There was a pre-arranged signal. Every time one of Tony's team-mates ran a finger down his back while they were all in the common area, he knew what was going to happen that night; and depending on who it was, he now knew how to prepare himself.
Sure, he didn't resist the first month. The Avengers was comprised of six of the hottest people Tony had ever met (including himself), not to mention they were wicked powerful. A god, a super-soldier, the world's best marksman, an assassin, and the cutest damn genius he'd ever had the pleasure to work with. The way Bruce whispered mathematical formulae as he restrained the Hulk long enough to take Tony from behind… It gave him shivers to think about it.
Or it used to.
By the end of the fifth week of being had by at least one of his new housemates nearly every night, Tony was kind of feeling used. Yeah, he'd started the flirting; that came to him as naturally as breathing. When all of them began to respond, that was a pleasant surprise. And it's not like he hadn't thought about it.
So he offered himself up to them, one by one. He had experience, loved sex, and wanted to make them happy. Because, despite himself, they were like a family.
Or they used to be.
By the end of summer, Tony was… not bored. Something more than that. The feeling of being used stayed with him, and he began to dread a touch to his spine, even from someone outside of the Avengers, who had no idea what it meant. Outside of battles, Tony tried not to spend too much time with them. Any time he did, he tried to keep his back against something. Furniture, a wall, someone else. But he was living with superheroes, two of them freaking ninjas to boot.
He never expected this to happen.
For the first time, someone else touched his back.
In that way.
Tony Stark was one of the hardest people to read, and Phil Coulson prided himself on being able to read people pretty well, especially those under his command. The moment he realised that Tony was beginning to withdraw from his team-mates, Phil decided to investigate.
He joined an Avengers movie night. Approximately halfway through the feature Natasha – who was perched on the arm of the couch beside Tony – ran her finger down his spinal column while he was reaching for a bowl of popcorn. Tony froze, and then straightened slowly. Phil observed that Thor and Clint both smirked as Tony glanced up at Natasha, and then stood. He left the room. Five minutes later, Natasha followed.
It would have looked suspicious to go straight after them. He excused himself sometime later, using the bathroom excuse, and crept out while the others once again became absorbed in the movie.
Outside Tony's room, Phil could hear something. He couldn't risk asking JARVIS to show him a video feed of the room, and there was no keyhole.
A couple of nights later, he went to the Avengers Mansion for dinner. When Tony stood to take his dishes back to the kitchen, he fumbled with them when Steve performed the same move that Natasha had used during the film. Phil could have sworn that Tony blushed, gaze following him to the door, and took his own dishes into the kitchen.
Before he could ask what was wrong, Steve brought more empty plates and used cutlery in.
"Shouldn't you be getting ready?" he murmured.
"Right," Tony said. He nodded briefly at Phil. "`Night."
"See you later," Phil said. For a moment, he thought that Tony looked disappointed; but as the billionaire left the room, Phil was more interested in the fleeting lascivious expression on Steve's face as he almost blatantly ogled Tony's rear end.
Three visits later – each one resulting in Tony leaving the room at the touch to his back, and another Avenger following him five minutes later – Phil realised that the only way he was going to get any answers was to do the same. Tony was becoming even more withdrawn; there was no way he was going to risk the genius having another meltdown.
And so the next time he visited, he appeared behind Tony and, in front of the other Avengers, stroked a line down Tony's back. The others stared, and then smiled wickedly, while Tony turned to look at him.
Phil's powers of observation didn't fail him; he almost wished they had. The expression on Tony's face went from one of shock, to betrayal, to sad resignation.
"See you in five minutes, Agent," he mumbled.
"I'd rather come with you," Phil said. His gaze snapped to Clint as the archer sniggered. They all looked amused. If they were offering Tony some kind of emotional support each night, to help him through his current woes, why would they think it was so funny?
"Let's go, then," Tony said. "Come with… follow me."
Phil wondered why the hell Tony wasn't even looking at his team-mates as they left the room. The journey, full of unspoken questions, seemed interminable until they reached Tony's bedroom.
As soon as they entered the room, Tony commanded JARVIS to close and lock the door. His next actions made Phil's jaw drop.
First, Tony went to his nightstand, opened it, and placed a few items on the top of the stand.
"I don't know what your preferences are," he said, not looking around. "I honestly never expected you, of all people, to… Well, I just wish I'd had some advanced warning, so I could get ready properly. To your specifications."
"Yeah." Finally Tony turned around, still not meeting his eyes full on. "Natasha has a food kink; she really likes me licking chocolate off her tits, and sometimes drinking neat vodka straight out of her pussy." Phil couldn't even blink. "Thor, thank God, knows not to use electricity, in case it shorts out the arc reactor. He kind of likes the worshipping thing, though. Bruce likes dirty talk; that I can do, though it's getting hard… difficult to come up… to think of new things to say. And he likes doggy-style. Steve still prefers missionary style, but I swear that guy's bi, because he likes me to wear makeup."
Phil realised that Tony had already stripped down to his undershirt and was unbuckling his jeans. "Really likes messing it up, I guess. And Clint… I wouldn't say that he's sadistic, but he likes spanking. Did you know that he really hits his mark with anything? And I mean anything. I've got paddles, a riding crop. You like that kind of thing? My pain threshold's getting pretty high."
"I… I don't like that sort of thing."
Tony laughed. It was humourless. "What do you like then? Don't worry, I'm not out of practise with topping; Natasha hasn't suggested pegging yet, and she hasn't asked me to buy a strap-on, so I'm safe from that. For the time being, at least." He shrugged. Phil was having trouble processing this. Tony pulled off his trousers, and reached for the bottom of his shirt. That was when Phil moved. He grabbed Tony's hands before they could go any higher.
"Stop," he said.
"Clothing kink, huh? Explains the suits. Gonna restrain me with your tie? I've got something stronger. A few things, actually. Silk rope? Handcuffs?"
"Then… then what do you want?" Tony was starting to look confused. "Condoms and lube are over there. My gag reflex is kind of non-existent by now – what can I say; Thor is hung – so I can deep-throat you—"
"Tony, what the hell has been going on in here?" Phil asked. His heart was pounding; he felt sick with horror.
"Uh… stress relief? Sometimes they just do— I mean we just do it for fun." He frowned, letting go of his shirt. Phil released his wrists. "You used the signal. You have me for however long you want now. Didn't anyone explain it to you fully?"
"No," Phil said grimly. "They didn't explain it at all."
"The majority of the information I pick up is from my own observations. I worked out that something was going on. But this?" He shook his head, fighting the sick feeling again. "I thought they were helping you through whatever's made you lose… how did Pepper put it? Lose your enthusiasm for life. Are your team… are they the cause?"
"What? No, they're great. Really. My friends. It's just that this is one of my areas of expertise, and I'd do anything to help them, no matter what it takes."
"Making more advanced fighting equipment and providing a roof over their head, rent-free, not to mention all the food they could eat… That's more than enough help. Tony, if you're not fully invested in this, it's tantamount to rape."
"No!" Tony pulled away, bumping into the nightstand. He turned to steady the lamp, and that was when Phil saw the boxes of different-sized condoms, the bottle of top-of-the-range lubricant – already half-empty – and what looked like a cock-ring.
"Good God," he muttered.
"Just tell me your preferences," Tony said. His hands trembled as he tried to hold onto one of his last threads of sanity. Why was Coulson doing this to him? Was this some kind of role-play? Didn't he know that he had to state terms beforehand? Was there even going to be a safe-word? "If you decide you don't want this, you have time to go and get someone else. I'm sure they're already thinking about what might be happening at the moment. Wouldn't want to disappoint them." He sighed at the bitterness in his voice. He'd never felt this cold in just his underclothes.
Nor this naked, as Phil pressed up against him from behind. Tony nearly broke down as the agent covered his hands with his own, in what almost felt like a hug. The pseudo-hug hurt even more than the pretence that Phil had no idea what was supposed to happen.
"Put those down," Phil whispered, his breath brushing against Tony's ear. Tony swallowed.
"Going in dry? If not, the lube is better than spit or…" He gritted his teeth as the hold tightened for a few seconds.
"Just lie down, Tony," Phil said, releasing him. He pulled back the covers, and pushed Tony gently into position. Missionary, barebacking, some clothing still on. Phil was, in fact, still dressed. Nope. He was removing the tie – bondage? No. The tie was put aside, followed by jacket, then shoes, socks, belt – whipping? No. The belt was put aside as well. Then the trousers were removed. So they still weren't doing this naked, unless the stripping was later. Who knew?
"What next, or am I just supposed to be winging this? You like role-play? I'm great at role-play, you know. Steve and Thor like that. So does Natasha, sometimes. Actually," Tony tilted his head, "they all do—"
"I don't want to hear about it," Phil snapped. He turned around. "I don't want to hear about anyone else you've had in this room, or any room at all. Especially them. Is that clear?"
Tony's eyes widened. "Wow. So you're a dom. Should've expected that."
"Tony." Phil looked pained. "Does everything have to be about sex with you?"
"That's what started this thing… but you don't want to hear about that."
"I want to know why you have so little self-worth that you feel comfortable whoring yourself out unnecessarily to your team-mates."
Tony flinched, sinking back into the pillows. "It's not… I'm okay with—"
"You shouldn't be," Phil said. He had unbuttoned his shirt, but left it on, even as he climbed into the bed beside Tony. Tony immediately turned onto his side and began to run his hands up and down the agent's torso, already mapping out his body. "Stop that!"
Again, he flinched, pulling away as quickly as he could. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you want."
"I don't want anything."
"You don't want… anything? At all?"
"Well, there's one thing." Tony was relieved. Finally, something to go on.
"What's that?" he asked.
"I want you to be happy."
The look of confusion and barely-there hopefulness nearly broke Phil's heart.
"What? Why?" Tony asked. "I'm right here. You can do whatever you want with me. That's the point. That's what I've been doing. You… you don't want me?"
Of course he did. Phil couldn't deny it; he wanted Tony so much, and the thought of so-called superheroes taking advantage of one of the most generous people Phil had ever known made him want to destroy things. Preferably a shield, and a hammer, and a bow, and… But he couldn't let any of that anger show. Not in front of Tony, so vulnerable, and seeming so much younger than usual.
"Don't think that," Phil said softly when he saw Tony shrinking from the silence. "You're beautiful, Tony. So beautiful."
"So are you," Tony said quickly. Phil tried not to show his frustration.
"Stop," he said. "If you really want to please me, then just… let me hold you, the whole night. From now, until we both get out of bed in the morning, I want to keep you in my arms." And pretend that you're mine, he thought. "No sex." It would be making love, if it was you and me, Tony. The genius looked even more heart-wrenchingly baffled. "Tony, please do this for me?"
Hesitantly, Tony shifted into what Phil hoped was a comfortable position for him.
"This okay?" Tony asked. His voice was so small Phil thought that he'd misheard.
"Of course it is," he said. "It's not hurting you, is it? I mean, is it uncomfortable with the arc reactor?"
The surprise that Tony showed was perhaps the worst thing Phil had seen so far. Didn't the others ever express any concern about it?
"Just… it kind of weighs a bit on one side. Just sometimes. I don't usually notice."
"I'll bet," Phil muttered.
"I prefer being alive."
Phil sighed, and absent-mindedly kissed the top of Tony's head. "I prefer you being alive, too. Come on." He moved Tony so that Phil was lying on his back, propped up by the pillows, Tony also on his back, lying halfway over Phil's torso. "Is that better?"
"…Yeah, it is. Thank you."
"Please tell me you haven't been in pain from this every night."
"Only the nights when someone doesn't go back to their room. Usually, though, they just leave."
"Okay, you really have to stop talking about them. Each word just makes me want to go and chew them out, preferably with my fists, and whatever potential weapons are nearby."
"Do you really feel this way? Because if you're just saying this as some sort of game, then please… please stop." His voice hitched; Phil's heart did the same.
"Do they ever give you any say?" he whispered.
Tony sighed. "I get a safe-word, most of the time."
Phil was good at concealing sobs; but he was glad that Tony was facing away. That way, the tears fell to his hair unnoticed.
"I will never treat you like that, Tony," he said fiercely. "I swear it."
The conviction and tightness in Phil's voice made Tony want to turn around and look at him, see what was wrong. It'd been so long since he'd been able to associate this room with anything other than sex that he was completely disoriented. It really did seem like Phil didn't want that.
Minutes passed. Tony kept track by the antique-look clock he'd put up in his room at Steve's suggestion. That was from one of the first few weeks, before Tony had grown bored… frustrated… whatever this was. At least half an hour had gone by the time Phil's heavy breaths had changed to something shallower, and evened out. He must have fallen asleep.
Tony craned his head around, and noticed the nearly dry tear tracks on Phil's cheeks. He looked distressed in his sleep. When Tony tried to move his hands, Phil's tightened over his, and Tony noticed that Phil's arms were wrapped around him… cuddling him. Tony looked back up at the agent, and noticed something else.
"You are beautiful," he said quietly.
Even in the armour, Tony had never felt this protected in all his adult life, and most of his childhood as well. He could only have felt safer if he didn't have the knowledge that in the morning, this would all disappear, and one of his team-mates would be requesting his services…
God, that did make it sound like prostitution. But that wasn't it. He only wanted them to be happy and relaxed, and letting them take him to bed was the best way to do that. He couldn't show them relaxation techniques like Bruce, couldn't challenge them to sparring in the gym, and didn't have daring tales of heroism to amaze and delight. Only his tech, and Bruce was the only one out of them who could remotely understand it. Even then, only because he spoke the language; he'd spent so much time on the run he was out of touch with the more advanced engineering.
Tony would never admit it, especially to Phil, but he'd started looking forward to battles where he might get injured, in which case the others would leave him alone, or at least take it easy. He could lock himself in his workshop; but even Tony knew when to quit and at least take a shower, or have a meal. If he was lucky, he'd be alone.
He wasn't always lucky.
Lying here, in two arms which were stronger than he'd imagined (assuming he'd imagined at all, which he hadn't), Tony wondered if this was what it felt like to be… loved. At least cared for, for more than just his money or brains or looks. Phil never gave a damn about those sorts of things, treating Tony just like he would anyone else: based on their personality. And if it wasn't for this lingering fear, Tony might have conceded that maybe Phil did care about his well-being.
There was no way he was going to fall asleep anytime soon. So Tony did what he did best. He analysed the situation.
Apparently, none of his team-mates had told Phil. That would explain the stunned looks he had noticed on their faces before he had turned to their handler. It would also explain what'd seemed like genuine confusion when Tony began to outline the different things he was willing to do for the others, and could do for Phil. The look of horror – the paleness, the wide eyes, the gaping mouth – also appeared to be genuine; but Tony still didn't understand why. Sure, it was unusual, but what else should anyone expect out of New York's top playboy?
Holding Tony like this was completely non-sexual. He couldn't move his arms to search for an erection, but he was good at noticing that, and he hadn't seen anything like that on Phil. Not a trace of desire anywhere.
That made Tony feel… kind of unwanted, if he was honest with himself. Was Phil straight? Or did he just find Tony undesirable?
Tony didn't like that thought, and snuggled back, hoping to fall asleep and just forget about this nightmare. The arms around him squeezed again, and Phil mumbled something in his sleep. It sounded like 'Protect you', but that couldn't possibly be right.
Phil woke in the middle of night. When his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could just make out the hands of the clock. About half-past two. He wondered what had woken him. Was there an intruder?
He knew he was in Tony Stark's bedroom, not least because the arc reactor shone brightly through the man's undershirt. The light helped Phil see the room, and ascertain that, no, there was no one else there. He was sure that JARVIS would have alerted them anyway.
Then he felt Tony squirming, and looked down at him.
"Tony?" he whispered.
"Bathroom," Tony replied. Phil let him go.
"Okay," he said. "Come straight back."
Tony nodded, and shuffled into the en suite. Phil drew his legs up to his body, and focussed on remembering every word and every action from four or five hours ago. Each revelation and assumption on Tony's part – especially in relation to Phil – made him angrier. He forced himself to unclench his teeth and uncurl his fists when he heard the toilet being flushed, and the sound of running water as Tony washed his hands.
There was no way in hell that Phil could respect any of the other Avengers ever again. Not after what they had done to their innocent, well-meaning friend.
Tony came back into the room, switching off the bathroom light as he went. He stopped, and looked at Phil.
"What now?" he asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you want me to…" Tony gestured at the bed. Phil really hoped that he wasn't thinking what he suspected Tony was thinking.
"Of course," he said. "It's your bed."
Tony looked surprised, and Phil's heart hurt once again. "Okay. You don't want me to… do anything else?"
"I want you to sleep."
"It's not for wont of trying," Tony said, slipping back into bed beside Phil. "But I can't work this out."
"You can't work out that your team-mates have been using you unfairly?"
"It's not like I couldn't have stopped them," Tony protested. "Really."
"But you felt compelled to keep going, and I want to know why. And don't give me any more bullshit about wanting to make them happy, because there are other, non-sexual ways you could do that."
"But that's the truth," Tony said.
"The whole truth?" He looked away. "Tony, please. What hold do they have over you?"
"It's nothing like that. It's just… I don't want them to leave me. I want to pretend they love me; that's why I always do this. My parents didn't love me; if they did, they never showed it. So I have sex with people, and I feel wanted. If my team-mates are willing to take me, scars and reactor and all, then I want them to. I want to please them so they won't go away and leave me alone again."
Phil pulled him close, one hand on the back of Tony's neck, and forced him to make eye contact. "They wouldn't leave."
"You'd never be alone. You don't need someone to live with you for that."
"You do… if you want to say that you have someone to go home to."
Phil could barely breathe. Tony's eyes almost seemed to be pleading him. Why hadn't he noticed this look that night in the kitchen? And when he had given Tony the dreaded signal… was this why he'd looked so betrayed.
"I'm so sorry," he said. "I wish you'd come to me earlier; but this isn't about me, and I'm not reproaching you in any way. I should have seen what was wrong. I should have asked JARVIS to show me footage of your room while you were with the others, screw invasion of privacy. I'm an agent of SHIELD, damn it. Prying is part of my job."
"Voyeurism, huh?" Tony asked, smiling.
"No," Phil said. "No making light of this. No making jokes about it. And you'd never be coming home to no one."
"Not while the others are living here."
"Then you'd be coming home with them, nine times out of ten, so your excuse is pretty thin."
He exhaled shakily, and drew their heads together, resting forehead-to-forehead. When he opened his eyes, he stopped breathing again when he looked into Tony's eyes. How this arrogant, narcissistic, self-confident man had become so vulnerable, doubting, and distrustful was too much to think about.
"I won't let this happen to you again," Phil whispered. "I swear on my life that I will do everything in my power to put a stop to this. We'll figure something out. You all go off on your own sometimes, whether it's for work or for missions. It's not like you have to spend all your time together. This living together was an experiment which seemed to be going well. When I think about what's been causing the team cohesion…" He tightened his grip on the back of Tony's neck. "It will stop. Romanov and Barton can stay on base. Thor can go back to Asgard or to New Mexico. Rogers can go back to his apartment in Brooklyn. Banner can still work here, but aside from that, he can live somewhere else."
"And what about me?" Tony asked, his voice tiny and sad. Phil relaxed his hand.
"Look, at the very least get a pet. Or Colonel Rhodes or Pepper could live here."
"Nah. They're happy where they are."
"Then there's Mr. Hogan. JARVIS. Your bots." Tony kept shaking his head. "Or… me."
"I'm not exactly your ideal housemate, but I'm fastidious, house-trained, and any time I'm not at SHIELD or with you, I'll be waiting here for you to get home. I don't think I could live in the same place as Barton and Romanov anyway. Not anymore."
Tony moved closer, and placed his arms on Phil's shoulders.
"You'd do that?" he said. "You'd really move here – live here – just for me?"
I'd do anything for you, Tony. "Yes. And it wouldn't just be for you. I want to make sure that you're okay, and if this is the best way to do it…"
Tony nodded slowly, brushing their noses against each other. "I'd like that. But… what do I tell the others? This is their home, too. I can't just kick them out."
"This is your house, Tony. If it doesn't feel like home to you anymore, then yeah, you have every right to evict them. But, since you're worried, I'll do it for you."
"I'm not a coward."
"No, but you've been emotionally scarred, and as such you deserve to have a break from anything like conflict. You deserve so much better than you've received. I just… I can't forgive myself for not figuring this out sooner." Phil shook his head. "I'll protect you to the best of my ability. I'm not a super-soldier, or a Hulk, or a god. But I'd face any and all of them if it means keeping you safe. Okay?"
Tony didn't say anything; yet the tears that fell to his cheeks shouted volumes. Phil pulled him into a proper embrace, arc reactor pressed against his chest, one hand on the back of Tony's head and the other on the place between his shoulders. Tony's arms were wrapped around Phil's waist, and the wetness seeping through his shirt was a relief. He needed to cry this out, now that he realised it was at an end.
Tony managed an hour or so of sleep. When he awoke, in the same position as last time, he again looked at Phil. The movement startled the agent out of stony-faced reverie, and he smiled at Tony. His heart leapt, and he just gazed up at his protector. It took a few moments to remember how to breathe in and out, and he exhaled in a rush. Phil's eyebrows pulled together.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah," Tony said. "For the first time in a long, long time, I do actually feel okay."
"Good." Phil squeezed his arms again. Tony looked down at them.
"I wish I could turn around, hold you back," he said. Phil made some small noise. "Can I?"
"Not if it hurts you."
"I don't think it would. Not with you."
"There is no way I'm risking it, Tony. I'm more than content to hold you like this. There is no pressure on the arc reactor this way. Are you okay to sleep on your back like this?"
"I usually sleep on my back, or try to. Sometimes the nightmares make me toss and turn."
"Nightmares? Have you spoken to someone about this?"
"Nothing anyone can do. But I don't have nightmares when someone's with me."
"Here," Phil said, moving Tony to lie flat beside him. Then he turned onto his side, slid one arm under Tony's neck – it fit perfectly – and threw the other over Tony's waist, a few inches south of the reactor. He then bent one leg over Tony's legs, and held him close. Tony gasped. "This isn't uncomfortable or painful, is it?"
"No," Tony said, swallowing the lump in his throat. "No, it's perfect."
"Good. Get some sleep."
"Are you going to?"
"As long as I don't think about your… them, I will."
Tony nodded, and he tried to fall asleep. Phil stroked a bare patch of skin at his waist; he probably didn't even realise that he was doing it. What did that mean?
As soon as Tony recognised the signs that Phil was asleep, he tried to identify the warmth flowing through his body. He hadn't given JARVIS any commands to adjust the temperature in the bedroom, so it wasn't that. And this didn't feel like a temperature thing anyway. More like happy emotions. Related to… Phil? It had to be. Tony had stopped feeling like this a long time.
He wanted Phil to stay with him, desperately. The idea of security, emotional as well as physical, was naturally appealing. Someone to come home to, who knew him but still stayed with him, in spite of everything. Or maybe because of everything. Someone who didn't want sex out of him, and said that he was beautiful. Beautiful? Really? But Phil had said that, and he wasn't being ironic. The more that Tony thought about it, the more he realised that Phil had looked at him longingly. Did he actually want Tony?
No. There was no way Phil could love him ba—
Wait a second. Love? Since when had it become love? Since when had anything formed that could be become love?
Tony thought back over their conversations frantically, trying to identify the moment he began to fall for the agent. Was it when Phil said that he only wanted Tony to be happy? Was it when he called Tony beautiful? Was it the moment Tony had seen the tear tracks and realised that Phil had been crying for him? Or was it when he offered to be the one Tony came home to?
No. One of those moments had been the moment he finished falling in love with Phil Coulson. But the attraction – the full-on crush – had started earlier. It probably dated back to when Phil apologised for doubting him during his recovery post-Loki. Maybe before then, but the post-Loki apology at the latest. His feelings had unconsciously been developing since then. Now Tony was just… he was in love with Phil.
If this really was just for tonight, at least Tony would have this one night to remember. And maybe he could convince Phil to stay with him some nights after he moved in, if Tony continued to have nightmares.
After Phil moved in. Tony was no longer hoping for this. He was convinced that this was going to happen. Phil wouldn't fail him. Even though he could never love Tony back, he was going to be Tony's housemate, maybe even friend. Best friend. Yeah. He liked the thought of that. Tony wouldn't need anyone else pretending to want him ever again.
Finally (almost) perfectly happy, Tony fell asleep, never noticing the additional tears stealing away from his eyes.
The terrible and wonderful night had taken a lot out of Phil. He realised this when he saw that it was nearly quarter to nine. When was the last time he had slept so long, and so soundly? It must have been when he was in hospital six months ago.
He glanced at Tony, and saw moisture clogging up his eyelashes. He sighed. This man was extraordinary, and deserved better treatment than he had been dealt. And he was sleeping deeply, because he never stirred as Phil pulled away and dressed quietly. He really didn't want to wake Tony when he clearly needed the rest; but that was preferable to leaving, and causing Tony to think that he had been abandoned if he woke up while Phil was out.
"Tony," he said, stroking Tony's hair. He risked a gentle kiss to the bare forehead, lingering even as Tony began to stir.
"Phil," he murmured. Phil took his hands, and waited. Soon enough, Tony was awake, and his expression turned to one of distress as he took in Phil's attire. "Are you leaving?"
"I'll be back," Phil said. "I promise. I'm just going to find the others. JARVIS, where are they?"
"Still breakfasting, Agent Coulson."
"Thank you." He stroked Tony's cheek. "I'll be back, and we can have breakfast in here, together. But I need to be dressed for this. If you want, you can get into some clothes while I'm gone. And throw all those… 'toys' out. Keep anything you want, but you won't need them anymore."
Tony's gaze dropped, and then wandered to the nightstand. "I'll keep the condoms and lube, just because you never know." Phil's gut tightened in potential jealousy. "But anything else… I don't want to keep any of it."
"Then we'll get rid of them later. Get dressed. Order whatever you want for breakfast. I'll just have—"
"Black coffee with sugar, Eggs Benedict, a tomato in quarters, and a small bowl of muesli with milk on the side. I know."
Phil cocked his head. "You know my favourite breakfast."
"You're not the only one who's observant, Phil."
He shivered, and hoped that Tony didn't notice that. "Thanks. I'll be back soon."
"Take as long as you want."
"If I'm not back in an hour, send out a search party," he said dryly.
"I know you'll come back," Tony said. He looked at Phil with such naked trust that the agent had to tear himself away before he did something stupid like kissing him.
He found the others in the dining room.
"No wonder you took so long," Natasha remarked, giving him the once-over. "You look remarkably unruffled."
"Not for long," Phil said. They all looked up at his icy tone. "You all have one hour to remove yourselves and your possessions from this property before I call Pepper Potts and James Rhodes, and tell them what you have been doing to their friend."
"What?" Clint said, standing up. "Wait, you can't do that, Phil—"
"I can, because I not only have Tony's best interests at heart, but I also have his permission to use any means necessary to remove you from his home."
"Why?" Steve asked. His puppy-dog eyes no longer held any sway with Phil.
"Because you have been using Tony for your own selfish pleasures, without giving him any form of consideration."
"He was happy to do it, Phil," Bruce said.
"That is Agent Coulson to you, Doctor Banner. To all of you."
As one, their jaws dropped.
"But… he said he'd do anything… there were safe-words…"
"Every time?" They glanced at each other. "And did you give any consideration to the arc reactor?"
"Aye," Thor said. "We have all been most careful not to cause it harm."
"Did you know that it hurts him to lie in any position other than on his back? Being in any other position pushes it against his skin. He's probably used to it when he's standing up or sitting down by now; but for sleeping, he says that it hurts if he's on his side. I hate to think how it might be if he's face-down for any reason." He especially looked at Bruce when he said that, remembering Tony's remark about Bruce's favourite position. The doctor had the grace to look guilty. "I gather that touching him on the back is some kind of pre-arranged signal. From what I've observed, it seems that he keeps his back to walls or furniture whenever he's around any of you."
"But—" At Phil's glare, Natasha shut up.
"The time is ticking away," he said. "I can arrange for JARVIS to send you copies of the security footage from Tony's room, so that you can prep others – maybe even each other – for future encounters. But never expect to see Tony in person again outside of SHIELD-related business. I am absolutely disgusted that he has felt it necessary to please you like this just so you won't leave him. Have you slept with each other, or just used Tony?"
Their faces said enough.
"Right," Phil continued. "You now have fifty minutes to leave. I don't think Tony would mind if you took anything else he has given you, such as new equipment, presents, even the allowance I suspect he has paid each of you. If not an allowance, then some kind of salary. He's a generous man. I'm sure you all know this from," he sneered, "personal experience." He walked to the door, then paused, and turned back. "If you can make it in less than half an hour, I won't feel it necessary to inform Miss Potts and Colonel Rhodes." He made eye contact with each of them. "Now get. Out."
Grimly pleased with his speech and his dramatic exit, Phil strode back to Tony's room. He knocked three times, to let Tony know that someone was there, and then entered the room. Tony stuck his head out of the en suite door, and visibly relaxed.
"Just going to take a shower," he said. "JARVIS said the food will be ready in ten."
While the water was running and Tony was singing, sounding more cheerful than Phil had heard him lately, he moved a small statue and bowl of potpourri – really? – from a side table, and moved it to a clear space in the room. He wheeled a desk chair over to the table, and then dragged an armchair over to the other side. The ten minutes was nearly up when the water was shut off, and Tony came to the end of a song. By the time he was in a bathrobe, Phil was arranging the food and drinks on the table. Tony had a smoothie, two pieces of dark toast, and a peeled orange. Phil wondered whether he could convince Tony to have some of his more substantial breakfast.
"It looks good," Tony said. Phil nudged him into the armchair, despite Tony's protests.
"This'll be easier with the arc reactor," he said. "Now eat up."
Sure enough, Tony accepted half of his Eggs Benedict and a slice of tomato, and he gave Phil three orange wedges in return. It was all so beautifully domestic that Phil hoped it could be like this every day, or at least some days. Tony wasn't attracted to him; he couldn't possibly be. So there wouldn't be any waking up together. Unless he offered himself as a buffer against nightmares? He'd have to wait and see.
"The other Avengers have now left the building," JARVIS intoned. Tony nearly spilt the smoothie he was offering to Phil. "I am sorry, sir. I presumed that you would wish to be informed."
"How long did it take, JARVIS?" Phil asked.
"Twenty-eight and a half minutes, sir."
"Hmm. I'm still tempted to tell Rhodes and Miss Potts."
"Please don't," Tony said. He grabbed Phil's hand. "I don't want them to know what I've done. It wasn't entirely the others' fault. I did offer myself from the start, and I could've kicked them out any time."
"It was still dubious consent," Phil said. He sighed. "But since you don't want your friends to know, I won't tell them."
"Thank you," Tony said. He didn't let go right away; and when he did, his fingers ran along the back of Phil's hand. "For everything, Phil."
He smiled at Tony. "You're welcome. JARVIS?"
"Could you compile a DVD for each of the others, using footage of their personal encounters in this… room?" It would be harsh to call it a brothel, not to mention tactless. "And ensure that they receive them? If it's okay with you, Tony?"
Tony hesitated, and then nodded. "I guess so. It's basically porn, so—"
"I meant that they needed to see what they had done to you and feel ashamed, not to use it as material to get themselves off," Phil said, some of his anger returning. "Maybe it's a bad idea."
"I can arrange something suitable, if you allow me to, sirs."
"We can trust him," Tony said. Phil nodded.
"Okay. Do what you will, JARVIS."
"Thank you, Agent Coulson."
Phil insisted that Tony move to another bedroom. There were enough on that floor, ones which were never used. He wanted Tony to sleep in a room not associated with those memories.
"But something good came out of it," Tony said, looking Phil straight in the eyes as he said it. Phil blushed, and looked away. Tony couldn't help internally jumping for joy. Sure, he still didn't have a chance at anything real and lasting; but something special was there nonetheless.
"You'll be okay here while I'm getting my things from base?" he said.
"I'll be quick. Besides. You're not the only one who wants someone to come home to."
Phil was as good as his word. Every wardrobe in Stark Tower had more space than anyone could need. Staring at the empty hanging space, he tried to imagine what it would look like with Phil's clothes alongside his. There was plenty of room in the drawers as well, and in the bathroom cabinets. He kept spare toiletries, which Phil had already started using when he brushed his teeth and showered.
"I'm done!" Phil called from the bedroom next door. He'd insisted on it, just in case Tony needed him; or, for that matter, in case he needed Tony. Tony couldn't picture any situation where Phil would need him, but he wasn't complaining. Though if he started masturbating over the agent again, he'd have to be quiet. Funny how he'd never really thought about that since he started servicing the others.
He wandered into Phil's room. It didn't look much different on the outside; just a few trinkets on the dressing table and a blue lamp on the bedside table. The blue was almost the same colour as his arc reactor. Tony wished that was symbolic.
"You don't have any posters or anything?" he said. "By the way, we can buy whatever furniture you want, if there's anything you want to replace."
"I'm good," Phil said. "It's nearly lunchtime. I'll just hang up this tie."
He pulled off his tie – Tony had already noticed the lack of a jacket – and opened the wardrobe door to hang it on the tie rack. Tony joined him, taking a peek at the clothes. There were enough to fill the empty space in his own cupboard, with room to spare for new garments.
"Do you want to go out for lunch? This feels too… different. I need time to process everything, and I can't do that here."
"Whatever makes you happy," Phil said, closing the door. He smiled; it was breath-taking. How had Tony never noticed that before?
"You really do mean that," he said, echoing similar words or thoughts from the night before.
"Of course I do," Phil said. "Will I need to dress up for this?"
"No. This is good. It's perfect. You're perfect." He was starting to babble.
"Calm down, Tony."
It was the touch on his arm that did it. Tony threw himself at Phil, kissing him hungrily, stroking his hands up and down the man's chest and finally settling on his shoulders. Phil kissed back, which was good. It was great. It was…
Over too soon.
"Please, Tony," Phil said. "You don't have to do this. I don't want this. Not if you're not on board."
"What if I am on board?" He barrelled on. "I love you. I love you so much, Phil. It's been coming on for ages. I'm so sorry I thought you could do anything like that to me; I didn't want to believe it, but I couldn't think what else you could want from me. I still can't think of anything."
Phil shuddered under his hands. "Do you mean it?"
"God yes. The thought that you don't want me… I mean, you don't have to want me. This doesn't mean anything like that. I know you're just doing this for me as a friend, and as a handler—"
"I'm not. I'm doing this because I love you, Tony, and the thought of anyone else having you is driving me nuts. Do you really want me? Because if this is just gratitude or something, then you've completely missed the point of everything I've been saying the last fifteen hours."
"No, no. I understand now, and I want you. So badly." There were more tears streaming down Tony's cheeks; but these were happy tears. Phil wanted him. Phil loved him. He wasn't going to leave. "You're going to have to move your stuff out of this room, of course. We'll be sharing a room, right?"
Phil cradled his face. "I wouldn't have it any other way."
"And you'll m-make love to me?"
"I'll show you what making love is all about. I've wanted to for so long. But," he kissed Tony again, "only when you're ready. I want the others purged from your mind and body first. I've already found the few things they left behind while they hurried to leave, so we'll send them on. We'll continue to get rid of any other reminders, especially those toys. And then, when this is done… we will have dinner out, and whatever else you want to do. When we come home, I'll undress you slowly, until you're absolutely bared to my eyes. Then, while you prepare yourself, I'll strip off all my clothes as well."
"Yeah?" Tony's heart was pounding. There was none of the old spike of arousal; he just felt incredibly warm again, and safe, as Phil's words painted a picture of something he yearned for.
"Then I will kiss every inch of you that I can see; find all your most sensitive places. Then, while we kiss properly, I will take you, slow, gentle, until we come together. I will tell you how much you mean to me, every time we stop kissing to take a breath. Afterwards, we'll cuddle up, you on your back, and we can fall asleep together, wake up together, and have breakfast together. Then we can get on with whatever we have to do that day. And we'll always," he carded his fingers through Tony's hair, "have each other to come home to."
"Yeah," Tony whispered. "Always."