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Stop: Hammertime!

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It takes a full week of sleeping together before Tony agrees to let Steve call the points. They’ve just woken up in Tony’s bed, and he’s warm and he’s happy, and it’s about damn time to share that joy with their friends.

“Take the picture,” Tony says, nuzzling Steve’s neck. “Call it.”

Steve grabs his phone from the nightstand and they tilt in close, their bare shoulders just visible at the bottom of the frame, as Steve snaps the selfie. Both of them have mussed up hair, and sleepy smiles, and there is no mistaking the content and relaxed way they lean into each others' touch.

Steve looks positively gleeful as he types out his message then presses send.

Steve: +100 x 8 or 9 (I’ve lost track) to Tony for Getting Steve Laid. Over and over. So much sex, seriously guys, you don’t even know.

Tony only sees Steve’s commentary when he glances at his own phone, and then he laughs and rolls on top of Steve to wrestle his phone away from him so he can kiss him before the group reactions start coming in. And boy do they come in.

Tony had never seen so many victory GIFS. Or eggplant emojis. Clint has infinite amounts of creativity stored up for just this sort of occasion.

The congratulations continue when they get to work. Tony walks Steve to his desk, and Bucky has coffee waiting for them. Starbucks coffee.

“Only the classiest shit for our lover boys,” Bucky proclaims.

Tony laughs extra hard when he realizes the hand-written name on his cup is simply +100 x 8 or 9.

“We need to celebrate with a hundred shot salute tonight at the bar!” Clint insists. “There’s what... 8 of us? Divided by... 100 drinks. So everyone gets... fucking morning math,” he whines. “Hurts my head.”

“12.5,” Bucky and Tony answer in unison.

“Nerds,” Clint sighs.

Though as soon as Bucky settles a Starbucks cup in Clint’s hands he look supremely content.

“You’re the nerd, nerd,” Bucky says, leaning down to kiss Clint on top of the head, like he does every morning. “What do you think all the angles you calculate off the top of your head are? Social Studies? No. Geometry is math.”

“Lies!” Clint declares.

“Sorry, Barton. I’m giving it to your boyfriend on that one. Geometry is the nerdiest,” Tony agrees.

“I hate all of you and everything,” Clint sighs.

His eyes close as he brings his coffee up to his lips, and then the sigh Clint lets out after he swallows is pure filth.

“Get a room!” Sam teases as he walks up to join them.

Natasha isn’t far behind. She steps up behind Sam and wraps her arms around his waist.

“Or find a supply closet,” Natasha suggests. “No one wants to watch you two go at it.”

“I do!” Kate says, as she arrives for the morning. “Who are we watching?”

“Clint and Bucky,” Sam laughs.

Kate makes a horrified face. “Umm, oops. I take that back, because that’s going to be a hard pass. Unless Bucky wants to give us a show all on his own?”

Clint sticks out his tongue at her and then runs a hand over his own chest ridiculously. “Just cause you can’t handle this heat.”

“No. Because my pansexual awesomeness ends right at you.”

"That hurts me, Kate," Clint says.  "Here."  He flexes a muscle as he points at his own heart.

Bruce walks up on Kate’s last few of words and she holds up her fist to him for a fistbump.

“See? Bruce knows what I’m talking about.”

“Bruce needs coffee,” Bruce says with a yawn. He does fistbump her though, and that gets a huge smile from Kate. “After coffee, I will weigh in on whatever this is.”

“Yes, coffee,” Kate says, holding out her hands. “Where’s mine?”

Bucky pulls more coffee cups out of the carrying container on Clint’s desk.

“This must have cost you a fortune,” Kate says, eyeing the Starbucks cup happily.

Tony feels a pang at that. He wants to offer to pay because that’s just what he does when he feels like the people around him don’t have money for things, but Bucky looks right at him and gives him that disarmingly flirtatious smile he uses when he’s serious business about getting his way.

“Don’t even think about it,” Bucky adds, biting down on the corner of his bottom lip. “It’s the least we can do for you making an honest man out of our Stevie.”

Bucky tilts his head down slightly, making his blue eyes grow wide and he leans more weight on one leg, and sticks a hand in his pocket which is just doing things for his physique that seem entirely unfair. Barnes is a menace.

“Fine,” Tony agrees. “But since you took care of coffee I’m paying for all our drinks tonight. No arguments.”

Once he gets his way, Bucky turns off his flirty charm as quickly as he turned it on. The smile that's left behind on Bucky's face is entirely sincere.

“Don’t think any of the rest of us could afford 100 shots big guy,” Bucky says, giving Tony a playful pat on the arm. “Tonight it’s all on you.”

*

Apparently the only thing that can make Free Fry Friday more awesome than it already is, is the prospect of 12.5 shots per person from the top shelf of the bar. Tony can’t stop laughing as he watches Clint and Kate bounce up and down like excited rabbits for the whole six blocks to Lido’s.

Things are so different now. Instead of feeling like he and Bruce are the odd ones out, they fit into the movements of the group like gears inside an intricate clock. Some of the time Steve’s got his arm around Tony, but every half a block or so there’s an effortless switch among the groupings. Bucky will need Steve for something and Natasha will fill in the space Steve left behind. Sam swoops between conversation partners in the same way as his girlfriend, so no one is ever left out. Everyone is engaged. Everything is comfortable.

For someone like Tony, who has spent a lifetime feeling like an outsider even within his own company, it’s the epitome of what he’s always wanted: Friends as family.

The group only make it through three trays of fries throughout the night, but that’s because the shots and the beer are endless. Infinite. Especially for Steve and Tony since they’re the ones everyone is celebrating. By last call, Tony is sloppy, floppy drunk. Steve’s not faring much better as they follow their friends through the door and pour out onto the sidewalk. The whole lot of them are laughing and stumbling and leaning on each other for support.

“You are heavier than y’look,” Steve complains, as Tony slumps against his side.

Natasha had been helping Steve prop Tony up, but now she and Bucky are closer to the street hailing cabs.

“I’ll get Bruce home,” Kate offers. She appears to be the more sober of the two, since she is standing without support.

“Awwwwww, Katie’s found a frieeeeeend,” Clint sings.

“Platonic!” Kate and Bruce say in a snickering, drunken unison.

A taxi pulls up and Bucky speaks to the driver, while Natasha opens the back door.

“Hey Clint, what do you get when you put a translator and a genius together in the back of a cab?” Kate asks.

“A backseat o’ boring?” Clint asks.

“No,” Kate laughs. “A cunning linguist!”

She flops herself into the rear of the taxi and Bruce laughs as he follows her. They’re an odd pair, sure, but Tony is happy to see Bruce really connect with a person who isn’t him. Bruce needs more of that.

“You boys are up next,” Natasha says, pointing to Tony and Steve.

“I want Tony to come back to our place,” Steve says, in a drunk sort of pout.

It’s adorable. Tony wants to kiss his face forever. Just as soon as Steve’s back to only having one face. And maybe things aren’t so spinny.

“Good idea,” Tony agrees.

Tony hasn’t been to Steve’s place yet. It just makes so much more sense (when they’re sober) for them to go to Tony’s which is spotless, and fancy and where they have all the privacy in the world and a giant, soft bed.

“When’s the last time you changed your sheets?” Sam asks. He’s leaning against a lamppost for support.

Steve shrugs. “Medium?”

“Yeahhhhhh,” Natasha says. “I’m gonna say it’s probably a good idea for us to keep an eye on you two, anyway. Bucky, you good?”

 The only person as drunk as Steve and Tony is Clint, who is now sitting on the pavement with his eyes closed, leaning his head against Sam’s legs. He’s humming to himself loudly, massacring what Tony thinks might be ‘Eye of the Tiger.’

“We’re good,” Bucky confirms. “I’ve carried his drunk ass up the stairs before, I can do it again.”

*

The morning is a bad place. The sun is pain. Alcohol is never again.

These are Tony’s first three thoughts upon waking. He lays there for a few minutes trying to will himself back to oblivion. When that doesn’t work he tries to move, but Steve is heavy against him, and all dead weight.

“I’ve got to pee,” Tony groans. His head hurts so bad. So bad. Everything is bad.

“Bathroom. Hall. Dying,” Steve mumbles.

Tony kind of understands. The bathroom might be in the hall. Or the bathroom might be dying. The only thing Tony is sure about is not wanting to wet Steve’s bed on the first night he’s ever spent in it. That is not the good kind of kinky.

He wiggles against Steve, who rolls off of him with a groan.

Tony stumbles to the door once he’s on two feet and then uses the wall for support to get to the bathroom. He’s no longer drunk, he’s just too weak and miserably hungover to trust his treacherous legs with all his weight. When he’s done and his hands are washed, Tony steps back out into the hallway.

Natasha is there, carrying two glasses of water and a bottle of tylenol that she has tucked under her arm. She’s wearing purple pajamas spotted with little pink bullseyes.

Tony groans. It was meant to be ‘hello.’

“I come bearing gifts,” Natasha says in a soft, not-painful-to-the-hangover voice.

She walks Tony the few feet back to Steve’s room, where he can see through the open door that Steve’s fast asleep again.

“Drink all of this,” she says, handing Tony the water. “Take two of these,” she indicates the pain pills, “and sleep it off. I’ll leave Steve’s on his nightstand. He knows what to do.”

Tony’s unsure. He’s not great with morning afters, especially when it involves blacking out. Steve might want him gone.

“I should probably--” Tony starts.

“Get some rest,” Natasha insists. “You don’t have to sneak out like you did something wrong. Steve wants you here, and so do we.”

Tony’s not used to people taking care of him. At least not people who aren’t employed for that specific purpose. Tony complies, mostly out of confusion. Either Natasha is very convincing, or his headache is very bad. He’ll figure that out later.

He feels far more human when he wakes up a little after 2 PM. Steve is still asleep.

Tony walks back out to the hall, and then down to where he hear voices and smells something that might be appealing if his stomach can figure out what it plans to do with itself. The hall opens to a combined living room/dining room/kitchen/laundry/study area. Or well-- there’s a stove, fridge, and sink, plus a laundry line and ironing board, a dining table, two desks, a couch and several chairs. Tony’s not sure there’s a name for this kind of room. It’s big, so it isn’t cramped. Just... cozily multifunctional.

Sam is at the table, resting his head in his hands and Natasha is at the stove, stirring soup. Tony can smell something frying, too. Potatoes maybe? They smell incredible the closer he gets.

“What’s that?” Tony asks.

“Tash is making hangover stew and fried potatoes. Have a seat,” Sam says. “She gets testy when people get too close to the stove.”

Again, there’s that pang of... friendship? Tony knows what it’s like to have friends, he’s had plenty of friends. He’s just not been around this kind of... domestic?... friendship. There are words for these things, but it probably speaks volumes that Tony is having a difficult time finding the right vocabulary for what’s going on.

“I don’t want to be any trouble,” Tony says.

He’s a lot less sure about all this in the light of day.

“It’s not trouble,” Natasha says, without turning around. “If you’re going to date Steve we’re part of the package.”

“Just be glad you aren’t getting Bucky’s hangover cure,” Sam says. “That’s a big glass of orange juice with a raw egg mixed in. It’s wrong, man. So wrong.”

“I like it,” Natasha says.

“She would,” Sam whispers to Tony conspiratorially.

Natasha laughs.

“Except you don’t get hangovers, apparently,” Tony directs toward Natasha.

His head still aches, and movement seems like a lot of effort. Natasha looks ready to teach a Pilates class.

“She’s Russian,” Sam says. “She can out-drink us Americans by a metric mile.”

“That would be a kilometer, dear,” Natasha says as she turns toward the men. “And I didn’t have as much to drink as the rest of you.”

Natasha pours out a mug of steaming coffee and brings it over to Tony. She hip checks Sam as she walks past him,

“Bucky and I usually take it easy on the alcohol so everyone else can have their fun.”

“That’s good of you,” Tony says. “Though next time, maybe stop me after ten. I haven’t felt this rough in a long time.”

Tony hears shuffling behind him.

“Just wait for the magic soup,” Steve says.

Steve comes up behind Tony and leans down so he can wrap an arm around Tony’s chest and kisses him on the ear a few times.

“Good morning, handsome,” he says quietly, before kissing Tony again, this time on the neck.

Tony feels a shiver run down his spine.

Steve’s changed into sweats and a t-shirt, and again, that’s something Tony hasn’t seen before. At his place, Steve’s either in his work clothes, or in his boxers, or in less, and then back to his work clothes again in the morning. Casual Steve is something Tony is looking forward to seeing more of.

Steve takes the seat next to him, and then rests his hand on Tony’s thigh under the table. It’s the kind of lazy, casual affection Tony loves. There’s nothing contrived about Steve. When Steve touches him, Tony isn’t left wondering if Steve’s doing it for his money, or his connections, or for fame.

It’s breathtaking.

“Did you sleep okay?” Steve asks, rousing Tony from his frankly embarrassing levels of adoration.

“I don’t remember,” Tony admits. “I’m not sore so I must have. And since half the time I pass out on the floor of my workshop, I’m going to say this was an improvement.”

“I guess it’s a good thing you’ve got me around, then,” Steve says. “Motivation to get to a bed.”

Sam makes a gagging sound, right as Natasha places a steaming bowl of soup down in front of Tony.

“I think they’re cute,” Natasha declares. “No giving them a hard time.”

“I think they’re getting plenty of hard time as it is,” Sam says.

“You’re spending too much time with Clint,” Steve says. “You’re stealing his best lines.”

“If that’s Clint’s best, I don’t think I want to hear the worst,” Tony laughs.

It turns out Hangover Soup is a real, working, magical thing, and Tony wants to buy a factory and start mass producing it. When he’s finished with his bowl, he feels a whole lot better.

“Where did you learn to make this?” he asks.

“College,” Natasha says vaguely. “I’m glad you like--”

Natasha’s cut off by a soft cellphone ring, coming from one of the kitchen cabinets.

Steve, Natasha and Sam all tense.

“The burner phone,” Steve explains as Natasha rushes to the kitchen.

“You’ve got a burner phone?” Tony asks, as Steve stands to go pull the window blinds.

“For emergencies,” Sam says.

Tony kind of thinks that’s what regular phones are for, but sure, why not?

“Bucky?” Natasha answers. She listens. “Clint, slow down. Tony’s right here.”

There’s another pause.

“Wait. I’m going to put you on speaker. Everyone’s going to need to hear this.”

Tony’s phone rings as Natasha walks back to the table.

“Don’t answer that,” Natasha says. “Take the battery out. Shut it down.”

“What?” Tony asks.

Sam grabs the phone out of Tony’s hand and flips it over and does exactly what Natasha asked, in one swift movement.

“Hey!” Tony objects. He grabs for the pieces of his phone and Steve puts his hand on Tony’s arm.

“Let him,” Steve says.

“What’s going on?” Tony asks.

“Thank fuck you went to Steve’s last night,” Bucky says over the speaker of the burner phone. “We’ve got security alerts set up on your name and someone put out a hit on you around 1 AM.”

“For an obscene amount of cash,” Clint says. “On a service that only goes out to people with a reputation for getting shit done.”

“These guys are no joke,” Bucky adds. “And for this kind of money they’re gonna show up at your doorstep in droves.”

“But it’s gonna be okay,” Clint says. “We’ve got your back.”

It takes Tony a moment to process all that.

“I’ve got a security team for this kind of thing,” Tony reminds them. “I know you know that, because you work for them.” He’s still a little on edge because of the way everyone in the room is looking at him and his headache is back in full force. “People have been trying to kidnap or kill me since the day I was born. We’re prepared.”

“Your security team is the problem,” Clint says.

“We don’t trust them,” Bucky says. “Stane had a hand in hiring at least half of who’s left. We know Rumlow and Johnson are both on the distribution list for this thing. They’re bad news.”

“As soon as any of these assholes go looking for you they’re gonna figure out you aren’t home,” Clint continues. “They’ll hack security cameras and the traffic light feeds. They’ll talk to the taxi drivers. They’re gonna know you’re at Steve’s before long.”

“Let us move you somewhere safe. If we can’t sort this shit out on own we know some heavy hitters who can.”

“You’re thinking of calling Fury and Coulson?” Natasha asks.

“If that’s what it takes,” Bucky says. “What do you say, Tony?”

Tony takes a deep, slow breath, to gather his thoughts.

“Someone needs to warn Pepper,” Tony says. “People try to get at me through her.”

“Sam and I will handle it,” Natasha says.

“And Bruce. Someone needs to make sure he’s okay.”

“I’ll call Kate,” Clint says. “She’ll take care of him.”

Tony looks at Steve.

“I want you to be safe,” Steve says. “And I trust these guys more than anyone.”

It’s not really a matter of trust. Tony trusts them as much as he trusts anyone these days. It’s just... and he’s not going to say this part out loud... they’re desk staff. He’s not sure what a trio of translators, a Photoshop expert and two security strategists think they’re going to do other than hide him, and Tony has a few safe houses that are off the books. He can do that for himself.

They’re all so set on it though. Friends as family. He isn’t going to deny them this.

“Yeah, okay,” Tony says. “You’re hired.”

Natasha, Sam and Steve all look relieved.

“We’ll be there in ten minutes,” Bucky says. “Stevie, can you get him out without being seen?”

“Already on it,” Steve says. “I was thinking we can use the fire escape, climb up a few floors, walk the ledge over the back of the flower shop, take the roof, then cut through the second alley on the right. That’ll put us out behind Nixon’s Deli. There’s a hundred blind spots we can use between here and there.”

Tony cocks his head. It’s a little weird Steve can rattle off an escape path like that off the top of his head.

“Probably the best way, yeah,” Bucky confirms. “Keep him safe.”

Bucky and Clint hang up and Steve presses a kiss to Tony’s cheek.

“Give me a minute,” Steve says. “I’ll throw some stuff for us into a bag.”

Steve stands and heads toward the hall. Sam stands too, walks over to the fridge, rummages in what appears to be a vegetable drawer, and pulls out a hand gun.

“Wow,” Tony says. “Didn’t realize shell casings were the secret ingredient in Hangover Stew.”

“Sam’s gun is more of an appetizer,” Natasha replies, with a slight smirk. “Move back a little. I’ll show you dessert.”

She waits for Tony to scoot away from the table then reaches under the edge and gives something beneath it a hard twist. She slides out a drawer.

“Hidden drawer...” Tony coos in an awed whisper.

There are a dozen handguns stored inside and ample ammunition. Tony recognizes all of it. It’s the sort of collection you can’t just buy down at the corner store. More like the nearest Russian armory.

“You’re translators,” Tony says, looking up in confusion.

“We’re multi-talented,” Natasha shrugs.

She picks up a gun and loads it expertly, with the sort of fluid muscle memory that gives Tony the impression she could do all of this blindfolded.

Steve returns with a duffel bag slung over his shoulder and a gun in his hand.

Natasha reaches into her secret drawer, picks up yet another gun, and hands it to Tony.

“I assume you know how to use one of these?” Natasha asks.

“I was putting together weapons while most kids my age were still playing with baby rattles,” Tony affirms. “I won’t shoot anyone I don’t intend to shoot.”

Steve lets out a deep breath. “Okay then. Let’s go.”

It’s surreal to follow Steve out the window, carrying a gun, wearing a borrowed hoodie and hat, to move over/under/around/through a maze of fire escapes, narrow ledges and at one point a roof. They’re definitely avoiding cameras, though. Steve seems to know the location of every single one that could be a problem and they take extra care to avoid them.

“Were you all Special Ops?” Tony asks, as Steve takes his hand to steady him.

They’re to the last ladder between them and the ground.

“In a way,” Steve says. “I was going to tell you. About my service. We just...”

“Aren’t there yet in our relationship,” Tony says, bailing Steve out from the awkwardness. “It’s fine. I’m not upset. It’d be a dick move to be pissed at the people trying to protect me.”

Steve lets Tony go first, keeping his eyes on the alley, until Tony is safely down. Then Steve joins him. They wait beside a dumpster, well out of sight.

“Do you know where they’re taking us?” Tony asks.

Steve smiles. He puts his hand on the small of Tony’s back and tugs him closer.

“I’ve got a guess,” Steve says. “If it’s where I think they’re going to take us, you couldn’t be more safe.”

There’s something mischievous in Steve’s eyes, and Tony feels like he’s missing a joke.

“Am I going to regret this?” Tony asks.

“I don’t know,” Steve replies. “I guess that depends on how you feel about old people. Personally, I think they’re great.”

*

Clint shows up two minutes later. “Bucky borrowed a car,” he greets them.

Tony wants to ask about the word borrowed but he’s more stuck on the paper-wrapped taco in Clint’s hand.

“You stopped at the Toro Taco Stand?” Tony asks.

Clint looks insulted. “We got tacos for you, too. You want to do this hungry?”

“We had Hangover Stew,” Steve says. It sounds like a taunt.

“Awwwww, stew,” Clint complains in a quiet voice. “No fair. Next time I get that drunk I’m coming back to your place. You can both be the big spoons.”

“You’re calling middle?” Tony asks, following as Clint leads them carefully down the alley. It’s a strange conversation to have while they’ve all got guns out, but Clint and Steve seem perfectly comfortable. “Just like that?”

“I was made for the middle,” Clint says. “I’m a sexy sandwich with extra--”

“No,” Steve says, giving Clint a light shove. “I don’t share.”

Steve’s tone is light but his words carry weight.

“Oh my god, you two are seriously having a pissing contest over spooning, while we’re fleeing for my life. With tacos. Who even are you?”

Steve and Clint both look a little guilty.

“We don’t need to keep it serious, to keep you safe,” Clint says. And damn it, he’s being all gentle and apologetic about it. “We could do this in our sleep. Steve was--”

“Classified,” Steve cuts him off. “Seriously. I’ll tell him later, but not here.”

Clint nods. “Aye, aye, Captain.”

“Great,” Tony complains. “Now on top of everything I’m gonna have the SpongeBob song stuck in my head all damn day.”

*

Bucky is waiting for them in a dark, beat up Impala, parked carefully out of the line of sight of any cameras. The smell of tacos hits Tony as soon as he reaches for the rear passenger door.

“Yeahhhh,” Bucky says. “About that. You and Steve need to get in the trunk.”

Because that never ends badly.

Tony knows, and believes, that Clint and Bucky and Steve don’t mean him any harm. But things are getting weird. And... well, their friendship is sort of convenient for kidnapping or murdering him, now that he thinks about it...

“It will be okay,” Steve says, looking at Tony with all the determined earnestness of a basset hound puppy.

All the distrust that’s been drilled into Tony since birth flares up anyway. How many times had Howard told him that no one but family could be trusted? That friends were for people who weren’t born Starks? How many people had Tony pushed away in his lifetime, because he had little capacity for trust?

Bucky pops the trunk.

“Trust me,” Steve says, holding out his hand to Tony.

Tony closes his eyes for a second. Tries not to think about how many times he heard those exact words from Obie. Tries not to think about how much this is going to hurt if Steve’s playing him. And then he opens them again. Steve’s looking at Tony like he hung the goddamn moon. Like he’s sunshine on the first day of spring. Like no matter what Tony decides, he’s going to have his back.

“Right, yeah okay,” Tony agrees. “Let’s do this shit.”

Chapter Text

Tony has made a huge mistake. His phone is still in pieces back on the table in Steve’s apartment. No one knows where he is except the people in this car. A car that smells like tacos and dirt. Tacos and wet grave dirt, more precisely, and that is exactly how Tony will describe it when he is (inevitably, miserably) rehashing this ordeal with the NYPD.

At least the trunk isn’t a tight fit. There isn’t much room for movement but he and Steve aren’t stuffed in like two sardines in a tin. That’s one consolation. The other consolation in this shitshow of a life of his, is that there’s no shovel in the trunk. Unless they’re gonna dig the hole by hand, they are probably not planning to kill him right away and bury his body. Or kill him at all.

Tony’s brain can not decide. His thoughts swing wildly between fear and faith at breakneck speed. He is a pendulum of doubt. A merry-go-round of misgivings. Because maybe this isn’t a monumental miscalculation of trust. Up until an hour ago he’d have trusted Steve with just about anything.

“Please tell me this isn’t a body-burying trunk,” Tony sighs into the darkness.

There’s a loud crunch as Steve takes a bite of his crispy taco. For some reason, that’s what makes Tony bark out a laugh in a slightly hysterical pitch. They’re in the back of a goddamn murder-mobile and Steve Rogers is half a foot away, low key munching on his lunch.

“Getting more creeped out by the second here,” Tony complains as he listens to Steve chew.

“Sorry! Sorry!” Steve apologizes, his voice muffled by the food. “I didn’t want to talk with my mouth full and you asked right as I took a huge bite.” He sounds contrite. “We are not burying any bodies. I think what you’re smelling is mulch, maybe? And-- we’re not going to hurt you. I won’t let anybody hurt you.”

There’s a rustle of taco paper and then Tony can hear Steve shift around. Steve’s phone light comes on a few seconds later, illuminating the trunk.

“I should have done that first. I’m sorry,” Steve says. His expression really is full of apology. He means it. “I’ve still got a headache. I thought the taco might help.”

Tony’s not sure in what world a taco could be comforting in this situation but Steve seems to believe what he’s saying so sincerely, Tony kind of wants to see if he's right.

“Give me one of those tacos. God, ” Tony sighs. “They better be magic.”

“Careful you don’t choke,” Steve says, passing him his messy scraps. “We’re not in the best position for eating.”

And well-- if they were going to kill him, that seems like a weird thing for Steve to concern himself with, right?

“I don’t mean to be ungrateful,” Tony says. “I just... I need to know. Is this for real? Because if it’s not, I’d rather you tell me now. I could arrange for my ransom. This...”

Is going to hurt like hell if everything with Steve has been a set up. When it comes down to it, that’s what is causing the awful, tight feeling in Tony’s chest. Not mistrust. Not leftover betrayal-feels from Obie. It’s the knowledge that his relationship with Steve might be nothing but a lie. Tony’s really not sure how he’ll handle that. If there’s even enough alcohol in the world to dull that hurt.

“We’ve got insurance,” Tony forces himself to continue. “I’ll give you a head start to get out of the country once you’ve got it.”

Steve looks appalled, and then his face softens in concern. He reaches out to squeeze Tony’s hip.

“We’re the good guys here,” Steve says. “And you do still have your gun, right? I don’t want you to feel like we’ve got you here against your will. You have my permission to shoot me if I suddenly get all... nefarious.”

Steve sounds like the least-nefarious person Tony’s ever met and Tony feels like a complete idiot, because yes, he does have a gun. He has the weapon Natasha had handed him in the apartment tucked into the waist of the back of his jeans. He’d forgotten it was there in his panic.

Somewhere upstate, buried six feet under, Howard Stark is rolling in his grave at his embarrassment of a son.

“I have it,” Tony says. “Just wouldn’t want to shoot the guy who’s sharing my bed regularly. Poor bedroom etiquette. Miss Manners has written a couple of columns about it. You probably haven't seen them but they're totally a thing."

“Lucky me you’re so polite,” Steve says.

Tony nods. “Sorry about the freak out.”

“We’re in the trunk of a car that smells like a cemetery,” Steve says. “I’d probably be more concerned if you weren’t freaking out. Maybe we can start over?”

“That’d be nice,” Tony agrees.

“Bucky’s driving us to his nanna’s house,” Steve explains. “I lived there for a while, after my mom died. It’s the safest place we know.”

Tony takes all that in. “Okay,” he says. “What about you? What classified stuff was Clint talking about?”

Steve's expression grows cautious. “I swear you’ll get the whole story but just..." Steve pauses. There's something in his eyes Tony recognizes as anxiety. Guilt, too. And maybe a little panic.

“Please, can it wait? It's nothing bad. Or. It's nothing that would be bad for you.”

Steve looks so miserable Tony only needs to consider it for a second.

“It can wait,” he agrees.

There's silence. Steve's gotten lost in his own thoughts and Tony can see how a trunk isn't a great place for that to happen.

“Tell me more about nanna,” Tony suggests. He reaches over to rest his hand on Steve’s arm to ground him. “What’s she like?”

Steve relaxes at the touch.

“Well, she’s been bugging me for a year to bring someone to the house for starters," Steve says. "I know this isn’t the best of circumstances, but I’m glad she’s going to get to meet you.”

Steve moves closer and slides his ankle over Tony’s calves. Steve looks like he’s going to say more but the car rolls to a stop and he goes quiet.

“Do you think she’ll like me?” Tony asks.

Tony’s nervous again and this time it has nothing to do with a dark trunk. He’s not the best with old people under good circumstances. And these circumstances are not good.

“She’s going to love you,” Steve says. “How could anyone not?”

“You might be surprised.”

 

***Interlude 1***

 “Tony’s probably over-reacting but thank you,” Pepper says from behind her desk.  She doesn’t look like she intends to budge.

“It’s Saturday.  Shouldn’t you have the day off anyway?” Sam asks.

Pepper glances down at her screen with a frown.  “I don’t really take days off.”

“But could you?” Natasha asks.  “Can this wait?”

Pepper considers it.  “I suppose so, yes, if getting me out of here is really that urgent.  I can look at these contracts wherever.”

“Or you could say fuck it and come have a spa day with me and Sam,” Natasha suggests.   “We’ve got a place we know is safe.”

“And we’ve got a budget of whatever it takes to get you out of the office,” Sam adds.

“...fuck it,” Pepper repeats quietly, like the concept is foreign and she’s trying it on for size.  She flicks her finger across the screen twice then lets out a long slow breath.  “Right.  Yes.  Fuck it.  Let’s spa.  But first, can we hit up a shoe store?”

“We can make it work,” Sam agrees.

Natasha pulls out her phone to text Clint and Bucky.

Nat: Mission accomplished.  Plus I found my new best friend.  So long suckers.

Clint’s response is almost immediate.

Clint: Hurtful but fair.  I bet her hair smells like gold.

Bucky: Keep us updated.

Clint: SNIFF HER.  I MUST KNOW.

***

 

When the trunk opens and Tony sits up, he has to blink a few times for his eyes to adjust to the bright light of day.

Nanna’s house is a brick-front townhouse, built along a street of similar brick-front townhouses.  Every door is nearly the same shade of green, some more faded than the others.  There are flowers in nearly all the window baskets, and trellises with ivy.  

“Your nanna lives on Sesame Street?” Tony asks Bucky.

“Ah pal, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet,” Bucky says, extending Tony a hand to help him down out of the trunk.  “Wait till you see the guy hiding in the trash.”

Once Tony’s standing on the sidewalk, Clint dusts him off with a series of sweeping thwacks up and down his chest and legs until Tony’s forced to shove him away.  

“Get offffff,” Tony complains.

Clint smacks Tony’s ass insistently and this time it’s Steve who gives Clint a friendly but deliberate shove.  And just like that, the last of the worries from the trunk fall away.  These are not murderers or kidnappers or criminal masterminds.  They are Tony’s ridiculous, impossible, friends.

“Anything else I should know?” Tony asks, as they make their way up the few stairs to Nanna’s door.

“Nanna likes it when people talk like pirates,” Clint says seriously.  “So do that.  Be a pirate.”

“And refer to yourself in third person the whole time,” Bucky says, a little less able to keep a smirk off his face.  “She’ll be super impressed.”

“Oh!  And take off your pants.  Nanna doesn’t like pants,” Clint adds, too enthusiastic to keep his cool anymore.

“Just be yourself,” Steve says, putting a hand to the small of Tony’s back.  “She’s going to think you’re great.”

The woman who opens the door isn’t at all what Tony’s expecting.  It’d been easy to picture the woman who’d raised Bucky Barnes as someone formidable.  This woman is barely 5 foot tall.  Her white curls are pulled back into a soft bun, and the look of pure joy on her face at the sight of Bucky, Steve and Clint catches Tony by surprise.

He is damn sure no one in his family has ever looked at him that way.

“Nanna, we need a place to hide,” Bucky says.  “There’s some bad people after our friend.”

For the first time Nanna seems to realize there’s a fourth person at the door.

“Better get inside then, darlings,” she says, moving so they can enter.  

Nanna’s voice is soft and accented.  French, Tony thinks.  French mixed with Brooklyn. What a combination.  She gives Clint the first hug, once the door shuts behind them, and then she hugs Steve and Bucky.  Tony doesn’t miss how she holds them.  He struggles to meet her eyes when she finally turns to him.

“Oh you poor dear, you’re a mess.  What have James and Steven done to you?”

“It’s potting soil, Nanna,” Clint explains earnestly, with an absolute shit-eating grin aimed in Bucky’s direction.  “Bucky shoved him into the trunk of a car.”

Bucky bumps Clint with his shoulder.  “I didn’t shove him into the trunk or anything.  I asked nicely.  Said please and everything.”

Nanna looks to Tony for confirmation.

“He did,” Tony agrees.  "Parlez-vous francais?"

When Nanna nods Tony continues on, introducing himself in polite, fluent French, explaining about the trunk and then thanking her for her hospitality and willingness to take him in.  Clint mouths suck up.  Nanna beams.  Tony awards himself +10 Nanna Points.

“You finally brought me home someone worth meeting,” Nanna announces to Steve.

So plus +100 Nanna Points then.  Excellent.

“Steven, show Tony upstairs to your room and get some clean clothes for the both of you.  I’m going to make coffee,” Nanna says.  “Oh, and mind your weapons, dears.  I moved the gun basket to under the shoe bench.”

Gun basket.  Of course.

The other men take off their shoes to line them up neatly under a bench, and then disarm themselves of their guns and place them carefully in a large basket lined with blue velvet and lace.  Tony notices that there is already a gun in the gun basket waiting.  Nanna’s gun, apparently.  Tony adds his weapon to the pile.  Bucky adds a second.  Then a boot knife.  Clint unloads half an armory.  Tony doesn’t even want to guess where he was hiding the dart gun.

“You know, my dad made weapons for a living, and we never had this many all sitting in one spot in the house,” Tony muses.

“Ever since Bucky accidentally shot through the kitchen wall, Nanna’s had the gun basket,” Steve explains.  He’s smirking, obviously delighted by the story.

“Arghhhhhhh, I was nineteeeeeen,” Bucky groans.

“Better the basket than a bullet through someone’s torso, dear,” Nanna quips.

"It was one time!" Bucky complains.

"How many times should I have let it happen, then?" Nanna asks, with a disarmingly patient smile that seems to appear out of nowhere. 

The same smile Bucky's always using to get his way.  It melts Bucky's resolve like a hot knife through butter.

"Just the once," Bucky admits.

"That's right.  Just the once," Nanna agrees, turning off her smile once she's gotten her way.  Tony loves this woman.

Steve grabs Tony’s hand and threads their fingers together to pull him toward the stairs before Nanna can say any more.  Which is kind of a shame.  Tony can't say he'd ever get tired of watching Bucky get outplayed by his grandma.

 

***Interlude 2***

 Kate is napping on Bruce’s couch when Bucky’s text wakes her.  She reads it over, flops onto her back, and breathes in the delicious smell of whatever it is that Bruce is in the kitchen cooking them for lunch.

“How done is that?” she calls.

“Very,” Bruce says.

“How portable is it?”

“You know, this feels a lot like a conversation I’d usually have with Tony,” Bruce says, stepping into the living room.  His smile tells Kate that he doesn't consider this a bad thing.

“Someone put a hit out on Tony and he’s worried they’ll come after you,” Kate explains.  She props herself up on an elbow.  “Bucky and Clint want you to go somewhere else.  Somewhere people won’t think to look for you.”

“I think they’re probably worrying for nothing,” Bruce says.  “I’m not that important.”

“Tony thinks you are,” Kate replies.  “And I don’t disagree.  Please?  It’ll make everyone feel better.  I’ll show you my place.  You can meet Darcy.”

Darcy’s been begging to meet Bruce for weeks, but Kate hasn’t been ready for that yet.  Bruce is special to her in a way that’s hard to explain and Darcy is her girlfriend so that’s special too, and it’s a lot to worry about-- that they won’t like each other.  That they won’t jive.  That Darcy won’t get what Kate sees in a platonic friendship with a man twice her age.

Except Bruce is in danger.  Kate’s got to put on her big girl panties.

“Suck it up, buttercup,” she mutters to herself.

“Pardon?” Bruce asks.

“Nothing.  Just... I’ve got a crossbow,” she adds.  “And I’m good with it.  I want to keep you safe.”

Bruce is old enough to be her father.  He might be older than her father.  But he doesn’t look at her like she’s an idiot for suggesting she can do this.  Instead he nods, like her words makes perfect sense.  Like he trusts that Kate can do exactly as she says.

“I’ll pack up lunch,” he agrees.

It’s as easy as that.

***

 

Steve and Tony pass a row of school pictures on their way up the stairs.  

“Wow,” Tony says.  “Senior year was a good year for you.”

Steve pauses to look between his two school pictures at the end.  The next to last shows Steve looking tiny and fierce.  In his senior portrait he looks a lot more laid back and he’s practically doubled in size.

“Took me a while to get used to the height,” Steve admits.  “I couldn’t stop tripping over my own feet that summer.  Bucky hated it.  Kept saying he was going to have to seal me in bubble wrap.”

Tony takes better note of the pictures of Bucky.  He looks about the same from year to year all the way through.  Like he was born handsome, and charming and put together right.  Lucky bastard.

Steve moves on and Tony follows.  When they reach the second floor, Steve hesitates for a moment before he opens the first door to his left.  

Steve ducks his head, looking shy and embarrassed when Tony walks inside.  The room is a time capsule straight out of 2005.  An eighteen year old Steve’s 2005, much to Tony’s delight.  He turns slowly to take it all in. 

There are legos and a Black Eyed Peas poster and there’s a letterman jacket for jazz band and tennis slung over a chair.  There’s a diorama of dinosaurs and a volcano adorned with a first place ribbon.  There is also a cubby full of art supplies beneath multiple tacked up pencil drawings of Justin Timberlake.  There’s a graduation cap and some Star Trek memorabilia.  And unsurprisingly, there’s a Good Sportsmanship Award, hung up proudly over an ancient computer desk complete with ancient computer.

“Disappointed your boyfriend’s a dork?” Steve asks, sounding adorably insecure.

“Are you kidding?” Tony asks, in absolute wonder.  “This is amazing.  This is...”

Tony moves over to the desk and runs his fingers carefully over the model of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D).  It’s hand painted and the details are exactly right. +100 Tony Stark Sex Points to Steve for this thing.

“This is incredible.”

Steve looks skeptical as he opens a dresser and begins to pull out an assortment of clothes.  “You might be the first person to ever think so.”

It’s a shocking thing to hear.  Tony would have given his right arm to be friends with someone like Steve in High School.  To have not been the thirteen year old prodigy to whom no one would give the time of day.  To have been invited into a room like this to laugh, and flip through dirty magazines and... do whatever it is normal high-schoolers do in bedrooms.  Tony isn’t even sure what that is.

Steve tosses a few clothing options onto the bed then tugs his shirt off over his head.  

“I’m sorry this got weird,” Steve says, as he picks up something clean from the pile and pulls it on.  “And that people are trying to kill you.”

“I’ve spent worse Saturdays."

At first Tony’s distracted by Steve’s abs but when he gets a better look at the t-shirts piled on the bed all his attention goes there.  One of the shirts, hand to God, is from Steve’s high school days.  It’s dark blue, with a star centered at the top, and BHS ALL-STAR written in big block letters below.  It’s faded and when Tony picks it up, it’s silky soft in that vintage way that people pay big bucks for these days.

“Oh, sorry.  Didn’t even realized I’d picked that one out,” Steve says, reaching to take it away. “Not exactly fashionable, huh?”

Tony snatches the shirt back toward his chest like Gollum with the precious.

“Mine,” Tony says.

Steve gets one look at Tony’s serious expression and laughs.  “Wow.  Didn’t realize you had a high school kink.  Are you the teacher here?  Or the smart kid and I’m the football star?”

“Eww.  Gross,” Tony scoffs.  “Get your brain out of the gutter, Rogers.  This isn't a high school kink.  Just.  I like this shirt.  And you can’t have it back.  It’s mine forever.  For infinity.  I’m not sure you’ll understand how serious I am about keeping this shirt until I die and have myself buried in it.”

“The shirt is alllllll yours,” Steve says.  “Not kinky at all.”

Steve winks and Tony sticks out his tongue.  He takes a few steps backward so he can peel off what he’s wearing and replace it with the world’s best t-shirt and some battered sweatpants.  Steve finishes changing, too.  Tony doesn’t even try to hide exactly what seeing Steve undressed does for him.

“I’m gonna need a minute before we go back down,” Tony says.

“You wouldn’t believe how much I want to help you with that right now,” Steve complains.

The door is still open.  There’d been no reason to close it, though now Tony thinks that maybe they should.  He makes a move to do so, but Steve gets to him first and drags him into a rough kiss.  They keep it up until Tony’s a little dizzy from lack of air and pulls away.  He’s not done though, and only takes a few deep breaths before he grabs at Steve and yanks him back in for more.

The making out is heated and prolonged.  They grope each other desperately, tugging at clothes and pushing hands up under shirts for more access to touch.  It is absolutely the best way to spend a Saturday even if some jackass wants Tony dead.  

Tony’s eyes go to the bed.  There are things that need done on this bed.  Urgent things.  They can be quiet about it.  That’ll be part of the fun.   If Tony never leaves the room no one can kill him and he can stay in here forever.  With Steve.  And the shirt.  And this twin-size bed that’s probably barely big enough for one person, much less two.  Tony gives zero fucks.

Steve must be thinking the same thing, because he backs them up against the mattress and they topple down on top of it.  The wooden floor under the bed creaks with a loud groan that no doubt reaches downstairs.  They both go perfectly still, wondering if they’ve been caught.

“No monkey business up there!” Bucky shouts from below.  “Not while we’re busy savin’ Stark’s ass down here!”

“I don’t think savin’ his ass is what Steve’s planning to do, Bucky!” Clint shout-adds helpfully.

“James Buchanan Barnes, watch your language,” Tony hears Nanna scold.  

“Clint said it, too!” Bucky protests.  “Why don’t you yell at him?”

“Because Clint is our guest.  And those Fig Newtons are for him,” Nanna adds.  “I bought you Oreos.”

Tony and Steve stay frozen in place right up to the point they hear a crash and Clint scream, “My figgies! Nooooo!”

Then Steve and Tony laugh so hard they can barely pull apart.  It takes Steve almost a minute to regain his composure enough to move.

Tony whines at the loss of weight against him and Steve looks down apologetically.  “Bucky’s not wrong.  This is serious.  Didn’t mean to get us distracted.”

“Promise me we’ll come back up here,” Tony says.

“Cross my heart,” Steve says.  “Now that I’ve seen what my Star Trek models do for you, I figure I’ll for sure get to third base when I dig out my old Battlestar Galactica sketches.”

“Third base?” Tony asks.  “You pull out some Battlestar Galactica that’s an inside-the-park grand slam.  Guaranteed.”

“Mmmmm,” Steve muses.  He reaches for Tony’s hand to help him to his feet.  “I like when you talk baseball.  And the sooner we catch this asshole the sooner we can get back in this bed.”

“Or we could get back in the bed now,” Tony points out.  “I’m sure Bucky and Clint can handle my security on their own.  That door’s got a lock doesn’t it?”

Steve leans in and lets his face settle in the crook of Tony’s neck.  He takes a deep breath then kisses Tony a few times before he pulls away.

“Not a lock that’s going to keep those two out.  They’ll be up here any minute and Clint will bring popcorn and say he’s gonna watch.  They might even jump in bed with us because they’re idiots like that.  We’ve got to go help.”  

Steve sounds as pained as Tony feels.

“Fine,” Tony sighs.  “I’m not sure if I’m more irritated someone wants me dead or that this has turned into the ultimate cockblock situation, but whatever.  Let’s find this fucker so we can get on with our lives.”

“Sounds like motivation to me.  And if nothing else, Nanna’s got cookies.”

Chapter Text

The overhead lights flicker as Tony and Steve walk down the stairs. Tony can see why right away, when Steve leads him into the dining room and Clint and Bucky are seated at a dining room table that’s been turned into a makeshift security command center. They’ve got mangled together tech all around them. Half of it looks like stuff that would have been ancient ten years previous, and some of it Tony thinks ought to be in the Smithsonian. There are three laptops held together with bread ties, shoelaces and duct tape. There’s a giant satellite phone, and what might be an ultra old-school global positioning system. All the devices are plugged into the same two outlets. Those outlets are humming ominously. Occasionally there’s a spark.

“You know, if you set the house on fire and I die, that kind of negates the part where you’re trying to keep me alive,” Tony comments.

“Can’t trust the wired internet connections,” Bucky says, without looking up. “I just need to finish borrowing space on this satellite so we’ve got somewhere untraceable to work, and then we’ll be set.”

“A satellite?” Tony asks.

“It doesn’t belong to Stark Industries,” Clint adds quickly, mumbling through a mouth full of fig-flavored cookie.

“I’m sure we’ve got a fire extinguisher around here somewhere,” Steve pipes in.

“Nanna knows where it is,” Bucky says. “I need you to sit your ass down and work on these traffic camera manips. If they haven’t gotten to the security cameras yet, this will slow them down, and if I try to do it myself they’re gonna look like shit.”

“Bucky didn’t like my suggestion of erasing all of them and subbing in a pic of my--”

Nanna walks in on the tail end of Clint’s suggestion and he freezes, like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.

“Of my smiling face,” Clint amends. “Definitely not my dick.”

“Clinton,” Nanna laugha.

“Sorry, Nanna,” Clint apologizes. “I learned that word from Steve.”

“Steven,” Nanna scolded, but she was clearly teasing. “What did I tell you about setting a good example?”

Steve takes a seat at the table at the third computer. “I think it was something like ‘Clint’s a delicate snowflake and we should all be extra careful we don’t ruin him’?”

“Damn straight,” Clint says.

Nanna laughs at their antics. The electrical outlet gives another angry buzz.

“The fire extinguisher is in the basement,” Nanna says. “I’ll go find it.”

“I’ll do it,” Tony volunteers. He might as well make himself useful until Bucky gives him something else to do.

“The basement door’s in the kitchen, and the extinguisher is under the stairs, dear,” Nanna directs. “You’re sweet to offer.”

Nanna looks at Tony with so much warmth, it makes Tony feel a little itchy inside. He’s never really had the grandparent thing. This is something he could get used to, though.

“When you get back up here you can have some cookies with your coffee,” Nanna says, as Tony passes her. “Clint can share.”

Clint looks up with so much undisguised horror at the word ‘share’ that Tony chokes on a laugh. Nanna’s back is turned to Clint as Clint slowly draws his thumb across his neck in the universal sign for ‘Take my figgies and I’ll kill you dead.’

“No. No, I’m fine,” Tony says. “I’m not that into sweets.”

“I’ll make you a plate with some bread and cheese then. You shouldn’t work on an empty stomach. You’ll get light-headed.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Tony says politely.

That’s enough to get Bucky to look up from his screen, just to mouth the word suck-up before turning back to his work.

Tony finds the stairs to the basement in the kitchen, and then follows them down to look for the fire extinguisher. The basement is unfinished, with a concrete floor and cinderblock walls. There’s a washer and a drier that have seen better days, and there’s a garden hose rolled neatly off to the side. But what gets Tony’s attention is a huge, old-fashioned safe, sitting locked in the corner.

Probably that weapon cache Bucky’d mentioned.

There really is something incredibly weird going on with this family, but since at this point they are allowing Tony to be a part of it, he isn’t going to complain. When he and Steve finally get some time alone though, Tony is going to have his explanation.

In the process of searching for the fire extinguisher he comes across the electrical box, and that at least is a way he can contribute that no one else has considered. It takes Tony less than five minutes to have the power output into and out of the house regulated in a way that’s safer and that ought to prevent any imminent fires.

When he gets back upstairs, Bucky gives him a nod of approval as Tony sits the fire extinguisher down on the table. There’s coffee and a plate of food waiting for him at the empty seat. Steve nudges the computer he’d been using toward Tony.

“I’m done with what I can do to help,” Steve says. “Bucky’s got this rigged so you can see everything they’re doing. Jump in if you want.”

“Or you and Steve can go sit on the back porch and talk,” Bucky says, without looking up. “That’s probably a thing that should happen.”

“Buck--” Steve says, sounding exasperated in a way that probably means this is the second half of an argument that happened while Tony was downstairs.

“Just trying to help,” Bucky says. “Tony’s trusting us with his life. Seems like he ought to know why.”

“It’s fine,” Tony says, though he’d really like if this conversation was a thing that could happen.

Steve bites at his bottom lip, like he’s nervous and then hitches his head toward the kitchen.

“Want to get some air?” Steve asks.

“Only if you’re ready,” Tony says.

“As ready as I’m going to be.”

“Don’t forget your plates,” Nanna reminds them.

Tony carries their coffee as Steve picks up their snacks and leads Tony out to a screened in back porch. There’s a well-loved wicker loveseat, straight out of the 80s and Steve sits on one half, leaving room for Tony to join him. He puts Tony’s plate on the nearest end table.

“There’s a lot to this,” Steve says. “And if... if it’s too much, that’s okay. I don’t expect...” Steve swallows. “I just wanted a little more time before we had this conversation.”

Which seems inauspicious, to say the least.

“Maybe talk before you write me off as gone?” Tony says. “I mean, I did stick around for Murder-Ride 2016. I feel like I should get credit for not shooting you.”

“100 points for not shooting me,” Steve agrees, with a small smile. “I...”

He takes a deep breath, then shifts in his seat so he can look at Tony.

“I lied to you. Obviously. That first night when I said I got out of the army and didn’t have anywhere to go. Or-- the part with the not having anywhere to go was true. I didn’t want to impose on Nanna and I didn’t have the credit history for anything else. But the army part, that was a lie.”

“Then what’s the truth?” Tony asks. He’s not upset. “Because believe it or not, I’ve got some experience with classified information. And I’m not going to hold it against you that you told an automatic lie because you couldn’t tell some man you’d just met the whole and absolute truth about your life. That makes a lot of sense, actually.”

“Have you ever heard of SHIELD? They’re... a kind of special ops organization.”

“Doesn’t ring any bells. You worked for them?”

“Me and Bucky both did,” Steve says. “We kind of grew up there. Nanna was one of the founders.”

“Nanna?” Tony asks. “Sweet Nanna Barnes founded an underground special ops unit?”

“It was the second underground network Nanna founded,” Steve says proudly. “Her first was in France, during World War 2. She was fifteen.”

Tony raises an eyebrow.

“There was never any question of me and Bucky joining up. He was a natural with a gun and I could do just about everything else. We cruised through missions, and I’m not-- I’m not trying to brag here, but a lot of people told us we were the best SHIELD ever recruited. And then there was Sokovia...”

Steve trails off. “You wouldn’t have read about it in the papers, because to the rest of the world it never happened. It was the first time we met Natasha. She worked for another agency, but she was brought in as an expert. We got orders to blow up a building, but when we got there, the building wasn’t empty. It was apartments. There was a day care. I was leading the mission and I did the only thing I could think to do. I sent Bucky and Clint in to pull the fire alarms. Once the building was empty, we set off the explosives, but in the time it took to get the civilians out, the guys we were after got away. The mission was a failure.”

“You saved lives,” Tony says. “No shame there.”

Steve looks away. “I didn’t save them all. We thought the building was clear. It wasn’t. And then the men who escaped went on to shoot up a town square in the next city over. More people died. Because of me.”

Tony squeezes Steve’s knee. “You made the right call.”

“You don’t need to try and make me feel better,” Steve says. “Sometimes you do the best you can and it’s still not enough. I might not like it but I’ve got to live with it.”

Tony nods. “So why SI? You’re qualified for more. Hell, you’re qualified for just about anything.”

“Bucky and Clint and Nat-- they were all dismissed from their posts, but they got to come home right away. Honorable discharge, or as close to it as a top secret organization can give. But someone had to take the fall, and I was in charge. It had to be me.”

Here Steve’s voice breaks a little. “I served time so they wouldn’t have to. By the time I got back, they’d all moved in with each other and already had jobs at Stark Industries. Clint knew someone in the HR Department who hooked them up. Overlooked some forged credentials. That’s where they met Sam and Kate. And when I got back they were willing to overlook my prison record, too. There are rules about it SI. You don’t hire criminals.”

Tony let out a bitter laugh. “Oh we have hired plenty of criminals. You just aren’t one of them.”

They fall silent. Steve shifts a little awkwardly to reach for his water.

“I’m not sure what you thought would happen when you told me this,” Tony says. “But it doesn’t change anything. You really think I’d even go for someone who’s all about following orders?”

Steve takes a moment to think about. “No.”

“No,” Tony confirms. “You did what you thought you needed to do to save some kids and some other innocent people. If I’d known you at the time I’d have moved heaven and hell to get you home. To have you exonerated.”

“I wouldn’t have deserved it,” Steve says.

“I agree,” Tony says. “You’d have deserved way better. But you’re stuck with what you’ve got. Now come on. Let’s see what Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum are up to. It makes me nervous when they get quiet.”

Tony stands and offers Steve his hand to pull him to his feet. He leans in and kisses Steve sweetly on his lips and when he pulls away it’s only a few inches.

“A hundred points for getting home to me,” Tony whispers.

He lets go of Steve’s hand but doesn’t move out of his space. Steve lets out a slow breath. He doesn’t say anything else and he sticks close to Tony as they walk back inside.

Nanna gives Steve’s elbow a squeeze as they pass her in the kitchen. Bucky and Clint are both still hard at work at the table and don’t even bother to look up from their keyboards.

“Think we found something,” Bucky says. He nods toward the empty chair in front of the spare computer and waits for Tony to take it.

Bucky types in a rapid series of codes and then Tony’s display fills with information. Bucky and Clint have been busy. And they’re every bit as good at this espionage stuff as advertised. Tony’s impressed and he doesn’t impress easily.

“Here’s where we’re stuck,” Bucky says. “Looks like Stane’s involved. Looks like Hammer Industries is involved. But the machine that sent the message to the murder posse is locked down now. If we want any proof, someone is going to have to go to their server farm and do a manual download.”

“What about a bot?” Tony asks. “I’ve got some small ones. Hamster sized.”

“Because that doesn’t sound pervy at all,” Clint says. “Do they vibrate?”

“Ewwwww,” Tony says. “No, I’m not making sex gerbils, you weirdo. They’re for surveillance.”

“Upskirt surveillance,” Clint says.

“Barnes, get a leash on your creeper boyfriend,” Tony complains.

He’s not upset at Clint’s suggestions. Steve’s relaxing by the second and Tony can’t help but think Clint has a gift for getting inappropriate at the times they all need it most.

“Are they ceramic?” Bucky asks. “Because Hammertech may be behind in the weapons market but their security is a-okay. Looks like Stane’s been hired as the head of it, and every access point to the farm has got a hair-trigger metal-detecting grid on it.”

“Shit,” Tony swears. “No, they aren’t ceramic. They could probably be ceramic if you can give me a day or two in a lab.”

“Don’t think we should give them any extra time to destroy evidence,” Clint says.

Steve’s looking over Tony’s shoulder and he points to some data in a box off to the side.

“They’ve got a ton of security here for just a server farm,” Steve points out. “More than you’d expect.”

“Maybe they’re hiding more than just a hit on Tony,” Clint says.

“These server towers are all self-contained,” Bucky says. He sends new info to Tony’s screen. “Even if one of us could get inside it’d take at least an hour to copy them all. Depending on accessibility, maybe even longer.”

“Maybe not,” Tony said. “I’ve been working on something else in my spare time. Something small. Shaped like a coin. Can be attached to anything with a connection and it will download the information off it and transmit it to me using the nearest signal source.”

“That sounds legal,” Bucky drawls.

“Well it’s not illegal,” Tony says. “Since technically it doesn’t exist yet outside my lab.”

“So we just need to get someone in to place them,” Clint asks. “How many have you got?”

“Ten,” Tony says.

“There are eight towers,” Bucky says. “It could work.”

“So who’s gonna go put them on?” Steve asks.

“Whoever isn’t on bait duty,” Clint says. “We can use a distraction to draw out some of that security. Give whoever goes in a better chance of going unnoticed.”

“Distractions I can do,” Tony says.

“The distraction will be the easy part,” Bucky says as he looks around the table. “None of the us are getting into that server farm undetected. We all look like some version of trouble.”

“But I wouldn’t,” Nanna chimes in. “If they’ve got employees, someone has to come around to clean the toilets”

“No,” Tony says immediately. He’s not letting an 80 year old woman risk her life for him. He’s surprised when the rest of the table seems to be considering it.

“You might look past retirement age,” Clint points out.

“Then send Katie with me. She’ll be my trainee. We’re a lot less suspicious than the four of you.”

“And what about the metal on the download chips?” Tony asks. “The detectors Bucky mentioned would pick them up, even on a cleaning crew.”

“We’ll tape them inside my bra, dear. I’ll tell them I have a pacemaker. You think they’re going to pat down an old lady there?”

“Only if you’re lucky,” Clint tells her.

Bucky groans. “It’s not a bad plan but that’s the last I wanna hear about Nanna’s bra. Ever.”

“Tony can you hack their HR system? See what a security badge for a cleaning lady should look like?” Clint asks.

“Child’s play,” Tony sighs. “You’re sure, Nanna? This could be dangerous and I don’t know I’m worth it.”

“Anyone who can make my Steven look happy again is worth the whole world to me.”

Well shit. Tony’s got absolutely no idea what to say to that. Thankfully, Bucky plows on.

“Clint and me are on uniform procurement then,” Bucky says. “Steve, get them IDs. The printers in the shed can handle whatever we need.”

Of course they’ve got a forgery set in the toolshed. Makes total sense. Tony fucking loves this family.

“What about guns for Nanna and Kate?” Tony asks. “Do you happen to have something undetectable here incase you need to make a worst case scenario exit.”

Nanna’s smile is so full of mischief she looks a good twenty years younger. “Oh darling. I think it’s time we show you our weapon cabinet.”

Chapter Text

“What about guns for Nanna and Kate?” Tony asks. “Do you happen to have something undetectable here in case you need to make a worst case scenario exit.”

Nanna’s smile is so full of mischief she looks a good twenty years younger. “Oh darling. I think it’s time we show you our weapon cabinet.”

---

Bucky, Clint and Steve stay upstairs to get to work on their assignments, while Tony follows Nanna back down to the basement. He’d guessed correctly, the large metal cabinet is the weapons cache. What he hadn’t guessed is that the huge safe opens to reveal another door. The weapons are through there, and it’s a room twice the size of the visible part of the basement. It must take up the space under the whole of the back yard.

“Bigger on the inside...” Tony whispers dreamily.

He walks inside as reverently as if it was the Tardis. The room isn’t bright or gleaming or teched out, but it’s clean and well-organized and full of both useful looking weapons and displayed antiques and geeeeeeezus...

“Is that a .38M Leoreuchek?” Tony asks in wonder.

“You know your old guns,” Nanna says, clearly pleased. “It was a gift from JFK.”

“JFK,” Tony repeats. “God, you’re cool.”

Nanna laughs. “Do you recognize this one?”

She gestures toward another display. Tony tilts his head.

“It looks like one of my dad’s designs but I’ve never...”

Tony steps closer. The gun is behind glass.

“Take it out,” Nanna says. “Your father designed it. It should be yours.”

Tony takes it out and turns the gun slowly over in his hands. There’s a clip in it. It’s loaded.

“Designs like this didn’t show up on the market for years after he retired,” Tony said.

“It was a prototype,” Nanna says. “My husband always said Howard was ahead of the pack. And the things Howard said about you--”

“I know,” Tony interrupts. He can’t keep the hurt out of his voice even after years of practice. “I was a huge disappointment.”

Nanna looks surprised as she shakes her head in protest. “No, dear. Howard never spoke ill of you to me. When he talked about you as a child, he often remarked that he saw potential in you that would allow you to surpass his own achievements. Maybe there was a hint of jealousy there, but also pride.”

Tony doesn’t know what to make of that and he looks away. The silence is awkward and he doesn’t know how to make it better. He feels a hand on his arm and when he turns back, Nanna’s taken a step closer.

“I’m the one who introduced Clint to an old friend who remained in HR at Stark Industries. I thought you could use some looking after. I’ve known Obadiah Stane as long as I knew your father and I thought-- thought he might be up to no good. I couldn’t have guessed that you and Steve would meet, though. Or fall in love. I’m smart but I’m no Fairy-Godmother, Cinderella.”

“Thank you,” Tony says. There’s a lot of other stuff he wants to say but words aren’t always his friends and thank you is all he’s gonna get out without tears.

“You’re welcome.”

Nanna seems to sense Tony’s discomfort, because she drops the subject. She hands him a holster belt, and he puts it on before sliding the gun in securely. He tugs his shirt back down and it’s hidden.

Nanna moves on to choosing what appear to be ceramic shuriken (at this point an old lady grabbing throwing stars seems about par for the course) and tucks them into the pockets of her apron.

“These will do,” she says. “And I know the four of you will take care of the distraction. It feels good to be back in the thick of things. I never thought I’d have another chance.”

Tony nods in agreement and that’s that. He’s still not comfortable with Nanna risking her life for him but he won’t insult her by pointing out all the ways this could go wrong.

They walk out of the hidden room into the basement, then up the stairs and into a flurry of activity. Clint’s on the phone talking in what sounds a lot like Mandarin Chinese. Bucky’s got papers strewn across the table, printouts of some sort, that he’s cross-referencing with the words on his laptop screen. A large (mostly empty) sleeve of Fig Newtons sits between them.

Bucky motions Tony over and explains what he’s doing, and Tony takes over double checking security codes as Bucky heads down to the basement to presumably sort through more weapons.

The front door opens about 15 minutes later, and Kate and Bruce walk in together.

“Took you long enough,” Clint calls.

“We ‘ad to schtop for tacos,” Kate replies, around a full mouth of food.

“They’re out of their minds,” Tony says, glancing up at Bruce when he joins him.

Bruce is holding a taco and looking guilty.

“Bananas,” Bruce agrees as he takes a seat. “But they do know their Mexican street food. Want a bite?”

He holds his taco toward Tony, and Tony takes a bite, because Bruce is right and also the trunk taco was (and still is) fantastic.

“So what’s all that?” Bruce asks.

And just like that, Bruce and Tony are off. With the two of them working together they make short work of the rest of the printouts. Which is just as well, because Bucky appears a few seconds before they finish the last sheet.

“This is for you two,” Bucky says, dropping an old metal wash bucket full of chemicals and cleaning supplies on the table in front of Tony and Bruce. “We’re gonna need explosions. Big ones that hopefully look and sound a lot worse than they are since we’re gonna be near by. The better the distraction the less chance Nanna and Kate will get caught.”

“We’re going to need milk jugs,” Tony says. “Or tupperware. And wires.”

“A circuit board if you’ve got an extra one,” Bruce adds, eyeing their haul. “And as much gunpowder as you can spare.”

“Steve’s got an old computer up in his room,” Tony says. “If he’ll let us rip it apart, there’s our circuit board. Gun powder isn’t going to be a problem.”

“I’ll go check with Steve about the computer,” Clint offers.

“Let Tony go check,” Bucky counters. “You and me have to make a trip to the store for the rest of what we’re gonna need for Nanna and Kate’s uniforms.”

“I’ll start making a list of the combinations I think will explode,” Bruce says, giving Tony a nod. “When you get back, we’ll see if I’m right.”

Tony knows by Bruce’s daydreamy stare that his brain is already off and running in science-land. If it weren’t for the very real consequences of failure, this would be the most destructive fun either of them have had in a long time.

“He’s out in the shed,” Bucky adds to Tony as he steps past, giving Tony a nudge toward the back door with a smirk.

The yard is fenced in so the shed’s a cinch to find. Steve’s sitting at a laptop, with a huge printing press whirring quietly beside him. There’s a 3D printer, too, a plastics printer and what Tony’s pretty damn sure is a goddamn (highly illegal) money press.

“Everything okay?” Steve asks.

“Peachy keen, jelly bean,” Tony says. “Bruce and I are on bomb duty and I thought we might be able to use your old computer for parts. I didn’t want to do it without asking.”

“Absolutely,” Steve agrees. “Take whatever you need. All that’s on there are my old AP English essays, and no one-- and I mean no one-- wants to read my thoughts on Macbeth.”

“I dunno,” Tony smirks. “Think I’m probably going to need to take a look.”

Steve groans, and then stands, crossing the distance between them in two steps. He rests his hands on Tony’s hips and leans in to press a kiss to his forehead.

“Is that a gun in your pocket or do you really like woodsheds?”

Tony laughs and lifts the edge of his shirt. “Nanna’s been handing out gifts.”

Steve whistles appreciatively. “You know that thing’s loaded, right?”

Tony nods. “I know I’m not a super soldier or a Russian spy, but I have managed to keep myself mostly in one piece all these years. Give me some credit.”

“I’ll do better than credit,” Steve says. “Five hundred points for surviving long enough to meet me.”

Tony can’t help but smile. “I feel like I’ve taken a significant lead.”

“There are worse things in life than dating a winner,” Steve shrugs.

He lets go, looking reluctant as hell, as he moves back to his computer.

“This is all going to be fine,” Tony says. “You know that, right?”

Steve nods. “We wouldn’t be doing this if any of us thought otherwise.”

“I better get back in there before Banner goes all Oppenheimer on us.”

Tony mouths the word “boooooom” as he lifts his hands like a mushroom cloud, which gets a chuckle from Steve.

“Be safe in there,” Steve says. “Save all the boom for Hammer.”

“You can bet on it.”

*
It takes them an hour to get locked and loaded and another hour to drive to the set-up point. Nanna and Kate have taken Kate’s purple Volkswagen and the rest of them have piled into a van that Bucky explains he keeps stored in a garage nearby.

Clint rides shotgun (both because he calls it on the way to the van and also because he is quite literally holding a sawed-off shotgun in his lap) and Steve, Bruce and Tony are on the floor in the back. This may be the most dangerous part of the plan, since transporting volatile chemicals in milk jugs and old whipped cream tubs breaks about a thousand transit safety rules.

Still, for the most part, Tony is calm. The taco-death-ride to Nanna’s had been far, far worse.

It helps to have Bruce around. Bruce levels Tony’s anxiety out in a way that few people can. And this time Tony knows where they’re going and they have much bigger fish to fry. Plus he’s got a kick ass gun courtesy of his dad. That’s cool.

“You got a lock on Nanna and Kate?” Steve calls up to the front.

“They’re pulling into the server lot now. They’re gonna have to shut off their transmissions to keep from giving anything away. Us, too. Radio silence in 3... 2... 1.”

It changes nothing, but at the same time it changes everything.

Logically, Tony’s known for hours this was going to happen. The reality of the risk hadn’t hit him with full force until now though. Until there was no going back. His chest tightens and it’s a little harder to breathe. Steve puts his hand on Tony’s knee and squeezes.

“We’ve got this,” Steve says, his eyes calm and serious. “I promise.”

“We’re here,” Clint yells back, as they rumble to a stop.

Tony has an idea of where “here” is, but he’d only seen it on a map earlier. It all looked flat. The terrain as he hops out of the back of the van is more complicated. They’re at the rim of a quarry of some kind, with loose dirt and stones as far as Tony can see down into the hole. Off in the distance there’s a barbed-wire-enclosed building and a small purple Beetle parked alongside a dozen or so dark, unmarked cars. Twelvish cars means twelvish employees. That’s not so many, Tony hopes.

He doesn’t have long to look. They’ve got a shit ton of setting up to do and they are on the clock. The plan is to set off the explosive ten minutes after radio silence. That gives Nanna and Kate ten minutes to get in and get into place before the guards all (hopefully) get pulled.

“How much of this hillside you think we can send into the air?” Clint asks, surveying the deep pit ahead of them.

“Enough that Barnes should probably move the van back another hundred feet after we unload,” Tony says.

Clint, Steve and Bucky look impressed.

“You don’t hand the Science Bros a house full of chemicals and gunpowder unless you’re looking for a show,” Tony explains.

“We’re going for the Fourth of July,” Bruce confirms. “With considerably more dirt, gravel and bang.”

“Sweet!” Clint enthuses. “Katie is going to be so pissed she’s missing this on the inside.”

“Katie’s going to be more pissed if we don’t get our asses in gear,” Bucky reminds him. “What with her depending on this distraction to you know-- live and all.”

“You ever heard that all work and no play makes for a dull boyfriend?” Clint challenges.

“I’ll show you dull,” Bucky says, raising an eyebrow. “How long’s it going to take you three to get the blasts setup?” he directs to Tony.

“Bucky, no,” Steve groans.

“Bucky, yessss,” Clint grins. “If the van’s a rockin’ keep on walkin’!”

“Oh god,” Bruce says. “We’re all about to die and they’re making a sex tape.”

“No one’s going to die,” Steve says. “And no one’s making a sex tape, either.”

Steve makes a V with his fingers and then points from his own eyes to Bucky then Clint, in the universal sign for I’m watching you punks. “Help us unload, then move the van back to the edge of the woods.”

“Fine, fine,” Bucky drawls. “Come on, Clint. Let’s do what Stevie says.”

Clint nods. “Sure. But can we make our sex tape after? Cause I’ve already got a name and everything.”

“I don’t want to hear it,” Steve says as he lifts the first box of explosives carefully out of the back.

“Tony does,” Clint says confidently, as he and Bucky join them at the rear of the van and they all begin to unload.

“I don’t,” Tony disagrees. He does actually, but there probably is a better time and place for this discussion and that time and place does not involve him holding a bucket of somewhat volatile chemicals.

“Fine. You know what? I’m gonna leave your asses wondering. It’s going to keep you up at night. What would Clint have named his sex tape? You’ll be tossing and turning and wishing you knew!”

“If we survive,” Bruce reminds him.

“We’re gonna survive,” Bucky says confidently.

“If we don’t, none of you fuckers are gonna rest in peace. Your ghosts are going to wander the earth, whispering in the breeze...” Clint’s voice drops to an overly spooky whisper. “What wasssssss the naaaaaaaaame? What was the nameeeeeeeee?”

“You know you’re going to tell us,” Steve sighs. “One hundred points if you can keep it secret for one whole minute.”

Clint makes it less than ten seconds before he blurts out his thoughts.

“Out With A Bang! Name of our sex tape is Out With a Bang!”

Tony groans. (He’s wanted friends for years. Scratch that. He’s spent his whole life wanting friends. And this is what he gets. These amazing assholes.)

“Son of a bitch,” Tony grumbles. “That’s gold.”