is perched on top of it, that’s not a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Didn’t you like … make bombs for a living?”
“No, I did not. I made missiles for a living. Very advanced, precise, technological munitions. And I worked on the guidance and targeting systems, not the warheads. That was Obie’s department. This particular thing is simple enough, I know how to disarm it, but it’s tiny, and fiddly and more explody than Pepper is going to be happy with.”
“Oh,” said Steve, the gears in his head still turning. “Could you, as Iron Man swoop in and grab her really quickly and just like … bust right through the wall?”
“No thank you,” said Pepper, doing her best not to shift around. “And my legs are starting to go numb.”
“Too dangerous. Unless she had armour too, I think she’d get knocked around too much.”
“Hey!” said Steve, snapping his fingers, “Maybe we could do the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom thing! When he switched the golden idol for the bag of sand. Could we move Pepper off the trigger while moving something of similar weight onto it?”
Both men looked to the cooling body of Baby Face, only feet away.
“Guys!” barked Pepper, pulling their attention back to her. “That’s a great idea Steve, and I really appreciate your brainstorming here, but let’s all think back to how well that plan worked out for Indy.”
Steve thought for a moment, then his face dropped. “Oh yeah, giant stone ball.”
The room was silent for a while, then Tony grinned and looked to Steve. “Hey Cap, ever see Lethal Weapon?”
“With Mel Gibson? Before he got …”
“I was going to say ‘mentally compromised’ but yeah, whatever.” Steve waited for Tony to explain further, then laughed out loud. “Are you thinking of the toilet bomb scene?”
“Yeah. Roger was sitting on the trigger for the bomb and Riggs pulled him off the toilet and into the bathtub and they lived!”
“Wait a minute guys,” said Pepper, eyes wide, “That’s a movie! A stupid ‘guy’ action movie! This is real life.”
“No, but that’s the thing!” crowed Steve, “They did it on Myth Busters! They reenacted the entire thing and it worked!”
“But … but … we don’t have a bathtub.”
“No,” grinned Tony, “but we have Iron Man and Captain America.”
Cap spun his shield and nodded. “Between his armour and my shield, we should be able to protect you.”
“Should be able to?” gulped Pepper, “Should?”
Tony unlocked his helmet and pulled it off. He shook the sweat out of his eyes and held the helmet out to Pepper. “Sorry, I didn’t have time to dry-clean it.”
“What? Me? No, Tony! I can’t!”
“Yes, you damn well can,” he snapped. “Cap, back me up on this.”
Steve pursed his lips and nodded. “He’s right, ma’am.”
“Aww,” said Tony, “and they say chivalry is dead.” He ran a hand through his hair and huffed out a shaky breath. “So how do you want to do this?”
The room was bare, aside from Baby Face’s body and the trunk of explosives on which Pepper was sitting. Steve chewed his lip while formulating a plan. “You pull her off and under you,” he said, “while I cover you both and use the shield as much as I can.”
“Sorry Cap, but this time I call ‘top’. Your super-soldier muscle doesn’t compare to the protective properties of my armour. You grab Pepper, and I’ll jump on top. Wow,” he said, grinning, “I think I had a dream like this once, but there was a lot less clothes. Come to think of it, there was a lot less bombs too.”
“Let’s pray this works.” Steve tapped his comm. “If you guys are still in the building, I’d suggest you exit post haste. Things are about to get very explody down here.” Steve crossed his wrists over each other and held his hands out to Pepper. She put on the red and gold helmet, then grasped Steve’s hands with a nervous squeeze.
Tony leaned in to Pepper and bumped his head against the shiny mask. “You’ve never looked sexier, my dear.”
“Shut up and let’s do this,” she said, nails digging into Steve’s palms.
On three they leapt. Steve yanked Pepper from her deadly perch and twisted them both in mid-air, so that she was below him. He got one hand under her neck to protect her from the fall and in the same motion, brought his shield out and up, leaving enough room for Tony to dive in and get beneath it as well. Tony would have been impressed if he wasn’t scared shitless.
Then there was a mind blowing flash of white, and everything faded to a muddy black.
He was underwater again.
Cool, dark and quiet. The angry shouts of the people around him muffled and distorted by the thick liquid.
He’d gone under. Hands grabbed for him. Pulling. Far away and garbled voices called his name.
He was back. And Steve was here, amidst the rubble … but that didn’t make sense. Steve wasn’t in Afghanistan … Steve was …
Tony blinked and groaned as the world tilted sideways. Steve’s face hovered above him. He looked worried and that really couldn’t be good, but he couldn’t hear what Steve was saying. His lips were moving, but the sound wasn’t syncing. It was muddied and filtered, like a muted trombone.
“Charlie Brown!” croaked Tony, but no, that wasn’t right either. “It was his teacher,” he tried to say, but his own voice sounded off. Tony made to sit up, but his body wasn’t cooperating.
Okay, he heard that one. Not well, but it was there. He followed the voice and yes, there was Steve. He was dirty and cut-up and his brows were knitted together in a way that could only be described as adorable. Tony looked from those eyebrows to his surroundings. There were bricks and boards and a lot of dust. He was wearing the Iron Man suit, and Steve was wearing his uniform and Oh shit!
“Pepper!” He grabbed desperately at Steve, metal fingers slow and clumsy.
“She’s okay,” Steve said, smiling through the grime. “We did it! Despite all the odds, we survived.”
“Where is she?”
“Tash and Barton have her outside. She’s a little banged up like the rest of us,” he shrugged, “but she’s going to be fine.”
Tony slumped back into the rubble and heaved a sigh of relief. “She’s gonna be pissed about her ruined shoes, I bet. But I’m pretty sure that happened before I even got here.”
“What about you, Tony?”
“Oh,” he said, raising one foot, “mine are okay. Might need a re-paint though.”
“No, you you. How’s your head? That was a hell of a lot of brick and mortar that fell on us.”
“I’m uh …” Tony rolled his neck and shoulders, “I think I’m good to go.” A cool breeze swept in from the new hole in the wall and sent the dust up in miniature tornadoes. “Oh, and I think I got all of my memories back!”
Tony arched an eyebrow and winked. “No Cap, not really. You are so gullible sometimes.” Steve’s expression fell, and something twisted inside of Tony. “Too soon? Oh man, that wasn’t funny, was it?”
“No,” he finally said. “No it wasn’t. I guess I’d just really been hoping. I mean … not from all of this,” he said, making a sweeping gesture to the demolished room, ‘but just … with time.”
“And what if it doesn’t?”
“Come back?” asked Steve, “I don’t know.”
“Well, let’s just say it’s not.” Tony got unsteadily to his feet and brushed the dust from his suit. “It’s never coming back. I’m never going to remember what we had.”
Steve said nothing, but held Tony’s gaze.
“It doesn’t matter,” he continued, “I mean yeah, of course it matters, but there’s nothing we can do about it, right?”
“Tony, I …”
“Just wait,” he said, holding up one gauntleted hand. “What I’m trying to say here Cap .. I mean Steve, is that it doesn’t matter. You won. I’m convinced. I’ve seen enough of you the last few months to know that yeah … I’m interested. Well, to be honest, all it takes is one quick up and down at you to know I’m interested, but it’s the other you. The inner you. You are so god damned perfect that of course I was in love with you. I’d be a fucking fool not to be. Okay, granted, that I am a fucking fool, but not a stupid one. I see it. I see what we had and I see what we could potentially have and I … I want that. I would be honoured to have that. Now, what you see in me shall forever remain a mystery. But that’s your deal to figure out, not mine.”
A long silence stretched between them. Tony, waiting for an answer, and Steve processing Tony’s diatribe.
“So,” began Steve, “what you said just there. It wasn’t a joke?”
“No! God no!”
“Okay, just making sure.” Steve ran a hand through his short hair and grinned. “So … what does this mean exactly?”
“Whatever you want it to mean, big guy. From long walks on the beach at sunset to hot, sweaty monkey-love. Hopefully more of the latter.”
Steve’s grin grew wider and he ducked his head. “I like monkeys. That sounds like a plan.”
“Why, Captain America! You are a dirty, dirty boy!”
Tony toweled his hair while he contemplated the proper attire for the occasion. What did one wear when heading up to one’s Long Lost Forgotten Lover’s Room for (hopefully) Mind Blowing Make-up Sex? Slacks seemed too formal and jeans could be difficult to remove once things got heated up. To top it off, boxers or briefs? Or commando? No, that might seem too desperate.
The answer came in the form of a knock at his door. Wrapping the towel around his waist, Tony opened the door to reveal Steve, wearing a t-shirt and sweatpants. His own short hair was still wet and his shirt clung to his damp body in a way that was entirely … deliciously … distracting.
“Sweats,” he said, eyes travelling from the grey pants to the shirt and finally to Steve’s smiling face. Steve’s own gaze seemed a bit riveted on Tony’s lower half, just barely covered by the towel slung low on his hips. “Hey, big guy,” he drawled, “my eyes are up here.”
Steve deliberately took his time, eyes moving up tony’s bare torso and chest before finally catching his gaze. “Who said I was interested in your eyes?”
They held each other’s gaze for a moment, then both lurched forward, mouths clashing. Tony’s hand slid up to the back of Steve’s neck, pulling him down to press their mouths together and Steve put his arms around Tony, pulling him in so tightly that Tony could hear his bones creak in protest and yeah … brute strength like that was pretty hot. He thought about saying as much, but his mouth was otherwise occupied with Steve’s tongue.
And what a glorious tongue it was! Tony angled his head to give Steve more access. If it was possible to deep-throat someone else’s tongue, Tony was willing to try. As if reading his thoughts, Steve groaned into Tony’s mouth then turned them both around so that Tony’s back was pressed against the doorframe. That bone-crunching pressure was back again and to add to the sensory overload, Steve pressed one muscular thigh between Tony’s legs. Tony broke the kiss to exhale sharply against Steve’s collarbone.
“Too. Many. Clothes.” he said, pulling fruitlessly at Steve’s shirt, and Steve answered by removing Tony’s towel. “Not what I meant,” he groaned, rutting helplessly into the soft cotton of Steve’s pants. Steve captured his mouth again, his kisses wet and sloppy and desperate. He placed one big hand over Tony’s erection, trapping it between his palm and his thigh and rubbed.
“JESUS, YOU GUYS! MY EYES!” Came Clint’s voice from down the hall. “These rooms have doors for a reason!”
“Jealous?” mumbled Steve, not breaking the kiss, then he pulled Tony into the room, shut the door and pressed him up against it.
“Skin … now,” demanded Tony. Steve pulled his shirt up and over his head, then their mouths found each other again. Tony tugged Steve’s pants down and groaned. Commando. And oh shit, that was one big, beautiful dick.
“Touch me,” urged Steve and Tony flailed for a moment (so much skin, so little time!) before wrapping his hand around Steve’s gorgeous cock and squeezing. Steve leaned into him harder, making both the door and Tony’s ribs creak and Tony let out a manly squeak as Steve wrapped his hand around both of their cocks, guiding Tony’s hand as he canted his hips. His smooth length slid along Tonys, deliciously slick with pre-come.
Swept up in the sheer pleasure of what they were doing, it took Tony a moment to notice that Steve was trembling, and not fatigue trembling. The man could hold a charging elephant at bay without breaking a sweat. This was an emotional reaction.
“Are you okay?” he asked, mouthing along the cords in Steve’s neck, and yeah, okay, that was kind of a stupid question. According to that massive boner sliding against his slightly less massive one, Steve was feeling just fine, but yanno, the trembling.
Steve chuckled darkly and pulled Tony’s mouth up to kiss him again. “I’m good,” he said into Tony’s mouth, “I’m great. I haven’t been this good for a very long time.” His tongue slid over Tony’s teeth, then he sucked roughly on Tony’s bottom lip. “You?”
Tony could only laugh, because yeah. The was pretty damned amazing. Who needed old memories when he had this powerful and sexy and good and honest near-perfect human being to make new ones with?
Steve tightened his grip around them both and twisted. Tony gasped and arched forward. “Steve!” he managed to grunt as his body spasmed and he came, pulsing into the tight circle of Steve’s fist.
“Oh Jesus!” he said, and now it was his turn to tremble. He let his head clunk back against the door and looked up to Steve’s flushed face. “That was pretty quick, eh? Like, embarrassingly so?”
Steve’s eyes travelled over Tony’s bare torso and back up to his face. “No,” he said, voice rough with desire, “I thought it was hot.” He continued to stroke them both, his hand now slick with Tony’s release.
Tony looked down with a cheeky grin. “You want me to … I could … ?”
“Just kiss me,” Steve said, voice low and needy. “Please?”
Tony groaned and surged up to press their mouths together. He covered Steve’s slick hand with his own and watched in wonder as Steve slowly came apart under his touch. The light sheen of sweat, the muscles tightly cording as the tension in his body mounted, the soft gasps and groans that escaped from Steve’s lips while his tongue darted and danced inside Tony’s mouth.
In the end, Steve broke the kiss to gasp Tony’s name against his neck, repeated in reverent whispers with each pulse of his release. “Tony, Tony, Tony.” His weight slid forward and Tony braced to support him, but Steve got one arm up at the last moment and caught himself against the door. They both stood there, panting and grinning, breaths mingling and bodies cooling, until Tony shifted with a grimace.
“Your foot!” Said Steve, stepping back to give Tony some room. “I’m sorry, I uh …” he grinned and chewed his lip, “I was a bit distracted.”
“No, I’m good,” said Tony, reaching out to touch Steve. “Believe me, the last thing on my mind just now was my foot.”
“Yeah, me too.” Said Steve, shuffling them towards the bed.
“Really? You weren’t thinking about my foot that whole time?”
“If I had, maybe I would have lasted longer.” Steve let go of Tony long enough to turn down the sheets, then made a sweeping gesture with one hand.
“So … which side is my side?” He asked, crawling in.
“Well, usually the one with the wet spot, but tonight I’m feeling generous.” Steve gave him a gentle shove and followed him.
“Wow,” said Tony, pulling the soft sheets around him and pillowing his head on Steve’s chest, “I feel like a princess.”
Steve snorted. “Princess Goatee, a stern but fair ruler.”
“Pffft! It’s a Vandyke. And I should give you beard-burn for that, just so you’ll always remember.”
Steve thumbed the coarse hair on Tony’s chin. “Do your worst. I’m not afraid of beard-burn.”
Tony turned so that they were face to face and grinned at Steve. “But the question is, where would you like it?” He rubbed his chin into Steve’s sternum, then pointedly looked lower, then back up to Steve’s face. “I guess I need to figure out which parts of you are -- Hey wait! I have a question.”
Tony leaned up onto one arm and reached for something over Steve’s head. He flopped back down beside him and held it up for him to see. It was the picture of the two of them. Steve grinning and Tony laughing. “What did you say?” he asked, tracing the photo with one finger.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, what’s so funny? Obviously I’m busting a gut at something, and you look guilty as hell. I want to know what happened.”
Steve sighed and rolled his eyes. “Of course you’d ask about this one. There are a hundred pictures in your house, and you need to know the details of this one.”
“Oh, it’s good! I can tell! Did you say something dirty? Did you drop a couple of f-bombs?”
“Well, both … sort of.” Steve’s complexion began to mirror the one in the picture. “But you made me!”
“Made you? Please! Tell me how I put my potty-mouth superpowers to work on you.”
“Well, you’d be bugging me since … forever to swear. And I mean forever! I’m no stranger to cuss words, I served in the Army for goodness sake, but I’m just not comfortable using them. I don’t find them necessary.”
“Yes, I think we’ve more than established that. Anyway, you’d been riding me for quite some time, and I finally had enough and gave in. But with one condition.”
“Which was …?”
“For every dirty word I said, you had to donate a thousand dollars to charity.”
Tony laughed and lay his head down on Steve’s chest again. “So? How much did the homeless-disabled-one-legged-orphans get that day?”
“Twenty-two thousand dollars.”
Tony whooped and turned over again to look at Steve. “You’re kidding!”
“Nope. It was a doozy.”
“I’ll say.” He rubbed his chin against Steve’s chest again, but this time softly. Affectionately. “Was it a one time offer? Or is it unlimited?”
“Oh, unlimited. Although, I think you’ve only given a couple of thousand since then.”
“Yanno, I’m not very tired,” said Tony, sliding up to nuzzle Steve’s neck, “how about I do some very naughty things to you, and we see if we can get those orphans some new crutches?”
Steve nuzzled back, then pressed a kiss to Tony’s forehead. “Sounds like a win/win to me.”