“DELHI!” trumpeted Tony as soon as Martin answered the phone.
Martin put a bit of distance between his ear and the speaker. “We only got that booking an hour ago. How on earth do you already know?”
“Oh, come on, you must know I have JARVIS set to tell me the second your schedule changes,” said Tony easily, as if that wouldn't generally be counted as a bit over-the-top in a boyfriend.
Boyfriend. Martin couldn't quite get used to having one of those, even if Tony had been nothing but upbeat enthusiasm since MJN's trip to New York to deliver tulips. It still seemed as if there had to have been some cosmic mistake for it to be true: a glitch in the Matrix, or something even more ridiculous. Given some of the stories Tony told about the things that the Avengers got caught up in, maybe that wouldn't be so weird.
At any rate, Martin couldn't bring himself to be annoyed by how closely Tony kept an eye on his life. It even made him feel a bit warm, deep down in his stomach, that he cared enough to want to know every move Martin made.
“What's so exciting about Delhi?” he asked. “The one for Cairo that came in yesterday didn't warrant an excited phone call.”
“Ah, but I'm not already intending to be in Cairo at the same time,” said Tony. “I mean, I could be if you wanted, no problem at all, always wanted to see if I could perch on the top of a pyramid in my suit. That would be a cool photo op, right?”
Martin paused to try and work out the important bit of that babble. “You're going to be in Delhi?”
“Bang on!” exclaimed Tony. “Well, not in Delhi, but close enough for us to hang out. You've got a day off there, right?”
“Yes,” said Martin, letting himself smile at the thought of getting to see Tony again. Long distance relationships were a lot easier when one of you had a flying suit but that didn't mean he got to see Tony nearly as much as he wanted to. “Actually, it'll end up being closer to two – the flight home isn't until evening.”
“Excellent! Then you can spend them with me,” said Tony. “Hanging out, seeing the sights, fucking like bunnies – all the usual.”
“Sounds good. Wait, if you've already got plans to be there, won't you have meetings or something? I don't want to get in the way of your work.”
Tony laughed. “No fear of that. I'm going for pleasure, not business, and you're my favourite pleasure, you know that.”
It should have been cheesy. Tony definitely said it with a leer in his voice that aimed for cheesy, but somehow the glow in Martin's stomach didn't take it that way.
“Well, good,” he said, trying to control the stutter that was threatening to disable him. “It's- I- You're mine, too. Of course. And, um, I'd love to spend the day with you in Delhi.”
“Excellent!” said Tony. “I'll tell Carl!”
He hung up before Martin could ask who Carl was. He stared at the phone for a moment, trying to fight the dread that he was going to get dragged into something far more complicated than two days spent enjoying the wonders of India together.
It started rather well. GERTI and the rich businessman they were flying out got into Delhi on schedule, where Tony was waiting for Martin with another of his home-made 'Captain Spitfire' signs and a big grin. He gave Martin a kiss that was probably a bit much for the local cultural taboos but which made Martin lose all track of where they were for a blissful thirty seconds.
When he moved away from Tony, he glanced around at the crowd surrounding them, expecting glares. Nobody was really paying any attention though, too busy with their own reunions and dramas.
“I think I'm developing a kink for gold braid,” said Tony, eyeing Martin's hat. “Kinda worrying. Let's hope it doesn't end with me making out with some five star general next time Iron Man is helping out the military.”
“Ah, but Martin's gold braid is special,” said Douglas. “No one else could manage to balance quite so much on a hat without making it look stupid. Oh, wait...”
“There's really not much more on my hat that there is on yours,” started Martin, turning to Douglas.
Tony caught his hand and pulled him back round, derailing Martin's mind from the argument.
“You can banter with your First Mate later,” said Tony, with just enough emphasis on 'First Mate' to shut Douglas up. “C'mon, we've got to get to Agra before we can fuck. I promised Pepper we wouldn't do it in the rental limo.”
“And of course you always keep your promises to me,” said a voice, and Martin pulled his gaze away from Tony's face long enough to realise that Pepper had come up behind Tony.
“I keep the ones I remember,” said Tony, not bothering to look round at her.
Awkward panic came over Martin. He'd barely met Pepper before, although he'd spoken to her on the phone a few times. He was suddenly, overwhelmingly aware of just how red-faced and rumpled he was after nine hours in the air and that she was probably Tony's closest friend, and definitely one of the people whose opinion meant the most to him.
“Oh,” he stuttered, then tried to pull himself together. “Pepper- I mean, Miss Potts, sorry, Pepper's probably a bit intimate- Not intimate! I didn't mean we were going to be intimate in a, ah, a sexual way, I'm really only interested in that with Tony, that's not- I'm, uh, I'm sorry, I was just going to say that I was not expecting to see you here – not that it's bad to see you! It's good to meet you again, it is, just a surprise because Tony said he was here for pleasure and you're business – no, wait, I don't mean, I'm sure you have pleasure too- oh god, that sounded bad, I meant you know how to have fun, no, god, that's even worse, let me-”
She was laughing at him. She held out her hand. “Good to see you again, Martin,” she said as he managed to shake it without dissolving with embarrassment. “Feel free to call me Pepper, I don't mind.”
“Right,” said Martin weakly. “Okay. Good.” He forced himself to stop speaking.
Tony grinned at him, wrapping an arm around his waist. “You're so cute when you do that,” he said and kissed him again, which did a lot to calm Martin back down. “Don't worry about Pep, she's not joining us. She's got business to do in Delhi, while we have fun and huge amounts of sex in Agra.”
“Yes, as usual I'll be doing all the work while Tony has all the fun,” said Pepper, but she sounded cheerful enough under her resignation.
Carolyn and Arthur, who had been held back by an argument over whether or not Arthur needed to buy a Toblerone for his day off, finally made it out of the Arrivals gate.
“Oh god,” said Carolyn when she saw Tony. “I see we're to be granted the delights of post-coital Martin on the trip home.”
“Oh!” said Arthur. “I love post-coital Martin! He doesn't mind as much when dinner does that thing that makes it go all dry and crusty.”
“'That thing' is you deciding it needs to be in for three times as long as it actually does,” said Carolyn.
“I don't decide,” said Arthur. “Sometimes it just happens. Anyway, I think it just makes it more interesting than cooking everything the same all the time.”
“It does add an interesting texture,” said Douglas, “but I'm afraid the only person capable of eating it and retaining a smile is Martin in his most blissfully sexed-out moments.”
“I'll do my best to render him blissful enough to eat anything,” said Tony.
“I am standing here, you know,” said Martin.
“Oh, I know,” said Tony, with a lascivious look. “Not sure the airport authorities would like me to start here though.”
“Not just the airport authorities,” said Pepper. She glanced at Carolyn. “I wonder, which hotel are you staying in?”
“The Panorama Star,” said Carolyn.
Pepper sucked in a breath. “Oh no, you can't stay there. It's terrible.”
Carolyn's back straightened and she fixed Pepper with a glare. “It's cheap,” she snapped.
Pepper waved that away. “I'm at the Imperial. I'll get you rooms there as well.”
“There's no need-” started Carolyn.
Douglas cleared his throat. “There is every need.” He gave Pepper a charming smile. “Thank you very much, Miss Potts. You've saved us from squalor.”
“Not a problem,” said Pepper. “Come on, you can ride in my car.” She spared a glare for Tony as she turned to go. “No sex in the limo.”
Tony saluted. “I hear and obey!” He put an arm around Martin and started to lead him off towards the door. “Come on, we need to get to Agra. I need you to be naked.”
Tony might have promised Pepper that he wasn't going to have sex in the limo but his line between kissing and sex was clearly in a very different place from Martin's. By the time they got to Agra, Martin was too turned on to notice anything about the hotel Tony ushered him into, other than that it seemed to be a very long way to Tony's room.
It was over an hour later, as they lay basking on the bed together, recovering, that Martin actually looked at the room.
“This is a suite,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Tony. “Well spotted. Man, did I actually fuck your brains out? Cos I'll be really proud if I have but it's going to put a dampener on our conversations.”
“No, I mean, it's just a suite,” said Martin, propping himself up on his elbows to take in the lack of penthouseness or the kind of over-the-top bling that he'd come to realise meant a hotel could get away with calling a set of rooms a 'Royal Suite'. Tony had whisked him off to enough top-of-the-line hotels now for Martin to know what kind of place he usually stayed in, and this was a step down from that. Still several large steps up from what Martin was used to, of course, but still.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? You're bitching that the room isn't luxurious enough? Please tell me that I haven't taken you to so many that you've now got standards.”
Martin snorted. “Hardly. I just- you have standards. Or you think you do,” he added, because Tony always went for the expensive option if he could but it seemed to be more out of habit than anything else. Martin had never seen him actually show any signs of caring when he was at Martin's, or somewhere else that was out of context with the 'Tony Stark lifestyle'. “You always go for the best.”
“Well, yeah,” said Tony, slinging an arm over Martin's chest and pulling him closer, so that Martin fell back against him. “Went for you, didn't I?”
Martin didn't have the first idea how to respond to that so he ignored it in favour of turning over in Tony's arms. “What's going on?”
Tony rolled his eyes. “No big secret or cunning plot, I'm afraid. There's just a few people staying here who rate higher on the scale than I do, and they shotgunned the penthouse and royal suites first.”
“Higher on the scale?” repeated Martin. “Higher than you?” Who the hell came higher than Tony Stark, billionaire, genius and superhero?
“I know, I know, it's hard to credit,” said Tony. “I'm better looking, though, if that stops you from abandoning me now my social standing has gone down in your eyes.”
He said it as if he was joking, but there was a look in his eyes that made Martin wonder what it was like to spend your life knowing that most people were only being nice to you because of your wealth.
He pressed a kiss to Tony's lips. “Your social standing has nothing to do with why I'm with you,” he said. “Even if this room were a hundred times worse than what Carolyn booked, rather than a hundred times better, I'd still want to be in it with you.”
He felt himself flush as he said it, part of his brain worrying that he was revealing too much of himself, but he squashed it. They were official now. That meant he was allowed to admit he liked Tony without worrying about mockery or coming on too strong, or any of that.
Tony beamed. “Excellent,” he said. “You want to be out of it with me as well? I figured we could wander around and see the town a bit, then get dinner. And then come back and have sex again, obviously.”
“Obviously,” agreed Martin, sitting up and mentally running through the clothes he'd brought. He'd thought ahead this time and brought more than just his uniform, but it wasn't as if anything he owned was really good enough for going to dinner with Tony Stark.
“Wait, hang on, let me amend that plan a bit,” said Tony. “Shower, then we go out. Just the one shower – we can share, right? Saving water and all that stuff, very important to think about conserving our planet's resources – I spend enough time with superheroes without Captain Planet turning up and frowning at me.” He paused and tipped his head to one side. “Not that he wasn't kinda hot, actually. Maybe we could have threesome? I mean the blue would be off-putting, but I reckon-”
“Stop,” said Martin, desperately trying to shake the mental images. “Dear god, Tony, please don't ruin my childhood.”
Tony grinned unrepentantly. “Don't get me started on the chick from Thundercats.”
“Surely that's bestiality?” asked Martin, and then regretted it when Tony's grin just widened. “No, stop talking. Just don't, please.”
“Sailor Moon,” said Tony. “We could have a whole orgy with them.”
Martin pulled away. “I'm having a shower,” he announced. “If you want to join me, you'll have to stop talking about cartoons.”
Tony bounded off the bed to follow him into the bathroom. “Okay, okay,” he relented. “You're totally hotter than them, anyway. Not enough freckles on cartoons.” He pressed a kiss to the cluster of freckles on Martin's left shoulder.
Martin gave up on pretending he'd ever want to keep Tony out of any shower he was having, whatever he might be talking about. He turned the water on, then turned to return the kiss with one to Tony's lips. Maybe it didn't matter what he'd be wearing tonight, only who he was with.
When Martin woke up the next morning, he blinked his eyes open to see a Tony-shaped silhouette in the chair in front of the window. His shoulders were slumped and he looked like he was working out a complicated mathematical equation.
“Why aren't you in bed?” asked Martin, squinting to try and focus on him properly. “Isn't getting up early my thing? God, please don't tell me you've been ironing.”
“Well, I am Iron Man,” said Tony with a shadow of his usual grin.
“That joke was old the first three times,” said Martin, pulling himself upright. “What's going on?”
Tony went silent for a moment, then let out a breath. “Okay, so, I was meant to talk to you about this last night, but I kinda chickened out because, well, you were having a good time – we were both having a good time, I love seeing new places with you and dinner and all that stuff – and by 'stuff' I mean the sex, always love the sex-”
Martin thought about cutting into the babble and asking Tony to get to the point but the truth was, he liked it. And it wasn't as if Tony didn't just stand back and grin when he did the same thing.
“-I mean, how am I meant to focus on a serious relationship discussion when I can see that many of your freckles? Just, really, it's not going to happen.”
“Relationship discussion?” repeated Martin as Tony paused for breath. He couldn't quite hide the panic in his voice.
“Oh, oh! No, nothing like that, nothing bad,” said Tony. “It's not- Seriously, I'm not the dick who spends all night having wild monkey sex with you and then dumps you in the morning.” He paused to consider. “Well, okay, I kinda am, or I used to be, but not with you, that's not- this isn't-” He stopped and looked frustrated. “This is stupid.” He took a deep breath, fixed a serious look on Martin, and tried again.
“It's about the press. Well, you, me and the press. See, the thing is, they stopped being interested in my casual hook-ups in the last millennium, unless they're with someone rich, famous or scandalous. That's kinda why you've not been slapped all over Pointless Celeb Gossip Monthly yet; well, okay, also because I had Pepper threaten to destroy anyone who wrote about you but that only works, like, half the time. Two thirds if she gets creative with her threats. Not the point, let me- okay. So, the thing is, you're not a casual hook-up anymore. Not that you really were before but now you're officially not a casual hook-up and I'm not keeping that a secret, which means sooner or later, Pepper's threats won't be enough and they'll publish.”
Martin blinked. “Oh,” he said, trying to imagine that. The idea of photos of him being in any kind of magazine, even a terrible gossip one, seemed completely ridiculous.
“Cos, see, the thing is,” hurried on Tony, leaning forward in his chair, “the more we tried to cover you up, the more they'd dig. They get really over-excited when they think people are trying to hide something, it's disgusting, like dung beetles that just found a shit the size of, like, Idaho. So, the best thing for us to do is to just, you know, put it out there. Just all, 'no big deal, Tony Stark has a boyfriend, nothing to see here, move along', cos then they'll get bored. I mean, not that you're boring, just-”
He trailed off and Martin cleared his throat. “Right,” he said. “Just put it out there, then. Um. How would we do that?”
Tony hesitated. “You're not going to like it.”
He was tapping his fingers against the edge of the chair and his shoulders were so rigid that it looked like he was wearing shoulder pads. Martin didn't like seeing him looking that worried, so he held out a hand to him. “Then you'd better come and kiss me before you start to explain, to soften me up.”
Tony grinned and moved to the bed, kneeling over Martin to kiss him. “Softened?”
Martin considered. “Not quite. Try again.”
Tony kissed him again, taking several long moments to savour it.
“Now?” he asked when he pulled back.
Martin blinked at him. “Uh, yeah,” he said. Shit, what had they been talking about?
Tony grinned and turned to collapse onto the bed next to him. “Okay, the plan. Not my plan, just to make that clear, it's Pepper's plan. Pepper and some of those PR guys she keeps in a cupboard at SI just so she can trot them out to give unwanted opinions on my lifestyle. This is their plan, I want to make that very clear.”
“Got it,” said Martin, lying back down so that he was closer to Tony. The amount of build-up that Tony was giving this was making him very nervous, but he was determined to try not to show it. That would only make Tony more stressed.
“Okay, well, it boils down to this,” said Tony. “The best way to minimise press interest in you is to give them a chance to take loads of photos of us and let them hound us with a few questions, and then let someone more interesting distract them. And let it happen somewhere where celebs are expected to be trotting out dates, so it's not really a big deal.”
“I suppose that makes sense,” said Martin slowly. What kind of place were celebrities expected to trot out guests? Maybe Tony was going to take him somewhere like Nero's again. That wouldn't be so bad now that Martin knew he was there as Tony's boyfriend, rather than just his tag-a-long friend.
“Okay, great,” said Tony. “Then you won't mind going to the King of Sweden's birthday party with me tonight.” He sat up as if about to hop off the bed and Martin shot a hand out to clutch at his arm.
“What?” he managed.
Tony turned back with a grimace. “Look, it's not- it makes sense. It's a big do, lots of royalty and other famous guys, some of whom trump me in the celeb stakes and so bump me down into a mere suite in the best hotel in Agra. It'll be enough for a playboy and his new boyfriend to not be that interesting, especially not if they just turn up, answer a few questions about how dull their relationship is, and then just hang out in tuxes for a bit before going home. The press will get a bunch of pictures and the entirety of what really is a pretty dull story for anyone who's not us – or Pepper, she seems pretty involved in my love life, not to mention JARVIS and his little comments – anyway, the press'll have a three minute field day, then get bored and focus on some minor royal getting off with a porn actor, or a baronet shooting up behind an ancient Hindi temple. It makes sense.”
He's trying very hard to convince me, thought Martin. He gave himself ten seconds to pull himself together enough to take the plunge. If Tony said that this was the best way to do it, then Martin would just have to gather his courage and do it.
Tony blinked. “What? No, not okay – you'll hate it.”
Martin shrugged. “Probably. But it has to be done, right? If you and Pepper think this is the best way, then, well. I suppose we'll do it.”
Tony just stared at him. “Seriously? That easy?”
Martin managed a smile. The very idea was already starting to make him feel sick but that didn't mean he wasn't going to go through with it. “That easy,” he said. He moved to press a kiss to Tony's lips.
“Huh,” said Tony. “Well, okay. I had way more time scheduled for this discussion that I guess we're going to have to find something else to do with.” His hands slid down to curve around Martin's hip, his thumb smoothing over the skin there. “Any ideas?”
“A couple,” said Martin. “But I think you've probably already come up with them yourself.”
“Well, I am a genius,” said Tony. He kissed Martin again, moving in closer to press their bodies together.
Agreeing to go to the King of Sweden's birthday party was one thing; actually going through with it was quite another. By the time they'd been out to look around Agra, stopped for lunch, come back to the hotel for post-lunch sex, spent some time lounging around in bed while Tony talked about his latest attempts to make the Quinjet less likely to explode and then, reluctantly, got up to shower, Martin was starting to lose it.
The breaking point came when he left the bathroom, wrapped in a towel, to find Tony dressed in a dinner jacket, fiddling with a bow-tie. He looked effortlessly elegant; exactly like Tony Stark, international playboy, should look.
Martin stared for a moment and then collapsed onto the bed, clutching to keep the towel around his waist. “This was a bad idea. Tony, we- I can't do this. I don't- I mean, I don't even have anything to wear!”
“Not to worry,” said Tony. “Got you covered.” He opened the wardrobe door to reveal another suit with a bow-tie looped around the hanger. “And before you get funny about it, it's one of my spares, no need to panic about me spending money on you.”
Martin stared at it. He wasn't sure he'd ever worn a proper suit like that, not with a bow-tie and everything. Caitlyn's wedding was the closest he'd come to dressing up posh because she'd rented a suit for him, but he'd worn a normal tie with it. “I can't-”
“Sure you can,” interrupted Tony, taking the suit out of the wardrobe and tossing it onto the bed next to Martin. “Come on, Spitfire, I know there's no gold braid, but I promise one night without it won't kill you.”
Martin stared at the suit. He took a deep breath and then nodded. He had agreed to this, after all, and it wasn't really a huge price to pay when he considered what he was getting in return. He glanced again at how good Tony looked in his suit and hoped he'd look at least a fraction as good. He didn't want to show Tony up, after all.
He picked up the trousers and Tony gave him a grin. “Attaboy,” he said, and turned back to the mirror to finish his bow-tie.
Martin put the suit on, trying to ignore the fact that it fitted him perfectly and almost certainly had shoulders too narrow and trouser legs too long for Tony. Fighting about whether or not Tony had bought a suit for him was just one thing too many for him to deal with right now. Tony was allowed to own suits in whatever sizes he wanted, after all, and Martin was only borrowing it for the evening. Tony could take it home and get it re-tailored to fit himself after that.
Once Tony had his bow-tie on straight and had done whatever it was he did to his hair that made it look so good, he crossed to the mini-bar and poured himself a large whisky.
“Want one?” he asked.
Martin shook his head. “I'm not sure it's a good idea for me to be drunk and talking to the press,” he said, trying to clamp down on the butterflies in his stomach at the thought of that. Talking to the press! Christ, he was terrible at public speaking. What was he thinking?
Tony shrugged. “It's the only way I can face those vultures,” he said and poured himself another.
Martin pulled on his socks and regarded his shoes, wondering how badly they were going to stand out as shabby when compared with the expensive suit he was wearing.
Tony let out a low whistle. “Holy crap, you look good like that. Hang on, I just need to-” He walked over and gave Martin a thorough kiss that wiped all thought from Martin's head. Tony's hands slipped down to grope at Martin's arse and Martin took his chance to run his over the lines of Tony's back, enjoying the feel of expensive material beneath his hands.
“We could just stay here and have sex?” he suggested breathlessly once Tony had pulled away.
Tony smirked. “Nice try, Spitfire, but we seriously need to do this, otherwise Pepper is going to be all snarky about how she got everything ready for a PR moment, and then I ruined it. Again. I hate it when she gets snarky; she uses sarcasm like a deadly weapon, seriously.”
“Right,” said Martin. So much for that. He took a deep breath and reached for his shoes.
“Oh no, wait, I've got a spare pair. You can wear them,” said Tony, reaching back into the wardrobe and handing Martin a pair of shiny black formal shoes that looked brand new.
Martin stared at them. “A spare pair? Seriously?”
Tony gave him an innocent smile. “Of course. Always make sure you have a choice of footwear. You never know what's going to happen.”
Martin looked at the shoes Tony was wearing and then the pair in his hands. “These are identical to yours.”
Tony pressed a hand to his chest, looking wounded. “Identical? Identical! How can you say such a thing! Eduardo would have a fit if he heard you – every pair of shoes he makes is customised and unique.”
Martin looked back at both pairs of shoes. They still looked identical. “Eduardo?”
“My shoe guy,” said Tony. “Well, my main shoe guy but don't tell him I have others, he'll go nuts.”
Martin tried to get his head around that and then gave up. The idea of having someone who made your shoes specifically for you rather than just picking up whatever was on offer in Topman was so far out of his experience that he couldn't even imagine it.
“Do we even have the same size feet?” he asked, putting them on.
“Oh yeah,” said Tony, with more satisfaction than Martin thought was necessary. “We're completely compatible in that one, baby.” He ended with a wink that was a bit over-the-top, then turned to pour another drink. “You should have known that, cos our dicks are pretty much the same size.”
Martin couldn't keep in a mortified squeak or hold back the blush he could feel spreading across his cheeks. Tony turned back with a full drink in his hand and beamed.
“Oh man, I love that,” he said, and put the drink down so that he could come over and take Martin's red face in both hands for a kiss. “Seriously, who knew blushing was such a turn on?”
“It's never been particularly effective for me before,” said Martin, pushing him away so that he could finish doing up his laces. The shoes fitted perfectly, which meant that either Tony was right about their feet, or he was playing him. Playing him by buying him customised shoes at gods-knows-what cost.
Martin straightened to see Tony take another large gulp from his glass.
“Are you really sure getting wasted is a good idea right now?” he asked, and it was possible there was a tetchy edge to his voice. He didn't like this, any of it. Being dressed up in designer clothes that he couldn't hope to afford even if he sold everything he owned, then having to face the kind of press that a royal party would draw, followed by trying not to make a fool of himself in front of celebrities – nothing about this was anything Martin wanted anything to do with, but he especially didn't want to have to do it with Tony spending the whole evening drinking like a fish.
Tony laughed at him. “You're adorable, seriously. Takes a lot more than this to get me wasted. This is just taking the edge off.”
“You don't think that you'll need your edge to deal with tonight?”
Tony snorted. “To deal with a bunch of brain-dead celeb-chasing paparazzi? Hell no. I could handle these guys with my brain tied behind my back.”
“I can't,” said Martin. “I don't – Tony, please. I need you to stop me messing up. I don't- I don't have the first idea how to do this.”
Tony's face softened and he set the drink down to take Martin's shoulders. “Hey, it's easy, I promise. You just have to smile, wave, and let me handle the rest, okay? Just ignore them if they ask you anything you don't want to answer – or anything at all, really. Seriously, I can do all the PR bullshit. You just have to look handsome – which you're doing extremely well right now, by the way – and enjoy the party, okay?”
“The party with all the celebrities and the royalty?” said Martin. “Just my scene.”
“The party I'm at with you,” said Tony firmly. “No one at a party with me has ever failed to have a good time. Uh, unless I forgot I was with them, or a supervillain attacked, or- but none of those things are going to happen. You're going to have a good time, even if I have to sneak you into the coatroom and blow you to manage it.”
“Oh god, please don't do that,” said Martin.
Tony raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? You're turning down blowjobs now? When did the magic die, baby?”
Martin made a face. “Please don't call me baby either. It's weird and a bit off-putting.”
“Is it?” said Tony. “Well, okay then, I'll stick with Spitfire.” He leaned in to kiss Martin. “It's gonna be okay, Spitfire. Promise.”
Martin took a deep breath, then let it out as slowly as he could. “Okay,” he said. “Okay. Just some photos and then a party.”
“Exactly,” said Tony. “C'mon, you landed in a crosswind with only one engine. You can definitely handle a party.”
Martin made a face. “I knew what I was doing then. Parties aren't really my thing, even the ones that don't involve paparazzi and royalty.”
“You'll be fine,” Tony said again. Martin wished he believed him.
They got another limo to the party. Martin spent the trip trying to take calming breaths while a marathon of every time he'd failed at normal social interaction passed through his mind. Christ, if he couldn't manage talking to a niche actress like Hester Macaulay without falling over his words, how was he going to manage talking to royalty? Not to mention the press. The very idea of people taking pictures of him that were going to end up in newspapers or magazines was just-
Oh god, he was going to be sick.
Tony put his hand on Martin's thigh. “Okay, calm down,” he said in a quiet voice. “Seriously, Martin, it's going to be fine.”
“Right,” choked out Martin.
“Yeah, that didn't help at all, did it?” said Tony. “How about I point out that it's only one evening and after it's done, we can go back and have sex.”
“I'd prefer it if we just went back and had sex now,” said Martin.
“Yeah, me too,” said Tony. “Mind you, I'd prefer that pretty much all the time. Just focus on the free food and drink, yeah? And the free entry to one of the world's top tourist destinations.”
“Tourist destination?” asked Martin as the car pulled to a stop. He turned to look out the window and felt himself gape. “Is that...the Taj Mahal?”
“Well, yeah,” said Tony. “Why else would Carl have dragged everyone to India for his party? It's all about the right venue, you know.”
“We're going to a party at the Taj Mahal,” repeated Martin.
“Yep,” said Tony. “C'mon, we've just got to get past the gauntlet of the press and then you can gaze at some of the greatest Muslim architecture on the planet while drinking ridiculously expensive champagne on somebody else's dime.”
Put like that, it seemed a lot better. Martin took another deep breath. “Right,” he said, lowering his gaze to the pack of photographers who were gathered around the front entrance. “Okay, let's do this.”
It couldn't be worse than walking into his sixth CPL test to find the examiner who had already failed him twice before. Okay, sure, he'd failed again on that one but not by much and only because he'd been so nervous about proving to the examiner that he was finally capable of passing.
“Remember,” said Tony as he opened his door. “Just smile, wave, and let me handle all the talking.”
“Right,” said Martin, following him out of the car.
The second he got out, every camera started to flash. The lights temporarily blinded him until he could see nothing but a sea of white and a crowd of dark figures behind it, already yelling questions at them.
Tony pulled him forward and Martin plastered on what he hoped was a smile.
“Who's your friend, Tony?”
“Are you dating?”
“Is it serious?”
“Where did you get your suit, Tony?”
“Hey! Stark! What do you have to say to the people in Detroit who the Avengers made homeless last week when they destroyed their apartment building?”
“Ginger guy, where did you meet Tony?”
“What present did you get King Carl?”
“How does Helga Cavellos feel about you coming here with this guy instead of her?”
Tony pulled Martin all the way through the crowd to the top of the steps in front of the entrance and then turned back, putting his arm around Martin and pulling him in close.
“Guys. Guys! Quiet down a bit, will ya?”
The flow of questions faded, although the cameras kept clicking away. Martin tried to keep his smile in place. Tony's looked firmly pinned on and his body language seemed relaxed and open but Martin knew him well enough and seen him actually relaxed often enough to see that it was an act.
“Okay, great,” said Tony. “I'm just gonna get this out of the way, then. This is Martin Crieff. He's my boyfriend. We met a few months ago when we both got stuck at an airport during bad weather. We're very happy together and, as far as I know, Helga doesn't give two tosses about it. My suit was made by Antonio's of New York, as was Martin's, although why you feel you need to know that is beyond me. Any Avenger questions should be directed towards the SHIELD PR division – you know I don't like talking business when I'm at a party, come on, guys. I will say, though, that that apartment block didn't look too sturdy to begin with, it was mostly the angry yeti-thing that collapsed it, and the Maria Stark Foundation has been instrumental in finding alternative housing for the occupants while it's rebuilt. Uh, I think that was all, so we're just gonna-”
He started to pull Martin away just as one of the reporters called out a last question.
“A few months? How's this guy different from the rest of the long string of men and women you've spent a night or, at most, a week with over the years?”
Tony turned back and his smile widened until it was closer to the real one that Martin saw when it was just the two of them and a pile of aviation designs.
“Well, he's got more freckles, for one thing.” Martin felt himself go bright red and the flurry of shutter clicks sped up. “Mostly, though, I haven't completely worked out the why yet. I just know he is, and am looking forward to making a list of all the things that make him special once we've been together a bit longer.”
“So this is serious, then?”
“Oh yes,” said Tony, with more satisfaction than Martin would have expected.
“Martin, Martin! Is it serious for you too? Are you enjoying Tony's wealth?”
Martin blinked and then gave the speaker a startled look. Wow, that was very rude. He started to find an answer. “I-”
Tony's arm tightened around Martin's waist. “Well, wealth is there to be enjoyed, right?” he said. “Now, if you'll excuse us, we're gonna go do exactly that.”
He pulled Martin through the entrance to the Taj Mahal while more questions were shouted after them. When the door swung shut, cutting the noise out, Martin felt Tony's shoulders slump.
“Christ, I hate those guys,” he said. “Still, think we did okay. Don't think Pepper's going to yell at me for-”
His phone started to ring and he stopped talking to pull it out of his pocket. He made a face. “Speak of the devil.” He answered it to his ear. “Hey, Pep, take it you're stalking my press footage and- Oh, come on, you're really going to get het up about that? Seriously, Pepper, you didn't see it, the building looked like a strong wind would knock it down. It was-”
Martin stopped listening in favour of looking around. They were in a garden and in front of them was a giant red brick gateway, decorated with white marble designs and minarets. A waiter came over to them holding a silver tray of champagne glasses and Martin took one with his best attempt at a smile. Tony reached over for a glass without even looking at the waiter.
“If you would like to make your way through the main gateway, there is a drinks reception in the garden,” said the waiter.
“Right. Thanks,” said Martin. He felt his grip on Tony's hand tighten.
Tony glanced at him, then at the scene in front of them.
“Gotta go, Pepper, you can yell at me later. Martin needs me to hold his hand while he hyperventilates.” He hung up the phone and put a hand on the small of Martin's back.
“Just a party, right? Drink the champagne and enjoy the architecture, yeah?”
“Yeah,” said Martin. He took a gulp of champagne. “Oh, this is really good.”
Tony laughed. “Course it is. Can't serve shitty champagne when you're somewhere like this.”
They started to walk down the garden towards the gateway and Martin took a smaller sip, allowing himself to imagine that they were just here as normal tourists. “It is something else,” he said.
“This is only the gateway,” said Tony. “Wait till you see the real thing.”
“You've been here before?”
Tony shrugged. “I have a suit that flies. I've buzzed most of the world's major landmarks at some point. Always gives the papers a nice photo-op, you know? Plus, a guy in a flying suit doesn't have to pay to get in.”
“Because you need to economise on entrance fees,” said Martin.
“A penny saved yadda yadda yadda,” said Tony.
There was another waiter at the gateway, with another tray of champagne. Tony swapped his empty one for a fresh one. Martin watched him and wondered how anyone could drain a glass in the stroll from one gatehouse to another.
“Quit looking at me like that,” said Tony. “I told you, I'm not going to get drunk. I was practically raised on champagne – it's basically water to me. Only, you know, more bubbles and a much higher price tag. Well, unless you're drinking Kona Nigari water but even I'm not that pretentious.”
Martin had no idea what he was talking about, but he was distracted from that as they passed through the gateway into the main gardens and he had his first, unimpeded view of the Taj Mahal itself.
“Christ,” he murmured.
“Right?” said Tony. “It's something else. Even better than the Stark Tower, although not by much, and only cos they've got more space – I bet if I was allowed to use most of Manhattan for gardens I could create something like this. Well, maybe with more tech, and a landing pad for the suit, and-”
“Oh god,” interrupted Martin. While Tony had been rambling, Martin had let his gaze wander from the Taj Mahal itself, over the gardens, until he spotted a silk tent and a crowd of elegant-looking people. They all looked so much more polished and sophisticated than he could ever hope to be.
Tony followed his gaze. “Don't panic. They're all just people and besides, I know most of their dirty secrets. Course, they know mine as well but so does most of the planet, so they're not really secrets any more.”
Martin clung to his hand, took a gulp of champagne and tried to remember how to make small talk. “Oh god, is that Zara Phillips?”
“Yeah, don't get stuck talking to her – nothing but horses, seriously. Dull as hell,” said Tony, glancing over the crowd. “Now, let's see- oh, there's Alex, you'll like him.”
Tony waved at a blond man, striding through the crowd while Martin tried to keep up.
“Yo! Lexie! I didn't know you were coming.”
Alex put on a smile as he shook Tony's hand. “That was on purpose. I was hoping to avoid you.”
Tony clapped a hand to his chest. “That hurts, seriously.” He wrapped an arm around Martin and pushed him forward. “This is Martin. Martin, this is Alex. They let him fly planes sometimes, so, you know. You've got shit in common.”
Martin managed a smile and a handshake. “It's good to meet you.”
Alex smiled at him. “You fly as well?”
“I'm a captain at a charter airline,” said Martin. Right, okay, he was doing well enough so far. What came next? Oh yes, show interest in the other person's occupation. “What kind of flying do you do?”
Alex shrugged. “Not much, these days, but I used to do a bit with the RDAF in my younger days. Transport planes mostly.”
“He's being modest,” said Tony. “It's okay, we won't tell that you nip out in the cool shit sometimes. I saw you in an F-16 the day those seaweed things tried to take out Frederikshavn.”
Alex let out a nervous laugh and glanced at Martin. “Oh, I wasn't-”
“Don't worry about Martin. He's not going to tell the press. Seriously, he's terrified of them. He wou-”
“I'm not,” interrupted Martin. “Not terrified, I was just-”
“Terrified,” said Tony. “It's cool, I am too, although I hide it better. Fucking vultures.”
“They didn't seem that bad,” said Martin, doubtfully.
A waiter passed by and Tony swapped his empty glass for a full one. “Not on the way in, no,” he said. “They save their most dickish moments for when you leave, when you're a bit tipsy and more likely to let slip something.”
“Yeah,” agreed Alex, sounding glum. “Remember the incident at the European Centre For Culture gala?”
“When you told them all that if they were going to claim you were destroying the dignity of the Danish monarchy, you were going to piss on their shoes to make sure it was true? Yeah, that was excellent,” said Tony.
Alex winced. “My dad was furious. I wasn't allowed to go to another big event for months.”
Dignity of the Danish monarchy. Martin began to have a sick feeling in his stomach. Oh god, how had he forgotten that anyone at this party wouldn't just be a transport pilot?
Another waiter wandered by and Martin grabbed for a fresh glass of champagne. It probably wasn't a good idea to get drunk but a bit of social lubrication could only help, surely?
“So, are you a superhero?” Alex asked him.
Martin felt his eyes pop out. “What?”
Alex shrugged. “I've not seen you around these kinds of things before, or seen you in the press, so I assume you must be one of Tony's super-powered friends.”
Right, because there had to be something special about you to be allowed in to a soiree like this. “Um, no,” said Martin. “I'm not- I'm just a pilot. I'm no one.”
“Not even a little bit true,” said Tony. “You're definitely someone.” He looked at Alex with a very serious expression. “Don't tell anyone, but when Martin feels threatened, he turns into a plane. Usually a Spitfire, but the other week he saw a spider in my bathroom and turned into a Boeing 747. Completely destroyed most of the west wing, it was the most annoying thing.”
Alex gave him a long look. “You're joking,” he said after a moment.
“Course I am,” said Tony. “C'mon, guys turning into planes? Ridiculous.”
“Like a real-life Norse god?” asked Alex. “Or a man who can turn into a giant green anger monster?”
Tony shrugged. “Okay, you have a point. But, seriously, what makes you think all my friends are superheroes?”
“Name one who isn't,” said Alex. “Other than Martin.”
“Pepper,” said Tony immediately. “Rhodey. Happy.”
“Ah,” said Alex. “Of course.” He looked at Martin again. “So, which bit of Stark Industries do you work for? Or is it the military that pays you to spend time with Tony?”
Martin felt his face heat up. “I'm not- I mean, I wouldn't-”
“You know,” interrupted Tony, “you're kinda a jerk, Alex.”
Alex shrugged. “I'm just kidding. No need to get upset. I'm sure Martin's a perfectly nice, normal person, who doesn't hang out with you only because of the money and the fame.”
Martin wanted the ground to open up and swallow him. He glanced at Tony for reassurance but Tony was too busy glaring at Alex. There was something behind the anger in his eyes, something almost vulnerable. Martin realised with a cold wash of shock that Alex's words had been aimed at Tony rather than him. This wasn't about whether or not Martin was only in this relationship for the money, it was about whether or not Tony could get someone to like him without using his money as motivation.
“I'd be just as happy having a- a pint with Tony at my local pub as I am to be here, drinking this, this over-priced champagne with him,” he said, stuttering a little to get his words out.
“Right,” said Alex, sceptically. “Well, good for you.”
“Hey! Alexi-third-in-line!” called an over-excited voice, and suddenly there was a tipsy ginger hanging off Alex's shoulders.
“Harry-third-in-line!” returned Alex, turning his back on Tony and Martin to greet him.
“We should totally drink three times as much as everyone else here,” said Prince Harry. “You know, just to prove that third is best. Oh, hey, Tony. Want to join us? I'm sure you can be an honorary third-in-line for something. Best-dressed billionaire? I'm pretty sure Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren have you beat.”
“No, thanks,” said Tony. “Got better things to do than hang out with bitter Danes who can't handle being screwed over by their ex-girlfriends.”
Prince Harry blinked, and then glanced from Alex to Tony. “Uh, okay.”
Alex shot a glare at Tony. “This has nothing to do with her.”
“Oh sure,” said Tony. “Sudden anger over gold-diggers is completely unrelated to being sold out to every newspaper in Denmark by the fame-whore you thought loved you. Not at all. Nuh uh.”
“Piss off, pikhoved,” hissed Alex, and stalked off to the bar. Prince Harry gave Tony a bit of a shrug and headed after him.
Martin let out a long, painful breath. “Oh god,” he moaned. “That was Prince Harry. Prince Harry.”
“Yeah,” said Tony. “He's cool. Good guy to party with.”
“Prince Harry,” repeated Martin, beginning to hyperventilate.
Tony gave him a concerned look. “Come on, you were doing so well with His Royal Highness Prince Alexander of Denmark. Surely one more prince is no big.”
“I didn't know he was a prince! And he's not my prince!” managed Martin.
Tony snagged fresh glasses of champagne for them both. “Come on, have a drink, calm down. Jeez, you guys are so weird about royalty, seriously. Harry's not worth getting over-excited about, he's just a guy. Talks a bit too much about the Army when he's sober and a bit too much about boobs when he's drunk.”
Martin gulped at the champagne.
“Besides, he flies helicopters. Like they're any fun, seriously. Give me a plane any day.”
Tony had a point. Martin took a deep breath. “Yes, right,” he said. “Sorry, I just. Um. Sorry.”
“Don't apologise,” said Tony, putting an arm around Martin's shoulders. “C'mon, I get that this is not your thing. It's just one night, yeah? Then we can go back to holing up with aviation designs and a massive bottle of lube.”
Martin went bright red. “Tony!”
“Okay, phrasing it like that kind of sounded like we're going to roll the designs up and use the lube to insert them somewhere exciting but I'm not sure that's a great idea, no matter how much you lust after the Starkjet.”
“Tony!” spluttered Martin, glancing around to make sure no one was listening. “You can't say things like that at the Taj Mahal!”
Tony shrugged. “Why not? Everyone who actually lives here is dead and, trust me, no one at this party would be the slightest bit surprised by it. Besides, made you blush, didn't it?” He leaned in and pressed a quick kiss to Martin's lips. “I love it when you blush.”
Martin gave up. “Okay, okay,” he said. “What's the plan now?”
“I think-” started Tony, but he was interrupted.
“It's Captain Crieff! Oh, but you're not wearing your medals today. That's so disappointing.”
Princess Theresa was wearing a long red dress that showed rather more of her cleavage than had the outfit she had worn to fly her brother to school. Martin did his very best to keep his eyes fixed on her face. “Theresa,” he said. “Um, Princess Theresa, even. Hello!”
“Wait, you know her?” said Tony. “You've just had a freak-out over a few words from one royal and now you tell me that you actually know another one?”
“We flew her and the king to Fitton once,” said Martin. “Um. How is he?”
Theresa gave a shrug. “Oh, still telling everyone that he's going to cut off their heads. He announced the other day that he was going to make Miley Cyrus his queen. Unfortunately, the Sheikh of Qatar said he was going to marry her too and there was a bit of an altercation.”
“If it helps, I'm pretty sure she's shagging Katy Perry,” said Tony.
“That's a vicious rumour that I do not for a moment believe because if it is true, I will never hear the end of it from him,” said Theresa. “Hello, Tony. I suppose you must be the reason Martin ignored my outrageous flirting last time we met.”
“You were flirting with me?” said Martin, blinking with surprise and mentally running through their interactions. Huh. Maybe she had been.
“Okay, maybe he was just oblivious,” said Teresa. “You will not be getting a Flirting Recognition Medal, Martin.”
“I, um. I thought you were just bantering,” said Martin, feeling like an idiot. “Like Douglas does.”
“Hey,” said Tony. “Maybe Douglas is-”
“No!” said Martin quickly, cutting him off. “No, he's not! Don't- Never say that.”
There was the chinking of a fork against a glass, and the crowd obediently turned to look. A man who looked like Jim Broadbent but who Martin realised after a few words must be the King of Sweden gave a speech thanking everyone for coming to his birthday, and then announced that dinner was going to be a buffet in the guesthouse.
“Excellent,” said Tony. “I bet there'll be a bar that serves more than champagne in there as well.”
“You said you weren't going to get drunk,” Martin reminded him.
Tony shrugged. “Don't panic, I'm going to stay off the hard stuff. I just want something without bubbles for a bit, you know?”
Theresa looked from one of them to another and then raised an eyebrow. “Interesting,” she said. “I do not think I have ever seen Tony Stark moderate his alcohol intake.”
Tony shrugged. “No big deal. I just promised Martin I'd stay sober for the press when we leave, so nothing goes too horrifically wrong.”
Theresa made a disbelieving humming noise and then linked her arm through Martin's as they all started to move towards the guesthouse. “So, Martin, you'll have to tell me exactly how Tony managed to distract you from planes long enough to get you to go out with him.”
“The key is to be able to fly,” said Tony. “Pretty sure he just thinks I am a plane but, hey, it's working for me, so I'm not going to complain.”
Martin let out a long sigh. “That's not it at all,” he said. “I'm not that obsessed with flying, you know.”
For some reason, that made Tony laugh so hard he had to stop to regain his breath.
The rest of the evening was more fun than Martin had expected. The guesthouse was a lot larger and more opulent than the name might suggest but he was hungry enough to mostly ignore it after the initial gawp, in favour of the tables of food laid out along one side of the hall they were ushered into. Tony wandered off to the bar and came back with a beer for Martin as well as wine for himself and Theresa. It was probably extremely expensive beer but Martin felt more at home with it than he had the champagne.
Theresa seemed to be an expert at socialising at these kinds of events. She managed the stream of people who came over to say hello to her and Tony with a smile and a joke for each of them, and then sent them on their way before they could hang around too long. Martin didn't have to do anything other than smile and shake a few hands while she and Tony dealt with the rest of the conversation.
“You're good at this,” said Tony.
Theresa shrugged. “I was born to it,” she said. “So were you.”
“Well, of course,” said Tony. “But I'm great at so many things that one more doesn't really stand out. And, let's face it, in a list that includes ground-breaking engineering, killing evil robots and looking this good in a tux, social glad-handing is pretty far down.”
“Not as far down as modesty, though,” said Theresa.
Tony made a face. “Modesty's a waste of time.”
There was another speech from King Carl that went on for far too long, during which Tony backed Martin into a corner and started to kiss him.
“Tony,” Martin hissed. “We can't-”
“Sure we can,” said Tony. “C'mon, I could recite this speech, I've heard so many versions of it. He's about to thank his wife for all her support.”
“...I would especially like to thank my wife for all her love and support over the years. She has been a rock...”
Martin couldn't hold in a giggle. “That was impressive.”
Tony smirked. “There's a lot about me that's impressive,” he said and pressed in close to kiss Martin again.
By the time the speech was over, Martin was feeling a bit hot and flustered and had completely forgotten where they were. He had his hands up underneath Tony's jacket, splayed over the back of his shirt, while Tony's rested on Martin's bum, pulling him against him.
“Let the dancing begin!” announced King Carl, and a moment later classical music struck up.
Theresa appeared beside them. “If you are going to have sex in an historic Muslim tomb, perhaps you should find a more hidden part.”
Martin immediately pushed Tony away. “Oh god, we weren't, we just- Um.”
Theresa raised an eyebrow and smiled. “Martin, would you do me the honour of dancing with me?”
Martin looked past her to the couples starting to crowd onto the dance floor, all looking elegant and suave.
“Oh god, I can't-”
“Course you can,” said Tony. “Not with her, though. She's done enough flirting with you. I get the first dance.”
“Uh,” said Martin. “I really don't think I can-”
“Course you can,” said Tony, taking his arm and leading him towards the dancers. “Just follow my lead and try to relax.”
Relaxing was a lot harder than Tony made it sound. Martin was very aware of all the people around them, most of whom had probably been doing this since they were tiny children and all of whom it felt were staring at him and judging every time he tripped over his feet, or stepped on Tony's, or forgot what he was meant to be doing next.
Tony, of course, thought it was hilarious.
“Okay, that's three times you've trod on my left foot compared to five times for the right. What've you got against the right one, dude? C'mon, don't play favourites, that's just not cool. Oh, hey, that move was unexpected, I think you've just invented a whole new kind of dance. That rocks, let's do that again.”
“You're not being very nice,” said Martin.
Tony snorted. “Yeah, nice isn't really in my job description. Okay, yeah, that was the left foot again. You're evening it up.”
It actually helped. Martin gave up on trying to be perfect and accepted that he was going to make mistakes but that Tony apparently didn't mind, and after that he managed to settle more comfortably into the rhythm of it.
“There ya go,” said Tony, after they'd managed to make it through an entire five minutes without Martin injuring either of them. “You're getting it.”
“I think I'd rather be landing a plane after a bird strike,” said Martin.
Tony laughed and they finally, thankfully, stopped. “Okay, message received. Let's get some more drinks then nip out to look at the Taj Mahal at night, yeah? That sounds romantic.”
“More romantic than me treading on your toes,” agreed Martin.
The Taj Mahal wasn't really lit up like most landmarks seemed to be at night now but it was still very impressive. A dark colossal shape against the starry night sky, silent and peaceful.
Martin slipped his hand into Tony's as they walked back around to the front of it and Tony gave him a pleased smile. “I'm glad you agreed to this,” he said. “I hate going to these things alone.”
Martin shrugged. “You could have brought someone else,” he said. “Or hung out with Theresa.”
“I'd have hung out with Alex and Harry, and got plastered,” said Tony. “Then I'd have done something shocking and got myself in all the papers, and Pepper would have yelled at me.”
“You could have brought her,” said Martin.
Tony was quiet for a while, and Martin thought he'd crossed some unspoken rule. Was there something there he should know about?
“No,” said Tony after a long pause. “Pepper and I – we decided not to do that. We're way too close to be messing about with going to parties and dancing together, not when we don't want to lose what we've got.”
“Right,” said Martin, uncertainly. What did that mean? God, was Tony pining after Pepper? No wonder he was content to go out with Martin if he'd already decided he was getting second-best.
“Don't- No,” said Tony, stopping and turning towards Martin. “It's not- Look, I love Pepper, okay? I do. She's my best friend. But that's all. If we tried something more, it wouldn't work and we'd both be miserable, and- and besides, you're the only one I want that with, okay? I'm not really cut out for relationships but I'm giving it a try because of you. Don't know that I could manage it with anyone else.”
“Oh,” said Martin. “Oh, okay. Um. Good.” He didn't know what to do. Should he be responding with some confession of his own? Or, or reassuring Tony that he felt the same, or-
Tony chuckled. “God, we're both so bad at this,” he said, and kissed Martin.
Oh, right, yes. Of course. Kissing was always the best response. Martin took control of the kiss, pulling Tony in and trying to show him just how much it meant that he'd picked Martin, of all people, to do this with.
“Oh,” said Tony when they paused for breath. “Oh yes, that's good. Hey, I bet we could find somewhere more private to have sex now that we're out of the guesthouse.”
Martin pulled away. “Oh no,” he said. “No, I'm not desecrating the Taj Mahal like that.”
“Desecrating? How's that desecrating? It'd be more like a blessing, surely?”
“No,” said Martin again. “Come on, Tony. This is a tomb. And a Muslim one at that – do you really think they'd want gay sex happening on it? It's disrespectful.”
Tony tipped his head to consider that. “Yeah, okay,” he said. “What about a bunch of non-Muslims having a party and getting wasted, is that disrespectful as well?”
Martin hadn't thought about that. “Um.”
“It's cool,” said Tony. “We'll go back, chill for a bit longer, then slip off back to the hotel and have crazy monkey sex there instead. Anticipation just makes it better, right?”
“Right,” said Martin.
That was exactly what they did. They had another drink with Theresa, who gave them a very knowing look when they came in from the garden but didn't say anything. Tony persuaded Martin to try dancing again and then they left.
Martin let out a long breath as they walked back towards the main gate. “Thank god that's over.”
“Ah, come on, it wasn't that bad,” said Tony.
“No,” agreed Martin, “but I didn't like those people. They all looked down on me.”
“Not really,” said Tony. “That's just how they always look. It's genetic, I think. You got on with Theresa. Also, don't relax too much – the press will be outside, waiting. They're always more vicious at this time, when they've spent hours huddled outside while everyone else has a good time.”
Martin had forgotten about them. “Oh god.”
“No need to panic. Just keep quiet and let me handle it again, yeah?”
“And then we never have to do this again,” said Martin.
“Nope,” said Tony. “Well, you don't. Probably. Beating back the ravaging hoards of the press is part of both my jobs.”
“I don't know how you manage it,” said Martin, honestly, and then reached out to take Tony's hand and give it a squeeze.
Tony shrugged. “It's not always the worst bit. I mean, one of my jobs also involves board meetings. Those are way worse than the press.”
“And your other one involves being attacked by supervillains,” Martin pointed out. That image of Tony being carried, unconscious, to an ambulance by the Hulk had stayed with him long past the actual event, and even after when he'd seen Tony in person to verify that he was fine.
“Yeah, trust me, board meetings are way worse than that,” said Tony.
They paused on the inside of the gateway while someone made sure their car was waiting for them. When they were sure they could make a quick getaway, Tony pressed a quick kiss to Martin's lips.
“It's gonna be fine,” he said. Martin didn't feel convinced, but he managed to plaster on a pale reflection of Tony's 'I'm facing the press and pretending to like it' smile.
“Here we go,” Tony said, and they walked out into the maelstrom of camera flashes and shouted questions.
“Tony! Tony! Did you enjoy the party? Are you drunk?”
“Martin, what did you think of the Taj Mahal? How does it compare to Fitton?”
Martin blinked with surprise. “How-?”
Tony pulled him in closer to wrap an arm around his shoulders. “They'll have spent the evening researching you, cos that's how dull their time has been,” he muttered in Martin's ear.
Martin felt uncomfortably violated. Christ, he hadn't expected there to be that much interest in him. Maybe he should have warned his family.
Tony pulled him down the steps towards the car door that the chauffeur was holding open.
“Tony! How's the sex?”
“Martin, are you as serious as Tony is? Do you think it's going to last?”
“Does Tony wear the Iron Man suit when you have sex?”
“Has he built a robot penis for it?”
Martin felt himself blush. God, what kind of question was that? What kind of magazine reader would be interested in the answer?
“Martin, how do you feel about Tony's secret love child?”
Martin blinked and turned to stare at the reporter. “What-?” He started, but Tony didn't let him finish. He tightened his grip on Martin's shoulders and hustled him into the car.
“Don't speak to them,” he hissed.
“Secret love child?” repeated Martin.
Tony rolled his eyes. “It's bullshit. Trust me, if I had a lovechild, it would either be so secret even SHIELD wouldn't know about it, or I'd have introduced you by now. It's just tabloid bullshit.”
“Right,” said Martin faintly. He let himself collapse back against the seat. “Christ, that was- why would they ask those questions?”
Tony shrugged. “They're looking for a rise. Anything they can misquote and sell magazines with. Good job on ignoring them, by the way.”
Martin shivered. “I mostly just wanted to get away,” he said.
“Yeah, I know that one,” said Tony. “Good news! We did get away. And now we get to go back to the hotel and get our ends away as well.”
Martin was torn between groaning and laughing, so instead he settled for kissing Tony. Relief that the evening was over and he apparently hadn't done anything too stupid or embarrassing was setting in.
“Thank fuck our hotel isn't very far away,” said Tony and kissed him again.
The next morning, Martin woke up to find Tony was already awake. This time he was still beside Martin in bed but he was concentrating entirely on his mobile. Occasionally, he let out a little huff of laughter.
“Are you mocking Boeing's new designs again?” Martin asked once he was awake enough for words.
“Nope, this is better,” said Tony. He turned the phone so that Martin could see the screen.
The Pilot Who's Flown Off With Tony Stark's Heart!!
Below was a photo of them from last night, their arms wrapped around each other as Tony did a peace sign with his free hand. Beside him, Martin looked pale and terrified, as if he was only two steps away from throwing up.
“Oh god,” he muttered and turned to hide his face in the pillow.
“That's not even close to being the best pun, by the way,” said Tony, taking the phone back. “Plus, some of them clearly did no research at all. The thirty-seven year-old-”
“I'm thirty-one!” said Martin, turning back so he could talk.
“captivated Tony Stark from the moment they met at London's Heathrow airport--”
“We were in Mafikeng!”
“-an airport best known for featuring in the 2003 romantic blockbuster Love Actually.”
“What? No! Heathrow is- No! It's the third busiest airport in the world by passenger traffic and handles more international passengers than any other airport around the globe! It's so much more than a crappy romance film!”
“Captain Crieff met Tony Stark in a VIP lounge-”
“It was the pilot's lounge.”
“-where his witty banter and strawberry-blond curls captured Iron Man like no supervillain has ever been able to.”
Martin gaped. “I don't even know where to start with that,” he said weakly. “I- strawberry-blond curls? Really?!”
“Oh yeah,” said Tony. “If only the Ten Rings had more gingers, I'd still be in a cave in Afghanistan.” He ruffled Martin's hair.
Martin batted at his hand. “Get off, or I'll-I'll capture you with my witty banter.”
“Oh baby, go on and capture me,” said Tony in a growl, putting his phone to one side. “It's gonna have to be good, though, cos I've been kinda saturated with witty banter this morning. One of the blogs actually had the headline 'Good Crieff! Iron Man's In Love!'”
Martin groaned. “God, why are you even reading them?”
Tony shrugged, settling down beside Martin and running his hand over the line of his collarbone. “Know your enemy, I guess. Besides, I know Clint is going to have printed out the worst ones and plastered them somewhere annoying. Possibly inside the closet I keep Iron Man in or on the ceiling over my bed. Best to already know the worst before I lie down to sleep and see it floating above my head.”
“I'm suddenly glad I only live with students and not Avengers,” said Martin.
Tony snorted. “I'd refute that but...yeah. At least students can't afford the really OTT pranks.”
Martin turned to his side so that he could snuggle into Tony, putting a hand on his hip and rubbing a thumb over the line of his hipbone. “I'm willing to bet that if I asked any of the others, they'd say you were the worst for pranks.”
He let his hand wander up along the side of Tony's body, tracing over the dip of his waist.
Tony shrugged. “Well, yeah. Of course. The best form of defence is offence, everyone knows that. Besides, they totally have it coming.” Martin carried on up Tony's chest, carefully circling around the arc reactor. “And anyway, you're actually wrong. Natasha is the biggest prankster of all of us, she's just superstealthy about it. Most of her pranks are actually blamed on someone else, usually me. I only know them all cos JARVIS keeps me updated.”
Martin's hand reached the notch between Tony's collarbones and then started to circle back down the other side of the arc reactor.
“You never touch it,” said Tony bluntly, followed a moment later by a wince. He pulled away, flopping onto his back and putting distance between them.
“The arc reactor?” said Martin, trying to work out what had just happened.
“No, my cock,” said Tony in the quick voice that meant he was trying to distance himself from what he'd just said. “Wait, my bad, you touch it pretty often – not often enough, though, it's been hours right now, for example.”
Martin look at the circle of metal and light in Tony's chest. He tentatively reached out a hand and put a careful finger on the edge of it. Tony froze.
“I thought it might hurt,” said Martin. “I mean, it's just-I don't want to jiggle it and hurt you.”
“You won't,” said Tony. “It's not – it doesn't work like that. It's like – I don't know, like a piercing. I mean, sure they're a bit sore to start with but after a couple of weeks you can do a whole hell of a lot of shit to them before they properly hurt, and don't let this analogy lead you to draw any conclusions about what I may or may not have done when I was drunk at MIT and unexpectedly outside a piercing place cos, let me tell you, the lengths Pepper has gone to to hunt down every single photo of me shirtless for that whole year are just insane, seriously, she'd kill me if she knew I was just randomly telling people now.”
Martin was only half listening to the ramble because he was too busy letting his fingers run over the smooth surface of the reactor. It wasn't warm like he had expected it to be, or at least not as warm. It was the same temperature as the rest of Tony's body and there was a very faint vibration that he could only just feel through his fingertips.
“It's incredible,” he said.
The corner of Tony's mouth twitched. “Didn't think you liked it,” he said.
Martin choked out a laugh. “Of course I like it. Tony, it's- it's incredible. You know how I feel about your inventions, why would this one be different?”
Tony shrugged. “It doesn't fly.”
He was wearing an expression that was trying too hard for nonchalance and wasn't even coming close to hiding what lay beneath. Martin took a deep breath and summoned all his courage.
“It's not always about aviation, you know.”
Tony gasped with shock. “Who are you, and what have you done with my Spitfire? Oh god, I'm in bed with a shapeshifter!”
He wriggled, trying to get away, but Martin flopped his weight onto him and held him in place. “No, wait, let me-Tony.” He cast about for words but couldn't work out how to phrase what he wanted to say. “Look, it's- I mean, yes, okay, so flying is awesome but there's other things too, and this-” He tapped the arc reactor and then flinched, hoping he hadn't knocked it out-of-sync.
“It's really not that fragile,” said Tony. “I have it there all the time, remember, including when I'm getting thrown about by evil super-strong guys. A tap isn't going to hurt it.”
“Right,” said Martin. “Well, okay. Anyway, I was just saying-”
“I got it.” Tony put his arms around Martin and pulled him in closer. “I got what you were saying,” he said, and kissed him.
Martin was so distracted by the kissing, and the things it led to, that he almost didn't hear Tony whisper, soft against his skin. “Thank you.”
The next time Martin was really aware of anything outside the bed was when his phone rang. It took him a moment to realise it was his rather than Tony's – the only person who ever really phoned him was Tony, so he wasn't used to hearing it when he had Tony in his arms.
“Oh god,” he said, pulling away from Tony to fumble for the phone. “I hope that's not Carolyn with one of her surprise nightmare flights.”
It wasn't. He squinted at the number with a frown and answered.
“Caitlyn? Oh god, is it Mum? Is she-”
Caitlyn's voice cut off his panic. “Martin! Why is there a photo of you on the Glamour celeb news app?”
Martin blinked. “There's an app for that?”
“Keep up, there's an app for everything,” she snapped. “Please, please tell me that it's just a look-a-like snuggling up to Tony Stark at some ritzy A-list thing, and I didn't just find out about my brother's love life from a trashy magazine!”
Oh shit. “Uh,” said Martin. “Well, no, it's not- I mean. That is-”
“Martin, stop stuttering and just say it.”
Martin took a deep breath, locked his eyes with Tony, who was staring at him with an amused smirk, and said, “Caitlyn, I'm dating Tony Stark.”
There was a brief pause, and then a very loud, “Oh my god, Martin! Why the hell didn't you tell us? Please tell me that Mum knows.”
“Um,” said Martin, which was apparently enough to reveal the truth.
“Martin! You can't let her find out from the media! She'll be terribly upset but she won't ever actually say that, she'll just hint at it. For years. God, please save us all that.”
That was a very good point. “All right, all right,” he said. “I'll call her now. I just-” He glanced at Tony, who was still watching him, naked with a sheet draped across him, lit by the blue light of his arc reactor. “It seemed a bit unreal to me and I was living it. I didn't think any of you would believe me.”
Tony gave a small smile that Martin wasn't sure he was aware of.
Caitlyn let out a sigh. “Well, okay, you might have a point. Especially given the suddenly-gay thing.”
Martin frowned. “I'm not suddenly gay. I told you all years ago I was bi.”
“You mentioned it when you were 19 and then seemed to forget about it. We all thought it was a weird phase. Like the Dalek thing.”
Martin was gobsmacked. “The Dalek thing was when I was 9! Why would I have said I was bi if it wasn't true? I don't- You really all just thought it was a phase?”
“Well, it's not as if we've ever seen you with any men,” said Caitlyn, matter-of-factly, as if that was the only way to gauge someone's sexuality.
“You've not seen me with that many women either,” Martin pointed out.
“Well, no,” said Caitlyn. “But that's because you're- you know. You. Oh, is that why you went gay? Because you couldn't find a woman?”
Martin lost his temper. “You sound just like Aunty Hilda,” he hissed, which was possible the worst insult you could level at a Crieff, and then hung up.
He was twitching with anger. Had his family really all thought that his announcement when he was 19, which he'd spent so long worrying about making before he'd finally taken the plunge and done it, had just been some kind of weird teenage thing? He'd been so relieved when they hadn't reacted much and had let the thing just fade into the background over the years.
“Okay?” asked Tony in a careful voice.
Martin let out a long breath. “I have to phone my mum,” he said, because Caitlyn had been right about that, at least.
Tony nodded. “Okay, but I reckon you should do it over here,” he said, sitting up a bit, and then gesturing at the space in front of him. “C'mon, give me something to cuddle while you do boring things that aren't me.”
Martin gratefully went, crawling between Tony's legs to relax back against his chest while Tony linked his hands comfortably over Martin's stomach. “Okay, now you can let yourself be distracted from my awesomeness,” he said.
Martin let out a laugh. “Not sure that's actually possible,” he said as he dialled his mother's number.
“Good morning, this is the Crieff house. Wendy speaking,” she answered in the same way she always had, despite the fact that she was now the only person in the 'Crieff household' and almost anyone phoning would instantly know who she was.
“Hi Mum, it's me,” he said.
“Martin! Oh, how lovely! How are you? How's the business?”
“Great,” said Martin. “We've just flown a businessman to Delhi, so I'm in India at the moment.”
“Oh! Oh, that's nice, dear, but I actually meant the other business. Your business.”
Martin suppressed a sigh. Well, at least she was supportive of some part of his life, even if it was his least favourite part. “That's fine as well, Mum,” he said. “Um, actually, there was something I needed- wanted to tell you.”
He clamped his hand over Tony's and squeezed, plucking up his courage. “I'm- Uh. I'm in a relationship.”
“Oh! Oh, how wonderful! You'll have to bring her over to meet me! Oh, that's such good news, Martin. What about Sunday? We can have a roast – I'll invite Caitlyn and Simon, we can have all the family together.”
“That sounds great, Mum,” lied Martin, who couldn't imagine many things worse than his family being given the chance to interrogate Tony. “I'm not sure he'll be able to come, though – he lives in New York.”
There was a tiny pause. “He?” she repeated and Martin tried desperately to read something into her tone but there wasn't enough to go on.
“Yeah,” he said. “He's- Um. I'm going out with Tony Stark.”
“Oh,” she said and then was silent for a worryingly long time.
“Mum?” asked Martin. “Are you still there?”
“Oh yes, dear,” she said. “Sorry. I was just- Is Tony short for Antonia, then?”
Martin sighed and let his eyes fall shut. “No, Mum. It's short for Anthony. He's a man.”
“Oh,” she said again.
“You do know who Tony Stark is, don't you?” added Martin.
“Oh, should I know him?” she said. “Did you go to school together?”
Martin raised his head enough to knock it back against Tony's shoulder. “No, Mum, he's famous. He runs Stark Industries, the big tech company? And he's Iron Man – the superhero.”
“Oh, you know I don't pay any sort of attention to that rubbish,” she said. “He's got a good job, then?”
Martin tried to imagine a better job than an aviation engineering superhero billionaire and failed. “Yes, Mum, he's got a very good job.”
Tony sniggered in his ear.
“Well, that's good,” she said, not sounding very sure about it. “I suppose it's something, especially if he's living in America. You know, long-distance relationships are a lot of work. Wouldn't it be easier to find someone closer to you? A woman would be easier as well – why make things harder on yourself than you have to?”
“Because he's the person I want to be with,” said Martin. “Trust me, Mum, it's very easy to be with him.”
She let out a long sigh. “Well, okay,” she said, doubtfully. “I suppose if he's ever around, you should bring him over. I have to go now, dear – Maggie is hosting a Macmillan coffee morning and I said I'd take a carrot cake along.”
“Okay, Mum,” said Martin. “Bye.”
“Goodbye, darling,” she said, and hung up.
Martin let the hand holding the phone fall to his side with a sigh. “Well, that was exhausting,” he said.
Tony gave him a squeeze. “Just be glad my dad isn't around to have- Well. I don't actually know what kind of reaction he'd have. After everything else I've done up till now, probably just a resigned sigh.”
Martin turned over in his arms so that he could press a kiss to his lips. “What time is it? When do we have to head back to Delhi?”
Tony cast a glance over at the lock. “Lunchtime. The flight is 7, right? It's a 3 hour drive, so we'll leave at 4, yeah?”
“We'll leave at 3,” corrected Martin. “I do have things to do before we take off, you know.”
“More important things than another hour with me?” asked Tony, raising an eyebrow.
Martin rolled his eyes. “I am the captain, you know.”
“Oh yes,” drawled Tony lasciviously. “I know. Hey, you want to wear you hat for me? Nothing but the hat.”
Martin hesitated. Was that disrespecting his uniform, or a really good idea?
“I'll call you 'sir',” added Tony.
Martin cleared his throat. “Hang on, I'll get it.”
Despite Tony's best attempts to keep Martin in bed for the entire day, they made it to Delhi airport by 6.15. Carolyn and Pepper were waiting for them by the gate that GERTI would be leaving from, talking to each other with the occasional brief, shark-like smile. Martin began to feel very nervous.
“Pep!” said Tony. “How'd it go?”
Pepper ignored him in favour of Martin. “I'm impressed. I thought Tony would make sure that you were a lot later than this.”
Martin blinked at her. “It would be unprofessional for the captain to be late for the flight.”
“Precisely,” said Carolyn. She gave Pepper a smug smile. “I told you that Martin's professionalism would win. I believe you owe me money.”
Pepper raised an eyebrow. “You said he would be here at least an hour in advance. It's now only forty minutes before the flight. Under those terms, I don't owe you anything.”
Tony cackled. “Never make a bet with Pepper,” he said. “She's a killer on the small print.”
Carolyn gave Pepper a very long look. “I shall remember that when we sign the paperwork.”
Martin frowned. “You've written a contract on a bet?”
Carolyn let out a long sigh. “Not that paperwork, silly boy. Miss Potts and I have hammered out the basics of a business deal.”
Martin began to get a creeping sense of dread in his stomach. “What deal?”
Carolyn turned to him with a broad grin that only made the dread grow. “We are now an official subcontractor for Stark Industries.”
Oh god. “What?” he uttered faintly, and turned to stare at Tony. “What have you done?”
Tony attempted to look innocent. “Nothing. You heard the lady – it was Pepper that did it, not me. Uh, whatever 'it' might be. Nothing to do with me.”
Martin scowled. “Don't treat me like an idiot. This would have had everything to do with you.”
“Oh, do calm down, Martin,” said Carolyn. “This is excellent news for MJN. We'll be doing enough jobs for Stark Industries to cut out some of the more horrific stag weekends, while still having time to hold on to our independence and, of course, our more valued clients.”
“You don't value any of our clients,” Martin pointed out.
She shrugged. “Well, our richer ones, then. This is especially good news for you, Martin. With the added revenue, I'll be able to pay you a salary finally. How does £25,000 sound?”
Martin stared at her, and then spun on his heel to glare at Tony. “You-! I told you not to meddle!”
“And I told you I wasn't going to pay any attention to that,” said Tony. “Come on, Martin, this is a really good way to resolve it. You get a salary, MJN gets a much-needed boost as a business, I get to see you more often cos you'll be flying to New York more. It's win all round.”
“You'll be spending huge amounts of money on an airline you don't need!” hissed Martin. “This is nothing but charity and I won't-”
“Actually, it's not,” interrupted Pepper. “I am the CEO of Stark Industries, and I don't make deals that have no advantage for us. At present, we have two private jets, which was fine when the owner and the CEO were the same person. Now, though, it's not uncommon for Tony to be using one and I the other, and then we don't have one for any of the other top management, or for any clients or contractors that we might need to fly around. Not to mention the occasional times we've needed to pick up an item that is too important to trust to a courier but which probably does not need a luxury jet. It would make sense for us to have a lower budget option but we wouldn't use it enough for it to be cost effective for us to buy another jet of our own and hire the crew to run it. This is not charity, Martin. This is one business solving a problem by signing a contract with another.”
Martin stared at her, then turned to poke his finger into Tony's chest. “You're not forgiven.”
Tony shrugged. “That's cool. I've got nine hours to work on you.”
Martin blinked. “What?”
Tony beamed. “I'm coming to England with you,” he said. “Excellent surprise, right?”
Martin gaped. He turned to Carolyn, looking for someone with a shred of sanity. “What about Mr Patel? Won't he mind a gatecrasher on his flight?”
Carolyn rolled her eyes. “Don't get so wound up, Martin. I'm sure he won't mind someone else sitting in one of the sixteen seats that he has to himself.”
“Besides, who can say no to Tony Stark?” said Tony, spreading his arms with a grin.
Martin glared at him again, then turned the glare on Pepper and Carolyn as well. “I'm not happy about this.”
“Oh, who cares if you're happy?” said Carolyn. “Go and fly my plane and stop whining. Anyone would think you didn't want to get a salary.”
Martin stomped off towards Gerti, leaving them all behind him, probably to gloat over how they'd got one over him.
It wasn't that he objected to having a salary, it was the method through which he was getting one that was the problem. Tony had whisked him off to keep him distracted with royalty and champagne while he got his CEO to butter Carolyn up, so that it was all a done deal by the time Martin found out about it. It was underhand.
Arthur was in the cabin, doing a last-minute hoover.
“Skip!” he greeted Martin with excitement. “Did you hear? We're going to get new uniforms!”
Martin glared at him without replying and went into the cockpit, slamming the door behind him.
“Hello,” said Douglas. “I take it you've heard, then.”
“It's utterly ridiculous,” snapped Martin, putting his flight bag in the locker.
“Oh yes, definitely,” agreed Douglas. “What could be more ridiculous than MJN finally having a financial leg to stand on?”
Martin glared at him and sat in his seat. “Commence pre-flight checks,” he snapped.
“Ah, we're still letting our pride get in the way of our common sense, are we?” said Douglas. “Very well, then. Pre-flight checks it is.”
Two hours into the flight, Martin was still fuming but the steady rhythms of piloting a plane had calmed him down a bit. There was something about having a control column in his hands that always made his tension ease away.
The cabin door opened. “Coffee!” announced a cheerful voice, but it had an American accent rather than a British one. Martin glanced over his shoulder to see Tony carrying the tray and, for some reason, wearing Arthur's hat.
“You look ridiculous,” he said.
“Yeah, well, I kinda got the impression that silly hats were a requirement of the airline,” said Tony, glancing up at Martin's.
Martin scowled and turned back to the expanse of sky in front of them. “Civilians aren't allowed on the flight deck,” he added. “CAA rules.”
“Good thing I'm not a civilian then,” said Tony, passing Douglas one coffee and setting the other one next to Martin. “The Avengers are all official military liaisons or something. Oh, and I also have a pilot's licence. Somewhere.”
“I didn't know that,” said Douglas.
Tony shrugged. “I've got a lot of crap lying round.”
Martin twitched. Of course Tony counted that as crap – it was only the single most valuable item that Martin owned and the most important thing he had ever achieved. Tony had probably managed to pass in one go, while hitting on the examiner and half-drunk. Martin's fists clenched around the steering column and he took a deep breath.
“Right, we've got our coffee. You can go now.”
“Yeah, no,” said Tony, leaning against the cupboard door in an 'I'm not going anywhere' pose. “We need to talk.”
“And you think that 30,000 ft in the air while I'm flying an aeroplane, and with Douglas listening in, is a good time and place?”
“As much as I hate to, I agree with Martin,” said Douglas. “I've spent enough of my life having my own domestic altercations, I don't particularly want to be involved in yours as well.”
“Ha!” said Martin triumphantly to Tony. “You, see? You'll have to-”
“However,” continued Douglas, standing up, “as I am not currently flying a plane, I think I'll go to the loo, stretch my legs, maybe have a chat with Carolyn in the galley for a bit. You can handle things without me for ten minutes, can't you, Martin?”
“What?” said Martin. “No! Douglas-”
“Oh, don't be so hard on yourself, I'm sure you can cope. You are, after all, the captain,” said Douglas. He left the cockpit, leaving Martin trapped with Tony.
“I like him,” said Tony, taking Douglas's seat. “We can talk now, right?”
“No,” said Martin. “I'm still flying an aeroplane.”
Tony shrugged. “We once had a relationship talk while I was battling an evil alien killing machine, I'm sure you can cope.”
Martin scowled and fixed his eyes on the clouds. “Fine,” he snapped. “Talk.”
Tony looked at him for a long time in silence, while Martin first tried to ignore him and then started to twitch under the scrutiny. After a few minutes, Tony slumped back in his chair with a sigh. “C'mon, you know I'm shit at this bit, Martin. Can't you cut me some slack?”
“Tony, you went behind my back to rearrange my life, after I'd asked you not to,” said Martin.
“I told you I was going to, though,” said Tony. “I totally did. And you must have known I wouldn't just sit by and do nothing. Seriously, Martin, that would have made no sense and been kinda a dick move, given how easy it is for me to help.”
Martin scowled. “Oh, and signing a contract that technically makes you my boss without asking if that was okay first isn't a dick move?”
Tony blinked as if he'd not considered it from that angle before. “I won't be your boss, Carolyn still will be and Pepper is organising the whole thing our end, so-”
Martin scoffed. “And if I piss you off and you decide you want to punish me, Pepper's not going to do everything you say, and Carolyn's not going to be so dependent on this Stark Industries contract that she'll fire me, or whatever you want?”
Tony gaped at him. “I don't- Jesus, Martin! I wouldn't do anything like that, whatever happened. Who do you think I am?”
He looked so hurt at the idea that Martin felt himself soften despite himself. He let out a long sigh. “Okay, yeah, I don't think you would, but you could. I don't – Tony. Don't you think there's enough imbalance between us without adding that in as well?”
Tony stared at him. “Imbalance?” he repeated. “I don't- Martin. Please tell me you don't think the amount of money each member of a couple has is how you judge the balance in it.”
“No,” said Martin, “but- Tony. It's-” He stopped, frustrated with his inarticulateness, and stared out at the sky. There had to be a way to put this into words.
“Mar-” started Tony.
Martin held up a hand to stop him. “Let me think,” he said. “I don't- Tony. I need to get this out. It's- okay.” He took a deep breath. “The worst thing about being poor is that it makes other people think they can control you. I try so hard to be independent but it's a close thing. The slightest thing could upset my budget. My landlord knows that, so he never actually does anything when I tell him how cold it gets in the attic in winter because he knows I'll never be able to afford to move anywhere else. And, and- well, there's this customer we have, Mr Birling. He's horrible to all of us but we all bend over backwards for him, just because we need his money. I need it – the size of his tip means I get to eat more than just pasta for- for several months.” His chest felt like it was being squeezed by iron bands to make that confession to Tony but he needed to make his point.
“I'm nothing like that,” said Tony. “I don't want anything in return, Martin, seriously. This isn't- if you broke up with me tomorrow, I wouldn't change this deal. Stark Industries would still maintain their contract with MJN, there'd still be enough for Carolyn to pay you. C'mon, I'm not that much of a dick.”
Martin shook his head. “I can't trust that,” he said. “Tony, can't you see? I can't let you have that much control over me.”
There was silence for a moment before Tony let out a huff of unamused laughter. “Seriously? You think it's me that has control over you? I had to nag you into taking a phone so that we could keep in touch, then I took you on a date and you told me you didn't want that-”
“That was a mistake,” said Martin quickly. “I didn't know it was a date.”
“I know,” said Tony. “But seriously, every step we've taken has been because I suggested it and then had to work at you to get you to agree. If anyone has the control here, it's you. This is- if we're going to be serious, I want to see you more than once every couple of weeks, Martin. I want to know you're not freezing in an attic, eating pasta, while I'm in my penthouse having, I don't know, caviar. I want to- Do you know why I'm on this flight?”
Martin shrugged. “To prove that you can be anywhere you want?”
“No,” said Tony. “No, not at all. God, Martin, I know I come across as a bit of an arrogant dick but I thought you knew me better than that. I'm here because after you fly Mr Patel home - and then get a day to rest, which I was really hoping to spend with you - MJN is flying to New York, where my engineers are going to give her a major overhaul, so that you can be as safe as possible when you're jetting around the globe, doing what you love. I don't-” He took a deep breath. “I want you safe and happy. I really want that to include me but whether it does or not is up to you. All the control is in your hands here, Martin.”
Martin loosened his grip on the wheel. “It really doesn't feel like it. I just- I met a man and then all this other stuff happened, and I ended up at the King of Sweden's birthday party. Tony, it doesn't feel like I have any control at all.”
“Well, shit,” said Tony. “If you don't, and I don't, then who does?”
Martin managed a laugh. “As long as it's not- not Loki or someone like that.”
Tony waved a hand. “Nah, no way he has enough patience for this kind of long game. You realise it's been over four months since we met, right? Loki would have got bored way before that.”
“Four months,” repeated Martin. That seemed like both an extremely long time, given that he and Tony had only just agreed to be serious, and yet not long enough to explain how much he already felt for Tony.
“Yep,” said Tony. “That's forever, in my world.” He drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair for a moment. “Okay, look. This contract thing – I passed it with Pepper first to make sure I wasn't being too heavy-handed and she said I should tell you first, but- Well. I figured that if I told you first, you'd just say no without properly considering it. Which, you kinda did anyway so more fool me.”
Martin felt his anger rise up again. “Because-” he started, but Tony held up a hand.
“Yeah, yeah, I get it. I do. Thing is, though, I'm not letting you carry on being unpaid when I can do something about it. If you can come up with a better way to do that than this, some other way that I can help you out, then I'll be all ears but I don't think you will. Can you at least give it a chance?”
Martin snorted. “I don't really have a choice, do I? Carolyn would kill me if I tried to stop it now.”
“Yeah, true,” said Tony. “I guess you'll just have to go with it.”
“Yes, well done,” snapped Martin. “You've trapped me into it-”
“Trapped you into being paid regularly, getting an engineering overhaul on your plane, and going to see your sexy boyfriend more often? Yeah, sucks to be you,” said Tony.
Martin glared at him. “That's not the point.”
Tony deflated. “Yeah, I know. Look, this is a one-off, yeah? After this, I won't do a thing that I don't tell you about first. Well, okay, maybe the occasional birthday surprise or whatever, but this is it on big things.”
“I'm meant to just trust you on that, am I?” said Martin.
“Yes,” said Tony. “Yes, seriously, you can. I know I have a reputation as being unreliable but when I say something that I mean, I follow through. I won't do anything like this again. I just couldn't see any other way out of this one.”
The cockpit door opened and Douglas came in. “Are the domestic fireworks over yet, or do I have to go and spend some more time listening to Arthur's babble?”
“I don't know,” said Tony, looking at Martin. “Are they over?”
Martin let out a long breath. “Go back to the cabin,” he said.
Tony brightened. “Does that mean I'm forgiven? C'mon, say it does. Forgive me, forgive me, you know you want to.”
Martin clenched his teeth. “I'll think about it,” he said. “Ask me again when we've landed.”
Tony tipped his head to one side and gave him a careful look. “Close enough,” he announced, and got up out of Douglas's seat. “Here you go, have your throne back. I'm going to see what kind of snacks you guys have.”
He left and Douglas took his seat. “He's going to be disappointed,” he said.
Martin blinked and stared at him. “What?”
“By our snack range,” clarified Douglas. “Are you all right, Martin?”
Oh, right. For a moment there, he thought Douglas had been talking about Tony being disappointed by him. Which he probably would be at some point, if Martin was honest with himself. “Fine,” he said. “Just....fine.”
“Ah,” said Douglas. “Very convincing.” Mercifully, he shut up after that, and Martin relaxed into the quiet rhythm of flying an aeroplane through the night.
Tony had left him a lot to think about. Martin hadn't really considered that Tony might be feeling just as confused and out-of-control as he was with this thing. The idea that Martin was the one with the power, though, was ridiculous. How could Martin have any kind of power over Tony Stark? Especially not given how much Martin felt for him. It felt like his happiness was now entirely bound up with how long it had been since he last saw or spoke to Tony. How had Tony not noticed that?
He remembered the moment in the hotel room two night ago, when it had seemed as if Tony didn't realise that his wealth had nothing to do with whether or not Martin wanted to be with him. Maybe Martin needed to be more obvious in his affections, even if it did make him feel horribly vulnerable every time he let out another tiny piece of how he felt for Tony.
That said, Tony had gone behind his back on this one. Could he really trust him when he said he wouldn't do it again? What if he decided that some other part of Martin's life needed changing? Would he really just let it go, or would he find some other way to manipulate Martin?
Martin felt his teeth clench. Could he really just let this go and allow Tony to treat him like a child who needed his life arranging for him? Did he really have a choice in the matter? If he didn't forgive Tony, he'd have to break up with him. He couldn't imagine doing that, not even with how betrayed he felt over this. How could he go back to a life where he didn't get daily phone calls from a smart, funny, sexy man, who always sounded so pleased to talk to him?
“Would you like some advice?” said Douglas.
“No,” said Martin, shortly.
“Well, that's never stopped me from dispensing it before so I don't see that I should let it now,” said Douglas. “My advice is that you should look at someone's intentions when they do something like this, rather than reacting based on your interpretation of it.”
“Yes, thank you,” snapped Martin. “And your intentions in encouraging me to forgive him have nothing to do with wanting the perks of being associated with the Avengers, not at all.”
“Of course they do,” said Douglas. “That doesn't mean I'm wrong, though. And besides, remember I'm the man who has to sit next to you, putting up with your sulks every time he upsets you. If I thought you staying with Tony was going to mean I'd have to spend a lot more time putting up with you being miserable because of it, I'd tell you to leave him now. However, you're actually usually happy because of him– almost obnoxiously so – and so I say, let it go. He was trying to help and yes, okay, maybe he could have been more tactful about it, given your towering pride, but that doesn't mean you should drop him because of it.”
Damn it, why did Douglas always have to be right?
“My pride isn't towering,” muttered Martin.
Douglas just scoffed.
They landed in Fitton at half past ten in the evening but Martin's body thought it was the wee hours of the morning, despite the fact that he'd spent most of the day in bed. Of course, he and Tony hadn't done a huge amount of sleeping in that time.
When he and Douglas had finished with the post-landing checks and stumbled out of the cockpit and down the boarding stairs, they found Tony waiting at the bottom with his hands in his pockets and what looked like it was meant to be a nonchalant expression.
“Ah,” said Douglas. “My cue to leave you two to it, I suppose. Goodnight, Tony, Martin. Do try not to avoid spending all night arguing.”
“Well, that's kinda up to Martin,” said Tony.
Martin glared at him, waiting for Douglas to go before he responded. “If you're trying to say this entire argument is my fault,” he hissed, “when you're the one who went behind my back-”
“No,” interrupted Tony. “Nope, not at all, I totally get why you're pissed, honest. I just meant, it's up to you if we argue all night, cos it's up to you if I'm staying at yours, or going to find a hotel.”
Martin blinked. “A hotel?”
Tony looked uncomfortable. “Well, okay, I'll see if Pepper can find something for me. Maybe we can meet tomorrow and talk-”
“No,” said Martin, “I didn't-I meant, why would you go to a hotel?” Which was a stupid question, because why wouldn't he rather go to a hotel than back to Martin's hovel?
With your new salary, you'll be able to get out of that place, a voice whispered in Martin's head, which Martin tried to ignore. He was meant to be angry about the money, not already plotting to spend it. Although, if he could get a place big enough for a double bed, he'd be able to have Tony to stay without them spending the whole night trying not to fall out of bed.
Tony looked at him for a long moment. “Generally speaking, people aren't that keen on sleeping with people they think are going behind their back to try and coerce them.”
Martin shook his head. “I don't- You're not coercing me, I know that, Tony. I-” He screwed up his courage and forced the words out. “I might have been wrong to suggest that you were.”
Tony relaxed. “Well, okay, yeah. So we're good, then? You'll let me stay at yours?”
Martin looked at him: Tony Stark, standing on the tarmac at Fitton airport, hoping to spend the night with Martin. He remembered what Tony had said to the reporters.
I just know he is, and am looking forward to making a list of all the things that make him special once we've been together a bit longer.
How the hell had Martin managed to make anyone, let alone someone as great as Tony, feel like that about him? Was he really going to throw it away now, over this?
“Of course I will,” he said. “You- You're going to have to try a lot harder than that to get to go and find a hotel rather than staying with the students.”
Tony's face lit up. “Okay, good. Excellent.”
Martin looked at his watch. “Not that I can promise anything more than sleep tonight,” he said. “I'm exhausted and I have to be up by eight.”
“What the hell for?” asked Tony, falling in beside him as they headed towards the car park. “I know you don't have any flights – next one is to New York, the day after tomorrow, with me.”
“I've got my other job tomorrow,” said Martin, feeling the usual creeping sense of shame as he mentioned it. “I said I'd be there at nine.”
Tony's face lit up. “Oh! Can I help? C'mon, I'd be great at man-with-a-van-ing. I am a man, you know, and maybe I don't have a van but I'm 50% of the way there, that's got to count for something.”
“I'm just driving some furniture to Coventry,” said Martin. “It's really not that interesting.”
“Course it is,” said Tony. “You'll be there, right? Of course it'll be interesting.”
“Right,” said Martin sceptically. He shrugged. “Well, if you want. I look forward to seeing my customer's face when she sees who my assistant is.”
“Might have a negative impact on your tip,” said Tony. “You'd be surprised how many people don't think billionaires need tips.”
Martin snorted. He was silent for a moment, considering, then he took a deep breath and reached out to take Tony's hand. “Well, I won't really need it now, will I? Not now I'm a salaried airline captain.”
Tony sent him a soft, happy smile and squeezed his hand. “Exactly,” he said. “That means next time I come, you'll be able to spend the morning in bed with me.”
Martin laughed. “Your priorities are-”
“Perfect,” said Tony. “They're in exactly the right place, you know they are.”
Martin smiled at him. “Yeah,” he agreed.
Tony was quiet for a moment and Martin concentrated on remembering where he'd parked his van.
“So,” said Tony, slowly, “you said I should ask again if I've been forgiven.”
Martin looked at him. “You won't do anything like this again?”
“Scout's honour,” said Tony. “Not that I was a scout but I work for Cap, he's basically the world's biggest boy scout, I'm sure that counts.”
Martin looked at his hopeful face, pushed aside his pride, and nodded. “Okay,” he said, then cleared his throat. “Okay, you're forgiven.”
“Hell, yeah!” said Tony, and pulled Martin in to kiss him thoroughly. Martin relaxed against him and kissed back.