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Taming the Tempest

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Steve Rogers has been whaling on his fourth Kevlar-fortified punching bag in a row, and is steadily progressing towards his fifth. His knuckles are sore, he’s waddling in a pool of sweat, and it’s only half past nine at night. The ceiling beam from which the bag hangs from shudders at the ferocity of his punch – one, two, one, two – he thinks, by the end of the day, there’ll be a new skylight in the gym’s ceiling. Not charging Mr Stark for the impromptu renovation.

 

Stark, Stark, Stark.

 

Asshole.

 

Steve grunts as his fist collides into the dead weight, and the chains rattle with renewed vigour. He draws a deep breath – he’s better than this, he’s not throwing a tantrum – and steadies the pendulum of a bag before him.

 

Twelve hours ago, Fury dispatched the Avengers to a ghost ship just 27 nautical miles off the Gulf of Mexico. Sounds like a run of the mill assignment – SHIELD scientists detected strange electromagnetic signals emanating from the ship’s belly, and wanted to know the what, who and why. Of the Avengers’ active roster, only Steve and Tony were on the premise. After four hours of passive-aggressively ignoring each other while chilling in the confinement of a two-seater Quinjet, Steve expertly brings her to the jump-off point, holding her steady at constant velocity as Tony – all dressed up in the swanky Mark VII – leaps off it. The first thing Tony said to him was, “Nothing on heat, motion and EM. Probably a dud, Cap.”

 

Be that as it may, he instructed Tony to secure the perimeter while he land the Quinjet, and to rendezvous at the hangar in ten. So naturally, Tony strolled down the lower decks all on his own. Five minutes later, Steve heard screams and grunts blaring from his earpiece and he landed the Quinjet on water and swam all the way onboard. By the time he reached Tony in one of the storerooms, he was greeted with what he could only describe as pandemonium. There were char marks in every corner, courtesy of the repulsor blasters, and a battalion of heavily armed individuals strewn lifelessly around them. All incapacitated via non-lethal means, of course, but it sure was a drag triaging them, and then securing lifeboats and rescue choppers to cart them off to the nearest hospital, and then staying back to sweep the area for evidence – intact and destroyed.

 

That was a failed successful mission. Fury brandished the bill for clean-up, damage control, and miscellaneous logistic charges during debriefing. He did not hold back, and tore them a new one. Tony had the decency to keep his mouth shut at least, but Steve knew there was absolutely zero uptake on Tony’s part, and that didn’t sit well with him.

 

This recollection triggers another bout of irritability and he wallops the punching bag some more.

 

He deeply regrets what comes next – doing the sensible thing and talking sense to Tony, teammate to teammate, man to man.

 

“Can’t you keep your ego under control? If you can’t function in a team, I’ll have to bench you before it jeopardise the mission and the safety of others.”

 

“No, you won’t,” Tony replied suavely.

 

“… Are you challenging a direct order?”

 

“Ah, is that what it is? You won’t bench me, Cap. And I’ll tell you why. Because, I’m the only flyer you have on the team who doesn’t go on intergalactic roundtrips every other season. I’m the most flexible unit you have on hand. I have suits catered for every Code Red imaginable – hostage extraction, recon, stealth combat. Deep-sea and volcanic exploration, space traveling? You name it, you have it. So, no, Cap. I’m calling your bluff.”

 

Tony was right.

 

“Here’s what I think. You can call all the shots you want, I know it feeds your soul or, whatever.” Steve remembers the heat arising from the back of his neck. “You may not know this, but Iron Man isn’t quite a solo gig. I have my co-pilots. Every time I charge into battle, I have my AIs calculating risks and options, and calibrating the appropriate response to suit each unique situation. Take it from me, they’re good.

 

My judgement isn’t any more inferior to yours. ‘Enemy mistakes are lucky only in the respite gained. Being observant, thoughtful, and opportunistic is key’.”

 

Steve smirks frozenly. “The twelfth of the Thirty-Six Strategems.”

 

“’Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat’.”

 

“That’s not an excuse for insubordination, Stark.”

 

Steve plays the words over and over again in his headspace. What Tony meant – beneath the abjection – was why can’t it function the other way around? Why can’t the Avengers trust him to make the call?

 

Steve realises belatedly that the bag is starting to spill sand from the seams. He’s been working at this long enough, time to tap out. There are also footsteps shuffling from the adjacent corridor. He’s certainly hogged the facility enough.

 

The gaits are unsteady to his ears. Inconsistent. Chaotic.

 

Drunken.

 

“Stark,” he bites out, and promptly turns off the lights. The Avengers are still on standby for God’s sake, and that means maintaining sobriety for the next seventy-two hours. Will it kill him to wait until Friday? Seriously?

 

“Come on in! No one’s around!”

 

The door yawns open and a figure promptly faceplants into the tatami mat. Despite the distance, Steve’s nose wrinkles at the stench of vodka. Even for a highly functioning alcoholic, that’s quite excessive, isn’t it? Tony rolls to his side, but is too inebriated to sit up on his own.

 

And another figure appears by the entrance. Male, tall. Certainly not as drunk as Tony. He strolls into the gym, unaware of Steve watching them from afar, and crouches to Tony’s eye level. Which is fan-effing-tastic – Steve hopes he drags Tony and his drunkard ass upstairs so Steve doesn’t have to deal with the mess. He’d rather spend the next fifteen minutes vacuuming sand from the mat and burying busted punching bags in unmarked graves.

 

It does register to him as weird that this friend of Tony’s hasn’t said a word since. Not even the lamest “Get up!”. And then, and then, and then, the weird alarm in Steve’s head goes off when he arranges his legs to straddle Tony’s thighs, and when Tony starts bucking, muttering something unintelligible – something like “Gerrof me” – but the man still won’t budge. In a desperate attempt of freeing himself, Tony pushes against the man’s chest with buttery arms, urging him to move, and – this is when Steve’s eyebrows shoot past his hairline – the man gathers those wrists and pins them to the ground. Struggling under the weight is futile, and the more Tony fights, the harder he seems to thrust against the man’s pelvis. Their silhouettes leave nothing to imagination – Steve also hears every pant, every moan, every rustle of clothes on clothes as they rub themselves against one another. He flushes, and wonders if there’s another way out in the back. He does not need to see those hands creep between Tony’s thighs to cup at his crotch. Until he hears the words – soft, distraught – but he hears Tony all the same.

 

Stop. Please.”

 

Steve closes the distance in a heartbeat, his battered knuckles breaking into jaws.