"We had our reasons," said Natasha.
"I figured that," said Sitwell patiently. "But if I'm going to be your handler, I'm going to have to know a little more about--"
"How are you our handler, anyway?" Clint interrupted, a scowl on his face. "Who'd you piss off to get this detail?"
Natasha gazed at Sitwell, content to let Clint's belligerence run free. After the way SHIELD had treated them, she didn't particularly feel like doing what Clint referred to as her "let's make Clint behave like a real grownup" thing.
The fact that Jasper Sitwell was a good guy and probably didn't deserve the attitude didn't seem to matter to Clint much. Which Natasha probably should've cared about, but found she didn't particularly.
"I asked for the position," said Sitwell, scribbling down something incomprehensible.
"And Hill just said yes? Just like that?"
"Why not? I worked with Phil. He was supposed to be your handler."
"I just figured she'd sic another WSC type like Sorensen on us," said Clint.
"Sorensen's been reassigned," said Sitwell. "I'm familiar with the Avengers Initiative, I've worked well with both of you in the past--"
"Doesn't seem like the WSC's style," said Clint. "Putting in someone we can work with."
Sitwell gave them a bland look. "Well, we'll see how long this lasts," he said. "Now, as part of your re-integration--"
"We weren't gone long enough to have to re-integrate," said Natasha flatly.
"--you are expected to go through Retraining Program B-3," Sitwell finished. "I will be evaluating your weapons tests. Mr. Stark, Captain Rogers and Thor are expected to--"
"You're out of your mind if you think Tony's going to--"
"--also comply," finished Sitwell, taking a thin binder out of his briefcase. "I will leave you the following documentation to explain to them. They have no reason to trust me and I have no reason to waste my time trying to make them."
"What makes you think we want to do your job for you?" asked Natasha.
"We're only doing this for a year, and under duress," said Clint.
"And I'm sure Mr. Stark is already trying to find a way to weasel out. In the meantime, there's no harm in going through the motions, is there?" asked Sitwell, opening the binder and flipping through the tabbed pages. "Here are your access codes for the systems - you aren't Level 7 any more, of course, but you do need Level 1 access - and here are codes for the training, weapons and tactical rooms. Please fill out the following--"
"You know where you can stuff these--" Clint began.
"Hawkeye," Sitwell said firmly, setting down the binder with a slight thump. "I am not going to waste my time making excuses for SHIELD. Or the WSC, for that matter. I don't much care why you quit. I don't much care why you came back, or how you feel about it. I do care about making this as painless as possible for everyone involved. So please, out of respect for the man who trained us both, don't make my job deliberately harder."
Natasha put a hand on Clint's arm and shook her head slightly. Clint sat back, satisfied they'd made their feelings clear.
"What has Dr. Banner said about returning to SHIELD?" asked Sitwell.
"That he'd rather have gangrene of the dick," said Clint.
"Is that a direct quote?" Sitwell chuckled, shaking his head. He ticked off an item on his legal pad and scanned over his notes. "Are Stark and Rogers romantically involved?" he asked, without looking up.
"Search me, I dunno," said Clint. "Why do you care?"
Sitwell gave him another bland look. "I'm your handler. I need to know about the team. I'm not asking to gossip, or go to the media. I'm asking because it's part of my job."
"And you can figure it out yourself. That's part of your job too." Clint gave him a grim smile. "Besides, it might not be your job for long. I'm sure the WSC has some other stooge ready to replace Sorensen."
"Please make sure you get your team-mates to sign in and complete their intake paperwork," said Sitwell calmly. "Forms are available online as well, addresses in your binder."
"Wouldn't expect any. Well, that's all for today," said Sitwell, dismissing them with a wave.
Ridiculous of Sitwell to ask about Steve and Tony, really, thought Natasha as they walked away. It wasn't like it was a huge secret any more. The latest picture circling in the media had been telling enough, even though she knew for a fact that it had been taken before Steve and Tony were actually back together.
The photograph, taken during the post-quarantine press conference, was actually kind of... gorgeous. They were in their own world, obviously, Steve's hand on Tony's back, Tony's eyes wide and joyful, both of them leaning slightly towards one another. It was intimate, despite the decorous space between them. Natasha had tried hard to figure out how anybody could explain it away as platonic, and had come up blank.
"So. Back to the Tower?" asked Clint as they left SHIELD. "I think we're on to A Beautiful Mind."
"You know, you didn't have to be such a prick to him. It's Jasper. He's just doing his job."
"He didn't need to ask about anybody's private--"
"I'm sure Jasper wants to think about Tony and Steve fucking about as much as we do," said Natasha. "He's asking because he has to. It's what Phil would've done." She paused. "Phil liked him. He would've been happy Jasper was assigned to us."
"Well he won't be for long," said Clint gloomily.
"Clint, make up your mind. You either hate him on principle or you hate the fact that he might be replaced by a WSC stooge."
"Can't I choose both?" Clint asked, a smile tugging the side of his mouth.
"No," said Natasha flatly. "It's time to be a grownup and play nice with the other kids."
Clint shrugged, then idly flipped through the papers Sitwell had given them. He stopped, frowning. "I will say one thing," he said slowly. "I'm not sure when Jasper got this sloppy." He tilted the binder in Natasha's direction.
Natasha glanced at it, then blinked. "The code?"
"It's not Level 1, that's for sure," said Clint.
Natasha frowned thoughtfully. "Clint. I don't think he's sloppy. That's... not Jasper."
Clint's eyebrows raised. "You think..."
"I think we're not the only ones who didn't like WSC's strong-arm tactics. Jasper may have just given us clearance into areas we shouldn't be getting into." She smiled at Clint. "I say we take advantage of it."
They entered the Tower and went up to the common floor.
"How'd it go at SHIELD?" asked Bruce as they entered the kitchen. Bruce and Steve were putting together the makings for a taco dinner; Tony appeared to be loitering for the purpose of eating the shredded cheese whenever Steve wasn't looking.
"Come back to its loving arms, Bruce," said Clint. "And you'll find out. Really. Please. You know you want to. There, Tasha, can you tell Sitwell I did my part trying to talk him back in?"
Steve frowned at him. "They're still trying to get Bruce back?" He put down the cheese grater and pressed his lips together. "Damn it. I'm sorry."
Tony shook his head. "Steve. Don't."
Steve glared at him. "Tony, it's my fault. If I hadn't accepted--"
"Shut up," said Clint. "If anything, we pressured you, when you weren't in any position to say no. Drop the guilt trip already, or I end you."
Steve sighed and Tony put a hand on his, squeezing it. "I told you so," he said gently, leaned forward and gave him a quick kiss. "The only one who blames you for this is you. Here." He handed Steve the bowl of grated cheese. "Take this away from me before I eat all of it, and let's go see the movie."
They settled themselves in front of the screen, Steve still looking upset but the rest of them determined to let it go. Bruce started to fiddle with the remote, queuing up the movie.
"Hey. Tony. What do you make of this?" Clint tossed the page with the codes Sitwell had given them at Tony, then sat down next to Natasha and started putting together nachos for himself. Tony glanced over the codes, frowning slightly. "Yeah, those are our new security codes. It's supposed to be Level 1--"
"To anyone who doesn't know how SHIELD codes work, it should look like it, yeah," said Tony. Steve peered over his shoulder.
"Helpful?" asked Natasha, helping herself to the nachos as well.
"You have no idea," said Tony. "Very. Not that I can't find plenty of things on my own."
"Any news on that, by the way?" asked Natasha.
Tony took a breath, glanced sideways at Steve. "I've been meaning to tell you." He cleared his throat and put a hand on Steve's. "Uh. I was able to get into SHIELD Medical records."
"I thought you'd figured out how to break in ages ago," said Clint, his mouth full.
"No, a little deeper. I, um..." he glanced at Bruce, who had found where they'd left off the movie the night before.
"We weren't sure how to tell you," Bruce gave Steve an apologetic glance and put down the remote. "There's a lot of proof in there that SHIELD Medical was experimenting on you for their own purposes, to find out more about the Serum. I mean, it would be hard to prove it in a court of law, because they really were testing stuff that was for your benefit--"
"And it worked," Steve pointed out.
"Yeah, it did." Bruce cleared his throat. "But some of the practices were not exactly ethical. And all of your records were being transferred straight to the WSC. By one researcher in particular."
"Gandry," Steve guessed. Bruce nodded. "You're not telling me anything new. We all suspected this. Right?" Steve looked around at them and Natasha could see her own sheepish embarrassment mirrored on her team-mates' faces. "I'm not an idiot; I suspected it too. Once I got out of there a lot of what had happened didn't make much sense, therapeutically speaking. It felt more like what SRS did with me during the War." He shook his head. "This isn't new information, Bruce."
"All right, maybe not. But it's... it doesn't look good. Especially considering the state you were in when you went to them, and the fact that they took advantage of that." He paused. "Gandry was also trying very hard to get Thor and me in, to do research on us too."
Thor looked darkly amused as he filled his own plate.
"Is that all you found?" asked Natasha.
"We've gotten into some financial areas," said Tony. "You know how it looked like Fury was in charge of things, and some finances went missing? We're getting pretty close to tracing where they went. And it's pointing back to the WSC. Again."
"As in, taking funds?" asked Clint.
"More like putting them where they wouldn't be found and would make Nick Fury look as bad as possible. There were also three new hires in that department. One has ties to the WSC. The other two, haven't found any yet."
"Sounds good," said Natasha.
"It's mostly confirmation of stuff we were pretty sure about already," said Tony. "Stuff to make Nick Fury look bad; stuff to push through the Council's agenda. No smoking guns yet."
"You've watched too many spy movies," said Clint. "There's usually no smoking gun; it's mostly a lot of small details that put together build up a damning picture."
Natasha smiled. Phil used to say that. Funny hearing it out of Clint's mouth.
"How's it going with SI Legal?"
Tony grimaced. "Not so good. Pepper's still working on it. Obviously we can make a good point that we were under duress, but it'll still get messy if we try to get out right now. SHIELD has plenty of dirt on us too. I don't want our leaving to reflect badly on us..."
"Look at you, all responsible with your image," Clint snickered.
"It's not just my image," said Tony seriously. "I don't want us to take a hit, and you know SHIELD will hit us. They'll play dirty."
"What's dirtier than having sent nukes at New York?" asked Bruce. "Because that's what we've got on them."
"We don't have the proof of that yet," said Tony grimly. "Other than through our resident spies, who could be charged with treason for telling us. The pass codes we just got might help with that."
"Once we get it, and proof of other stuff?"
"Then we go in. And not just to quit. We're gonna blow this open. Expose the WSC, SHIELD, whoever gets hit with whatever shit flies." Tony paused. "I don't know if we should use the pass codes, though..." He thought for a moment. "I'll have Pepper ask SI Legal whether it'll be treason for us to get info from passcodes we get as employees of SHIELD. I'm not keen on becoming another Bradley Manning, thanks."
"Chelsea," Steve corrected him.
"Whatever." Tony put the paper Clint had given him in his pocket. "I'll look this stuff over. For now, let's watch the movie."
"Right, yeah, the movie about the crazy socially awkward genius dude," said Clint, mouth full of nachos. "Feeling some kinship here, Tony?"
"Tony's more engineering than mathematics," Steve said seriously, and the others snickered.
Tony rolled his eyes. "Thanks, dear, love you too," he said, settling back against Steve on the couch. "This is your idea of support?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Steve said, and Tony chuckled as Bruce started the movie.
Steve laughed, enjoying the soft wind on his face and the bustle of people on the street, but glad to be close to home. "I ate rations during the War. Do you know what those were made of?"
"Probably not capsaicin so strong it could peel the paint off my armor," said Tony. "I'm not letting you near any sensitive part of me with that mouth."
"I learned the hard way, once, that really spicy salsa right before oral sex is a very bad idea," said Tony darkly, and Steve's eyebrows shot up.
"Are you serious?"
"A very bad idea. Your tongue gets acclimated to it; lady parts don't."
Steve felt a blush spreading right to his hairline. Tony snickered.
"Hey, have you ever?'
"Have I ever what?"
"Gone down on anyone," said Tony, as if it were the most normal thing in the world to say, right out in a public street, as part of a regular conversation.
"Tony!" Steve muttered. Damn it, this century. Not that people in his time didn't talk about sex, but for God's sake, they didn't just segue into it from a perfectly innocent discussion of eating Ghost Pepper quesadillas.
"Steve!" Tony shot back, smirking at him. "Come on. Or do you make it policy to never go down and tell?"
Steve blushed even harder. It was odd how it felt so natural, being with Tony, and in the Tower it was almost as if he'd forgotten that he'd ever felt completely out of time and place... and then Tony would say or do something that would make him feel so damn self-conscious. Remind him that this whole world, this whole time, wasn't his own. None of the attitudes and social norms he'd been raised to believe in were the same. Here he was, mortified at the thought of anyone overhearing their conversation and judging them... but the vast majority of his fellow New Yorkers wouldn't care enough to say anything, no matter what they felt. And a huge proportion of them actually wouldn't think there was anything wrong.
No, damn it. There was nothing wrong with this conversation. Tony was being an ass and trying to embarrass him, as per usual, but that was just how he showed affection. "Possibly emotionally maladaptive," he'd said once, and Steve chuckled at the memory because yes, he really was.
"What?" Tony said, smiling back. "Gonna tell me what that smile's all about?" He pitched his voice lower again and raised an eyebrow. "Fond memories of blow jobs gone by?"
"Iron Man!" As if on cue, a reporter jogged up to Tony and Steve. "Is it true that--" and Steve glanced around at the gaggle of reporters, maybe eight or ten of them, drawing closer to the Tower.
"There was a report of an anomaly in Central Park today; were the Avengers called in to that?" asked one reporter.
"Uh, I hope not," said Tony. "In that we were just at dinner, so we missed the whole show if there was one."
"I can answer that one," said Clint, coming out of the Tower. "No, the Avengers were not called out." The reporters made a small communal sound of disappointment. "Apparently there was a sighting of a man who burst into flame and then walked away, but not before setting a few bushes on fire. Wasn't our call, we had nothing to do with it, the guy was apparently not even super-powered, just some idiot who decided to try stunt-flames in public. Could've burned down a lot of property." Clint rolled his eyes. "And here I'm gonna take on the uncomfortable position of PSA Safety Dude: Kids, seriously, don't do this at home."
The reporters looked disappointed, and Steve couldn't help feeling bad for them. He'd heard of the problems besieging professional journalists these days, what with everyone having access to free news. These poor fellas were just trying to make a living and had probably raced to the Tower to get a scoop and now had nothing to show for their troubles.
"So, you weren't at a battle?" asked one. He glanced between Tony and Steve. "You were at dinner? Together?"
Steve's sympathy dipped markedly. He glanced at Tony.
"Yeah, together," said Tony. "Elena's Garden. Spicy. Excellent chimichangas."
"And was there anybody else there?" asked the reporter.
Tony smiled at him coolly. "During dinner rush? I dunno what the capacity of the place is, but--"
"Can you address the new rumours about--"
"Sure," said Steve impulsively. "They're true." Tony grinned at him and Clint burst out laughing, as the reporters briefly fell silent and then all started to talk over each other.
"Do you mean to say that the photograph taken of you the other day--"
"Is accurate," said Steve, nodding. "We're together."
"I think you just made a couple of them cream their pants," said Tony, leaning into Steve's ear.
"You're dating, then?" said one of the reporters, learning forward avidly. "Officially? What about the other day, at the press conference, when you said you were looking for--"
"Guess I found the right guy," said Steve shortly, but couldn't stop smiling at the way Tony's eyes sparkled.
"Did you know?" a reporter asked Clint.
Clint nodded, grinning. "It's pretty new, but yeah, we all know."
"And how do the other Avengers feel about--"
"We think it's about god-damned time," Clint said with feeling.
"Captain Rogers.” A short, round reporter with intense blue eyes shoved forward into Steve's personal space. "What do you think some of the more conservative Americans will say about this? Do you think that--"
"I don't think it's a conservative issue so much any more," said Steve. "Not from what I've seen. Almost everybody's been pretty supportive so far. I don't imagine that many people will care."
"But the fact that you're dating Tony Stark, that's--"
Steve gave a small smile. "Wasn't there a meme going around a little while ago that said, 'Live your life in such a way that the Westboro Baptist Church will want to picket your funeral'?" There was a laugh from the crowd. "Not that that's what I was planning on doing, but what the heck, so long as I'm here..."
"My boyfriend uses the word 'heck' in casual conversation," Tony chuckled. "It's adorable."
"My team-mate uses the word 'boyfriend'," said Clint, rolling his eyes. "I can't decide whether it's adorable or nauseating."
"Do you think any groups will picket you--"
Steve shrugged. "Nobody I would be concerned about, I don't think. Westboro pickets the funerals of American soldiers, they'd probably picket me anyway. If they ever do, wherever I am, I'll be very proud."
"And on that note, we've got to go in," said Tony, and they went into the Tower, leaving the reporters outside. He turned to Steve, still chuckling. "Seriously? We came out to the people who camped out near the Tower after a flaming guy went through Central Park?"
"You would've preferred a press conference?"
"I would've preferred messing with their minds a little longer," Clint snickered.
"This way they get a scoop."
"This way they're going to camp out next to the Tower more often," Clint pointed out as they entered the elevator.
Steve frowned. "Damn. I hadn't thought of that."
"Ah, there's usually one or two of them out there anyway," said Tony. "It'll die down."
Clint took out his phone. "Well, time to be a gracious loser," he said wryly. "One lobster dinner for Natasha, coming up."
"Why?" asked Steve.
"We had a bet – oh hi Nat," said Clint, and the elevator slowed as it got to his floor. "Yeah, so pick the date for the Pearl Oyster Bar, oh Wise Woman," he spoke into the phone, rolling his eyes as Natasha evidently whooped. "Yeah, Steve, a few minutes ago, to some reporters outside the Tower."
Tony burst out laughing. "You bet I'd be the one to out us?"
"Bruce bet it would be you," said Clint. "I thought it would be photographs of you two making out." He turned back to Natasha on the phone as the elevator stopped on his floor. "OK, fess up Tash, was that just a lucky guess?" He exited, still talking.
"Seriously, though, I'm fine with this," said Tony as the elevator doors closed. "You know that, right? The papers will have a ball, but that was gonna happen anyway."
"Yeah, I know," said Steve. "I figured, why delay the inevitable? Besides, a week or so from now it'll be over, and they'll have something better to write about," said Steve. He ran a finger over Tony's stubbled cheek. "We'll be fine," he said, and they got off on Tony's floor.
"We will, won't we?" said Tony. He drew Steve closer and they kissed, and Steve suppressed a giggle. A week after what Clint had only recently stopped calling their close shave, they'd gotten used to the ultra-short hair, but it still felt odd to feel so much of Tony's face, and he missed the texture of his beard.
At least their bodies were past the prickly stage of hair growth, he thought as their kiss deepened. Or maybe they were just used to it. Steve gently steered Tony to the bedroom, still kissing, and Tony chuckled as they backed up to the bed. "So... are we skipping team-building?"
"What is it today, Chicago?" Tony nodded, and Steve rolled his eyes. "I was a kid during Prohibition, Tony. I'm not in the mood to see it satirized tonight." He pushed Tony down onto the bed, lying down next to him and pulling him close.
"You wanna skip it?" asked Tony between increasingly heated kisses, and rolled onto his back, pulling Steve on top of him and parting his thighs.
"No, just don't wanna see it tonight, that's all," said Steve, enjoying the feel of Tony under him, both of them rapidly hardening.
"What do you want to do instead?"
Steve gave a pointed glance at their position on the bed, and Tony smirked and leaned up to kiss him, lips moving quickly down to his throat. Steve closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of Tony's mouth on his skin, a shiver running through him.
"So you never did answer," Tony murmured. "Did you ever go down on anyone?"
Steve's pulse jumped. "Uh. No."
"Anyone go down on you?"
Steve swallowed. "A couple of times. Couple of USO girls."
Steve's mind swam. "What kind of question is that?" he asked. He brought Tony's hand to the front of his pants. "What do you think?"
"Want a repeat performance?" Tony asked, moving his hand, his voice low and filthy. "I didn't eat anything dangerously hot..." Steve bit his lip as a whimper escaped him, and Tony chuckled, nibbling his neck. "I'm guessing this doesn't go over any lines about premarital sex, then?"
Steve sighed and pulled away slightly, leaning on his elbow. "Tony." Tony paused in mid-nibble. "You know when you said I could still feel all right because we'd never had real sex?"
Tony frowned. "What?"
"When you ended things."
"I said that?"
"You said we never even fucked properly, so I could still feel virtuous. You were drunk, I'm not surprised you don't remember."
Tony looked away from him and Steve put a finger under his chin brought his gaze back. "I told you I didn't feel virtuous. Look, what we were doing - everything we've done together - it's all considered wrong, by some lights." He paused. "By my lights - before, I mean. I wasn't telling myself it wasn't 'real' sex, so it didn't count."
"It all felt pretty real to me," Steve finished gently. "For good and bad."
Tony swallowed hard and nodded, holding his gaze.
Steve kissed Tony, slipping a hand down. "This feels real too," he said, groaning as Tony's fingers went to work on his fly and his hand slipped in.
"So what do you want to do?"
Steve kissed him. "Whatever comes up," he murmured, and started pulling clothing off.
"Oh, that's terrible," Tony groaned, falling onto his back as Steve pushed him down and pressed them together. Steve laughed, revelling in the feel of him, the feel of so much skin under his fingers, Tony's chest hair growing in, no longer stubble but still a little sharp, Tony's tongue in his mouth, Tony hot and hard in his hand.
"Jesus," he moaned. "You feel so, so good..."
"Whatever you wanna do," Tony gasped. "You know I'm up for it." Steve nodded, kissing Tony as the last of their clothing disappeared. Tony pressed his legs together and pulled Steve on top of him again. "You wanna..."
Briefly Steve considered taking his pleasure as he had so many times before, thrusting between Tony's thighs, then shook his head. "No, I want - I want you inside. Inside me," he clarified.
Tony stopped, panting, gazing up at Steve. "Steve, are you sure--"
"I told you, it's all real to me," Steve said, kissing him. "So why not?"
"Because there's a reason we haven't," Tony said when they came up for air. "And I don't want you to--"
"The reason was that I needed to go slow, and it didn't feel right yet," said Steve between kisses. "Trust me, it feels right, now. I want it. I want you." He took Tony's hand in his. "Trust me."
Tony swallowed. "I... uh, I guess I always thought you'd want to top."
"Maybe some other day," said Steve, not wanting to think too hard about why this felt so right, but his brain helpfully supplying reasons anyway - wanting to show Tony that he trusted him fully; part of him still feeling like you weren't really a fairy if you didn't lie down for a fella and the rest of him wanting that part of him to shut the fuck up forever; part of him still not believing in sex before marriage but the rest of him pointing out that what he had with Tony was as close as he was likely to come, and if Tony had been a dame he would've proposed months ago so really, why get hung up on technicalities...
"I want to," he said, and took Tony's hand. He kissed his fingers, moved his mouth to Tony's and kissed him breathless before moving down his neck. "I want to. Please."
Tony panted below him, eyes dark and wide. "Yeah. Yeah, OK," he said, his voice rough. "God, Steve, I'm gonna make this so good for you." He pushed up, locking his lips to Steve's again, and moved them to their sides. He slipped a hand down and started working Steve's length, making Steve moan.
"Yeah, that's it," Tony murmured, then reached over to the side of the bed and pulled out the lube. He nodded to Steve to hold out his hand and poured lube on it, then into his own hand, and then took Steve's erection, motioning to Steve to do the same. Steve shivered, shudders going through him as Tony's hand sped up and their lips came together again, and then Tony's hand was moving around Steve's hip and reaching down and it felt like it should feel different, intrusive or at least strange as Tony went lower and started gently stroking him, but it didn't feel strange at all. Tony's finger slipped in and Steve almost didn't notice, in the overload of lube and lips and Tony growing harder and hotter in his hand.
"You OK?" Tony murmured, and Steve nodded, overwhelmed at the sensations, at the feeling of giving himself to Tony and trusting Tony this much - not that what they'd done together before now hadn't taken trust, but... he gasped as Tony added another finger.
Tony chuckled and kissed him again. "I wanna go down on you so much," he whispered. "Wanna find out what kind of noises you make when my tongue is wrapped around your dick," and Steve closed his eyes, fighting to keep from going off right now before they even went further, but somehow Tony seemed to be keeping him on an edge. "I'm not gonna let you come yet," Tony murmured. "Trust me. This won't be over before we start." He kissed Steve again and kept going, and Steve supposed he should feel a burn or something but he didn't, just felt good and drawn tight as a bowstring...
He kept forgetting to move his hand on Tony, though, amazed that Tony was somehow able to keep coordinating kissing him and stretching him and pushing into Steve's hand, while he himself was rapidly losing all coherent thought and--
"Don't worry about me," said Tony, chuckling and nibbling on his earlobe. "Just relax."
Steve nodded in relief, concentrating on the feeling of Tony's lips and fingers and letting Tony lead as Tony kissed him breathless and damn it, he wanted, he needed Tony to - God, he didn't even know what he wanted any more--
Tony gently broke off their kiss, removing his fingers and Steve couldn't have said how many there were, only that he'd always assumed he'd be feeling tense at this moment as Tony gently pushed him onto his back, but it was hard to feel anything but breathless anticipation as Tony took a slow deep breath and put more lube on himself, and then slowly pressed into Steve.
Oh, God. Steve held on to Tony's shoulders, their eyes locked as their bodies came together.
"You OK?" Tony asked when he was fully sheathed inside him, and Steve could feel him, all of him, filling Steve and holding himself still, waiting for Steve's signal to continue.
Steve nodded, not trusting his voice, feeling like he was going to break apart. He looked up at Tony, braced above him, a bead of sweat starting to trickle down his forehead, and he reached up, tracing it with a finger before gently brushing over Tony's lips. He nodded again, shifting his hips slightly and groaning at the pressure as Tony slid deeper inside.
Tony gave him a small smile and pushed again, and Steve swallowed. Tony rocked slowly, giving Steve time to adjust, and Steve figured it couldn't be as intense for Tony as it was for him, but Tony looked completely focused on him, as if he hadn't done this a million times, as if this was the only thing that mattered to him - and then Tony brought a hand down and stroked Steve and Steve felt his eyes roll to the back of his head.
"Oh my God," he whispered, his head pressing back into the pillow, on sensory overload.
"It's OK. You can let go. I'm pretty close," murmured Tony. He moved inside Steve. "Some day, I'll make you come without even touching your dick. It's pretty intense."
Steve nodded wordlessly, senses sparking as Tony stroked and rocked into him and everything narrowed down to where they were touching, and he looked down to see Tony's hand wrapped around him and Tony disappearing into him and he suddenly gripped the sheets, back arching and crying out as his climax took him totally unprepared in a searing wave of sensation.
"Oh fuck," Tony groaned, moving with Steve through his release and growing less steady until, just as Steve was starting to come down, Tony tensed. "Jesus, oh, fuck, God, Steve," Tony groaned, hand dropping to the bed and body tensing, and Steve could feel him pulsing inside. Tony's eyes were clenched tight as he rode out his orgasm, shoulders shaking with the effort until he finally heaved a deep breath, lowering himself onto his elbows.
Steve smiled up at him, dazed and still panting. "You OK?"
"Am I OK?" Tony huffed a laugh. "I'm fan-fucking-tastic. Literally." He dropped a kiss on Steve's forehead. "You?"
Steve nodded, his limbs feeling heavy, lazy satisfaction stealing over him. "Yeah. Great."
It was so inadequate. He didn't feel great. He felt amazing. He felt like he could shout his happiness to the world, like he wanted to take on whoever decided Captain America shouldn't be queer - or at least shouldn't be queer with Tony Stark - and laugh at how wrong they were. Like he'd like to track down anyone who had ever told him that without marriage vows, sex was tawdry and cheap, and let them know in no uncertain terms that they didn't know what the hell they were talking about.
"I'm great." He glanced down at his stomach, spattered with his release, and grimaced. "Aside from needing a cleanup."
Tony snorted. "Give me a moment." He leaned down, gave him a kiss, and carefully withdrew, rolling over to find a box of kleenex next to the table.
"Always wanted to be a Boy Scout. Well... except for their whole attitude of not allowing people like us in."
Steve laughed. "You would've spent camping trips figuring out ways of making robots light the campfire and put up the tents."
Tony smiled. "True. But it would've been a good formative experience."
Steve laughed and shook his head, lying back.
"So." Tony leaned down, kissing him slowly, then pulled back. "Did you want to go down to see the movie?" he asked, nuzzling his neck.
"Not really, no."
"What do you say we order in?"
"Yeah, be decadent." He gave Steve a smile. "And you may not have your normal refractory period, but I think we can figure out other ways to occupy our time."
Steve grinned up at him. "You think so?"
"Oh, there is so much I want to do with you..." Tony murmured, and ran his eyes down Steve's body and it was so bizarre, he'd just had Tony inside him, could still feel Tony's hands and body all over him... but the touch of his eyes was making him feel like his skin was coming alive and aching for more.
"OK," he said, pulling Tony down for a kiss. "I'm in."
"Pepper, it's not my fault I went to a different hairdresser. I know you picked out Falvia specifically for me, but she wasn't in the quarantine hut, so--"
"Nice try, Tony," said Pepper, her eyes crinkling at the corners, and Tony relaxed minutely. "You know, you're supposed to be lying low while we extricate you from this SHIELD mess. Calling Steve your boyfriend on camera isn't what I'd call lying low."
"...spur of the moment?" Tony tried. Pepper shook her head. "For once it wasn't even my fault, Pep," he protested, grateful that she was focussing on the 'going public' rather than the 'dipping in the company pool' aspect of this. "It was Steve, I swear to God. I wasn't going to say anything."
Pepper shook her head. "And you're going to tell me you didn't encourage him."
"I... not right then and there, no."
Tony sighed. "I... may have broken up with him before because he wouldn't go public? Sort of?"
Pepper's eyes widened. "What do you mean, before? I thought this just started a few days ago!"
"Um." Shit. Right. "We were... kind of sleeping together. Sort of. For a while."
"Since when?" Pepper asked, and now there was real hurt in her eyes and voice.
Pepper closed her eyes and counted to ten. "December... oh, Tony. You were sleeping with him while he was emotionally compromised and unstable, after I had told you not to, knowing that this could seriously compromise the Avengers. Am I understanding this?"
Tony winced. "I'm not sure it's fair to put it that way."
"Tell me how else to put it."
Tony opened his mouth, then closed it. "I can't."
"Tony." Pepper rubbed the spot between her eyes that always looked like it hurt after a few minutes in his presence. "Tony." She sighed. "Tony."
"Tony." She sighed. "I'm going to scream if we keep talking about this." She shook herself. "I meant to call you to let you know Legal's got some preliminary documents they want you to look over about getting out of SHIELD."
Tony straightened up. "What do they want me to do?"
"Discuss options with you, to minimize the likelihood of SI getting hit with backlash if you--"
"How many options are there?"
"There's three that--"
"Pick one. I trust you."
"Your entire team needs to know about this--"
"Natasha's good at that kind of thing. She's laid up with an injury right now anyway, after the last fight. Steve would probably be interested too."
Pepper rubbed that spot again, and Tony kicked himself. Too soon to mention Steve. "All right. I'll send them both copies. They can probably explain to you much better than I can what you need to do when you present your resignations."
Tony hesitated. "About those resignations."
Pepper nodded. "You're not resigning, are you?"
"We've got some... leads."
Leads. What they had was a lot of nothing, files that showed WSC members infiltrating SHIELD, promotions that went back to WSC, a lot of communications between Hill and the WSC, a lot of files being shared around. No smoking gun. This wouldn't be solved with a smoking gun, Tony knew that, but the ten-year-old Sherlock Holmes enthusiast in him was still hoping for one.
Pepper sighed. "Well, as long as you're getting something out of it. I heard your last mission went well?"
"Well enough," said Tony. "Thor did most of the heavy lifting, and Clint got the horses with tranq darts."
"It's kind of hard to describe. They were inter-dimensional horses."
"Of course they were," said Pepper.
"We would've been fine if SHIELD had let me run Steve's plan. He thought we should go through the tunnel, but they wanted us at the docks instead."
"Why didn't you do it anyway?"
"We're trying to play nice. Steve's idea."
Pepper smiled, looked down at her tablet. "Well, that's all I wanted to talk to you about."
Tony blinked. "Really?"
Pepper nodded, then tilted her head to the side. "Tony. Should I give him the shovel talk?"
Tony blinked again. "Most people are giving me the shovel talk." He winced as he thought of all the news items that he'd come across - and thank God it was Sitwell and not Sorensen in charge of them these days, as he'd limited himself to three articles, but the volume of people weighing in on the wisdom of Captain America dating Iron Man was impressive and their thoughts were generally not... charitable.
"I can definitely understand that," said Pepper.
"Thanks," said Tony. He hesitated. "I can't say I blame them. Pepper, I'm not good at... people things."
"That's an understatement."
"Tony. You're selfish, self-centered, socially clueless most of the time--"
"Pepper, I can't tell you how much I appreciate--"
"And Steve is a bright boy. He's lived with you for seven months. I'm sure he's figured all of that out by now."
"And somehow he still wants to be with you. There must be a reason."
Tony stared at her for a moment. "I don't know what it is," he finally blurted.
"I do," said Pepper. She leaned forward. "You're generous. You're one of the kindest people I know, when you notice the people around you. You can be selfless to a fault."
Tony blinked at her, not knowing how to take that. "I don't feel so selfless. He's... he's so young." Who's robbing which cradle? one article had asked, and the answer had been predictable.
"He's not a child."
"He's also not so far away from being completely fucked up."
"All right, I'll agree if you started with him when he was sick, that wasn't the wisest thing in the world," said Pepper. "But he's fine now. And he still wants you."
He really did, that was the bizarre thing. Tony looked down, thinking of Steve, in his bed and in his life, because he wanted to be there for the long haul, and hadn't accepted Tony's bullshit about friends with benefits. His unabashed delight at learning what Tony was teaching him. His strength, gentleness...
"You've really fallen for him, haven't you?"
"What?" Damn it, he'd kind of zoned for a moment, and almost forgotten Pepper was still there.
"You've never fallen for anyone like this."
"I fell for you."
She smiled gently. "Not like this."
"Maybe you didn't think so, but I did. And look how that worked out, Pep." Tony looked away, aware that he wasn't keeping his tone as light as he meant to.
"Oh, Tony," she said sadly. She looked away, blinking rapidly. "That wasn't... that wasn't really you. It was the whole superhero thing. You know how much that freaked me out." She cleared her throat. "The two of you are better suited for each other. From what I can see, anyway."
Tony thought of the way Steve reached for him, in bed and out. The way they seemed to fit together. The way he'd found all of those sketches of himself in Steve's studio - his own eyes, his hands, his lips, the arc reactor, in ink, charcoal, pencil, and oils. The throb his heart had given when he'd glanced around the room, the warm feeling when he'd spotted Steve's blush. He ducked his head, not wanting to give too much away to Pepper's sharp eyes.
"And you're head over heels," Pepper said gently. Tony sighed. God, she was spooky sometimes. "Don't worry, your secret's safe with me. And possibly Clint and Natasha. They're super-spies. They can probably blackmail themselves."
"They don't have that great a track record with this, actually," said Tony.
"All right. I have a meeting," Pepper said, glancing at her watch. She gave Tony a small smile. "Take care of yourself, Tony. And tell Steve he'd better take care of you too, or he'll have me to answer to."
"Hey, no, I don't wanna terrify the poor guy."
"Bye, Pepper," he said, and cut the connection.
It was funny, they'd been through so much together, he and Pepper. And part of him still thought of her as his, in a way, he suddenly realized - through their break-up, through everything that had happened with Steve, Pepper was still his; his better half, his go-to person, his Girl Friday, the one he reached for the moment anything went wrong.
She shouldn't be, though. A good friend, yes. CEO and colleague, certainly... but he needed to go on with his life and let Pepper go on with hers. Maybe if she wasn't always dealing with his problems, she could find someone who could be to her what Steve was to him.
"Bye, Pepper," he repeated softly.
"What is it?" asked Natasha, looking up from her Starkpad and leaning over to peer at his laptop screen.
"An encrypted file," he said, showing it to Natasha. "Tony's been showing me how to get around file deletions and find hidden files on the SHIELD server, and I think I found something. I think this folder was Sorensen's."
Natasha's eyebrows went up.
"What's it in?" he asked her.
"I can't tell. But I can tell you this should've been erased when Sorensen was transferred." She frowned briefly. "Maybe we should ask Bruce and Tony to look at it..."
"They both sounded like they were getting antsy to check on things in their labs," Steve reminded her.
"Yeah, and it may be nothing," she agreed. "Well, I'm almost done here; why don't you run a decryption algorithm and I'll be here to help if you have any problems." She glanced at the clock. "And they'll be back in a hour for the end of the marathon anyway."
Steve shook his head as he wrote an algorithm to break through. Marathon; in his day, it was a race. Today it was anything done to excess, the latest being the way they'd set themselves to watching all three Lord of the Rings movies from beginning to end so that they could watch Return of the King. After two days of elves and orcs and gore, he was both eager to see how it ended and quite ready to go back to simply watching part of a movie during dinner.
There. If he'd done it properly, it was going to take a little while to unencrypt the files, but it should be worth it. He glanced over at Natasha's Starkpad, where a small screen was showing Clint and Natasha talking to a reporter after their latest mission.
"Why are you watching that?"
"Clint and I always watch each other's public appearances," said Natasha absently. "Give each other tips."
"How do you feel about two members of your team dating?" the reporter was saying.
"Yeah, whatever," said Clint. "I don't see much of a difference, to be honest. They're not - well, Cap's not - real PDA-prone, so it's not like they're making out in the kitchen or anything. And they were bickering like an old married couple from the moment they met, so that's nothing new."
"The flowers after a fight are a nice touch though," said Natasha. "And the chocolate."
"Those were for you," said Clint.
"You'd wrenched your ankle after that last battle. Steve thought they'd cheer you up."
"Oh. I thought it was because they fought over Tony diving into the monster. Again."
"Nah, Tony apologized for that with a new engine for Steve's motorcycle."
Well done, thought Steve. They'd deflected the questions, provided a small human-interest anecdote, made the team sound like a charming family, and reasserted both Steve and Tony's masculinity. No flowers here, folks; these are Real Men. They apologize to each other with motorcycle engines.
Steve shook his head, cynically amused, then glanced at the pad Natasha was holding as she made a notation. Smile noguvbr => 3 x pwd it said, and he supposed Clint could probably understand it.
The clip of Clint and Natasha wrapped up and Steve's decryption algorithm finished at the same time, and Natasha moved closer to Steve on the couch as he started to click through the folder.
"What the hell..." Natasha muttered.
"That's the Verminator... this is about her escape."
"Why did Sorensen have this file?" asked Natasha.
"All of these have to do with Director Fury." Steve scanned through the files. "Was he... keeping track of how Fury messed up?"
"There's... that's a financial file. That's not Sorensen's area," said Natasha. "That's... that's Allen. A new accountant."
"This is from the R & D Department."
Natasha leaned forward. "Steve. That's SHIELD Medical Psych." Steve clicked on it and started to read through.
"Shit," he said, then automatically added, "excuse me. That's... that's my file."
"Well, he was our liaison, he was supposed to have reports on us, that's par for the course, but some of the rest of this stuff..." Natasha scanned one file. "And they aren't full files. Maybe this wasn't Sorensen's. It doesn't have everything Sorensen should have - for one thing, Sorensen would've had more details. I think this was somebody else's. Somebody with access to Sorensen's files."
Steve clicked on another file, scanning it. "Damn... look at this, bring the Avengers within SHIELD with the aim to absorb them into the regular working order - which is not what Fury intended for us at all, is it?"
"That's probably from Maria Hill. That bitch."
"They sure as hell didn't do such a great job keeping us after they got rid of Fury, did they?" asked Natasha with satisfaction. "WSC should've thought about it before giving her that promotion."
Steve shook his head. "She didn't fight terribly hard to keep us, either."
"What are these?" Natasha frowned over the contents of another folder. "Surveillance. Son of a bitch. This is surveillance for the Joneville secure facility, the Carson labs, the Helicarrier..."
Steve clicked one open and frowned at the grainy video. "What's that?"
"That's a warehouse one of our contractors uses. Looks like the Council weren't just trying to bring us under heel; there's about a half dozen other semi-independent groups that they probably didn't like." She smiled, amused. "Look, the video's taken from far away. The building probably had scrambling tech on it. Starktech, if I'm not mistaken." She clicked through several files, nodding as they seemed to start making sense to her.
"What do they have?" asked Steve.
"Most of what they've got here is nothing," said Natasha. "Which isn't surprising; most surveillance is useless. Look at this - this place was surveilled from a few weeks after the Chitauri to January, and it looks like they distilled the usable material to five minutes."
"It's not just video," said Steve. "This is a text file, right?"
Natasha nodded. "Probably what sound they got had to be re-calibrated so many times you wouldn't get anything usable from it. No human voices. They got the computers to take educated guesses."
"I see." Steve shook his head at the array of files open on the screen. "So the point of all of this was to bring Director Fury down. This is what we're looking at. Bastards."
"Yeah. Well, they did it."
"The files go on after Fury's ouster, too," Steve noticed. He thought for a moment. "I wonder if these are Hill's."
"She's not that devious." Natasha frowned. "I don't think she is, anyway. They were probably meant to help whoever it was keep control of SHIELD, no matter who was put in charge. Not that Hill would make that hard."
"She did get rid of Sorensen..." Steve pointed out.
"That may have been a political ploy to get on our good side, considering what he was doing to you at the time," said Natasha. "Not that she did much better. And look what's happened to SHIELD since Fury left. The Council's taken over, nobody likes them or trusts them, Hill's... well, she's no Nick Fury. And if anything big happens, they're going to need Fury. Or somebody who'll be able to stand up to the Council. Think outside the box, and get things done."
Steve nodded. "You know... with this, we could maybe get Fury back."
"Why should we care?" Natasha said softly. "We're not really SHIELD any more, except in name."
"You were SHIELD. They did good work."
Natasha started closing the files. "We'll get copies of all of this. Show it to Tony and the others, and maybe SI Legal. Decide what to do then. There's no need to go off half-cocked, when we're not even sure whose these are and what they were supposed to do."
"What are these?" asked Steve, spotting a large number of files with similar names.
"They all seem related," said Natasha, and opened one ending in 091412.
3:07: Tony. What are you doing up?
3:07: Relaxing. Looking out at the stars. Having trouble sleeping. You?
3:07: A bit. I was thinking of drawing. Do you mind?
Steve drew in his breath as he scanned down briefly, then closed the file. He glanced over the other files. Video format, ending in 091512. He clicked on it, saw Natasha move out to the deck, stand there for a while, looking out over the city. Bruce poked his head out the door and she turned, then moved back inside.
There was a file for almost every single day. He aligned them, video to transcript, noting that many of the videos had no corresponding transcript.
"The bastards," said Natasha, her lips thinning. "They were spying on us. I should've known, but I thought Tony's security... damn it. They probably used the same program to figure out sound."
Steve's eyes moved down and he spotted another video file with a tiny transcript. October 24.
3:15: JARVIS. JARVIS, could you please tell me if anybody heads towards this floor?
3:15: Certainly, sir.
3:43: JARVIS. Where is Tony?
3:43: He's in the workroom, sir.
He clicked on the video and there he was, grainy and silent, bowing his head at the railing and Steve could suddenly vividly remember the hopelessness, the despair, the longing to pull himself over and land below.
God, he'd been so close that night. So fucking close to ending everything, so crazy with grief and loneliness. Stretched so taut, longing so desperately to go back to his time, back to his world, so out of place and so incredibly, heart-breakingly alone. Separated from everyone he'd ever known or loved by death and seventy years under ice. Separated from his team by a few floors of concrete and a complete inability to reach out to them in any way. Separated from Tony by his own fear and self-hatred.
He wondered what the observers would have done if they'd captured his suicide onscreen.
Steve swallowed and cleared his throat, and Natasha put a hand on his and squeezed. He squeezed back, unable to turn from the image of himself weeping silently on the deck, as Natasha sat next to him, staring unflinchingly at the screen in silent witness, until he reached out and stopped the recording.
She took a deep breath, then clicked on another pair of files for December 3.
Clint. Clint talking, telling him about Phil Coulson, and now Phil's pathetic personal life was right there, exposed - though according to Clint it had been an open secret at SHIELD, so who knew whether whoever had recorded this had already known. If they even knew or cared who Phil Coulson had been.
And then there were Hill and Fury, talking to Tony, deciding Steve's future… and then Tony was leaving the deck and Hill was talking to Fury...
7:35: It's dangerous to play their game. Particularly with the WSC having some pretty legitimate concerns right now. Sir, you know my loyalty to you. But this is - maybe this is not the right time to let Tony Stark get his way.
7:35: If we push them, they will leave SHIELD and we'll have no control over them whatsoever.
7:35: I think you're misunderstanding the situation.
7:36: Well, you may find yourself making these calls soon enough. I hope you enjoy it.
Another file. December 23. Bruce and Clint talking on the deck. Transcript said nothing important, something about Bruce going to visit his college friend.
January 20th. Natasha clicked on the video and there they were, he and Tony on the deck, feet apart and worlds away from each other. There was the transcript. Natasha clicked and he watched the words fill the screen next to the silent video, eyes scanning down, almost mesmerized.
8:12: You could even still go back to that church place, whatever it's called, and be able to say--
8:12: God's Peace. And I don't feel virtuous. I feel like I'm taking advantage of you. And apparently so do you. Which makes me not much better than the people who took advantage of you when you were at MIT, does it?
8:13: There's private, and then there's dirty secret, Steve.
8:13: You're not a dirty secret. You're... look, we're - we were doing this by your rules. So we're not a couple. But you're the best friend I have. I'm not ashamed of you. I - how I feel about you, it's not. It's - it's not your fault that I fell in love with you
Steve's skin crawled. The most honest, naked he could remember ever feeling, the heartache he'd felt, the despair and longing, were all right there before him, in his dispassionately recorded words and his grainy black-and-white image. The half-drunk confession Tony had made, spread out for strangers to read. He could remember, so well, how much he'd needed Tony, how much he'd loved him and wanted him, could see even in the blurry images how torn Tony had felt... and it was there, as just another piece for shadows to use in a game of power and politics.
Natasha clicked stop. "It's not a smoking gun," she said grimly. "Nothing is. The fact that SHIELD was spying on our deck - and we'll probably be able to link this to all those odd leaks going on to the papers at the time - it's nothing startling or particularly surprising."
Steve nodded, feeling numb.
"But you know something? It's the last straw for me. I don't care what SI Legal thinks. It's time to confront the assholes, and get out. The hell with the consequences."
Steve looked at her. "That doesn't sound like you."
"I'm pissed off," Natasha said, her voice perfectly calm. "You don't want to get somebody like me pissed off."
"All right, then. Let's go." Natasha clicked a few more times, quickly typed in response to prompts, and patted her StarkPad. "I've got copies here." She smiled. "No, it doesn't sound like us. You did the spy work and figured out the electronic surveillance, and I'm advocating just going after the bastards. Looks like we're learning from each other." She stood up. "All right. Let's go get the others, and let's go confront SHIELD. Take down Maria Hill and the WSC. Paint the town, and all that jazz."
Steve smiled, and they got up to go.