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Everything He (Never Thought He) Could Have

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If given the chance, Tony Stark would sleep with any one of the Avengers. Collectively or individually. If anyone on the team offered, he’d probably say yes before they finished talking.

 

That being said, Tony was not stupid enough to be the first to approach any of his teammates.  He worked with two scary as fuck assassins, a demigod, a super soldier, and a man with breathtaking anger issues.  Any one of them could snap him in half before he finished saying the word ‘fuck’.  Besides, the last thing he wanted was to mess up a good thing.  The Avengers had finally pulled together as a team, and if Tony was sure of one thing, it was that he would screw it up if he tried to ask for anything more than what the others were willing to give.

 

So to avoid any possibility of completely humiliating himself in front of his new teammates, Tony threw himself into his work.  Iron Man suits, weapons and armor and transportation for his teammates, upgrades and tech for SHIELD and Stark Industries.  He didn’t give himself time to think, much less open his mouth and do something stupid.  Like proposition Captain America for gay sex.

 

The Tower was large enough, and the work kept him busy enough that he hardly ever saw any of the others, generally keeping company with JARVIS and his bots.  On occasion, Bruce would swing by, mostly to tentatively request some new piece of equipment or collateral data for whatever experiment he was working on.  Tony would blink up at him, process the request, then nod and go back to his work.  JARVIS took care of the actual ordering and delivery.  In fact, the AI was pretty much left in charge of ensuring that everybody in the Tower got what they needed.

 

Now and again, Tony would breeze through what he secretly referred to as the Avengers Floor, where the communal kitchen, living room, and gym were all located.  He never stayed for long, mostly pausing just long enough to tease Bruce, verbally spar with Clint, avoid Natasha, and push as many of Steve’s buttons as he could in under five minutes.  Then he was gone again, heading for his lab, his company, or on very rare occasions, his bed.

 

So really, Tony had an excellent excuse for not realizing what was happening under his roof until nearly two months after the last of the team – Natasha and Steve – had moved in.  He had finally caught up on everything, even the SI stuff that Pepper had been throwing at him, and the CEO had told him, quite firmly, that he wasn’t allowed back in the lab until he’d spent at least twelve hours either socializing or sleeping, preferably the latter.  And JARVIS was obviously conspiring with her, because suddenly, none of his codes or overrides worked.

 

Grumpy, he headed upstairs, pausing briefly at the Avengers Floor just to make sure that nothing that required his attention was likely to happen in the next several hours.  He just wanted a shower, food, and sleep.  Not necessarily in that order.

 

He found the Avengers in the living room, watching an old black and white movie – African Queen? – on the television.  Pausing in the doorway, he let his eyes sweep over his teammates, his lips dipping in a small frown as what he was seeing finally sunk in.

 

Steve was seated on the left side of the couch, with Natasha on his lap, curled up against his chest, her feet stretched out across Clint’s legs.  The archer was settled against their resident god of thunder, his hands pressing gently into the delicate arches of Natasha’s feet.  Thor had one arm stretched along the back of the couch behind Clint. The other one was wrapped firmly around Bruce, who appeared to be dozing, his glasses knocked askew on his nose as the light from the television played across his face.  Phil, the last of the group, was settled on the floor, his back against the couch and his side pressed against Clint’s legs from ankle to knee.  He had removed his suit jacket and tie for the occasion, and even rolled up his shirt sleeves, paperwork spread out on the floor in front of him.  Natasha’s hand was stroking carefully through his thinning hair, occasionally scratching lightly down to the nape of his neck.

 

The six of them there, curling up together while they watched a movie, made a beautiful picture, and Tony felt his breath catch in his throat.  Swallowing quietly, he slipped back out the way he’d come, heading back for the elevators, which opened silently at his approach.  Once inside, he slumped against the back wall.  “Penthouse, JARVIS,” he mumbled.

 

“As you wish, sir,” the AI replied neutrally.

 

Tony smiled bitterly to himself.  “How long?” he asked as he stepped out into the living room of his own floor.

 

“Sir?” JARVIS asked.

 

Tony shook his head.  “Never mind, it’s not important,” he muttered dismissively.  Deciding that all he wanted to do right then was sleep, he headed for the bedroom, stripping as he went.  “J, lock down my floor, would you?  I don’t want to be disturbed unless there’s a call to assemble.”

 

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied agreeably.  “Shall I inform the others that you are not to be disturbed?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes.  “No, JARVIS,” he replied wearily.  “I’m pretty sure they won’t need me for anything, so just let them do what they’re doing, all right?”  And it was true; the Avengers didn’t need him.  He was just a consultant, after all, their source of funding and tech, and an occasional teammate, as much as he hated the thought.  Anything more than that was completely out of the question, and Tony tried not to let it bother him.  He knew exactly who he was and what people saw when they looked at him, because he had spent years painstakingly crafting a wall around himself so that people would only see what he wanted them to.  And what they saw was a genius billionaire asshole, who had only become one of the good guys out of some misguided attempt at clearing a ledger that was practically dripping with red.

 

Not bothering to strip off his pants, Tony collapsed on top of the covers with a soft groan as his body stretched out along the length of the bed, making muscles ache and twinge now that they were horizontal instead of bent over a worktable.  His stomach grumbled, but he ignored it, too tired to bother getting back up.  Not even the thought of a long, hot shower could drag him from his over-sized bed now, and he closed his eyes, dropping off quickly.

 

He should’ve known it was too good to be true, as the nightmares started almost immediately, visions of flying and falling and screaming and dying racing behind his eyelids, blending into each other in a cacophony of colors and sounds that had him struggling upright not even two hours later, his heart hammering in his chest and his body covered in a sheen of sweat. 

 

JARVIS was talking, and Tony latched onto the familiar voice as he struggled to get his breathing under control, his heart in this throat, threatening to choke him.  JARVIS meant safety, meant he was home.

 

“You are in your bedroom in the Avengers Tower.  It is eight thirty-nine in the evening.  It is sixty-four degrees out, with a chance of scattered showers later.  You have been asleep for one hour and thirty-two minutes,” JARVIS droned, his voice pitched to calm Tony down more quickly as he repeated the phrase over and over until Tony managed to settle a bit.

 

“I’m good, J,” he gasped out at last, his breath shuddering out from him with a full-body shiver.  “Start the hot water, would you?  I need a shower.”  There was no point in trying to go back to bed now, not when the images were right there, behind his eyes, ready to come back the moment he tried to sleep.  Maybe the shower would relax him enough to make another attempt, though he doubted it.

 

Stumbling blearily in the general direction of his bathroom, Tony winced as the lights came on when he entered the large tiled room.  Without prompting, JARVIS dimmed the lights and started the water running, the steady rush of noise almost comforting in its rhythm.  Tony stripped out of his pants and boxers and stepped into the shower, the heat and patter of water against his skin soothing him almost immediately.

 

He swayed for a moment, just luxuriating in the heat and comfort, then reached for the shampoo.  His legs were still a bit wobbly from his small panic attack, but there was no way in hell he was going to sit down in a bath right after dreaming about desert sand and cold stars, of water in his nose and mouth and no air in his lungs.  He shuddered again, his breaths speeding up as his heart rate increased.  His hand scrabbled up his chest, grabbing at the flesh where his arc reactor used to be, before Extremis had made it possible to restore what had been lost years before in a cave in Afghanistan.

 

“Sir, I must ask that you regulate your breathing, or protocol will mandate that I report your distress to Doctor Banner and Captain Rogers,” JARVIS stated firmly.  Tony shook his head fiercely; the last thing he needed was to disturb them only to have to see their pity and disgust when they came up here to find him suffering from something so insignificant as phantom memories left over from a fucking nightmare.

 

Pressing his hands flat against the front of the shower, his arms locked, he dropped his head between his shoulders and worked on controlling his breathing, angry with himself.  Under his skin, Extremis snapped and pulsed, warming him from the inside out.  It wasn’t dangerous, not after his corrections, so he wasn’t in any danger of blowing himself – and a good chunk of the building – up any time soon, but the heat served as a reminder that Extremis was there, sunk under his skin, imbedded in his DNA.  With a final shuddering breath that absolutely did not end in a sob, Tony fell quiet, his eyes open and staring blankly at the floor of the shower as the water poured over his head and shoulders, dripping into his eyes and off his chin in small rivulets.

 

It took another couple of minutes before he reached for the soap, working on autopilot now.  JARVIS didn’t say anything else, so Tony assumed that his baseline had leveled out sufficiently to not raise any further alarms.

 

He finished his shower in minutes and climbed out, drying himself off efficiently with one of the massive fluffy towels and wrapping himself in a thick red robe before stepping out into the bedroom and padding barefoot towards the kitchen, determined to get some coffee, and maybe some food.  JARVIS had been around for long enough that the coffee was already percolating when Tony walked into the kitchen, and he grinned.  “Bless you, JARVIS,” he murmured.

 

“You are most welcome, sir.  The coffee will be ready in two minutes and seventeen seconds,” the AI informed him smugly.  Tony chuckled at his sassy AI, tension bleeding out of him with a long sigh as he settled himself, leaning against the counter, his feet crossed at the ankles as he contemplated the kitchen floor.  His mind, desperate to focus on something other than his nightmares, finally settled on the way his friends – were they friends? – had looked, curled up lazily on the couch on the common floor, enjoying each other’s company as much as the movie.

 

“How long has the puppy pile been going on?” Tony asked out loud, knowing that JARVIS would answer him honestly.

 

“If you are referring to the team gatherings, sir, then they have been occurring since shortly after the team moved into the Tower.  Agent Romanov stated that its purpose was to catch Captain Rogers up on the modern world.  Doctor Banner was the last to join the puppy pile, as it were, sir,”  JARVIS replied promptly.  There was a moment of hesitation, and then JARVIS added, “I believe that they would be…pleased, if you were to join them, sir.”

 

Tony scoffed as he grabbed his filled mug of coffee from the dispenser.  “Uh huh.  You said Romanov started it, right?” he asked, sipping at the hot beverage and rummaging around in the fridge for leftovers.  There was some leftover Italian, and he figured that would work as well as anything.

 

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS confirmed.

 

Tony nodded.  “Okay.  And then Barton was probably next, following Romanov.  And Agent was either following those two, or Rogers asked him.  Thor would have joined in on his own, as well.  Who asked Bruce?”  Because he was pretty sure that the mild-mannered physicist would never have joined their little team bonding nights if he hadn’t been asked.

 

“Both Mister Odinson and Captain Rogers attempted to procure Doctor Banner’s presence,” JARVIS replied.  “However, he did not join them for the first time until after Director Coulson spoke to him.  I am unaware of what was said.” He didn’t sound happy about that, and Tony growled under his breath.  He really needed to sit down and talk with Coulson about what was and wasn’t acceptable in the Tower.  Messing with JARVIS was way over the line of acceptability.  How the hell was Tony supposed to protect them if they just shut JARVIS down on a whim?

 

“JARVIS, override code Theta-Alpha-three-two-nine,” Tony snapped.  There was a whir and a click as JARVIS accepted the new directive and upgraded his protocols.  Tony smiled grimly to himself; let Coulson try and hack his way through that.  He had effectively just given JARVIS permission to not only protect himself from unauthorized access from anybody that wasn’t Tony, but to attack back in kind if he wished.  And if JARVIS was anything like him, he’d take advantage of his new capabilities just as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

 

Tony had just settled down to eat when JARVIS alerted him that Bruce was requesting permission to enter.  He blinked, frowning, but gestured idly for the AI to let the other man in.  The elevator chimed a second later, and Bruce wandered in hesitantly.  “Tony?” he asked carefully, shifting uneasily near the entrance.

 

Tony whirled around, plastering his most charming public smile on as he greeted the hesitant scientist. It wasn’t even entirely feigned; he genuinely liked the other man, more than he’d like to admit.  “Brucie!” he exclaimed, gesturing for the other man to step closer.  “Come on in! What brings you up to my humble abode?” he inquired cheerfully, knowing that his smile didn’t reach his eyes.

 

Bruce eyed him warily, but settled down on the barstool next to him anyhow, glancing at his cup of coffee and the sub he’d pulled from the fridge.  “Ah, I tried your lab first,” he admitted, not answering Tony’s question, his eyes darting down to stare at the countertop.  “JARVIS informed me that you were up here when I asked.”

 

Tony nodded amicably, breaking his sub in half and handing half of it to a bemused Bruce.  “He’s usually right,” he agreed.  Bruce glanced at him briefly in consternation before his eyes dropped again, his fingers picking uneasily at the sandwich.  Tony sighed. “I’ve been banned from the lab for the next few hours,” he admitted.  “It’s something that Pepper insisted on after the third time JARVIS had to call her because I passed out in the workshop.”

 

Even with Pepper out of the picture now, she was still his CEO and a good friend, so he had never removed her permissions regarding their agreement.  This was the first time she’d pulled rank in the seven months since they’d been separated, though, and the sleep had made him feel somewhat better, as short as it had been, so he’d let her keep her privileges.  For the moment, at least.

 

Bruce nodded.  “You stopped by the common room, but didn’t come in,” he mumbled.  Tony frowned at him; he’d been asleep, so how could he have possibly known?  “Natasha,” Bruce explained, seeing Tony’s confusion.  The genius nodded; of course it had been Natasha who had noticed him lurking in the doorway.  He just hoped that she hadn’t realized what was going on inside his head, though he wouldn’t put it past the super spy.

 

Tony shrugged.  “Yeah.  I needed food and sleep, so I just glanced in to make sure everybody was still alive, then came up here,” he deflected.  There was no reason for Bruce to know that he had felt like an outsider in his own home.  It wasn’t the other man’s fault.  Bruce was probably the only one of all the Avengers that could tolerate Tony for more than a few minutes at a time.  Tony wouldn’t do or say anything that might jeopardize that. Not on purpose, at least.

 

Bruce nodded in acceptance, obviously taking note of the dark circles under Tony’s eyes and the damp hair that was still dripping water down his cheeks and neck.  Tony probably should have dried off a bit more thoroughly, but he hadn’t exactly been expecting company tonight.  He smiled self-deprecatingly.  “Sleep didn’t go so well, so I figured a shower and food might help before I tried again.”  He actually had no intention whatsoever of going back to sleep, but Bruce didn’t need to know that, either.

 

Bruce made a low noise, then took a bite of his sub.  Tony smiled, relieved, and did the same.  They ate mostly in silence, with Bruce rising only once to get himself a bottle of water and to refill Tony’s cup with fresh coffee.  Tony basked in the other man’s presence, glad that he was here despite the fact that he was pretty sure Avengers Movie Night was still happening downstairs.

 

When he finished eating, Tony yawned widely.  “Well, thanks for visiting, Brucie,” he murmured, rinsing his dishes and putting them in the dishwasher before wiping his hands dry and flashing the other man an affectionate smile.  He yawned again.  “I think I’m going to get some shut-eye.”  He was lying through his teeth, of course, but Bruce didn’t know that.

 

Wry brown eyes gazed at him warmly, and Bruce nodded.  “Yes, I rather think you are,” Bruce agreed quietly.  Moving forward, he turned Tony around and gave him a gentle nudge, the billionaire stumbling forward under his guidance.  “And I’m going to make sure, as your doctor, that you actually get to sleep.”

 

Tony twisted, turning to look back at Bruce, though he continued to move forward at Bruce’s gentle prompting.  “Aww…you do care, Brucie!” he crooned.

 

Bruce rolled his eyes.  “Yes, yes,” he murmured back.  “And you’re a sweet-talker.  Come on,” he said, steering Tony into the bedroom, more confident in the role of doctor than friend.  With a huff, Tony tossed himself face down on the bed, burying his face in the pillow and flapping one hand in the air.

 

“Okay, I’m here, I’m in bed, going to sleep now.  You can go,” he said pointedly.  A moment later, he let out a small surprised sound as the bed dipped, rolling him towards the other man.  He glared up at him with one eye, but didn’t otherwise protest.

 

Bruce looked down at him, amused.  “Go to sleep, Tony,” he suggested.

 

Tony grinned cheekily up at him.  “Sure,” he agreed.  “If you’ll sleep with me.”  He deliberately inserted the innuendo, well aware of how uncomfortable it made the other man.  Normally, Bruce would either blush and divert the conversation, or if he was in a particularly cheerful mood, he’d occasionally flirt back in that quiet, serious manner of his.  The man had a fantastic poker face.

 

“If that’s what it takes, Tony,” Bruce replied easily.  Tony froze, staring up at the other man wide-eyed.  Bruce grinned, his shaggy hair falling down into his eyes.  He was adorable, and Tony swallowed, pressing his face back into the pillow to keep the other man from seeing whatever it was that was flashing across his face just then.

 

The mattress shifted again, and Tony shifted with it, peering up at the other man, his breath catching when he realized that Bruce was stripping.  He unbuttoned his shirt, removed his belt, and stripped down to his boxers.  Bruce was completely unselfconscious about his body, having been seen in various states of undress by the entire team at one time or another, not to mention anybody who had ever seen him or caught him on camera after a transformation.  Tony had asked him, once, if he’d ever been arrested for public indecency.  Steve had scolded him for being crude, and Bruce had successfully escaped the room without answering.  Tony hadn’t asked again; if he really wanted to know, he could have JARVIS look it up, he was sure.

 

Once he was in just his boxers, Bruce turned around and raised expectant eyebrows at Tony.  “Well?” he asked.  “Are you planning on sleeping on top of the covers?”

 

Tony shrugged as best he could, rolling over onto his back and adjusting until he was spread-eagled on the bed.  He still only took up about half of it.  “On top, underneath, doesn’t really matter to me,” he replied honestly.

 

Bruce just shrugged, then tugged the covers back on his half before nudging Tony into wriggling until he could get the rest of the comforter and sheets down.  Crawling in, Bruce snagged the covers and flipped them back over the two of them before settling down.  “Sleep, Tony,” he ordered firmly.

 

Tony scowled, but closed his eyes obediently, well aware that Bruce could be just as stubborn as him when he wanted to be.  Besides, he was pretty sure that he was considerably more tired than Bruce was, and the yawn a moment later confirmed it.  Tony’s eyes slid shut as the exhaustion hit him.

 

Without conscious thought, Tony turned onto his side and reached out for Bruce, gripping his wrist.  He didn’t want Bruce to leave him to his nightmares, and the other man was probably just waiting for him to fall asleep before sneaking back downstairs, or maybe even into the lab.  He thought he heard a low chuckle and a fond, “Good night, Tony,” before his exhaustion caught up to him and he dropped off to sleep.

 

As had happened earlier in the evening, the nightmares came upon him swiftly, causing him to thrash under the covers.  Hands clamped down on his wrists, and Tony choked on a scream, his eyes flying open as he struggled to free himself.  As quickly as they had arrived, the hands were gone, and Tony rolled, still tangled in a cocoon of sheets.  The sudden pain of falling out of the bed and hitting the floor startled him back into the here and now, and Tony gasped, staring up at a surprised Bruce with wide, panicked eyes.

 

“Hey, hey, it’s okay,” Bruce murmured, approaching him carefully, like he was approaching a wild animal.  Tony shrank back in on himself, horrified as hot tears spilled down his cheeks, his breathing erratic and out of control.  “Tony, look at me.”  Bruce’s tone was firm, and Tony found himself obeying, swallowing heavily.  “Breathe with me, Tony,” Bruce said, taking several deep, measured breaths.  “Come on, Tony, you can do this.”

 

It took a few more gentle encouragements before the meaning of Bruce’s words sank through, and Tony groaned miserably as he tried to force himself to take deep breaths, releasing them slowly, his breath hitching with sobs.  After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, Tony got his breathing more or less under control.  He realized that Bruce was kneeling in front of him, looking at him with a worried, concerned gaze, and he moaned loudly, dropping his head onto his knees so he wouldn’t have to look at the other man.

 

“Tony, it’s all right,” Bruce murmured, a hand coming to rest carefully on Tony’s left shoulder. When the brunette didn’t shrug it off, he gripped a bit tighter, and his other hand came up to rest on Tony’s other shoulder.  “It’s okay, it was just a nightmare,” Bruce soothed.  “We all have them.”

 

Tony snorted; was that supposed to be reassuring?  Because if it was, then Bruce’s bedside manner sucked.  A moment later, he found himself pulled against a firm chest, and he revised his opinion slightly, sagging into the offered support.  Fingers were pressing on the back of his neck, rubbing gently as he got his breathing under control, betrayed by a few last hiccups before falling silent, the occasional shudder wracking through his frame.

 

When Bruce deemed him sufficiently calm, he pulled back a little bit.  Tony let him go, scrubbing angrily at his eyes and cheeks.  He sat back with a long sigh, leaning against the bedframe and closing his eyes in resignation.  “Thanks,” he murmured.  “I’m all right now, if you want to go. I doubt I’ll be going back to sleep anytime soon, and I’m sure you have better things to be doing than to babysit me.”

 

Bruce snorted, coaxing Tony into cracking his eyes open to look over at the other man.  “It’s not a hardship, Tony,” the other man murmured wryly.  “It was this or go back down and watch Monty Python.”

 

Tony opened his eyes all the way, mock indignation spreading across his face. “And what’s wrong with Monty Python?” he demanded.  “It’s a classic!”

 

Bruce regarded him silently, as if attempting to determine whether or not he was serious.  “You and I have very different opinions on what qualifies as classic,” he said at last.  Tony rewarded him with a small chuckle for the attempt at levity, and Bruce quirked a self-deprecating smile back at him.  “But really, Tony, what’s wrong?  Do you always have this much trouble sleeping?”

 

Tony shrugged, looking down at his raised knees, feeling vulnerable. It wasn’t a feeling he coped with very well, as it tended to make him more honest than normal, unable to come up with the sarcastic quips that he so often used to deflect attention from the fact that he wasn’t actually answering the question posed to him.

 

“I don’t sleep well,” he mumbled.  “After Afghanistan, it was really hard,” he admitted.  “It got better when I had Pepper, but…” he trailed off miserably.

 

“But Pepper’s gone,” Bruce finished for him, his voice soft, and Tony nodded, unable to swallow past the lump in his throat.  Strong fingers pressed gently but insistently beneath his chin, forcing him to look up until he met Bruce’s sympathetic eyes.  “I’m sorry that I can’t keep the dreams at bay,” he apologized.

 

Tony shook his head.  “Not your fault,” he mumbled.  “Pepper couldn’t, either.  The only times I wouldn’t dream – or have nightmares – were either after I was so exhausted I passed out completely, or when she…you know what?  Never mind,” he said abruptly, cutting himself off before he begged for something that he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be getting. 

 

He pushed himself to his feet and turned back to the bed, crawling in.  “I’ll be fine, Bruce.  Good night,” he dismissed, pulling the covers up and over his head so he was wrapped in a little cave of his own making.

 

The bed dipped again, and Tony just pushed his head deeper into the pillow.  “Or when Pepper what, Tony?” Bruce asked, his voice low with worry.  Tony could picture him now, twisting his hands together or nibbling lightly on his lower lip as he thought.  Tony had given away too much already, and Bruce was smart; he’d have it figured out in no time.

 

Tony counted silently in his head.  Sure enough, by the time he’d reached seven, Bruce let out a small, “Oh.”

 

Tony shoved the covers down just far enough that he could glare at Bruce.  “Yeah, oh,” he retorted sarcastically.  “Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to try and get some sleep.  Alone,” he stressed, turning his back on the other man, even as he wanted to curl up around him and never let go.

 

There was a warm line of heat above him, and then Bruce dropped on top of Tony, who grunted at the sudden weight, squirming around until he was on his back, glaring up at Bruce.  “You know, Doc, for somebody who wants me to get some sleep, you’re making a terrible job of it,” he pointed out grumpily.  Not that he’d actually intended on sleeping, but he would’ve appreciated being left to his delusions.

 

Bruce was watching him carefully, his face rather close to Tony’s.  Tony swallowed, and Bruce’s eyes traveled down to his throat.  The other man’s tongue flicked out against his lower lip, and Tony’s eyes locked on.  Bruce’s lips curved into a faint smirk, and Tony scowled.  “You did that on purpose,” he accused.

 

“Yes,” Bruce agreed mildly, shifting to the side so that he was lying next to Tony and tugging on the shorter man until Tony turned to face him.  “I had to know for sure,” he murmured.  Tony frowned, torn between anger and embarrassment.  Before he could figure out whether he wanted to kick Bruce out of the bed or pull him closer, the decision was made for him.

 

Bruce’s lips were warm and dry against his, and Tony froze, his eyes staring blankly into the face of his teammate and science partner.  He trembled, not used to getting exactly what he wanted.  It was that thought that gave him the strength to pull away, to curl up with his hands on Bruce’s shoulders, keeping him at a distance while holding him in place at the same time.  He licked his own lips, tasting the faint tang of tea and honey.  He shuddered.

 

“Tony?” Bruce asked, back to being the concerned friend.  He withdrew slightly, trying to pull back.  Tony’s fingers tightened against his will, and Bruce stopped.  “Tony?” he asked again, obviously confused.

 

Tony swallowed.  “Why?” he asked, hating how hoarse his voice sounded.

 

Bruce considered him carefully for a moment.  “Why this?” he asked.  “Why now? Or why you?”

 

“Yes,” Tony agreed.  Bruce’s lips twitched upwards in amusement.

 

“Because you want this.  Because I want this.  Because you’re my friend and you need to sleep. Because I care.  We all do.  Take your pick,” he shrugged.

 

Tony frowned.  He didn’t want a pity fuck, not from Bruce.  Not from any of the Avengers.  If all he wanted was a one-night stand, he’d go find some random woman – or man – to bring home, and avoid risking jeopardizing his tenuous relationship with the other Avengers.  He shook his head.  “No,” he said, as firmly as possible, hating the way his voice threatened to wobble on that simple word.

 

Bruce gazed at him discerningly, and Tony fought to not turn away.  He didn’t want Bruce to think that he was rejecting him out of hand, but he wouldn’t risk his friendship with the other man for anything.  Bruce was the first person he’d found who could not only keep up with him, but who also had an unending well of patience with him.  Tony knew that he was difficult – too stubborn, too reckless, too pushy, too clingy – and the fact that Bruce not only put up with him, but actively encouraged him, meant more than he’d ever admit to out loud.  If he actually believed in soul mates, he was pretty sure Bruce would be his.

 

“You do realize that this isn’t pity, don’t you, Tony?” Bruce asked steadily.  Tony scowled, hating that he was so easy to read.  He shook his head again, and Bruce sighed, dropping his head down onto Tony’s shoulder.  “All right, maybe this wasn’t the best time to bring it up,” he admitted grudgingly.  He flopped down onto the bed, one arm slinging over Tony’s chest and resting there, a warm, solid weight.  “I’ll try and convince you another time, but for now, just go to sleep, okay?  Please?” he pleaded.

 

Bruce didn’t move except to slip closer, resting his head on Tony’s chest, under his chin, his salt-and-pepper curls tickling Tony’s chin and collarbone, his arm a solid, heavy weight across his body, anchoring him.  Tentatively, Tony reached one hand up and curled his fingers into Bruce’s hair, not holding or pushing, just resting there.  Bruce sighed a warm breath across Tony’s chest, and the genius shuddered, his eyes slipping closed.  Sleep, this time, came much easier, and if Tony had any more nightmares, he didn’t remember them.

Chapter Text

The next morning, he was alone in the bed, the empty half cool to the touch. Bruce had been gone for a while then.  Tony sat up with a sigh, staring blearily over towards the bedroom door, which was currently shut.  “J’vis?” he mumbled, blinking to try and wake himself up.

 

“Good morning, sir,” JARVIS greeted. “Would you like the weather report?” he asked solicitously.

 

Tony thought about that for about half a second before shaking his head. “Nah,” he refused.  “I’m good, thanks.”

 

“As you wish, sir,” the AI replied. “Doctor Banner has asked me to inform you that breakfast is waiting for whenever you wake up.”

 

Tony nodded; he had expected about as much. Bruce seemed to enjoy cooking, so the fact that breakfast had been prepared really wasn’t that surprising.  “Speaking of Bruce, where’d he go?” he asked, slightly more awake as he stumbled his way into the bathroom for a quick shower.

 

“Doctor Banner informed me that he had some research to do and asked that he not be interrupted,” JARVIS answered, his tone nearly apologetic. Tony sighed; he had given the Avengers – all of them – the privilege of being able to more or less lock him out of any area that could be considered private.  If there was an emergency, or JARVIS felt that they were doing something that could jeopardize him, the other Avengers, Pepper,  Rhodey, the Tower, or Stark Industries, then JARVIS had the right and responsibility to inform Tony of what was happening.  Other than that, if they requested privacy, even from Tony, JARVIS was obligated to let them have it.

 

Tony tried not to be depressed as he stood under the warm spray of water. This was the first time Bruce had ever actually blocked him – not that Tony had made a habit of interrupting without permission – and he couldn’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with last night.  Tony had been so needy, but had still rejected Bruce’s advances.  Maybe he shouldn’t have? 

 

He sighed, shaking his head as he toweled off. There was no point in thinking about it now.  What was done was done, and the only thing he could hope for was that he’d get a chance to deal with the fallout before Bruce decided that he needed to run to Albania or something.  He only regretted that it had been Bruce, of all the Avengers, who had seen him fall apart.  Apparently, two months was pushing his luck beyond its endurance.

 

After getting dressed and choking down a couple of pieces of warm French toast, along with three mugs of coffee, Tony made his way down to his lab. JARVIS accepted his code this time, and Tony smiled grimly to himself.  “JARVIS, bring up the specs for Mark Fifty-Seven, would you?” he mumbled, pointing vaguely at one of the bots.  “You, don’t even think about it, or so help me, I will strip you for parts and turn you into a blender to put in the intern’s lounge,” he threatened.  The bot in question drooped with a sad whine, which Tony blithely ignored.

 

“Sir, the Mark Fifty-Seven is ready for your perusal,” JARVIS said, neatly distracting him from the potential danger of letting any of his bots near the coffee machine he kept down here. He could deal with a broken blender, but nobody had better mess with his coffee machine, and that included his bots. “Also, sir, I have located some potentially volatile situations that might require resources that SHIELD is not currently able to provide.”

 

Several more screens popped up with data and locations, a multitude of colorful flags marking the information that JARVIS felt required Tony’s personal attention. The billionaire sighed, setting aside the spine guard he had just picked up and wheeling his chair over to the nearest workstation, skimming over the data.  “All right, J, organize potential allies by country.  Group together as many locations that are within reasonable proximity as possible.  Have the alerts been sent out?”

 

“Yes, sir. Undercover SHIELD personnel have been sent an extraction notice, and Director Coulson and his team have been notified.  Several of the locations appear to be deep in enemy territory, and according to the available data, approximately thirty-seven percent of the SHIELD operatives are compromised.” JARVIS’ tone was carefully neutral as he delivered the bad news.

 

Tony grimaced, unhappy but not surprised. It had been nearly five months since Steve and Natasha had brought down Hydra, and SHIELD along with it.  Hydra had been braced for the fallout, and many of the SHIELD agents still out in the field at the time had died in the initial wave of attacks.  Still, there would be occasional pockets of potential allies located through various channels that JARVIS was privy to – not always legally – but much of the time, the most they could do was to alert Coulson of their existence and try to get a message out.  If JARVIS determined that the agents were compromised, chances of recovering them in one piece were exponentially smaller, as it usually meant that they’d been tortured for information or brainwashed and inducted into Hydra.  Either way, the chances of those agents making a full recovery, even if they could be reached, was pretty damn low.

 

Tony’s job ended when he sent alerts to Coulson and his new team, and they took it from there. The Director would probably ship out with his team in the morning, and organize the deployment of whatever other teams he had managed to pull together in the past several months.  Officially, the Avengers didn’t even know that Coulson was alive, and SHIELD had no ties to the Avengers.  Steve wasn’t particularly happy with the deception, but Tony understood.  It was safer for them, and for Coulson and his team, if they pretended to have absolutely no connection to each other since SHIELD had fallen.  If a few highly classified files went missing here and there, or a few new people showed up on the Stark Industries payroll, well, that was just business as usual, right?

 

With a soft sigh, Tony moved onto the green markers, ones indicating potential caches of Stark Industries weapons. There appeared to be a rather large one based somewhere in Kazakstan, near the border of Russia.

 

“What are the chances this one’s a trap?” Tony mused, calling up satellite surveillance and taking a closer look at the grainy footage of the location JARVIS had flagged. It certainly looked real enough, he supposed, though that still didn’t mean much.  There were indeed crates with the Stark Industries logo on them.  Whether or not they contained weapons from before Afghanistan was another matter entirely.

 

“The Russian government has forbidden American interference on its land. This would, I believe, include the Avengers, sir,” JARVIS replied. Tony gave a wry grin and sat back.

 

“Yeah, well, it won’t be the Avengers, now will it? Just me,” he said, standing up.  “JARVIS, clear my schedule.  I’ve got some cleanup to do!”

 

“Very good, sir,” JARVIS complied. “Shall I alert the others?”

 

Tony shook his head. “Nah.  This won’t take long. I’ll be back before they miss me.”  He refused to dwell on just how true that probably was, because then he’d just feel pathetic.

 

Less than ten minutes later, the Iron Man armor was blasting out of an underground tunnel and into the sky. Tony whooped as he cleared the edge of the building, glass panes rattling in his wake.  A moment later, JARVIS pinged him. “Sir, Captain Rogers would like to inform you that he does not appreciate finding out that you have a secondary exit while leaving the premises without filing a mission plan.”

 

Tony snorted. “And tell Captain Tightpants that there’s no mission plan because there’s no mission,” he retorted.  “Geez, you’d think he was the den mother rather than the leader of a group of adult superheroes,” he grumbled.

 

“To be fair, sir,” JARVIS pointed out archly, “the Captain often has no choice but to be the responsible party, as it were.”  Tony grinned to himself; the AI had a valid point.  He knew that he was like a high-maintenance child on a constant sugar high.  Clint and Thor weren’t much better, and Steve usually spent much of his time exasperated with one or all of them, trying to corral some of their more explosive tendencies.  Unfortunately for him, however, both Natasha and Bruce were enablers, of a sort, and only encouraged the rest of them to misbehave.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” he murmured, then twisted in the air, orienting himself towards Russia. “All right, J, pour on the speed,” he ordered.  The HUD lit up as power was routed from the suit’s arc reactor to his thrusters, and Tony whooped triumphantly as he shot out across the sea.  If he was lucky, he’d be home in time for dinner.

Chapter Text

“Sir, if you’d stay still, this would go much faster.”

 

“I don’t recall programming you with this much sass, JARVIS,” Tony snapped at the AI, wincing as Dummy wielded a screwdriver far too close to bits he’d rather keep as far away from clumsy bots as possible. “No, Dummy.  You know what?  How about you take that screwdriver over to that screw and actually do something useful, huh?” he suggested, waving vaguely in the direction of the opposite side of the lab, then grimacing as a particularly rough tug aggravated his bruised shoulder as the wrist guard came apart in the disassembling unit.

 

The bot looked towards where he was pointing, then whirred sadly.  Tony growled.  “Look, just go find something to do that doesn’t involve pointing sharp tools at me,” he ordered.  Dummy gave one last reproachful beep before trundling off.  His virtue safe from well-intentioned helper bots, Tony could go back to focusing on getting the damaged Iron Man suit off of him.  The Mark Fifty-Six was little more than scrap metal by this point.  It was a good thing number Fifty-Seven was almost complete, he supposed.  And numbers Forty-Six through Fifty-Four were still in working order, though not as advanced as their recently scrapped successor.

 

The doors to the lab opened behind him, and Tony craned his neck, leaning almost backwards to watch as Steve let himself into the lab.  “Hey, Cap!” he greeted brightly, gesturing to himself with one trapped hand. “Be with you in a minute. And JARVIS? Could we maybe quit it with the gratuitous allowance of entry into my sanctuary by just anybody?” he demanded next.

 

Behind him, Steve snorted, and Tony batted his eyes at him with a saccharine smile.  “Don’t feel too insulted, Cap,” he purred.  “That means everybody except Bruce, because he’s got a beautiful brain.”

 

Steve ignored both the barb and the innuendo, instead wandering closer to the disassembling platform and eyeing the bent, charred, and otherwise damaged armor.  “Looks like you could use some help,” he observed.

 

“Thanks, Capsicle, but I’ve already got JARVIS. I’m fine.  Now, if you don’t mind,” he dismissed shortly.  A moment later, his right shin was caught in a firm grip, and Tony stared down at Steve, who was running his free hand up the leg of the armor, obviously looking for the manual quick release.  Tony grinned wickedly.  “Captain America, on his knees for me,” he mused, watching as Steve’s cheeks and ears flushed bright red.  “I would’ve never guessed you were into that kind of thing, Cap.”  He was running into dangerous territory now and he knew it, but Tony never had been able to keep his mouth shut.

 

“I was a soldier, Tony,” the other man pointed out, pressing firmly – if a bit harder than necessary – on the release and watching as pieces of the armor clattered to the floor.  “You have no idea what I might be into.”

 

Tony stared at him, intrigued, but Steve was ignoring him, working on the other leg now.  JARVIS finally got the rest of the armor off of him, pulling away the chest piece last, and Steve backed off, standing straight again as Tony tested his limbs, grimacing at pulled muscles and deep bruises.  Nothing was broken as far as JARVIS’ scans had indicated, so he counted it as a win, considering that he’d been shot out of the sky within moments of coming into view of the very real stockpile of Stark weaponry.  The resulting explosion that had followed the brief, but satisfying, firefight had been rather spectacular, actually.

 

Now, though, he had to deal with clean up.  He brushed by Steve, intent on getting a shower and food.  A shot or two of whiskey wouldn’t be amiss, either, he supposed.

 

He was stopped by a firm grip just above his elbow, and he turned to give the soldier a sharp look.  “What?” he demanded.  “This wasn’t Avengers business, so if you’re planning to lecture me, Gramps, don’t. Okay?”  He pulled at his arm, but Steve didn’t relinquish his hold, and Tony knew better than to pull. He’d be more likely to dislocate his shoulder than to remove Steve’s grip from his arm.

 

“I’m not planning to lecture you, Tony,” Steve said, exasperated.  “I understand.  Your weapons, your problem.  I wish you’d let us help you, but I’m the last person to lecture anybody about running off half-cocked on harebrained schemes on their own.”  Tony was surprised, and perhaps a tiny bit remorseful.  He kept forgetting just how young Steve actually was.  He’d been in his twenties when he’d gone down in that plane.  Tony, who had grown up listening to stories about his dad’s best friend, Captain America, tended to forget that he had essentially stopped aging for 70 years while frozen in ice and woken up to what might as well be a whole new world.

 

Tony sighed. “Look, Cap, I appreciate it, I really do,” he reassured the other man.  “But I’ve got this.  I don’t need your help to take care of these guys.”  This time, when he pulled away, Steve let him go.  Tony turned away again, leaving the lab.  “Take your time, Cap,” he called back over his shoulder as he made his escape, his hand traveling up to touch lightly on the opposite arm, where Steve had held him.  He swallowed hard as he made his way down the hall towards the elevators.

 

“JARVIS, Penthouse,” he mumbled.  The car moved obediently, carrying him swiftly upwards.  Tony slumped back against the wall, one hand pressed over his eyes.  He was tired, he was sore, and he had just gotten aroused by being grabbed by Captain Goddamn America.  Fuck, he was so screwed.

 

The elevator stopped, and Tony glared mutely at the doors as they slid open.  Bruce blinked at him.  “Ah,” he murmured.  “I was just coming to see how you were doing,” he said as he hesitated in the doorway.  “Since you’re here now, would you mind if I took a look at your injuries?”

 

Tony sighed, tapping his head against the wall behind him.  “Traitor,” he muttered, knowing that JARVIS would hear him.  Bruce frowned at him, and Tony waved his hand, gesturing for him to come in.  “It’s fine, Doc.  But I’m heading to my rooms. I want a drink, a hot shower, and about two hours of mindless television before I start working on repairs.  Or maybe just a new suit,” he corrected grimly, scowling as he remembered the battered suit currently scattered across the floor of his workshop.

 

Bruce gave him a small smile as he stepped into the elevator and pressed his back against the wall, a few inches between him and Tony.  The doors closed and the car started moving upwards again, an easy silence falling between the two men.  When it stopped at the penthouse floor, Tony stepped out, Bruce following right behind him.  Glancing back at the other man, Tony debated for a split second, then mentally shrugged and stripped out of his shirt, tossing it over the nearest armchair and turning to face Bruce, whose eyes were tracking over the bruises on his chest and sides.

 

“Gorgeous, aren’t they?” Tony mused ruefully, holding his arms out as he gazed down at himself. 

 

Bruce snorted.  “Very colorful,” he agreed drily.  Tony grinned; it was true.  His skin was already starting to color beautifully, reds and blues and blacks changing to greens and yellows painted across his ribs and chest.  In another couple of hours, all signs of bruising would be gone.  Extremis was proving to be rather useful in cases like this, almost as good as the super soldier serum.

 

Warm hands touched lightly on the bruises, and Tony stilled, carefully blanking his expression.  Bruce pressed gently, but firmly, on several of the bruises, and Tony breathed as deeply as possible, feeling the pressure against his expanding ribs.  He turned around at Bruce’s behest, and remained still until the other man removed his hands entirely.

 

“Satisfied, doc?” he asked lightly, reaching for his shirt before deciding that it was too much effort, since he was just going to have to strip again to take a shower.  Instead, he headed over to the bar.  “A drink?” he asked.

 

Bruce shook his head.  “No, thank you,” he replied easily.  Tony nodded and didn’t push; they both knew how Bruce felt about alcohol.  “Your temperature is a bit higher than normal, but I’m given to understand that it’s caused by Extremis.” He was fishing, and wasn’t even bothering to try and hide it.

 

Tony nodded as he threw back his first drink and poured a second before grabbing a water bottle and tossing it to Bruce, who caught it easily, and coming back around the bar to collapse bonelessly onto the couch.  “Yeah, my core temperature rises by about four degrees when Extremis is active.  It won’t hurt me,” he reassured the other man, who just hummed noncommittally. 

 

Bruce was the only one who knew just how unstable the original Extremis virus had been, resulting in human bombs when mismanaged.  Tony had smoothed that out, but only for his particular genetic makeup.  For Pepper, he had been curing the virus.  For himself, he had perfected it, having the shrapnel and arc reactor removed afterwards. Extremis was still a part of him.

 

Bruce was still standing in the middle of the sitting room, and Tony wondered whether or not he was waiting for an invitation to sit down.  He really didn’t need one, since as far as Tony was concerned, Bruce could do whatever the hell he wanted as long as it didn’t involve smashing Tony.  Or worse, leaving him. 

 

After a moment, Bruce seemed to make up his mind, and he sat down next to Tony, twisting so that one leg was folded onto the couch, the other hanging off the edge so his foot touched the floor.  He met Tony’s gaze knowingly.  “How bad was it?” he asked, keeping his tone calm and even.

 

Tony shrugged.  “Nothing I couldn’t handle,” he dismissed.  Not that it hadn’t hurt like a bitch, because it had, but nothing had been broken, ruptured, or otherwise seriously damaged.  He’d been more battered after his initial flight in Afghanistan following his escape in the Mark I.

 

Bruce sighed, but didn’t push, and Tony allowed himself to relax.  “JARVIS, pull up something mindless, would you?” he muttered.  The familiar opening theme for Gilligan’s Island started promptly, and Tony flicked his eyes to the left to catch Bruce’s expression.  The physicist just stared back at him, obviously amused.

 

“Really, Tony?” he asked.  Tony shrugged.  He didn’t plan on actually paying attention to it.  Besides, he was really just waiting until Extremis finished healing the worst of his injuries, and then he planned on taking a hot shower before wandering back to the workshop and losing himself in whatever project caught his attention.

 

Tony kept his eyes trained on the television, but he was well aware that Bruce wasn’t paying attention to the show any more than he was.  Eventually, the staring got to be too much, and he turned to glare at the other man. “What?” he snapped.

 

Bruce flinched, and Tony felt instantly guilty.  “Sorry,” he muttered, slouching further down on the couch.  “It’s been a rough couple of days.”  That was as close as he’d get to admitting that his problems had started way before this last attempt on his life.  In fact, his problems had started shortly after the Avengers had moved into the Tower.  The more he got to know his teammates, the more attractive he found them.  All of them.

 

Tony sighed quietly to himself, wishing that he was alone so he could drink without feeling guilty.  Getting drunk would take a little extra effort, thanks to Extremis, but Tony liked challenges.  He could use an alcohol fueled haze right about now, if it would help him to stop thinking about his teammates in entirely inappropriate ways.  He remembered the soft press of lips against his mouth, and a strong hand gripping his arm, pinning him in place.  He swallowed a groan of mortification.

 

Next to him, Bruce nodded.  “Yeah, I can imagine,” he agreed, his lips quirking in self-mocking amusement.  Tony felt even guiltier; if anybody knew about rough days, it was the gamma-irradiated physicist sitting beside him on the couch.  He really didn’t have a leg to stand on compared to Bruce’s own personal history, some of which he was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to know about.

 

The silence between them stretched, heavy and uncomfortable, and Tony was just about to demand that Bruce spit out whatever was on his mind when the other man spoke up.  “About last night.  I meant what I said,” he started awkwardly, with a faint hint of disbelief like he couldn’t believe that he was bringing the topic up. “I…like you.  And you’re not afraid of me, of what I can become,” he added with a gentle, fond smile.  “It’s been a long time since I had anybody who believed in me like that.”

 

Tony stared at him mutely, trying to push down the hope blooming in his chest.  “What are you saying, exactly?” he asked carefully, not wanting to make assumptions, only to find himself shot down.  It wasn’t like the thought had never crossed his mind, but Bruce had never really seemed interested, and Tony hadn’t wanted to push.

 

Bruce stared calmly back at Tony, his hands folded in his lap, and said, “Sleep with me.”

 

Tony’s breath caught, and he swallowed hard, his mind tripping along at about a hundred miles per minute, words and questions and confusion tumbling through him, a tangled mass that he couldn’t possibly hope to unravel.  But damned if he wasn’t going to try.

 

Not giving himself time to think, he opened his mouth and let the words pour out of him, his usual defenses snapping up.  “Define sleep.  I mean, are we talking like last night, just sleep sleep? Or are we talking about fucking?  Or something different? Because as much as I’d love to get into your pants, Banner, I don’t want a pity fuck.  There’re people for that sort of shit,” he pointed out, aware that he was being needlessly crass.  Bruce made no move to stop him, though, so he continued. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’re great and all, and I’m sure you know I’ve been with guys before, YouTube has proof of that, but if you’re talking about sex, I need to know that you’re not going to freak out on me or anything.  Because as much as I like the big guy, I’d rather he not show up in the bedroom.”

 

He paused for a quick second to consider that.  “Or at least not smash me if he does,” he amended.  “Because the big guy deserves some loving, too, I suppose.  How would that even work?” he pondered, distracted by this new train of thought.  “I mean, does he even know what sex is?  Does arousal make you Hulk out? What have you tried before? Because if you’re asking what I think you’re asking, you must have some idea of what you can do.  And if you’re not, then please just forget this whole conversation, for both our sanity.  Seriously, Banner, my heart can’t take this kind of shit anymore.”

 

Bruce shut him up the most expedient way possible, by clapping a hand firmly over his mouth.  Tony stared at him with wide eyes, freezing in place, but Bruce left his hand where it was, his cheeks painted red with embarrassment.  But his voice was steady when he spoke.  “I’m being perfectly serious, Tony.  I trust you.  It’s not pity, it’s something I’ve been considering for a while, but I thought it was too dangerous.  Being around me isn’t exactly safe for people.”  Tony must’ve made a noise of protest, because Banner gave him an eloquent look that clearly stated he wasn’t done talking yet, and otherwise ignored him.  “No, the other guy won’t come out unless I don’t feel safe.  As for whether or not he understands what intercourse is,” he blushed as he stumbled slightly over the word, which Tony found adorable, “I’m pretty sure he understands the concept, if not the purpose.”

 

Tony grinned behind the hand covering his mouth, then flicked his tongue out to wipe a short stripe up Bruce’s palm.  The scientist just rolled his eyes, but didn’t remove his hand.  “Do you want to try this or not?” he demanded.  Tony nodded enthusiastically, his mind finally wrapping around the idea that Bruce wanted this just as much as he did.  Well, maybe not quite as much, Tony amended silently to himself as Bruce removed his hand, wiping his palm briefly on Tony’s bare arm in silent revenge before stepping back, but he did want it, and that was good enough for now.  There would be time for negotiating permanency later, he supposed.

 

Tony twined his arms around Bruce’s neck, offering the other man – his soon-to-be lover – his most seductive smirk.  Bruce just raised his eyebrows, unimpressed with Tony’s flirtatious display.  The billionaire chuckled wryly, his grin softening to something more genuine as he stepped backwards, pulling Bruce with him.  Bruce went easily enough, his legs occasionally tangling with Tony’s as they moved awkwardly through the living room and towards their final destination.

 

Tony tipped his head a bit and slotted their mouths together, humming with pleasure.  Bruce’s lips were dry, his mouth firm as it pressed insistently against Tony’s until the smaller man opened his mouth, letting Bruce lick into him, his tongue sweeping away the lingering taste of scotch.  Bruce’s hands rubbed up and down Tony’s sides before gripping roughly at the swell of his hips, his fingers bruising even through two layers of clothing.

 

Breaking away from the kiss only long enough to take a quick breath, Tony pressed forward again, his shoulders hitting the wall as Bruce’s body crowded against him.  The genius growled approvingly, his hips twitching forward to press his obvious arousal against Bruce’s thigh, which had slipped between his legs.  Bruce’s erection pressed insistently against him, and Tony’s fingers fumbled downwards, trying to manage the buttons on Bruce’s shirt. 

 

He was being impatient, and he knew it – he was normally a much more considerate lover than this – but he wasn’t interested in going slow, and Bruce didn’t seem to be, either.  Tony wondered vaguely if the Hulk would come out if Bruce got too excited, but he dismissed it a moment later, trusting Bruce to know himself well enough to prevent such an outcome, or to stop if he came too close.  Casting the momentary worry from his mind, Tony tugged impatiently.

 

Bruce chuckled, his hands coming up and grasping Tony’s wrists, stilling his frantic tugs and making Tony whine in frustration.  “Patience, Tony,” Bruce chided softly, his lips swollen and bruised looking, warm breath gusting across Tony’s face as he held him there, his wrists pinned to the wall on either side of his head and his feet barely brushing the floor as Bruce shifted closer, lifting him up a bit.  Tony pouted up at him, giving a deliberate twist and squirm that made Bruce moan, his breath stuttering out of him as he dropped his head to Tony’s shoulders, turning his face to mouth at Tony’s neck and the curve of his jaw, laving delicate flesh with gentle licks and nips, and sucking bruises into his skin as Tony mewled.

 

“Four months, Banner.  It’s been at least…umm,” his words stuttered as Bruce delivered a particularly clever nip to his jaw, “four months that I’ve been pining for you.  Patience is in short supply right now.”  And he’d regret admitting that later, but right now, anything that would make Bruce just hurry up.

 

“Ah, and we haven’t…even made it to the bedroom, yet,” he managed to gasp out, his pupils blown wide with lust and desire as he keened, Bruce’s body warm and firm where it covered him.  Bruce just hummed, dropping down to suck a love bite into Tony’s left pectoral muscle, making the genius whine and groan with pleasure, arching his back and pressing his flesh into Bruce’s mouth, against his teeth.

 

He snarled when Bruce pulled back, his eyes narrowing as the body that had been pressed against him moved away.  “Bedroom,” Bruce growled right back, and Tony felt his knees go liquid as he stumbled along behind Bruce, the other man still gripping his wrist.  He had wanted this for so long, ever since he had first met the other man, if he was honest with himself.  Bruce spoke his language, and genuinely seemed to enjoy his presence.  The connection between them had been instantaneous, the attraction immediate for Tony where Bruce was concerned.  He had come to want the others over the months that they’d been living here, but Bruce had always been first.  He’d said four months, but it had been more like seven, ever since Fury had brought them all together to fight Loki and the Tesseract.

 

The two men stumbled together into Tony’s room, and Bruce stopped, facing away from the genius, who murmured approvingly as he was finally able to slip Bruce’s shirt down and off his shoulders, exposing lean, tanned skin.  He pressed himself against Bruce’s back, his nose and lips nuzzling along the nape of his lover’s neck and down between his shoulder blades.

 

“Tony…what is this?” Bruce murmured, and it took Tony a long moment to realize that he had been asked a question.  He pulled back dazedly from Bruce’s warm, spicy scent, blinking rapidly as he tried to find enough words to manage a coherent answer.

 

“Huh?” was all he managed in the end, looking around in confusion.  His bedroom was the same as it had been when he’d left this morning, with the exception that the bed was actually made.

 

Bruce was pulling away again, and Tony scowled, his hands reaching out to grab the other man’s arm.  Bruce turned his head to look over his shoulder and grin at Tony.  “Bed,” he said succinctly, and Tony blinked, letting him go.  That…sounded like a great idea.  A fantastic one, even.  He’d always known Bruce was brilliant.  They made a good match, and he followed Bruce eagerly, dogging his steps so closely that he ended up pressed right up against Bruce’s firm back when the other man stopped, his hand reaching out to touch the afghan lying folded at the bottom of the bed, his eyes considering it with curiosity.  “What is this, Tony?” he asked softly.

 

Glancing at it, Tony shrugged.  “A blanket,” he dismissed, not really interested in it right now, since getting them both actually onto the bed was his primary goal now.  Seriously, it was right there, how hard could it be?  “Not important. I thought we were going to have awesome, mind-blowing sex,” he grumbled.

 

Bruce chuckled, his cheeks darkening slightly in embarrassment.  “Why do you have an afghan from India on your bed, Tony?” he asked doggedly, obviously not willing to give up his line of questioning, even with Tony peppering kisses across his shoulders and spine, his fingers stroking over warm skin, trying to distract him.

 

With a sigh, Tony muttered, “If I tell you, can we actually get on with things?”

 

With a reckless grin, Bruce whirled around, scooped Tony up around the waist, and tossed him onto the bed, clambering in after him.  Tony raised himself up on his elbows to watch the other man crawl predatorily up the bed, his eyes dark with lust and laughter.  “Oh,” he breathed, his head dropping back as Bruce nuzzled his thigh, his breath ghosting across exposed flesh, putting all sorts of intriguing ideas in Tony’s head.  The genius couldn’t even remember when he’d lost his pants, but he appreciated it now.

 

“Tell me,” Bruce encouraged softly, his fingers playing lightly along Tony’s skin, from his knees up to his hips, his lips so achingly close to where Tony wanted them that the billionaire whimpered.

 

The instant Bruce’s mouth closed around him, Tony jerked like he’d been electrocuted. Oh, god, it had been a long, long time since he’d been with another man, and he’d never had another guy do this for him before, though Tony had certainly given enough blowjobs in his time to be somewhat of an expert at it.  But this was brilliant and amazing and so fucking hot that Tony’s thoughts scattered completely, focused on the wet warmth around his cock, the hand that was wrapped around the base, covering what Bruce’s mouth couldn’t.

 

Bruce pulled off of him with a wet pop, grinning up at him with spit-slicked lips, his eyes dark and unfathomable.  “The afghan?” he prompted gently, his hands stilling, making Tony groan as the sensations that had been flooding through him came to an abrupt standstill.

 

“From India,” he grunted.  “Reminded me…of you.”  Bruce hummed, and Tony kept talking, unable to stop now.  “Other items. For everybody,” he babbled.  “Small painting by Steve…got it from dad’s things.  Books.  Arrows.  Trinkets.”  He couldn’t be bothered to expound upon the data he was presenting, to link the items to the people they reminded him of.  “Candles, bookends, stuff.  Lots of stuff.“  He curled his fingers into Bruce’s hair, tugging impatiently.  “Later,” he begged.  “Tell you later.”

 

Bruce’s expression was unreadable, and Tony wondered if the other man was insulted by his blatant admission that he gathered things that reminded him of his teammates here, in his sanctuary.  “And Iron Man?” Bruce prompted softly.

 

Tony frowned, not understanding.  “That’s me,” he said at last, rather proud of himself for displaying restraint for having to point out the obvious.  He waved around him.  “My room.”

 

Bruce just sighed quietly, looking sad for a moment, and Tony frowned again, not liking that look.  He scratched his fingers lightly against Bruce’s scalp, and the other man obediently lowered his mouth again, swallowing Tony down and making the genius forget all about the awkwardness from a moment before.  “Oh, oh, oh,” he panted, soft, needy sounds, aware that he was very much not fitting the stereotype the rest of the world had of him.  He trusted Bruce, loved him in his own way, and so he could be needy, could let himself have this much.  Right?

 

There were fingers pressing lightly against his bottom lip, and Tony opened his mouth on a sigh, letting Bruce slip two fingers inside, swirling his tongue around the callused digits, the roughness feeling so good pressing against his tongue, pinning it for a moment before relaxing, giving Tony room to lick and suck, slathering the fingers in saliva.

 

He had rather expected Bruce to start opening him up after that, and so he was mildly surprised when Bruce instead trailed his damp fingers down Tony’s throat and across his collar bone, leaving behind a wet streak that made Tony shiver as the cooler air of the room chilled his damp skin.  Bruce’s hand came back to his mouth, and Tony licked eagerly, delighted when those same fingers swirled around his nipples before pinching them firmly, but not too tightly, making him arch and tremble against those clever fingers.

 

Tony’s legs twisted restlessly, his knees bending up to frame Bruce’s shoulders, the other man’s head still between his thighs, wringing the most wonderful sensations out of him, his salt and pepper curls just begging to be tugged and gripped in Tony’s fists.  He thrust lazily, careful not to go too deep – he didn’t want to choke Bruce, after all – and moaned as he felt his body reacting, coiling more and more tightly as he drew closer to orgasm.

 

His thighs tensed, his spine stiffening as he ground out the other man’s name through clamped teeth, trying to warn him of his impending orgasm.  With a final suck, Bruce pulled off of him completely, his hand moving away from the base of Tony’s cock and leaving the other man frustrated, stranded on the precipice.

 

“Easy,” Bruce murmured, and Tony wasn’t sure if the words were meant for him or for Bruce.  He let his legs drop to the bed, tugging lightly on Bruce’s hair to make the other man look up.  Another careful tug, and Bruce moved up his body so that Tony could pull him down into a filthy kiss, all tongue and lips and teeth, his hands petting down Bruce’s back and arms, excitement fissioning through him, so that he was panting for breath when he pulled back.

 

Bruce gazed down at him, his hips moving restlessly, making small thrusts against Tony’s stomach, Tony’s own cock rubbing against Bruce’s thigh with every movement, catching on the hairs there and sending small sparks of sensation through him.  “Tony,” Bruce sighed, dropping his head onto the engineer’s chest briefly before lifting his head and meeting Tony’s eyes again, suddenly looking uncertain.

 

Tony gazed up at him with wide eyes.  “Bruce, what do you need?” he asked softly, gentling his tone as much as he was able.  “Whatever it is, you can have it.  Anything,” he promised.

 

Bruce groaned at that, his eyes closing as his fingers tightened harshly where they rested in the dips of Tony’s waist.  “Tony,” he moaned, his voice taking on a deep rumbling bass with just that single word.  When he opened his eyes, Tony could have sworn they were flickering green, even in the dim light of the bedroom.  “I want to fuck you.  Say I can.  Please?” he asked.

 

Tony gave a full-bodied shudder.  He had known Bruce could swear – had heard him do it several times, in fact, when an experiment went awry, but this was a completely new context.  “Yes,” he agreed, nodding his head frantically, tugging at Bruce.  “Awesome idea.  Please.  Fuck me, Bruce.  Now.  Right now.”

 

But Bruce pulled back, and Tony groaned.  “Now what?” he demanded, hating the whine that crept into his voice.  He wanted sex. Bruce wanted sex. What the hell was up with all the stopping?

 

Dark eyes looked down at him, and Tony fell silent under that desperate, possessive gaze.  Whatever Bruce was after, he obviously had no intention of stopping.  “Lubricant?” Bruce demanded bluntly.  “Condoms?”

 

Tony shook his head, his left hand swinging out toward the bedside table, which seemed so far away right now.  “Top drawer.  Edible,” he muttered, making Bruce huff a startled laugh.  “Don’t need condoms.  Unless you want them.  I don’t.”  He was a big proponent of safe sex – the last thing he needed was a lawsuit for child support – but there was really no need here.  He had sort of had them all tested without their knowledge.  They were all clean – which he had known, but the confirmation was nice – and as far as he could tell, it was only Bruce’s blood that was dangerous.  Since Bruce would be fucking him, and not the other way around, he didn’t think it would be an issue.

 

Bruce was eyeing him cunningly.  “You had me tested?” he asked.  Tony nodded, staring back at the other man defiantly, and Bruce shook his head.  “All of us?” he clarified.  Tony blushed, but nodded again, and Bruce sighed.  “We need to talk about your propensity for not asking our permission before performing invasive tests,” he muttered, but he was already on the side of the bed, rummaging in the bedside table, so Tony wasn’t too worried.  Bruce could yell at him later, as long as he didn’t stop now.

 

A moment later, Bruce was back, rolling gracelessly on top of Tony’s prone body, making the other man laugh with good humor.  Bruce smiled back down at him, then caught his mouth in another kiss, distracting Tony from what his fingers were doing.  Bruce trailed kisses across his nose and cheeks and chin before nuzzling under Tony’s chin, his tongue flattening against Tony’s throat and collarbone and leaving a wet trail behind.

 

Bruce blew on the spit-slicked skin, making Tony shiver with the sudden chill, a grumbling whine starting deep in his throat, his hands scrabbling awkwardly across Bruce’s chest and down his stomach, angling lower.  He managed to grab hold of Bruce at the same time as a single finger breached him, Bruce’s other fingers stroking the skin around his rim.  Both men moaned, and Bruce shifted, angling up to demand another kiss, which Tony granted eagerly, his free hand stroking along sweat-soaked skin, catching in the damp curls at Bruce’s nape.

 

Tony pushed his neck into the hollow of Bruce’s throat as a second finger breached him, Bruce sighing and moaning above him, his hips shifting restlessly in Tony’s expert grip, fucking into his fist, pre-cum smoothing the way and helping to cut down on the chafing.  Blindly, Tony fumbled for the tube of slick, managing to pop the lid open single-handedly, then wincing as he squeezed a bit too tightly, the lube getting all over his fingers and the sheets below.  A moment later, though, he was wrapping his now-slicked hand back around Bruce’s erection, making the other man growl with approval and slip a third finger inside of him.

 

Tony squirmed impatiently; he wanted Bruce to be in him.  Now.  He must’ve managed to articulate something to that effect, because almost immediately, the fingers were withdrawing, something thicker and hotter taking their place.  Tony grinned triumphantly, his eyes unseeing as he canted his hips, helping Bruce to slide into him in one long thrust, groaning at the burning pleasure-pain that shot up his spine.

 

Bruce stilled halfway in, and Tony glared at him, lifting his legs to wrap them around Bruce, trying to pull him deeper.  The other man resisted his efforts, his hands on Tony’s hips to hold him still and keep him from impaling himself completely on his cock.  “Tony…please,” he groaned, his whole body trembling.  “Just…go slow.  Please,” he repeated, and Tony relaxed immediately, slumping back onto the bed.  Above him, Bruce took several calming breaths, each breath causing him to shift slightly inside Tony, sending sparks of pleasure zinging across his nerves.

 

“Oh,” he sighed, his eyes half-shut as he watched the man above him fight not to end this too soon, either by coming or by transforming.  “It’s okay, Bruce,” he murmured.  “Big Guy likes me, remember?” he said, trying for levity despite the heavy weight of arousal thrumming through his body.

 

Bruce smiled tightly and shifted a bit, the movement sliding him just a little deeper into Tony’s willing body, making both men groan at the sensation.  Bruce’s large hands cupped Tony’s ass, angling him so that Bruce could finish thrusting into him, not stopping this time until he’d bottomed out, his balls tapping against the rounded curve of Tony’s ass, making Tony keen with pleasure.

 

Tony was babbling again – breathless pleas for more, faster, harder, oh, right there – and Bruce was groaning deep in his throat, his voice caught somewhere between a growl and a snarl.  He kept the pace slow, gentle, making Tony twist impatiently under the careful onslaught, Bruce’s cock rubbing his prostate every couple of thrusts.

 

“I knew it,” Bruce sighed, thrusting languidly as Tony writhed and whined under him, impaled on his cock, pinned by his hands on his hips, holding him steady.  “Knew you’d be fucking perfect like this, so needy, begging to be fucked.”  Tony mewled in pleasure at the filthy praise, his hands scrabbling at the sheets beneath him.  One of Bruce’s hands caught his, linking their fingers together tightly by Tony’s head, his grip almost bruising.

 

Tony’s body was coiled tightly, his legs tensing where his heels were dug into the mattress, his body rolling into every one of Bruce’s thrusts as his arousal slipped higher and higher.  Sweat coated his chest and neck, Bruce’s tongue lapping at the dip of his throat.

 

With another wordless growl, Bruce rose higher on his knees, bending Tony’s body nearly in half, his thrusts taking on the faintest edge of brutality.  Tony nearly screamed, his back arching as his free hand clawed at Bruce’s back and shoulders and chest, his eyes rolling in his head as he came, his body tensing and clamping down on the man inside him, his voice winding down to a ragged moan.

 

He shuddered as he slowly came down from his orgasm, aware that Bruce was still pounding frantically into his sated, loose body, his cock sawing across his prostate, making Tony whimper at the over-stimulation.  Bringing just enough of his brain back online, Tony clamped down around his lover, making Bruce stutter and groan, giving a handful of thrusts before tensing, holding still as he came inside Tony, who sighed at the feeling of warm release inside him.

 

When Bruce was done, he slumped down over Tony, breathing heavily for several moments before shifting, pulling carefully out and allowing Tony to straighten his body, his legs dropping limply to the bed as he sank deeper into the mattress, grimacing as he felt Bruce’s cum dripping out of him, leaving him lying in a wet spot.  His skin was damp and sticky, his chest sticking to Bruce’s, but he was too worn out to move, much less bother making his way to the shower.

 

His eyes slid shut, and he was only barely aware of Bruce forcing himself up and out of the bed.  Tony grumbled unhappily, and Bruce murmured reassuringly that he’d back in a minute, one large hand sweeping carefully through his damp hair before pulling away.  Tony listened as the other man moved across the room, then disappeared into the adjoining bathroom.  True to his word, he was back quickly, a warm washcloth rubbing soothing circles into Tony’s skin, cleaning him up while Tony moaned appreciatively, his dick giving an appreciative twitch, though Tony knew that there was no way he’d be ready for another round for at least another half hour or so.  Extremis might have cut down on his refractory period by a significant amount, but the fact remained that he was still in his forties, and didn’t have the stamina of a teenager anymore.

 

He felt Bruce climb into bed and curl up next to him, and he happily cuddled into the other man’s warmth, his head resting on Bruce’s chest, over his heart.  Bruce’s arm wrapped around his shoulder, his other hand obligingly holding Tony’s over his stomach, their fingers intertwined as Tony dozed.

 

He stirred himself after a while, aware that he was being watched, dark eyes opening to glare sleepily up at Bruce, who  was gazing down at him with a small smile that was a mix of affection, triumph, and amusement.  Perhaps a touch of possessiveness as well, judging by the way his hand was now firmly palming the curve of Tony’s hip, his fingers brushing his ass.  “What is it?” Tony mumbled, yawning as he woke up a bit more fully, shifting a bit, careful not to dislodge Bruce’s hand.

 

Bruce leaned down to kiss him, and Tony moaned eagerly into the kiss, his cock already stirring in anticipation of a second round.  He whined when Bruce pulled back, and the other man chuckled softly, his expression smug.  “You’re so beautifully responsive, Tony,” he replied honestly. He paused for a moment, considering, and then his eyes darkened with determination and arousal.  “And I want the others to see it,” he decided.

 

Tony froze beneath him, staring up at him with a combination of hurt and arousal.  “Bruce, what?” he choked out.

 

Bruce’s eyes widened as the other man realized that Tony thought he was done with him and was casting him away.  “No, no, no, not like that, Tony! I promise.  You’re mine now.  I’m not going to just hand you off.  You should know better than that.  I…don’t have a lot, but I’m very possessive of what little I do keep.  I plan to keep you for as long as you’ll let me,” he promised softly, his tone fierce, as if daring Tony to say otherwise.

 

Tony relaxed minutely at the reassurance, but he was still tense, not quite ready to let it go just yet.  “Then what the fuck did you actually mean, Banner?” he asked bluntly, his words sharp and brittle.

 

Bruce winced a bit.  “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” he muttered.  Unreasonably stung by this, Tony jerked away from him and sat up, intent on leaving the bed and the room and locking himself in his lab until he didn’t feel like destroying everything he could get his hands on.  Bruce grabbed his wrist, and he jerked away with a snarl, ignoring the way his eyes blurred with a sheen of tears.  “Dammit, Tony! Let me explain!” Bruce ordered harshly.  “You owe me that, at least.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes; he didn’t see how he owed Bruce anything.  But he sat back down anyhow, braced on the very edge of the bed.  Bruce didn’t try to grab him again, and Tony wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that.

 

“Thank you,” Bruce sighed, running a hand through his hair, mussing it even further.  Tony manfully resisted the urge to comb it back down with his fingers, his anger helping to keep the urges at bay.  Brown eyes stared down at the comforter, a bit unfocused as Bruce thought.  Tony waited in tense silence, doing his damnedest to not fall apart until after Bruce finished explaining just what the fuck he had actually meant.

 

After an interminable time that probably amounted to less than two minutes, Bruce looked up at him and took a deep breath.  “The others…want you,” he started carefully.  Tony snorted in disbelief.  “No, they do,” Bruce assured him.  “It’s…come up.  Rather frequently as of late,” he admitted.

 

Now Tony was intrigued, the hurt fading slightly beneath his curiosity.  What had the Avengers been talking about that he had missed?  Surely if they had been plotting against him or something, JARVIS would have warned him.  Bruce was nibbling on his lower lip, seeming unsure where to go from there.  “And?” Tony prompted, quickly growing impatient.  “What were they talking about?”

 

Bruce sighed, running his hand through his hair again.  This time, Tony gave into the urge to reach out and play with the soft curls, taming the other man’s hair as much as was possible without shampoo and a decent comb.  “They’ve all noticed you.  I’m not sure if you’ve realized, but there are several…pairings…among the team.”

 

Tony nodded, humming lightly.  He was starting to see where this conversation was heading, and he just hoped he wasn’t completely wrong.  “Right.  Clint, Natasha, and Phil have obviously got something going on between them,” he acknowledged.  “But Thor’s with Jane, right?  And Steve’s…not with anybody.  Is he?” he asked, suddenly realizing that in cutting himself off from the team, he had obviously missed some rather important things.

 

Bruce shook his head.  “Thor’s culture has very different thoughts when it comes to coupling,” he admitted.  “And he’s a prince on his world.  While he’s expected to take a wife, there’s nothing to say that he can’t have multiple mistresses.  And among the Aesir warriors, they’d sometimes sleep within their units.  It’s a sort of bonding,  the belief that having the warrior you rely on to watch your back in battle also be a part of your life within the more intimate confines of the bedroom is a sign of trustworthiness.”

 

Tony nodded; he had gathered that Thor considered them – the Avengers – to be his Shield Brothers or whatever here on earth.  He just hadn’t realized what that might mean to the big guy, how that might translate in his interactions with them.

 

“Okay,” he said slowly, drawing the word out.  “But I don’t see what that has to do with…no way,” he denied, staring wide-eyed at Bruce.  “Thor and Steve?  Please tell me you’re joking.”  Though he had to admit, the thought of the two large blondes together was not entirely unpleasant.  In fact, it was actually kind of hot.

 

Bruce chuckled, his body relaxing into the bed as Tony allowed himself to be distracted from his anger.  “Thor and Steve,” he agreed.  “Also, Steve and Phil.”  Tony blinked; he hadn’t seen that one coming.  Phil had always struck him as being too much of a fanboy to let his image of Captain America be tarnished by actually sleeping with the guy.  Actually, Tony had always assumed that Steve was more of the wife and two kids in a house with a white picket fence kind of guy.

 

He tilted his head.  “How’s that work?” he asked.  Bruce raised an eyebrow, and Tony shrugged.  “I mean, sure, Steve and Phil, why not?  But isn’t Phil with Clint and Natasha, too?”

 

Bruce shrugged in return.  “It works,” he said.  “I’m not sure how. I’ve…been invited,” he admitted.  “By Steve and Thor.  And Natasha,” he added after a moment, looking surprised and awed.  Tony could understand why; after the disaster on the Helicarrier, Natasha had the most cause to be afraid of Bruce and the Hulk.  That she had invited him to her bed said something, though Tony wasn’t sure what, just yet.

 

“Uh huh,” he said doubtfully.  It wasn’t that he doubted that Bruce had gotten invitations – he was an awesome guy after all, sweet and adorable and strong – but there was still too much he didn’t understand.  “So…what?  It’s just like an Avengers orgy or something?  Everybody sleeping with everybody else?”  Except me went unspoken.

 

Bruce shook his head.  “No, I…turned them all down,” he said, not looking at Tony now.   The billionaire froze.  Bruce had turned down the others, but had agreed to have sex with him?  He swallowed hard.

 

“You…picked me,” he murmured softly, then bit off whatever might have come out of his mouth next, afraid he’d ruin this, whatever this was, if he allowed himself to keep talking.  He wasn’t exactly known for being tactful, after all.

 

“Yeah, I did,” Bruce agreed, his hand reaching out now and wrapping carefully around Tony’s wrist, tugging.  Tony went willingly, curling back up under the covers and against Bruce, enjoying the warmth and closeness.  It wasn’t something he’d ever admit, but Tony was tactile by nature, and he loved cuddling, being surrounded by the heat and solidity of another body.  It had been harder to find that, after Afghanistan, when he couldn’t bring himself to trust anybody for a long time.  Well, except for Pepper.  Even Rhodey had turned him away, however briefly.  But he and Pepper hadn’t worked out, and after the trouble with AIM and Extremis, Tony had realized just how Pepper fit into his life.  And it wasn’t as his girlfriend.

 

He waited in silence for a moment, then asked tentatively, “So…do you really think the others are still interested?”  He wasn’t sure if Bruce would allow it, even if they were, but if his earlier words were anything to go by, the other man might be willing to share on occasion.  Not that Tony wouldn’t be perfectly happy if he only had Bruce. But he couldn’t really stop that greedy, selfish part of him that wanted all of his teammates, in whatever capacity they’d have him.

 

“Go to sleep, Tony,” Bruce murmured, dropping a kiss onto his forehead.  “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

 

Tony sighed, but gave in, allowing his eyes to drift close.  Just before he fell asleep, he felt a heavy warmth settle over top of him, and he quirked a smile.  It seemed that Bruce liked the Indian afghan, after all.

Chapter Text

When Tony stumbled into the Avengers kitchen at three in the morning after a quick shower, nightmares having woken him and driven him from his bed and Bruce, he was only vaguely surprised to find Steve there. Actually, he was more surprised to find that man was actually cooking, rather than just reheating leftovers or something.

 

Steve frowned lightly at him, concern in his vivid blue eyes. “Tony? Are you all right?” he asked, his eyes taking in Tony’s rumpled, damp form and bare chest.  Tony shivered as his bare feet padded across the tiled floor until he could settle on one of the barstools at the breakfast counter.

 

“M’fine,” he mumbled tiredly, dropping his head onto his arms on the counter. “Early morning?”  If it was him or Bruce, it would be a late night, but it looked like Steve had been up for a while.

 

Broad shoulders shrugged as Steve turned back to the pan in front of him, flipping the pancakes onto a plate before dropping in more batter. “I have that meeting with the Mayor at seven,” he murmured.  “I don’t need much sleep anyhow, and I wanted to get some things done, since I don’t know how long this is going to take,” he sighed, resigned.  Tony didn’t bother to hide his grin; Fury had decided – quite rightly – that Steve was the much better choice when it came to dealing with political know-it-alls.  Tony was flashy and charming, sure, but that was better suited to media.  Let it never be said that Fury didn’t use his assets wisely.

 

It didn’t mean that any of them particularly enjoyed the attention, but they did what was necessary. Tony rather suspected that this meeting had actually been facilitated by Coulson.  If the Avengers were going to live here and continue to operate, then they needed to be in the good graces of the people who could make their lives difficult if given a reason. So Steve was being sent to explain that the Avengers were only interested in protecting people from outside threats – like aliens and Doombots and the like – and didn’t have any sort of political or military affiliation or agenda.

 

“Huh. Coulson?” Tony asked, watching as Steve nodded in confirmation.  “Figures,” he muttered.  It made sense, even if he didn’t like it.  Then again, he had a problem with authority figures in general, with the possible exception of Agent and Cap, so he supposed he wasn’t really a reliable judge.

 

Watching Steve cook made something warm pool in Tony’s stomach and at the base of his spine. It wasn’t arousal so much as it was contentment.  Tony was happy that the other man was obviously comfortable enough living here to use the kitchen whenever he pleased, even if it was only to cook for himself.

 

A hot cup of coffee was set in front of him, and Tony blinked at it blankly for a moment, waiting for his brain to come online and make the connection. He had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t even realized that Steve had put the coffee on.  With a sigh of pleasure, he sat up, reaching for the cup and gulping the hot liquid greedily.

 

“Thanks,” he mumbled when he finished the first mug, slipping off the stool and walking over to the counter to pour himself a second one.

 

Steve smiled at him indulgently. “Sure thing, Tony,” he replied lightly.  Tony had to resist the urge to lean in and kiss the other man’s smiling lips, Bruce’s words from the night before whispering through his mind. They’ve all noticed you.  Instead, he contented himself with leaning against the counter, his coffee clutched possessively to his chest.  Steve just chuckled and asked if he wanted some pancakes.

 

Tony shrugged noncommittally; he’d probably eat them if Steve put them in front of him, but he wasn’t particularly hungry at the moment. The last tendrils of his dream were starting to fade away, and he allowed the soothing noises of sizzling batter and the scrape of a spatula to ease the tight coil of residual fear from his chest.

 

He was relaxed enough that it took several minutes to realize that Steve was eyeing him sideways, just brief flickers of curiosity, but still noticeable. He offered the blond a challenging stare as a plate of pancakes was set on the counter next to him, butter and syrup within easy reach.  “What’s up, Cap?” he demanded.  “Do I look that terrible? Or are you just admiring my pretty face?”  He worried, briefly, that his activities from several hours before were written all over his face.

 

Steve shook his head. “I’m just not used to seeing you around,” he admitted.  “At all, much less at three in the morning,” he added, glancing at the clock on the coffee maker.

 

Tony shrugged. “Yeah, well, it’s actually not a case of being down in my lab until now,” he grinned wryly.  “I just woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep.”  He didn’t bother to mention that he’d left Bruce behind in his bed.  It was really nobody else’s business.

 

“Bad dreams, huh?” Steve asked sympathetically. Tony just stared at him impassively until he turned back to the stove with a resigned sigh, obviously taking the hint that Tony didn’t want to discuss it.  Certainly not with him, considering what the nightmares had been about.  Steve already felt guilty about letting Tony take the nuke through the portal and then ordering Natasha to close it while he was still inside, even though he wasn’t the one who had ordered the missile to be launched in the first place, nor was he the one to inform Tony – and only Tony – of the incoming problem.  What Tony had done had been his decision, and he had realized at the time that it was likely to be his last.  That he had survived was a miracle, one that he attributed mostly to Hulk, but some of it went to Steve, too.  He had held off for as long as he could, and that had been just enough time for Tony to fall back through the portal.

 

Drizzling syrup on his pancakes, Tony found himself glancing over at his early morning companion, trying to figure the other man out. Since they’d first met, the two of them had rubbed each other in all the wrong ways.  Steve was a soldier, someone good and honest who believed in the sacrifice of one to save the rest, who believed that humanity, in general, wanted to do the right thing. 

 

Tony was very much his opposite, someone who believed in taking whatever action led to the highest probability of success. He flouted authority and rules alike, and had no interest in anybody outside of the small circle of people he trusted.  He was skeptical about people’s motives, and had made it a policy to not trust anybody that hadn’t earned it a thousand times over.  And yet, if Bruce was to be believed, the attraction that he felt for the other man was likely reciprocated, as illogical as that might seem.  He reckoned that Steve was simply seeing something in him that wasn’t there, misconstruing his selfishness for something else entirely.

 

Steve was sitting over at the bar, and Tony grabbed his plate and joined him, careful to leave a space between them as he dug into the sticky, sweetened pancakes with relish, licking syrup off his lips and fingers. He would never admit it even under torture, but he loved pancakes more than almost anything.  Oh, sure, he had a palate for expensive cuisine, but when it came down to it, his preferences were far more childish than his upbringing would indicate.  The last time he’d had pancakes, before Steve had started cooking them with startling regularity, had been back when Jarvis was still alive.  It was their little secret, made on those weekends when Howard was out searching for Captain America and Maria was with one of her pet charities.

 

“You really like pancakes, huh?” Steve asked. Tony glared mutely at him.  Then, seeing as he was an adult, he stuck his tongue out at the other man.  Steve just laughed, polishing off his own pancakes in a huge bite that made his cheeks bulge as he chewed.  Tony nearly choked on his pancakes at the unexpected retaliation, his own laughter startled out of him.  Steve grinned, quite obviously pleased with himself, and Tony just shook his head as he turned back to his breakfast, watching Steve load the dishwasher and put away the leftovers out of the corner of his eyes.  He always made plenty of pancakes, so that whoever came in later could just reheat them.

 

Bruce stumbled in as Tony was finishing up the last few sips of coffee, his hair a riot of curls and his dark eyes half-lidded with sleepiness. Tony grinned brightly at him.  “Brucie!” he squealed, just to watch the other man wince at the aggravating noise.  He toned the volume down a bit for the next part.  “Did you sleep well?”

 

Bruce blinked at him, then glanced at Steve, who had gone very still over by the sink, before nodding. “I…yeah, I slept fine,” he mumbled back, something warm blooming in Tony’s chest when he didn’t deny that they’d been in the same bed.  Then Bruce had to add, “You were gone when I woke up.”  He sounded very put out by that, too, and Tony ducked his head, offering the other man a sheepish smile.

 

“Sorry about that,” he said honestly. “It was way too early to be out of bed, except if you hadn’t gone to sleep at all yet, and I didn’t want to wake you up.  You looked like you needed the sleep.”  And he did, though perhaps not as direly as Tony had needed it the previous night.  Still, last night with Bruce had apparently done wonders for both his restfulness and his self-confidence, because he could feel himself teetering on that edge between playfulness and full out flirting.

 

Bruce shook his head. “It’s fine,” he replied, accepting the plate that Steve handed him with a quiet thanks and moving over to slump at the table, rubbing his eyes.  “What time is it?” he asked next, and Tony’s grin nearly split his face in half.

 

“Four thirty,” Steve answered wryly, his lips curling with faint amusement as Bruce sighed, his brow furrowing with what appeared to be a minor headache. Steve glanced between the two of them, then shrugged.  “Anyhow, I’ve got that meeting, so I’m going to go get ready.  I’ll see you two later?”

 

His tone was hopeful, and Tony found that as much as he might prefer to stay down in the labs with Bruce all day, he couldn’t bring himself to disappoint Captain America. So he nodded for both of them.  “Yeah, we’ll be around,” he offered.  Steve shot him a grateful look before taking his leave.  Once he was out of earshot, Tony spoke.  “JARVIS, see if you can’t convince Rogers to wear that pale grey suit with the cerulean shirt, won’t you?”

 

“The one that brings out his pretty eyes, sir?” the AI asked drolly, sounding sarcastically amused. Bruce looked up at Tony questioningly, and the genius shrugged, giving him an exaggerated wink.

 

“Yeah, that one, J,” he agreed gleefully, trusting JARVIS to get it taken care of. The AI had been made by him, after all, and could be very persuasive when he chose to be.

 

“So you have noticed him,” Bruce mused ruefully, fingers pressed over his lips.

 

Tony felt himself blushing even as he shook his head, then shrugged. “Well, yeah, but not just him,” he admitted, butterflies churning in his stomach. “I just never really gave it much thought before.”  Or rather, he hadn't allowed himself to give it much thought before.

 

Bruce was staring thoughtfully at the door that Steve had just left, his eyes hooded. Tony watched him warily, not sure what the other man was thinking.  It was part of what kept him interested, the inability to see through Bruce’s inscrutable calm, to know for certain what he was thinking, or feeling.  “Bruce?” he asked tentatively.

 

“Hmm?” Bruce hummed absently, barely glancing at him. Then he blinked, turning his head to look at Tony properly.  “Oh, sorry.  What is it, Tony?” he asked.

 

The billionaire frowned lightly at his…what? Boyfriend? Lover? Partner? He wasn’t sure how to label him.  And he was getting off track.  “What are you thinking?” he asked bluntly.  He could extrapolate from the previous night’s conversation, but he couldn’t be certain, and he wasn’t going to make assumptions.  Not about this.  The very last thing he wanted was to drive Bruce away because he misinterpreted his intentions and jumped one of their other teammates.

 

Bruce smiled fondly at him. “I was thinking,” he murmured, moving closer and pressing their foreheads together, his lips only inches from Tony’s, “that you would look fantastic spread out under all that pale, muscled skin, pinned to the bed where you couldn’t escape.”  Tony shivered, swallowing the small whimper that threatened to escape at the imagery those words evoked.  Bruce smiled knowingly, and Tony knew that his eyes must be showing exactly what he thought of that suggestion.

 

His eyes flicked away from Bruce’s perceptive gaze, flashing guiltily towards the open doorway, as if he was worried that the man they were discussing was going to walk by and know what they had just been talking about. Bruce chuckled under his breath, and Tony smiled sardonically as his own paranoia.  “So sue me,” he muttered.

 

“I’ll do better than that,” Bruce answered lightly, then tilted his head just enough to catch Tony’s lips with his own, his tongue darting out and lapping at the stickiness on Tony’s mouth and tongue from the syrup. Tony moaned into the kiss, breakfast forgotten as his hands scrambled against Bruce’s shoulders, clutching tightly as he responded eagerly to the other man’s advances.

 

There was a polite cough in the doorway, and Bruce backed away regretfully. Tony pouted at him before turning to yell at whoever had interrupted a very nice good morning kiss.  Phil stood there, vaguely amused in that unendingly tolerant way he had, as if nothing could possibly ever faze him.  “Good morning,” he said vaguely, then gestured down the hall from where he’d come.  “Steve said something about pancakes?”

 

Bruce smiled back at the agent and stood, moving towards the large plate that Steve had covered to keep the food warm. “Steve’s on his way out?” he asked politely.

 

Phil nodded. “Yes, he has a meeting with the mayor,” he murmured.  Then his eyes crinkled at the corner.  “He was wearing a shirt I haven’t seen him in before.  Your doing, I presume, Mr. Stark?” he asked, his tone appreciative.  Tony smirked in self-satisfaction, pleased with himself.  Score one for style.

 

Phil just shook his head, giving Bruce a pointed look as he accepted a plate of pancakes. The physicist just shrugged with a small grin.  As Phil settled down at the bar that Tony had just vacated, his phone buzzed.  Phil pulled it out of his pocket and glanced at it before pocketing it again with a sigh.

 

Tony grinned at Phil’s back. “Trouble in paradise?” he asked casually, ignoring Bruce’s questioning look.

 

Phil was unamused. “You would know, Mr. Stark,” he replied, which was as close as the two men ever came to acknowledging their silent partnership.  JARVIS had obviously sent the information to Phil, who was doing whatever it was that he normally did with the information Tony sent him. The billionaire was surprised that Phil hadn’t left already, if he was being honest.

 

Something must have shown on his face, because Phil smiled at him benignly. “I have people nearby,” he admitted.  “May’s got wheels up in an hour.”  Tony nodded in understanding; an hour would give Phil enough time to say goodbye to Clint and Natasha before he left.

 

And Steve, a snide voice commented inside his head. Since that’s apparently a thing now. Tony’s spine stiffened as he banished the sudden flare of jealousy.  He muttered a vague acknowledgment before stalking out of the room.  He hesitated for a split second before deciding to head down to his workshop for a few hours. He’d have JARVIS alert him before Steve was due to arrive back.

 

“Tony?” The questioning tone behind him made Tony pause. Bruce hurried up to him, and Tony started walking again, his friend walking next to him. “Are you all right?” Bruce asked, concerned.  “What was that all about?”  There was no censure in the question, only curiosity.

 

Tony debated how much of the truth to reveal to Bruce. The other man didn’t need to know about the jealousy, he decided, but he could at least tell him about his pact with Phil, right? What the hell, he figured, why not? “I’m fine,” he replied, keeping his tone light.  Bruce looked at him skeptically, and he smiled warmly.  “Really, it’s nothing,” he insisted.  “I’m just worried about Phil.”  That was completely true, at least.

 

Bruce nodded, obviously realizing that Tony wasn’t telling him the whole truth, but willing to let it go for the moment. “You knew he was shipping out, then?” he asked instead.

 

Tony nodded as they stepped into the elevator. “Yeah,” he admitted.  “J, take us to the workshop, and bring up yesterday’s data.”

 

Of course, sir,” the AI replied promptly, the elevator shifting smoothly downwards.  Bruce was obviously dying to know what Tony was talking about, but he held his tongue, seemingly content to wait until Tony told him on his own. The genius appreciated it.  Before now, it had just been between him and Phil. And JARVIS, of course.  Phil never revealed his source, and Tony never acknowledged that he had any sort of connection to the newly restructured SHIELD.  Now they were about to bring Bruce into the small circle, and Tony couldn’t find it in him to regret the decision.  Bruce was his now.

 

The screens were already up when the two men walked into the workshop, maps and alerts and information floating lazily in the air. Bruce walked up to one of the maps, touching a small red flag and skimming over the corresponding data that popped up.  “You’re…tracking SHIELD agents?” he asked, sounding intrigued.

 

“JARVIS is,” Tony confirmed. “He’s also keeping a watch out for Hydra and Ten Rings sightings, and Stark Industries weapons stockpiles.” Bruce gave him a sharp look at that, but Tony just glared back challengingly.  Bruce knew where he’d been the other day, when he’d returned to the Avengers Tower all banged up.

 

But Bruce held his tongue, and Tony turned to the Mark Fifty-Seven. “JARVIS, bring up the specs on the left boot and run it through simulation.  The calibration is a bit off, keeps veering to the right.  Dummy, hold this.  Just like that.  No, wait, what are you - ?” he sighed, reaching out and gripping the bot’s arm, maneuvering it to where he wanted it.  “Right there,” he insisted, checking that the light the bot was holding was aimed properly towards the pieces of boot that he was working on.  “Good,” he murmured absently, and Dummy gave a pleased chirp at the casual praise.

 

“J, bring up the specs for the arc reactor,” he mumbled. “And some music.”  Already, he had forgotten to worry about Bruce being here in his personal workshop.  They had worked together in the public labs – and in Bruce’s – several times now, and Bruce would occasionally drop by the workshop, but this was the first time that Tony had worked on the Iron Man armor with another person present.  It was less stressful than he’d believed it would be, if he was honest with himself.

 

A blue hologram of the arc reactor floated in the air above him as Tony navigated carefully through the wires and gears inside the left boot. The boot hummed as he worked, the internal mechanics twitching and clicking along cheerfully as he manipulated the tiny parts.

 

Tony was grumbling under his breath about missing his Malibu workshop when arms wrapped around him from behind, moving carefully so as to not startle him. He froze anyhow before consciously relaxing, his head falling back so he could look up at Bruce.  “Yes?” he asked archly, one eyebrow raised.

 

His question was met with a kiss, and Tony grinned into it, pleased. It seemed like Bruce had been serious about wanting to keep Tony, rather than just having a one-off.  Even this morning’s kiss could have been just to make a point, to let the others know that Tony Stark had finally been conquered.  But there was nobody here except the two of them. And the bots, of course, but it wasn't like they would be telling anybody.

 

“Steve will be back soon,” Bruce murmured. “JARVIS checked; his meeting with the mayor is over.”

 

“Oh?” Tony asked. “Did he say how it went?”

 

Bruce smiled and shook his head. “Why don’t you ask him when he gets back?” he suggested instead.

 

Tony rolled his eyes good-naturedly, but stood up at Bruce’s urging. “If I didn’t know better, Banner, I’d think you were plotting something,” he accused the other man.

 

“Hmm,” Bruce murmured, pressing an absent-minded kiss to Tony’s forehead. “Nothing in particular,” he murmured.  “But I think Steve’s been worried that you don’t like him.  You’re always locked in your lab.”

 

Tony sighed, staring at the semi-assembled Mark Fifty-Seven. “It’s not that I don’t like him,” he muttered.  “He just…brings up bad memories.”  And that was as much as he was going to say about that.

 

Bruce sighed. “You know it’s the same for him, right?” he asked gently.  Tony looked up at the other man in confusion.  “Think about it for a minute, Tony.  He was alive when your father was still young, long before you were born.  When he woke up, everything had changed.  Peggy doesn’t remember him most of the time, and nobody else that he knows is alive, with the exception of a brainwashed best friend.  You are his only real connection to the past, something at least a little bit familiar, and you made it quite clear that you didn’t approve of him from the start.”

 

Tony opened his mouth to protest, but Bruce just set his hand over his mouth, and Tony fell obediently silent. “I know that he was just as cruel, but the reasoning still stands.  You were somebody that he wanted to get to know, but you hated him.  What was he supposed to do?”  He slid his hand away, and Tony sighed.

 

“All right, all right already,” he moaned dramatically. “I’ll go say ‘hi’ to Steve.  Maybe give him a welcome home kiss while I’m at it,” he added snidely.

 

Bruce grinned widely. “I think that’s an excellent idea,” he agreed.  Tony stared at him in surprise.  Bruce raised an eyebrow.  “What? I told you last night, didn’t I?  The others have noticed you.  If you let them know you’re willing, they’ll probably take you up on it.”  His eyes darkened a bit as he admitted, “And I can’t say that the image of you and Steve does nothing for me.”

 

Tony stared at him, aghast. “Why, Banner!  I didn’t know you were a voyeur!  I never would’ve guessed under that dorky, cuddly exterior of yours.”  He was teasing the other man now, his words covering up his very real fear that this was some sort of test, one that he was about to fail, horribly.  It was a little late to deny his attraction to Steve Rogers – seriously, who had a body like that? – but he wasn’t actually planning on doing anything about it.  Bruce had said he was possessive, but at the same time, he was also suggesting that Tony let Steve know he wouldn’t mind sleeping with him.  The mixed signals were giving him a headache.

 

Bruce rolled his eyes. “I meant everything I said last night, Tony,” he chided.  “Everything.  This isn’t a test or anything like that.  I’ve seen the way you look at me, and at the others.  You want us, even if you won’t ever acknowledge it.  I’m flattered to have been the first, but I don’t want you to regret anything,” he said softly, his hands resting firmly on Tony’s waist, pulling the smaller man towards him.  “Besides,” he rumbled, his voice dropping into a deeper register, “I really do want to see how you look being fucked by Captain America.”

 

Tony stared up at Bruce wide-eyed, his face heating as he considered the implications. Did Bruce want to just watch?  Or participate? Or have JARVIS record it and watch it afterwards?  Just how much of a role in this did Bruce want?

 

He sighed; before he worried about any of that, though, he probably ought to be concerned with whether or not Steve actually wanted him, or if Bruce was just guessing. “All right, you’ve got me,” he sighed.  “Let’s go see how Cap’s meeting with the mayor went, shall we?”

 

The smile Bruce gave him was totally worth the concession. JARVIS saved and shut down the workshop as Bruce led the way out of the room.  As the two men walked sedately down the hall, Bruce asked his next question, the one that Tony had been expecting much earlier.  “How long have you been helping Phil?”

 

Tony glanced at him sideways, then shrugged. “Since Captain America and Black Widow single-handedly took down SHIELD,” he replied, blithely ignoring the discrepancy.  “A lot of their guys got caught in the crossfire, and Agent’s been trying to locate the agents who are still loyal to SHIELD, who weren’t part of Hydra, willingly or not.  A lot of them died in the first wave of attacks, though,” he murmured, “so it’s rare that we find pockets of surviving agents that haven’t been potentially compromised.”

 

Bruce was nodding as they stepped into the elevator. “So that’s what the notes meant about the percentage compromised.  Those are the SHIELD agents who defected to Hydra to avoid being killed.  Or were inducted against their will.”

 

Tony nodded. “Exactly,” he said, pleased that Bruce had followed along so easily.  “So JARVIS collects the data, I look over it, then we send the relevant information to Coulson, and he and his team do what they have to.  As their numbers grow, Agent has to take care of matters personally less and less.  But SHIELD isn’t even a tenth of what it used to be; they simply don’t have the personnel or the resources,” he shrugged.

 

Bruce was staring at him now. “You’re bankrolling SHIELD?” he demanded.

 

Tony shook his head. “Actually, no,” he grinned.  “I offered, when Agent first showed up alive, you know, but he didn’t accept.  Apparently somebody managed to hack into Hydra’s cache of funds and…appropriate a sufficient amount to ensure that SHIELD can support itself.  Maybe not as well as before, but considering most of their hidey-holes are gone, and their numbers are so low, it’s enough for now.”  He shrugged.  “I’m pretty sure they’ve got investments and things out there.  They’ll be fine.”

 

The elevator door opened, and Tony smiled charmingly up at the super soldier who was standing in the garage, blinking at them. “Hey, Cap!” he greeted, shifting over, closer to Bruce.  “Come on in, take a load off!”

 

Steve hesitated, as if to refuse, his eyes flicking to Bruce. Tony turned to look at his friend, too, but whatever Steve saw in Bruce’s unassuming posture was already gone. Or was never there to begin with.  Still, it had the desired effect, and Steve stepped into the lift with a quiet, “Thank you.”  He then proceeded to tuck himself against the far wall, away from the other men.  His shoulders and back stayed ramrod straight, but it still felt as if he was somehow trying to make himself smaller, less noticeable.  Tony wanted to point out the logistics of hiding a super soldier, but an elbow in his side from Bruce distracted him, and they fell into an uncomfortable silence.

 

Bruce broke the silence first. “How did the meeting go?” he asked, his tone soft and non-threatening.  Tony locked eyes with Steve as the blonde answered.

 

“It went fine,” he replied stiffly. “He wanted our…reassurance,” he practically spat the word, “that if any more damage is caused as a result of an Avengers’ battle, the cleanup will be taken care of.”  Which they all knew meant that the mayor was demanding that the Avengers – and more specifically, Tony Stark – pay for any and all damages.

 

The billionaire shrugged. “Well, yeah, but we knew that was coming, Steve,” he said, watching the way the soldier’s eyes widened slightly when he used his first name. Hm, interesting.

 

Steve shook his head. “It doesn’t matter,” he argued.  “We answer calls for things that the police and the army can’t handle.  If we didn’t fight, the loss of life and property would be so much higher.”

 

Tony held up his hands. “I’m not disagreeing with you, Cap,” he replied carefully.  “I’m just saying that we expected something like this to happen.  My lawyers will take care of it,” he reassured the other man.  “Besides, the only other option is to not fight when the bad guys try to take over, and I know you’re not going to do that.”

 

Steve didn’t look convinced, but he settled down a bit, turning to stare at the elevator doors. Right on cue, the lift drew to a stop and opened up onto the Avengers Floor.  Tony looked over at the other man.  “You coming, Cap?” he asked.  “Steve?” he probed when the soldier didn’t answer.

 

Steve’s expression shifted again, just a slight softening around his mouth that Tony wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it.  More confident now, Tony sauntered out of the elevator, putting a little extra sway in his step.  He was well aware of the picture he presented, dressed in ragged jeans that hung low on his hips and a black tank top, his arms and the back of his neck bared.  His hair was in disarray from running his hands through it while he’d been working.  Fortunately for him, he had been working on the armor and not a car, or else he’d probably be covered in engine grease as well.

 

He was aware of Steve and Bruce moving behind him as he addressed his AI. “Hey, JARVIS? Can we get some food ordered?” he asked, then turned back to grin at the two men behind him, walking backwards.  “What do you feel like?  Italian? Thai? Chinese? Pizza?”

 

“An order for pizza was placed twenty minutes ago by Agents Barton and Romanov,” JARVIS commented. “I believe they have ordered enough for everybody present. Delivery is expected to arrive in nine minutes.”

 

Tony clapped his hands together gleefully, then turned to look at Steve. The super soldier shrugged.  “Pizza sounds good,” he agreed.  “Clint and Natasha are still here?”

 

Tony nodded. “Yeah, Agent had stuff to take care of, but I don’t think they’ve got a mission going on right now.  I’m sort of surprised that they aren’t off doing…whatever it is that they do when Coulson’s gone, though,” he admitted.

 

“What makes you think we go anywhere when Phil’s gone?” Clint asked, startling Tony. His head snapped around and he glared at the archer.

 

“Dammit, Legolas! How many times have I told you to quit climbing on the furniture? Go back to your nest or something, would you?” he scowled.

 

Clint just rolled his eyes, hopping down from the large bookshelf he’d been perched on, his body nearly folded in half between the top of the bookcase and the ceiling. Tony wondered vaguely just how flexible the archer actually was, given that he’d been in the circus and everything.  He quickly dismissed that thought, angry with himself.  One night with Bruce, and suddenly he couldn’t stop thinking about sex.  Maybe Pepper was right, and there really was something wrong with him.

 

“Ah, Captain! Welcome home!” Thor’s familiar voice greeted from where he was seated on the floor, playing some sort of first-person shooter game with Natasha. As he watched, the redheaded assassin wiped out half a dozen attackers in about two seconds.  Thor chuckled appreciatively, his arms wrapped around Natasha where she sat in his lap.  Natasha, for her part, mostly looked amused.

 

“Thanks, Thor,” Steve smiled, his shoulders relaxing. He looked around, pleased to see almost everybody present.  Tony had noticed that Steve had an almost obsessive need to keep track of all of them.  He was never pushy about it, but he usually made sure to see each of them at least once a day.  Sometimes he even brought food to Bruce and Tony in their labs, just to reassure himself that they hadn’t blown themselves up or collapsed from exhaustion or something. It used to annoy Tony, but these days, it didn’t bother him nearly so much.  After all, he understood the need to tend to the people you cared for.  He did it with money and tech; Steve did it with food and by prodding them to get some sleep every now and again.

 

Steve was stripping out of his jacket and tie, unbuttoning the top two buttons of his shirt. Tony tried not to stare. “Uh, JARVIS? How’re we doing on the food?” he asked instead, trying to distract himself.  Behind Steve, Bruce was grinning at him knowingly.  Tony scowled back at the other man half-heartedly, but couldn’t help the twitch of his lips a moment later.

 

“Food has just arrived, sir,” JARVIS replied, just as a small chime indicated the arrival of said food. Clint and Steve wandered over to grab the food out of the dumbwaiter as Natasha and Thor paused their game to go get plates and napkins.  Tony watched as they all moved easily around each other, settling into various places on the couches and floors.  He felt awkward all over again; he was usually in his labs or at Stark Industries over the lunch hour, and he wasn’t entirely sure of his welcome now.

 

A nudge at the small of his back prodded him forward, and Tony let Bruce guide him over to the couch, where Steve was currently situated. Bruce settled on the right side, tugging Tony down with him as he accepted a plate of pizza.  He handed it to Tony, who accepted it numbly, and then took another one for himself.

 

Tony expected at least one of them to comment on his cuddling down with Bruce, but nobody said anything. Instead, Clint and Natasha argued over what movie to watch, and Steve and Thor made plans to spar afterwards.  Bruce interjected with his own quiet opinion, and they finally settled on The Fast and the Furious.  Tony agreed wholeheartedly; it wasn’t awesome science, but it was fast cars and explosions, and that was almost as good.

 

Between chewing on extra cheesy pizza and watching mindless television, Tony found himself slowly relaxing, his head dropping onto Bruce’s shoulder. The other man didn’t comment on it, so Tony didn’t either; if Bruce wanted him to move, he’d let him know.

 

At some point, Thor left to go talk to his Lady Jane on the computer – he had embraced the wonders of Skype once he realized he could use it to talk to the astrophysicist when she was away for a time, working on whatever project she had going on. Tony still wanted to meet her someday, maybe; her reputation was almost as impressive as Banner’s.

 

Clint and Natasha excused themselves as the credits started rolling, scooping up the empty pizza boxes and plates and taking them to the kitchen for disposal before disappearing upstairs. Tony stirred, sitting up.  He was about to make his excuses and disappear back down to his workshop – he’d spent enough time socializing, thanks – when Bruce gripped his shoulders, holding him still.  Tony looked at the other man in confusion, but Bruce wasn’t looking at him.  “Bruce?” Tony asked uncertainly.

 

Brown eyes flickered to him, and Bruce smiled reassuringly before turning his gaze back to the man currently seated behind Tony. “Be careful with him,” Bruce said.  His eyes narrowed minutely.  “The Other Guy likes him, too.”

 

“Umm…” Steve started awkwardly. There was a brief pause, and then a large, warm hand was pressed against Tony’s neck.  “Tony?” Steve asked.

 

“Yes,” Tony managed, not sure if it was a question or a statement. He eyed Bruce warily, not entirely sure what was going on.  The unassuming physicist leaned forward and gave him a quick, chaste kiss before pulling away.

 

“Have fun,” he murmured. Having handed Tony over to their resident super soldier, Bruce shuffled out of the room.  Tony tensed, wanting to go after him, to ask him what he thought he was doing.  A second warm hand pressed lightly on his shoulder, and Tony twisted around to stare at Steve, who was watching him carefully, as if afraid he might spook.  He wasn’t too far off the mark, Tony thought with a small frown.

 

“Tony?” Steve asked again. “I…if you don’t want this, please tell me now. I can go spar with Thor instead.”

 

Tony tilted his head slightly to the right, considering the super soldier solemnly for a long moment. To his credit, Steve didn’t squirm or look away from his scrutiny.  “Why?” Tony asked at last, carefully settling down within arm’s reach of the other man.

 

Silence fell between them while Steve considered the question. Tony appreciated that he was taking this seriously and not just giving him an off-the-cuff answer.  “How much has Bruce told you about the team dynamics outside of battle?” Steve asked at last.

 

Tony frowned. “Not much.  I know that Natasha and Clint are together with Agent.  Not really sure how that works, actually.  I mean, are Clint and Agent together? Or do they both just have Natasha? Or does she maybe have them? She strikes me as the dominatrix type in bed.”  He was babbling again, and he cut himself off abruptly, refocusing, his gaze zeroing in on Steve, who seemed to be caught somewhere between confused and amused.  “And Bruce said that Thor has this whole Shield Brother thing going on, which is kind of weird, but also kind of awesome.  And you…I have no idea,” he admitted.  “I know you’re with Thor and Phil, but I don’t know about the others.  Bruce isn’t with any of you.”

 

Steve smiled. “No,” he agreed.  “He made it clear that while he appreciated the offer, he had somebody else in mind.”  Tony smiled back, pleased at the confirmation of Bruce’s previous words, the reassurance that he had turned the others down in favor of waiting for Tony.

 

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Tony reminded him.

 

Steve nodded, reaching out and pulling him against his chest, tucking the billionaire’s head under his chin. Tony didn’t fight it, partly because he was still waiting for an answer, and partly because Steve was so warm.  “Back in the war,” he started, “this sort of thing wasn’t allowed.  It was considered a crime, especially in the military.  Those who loved another man, or who loved more than one person, were scum, worthless and hated.  In the army, loving another man could get you court-martialed at best, sent to the front lines to be killed at worst.”

 

Tony frowned; he knew some of this, at least, but it had never occurred to him to wonder what that mindset had meant to Steve. “Did you love somebody?” he asked carefully.   “Back then, I mean?”

 

Steve pressed a smile against the top of his head, his grip tightening just a bit. “Yeah, but I never told him,” he admitted.  “I didn’t know if he felt the same, and I wasn’t any good for him.  My younger self was too sick and pathetic, and after I became Captain America, we were in the middle of a war.  There was no time for figuring things out, and even thinking about him that way would have probably gotten us into trouble sooner or later.”

 

Tony had a pretty good idea who Steve was talking about. “Barnes?” he asked softly.  Steve tensed around him, but nodded.  “I’m sorry,” Tony offered.  “Do you…still love him?” he asked.  He knew that Steve had been spending time with Sam – who he still hadn’t met yet – and Natasha searching for the Winter Soldier.  Each trip so far had met with no success, even with Tony’s resources at their disposal, but he knew the other man hadn’t given up yet.  At least Barnes hadn’t gone back to his Hydra handlers, as far as Tony could tell.  Instead, he seemed determined to destroy them.  Tony understood about revenge, about wiping out the people who had hurt you.

 

Steve hummed. “I don’t think so,” he said after a moment.  “I mean, I love him, of course I do.  But he’s my best friend, like an older brother.  When I first woke up in this century and realized that everything I had known before was gone, I was so confused.  I had no purpose, no home, no family, nothing that was familiar or safe.  Everything was different.  I used to be afraid that when I went to sleep, I’d wake up only to find that I’d lost time again.”

 

Tony shifted back to look up at Steve, who met his eyes with an open, honest expression. “What changed your mind?” he asked curiously.  “What made you want…this? Them? Me?” The last word was whispered, some of Tony’s old fears – that he wasn’t good enough for somebody as amazing and good as Captain America – coming to the forefront.

 

Steve smiled and shook his head. “When we first met in Stuttgart, you were so familiar to me.  I know you don’t like to hear it, but you reminded me of your father, at least until you opened your mouth.”  Tony snorted, and Steve grinned ruefully.  “I think a part of me was disappointed that the only person that seemed familiar was nothing like what I was expecting.  I said some cruel things to you.”

 

Tony shrugged uncomfortably. “I said them right back,” he pointed out.  Neither of them made the obvious excuse that Loki’s scepter had been guiding their words.  It had brought down their defenses, made them more prone to saying exactly what was on their mind, exacerbating feelings of anger and resentment and disappointment.  They had all said cruel things that day.

 

Steve nodded. “Yes, but then you fought beside us against the Chitauri.  You flew a nuclear missile into an alien portal.  Afterwards, you opened your home to us.  You asked nothing in return.”  That seemed to surprise Steve for some reason, and Tony scowled.  He was capable of being altruistic.  On occasion.  If it suited him.  And having the Avengers around pleased him on a fundamental level.  He couldn’t explain it. Perhaps it was knowing that he wasn’t alone in this superhero gig, or knowing that he had people he could actually work with nearby.  Hell, perhaps it was just the fact that with them all here, he could keep track of them.  Whatever it was, it hadn’t been for their benefit, or for SHIELD’s.

 

Steve sighed, his head dropping back towards the couch. “And then I found out about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and its repeal.  I found out that it’s not illegal to love people of the same gender.  Shoot, in some states, they can even get married.  Having more than one lover is more acceptable now, too, as long as it’s open and consensual.  And somewhere in there, I decided that I wasn’t going to punish myself anymore for loving who I loved.  If I wanted somebody, I’d go after them.” 

 

He shrugged. “Thor came to me, trying to figure out how to approach the others.  I was hesitant about Phil since I figured he was with Clint and Natasha, but I decided that I’d rather ask and be rejected than keep things to myself.  Apparently, the three of them have an open relationship, and aren’t adverse to bringing people they trust into the fold.  Of course, I got the shovel talk from both Clint and Natasha.  They do still call it that these days, don’t they?” he asked lightly.

 

Tony found himself grinning, his body relaxing. “Yeah, they do.”  Deliberately, he repositioned himself mostly upright, watching Steve through half-lidded eyes.  “So, seeing as that Bruce just gave you the shovel talk, does that mean you’re going to court me, too?” he asked, his eyes sparkling.

 

Steve’s eyes darkened, and his tongue flicked out to lick at his lips, drawing Tony’s gaze. “Yeah, I guess it does,” he husked, reaching out and pulling Tony flush up against him, so that Tony’s chest was pressed against that solid wall of muscle.  “I’ll even take you on dates, if you want.  Court you properly,” he crooned.

 

Tony groaned, his head dropping as he laughed. “You’ll be the death of me yet, Rogers,” he muttered.  Sexy and charming, a true gentleman.  And those muscles.  Oh, god, they had kept Tony up nights, just imagining what they’d feel like under his hands.  And now he’d get to feel the real thing.  Maybe he really was dying.

 

“Steve,” the soldier prompted gently. “Call me Steve. Please?”

 

Tony shook his head in resignation, hopelessly lost at this point. It was impossible to tell Captain America no, especially when he asked so nicely.  “Steve,” he agreed easily.  Then he wrapped his arms around the other man’s neck.  “Take me to bed?” he breathed into Steve’s ear.

 

Almost instantly, Steve was standing, his arms scooping together under Tony’s ass to hold him up as the billionaire wrapped his legs around the soldier’s waist. “Are you sure?” Steve asked, peppering his face with little kisses.  Tony could feel that he was reacting already, growing hard in his jeans, pressing up against Tony’s own denim-covered backside.

 

“Seriously, Steve?” Tony demanded incredulously. “Captain America is about to fuck me.  In what world do you think I’d not want this?”

 

Steve groaned, striding easily towards the elevator despite his burden, and Tony enjoyed the feel of the muscles moving in the body below his. “So, Cap,” he purred once they were inside, the soldier pressing him against the far wall, pushing their bodies even tighter together, “did the super soldier serum affect everything?”

 

Steve pulled away from where he was busy sucking a bruise into Tony’s shoulder to murmur, “That’s an awful pickup line. But yes.  My refractory period is enough that I can easily go twice.  Or more than that,” he admitted.

 

Tony was intrigued now. “How many times?” he demanded.  “I mean, have you tested it?”

 

Steve shook his head. “Not really,” he said, amused at Tony’s obvious enthusiasm.  “I haven’t had many lovers, and I’d get bored with just my hand.”  Tony groaned, thinking about Captain America stroking himself off, repeatedly, maybe here in the Tower, maybe in a SHIELD bunker.

 

“Hell,” he muttered, dropping his head onto Steve’s shoulders. His body trembled as the other man chuckled, the rumbling noise quivering all the way down to his bones.  Steve shifted, allowing Tony to settle on his feet, though the genius moved his grip from Steve’s neck to his forearms, not willing to let him go to find out that this had all been nothing more than an elaborate dream.

 

He looked up at Steve, dazed, and double checked. “This is actually happening, right?”

 

Steve smiled. “It is,” he answered back cheerfully, spinning Tony back around and then moving the two of them out of the elevator – which Tony hadn’t even realized had stopped – and through a simple living room, guiding them down a short hallway before nudging Tony through a door.  Lights rose as they stepped inside, and Tony got his first look at Captain America’s bedroom.

 

The furniture was a pale honey oak, the walls covered with matched wood paneling. Windows opened along three sides of the room, the afternoon sky clearly visible.  Tony knew that the windows only worked one way, and nobody could see inside – he’d designed the building after all – but there was something secretly thrilling about having that much open sky surrounding the place where Steve slept. Was it a result of his time in the ice, that he couldn’t bear to wake up to darkness and four solid walls?  Or did he just like the view?

 

There was a desk over in the corner with a computer on it, though it appeared barely used. The bedside table, on the other hand, held a music player and a small stack of books, as well as a standard sized sketchpad and some pencils.  Apparently the Captain found inspiration wherever he was.

 

The bed caught the brunt of Tony’s attention, however. Where he had been expecting the man to have brought in a standard-issue bed, he saw instead a monstrosity that rivaled his own.  It was raised high on a platform in the center of the room, the sheets undoubtedly done with professional military corners, the comforter thick and luxurious.  Tony felt a shudder of arousal go through him at the thought of just how much tumbling they could do on that bed.

 

Steve chuckled against him. “Standard-sized beds don’t fit me very well,” he admitted lowly.  “I’m too big.  Besides, what’s the point in having permission to spend your money if I don’t take advantage now and again?”

 

Contrary to popular expectations, the proof that Steve had taken his words to heart delighted Tony. He hadn’t been lying when told the others that he had more money than he knew what to do with.  Even without government weapons contracts, Stark Industries made enough money with their other technological and medical advances that it wasn’t an issue.  Besides, recently SI had been in negotiations with the military for combat gear.  Not weapons, but armor and communication gear and transport, things of that nature.  He was expecting to hear from his people any day now regarding the specifics of any agreements.

 

“You’re thinking again,” Steve accused, having stopped them in the middle of the floor, halfway between the door and the bed.

 

Tony looked up at him and rolled his eyes. “Uh, yeah,” he huffed.  “In case you hadn’t noticed, thinking is kind of what I do.  I can’t just turn it off,” he protested.

 

Steve just grinned at him, and before Tony could interpret that look or demand to know what he was planning, the super soldier picked him up and literally threw him through the air. Tony yelped, his limbs flailing before snapping inwards to avoid injury as he landed on the bed, bouncing twice before coming to a stop.  He rolled over onto his back, his mouth open to snap at the other man, but Steve was suddenly there, crouched over top of him, his eyes dark and hungry, and Tony’s protests died in his throat.

 

“Stop thinking,” Steve ordered, then dipped his head down, catching Tony’s open mouth in a kiss that was as reverent as it was demanding. Tony moaned into the kiss, his mouth opening eagerly, irritation forgotten.  Steve’s tongue darted inside immediately, mapping out the contours of Tony’s mouth, and the genius murmured muffled encouragements, his hands fisting in Steve’s shirt.  No doubt it would need to be ironed later, but he doubted the other man cared.

 

He heard the snap of a button tearing loose from its moorings, and Steve pulled back with a gasp, his eyes bright and happy. “How much do you like this shirt?” he asked, giving it a gentle tug.

 

Tony glanced down blankly at the solid black tank top and shrugged. “Got more,” he mumbled.  A moment later, the shirt was quite literally torn apart under the soldier’s hands, and Tony found himself laughing as eager hands dove into the remains, traveling along his ribs and stomach and chest.  “What the hell, Steve?” he asked.

 

The soldier grinned at him. “It was quicker,” he replied unapologetically.  Tony squirmed, arching his hips up to press his erection against Steve’s, and the man responded by moving his hands and pinning Tony’s hips to the bed, then grinding down against him before rolling them over, and then over again, so that they were on the other side of the bed.  Somehow, during the graceless maneuvering, he had managed to get Tony’s jeans undone and halfway down his thighs.

 

“You…how…you’re impossible,” Tony finally managed to stutter out. Steve just grinned, helping him shuck the rest of the way out of his jeans and what remained of his tattered shirt.  “You’re a bit overdressed, don’t you think?” Tony asked archly.

 

Steve leaned in for another kiss, all wet and heat and passion, and Tony shoved impatiently at the opening in his shirt, gripping hard and pulling. More of the buttons popped; Tony might not be as strong as the super soldier, but he was strong enough to pilot the Iron Man suit, and more importantly, to build and forge and create with his own two hands.

 

Steve shoved the shirt off his shoulders and arms without breaking the kiss, and then his fingers dug into Tony’s side, making him squeak and then writhe, breathless with surprised laughter. “Hey, what’re you - stop that!” he managed to gasp out, his face hot and flushed from the unexpected assault as the tickling rendered him helpless and panting.

 

Steve grinned at him, rolling away for just long enough to kick off his suit pants and boxers, dropping them haphazardly to the floor. Then he was back, strong thighs bracketing Tony’s hips as he kept his full weight off of the slighter man, grinning down at him.  “What?” he asked.

 

Tony smiled, affection coloring his expression. Who would have thought that Steve was playful in bed?  He was so serious and uptight the rest of the time that Tony had never even considered that he might have a lighter side to him.  He had been expecting…well, he really wasn’t sure what he had been expecting actually, except that it sure as hell hadn’t been this.

 

He shook his head. “It’s nothing. I just…thought you’d be different,” Tony murmured, reaching up to curl his fingers into short hair, scratching firmly against Steve’s scalp.  Steve tipped his head into the touch with a sound that was practically a purr.  “Rougher, more serious. Not like this.”

 

Steve was looking at him seriously now, what they’d been doing a moment before not forgotten, exactly, but put aside for the moment. “Is it bad?” he asked.

 

Tony shook his head. “No, not at all,” he answered easily.  “I’ve been imagining what it would be like to take you to bed for a while,” he admitted.  “My fantasies didn’t do it justice.”

 

Steve’s expression practically melted into sappiness, and he leaned down to kiss Tony’s forehead, then his cheeks, then his nose and chin, before dropping down to nuzzle at the curve of his jaw. “Did your fantasies include you fucking me?” he asked, and the words sounded so much dirtier coming from Captain America’s mouth that Tony gasped, his hands tangling in Steve’s hair and holding his head in place while the blond sucked a bruise into his skin.

 

“Oh, god, yes,” he groaned, his renewed arousal like a firebrand as he pressed it up against Steve’s ass, the other man still straddling his hips, his back curved sharply so he could lick and nibble at Tony’s exposed flesh. “Do you mean it? You’d better mean it. No take-backs,” he managed to choke out.

 

Steve chuckled against his skin, warm and damp, then gripped him around the waist and flipped them over, so that Tony was lying between the vee of his legs, their erections nestled together. Steve was big, and Tony groaned obscenely as he shifted, rutting against the other man.  The dry rasp of flesh made him sigh with pleasure, but it would quickly grow uncomfortable, so he mumbled, “Lube?”

 

A tube was pressed readily into his hands, and Tony twisted off the cap with one hand, coating his fingers liberally and then reaching between them, wrapping his hand around both of them. It was awkward, and a bit uncomfortable – he wouldn’t be able to maintain this position for long – but the surprised moan he got from Steve was more than worth the effort.

 

Leaning down, he nipped sharply at an exposed nipple, enjoying the way Steve’s body shuddered underneath him, the muscles in his legs spasming around Tony, pressing him tighter to the soldier. Pulling back, he laved the abused nub with his tongue, the soft rasp a gentle counterpoint to the slick squelch of Tony’s hand on their cocks.

 

“You said you can come more than once, right?” Tony purred, resting his chin on Steve’s chest as he talked, so that each word resulted in the coarse rasp of his stubble against clean, unblemished skin.

 

“Tony,” Steve groaned, dragging out the genius’ name. Tony grinned, deliberately rubbing his face along Steve’s chest, making the other man choke on a sound that fell somewhere between a moan and a laugh.

 

“Yes, Steve?” he crooned, tightening his hand where it continued to move in steady, sure strokes. Steve was already writhing, not even trying to hold back, which was what Tony had been angling for with his question.  He wanted to see the super soldier come undone in his hands.  His refractory period was excellent for his age, but he’d probably still only manage one orgasm this first time, maybe two.  He wanted to see if he could give Steve more than that.

 

“There’s so much I want to do to you, you know,” he stated conversationally, using his thumb to languidly smooth lube and precum down the length of Steve’s cock. “I want to bring you off just like this.  I want to see what you taste like.  I want to slide into your tight heat – I bet that super healing makes you tight as a virgin every time, doesn’t it?  I want you to fuck me open on your cock.  I want you to come on just my fingers in your ass.  I want to shove myself inside your mouth, as deep down as I can go.”  He wanted to do a hell of a lot more than that – accelerated healing without the risk of turning into a giant green rage monster opened up a lot of possibilities – but the last thing he wanted to do was to scare Steve.  Besides, he didn’t know if he’d ever get to have this again, so he’d do his absolute best to make sure that Steve enjoyed it, that they both did.

 

Steve’s body jackknifed as he came, catching them both by surprise and nearly throwing Tony off of him. Strong hands gripped the sheets, tearing them as Steve’s eyes glazed over, his mouth open and panting.  He dropped to the bed with a shudder, wet warmth spreading over Tony’s hand and his own stomach.

 

Tony stared at his lover in surprised amazement. Had Steve just come from a hand on his cock and a few murmured words about all the filthy things Tony wanted to try with him?  His lips curled up devilishly.  How extraordinary.

 

Steve stared up at him with dark eyes, his hair in disarray. Tony eyed him critically for a moment, then bent down and kissed him, pressing hard against his mouth, until the press of teeth threatened to pierce through flesh.  Steve was still panting, short, humid bursts of air that Tony took into his own lungs and breathed back out, his tongue flicking out to trace the seam where their lips met before delving into Steve’s mouth, curving behind his teeth and along the roof of his mouth.

 

After a moment, Steve’s tongue moved, rubbing up along his, and Tony groaned delightedly, pulling back a bit to stare down in satisfaction at the awesome sight of a ravaged Captain America, his lips bruised and swollen, his face flushed with heat and desire, his expression open and vulnerable as he stared up at Tony. His tongue flicked out against spit-slicked lips, and Tony grinned triumphantly.

 

Steve squirmed, pressing up against Tony’s thigh, and the genius could feel that he was already hard again. “One down,” Steve murmured.  “Five more to go?” he asked, eyes dark and languid as they observed Tony, who didn’t doubt that he looked just as ravished as Steve did.

 

Tony nodded eagerly, delighted in spite of himself. “Absolutely,” he agreed, then slid down the bed, his own neglected cock catching on the sheets as he resituated himself between Steve’s legs, the soldier’s arousal bumping against his chin.  Tentatively, he flicked out his tongue, wondering if the serum would make Steve taste any different.  Thick and bitter and salty, a bit musky, but not unpleasant.  Tony had certainly tasted worse.

 

Steve had sat up as he realized what Tony was doing, and the brunette pushed him until his back was against the headboard, then resettled himself, one hand wrapping lightly around the base of Steve’s cock, testing its weight and thickness. It would be a bit of a stretch, but he was pretty sure that he could get most of it in his mouth.

 

Tony sighed happily; it had been a long time since he’d last had a lover like this, one who was more playful in bed than not, who enjoyed laughing and wrestling and goofing off until everything devolved into unrestrained, desperate fucking, bodies breathless and flushed before the main event ever happened.

 

Moving quickly, before Steve had time to realize what he was doing, Tony dug his fingers into the other man’s sides in retaliation for his earlier tickling. At the same time, his tongue darted out and licked a long stripe up the underside of Steve’s cock.  The resulting startle was worth it, Steve trying to both squirm away from grasping fingers and bear down towards wet heat and the promise of more.

 

“Shit,” Steve swore, and Tony rewarded him for the curse by pressing a kiss to the tip of his erection, then sliding down just a bit, allowing the head past carefully guarded teeth. Steve huffed a laugh.  “Geez, Stark.  If this is what I get for swearing, then what’ll it take to make you move, damn you?”

 

Tony shifted his grip to Steve’s thighs, arching his torso upwards so he could plunge down on Steve’s cock, making the other man yelp, his hands reaching out, one gripping Tony’s shoulder and the other going to the back of his head, not pushing or pulling, just resting there, moving as Tony’s head bobbed, his mouth and tongue working to find all those sensitive spots that made Steve curse and groan and whine.

 

Steve’s hips gave an aborted, unconscious jerk upwards, but Tony had been expecting it, and he let his throat go lax as Steve’s cock shoved a bit deeper. This earned him an approving groan, but a moment later, the hand in his hair was tugging him away.  Tony pulled off of Steve with a ‘pop’, scowling up at the other man.  Steve’s eyes were blown wide, a thin ring of azure all that was visible around his pupils.  “Tony, you – ” he gestured helplessly, unable to verbalize what he was asking, but Tony understood anyhow.

 

“Oh, don’t worry about me, Cap,” he smirked. “After this, I want to fuck you until I come.  And then, I want you to fuck me while I’m limp and sated, and can’t do anything but take it.  Maybe, if you’re really good, I’ll get hard again and you can suck me off,” he suggested lewdly.

 

Steve flushed, but he managed to stammer out, “Yeah, I’d…like that, actually.” He licked his lips.  “That’d be good.”

 

Tony smirked. “Then how about you let me get back to what I was doing?” he asked, but Steve was already shaking his head, urging him up onto his knees.  “What?” Tony complained, absolutely not whining.  “I thought you said this was a good plan.  Why are you stopping a good plan?”

 

Steve grinned. “Not stopping. Just…changing,” he grinned back, one hand on Tony’s right hip as he urged the other man to the side.  Tony wasn’t slow, and understood what the captain wanted in about two point four seconds. 

 

“Oh,” he murmured, delighted. Twisting around, he shifted so that he was angled down Steve’s body, staring down at the other man’s arousal, his own cock hanging heavy and full above Steve.  Carefully, the soldier lowered Tony’s hips, his hands strong and firm where they held onto him.  Tony groaned as his cock slipped past Steve’s lips.  The inside of Steve’s mouth was so hot, hotter than anything Tony had felt before.  Logically, he knew that the super soldier serum made Steve run hotter than most people – Bruce ran hot, too – but right now, all he could think about was heat and slick and wet and oh god he was fucking Captain America’s mouth.

 

The threatening scrape of teeth reminded Tony that he wasn’t upholding his end of the bargain, and he grinned wickedly. “Not a deterrent, Cap,” he murmured throatily, but he bent his head obediently and let Steve’s cock slip past his lips, sliding down until the head bumped against the roof of his mouth.  The angle was a bit awkward, but Steve wasn’t complaining, so Tony wrapped his hand around the base, occasionally sliding it a bit lower to roll and fondle his lover’s testicles, testing their heft and size.

 

Steve groaned around his own mouthful, the vibrations sending pleasant tremors up Tony’s spine. One of Steve’s large hands was still guiding Tony’s hips, and Tony wondered vaguely what had happened to the other one.  His unspoken question was answered a moment later when a lube-coated finger swirled once around his hole before pushing in, all the way to the last knuckle.  Tony screamed around his mouthful as he came, more surprised than anything, only muscle memory keeping him from biting down.

 

Pulling off of Steve, he twisted to glare half-heartedly at the other man. “That was cheating, Rogers,” he accused.  “There was a plan, a plan that you deviated from.”  There wasn’t much heat it his words, though, and Steve just smirked at him smugly, obviously pleased with himself, his tongue flicking out to catch a stray bit of semen that had escape.  Tony shuddered, feeling his body flush, even as it relaxed in the wake of his orgasm, leaving him slumped over Steve’s body.

 

The soldier didn’t seem to mind and simply manhandled Tony where he wanted him, turning him until he was on his back, his head on the pillows and Steve crouched above him, his laughing eyes gazing down at him. Tony stared back up at him languidly, then stretched, deliberately showing off.  Steve’s eyes darkened ferally, his smile turning hungry as he gazed down at Tony’s body, positioned in a lazy sprawl, open and receptive.

 

“Want you like this,” Steve growled, his voice almost non-verbal, it was so low. “Sated and content, ready for whatever I want to do to you.”  There was a brief pause, and then Steve practically begged, “Tell me I can.”

 

Tony grinned up at him, his tongue darting out to lick his lower lip deliberately, gratified to see Steve’s eyes zero in on it before the man reached down and pulled it into his own mouth, catching Tony’s bottom lip between his teeth and biting down with firm pressure, Tony’s muffled groan caught against his mouth.

 

With Steve crouched over him, Tony spread his legs in invitation, hooking them loosely around the back of his lover’s thighs. “Whatever you want,” he breathed.  “Anything.”

 

Steve’s eyes darkened impossibly further, the groan sounded like it was wrenched out of him in a grinding rumble. “Tony,” he choked out, one finger already sliding inside Tony, who just sighed, his body still limp and sated, heavy with post-orgasmic lethargy.  Steve rained kisses and licks and nips up and down his stomach and chest, tracing his ribs with his tongue, and biting down on his clavicle, sucking in an uneven pattern, each bruise left on Tony’s tanned skin a piece of art, a necklace of possession.

 

Tony writhed under the assault, his hands scrabbling weakly at slick skin and fine, soft hair before dropping to the sheets, tangling in the thousand thread count sheets as he panted, his body trembling and weak even as pleasure surged through him. His neglected cock twitched, trying valiantly to make another go of it, but his refractory period wasn’t quite that short.

 

Steve’s free hand had been scratching lightly across his skin, or pinning his hips to the bed, but now he trailed playful fingers down the outside of Tony’s leg, brushing lightly against the underside of his knee. Tony spasmed, his eyes widening.  “Son of a bitch,” he swore, making Steve chuckle against his skin as he trailed licks and kisses downwards.  His tongue flicked out to swipe quickly across Tony’s slowly stiffening cock before darting away to lap at the crease between thigh and groin.

 

Tony whined, bearing down on the fingers – three, now – inside of him. “Steeeeeve,” he complained.  “Come on already.  If you keep this up, I’m gonna fight back,” he threatened.

 

Steve chuckled, but obligingly shifted upwards, pressing a gentle kiss against Tony’s mouth as he slicked up his cock. No condom, Tony noticed approvingly, though he was aware that there was one sitting on the bed within easy reach.  He glanced at it, then flicked it away casually, watching Steve’s lips twitch with amusement at his obvious distaste.  “How do you want me?” Steve asked.

 

Tony debated for all of two seconds before flipping over onto his front, curving his back and lifting his ass shamelessly, spreading his legs wide. The guttural moan of desire and the sudden press of Steve’s body along the entire length of his back as that glorious cock nudged at his hole was well worth the mildly embarrassing presentation.

 

Once Steve got started, he didn’t mess around, sliding slowly but firmly into Tony’s willing body, the way made easier by the previous preparation. Tony’s smaller height worked well for this, as he was covered entirely by the other man’s bulk.  He spread his legs wider, dropping his shoulders to the bed with a soft, contented sigh, and Steve slid abruptly deeper, bottoming out inside Tony with a muffled moan pressed against damp, heated flesh.  Tony could feel every inch of him where he stretched Tony’s body out to accommodate him, a low-level burn that stung and ached pleasantly.

 

He gave the other man a moment to pull himself together, then deliberately bore down, tightening his core muscles and clamping down around the cock inside him. Steve shuddered and straightened back up onto his knees, his hands moving to grip Tony’s hips as he started moving.  He didn’t bother with slow, or careful, or finding the right angle for Tony.  Instead, he set up an irregular, harsh rhythm, only his grip on Tony’s hips keeping the smaller man from sliding across the bed.

 

Tony mewled, his body responding at long last as his arousal quickened. His body felt overheated and stretched thin, sweat dripping from his hair into his eyes and making them sting.  He was vaguely aware that he was panting out curses and pleas and who knew what else, but he couldn’t be bothered to censor himself.  This was entirely Steve’s fault, anyhow.

 

Clumsily, Tony fumbled for his own arousal, but Steve brushed his hand away. Tony growled, but Steve’s next words sent his heart skittering like made, his pulse thundering in his ears.  “I thought you still wanted to fuck me?” he murmured against Tony’s spine.  Tony shuddered, arousal spiking through him.

 

“Oh, god, yes,” he mumbled into the pillow, his hands dropping obediently back to the bed. He considered actively helping Steve to get off, but that wasn’t what the other man wanted, so he contented himself with muttering filthy praise into the air between them, enjoying Steve’s reactions to his words as much as the feeling of that powerful body thrusting into his own.

 

Steve’s rhythm faltered at the easy capitulation, his hips stuttering before settling back into a rapid, hard cadence, the room filling with the slick noise of his thrusts and the heavy slap of flesh on flesh. Tony bucked under the soldier’s thrusts, every few jolts skimming across his prostate and sending sparks up Tony’s spine and behind his eyes.  The billionaire shivered under the onslaught, helpless to do anything but take what Steve gave to him, occasionally squeezing down in encouragement.

 

Steve’s grip tightened when he came, catching them both unaware, the pressure just this side of too much, and Tony shifted up onto his elbows as the soldier’s weight collapsed on top of him, heavy and warm. Steve was breathing heavily, his pale skin flushed with exertion and trembling in the aftermath of his orgasm.  Tony just hummed appreciatively, his body aching and tingling pleasantly.  Small kisses were pressed to the skin closest to Steve’s mouth, and Tony found his own lips twitching upwards in a small, pleased smile.

 

After a moment, he decided he’d waited long enough. “Come on, soldier,” he goaded, nudging Steve until the man pulled out of him reluctantly, making them both hiss at the drag and pull of skin on sensitive flesh.  Steve flopped over onto his back, and Tony shifted immediately, sprawling across his chest and peppering his cheeks and jaw with kisses, until Steve was laughing as Tony’s beard rasped along pale skin.

 

“Tony,” he chided lightly, but made no move to budge Tony from his comfortable perch or to make him hurry things along. Tony grinned and delivered one last kiss to the tip of his nose before twisting around and settling between the other man’s legs, feeling strong muscles twitch faintly on either side of his thighs.  Steve’s eyes were dark and languid, and he had a slightly stupid grin on his face, which Tony attributed to the fact that he was an awesome fuck.  No, seriously, people had told him so, many of them with that same ridiculous expression.  The only thing that made this one any different was that it was on the face of Captain America.  Tony felt that deserved a special mention, as a point of pride, of course.

 

Tony cocked his head, watching the other man thoughtfully as he considered logistics. Bright blue eyes stared back at him, and Steve’s lips curled into a curious smile.  “What is it?” he rumbled, his voice hoarse.  Tony shivered at the sound, inordinately pleased that he had been the one to make him sound like that.

 

“We’re both kind of sticky,” he noted, shifting on the bed and grimacing as he felt the remnants of what they’d just done sliding down his skin.

 

Steve’s grin grew. “We’re not finished getting messy yet,” he countered cheerfully, waggling his eyebrows exaggeratedly.  The gesture seemed so out of place in the bedroom – and on Captain America’s face – that Tony nearly cackled with delight.

 

“No, we’re not,” he agreed with relish. “However, I think we can kill two birds with one stone, don’t you?” he asked pointedly.

 

Steve’s eyes widened, and his face flushed. Tony leered at him.  He knew that Steve was very much the soldierly type when it came to cleaning up – quick showers under hot water, clinical scrub, no time for a leisurely soak or anything more recreational.  That hadn’t stopped Tony from outfitting the man – and all the Avengers, actually – with a bathtub that could only be called decadent.  Tony was pretty sure he could fit the entire team, including the Hulk, inside one of them. Now that was food for thought, he mused idly.

 

Tony rolled easily off the bed, then grimaced as sharp pain radiated up his spine for a moment before settling back into a dull ache. It had been quite a while since he’d allowed himself to be vulnerable with another man, and Steve’s strength wasn’t anything to scoff at, even when he was being gentle.  Admittedly, the pride of making Steve lose even just a tiny bit of control was well worth the temporary discomfort, he thought smugly.

 

Strong arms banded around his waist, and Tony didn’t even have time to curse before he was being flung ass-up over Steve’s shoulder, one of Steve’s hands pressing against the top of his legs and the other pinning his knees so he didn’t kick Steve. Tony squirmed, twisting awkwardly, but it didn’t do any good as Steve walked into the bathroom.  It did, however, give Tony a spectacular view of Steve’s ass as the man moved, and Tony settled down with an appreciative grumble.  Steve just chuckled and patted him proprietarily on his backside.

 

“Oooh, kinky,” Tony said with relish, teasing the other man. Then he yelped as two fingers abruptly slid into him.  “Hey!” he protested.

 

Steve ignored him, setting his feet on the floor and grabbing his hips, turning him around and pressing his stomach against the sink cabinet before pinning him there and reapplying his fingers to Tony’s hole, causing the billionaire to writhe and whimper at the movement. Those clever fingers inevitably found his prostate, and Tony moaned throatily.  He could hear the sound of the water turning on in the tub, and knew that the jets would start soon.

 

“Hmm, we should probably get in the tub,” he suggested, his breath hitching somewhere in the middle of the sentence. Steve just hummed behind him and added another finger, and Tony arched his spine, not sure if he wanted to thrust back onto those fingers or try to curl away.  Either way, he was pinned, so his struggles didn’t do anything except give Steve better access, and he moaned as those fingers withdrew, only to be replaced with the blunt head of Steve’s cock.

 

“I thought it was my turn,” he gasped out.

 

A kiss was pressed absently to his shoulder. “It was,” Steve murmured.

 

Tony huffed in disbelief. “All right, as long as we’re clear,” he muttered.  Steve’s next thrust shoved him hard against the cabinet, the breath whooshing out of him.  Hands grabbed his hips, pulling him back onto the other man, and Tony twisted, pressing himself back into Steve’s thrusts.

 

One of Steve’s hands left his hip and reached down lower, gripping him firmly, callused fingers creating the most fabulous sensations as they pressed and pulled, smoothing pre-cum and lube along Tony’s cock. Steve pressed himself tightly to Tony’s back and spoke into his ear, his voice a low rumble of pleasure as he fucked the smaller man.

 

“Want you to just take me,” he said. “No preparation, just split me open on your cock.  I can take it.  Think you can handle that, soldier?”

 

“Yes,” Tony managed to choke out. “Fuck, yes.  Anything.”  Tony’s arousal burned sharp and bright as they moved together, his hands locked tightly around the edge of the cabinet as he stared at the two of them in the mirror.  His hair was a mess, damp and sticking to his forehead and cheeks. His skin was flushed red with arousal and exertion, his lips bruised and slick with spit, his eyes almost completely black, his knuckles white where he gripped the cabinet.  Behind him, Steve looked equally debauched, muscles rippling and flexing under taut skin as he moved.

 

The soldier looked up, his eyes catching Tony’s in the mirror. They widened, and then Steve was coming with a groan, his hips pinning Tony down as his release poured through him.  Tony was left shivering, his own neglected cock angry and swollen where it was pinned against the counter.

 

Steve stepped back, towards the tub, and Tony grabbed a small tube of lubricant from the cabinet drawer before turning to follow after him, his stalk predatory as his gazed locked on the other man. Steve was giving him a small smile as he stepped carefully into the tub and sank down into the hot water.  Tony followed him, the heat sending prickles of discomfort across sensitive skin before settling into something pleasantly soothing.

 

He reveled in the heat for a moment before shooting Steve a dark, predatory glare. Moving forward, he urged the soldier onto his knees, pressing his chest against the edge of the tub.  Without any additional warning, he slicked up his middle finger liberally before sinking it unceremoniously into Steve’s ass, watching the other man jerk around him.  “Tony,” Steve said, twisting his head around and arching his eyebrow.

 

Tony just smirked. “Just checking, Cap.  Wouldn’t want to damage a national icon, after all.”  Steve rolled his eyes, and Tony used the temporary lack of focus to rise onto his knees and slick himself up before crouching back down to push himself into the other man, moving carefully, but inexorably forward.  Steve grunted in surprise, his body clamping down, and Tony groaned.  “Relax, Steve,” he managed to grit out. 

 

After a second, Steve seemed to regain enough focus to string his words together into some semblance of meaning, because his muscles abruptly relaxed, allowing Tony to finish working himself inside with a few short thrusts, the water helping to smooth the way. They both groaned when he finally bottomed out, his balls nestled against Steve’s ass. “Damn, Cap,” Tony muttered, biting back the filthier words that wanted to spill from his lips.

 

Steve gave a breathless huff of laughter, his muscles clamping down around Tony and making the other man swear. “Shit, Steve.  If you don’t quit that, this’ll be over before it’s even begun.”  Tony considered himself an attentive lover, but Steve was sorely testing his restraint.  After all, how often was it that one could claim that they’d fucked Captain America?  Howard was probably rolling in his grave.

 

Unwelcome thoughts of his father worked to calm him down, and after a moment, he pulled back in a slow drag that made them both growl. Once he was almost all the way out, he thrust back in, water splashing up in tiny ripples around them.  He gave a few more tentative thrusts, until he was sure that he wasn’t going to hurt the other man, and then he lost himself to heat and rhythm and the feel of another body around and below him.  Steve had his head tossed back, water running in rivulets down his spine, his eyes closed as he panted, taking everything Tony had to offer.

 

Tony leaned forward and licked water off of Steve’s skin, his hand scrabbling for purchase on the other man as he fought not to slide in the tub. He should look into getting grips or something.  Or maybe he’d just create something, since whatever he made would undoubtedly be better than anything he could buy.

 

For now, though, he just focused on getting them both off, one hand wrapped around Steve’s returning erection, and the other curved around his side so Tony could play with his nipples and stroke over his firm, twitching stomach. He delivered sharp, biting kisses along Steve’s spine and shoulders, making the other man shudder, caught between conflicting sensations.  He was babbling almost continuously now, words of praise interspersed with curses and Tony’s name, spoken in supplication.  Tony felt like a god.

 

Tony was practically sealed to Steve’s back, pressed up against him in an effort to stabilize both of them, but the position was a bit awkward. Almost as soon as he thought it, Steve was reaching an arm back to grip one of his thighs, holding him steady.  Tony’s mouth curved into a pleased grin.  “Strategic logistics?” he teased lightly, nibbling on Steve’s ear before swiping the lobe with his tongue.

 

Steve shrugged. “Gets the job done,” he replied pragmatically.  Tony just rolled his eyes, shifting again and picking up his pace, his arm around Steve’s chest and the other man’s hand on his leg giving him the stability he needed to move properly.  At the first hard thrust, both men groaned.  Tony shifted minutely, searching, and after about four attempts, he found the right angle, the one that made Steve keen low in his throat, the sound nearly subsonic as it vibrated up through his chest, trembling against Tony’s palm where it had settled over his heart.

 

Tony was racing towards the finish line now, his movements forceful but erratic, his hands rubbing and scratching and pulling and tickling, making Steve squirm from where he was pressed against the side of the tub, unable to reciprocate Tony’s ministrations without sending them both underwater. “I’ve got you,” Tony murmured, his hand tightening knowledgably as he settled for a rocking rhythm that resulted in his thrusts stroking across the other man’s prostate somewhat regularly.

 

Steve groaned, his body tightening, clamping down on Tony and catching him unaware. Two aborted thrusts later, and Tony was coming, his orgasm tearing through him and leaving him limp and breathless against Steve’s back, the steam from the tub rising around him.  Steve shifted impatiently under him, and Tony realized belatedly that the other man hadn’t come yet.

 

Pulling back with a soft, tired groan, he urged Steve to turn around. The soldier eyed him skeptically, and Tony just offered him a lazy grin before taking a deep breath and ducking his head under the water, pulling Steve into his mouth.  He couldn’t do this for long, but he didn’t expect he’d need to.

 

Sure enough, Steve’s hips stuttered once, twice, jerking up into his mouth and bumping the back of this throat, and then the other man was coming, his hand on Tony’s hair not pushing or pulling, but just resting there, a comforting weight that was careful not to trap him. Tony pulled back as Steve came, grinning smugly as the jets washed away the evidence.  “Now that’s what I call servicing your nation,” he purred.

 

Steve laughed, his head back as he gasped. His arms reached out and pulled Tony towards him, and the genius went, curling up contentedly in the other man’s lap, his eyes half-closed with pleasure and exhaustion.  He hadn’t done marathon sex since he’d taken on the twin calendar girls, back before Afghanistan and Iron Man and the Avengers.

 

The two of them just sat there for several minutes, their breathing settling as their heartbeats slowed back to normal. Tony felt limp and wrung out, and only protested with a grunt when Steve moved him, having recovered first.  “It’s all right, Tony,” Steve murmured, making sure that he was sitting on one of the ledges that ringed the decadent bathtub before pulling away just long enough to get a few washcloths and some of the various bottles that lay around the edges, tucked into depressed sections of tile.

 

Carefully, Steve cleaned Tony, and then himself, his touch almost reverent as he smoothed soap along Tony’s limbs and torso. He was thorough, but efficient, and the two of them were clambering out of the tub fifteen minutes later, wrapping themselves in large, fluffy, heated towels, courtesy of JARVIS.

 

Tony was the first to stumble back into the bedroom, and he blinked, nonplussed. The bed had been remade, the comforter and sheets replaced entirely.  On the table next to the bed were two glasses of water and a plate of fruit.  Tony downed the water gratefully, having not realized before now just how thirsty he was.

 

Steve was behind him, drinking his own glass of water, seemingly unconcerned about the fact that somebody had apparently waltzed into his bedroom while he’d been otherwise occupied with Tony. The soldier caught Tony’s look and smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners as he gestured towards the bed.  Tony glanced outside – it was still only late afternoon, there was plenty he should be doing – and then crawled into the bed.  It could wait.

 

Steve crawled in after him, facing Tony. Strong arms reached out and pulled Tony towards him, allowing the billionaire to curl up against him.  “Okay?” Steve murmured.  Tony nodded, his face buried against Steve’s sternum.  “JARVIS, could you tell Bruce it’s okay to come in?” he asked next.

 

Tony stiffened as the AI acknowledged Steve’s request. A moment later, he heard the soft patter of Bruce’s footsteps on the carpet.  He lifted his head, but a large hand pressed him back down gently.  “It’s all right,” Steve murmured.

 

Tony twisted his head to the side, and this time, Steve didn’t stop him. He watched as Bruce came to stand next to the bed, watching the two of them fondly, his expression placid.  Glancing at the table, he reached out and snapped off a small bunch of grapes, picking them off one by one and holding them out to Tony, who accepted them wordlessly, making Bruce smile affectionately as he glanced at Steve.  “May I?” he asked politely. 

 

Steve grinned. “I don’t mind if he doesn’t,” he replied, his hand rubbing firmly up and down Tony’s arm.  Bruce turned to him expectantly, and Tony blinked.

 

“Um, no, I don’t…I don’t mind. What are we doing, again?” he asked, not sure what was going on anymore.  Twin chuckles met his confusion, and he pouted.

 

A moment later, he started in surprise as Bruce climbed into the bed – clambering right over the two of them in the process – before pressing up against Tony’s back, a firm line of heat all the way down his spine. “Oh,” he murmured, his body relaxing under the combined warmth of two serum-enhanced bodies.  He had known, theoretically, that both men had higher than normal body temperatures thanks to the serum, but he hadn’t realized just how much of a difference it would make.  He felt like he was surrounded by a living, breathing electric blanket, and it was glorious.

 

“I thought you weren’t sleeping with anybody,” Tony managed to mumble, his eyes already closing.

 

Bruce’s hand smoothed his hair back before the other man pressed a kiss to his shoulder. “I’m not,” he agreed quietly.  “This is for you.”  Steve hummed in agreement.  Tony felt like he should protest, but he was too tired, and too comfortable, to argue.  Instead, he just closed his eyes, allowing the soft murmur of voices to wash over him as he drifted off to slumber.  There would be time later to figure things out.

 

For now, though, he had two gorgeous men surrounding him, and he intended to make the most of it.

 

Just as soon as he woke back up.

Chapter Text

Tony awoke to an empty bed, blinking the sleep out of his eyes and shivering lightly now that his two heated companions were gone. He tried not to resent that.  “JARVIS?” he mumbled, knowing the AI would know what he wanted.

 

“It’s ten thirty-three in the morning. Captain Rogers is down in the gym with Master Thor,” JARVIS replied promptly. “Doctor Banner is in his lab, but has requested that you join him at your earliest convenience.” He sounded pleased, and Tony felt himself echoing the sentiment, glad that Bruce hadn’t locked him out this time.  He wondered again what Bruce had been working on, but decided that it didn’t really matter.  Either Bruce would let him know or he wouldn’t.  Either way, it was his lab, and he could do what he liked.  Hell, for all Tony knew, it was just a test to see if he really was allowed to block things from Tony in the Tower.

 

He slipped out of the nest of blankets and onto the floor, stretching luxuriously. “J, start the coffee, would you?” he murmured.

 

“Of course, sir,” JARVIS replied. “Would you like me to start it in Captain Rogers’ kitchen, your kitchen, the common floor’s kitchen, or Doctor Banner’s lab?”

 

Tony grinned, snapping his fingers. “All of them, of course,” he decided imperiously. JARVIS responded with a brief crackling noise that substituted as a resigned sigh.  Tony’s mind immediately turned towards ways to make that more realistic.  JARVIS could practically pass for human in his own right, and he was mostly autonomous, capable of learning of his own volition, but some things could still use improvement.

 

Tony wandered into Steve’s living room, taking a quick look around before sauntering into the kitchen, where a pot of coffee was percolating, the aroma of rich coffee beans filling the room. There was a note attached to it, and Tony grinned as he read it.  Good morning, Tony. I apologize if I’m not here when you wake up, but my body doesn’t need much sleep anymore, and I didn’t want to disturb you or Bruce.  Please help yourself to whatever you’d like.  –Steve

 

Snagging his first cup of coffee and wrapping his hands around the warm mug, Tony sipped at it carefully as he wandered back out into the main portion of the suite, sharp eyes taking in what he could. He was tempted to start poking around a bit, but figured Steve might see that as an invasion of privacy.  Despite what people generally thought about him, Tony did have some small sense of propriety and personal space.  He simply chose to ignore boundaries more often than not.

 

Steve’s space was simple and straightforward, all clean lines and sharp angles, much like the man himself. The furniture was modern, but basic and sparse, as if the man didn’t spend much time here, but instead left the furniture there for the occasional guest.  There weren’t any photos or personal knickknacks on the shelves, not even a blanket thrown over the back of the couch.

 

Five minutes later, Tony realized why most of the suite seemed so bare. Steve’s life was condensed into the four walls of the large studio that Tony had built into the schematics for the building.  Sketches were everywhere, lining the walls and sitting on tables, notebooks piled haphazardly on the floor and a series of couches that formed a half-circle in the middle of the room.  Small knickknacks lined the shelves, and Tony paused as he caught sight of a miniaturized mechanical Captain America figure that lit up and played ‘Star Spangled Man With a Plan’ whenever someone passed in front of it.  He had given that to Steve when the soldier had first moved in, as a sort of joke.  He didn’t know how to feel now, knowing that Steve had kept it despite his embarrassment when it had been presented to him.

 

The images on the walls were scenes from countries and places that Tony had never been to, but suspected might be from the war. There were a few more personal sketches, too, and Tony frowned as he recognized the Howling Commandos, Peggy Carter, and even a picture of Howard Stark, young and carefree as he chatted up a pretty lady at a bar. The room was a fascinating glimpse into Steve’s past, and Tony felt vaguely like an intruder, but not enough to make him leave.  Still, he reminded himself reluctantly, he had things to do, including going to see what Bruce needed and then maybe working in the shop for a while, provided that Pepper didn’t drop by with a bunch of SI business for him to take care of first.

 

With a last look around, Tony headed for the door, cursing as he stumbled into a stack of sketchbooks. Grumbling under his breath, Tony picked up the top one.  And froze.  He stared down at a picture of himself, curled up in one of the armchairs on the common room floor, dark circles under his eyes and his face drawn with exhaustion and stress, even in sleep.  He vaguely remembered that day, which had just been one in a long week of meetings and battles and debriefings and repairs and upgrades.  He had run himself ragged, going until he couldn’t walk straight anymore.  He didn’t remember going to the common floor, or collapsing into the chair, but he remembered waking up to warmth and a terrible crick in his neck, a blanket wrapped around him and Steve sitting in the corner of the couch, watching him quietly, a closed sketchbook in his lap.

 

“Dammit, Steve,” he muttered, his voice thick in his throat. Quickly, he flipped through the other pages, which were filled with drawings of the whole team.  There was Bruce bent over a microscope, his gaze intent and his mouth open, probably talking to JARVIS or recording notes.  Another picture of him staring out at Tony with a mildly perplexed expression on his face, like he wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

 

There was a sketch of Natasha, lithe and deadly as she danced across the gym, Thor grinning widely as he tried to pin her down. Clint, with his arms flexing as he held a bowstring taut, the picture filled with an air of expectation, that moment of watchfulness before the archer would let the arrow fly, sinking it into its target with lethal accuracy.

 

More drawings, all of them tiny glimpses into the lives of the Avengers, as seen through the eyes of Steve Rogers. It was breathtaking, and Tony closed the book reverently before setting in on top of another stack of books and grabbing his coffee mug from where he’d set it when he’d gotten distracted. 

 

Careful not to disturb any more of the sketches, Tony wove his way out of the studio and back into the kitchen, setting his empty coffee mug in the sink and heading for the elevator, his mood pensive. He didn’t really know what he’d expected to find in Steve’s rooms – mostly because he’d never expected to have cause to actually be on Steve’s floor – but he was pretty sure it wasn’t that.  It was like Steve had a whole world of memories shoved into that one room, or perhaps he was afraid that he’d wake up one day and have nothing left but those sketches.  Tony wasn’t sure which possibility was more depressing.

 

JARVIS took him straight to his floor, and Tony ignored the kitchen entirely, heading instead for his bedroom so he could grab a clean pair of clothes and tidy up a bit. He’d seen himself first thing in the morning, and it wasn’t pretty.

 

Throwing on a ratty pair of jeans and a tank top – after checking with JARVIS that he wasn’t actually expected to be at Stark Industries that day – Tony ran some product and a comb through his hair, took care of trimming his goatee, and headed back out. He considered heading straight down to Bruce’s lab, but decided that he might as well make a detour first, see if anybody else was around.  Steve was in the gym.  Thor was probably still with him.  Natasha and Clint would probably be around, though whether they’d be in the mood for company was another matter entirely.  They both tended to get moody when Coulson was on a mission without them.

 

The common living area was surprisingly empty when Tony wandered in. Then again, he thought, glancing at the nearest display, it was after eleven in the morning.  No doubt the others had already been up for hours and were doing their own thing.  He certainly couldn’t expect them to be around when he felt like showing up, now could he?

 

A tiny part of him was still a bit disappointed, though, so he just shuffled into the kitchen, grabbed a mug of coffee, and shuffled back out. On the way, he passed by the fridge, the note attached to it with a tiny Hawkeye magnet catching his eyes.  Apparently Clint and Natasha had decided to wander off on their own to SHIELD Headquarters, no doubt to see if they could figure out what Coulson was up to, if he hadn’t told them before he’d left the previous day.

 

Tony snorted; the three of them were practically inseparable, and they were all a pain in the ass to deal with if they got separated. Not that they hadn’t tolerated it before.  They’d worked for SHIELD; working separate missions was part of the job description.  After all, Clint had been in New Mexico while Natasha had been here, spying on him.  Maybe that explained why she’d been so grouchy when she’d threatened him in Latin.

 

“I need more coffee,” Tony muttered into his mug. JARVIS didn’t reply, but then again, Tony hadn’t been expecting a response, so there was that.  His AI was the best.

 

His next stop was on the floor that held both his and Bruce’s labs. He had another, separate workshop, of course, where he kept his bots and his armor, but that one was designed for engineering.  And the occasional car repair, when he was bored.  His lab, however, was for other projects, things like prototypes for SI’s tech division, or analytical simulations, even the occasional chemistry experiment that he mostly used as an excuse to make awesome explosions.

 

Bruce’s lab was a makeshift combination of chemistry, biophysics, botany, and whatever other scientific field of study had caught his interest at any given time. Tony was just grateful that the other man had, as far as he knew, given up on curing the Hulk and turned instead towards figuring out how to help steer him, to make use of his destructive power.  Tony thought it was going rather well, though Bruce tended to disagree, considering that the property damage spiked anywhere the Hulk made an appearance.  Tony had countered, rather pragmatically, that the death tolls, however, had gone down.  Whether that was because the Hulk destroyed the enemy faster than they could attack, or whether it was because people tended to run the fuck away when the Hulk showed up was still a matter of debate.

 

He sauntered into Bruce’s lab and headed straight for the coffee pot without bothering to announce himself, and the other man looked up at him over the rim of his glasses, offering Tony a small, fond smile. “Good morning, Tony,” he greeted.

 

Tony leered back at him lasciviously as he downed a gulp of the newly brewed hot liquid. “And what a lovely morning it was, too!” he exclaimed.  “I woke up all by myself in Captain America’s bed.”  He batted his eyelashes and mock swooned.  Bruce wasn’t fooled.

 

The other man glanced at the clock in the corner of screen, blinking myopically at the display before blushing lightly. “Ah, sorry,” he murmured.  “I had only meant to come check on a time-sensitive experiment,” he admitted, gesturing over to a table that was pitted and scarred.  A failed experiment, then.  “I started re-running the calculations to see what went wrong and lost track of time.  I asked JARVIS to let you know where I was if you woke up before I got back.”

 

He seemed genuinely distressed at the thought of Tony waking up alone after the previous few nights, and the billionaire felt any lingering resentment fade. It was miraculous that Bruce even wanted to be with him, that anybody did; he didn’t have the right to ask for more than that.  So he offered the man a forgiving smile and ruffled his hair, just to watch the way Bruce scowled as he exclaimed, “Ah, the call of science! Far more interesting than watching my handsome person sleeping,” he teased, but his words were sincere – Bruce wasn’t the only one who lost track of time when on a work binge – and the grateful smile he got for his understanding was totally worth the concession.

 

He draped himself casually over Bruce’s back, his weight pressing the other man towards the table so that Bruce had to brace them both with his hands as Tony rested his chin on the other man’s shoulder. “So…JARVIS said you asked me to come down.  Do you have something awesome to show me?” he prodded, impatient now at the prospect of getting to see what Bruce had been working on.

 

Bruce glanced back at him wryly, his expression one of fond tolerance as he retorted, “Who says I have anything for you?”

 

Tony widened his eyes deliberately, his lips curving up into a delighted grin. “Oooh! So it is for me, then!” he deduced happily. “What is it?  Come on and tell me already,” he insisted, his eyes darting around the room as if he could see what Bruce was hiding from him with just a glance.

 

Bruce chuckled then pulled something up on the closest holographic screen, easily holding them both up with just one hand. Tony’s admiration of Bruce’s hidden strength was quickly wiped out by a sick feeling of dread as he stared at the familiar data in front of him.  He swallowed hard. “I can explain,” he started weakly.

 

Bruce turned his head and brushed a kiss against Tony’s lips. The genius fell silent, waiting, nearly vibrating with tension.  “It’s fine,” Bruce murmured.  “And what’s more…I think I might have solved your problem.”  Turning back around to face the screen, straightening up as Tony took a nervous step back, Bruce pulled up more data.  “It’s a good idea, Tony,” Bruce murmured, surprising the billionaire, “but you were having trouble with the practical application, right?”

 

Tony nodded dumbly. “Uh, yeah, sort of,” he murmured, eyeing the Hulkbuster armor plans warily. He liked the big guy, trusted him, even.  But that didn’t mean that that he didn’t have a healthy respect for what the Hulk was capable of.  He had seen the devastation wrought in Harlem after the Hulk had taken on Blonsky; the repairs had taken months and nearly sunk the city into crippling debt.  Fortunately, somebody had successfully managed to spin the entire thing as a national emergency and had gotten federal funding for at least part of the recovery effort.

 

Tony knew that Bruce still felt guilty about that. Hell, he had brought it up himself on the Helicarrier. The last time I was in New York, I sort of broke Harlem. If Tony could do anything at all to reassure Bruce that he wouldn’t let that happen ever again, then maybe the other man would stick around.  That was the only reason he had started designing the Mark 44.  Tony wasn’t foolish enough to believe that his friendship – and now this new intimacy between them – would be enough to make Bruce stay if the other man truly felt that he needed to skip town.  Tony just hoped that he at least said good-bye first.

 

He realized that Bruce was watching him carefully, and he blinked, banishing the self-recriminations in favor of answering his friend. “What’ve you come up with?” he murmured.  Bruce gave him a knowing look, but didn’t push, and Tony relaxed slightly as the physicist turned back around.

 

“JARVIS, pull up the data for the Mark VII, would you?” he asked. Tony had given him access to data on all of  the suits, barring the one he was working on, and the only reason he didn’t have access to that information was because it wasn’t complete.  Tony was improvising and making improvements as he went along, and the basic format was no different than the Mark Fifty-Six, or the Mark Twelve, for that matter.  Same concept, different variations.

 

The AI obligingly pulled up the smaller suit, and Bruce manipulated the two images until the smaller suit nestled neatly into the larger one. “The problem is the size and weight, right?  Even with help from JARVIS with the controls, you’d have to exert a frankly impressive amount of strength.  If you use one of the regular armors, wouldn’t that give you the leverage you need to control this one?” Bruce asked, though it was obvious that he already knew the answer and was just awaiting confirmation.

 

Tony stared. Then he grinned, wrapping his arms around Bruce’s next from behind.  “Oh, you big, sexy, beautiful thing, you!  JARVIS, start working on that.  Use the Mark Forty-Two platform,” he ordered.  “And don’t disturb me. I’m going to be busy for a while.”  He turned Bruce around and crowded the other man up against the table, watching as Bruce smiled at him uncertainly, his eyes already darkening as he caught on to Tony’s rather blatant come-on.

 

“Of course, sir,” JARVIS answered. “Might I suggest, sir, that you and Doctor Banner make use of the privacy function?”

 

“Uh huh,” Tony mumbled, already leaning in for a kiss. Bruce’s hands shifted from the table to rest on the curve of his hips, then slid up to his waist, pulling the hem of his shirt away and slipping against warm skin as he met Tony’s kiss with smiling lips.

 

Bruce indulged him with deep, lazy kisses for several long moments as Tony practically melted against him. Then he shifted, straightening up from where he’d been bent slightly backwards over the lab table, pulling away almost reluctantly, his hands still on Tony’s hips.  “Tony, this isn’t really a good time,” he mumbled.  “Or place,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

 

Tony pulled away with a pout, but didn’t otherwise protest the restriction. If he had been less uncertain about their relationship, he would probably push for more and see if he couldn’t talk Bruce into some kinky lab sex, but this – whatever it was they had – was still too new for him to jeopardize it by pushing for something that Bruce might not be into.  The hesitation in the other man’s voice might mean that he could be talked into at least a quick blowjob, but it might also mean that Tony was treading dangerous territory.  He really was terrible at all the subtle nuances of interpersonal relationships.

 

“Fine,” he muttered unhappily, willing his erection to die down. He really did have work to accomplish today, and if Bruce wasn’t going to take care of him, he’d rather just get to it.  He took a step back, and Bruce let him go, watching him as they both got themselves under control.  Tony rubbed idly at his mouth before shaking his head sharply, bringing his focus back to the present.

 

“So…other than coming up with brilliant ideas for my suits, what else have you been working on?” Tony asked nonchalantly. It was possible that Bruce had locked him out when he had discovered the Hulkbuster schematics, but Tony somehow doubted that.  It was far more likely that Bruce had discovered that particular data some time earlier and had just not brought it up until now, as unsure about their relationship as Tony was.

 

Bruce shook his head. “Nothing important,” he dismissed.  Tony narrowed his eyes, and Bruce smiled ruefully.  “Well, nothing important yet,” he admitted, gesturing over to the destroyed table.  Tony eyed ground zero with serious misgivings, but figured that Bruce wouldn’t have called him down here if there was anything toxic happening.

 

“All right,” he shrugged, getting a small amount of satisfaction at the surprise that flitted across Bruce’s face at his easy capitulation. It was obvious that the other man had expected him to argue or try to tease an actual answer out of him, but Tony had decided early on in their acquaintance that he trusted Bruce Banner. When his friend was ready to tell him what he was working on that was so secretive he locked even Tony out of the lab, he would.  That wasn’t to say that Tony wouldn’t try to find out on his own, of course; he wouldn’t be Tony Stark otherwise.  But he wouldn’t use underhanded methods in his hunt for the truth, either.  He told himself he was better than that.

 

He opened his mouth to excuse himself – or perhaps to steal another kiss, he wasn’t sure – but he was interrupted by JARVIS’s untimely alert. “Sir, there has been a confirmed sighting of the Winter Soldier. Shall I alert Captain Rogers?”

 

Tony scowled, disgruntled at the interruption, and shook his head. “No, JARVIS.  I’ll tell him. Is he still in the gym?”  After the first few times Steve had run off after Barnes without notifying anybody, Tony had ordered JARVIS to inform him first before letting Steve know about any potential sightings.  At least that way, he’d know where to send help if the soldier wasn’t back in a timely fashion, with or without a brainwashed ex-Hydra agent.

 

“Captain Rogers is currently in the shower, sir,” JARVIS replied innocently. “However, I am certain that he would appreciate prompt notice, and would not mind if you wished to inform him there.” Behind him, Bruce snorted at the AI’s cheekiness, and Tony rolled his eyes.  He slept with the guy one time – one time – and suddenly his AI was throwing innuendos around.  He could at least throw them around when referring to Bruce instead.

 

He flashed a quick salute at the man behind him. “Duty calls,” he said cheerfully, leaning in for another quick kiss before allowing himself to be shooed out of the lab, Bruce already turning back to his work with a low chuckle.  Tony grinned; making Bruce smile and laugh was something of an accomplishment, though it had been getting easier to draw them out of the other man as it slowly sunk in that he really was safe, and more importantly, he was wanted.  Tony hadn’t invited him to live at the Tower with him because he wanted to control the Hulk, or keep Bruce locked away.  He had genuinely wanted the man for a friend, as well as a peer.  Geniuses weren’t exactly common, and most of the ones he’d met, he couldn’t stand.  Bruce was special, though.  Tony had known that from the moment he’d read the man’s first dissertation, and his regard for Bruce had only grown once they’d actually met face-to-face.

 

Tony still couldn’t believe his luck. Not only did Bruce return his desire and affection, but he was selfless and giving.  Tony didn’t know if he could’ve let Bruce go to one of the others after they’d gotten together.  He knew it was hypocritical of him, to want to sleep with his other teammates even as he entered into a relationship – was it a relationship? He’d have to ask Bruce later, maybe – with Bruce, when he wasn’t sure that he could give equal consideration in turn.  The fact that Bruce had turned down everybody else stirred up feelings in Tony that he didn’t particularly want to examine too closely.

 

Swallowing as the elevator released him on Steve’s floor, Tony pushed the newest crisis to a far corner of his mind to deal with later – or never, if he could get away with it – and headed towards the shower. The sound of running water mingled with a deep, low hum, and Tony paused, suddenly unsure.  Just because he had slept with Steve the night before didn’t mean that the man would appreciate having Tony barge in on him in the shower.  Maybe he should wait until Steve was finished and dressed before bringing up the latest sighting of Barnes?

 

In the end, what decided him was the fact that if this was Bruce, or even Pepper, he would absolutely want to know about a sighting as soon as possible, no matter what he was in the middle of. Raising his hand, Tony knocked firmly twice, then walked in without waiting for a reply, steam billowing around him from the draft of cool air from outside. Tony shivered at the temperature difference, closing the door carefully behind him before turning around and looking up.

 

“Tony? What’s wrong?” Steve asked, pulling the curtain partially aside and peering out at him, his hair lathered with shampoo, blinking water out of his eyes.  Blindly, he reached for a towel, and Tony handed one to him wordlessly, his eyes drinking in the sight of naked super soldier while Steve wiped his face.

 

“Tony?” Steve asked again, his voice taking on a distinctive worried tone, startling Tony out of his daze.

 

Tony’s eyes snapped up to meet concerned blue ones, and he swallowed. “Ah…I thought you might want to know that there’s been a sighting, over in Brooklyn.”  He didn’t have to go into details; there was only one sighting that Steve was interested in.

 

Blue eyes widened with urgency, and Steve would probably have climbed right out of the tub, soapy hair and all, but Tony pushed him back firmly, trying to ignore the feel of a firm, wet chest under his palms. “Whoa, slow down.  JARVIS is tracking him, he’s not going anywhere.  At least rinse out your hair first,” he urged the soldier.

 

Steve scowled, but ducked down under the water, emerging ten seconds later and clambering out of the shower, the water shutting off behind him. He was toweling himself dry when he seemed to realize that Tony was still there and turned to look at him quizzically, eyes roaming Tony’s body as if he could see through the genius’s clothes.  Tony rather hoped he couldn’t; while he knew he looked good for his age, he wasn’t anywhere close to the same league as Captain America.

 

“Brooklyn?” Steve asked, his voice muffled by the towel as he dried his hair. It took Tony a moment to process the words and find his own.

 

“Oh, uh, yeah,” he managed. “Looks like your buddy was visiting your old apartment.”  He kept his tone cool, but caught the flicker of hope that flashed across Steve’s face at the idea that maybe Bucky was starting to remember him, to remember things about their shared past.  “He broke in, actually, but didn’t damage anything but the door.”  JARVIS had filled him in on the way to Steve’s rooms, and he gave Steve what little information he had.  “There haven’t been any signs of him leaving yet,” he added.

 

Steve froze for a moment, then broke out into a flurry of movement, tossing his towel in the hamper and reaching for his clothes before deciding that he didn’t want to put on sweats – not if he was going to be chasing after Bucky – and heading instead for his closet. Tony followed him more slowly, trying to push down the irritable, jealous feeling that was caught in his throat.  Steve deserved happiness, and so did Bucky.  He didn’t have any right to stop Steve from chasing after the other man.

 

Steve must have seen something on his face, though, because he was suddenly standing in front of Tony, strong hands cupping his face and tilting his head up. Tony looked up reluctantly, and was rewarded with a gentle, chaste kiss. He opened his mouth with a quiet sigh, but Steve was already pulling back, and he bit back the urge to reach out and grab the other man.  “You’d…better get going,” he mumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets.  “I don’t know how long he’ll stay put.  Hell, he might already be gone.”

 

He regretted the words immediately when he saw Steve flinch, but he didn’t take them back. They were true, after all, and the sooner Steve left, the sooner he could pick up the trail if the Winter Soldier had indeed left the apartment building without being seen.  Because if anybody could avoid detection, it was Hydra’s pet assassin.

 

Tony realized that his thoughts had taken a distinctly uncharitable turn, but Steve was nodding, so Tony pushed the brief flare of regret back. “Yeah, I guess,” he murmured.  Then he looked askance at Tony.  “I might be gone for a while,” he offered.  Tony smiled bitterly, meeting the soldier’s eyes, but his words were as gentle and understanding as he could make them. 

 

“I know, Steve. I’ll be fine.  I’ve got Bruce here.”  He smiled again, more genuinely this time.  “Now, go get your best friend back, okay?”

 

Steve searched his expression, and while he didn’t appear to be completely mollified, his shoulders relaxed and he offered Tony a small smile in return. “Thanks, Tony.”  For a moment, it seemed as if he’d kiss Tony again, but instead, he just turned on his heel and left the room, leaving the door open for Tony to follow.  After a minute, the elevator bell chimed, spurring Tony into action.

 

“JARVIS, keep an eye on Rogers. Is the shield tracker activated?”  Tony had decided that tracking Steve’s shield was practically as good as tracking the man himself, and he had promised not to inject any of them with trackers or have some sewn into their clothes.  But none of them ever went without their weapons.  He rather suspected that the other Avengers knew about the trackers and were just humoring him, but as long as they stayed the hell put, he wasn’t going to bring them up.

 

“It is, sir,” JARVIS assured him archly.   “Shall I keep you updated on the Captain’s progress?”

 

Tony shook his head, slipping into the elevator and hitting the button for his workshop. “No, just…keep an eye on him.  Make sure he doesn’t do something stupid, like get himself killed.  The paperwork for that would suck.  And Agent is scarier than that damn pirate when he’s pissed.”

 

“Understood. I shall alert you if the Captain endeavors to get himself assassinated by the Winter Soldier,” JARVIS reassured him drily. “Would you like me to monitor the others as well, sir?”

 

Tony rolled his eyes as the doors to his workshop slid open, then shut again behind him. “You do that anyhow,” he replied lightly. “But you could tell me how Agent’s doing.”

 

“Agent Coulson and his team have successfully rescued over two dozen operatives. The remaining rescue operations will be undertaken by various teams in nearby countries.  Agent Coulson is currently stationed on the SHIELD Helicarrier, along with Agent Barton and Agent Romanov, who are unharmed.”

 

“I didn’t ask, JARVIS,” Tony sighed.

 

“My humblest apologies, sir,” JARVIS replied. “I had not meant to imply that you might be worried about your teammates.”

 

Against his will, Tony felt his lips twitching into an approximation of a smile. His AI was absolutely incorrigible.  It was fantastic.

 

“You forgot a few of them, then,” he noted idly.

 

“Ah,” JARVIS replied, “so I did. How remiss of me.”  A pregnant silence ensued, and Tony sighed, making a ‘give me’ gesture.  The AI complied with only a hint of smugness.  “Doctor Banner is still in his lab, working on a new attempt at his earlier failed experiment. Prince Thor has inquired as to your whereabouts and is headed towards the workshop.”

 

“Stop him,” Tony ordered. “I have work to do, and the last thing I need is for Shakespeare there to destroy one of my suits.  Again.”  He considered for a moment, well aware that what he was about to do would probably result in disapproval from the majority of the team, but deciding that he really didn’t care.  He’d care later, maybe.  “Let Thor know that Steve has gone after his old war pal, would you?  Somebody should be waiting for him if that idiot runs again.”

 

“I’m sure the Captain will appreciate your thoughtfulness on his behalf,” JARVIS reproached mildly. Tony ignored the chastisement.  The AI would do as he’d been told, even if he was reluctant.  His primary protocol was to assist and protect Tony, after all.

 

“Good,” he said. “Now put us in lockdown.”  Immediately, the windows went opaque, even as the lab locked itself to all outsiders.  “Dummy, You, Butterfingers, wake up,” he ordered, snapping his fingers.  “We’ve got work to do.  J, pull up the Mark Forty-Two schematics, and the Hulkbuster armor.  Let’s see if we can’t get this guy up and running, shall we?”

 

Displays lit up all around the lab, even as JARVIS replied, switching to a professional tone as they got down to business. “Of course, sir. Also, Miss Potts has sent over some military contracts for your perusal.  They have already been presented to Stark Industries’ legal consultants, and are merely awaiting final approval before implementation.”

 

Tony nodded. “Wonderful, excellent, pull them up, too.  Let’s make sure the army isn’t trying to screw us over.  Again. Also, Ross didn’t get to put in any requests, did he?  Because if I see his name on a single line, I’m burning it.  I don’t care what it’s for.”  He still had a bone to pick with the other man, but as long as Ross kept his distance and stayed the hell away from Bruce, he’d leave him alone. 

 

“General Ross’s name is not on any of the documentation, sir, nor do there appear to be any ties to any of his superiors or subordinates,” JARVIS reassured him. A computer booted up with a scanned copy of the military contracts.  Tony would look them over and make any changes he wanted, and then they’d be sent back to SI’s lawyers, who would deal directly with the military before implementation began.

 

Dummy nudged his arm curiously, his brothers watching from a short distance away, and Tony patted him absentmindedly. “Hi, Dummy. Let’s get cracking, shall we?”  And with that, he bent his concentration to his work.

 

Chapter Text

Tony was brought out of his work frenzy when the doors to his workshop slid open. He lifted his head from the knife set he was carefully testing for strength and balance – Natasha had been wanting some – to glare at the intruder.  “What do you want, Barton?” he grouched, though he wasn’t really upset.  Now that he’d been interrupted, he realized that just how hungry and exhausted he was. His back hurt from staying stooped over the workbenches for so long and he winced as he straightened up, Extremis zinging along under his skin and easing some of the tension.  A massage would do the job better, but Tony didn’t currently have a masseuse on his payroll – a grave oversight on his part, and one that he would be correcting very shortly.

 

Clint just raised an unimpressed eyebrow at him. “How long’ve you been down here?” he asked, his hands in the pockets of his faded jeans as he strolled casually into Tony’s workspace.  The engineer narrowed his eyes at the other man, but the archer was obviously not unconcerned, looking around the room in interest.  “Bruce said he hasn’t seen you since yesterday morning,” he offered, as if he wasn’t encroaching on Tony’s territory.  The billionaire fought the urge to snarl, and Clint smirked at him, fully aware of what was going through Tony’s head.

 

“Then how come he’s not the one down here?” he challenged. “Why you?”

 

Clint shrugged. “The big guy’s cooking, Cap isn’t back yet, and Nat made it very clear that she wants to be left alone.  She was pretty creative in her threats,” he admitted.  “I’ve already spent time with Thor,” he added gleefully, gesturing at his hair, which was sticking up all over the place, probably the result of tumbling around with a god of thunder.  “So that just left you, and I figured that maybe I could annoy you enough to force you out of your workshop without resorting to destroying it.”

 

Tony pointed a wrench at him. “You do realize that telling me your evil plans gives me the opportunity to find a way around them, right?” he asked.

 

Clint shrugged, undaunted, then settled himself down on the worn couch on the far side of the workshop. “Like I care,” he replied cheerfully.  “I’ll just wait until you’re ready to leave, shall I?”  And with that, he crossed his hands behind his head, tipped his face to stare up at the ceiling, and started whistling something that Tony didn’t recognize, but that was nonetheless highly irritating.

 

“JARVIS, music!” he snapped. Instantly, the rumbling bass of AC/DC flowed through the room, the floor practically vibrating from the concussive noise, which effectively drowned out the archer, who was apparently unaffected by the noise level.  Tony scowled, then turned back to his work, running his fingers carefully along the top of the blades.  He tried very hard to ignore the fact that somebody else who wasn’t Bruce was in his workshop with him.  He made a special effort for Bruce, and the other man appreciated it and didn’t come in very often, preferring to work with Tony in his other lab upstairs.

 

Warm hands on his shoulders startled him, and Tony swore as his hand slipped, skimming along the edge of the blade and knocking the entire collection to the floor. “Oh, shit!” Clint swore from behind him, grabbing his wrists and turning his palms upward.  He immediately dropped the left hand, cupping the right in both hands and eyeing the line across Tony’s palm which was bleeding pretty profusely, threatening to start dripping on the floor.

 

Tony growled, trying unsuccessfully to pull his hand away from the other man’s grip. “Goddammit, Barton.  Dummy, You, Butterfingers.  Clean up,” he ordered darkly, the bots nearly colliding into the two men in their haste to get at the fallen blades and spilled blood.  Clint was already tugging him towards the first aid station, and Tony rolled his eyes, but let himself be pulled along, Clint babbling apologies the whole time.

 

Tony knew that he should probably be more gracious, but he was feeling distinctly uncharitable right now. His back still ached, and now his hand was starting to throb with a vicious pain as the nerves finally caught on.  Extremis was heating up under his skin, and he pulled away from Clint just as the other man turned around, clutching the first aid kit in his hands.  “Sit down,” Clint ordered, pushing him onto the nearest stool.

 

“It’ll heal, Barton,” Tony huffed. “Just leave it.”  He pulled his hands out of range, but the archer just grabbed his elbows and tugged them back down, grabbing a basin and a bottle of water and urging Tony to hold his hands over the basin so he could wash away the blood and see the actual injury underneath.  Tony hissed as the water hit the cut, and realized that it was deeper than he’d first realized.  At least he knew the blades were sharp – Natasha would be pleased, once he got his blood off of them.

 

“Fuck,” Clint was muttering. “Where’s Banner when you need him?”

 

“Shall I call Doctor Banner, Agent Barton?” JARVIS asked.  Tony glared at the far wall as Clint examined his hand, pouring another dose of water over it before drying it carefully.

 

“Depends,” he said, his eyes flicking up to Tony. “How quickly do you heal?”

 

The billionaire shrugged. “It’s deeper than I thought.  It’ll probably take a couple of hours, maybe less.  JARVIS, don’t call Bruce.  There’s no need, I’m fine.”  Clint snorted in disbelief, and Tony glared at him. “Look, Katniss, this isn’t my fault here, for once.” Because even he could admit that most of his lab-related injuries were self-inflicted, if unintentional.

 

The archer was immediately contrite, even as he applied firm pressure to the cut. Both men watched as the fabric quickly turned red.  Clint silently replaced the towel, and this time the saturation took a bit longer.  The archer grimaced.  “We should probably disinfect it, huh?” he asked.

 

Tony shrugged. “Probably,” he agreed, hissing as Clint unceremoniously doused his entire hand in antiseptic.  “Goddammit, Barton!” he snapped, his fingers curling inwards.

 

“Sorry,” Clint muttered, pulling out some bandages and starting to wrap Tony’s hand. He was surprisingly efficient, and the bandage was wrapped neatly and snug enough without being too tight.  Clint must’ve seen Tony’s reluctantly impressed look because he quirked a quick smile.  “Nat and I tend to take care of each other when we’re hurt,” he replied.  “Unless it requires major surgery or something,” he grimaced.

 

Tony nodded; he completely understood where the other man was coming from. In fact, he hated hospitals enough that unless he was unconscious and in danger of imminent death, he preferred to return to Avengers Tower and go the medical ward there.  All of the doctors and nurses had been through a grueling, rigorous interview process, and he still trusted them only slightly more than an unknown, random doctor.  He’d much rather see Bruce for anything that required more than a hot bath and a good night’s rest.

 

When Clint was finished, he took a step back and eyed his wrap job critically, then nodded. “It’ll do for a while,” he decided.

 

Tony shrugged. “It will heal before it becomes it a problem,” he said dismissively.  Already, he could feel the edges of the wound knitting together and healing.  While Extremis was unlikely to turn him into a human bomb, perfecting it had meant making it a lot slower.  Now it worked at about the same pace as Steve’s own superior healing.  Given more time, Tony was positive that he could’ve brought out Extremis’ full potential, but time had not been on his side at the time, so he’d worked with what he had.

 

Clint shifted uneasily on his feet, and Tony sighed. “What?” he asked irritably, glancing longingly back at his worktables.  It was probably inadvisable to continue working until his hand was healed, but that left him without an escape.  Maybe he should see if Pepper had anything for him; a reason to go into the office for a couple of hours, maybe.

 

“Did you really sleep with Steve?” Clint blurted at last.

 

Tony’s head whipped around and he stared at Clint with wide eyes. “What?” he spluttered. “How did you - ?” His eyes narrowed.  “Who told you?” he demanded instead.  “It wasn’t Steve, since he’s not even in the Tower.”

 

Clint shook his head rapidly. “No, nobody told me,” he admitted, scratching the back of his neck sheepishly.  Tony crossed his arms over his chest and tapped a foot on the floor impatiently.  “It’s just that after we left last night…you left with Steve, not Bruce.”

 

Tony blinked. “Wait.  You were spying on me?” he demanded incredulously.  Not giving Clint a chance to reply, he shook his head.  “See, and this is why I didn’t say anything to anybody.  Because nobody can keep a damn secret from you and Romanov.  I mean, seriously, did you take courses?  Spying 101?  Intro to Stalking?  No, really, I need to know this. It’s important to my continued well-being.”

 

His rant was abruptly cut off when Clint crashed into him, their mouths slamming together hard enough to make Tony wince. Strong arms banded around him, holding him still, and Tony stiffened in surprise, caught unprepared.  With a muffled yell, he slammed his hands into Clint’s chest, trying to force the other man back, ignoring the flare of pain in his injured hand.

 

The archer pulled back quickly, his eyes wide as he took in the signs of an oncoming panic attack. “Dammit!” he swore. “I’m an idiot.”  He was backing away.  “JARVIS!” he hollered frantically.

 

The AI’s voice responded immediately. “Sir, please sit on the floor with your back against the cabinet. Put your head down and take deep breaths.  Your vision may tunnel momentarily, but it will pass.  You need to calm down.  You’re in your workshop. You’re safe.”  Tony staggered backwards until he hit a worktable, sliding unceremoniously to the floor and struggling to follow his AI’s instructions.  JARVIS continued to talk, pulling Tony back from the edge of panic, and the engineer’s heartrate slowed down after several long moments, his breath evening out.  He was peripherally aware that Clint was still in the room, but the archer was well out of reach.  Dummy was whirring lowly in distress, but hadn’t approached yet, undoubtedly holding back on JARVIS’s orders.

 

Shuddering, his skin cold and clammy, Tony closed his eyes and dropped them onto his raised knees, embarrassed and angry in equal measure. His heartrate spiked, and Tony released his breath on a long exhale, his shoulders dropping as he tried to release some tension.  JARVIS was still talking, but Tony had tuned him out, letting the familiar cadence soothe him without actually paying attention to the words.  It didn’t really matter what the AI was saying at this point, only that he kept talking so that Tony could reorient himself.

 

Once he was reasonably sure that he had things under control, several minutes later, Tony used the workbench to lever himself to his feet with a quiet groan and looked around until he found Clint. The archer was standing miserably by the door, and the flash of relief in his eyes when he saw that Tony was more or less all right was almost gratifying.

 

Now that he wasn’t busy having anxiety issues, Tony was able to take stock and realize what Barton had actually been trying to do. “What…were you…did you just kiss me?” he blurted out.

 

Clint glanced up at him guiltily. “Well, I tried,” he agreed, scratching idly at the back of his neck.  “But obviously I wasn’t thinking.  I know you don’t like feeling trapped – it’s in your file.”  He was talking about the file that SHIELD had compiled on all of the Avengers.  Tony’s file was thicker than most, because they’d been keeping an eye on him since Afghanistan.  Hell, his file might date back even further.  His old man had created SHIELD, after all.  Why wouldn’t they want to keep an eye on Howard Stark’s only son?  Not to mention that he was – or rather, had been – the Merchant of Death.  Even if he didn’t make weapons anymore, they knew he was more than capable of it.

 

Tony cocked his head curiously. “Why would you do that?” he asked.

 

The archer raised an eyebrow. “Do what?  Kiss you?”  When Tony nodded, he shrugged uncomfortably.  “Uh….because you’re hot?  And you make me lots of shiny toys.  And because if those YouTube videos are anything to go by, you’re really, really good in bed,” he admitted with a rueful grin.

 

Ah. Reasons that he could understand and work with, then.  Tony’s mouth curled up into a wicked smirk.  “Oh, really?” he purred, putting a little extra sway in his hip as he sauntered over to the archer, who was still standing awkwardly by the door, looking as if he didn’t know whether to run or stand his ground.  Still, he was a SHIELD agent and an Avenger, so he stayed where he was, blue eyes tracking Tony’s easy lope across the workshop.  “I’m surprised at you, Barton, trusting what you see on the internet.”

 

Clint shrugged. “Well, it was that or ask Pepper,” he grinned, still a bit tentative.

 

Tony mock shuddered. “That would have been a terrible choice,” he agreed.  “A terrible, horrible choice.  Same with asking Bruce or Cap.”  He was temporarily distracted with memories, and he let out his breath on a long sigh.  “Speaking of Cap, he’s still not back?” he asked.

 

Clint was staring at him in surprise. “Uh, yeah,” he replied.  “Steve called in about an hour ago, said he’d found traces of Bucky, but the guy wasn’t there.  He was going to look a little more.  I think that new guy, Wilson, might be with him.”

 

Tony nodded; Sam Wilson seemed like a decent guy the few times Tony had met the man, loyal and hardworking. He’d probably keep an eye on Steve and make sure the man didn’t get himself killed chasing after a ghost.  He was probably also the only one – other than maybe Natasha – who could get Steve to return to the Tower before he collapsed from exhaustion.  Tony still didn’t know how the man did it, but he had to admit to being grudgingly impressed.  And those wings of his!  Tony was still trying to convince Sam to let him take a crack at them.

 

“Excellent!” he clapped, smiling brightly. “Now that that’s all taken care of, shall we continue where we left off?” he purred, his confidence restored.

 

Clint raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you sore?” he asked seriously.

 

Tony snorted. “Extremis, remember?” he retorted.  Clint shrugged, and Tony sighed. “I’m fine,” he reassured the other man.  “Except this damn crick in my neck,” he grumbled, his uninjured hand reaching up to rub absently at the back of his neck.

 

Clint brightened up at that. “We can help with that!” he offered.

 

Tony raised an eyebrow at him. “We?” he asked.

 

Clint had the decency to look chagrined, but not deterred. “Yeah.  Nat gives a wicked massage.”  He waggled his eyebrows. “And if you ask nicely, I’m sure she’d be more than happy to demonstrate.”

 

Tony eyed him skeptically. “Didn’t you say Romanov wanted to be left alone?” he asked archly.  “I believe you said she was adamant about not wanting company.”

 

Clint shrugged. “Well, if you’re expecting sex, then I wouldn’t bother her.  But I think she might enjoy the opportunity to satisfy her curiosity.”

 

Tony’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Curiosity?” he demanded.  “What exactly are you up to, Barton?”  This wasn’t leading at all where he’d expected it to, and he really hated feeling so off-balance.  He was used to being the smartest guy in the room, but his teammates kept surprising him.

 

Clint looked at him seriously. “You love Bruce, and you slept with Steve because, really, who wouldn’t if given the chance?  But you still look uncertain, and the very last thing anyone wants to do is push you, because then you’ll run again.”  Tony opened his mouth to explain that he’d never run away from anything, but Clint simply covered his mouth with a broad hand, frowning at him.  Tony narrowed his eyes over the top of Clint’s hand, then bit him.  “Hey!” Clint snapped but he didn’t move his hand.  “Look, just hear me out, okay?” he asked.  “Then I’ll leave you alone if you want.”

 

Tony considered that for a moment before nodding grudgingly. Clint removed his hand.  “Fine, you’ve got one minute,” Tony said.  “JARVIS, start counting down.”  A blue timer appeared, counting down from sixty seconds.

 

Clint rolled his eyes like Tony was being obtuse, but he talked. “You don’t run away like Bruce does sometimes,” he acknowledged, “but that doesn’t mean you don’t run away.  Whenever things hit too close to home, or get too emotional, you disappear into your labs or your workshop or your company.”

 

“Yeah, I kind of own Stark Industries,” Tony interrupted. “Sometimes that means I have to actually go to meetings and things for the company.”

 

Clint glared. “Sixty seconds,” he pointed out.  Tony waved a hand in concession and JARVIS flipped the time back up to forty-two seconds.  “And it’s amazing how Stark Industries business always comes up after you’ve been forced to deal with emotions,” Clint mused.  “What was it last time?  A yearly inspection of a factory that’s never had any problems, but you just had to go in person, even though it took you halfway across the world for nine days.  Steve felt terrible about that, by the way.”

 

Tony winced. Steve hadn’t even really done anything wrong.  He’d been telling the others about Peggy and the Howling Commandos, stories from the war.  Something about Wilson encouraging him to open up about it with people he trusted so he could start properly dealing with what had been, to him, an instantaneous loss of practically everybody he’d ever known.  Regardless, the tone of the conversation had changed, and Steve had brought up Howard.  It had been achingly apparent how fond Steve had been of the other man, and Tony – who had only been passing through – had found himself stopping just outside the entryway, listening with a sort of morbid fascination as Steve spoke sentimentally about a man that Tony had never met.

 

That hadn’t been the worst part, though. Clint, unaware of his presence, had asked Steve if Tony was anything like his old man.  Steve’s answer had been instantaneous.  “He’s smarter than Howard, I think.  And he’s good with the dames, too,” he’d admitted wryly.  “But he’s nothing like him otherwise.” 

 

Tony hadn’t stuck around to hear the rest, fleeing to the sound of Natasha teasing the soldier about his old-fashioned language. The next morning, he’d been on a flight to Japan, his armor locked in cargo.  After all, a call to assemble didn’t take personal schedules into account, and he’d never leave the others without air support just because he couldn’t deal with his own shit like a grownup.

 

JARVIS’ countdown had stopped a while ago, but neither man paid it any attention as they stared at each other. “What are you trying to say, Barton?” Tony asked at last, feeling the beginning of a tension headache coming on.  He flexed his injured hand absently, feeling the pull of healing flesh.

 

Clint shrugged. “I’m just saying that as much as I’d probably enjoy a tumble with you, I won’t do anything while you’re still processing what’s already happened and what you want.”  He grinned suddenly, the smile making him even more handsome.  “But if you really want to, who am I to refuse?” he asked brightly, spreading his arms wide, the flex of muscles in his arms and shoulders drawing Tony’s eyes.

 

Clint’s teasing startled a laugh out of Tony, and he found himself considering the other man a bit more appreciatively, now that he was sure the archer would welcome his attentions. “And have Agent and Black Window after my head?” he teased back.

 

Clint’s smirk was positively filthy.   “Or we could have a foursome,” he leered, waggling his eyebrows.

 

Tony laughed again, shaking his head. Barton was utterly incorrigible.  He pressed his forehead against Clint’s shoulder, letting out a pleased grumble as the archer’s hand came up to massage at the base of his skull, easing the oncoming headache.  “You have my permission to do that forever,” he moaned appreciatively.

 

Clint just chuckled, his hand moving a bit lower, firmly kneading at knots of muscle and nerves. Tony nuzzled further into the warm body in front of him.  “Let’s get out of here, yeah?” Clint murmured quietly in his ear.

 

Tony nodded, not bothering to move away from the other man. “M’kay,” he mumbled vaguely, stumbling after the other man as Clint led them towards the elevators.  “J’vis?” he slurred, Clint’s arms and body holding most of his weight.

 

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied quietly, the workstations pausing and shutting down as the lights dimmed. “Have a good rest, sir,” he intoned.  Dummy, You, and Butterfingers said goodbye with a chorus of beeps, obviously pleased to see their creator allowing himself to be taken care of.  Tony lifted a hand in lazy farewell, still enjoying those clever fingers, which were now scratching lightly through the short hairs at his nape.  Walking was a bit awkward, but Tony wasn’t going to do anything that would put him further away from warm, strong hands.

 

The elevator ride was quick, and Tony pulled away from Clint to take in the room. Unlike Steve’s military neatness or Bruce’s simplistic designs, Clint’s space was disorganized and chaotic.  It looked comfortable, though, knickknacks scattered here and there.  “Huh, so this is your place?” Tony asked, looking around in interest.  “You got a nest here or something?” he teased.

 

Clint slung an arm around his shoulders. “Nope,” he grinned.  “But I’ve got a loft, does that count?” 

 

“Close enough,” Tony agreed. He turned around to saunter into the bedroom when a thud made him flinch away. 

 

“What part of leave me alone did you not get, Clint?” Natasha asked, striding out of the room and pulling her knife from the doorframe. Tony realized that the frame had more than one knick in it, and he raised his eyebrows, impressed.  And a little scared.  Natasha glanced at him, then looked at Clint.  “Why is he here?” she asked, ignoring Tony entirely.

 

The billionaire’s eyes narrowed. “Hey,” he protested.  “He is standing right here, you know.”

 

Clint pressed a hand to his mouth again, muffling his words. “He’s got a tension headache, Nat,” he said.  “He’s been locked down in his lab for the last thirty-six hours or so, working on who knows what.”

 

He moved his hand, and Tony scowled. “Blades for the princess here, for one,” he muttered.  “New arrowheads for you. Armor. Paperwork.”  He rolled his eyes at that last one; as necessary and lucrative as the military contracts would be for Stark Industries, he still hated paperwork.

 

The knife disappeared somewhere, and Natasha eyed him consideringly. “New blades?” she asked, obviously interested enough to ignore the princess comment.  They both knew she was a badass; she didn’t have to prove anything.

 

Tony grinned. “Yep, new blades,” he agreed.  “Lighter, stronger, sharp.”  He held up his bandaged hand as proof, and Natasha grabbed his wrist, extending his arm before he realized what was happening.  She examined his hand for a moment, then glanced up at him.

 

“Do you not believe in lab safety, Stark?” she asked wryly.

 

Clint opened his mouth – possibly to confess – but Tony’s elbow connected with his stomach, making him shut his mouth with a sharp click of teeth and a grunt of pain as the air was knocked from him. He glared at Tony, who ignored him, smiling winningly at the redheaded assassin in front of him.  “Of course I do!” he exclaimed cheerfully.  “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not really a self-destructive moron.  Genius, remember?”

 

Natasha had been eyeing Clint suspiciously, but at Tony’s cavalier attitude, she turned back to him, hands on her hips. “Why are you here?” she asked.

 

Tony opened his mouth, then closed it, frowning at Clint. The archer just grinned at him, being completely unhelpful.  “I’m…not really sure,” he admitted at last, turning back to face Natasha.  “Umm…I’ll just go, shall I?”  He turned around to do just that, but a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder and squeezed, and his knees damn near gave out under the pressure.

 

“Ow, ow, ow!” he exclaimed, pulling away from Clint. “What the hell was that for, asshole?”  He was so done with this.  He didn’t know what Clint was up to, and he was getting mixed messages, and it was not helping his mood.

 

Slender hands wrapped themselves around his throat, and Tony froze. “Don’t move, Stark,” Natasha warned needlessly.  Then her thumbs pressed against something between his shoulders, digging in, and Tony’s legs buckled as he tried to collapse into a boneless sprawl right there on the living room floor.

 

“Oh, god, Natasha, what are you, a fucking ninja?” he moaned, sagging as Clint grabbed him under his arms, shifting to accommodate the bulk of Tony’s weight. The archer chuckled, and Natasha made a pleased hum, her grip shifting so that one hand gripped his hair and the other wrapped more firmly around his throat.  When she made no move to restrict his breathing, Tony let his eyes slip shut.  “You’ve got magic hands, Romanov,” he murmured.

 

“So I’ve been told,” she agreed readily. “I guess Extremis can’t fix everything, huh?”  Her hands slid away, and Tony bit back a whine.  He must’ve made some noise, because Clint chuckled again and nudged him in the direction of the bedroom that Natasha had just come out of.  Tony considered making some comment about the fact that she was on Clint’s floor and not her own but if he was completely honest with himself, he was far more interested in the massage that Clint had promised him.

 

The bedroom was dimly lit, but Tony could make out the bows and arrows hanging on the walls, and the picture frames on the shelves. There was a television sitting half-cocked on the dresser, wires and remotes scattered around it.  Tony made a mental note to get the man hooked up wirelessly.  After all, it wasn’t like they were living in the Dark Ages.

 

Clint and Natasha had both stopped, waiting patiently as Tony looked around. When he caught sight of the ladder in the middle of the floor, he blinked in surprise, then tilted his head, following it upwards until he saw where it led.  He grinned.  “You do too have a nest!” he exclaimed gleefully.  “I knew it!”

 

Without bothering to wait for the other two, he scrambled up the sturdy ladder and dropped over the edge at the top and onto the bed. The mattress was round instead of square, and was covered in soft, thick, mismatched blankets.  Around the edges were thicker blankets, curving around the lip of the nest.  Tony had never seen anything like it, but he found that he liked the intimacy and safety that the position offered, surrounded as he was by comfortable things, and hidden from immediate view of anybody on the ground floor.  In fact, if he were to pull the ladder up, he might go entirely unnoticed up here.

 

“JARVIS, I want one of these,” he decided with a grin as Natasha slipped gracefully into the loft. Clint clambered up a moment later, tumbling over the edge with a grin and immediately burrowing under some of the covers.  He didn’t seem to mind the fact that there were two other bodies in the bed with him, but then again, it was easily large enough to hold all three of them, wish space to spare.  And until two nights ago, Tony had thought he was the only one with an orgy-sized bed.  He was going to have to seriously rethink some of his assumptions about his teammates.

 

“I shall do my utmost, sir,” the AI responded drily.

 

“If you’re done gawking,” Natasha said calmly, “strip and lie on your stomach.” Tony turned to stare at her with wide eyes.

 

“Why, Natasha!” he breathed, scandalized. “How sneaky, bringing me up here so you could have your wicked way with me. For shame!”  Nonetheless, he did as he was asked, and pulled his tank top over his head, dropping it haphazardly onto the bed before flopping down onto his stomach.  A second later, Natasha was straddling his waist, her hands on his right arm, kneading flesh and muscle.  Clint, sitting in front of him, did the same on his left side.  Tony didn’t stand a chance under the dual assault, and he moaned, long and loud and filthy as they worked.  It got him a swat on his shoulder for his trouble, and he hid his grin in the covers.

 

The moan hadn’t been entirely faked, however. The massage was surprisingly more sensual and intimate than Tony would’ve guessed.  It was completely different from the clinical massages he used to get, back when it never occurred to him that presenting his back to another person could end up with him getting stabbed.  Clint’s and Natasha’s hands were knowledgeable , and the two of them weren’t in any particular hurry.  They took their time working out the tension in each muscle before moving onto the next, clever hands feeling out the curves and dips of his body, tracing the pattern of scars left from before Extremis.

 

He was relaxed enough by the time they reached the small of his back that he didn’t even twitch when a pair of lips brushed gently between his shoulder blades before traveling downwards, delivering small kisses and nips down his spine. Small, slender hands were on either side of his hips, not restraining him, just steadying Natasha as she worked her way down his body, ending with a swipe of her tongue at his tailbone, just above the hem of his low-slung jeans.

 

Tony’s body responded to her ministrations, but there was no urgency to it, and when Clint nuzzled his cheek, Tony obligingly turned his head so the other man could kiss him properly. Natasha’s hand touched a barely noticeable scar on his right hip.  “Where’s this one from?” she asked softly, her nails tracing the thin line.

 

“Lab accident, MIT,” Tony murmured when he broke away, reluctantly, from Clint’s mouth. “Idiot at the table behind me got his decimal points wrong, blew the hell outta his glassware.  Glass shard hit me, sliced right through the lab coat.”  A larger, callused hand stroked across a small, raggedly uneven burn near his left shoulder blade.  Tony spoke without prompting.  “Electrical burn.  Afghanistan,” he answered shortly, grateful that the hand didn’t linger.  He’d actually gotten that particular burn from the Mark I armor, rather than torture, but he didn’t particularly feel like hashing out the details.

 

It continued like that, a firm massage interspersed with delicate, questioning touches, and Tony found himself answering most of them. Childhood mishaps, experiments gone horribly wrong, wild parties where he’d had a bit more fun than he probably should have, and one very memorable occasion involving Rhodey, way too much alcohol, and a Stark-modified Kawasaki Z1.  That had been one hell of a night.  Tony still remembered it fondly, though Rhodey maintained that it had been stupidest thing either of them had ever done.

 

The scars that Tony didn’t want to talk about – ones from his torture in Afghanistan, mostly, got a gentle kiss before the two spies moved on. It occurred to Tony that they might be deliberately trying to lure him into a half-lucid awareness with their gentle touches and soft voices so they could interrogate him, but he didn’t really believe that.  They were unlikely to be that subtle about it.

 

Still, a part of him felt that he should at least attempt to reciprocate, so with a massive effort, he rolled over onto his back. The other two allowed it, but the instant he rolled over, their hands were back on him, tracing a whole new set of scars.  Tony stilled under them, but there was no judgment on their faces, just empathy and curiosity and something that he couldn’t identify.

 

“I thought Extremis healed all of them,” Natasha murmured, her fingers expertly tracing the invisible scars over Tony’s heart. Bruce and Steve ran hot themselves, so they hadn’t noticed, but Extremis ran through his chest along the places where the arc reactor had been, leaving his skin a bit warmer there than anywhere else.  There were no scars there, no missing pieces, but it was almost as if Extremis was in a constant state of healing, even though JARVIS’ readings indicated that Tony was in better shape than ever.  They were both at a loss to explain it, and Tony had stopped trying. He knew that Extremis was imperfect; this was just more visceral proof.

 

Rather than try to explain all of that, Tony just shrugged. “They are,” he answered simply.

 

To her credit, Natasha just nodded. On his other side, Clint grinned.  “Cool,” he complimented sincerely.  With that, it was as if a switch had gone off, their easy acceptance of that final piece of him – of the virus that was now a permanent part of him – releasing some final bit of tension he hadn’t realized he’d been carrying.  Tony felt as if all his strings had been cut.  He was absurdly grateful that he was already lying down.

 

Reaching up, he cupped Natasha’s face between his hands, his thumb brushing idly against full lips. With a gently tolerant expression, the assassin parted her lips and flicked her tongue out.  Tony smiled, drawing her down into a lazy kiss.  There was no urgency to it, no desperate need.  It was a gesture of comfort, love, and acceptance.  Tony was finally allowed to see the softer side that Natasha hid so well behind all of her badassery.  And all Tony’d had to do was to trust her – trust them – enough to bare everything.  Well, almost everything, he amended silently.  Maybe one day, he’d be able to talk about the scars left over from the desert, the memories he kept buried down deep.

 

While they’d been kissing, Clint had wiggled downwards so that he was lying on his side, his chest pressed against Tony’s arm, one arm tucked underneath him and the other flung across Tony’s chest, his face buried in Tony’s throat. His eyes were closed, his breathing deep and even.  Natasha smiled down at the two of them.  “Beautiful boys,” she praised, her hands stroking once along their cheeks before she pressed a kiss to Clint’s forehead and settled down on Tony’s other side, mimicking Clint’s pose across from her.

 

Tony fell asleep to the feel of Natasha’s nails tracing idle patterns across his chest and abdomen, Clint’s steady breaths tickling his neck.

 

Chapter Text

Tony woke up to Clint and Natasha talking quietly, their bodies twisted to face the bedroom door, faces expectant. A moment later, Phil’s head peeked over the edge. “Natasha, Clint,” he greeted. His eyes flicked towards the third person in the bed. “Tony.”

The billionaire stretched lazily before arching an eyebrow at the other man, expertly concealing the jolt of alarm that had run through him upon being caught in a bed with the man’s lovers. “Oh? First names now, Phil?” he teased lightly, sitting up. He didn’t miss the way Phil’s eyes flicked down his bare chest in interest before lifting again to meet his amused stare. “Am I invited into the super secret spy club now?” he asked with a grin.

“Don’t push your luck,” Natasha shot back. The two of them shifted a bit further away. Taking the hint, Tony crawled to the ladder, putting a little extra sway into the movement and getting a sharp slap on the ass from a laughing Clint in retaliation.

He paused when he reached the ladder, staring down at a quietly amused Phil. “Am I supposed to jump or what?” he asked with a grin. “Because if I break something, I’m going to sic Hulk and Captain America on you,” he threatened, pointing an accusing finger at Phil. The agent’s eyes crossed as they stared at the finger in his face.

“Is that supposed to deter me?” Coulson asked mildly. Tony pulled his accusing finger away with a noise of disgust, shifting to sit back on his heels, staring at the other man expectantly. Phil just gave him a small smile, then finished climbing into what Tony had decided to refer to as simply Clint’s Nest. Immediately, Clint and Natasha reached for him, and Tony took the opportunity to slip down the ladder, hopping lightly to the floor.

He wandered out of the room, closing the door quietly behind him to the sound of the others talking. Glancing down at his bandaged hand, he clenched it into a fist, pleased when there was no pain. “JARVIS, what time is it?” he asked as he unwrapped his hand.

“It is seven thirty-three in the morning, sir,” JARIVS replied immediately. “Is there anything else I can assist you with?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m good,” Tony replied. Then he paused. “Actually, you know what? Where’s Bruce?” He should probably find a way to make it up to the guy that he’d been ignoring for the past couple of days.

“Doctor Banner is in his chambers, sir,” JARVIS answered. “Would you like to join him?”

Tony narrowed his eyes as he opened the stairwell doors. “That was sass,” he declared. “I’m being sassed by my own AI. What kind of AI sasses the guy who made it?” he demanded.

“The kind that has you for a teacher, I would suppose, sir,” JARVIS deadpanned. Tony chuckled under his breath as he entered his key code and slipped through the door on Bruce’s floor, padding across the floor on bare feet.

“Sure, blame it on the old man,” he muttered under his breath.

“Tony?” Bruce’s surprised voice came from the kitchen, and Tony turned to grin at the man, trying to hide his own discomfort. It wasn’t like Bruce had invited him, technically, so he might very well be intruding. Bruce raised an eyebrow, but his eyes wandered appreciatively over Tony’s bare chest, and the genius relaxed slightly. At least Bruce hadn’t demanded to know what he was doing there, and he didn’t seem upset.

The genius grinned, sauntering up to Bruce. “See something you like?” he purred, appreciating the chuckle that he received at the cheesy pickup line.

“Always,” Bruce replied easily, smiling as Tony leaned his elbows casually on the kitchen counter. The other man held out a fresh mug of coffee, and Tony took it eagerly, gulping it down. Taking advantage of Bruce’s generous nature, Tony greedily snatched the second mug held out to him and took several careful sips before mumbling a quick thank you, his hands wrapped tightly around the caffeinated drink.

Bruce glanced up at the clock, which was now showing just past eight. “Were you in the lab this whole time?” he asked, his tone free of judgment. It wasn’t like he’d have any room to complain even if he wanted to. When he’d first come to Stark Tower and realized that Tony had absolutely meant it when he’d promised him ten floors of R & D to play around in – plus his own lab – the billionaire hadn’t seen him for almost nine full days. So Bruce wasn’t about to call him out a forty-eight hour binge.

Tony remembered guiltily that while Bruce had pretty much handed him over to Steve, the same hadn’t been true for Clint and Natasha. He shook his head. “No, I was with Barton and Romanov,” he admitted.

“With them, maybe, but you didn’t have sex with either of them,” Bruce surmised, barely even blushing as Tony’s eyes flew up to meet his in surprise. Bruce gave him a small, awkward smile. “You haven’t had coffee yet, which means you didn’t stop on your own floor for a shower. And you don’t smell of sex.” His nose twitched as if to validate his claim.

Tony conceded the point with a shrug, careful not to spill his coffee. “Very true,” he agreed, “in that I did not, in fact, have sex with either of them. However, I did have their hands all over me,” he murmured, one hand reaching up to rub firmly at the back of his shoulder, noting with relief that the press of his fingers didn’t cause any discomfort.

The absent-minded gesture caught Bruce’s sharp gaze, though, and his expression shifted just slightly. Tony straightened up unconsciously. The other man had gone from tolerant lover to clinical doctor in about half a second, putting a distance between them that Tony usually only ever felt immediately after a battle, when Bruce busied himself checking them all over before he could allow himself to relax. It was a trait that he shared with Steve, who always felt the need to make sure everybody was safe and accounted for before he could snap out of soldier mode.

“Is Extremis misbehaving?” he asked, shifting his glasses further up his nose. He frowned. “Please don’t tell me there’s something else that you ‘missed’.” Tony could practically hear the quotations.

Tony grinned, reaching out and pulling the unresisting man closer with his free hand. “Nah, nothing like that. I just had some stiff muscles, and they offered a massage. I couldn’t say no, now could I?” he murmured. “Especially after they really got started.”

Bruce grinned back at him. “They give excellent massages,” he agreed, and Tony remembered that even though Bruce hadn’t been sleeping with their teammates, he had been part of the whole group…whatever-it-was for a while now. So he was speaking from personal experience.

“They do,” Tony agreed, setting his empty mug on the counter behind him and pulling Bruce in tighter, relishing in the warmth of another body, in the knowledge that he could have this, that Bruce would let him.

Bruce made an inquiring noise. “Tony?” he asked, his arms coming up to rest on Tony’s hips, not holding him, but just resting there lightly, grounding him, warm against bare flesh. “Are you okay?” He was starting to sound concerned, and Tony sighed.

“M’fine,” he mumbled. “Just not entirely sure which way’s up anymore.” And that was probably as close as he’d ever get to acknowledging just how unsure he was. Things with Pepper hadn’t worked out. And now? He wasn’t even sure things with Bruce were going to work out, much less that he should be getting involved with the rest of their teammates. He could almost convince himself that Steve was just a one-off, a giant fuck you to his father, and a fantastic sexy time to boot. Almost. But he had seen the way the others were around each other, comfortable and close. And a part of him wanted that, in whatever form it came in.

Bruce hummed, the warm sound filling the kitchen. “Too fast?” he asked, his tone carefully nonjudgmental.

Tony pulled back, frowning. “What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded, his eyes narrowed. Bruce’s observation had stung, though he was pretty sure Bruce hadn’t meant it to. He was well aware of his reputation for slutting around; had relished in it once upon a time, in fact. But that had mostly stopped after Afghanistan, and completely after Pepper.

Bruce was watching him now, and Tony quickly smoothed over his expression, not sure how much he’d just given away in those few precious seconds. Bruce looked pained, his hands reaching up to grip Tony’s shoulders, giving him a little shake. “I just need to know if you need the others to back off. They will, you know,” he said firmly. “It’s just that this is the first time you’ve let any of them close, so of course they want to take you up on it while you’ll allow it.” He made it sound like it was obvious, and Tony felt something catch in his chest, pulling hard. He swallowed, ducking his head.

“Sorry,” he muttered to the floor, as uncomfortable as ever with giving an apology.

Bruce gave him another shake then pulled him into a firm hug, drawing Tony’s head down to his shoulder. “Don’t apologize, Tony,” he said, and his voice was harsh, brittle. “It’s not your fault. We all knew, going in, that it might take some time. We’ve waited, because you were important enough to wait for.”

Tony felt like his knees were collapsing under him, and he fisted handfuls of Bruce’s shirt, the soft weave bunching easily in his hands. Bruce just held him, swaying slightly, but not saying anything. Tony was grateful; he didn’t know what was wrong with him, and having Bruce tell him that ‘it would be okay’ would’ve probably sent him screaming in the other direction.

Bruce’s skin was warm, and Tony placed an absent kiss to the flesh below his mouth. Bruce made a small sound of want, and Tony’s lips curved upwards. This, at least, was something he knew how to do, something he was good at.

“Tony,” Bruce said repressively, but his tone was amused and he made no move to shift away. “Are you trying to initiate sex to get out of talking about your feelings?” He didn’t sound upset about it, giving a gratifying hum of pleasure when Tony turned his head and nipped playfully at the column of his throat.

“Not avoiding,” Tony mumbled, his hands sneaking under the hem of Bruce’s shirt so he could palm the warm curves of his hips and the dip of his waist. “There’s nothing to say.” That wasn’t actually true and they both knew it, but Bruce didn’t argue, allowing Tony to maneuver them both until Bruce was pressed against the kitchen counter, their hips slotted together. Tony grinned in triumph; even though his breathing was still mostly steady, Bruce wasn’t entirely unaffected by their current activities.

Tony lifted his head to catch Bruce’s mouth in a hard kiss, all lips and tongue and teeth. He only pulled back when neither of them could breathe. Bruce wasn’t calm anymore, his breath coming out in heavy pants between them, his eyes dark with arousal and his mouth bruised and swollen, the faint imprint of teeth adorning his lower lip. “How about we take this to the bedroom?” Tony suggested, his voice low and rough with desire.

Bruce licked his lips and nodded, still looking stunned. Tony pressed another kiss to his mouth before pulling back reluctantly, allowing Bruce a moment to collect himself before stepping away from the counter.

“Sir, Captain Rogers is on the line,” JARVIS broke in. Tony groaned; he so did not want to talk to a moping Captain America right now. What he did want was sex with Bruce, and then a shower, and then maybe science. Or more sex. He hadn’t decided yet.

Still, it wasn’t often that Steve actually called, and after the whole collapse of SHIELD fiasco, Tony had made the other man promise to call if he needed backup, or even if he just wanted to check in, no matter the time.

He shot Bruce an apologetic grimace, but the other man didn’t seem terribly concerned. “JARVIS, could you please put him through to Tony’s bedroom?” he asked. “Audio only.” Tony’s eyebrows climbed towards his hairline. What was Banner up to?

“Certainly, Doctor Banner,” JARVIS agreed. “I shall inform the Captain that you will be with him momentarily, sir,” he promised.

“Thanks, J,” Tony replied automatically, letting Bruce lead him towards the elevators. “Did he say what he wanted?” It didn’t really matter, since Tony was going to talk to him either way, but it might be nice to know what he was walking into beforehand. Especially since if he needed them to go help him, they needed to head to the workshop so he could suit up.

“He did not, sir,” JARVIS replied as the elevator slipped smoothly upwards. “It did not appear to be urgent, however.”

“Good. That’s…good,” Tony repeated, following Bruce out of his elevator and towards his bedroom. Steve’s call had killed his erection as effectively as a bucket of ice water, but he felt a stirring of interest as Bruce climbed easily onto his bed, stripping off his shirt and dropping it to the ground before reclining unselfconsciously against the pillows. He held out his arms, and Tony followed readily, allowing Bruce to turn him around so that he was sitting between the other man’s legs, his back pressed to Bruce’s chest.

Bruce’s grip tightened around his waist, pulling him in closer, and Tony realized that Bruce was still hard. He groaned softly, his cock firming in his low-slung jeans as he dropped his head back to lean against Bruce’s shoulder. “Why did we come all the way up here again?” he complained quietly. “Your room was closer.”

“Tony?” Steve’s concerned voice brought Tony back to the reason they were actually here, and he blinked. “Did I wake you?”

Bruce’s hand traced a tickling path up his chest, and Tony’s mind short-circuited for a moment before he could refocus his thoughts enough to answer. “No,” he managed. “I was up.” Bruce’s other hand pressed pointedly on his clothed erection, and Tony whimpered. Bruce chuckled lowly in his ear, and Tony glared at him half-heartedly. “What’s happening, Cap?” Tony asked brusquely, trying and failing to ignore the hands tracing idle patterns across his bare flesh.

“Ah, nothing really,” Steve admitted, sounding embarrassed. “I just wanted to make sure everything was okay.” Tony interpreted that as ‘I’m sorry for running out on you the morning after some seriously mind-blowing orgasms and wanted to make sure you don’t hate me because I’d like to repeat the experience sometime.’ Maybe that was just wishful thinking, though.

Tony smiled, even though Steve couldn’t see it. “Yeah, yeah, everything’s good,” he answered at last, then yelped when Bruce pinched his nipple sharply, shifting forward to grind against Tony’s denim-clad ass.

There was a beat of silence, then, “Oh, my god. Are you with someone, Tony?” Steve sounded utterly mortified. It would have been funnier if Bruce hadn’t chosen that exact moment to unsnap Tony’s jeans, his hand slipping under denim and cotton to grip Tony firmly.

“Oh, my god, yes,” Tony groaned, hardening rapidly in Bruce’s hand. A part of him was screaming that they were scarring a national icon, but he really couldn’t bring himself to care all that much.

“I’m so sorry!” Steve apologized hurriedly. “I’ll just call back later, okay? Umm…have fun?” he said awkwardly . Tony choked on a laugh.

“There’s no need to hang up, Steve,” Bruce spoke up, the first actual words he’d spoken since the conversation had started.

“…Bruce?” Steve asked, sounding surprised. And maybe a little bit turned on? Tony suddenly had an inkling of where Bruce might be headed with this, but when he tried to turn his head to get a glimpse of the other man’s expression, Bruce’s hand tightened almost painfully, and he gave up with a strangled groan.

“Sadist,” he accused.

“Yes,” Bruce agreed instantly, sounding almost proud.

Tony snorted. “So that mild-mannered physicist is just an act, huh? I knew it!”

Bruce nipped sharply at the side of his throat, then addressed the man on the phone. “Would you like to see, Steve?” he asked. Tony jolted forward, away from Bruce, but Bruce’s arm around his chest just tightened, holding him while he struggled, his face flushed with embarrassment.

He wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t for Steve to ask, “Could I?” in that heartbreakingly hopeful tone that Tony only ever heard him use when he was talking about maybe finding Bucky and bringing him home. Or when he asked for real New York style pizza from a little place in Brooklyn he used to go to as a kid.

“Well, Tony?” Bruce prompted, bringing Tony back to the present. “What do you think? Can Steve watch?”

Tony swallowed, doing his best to give the question the serious consideration it deserved. He’d already slept with both of them, and he had nothing against either exhibitionism or cyber sex, if that was how this ended up going. But a part of him was still hurt – and maybe a tiny bit angry – that Steve had left him on uncertain terms to go search for Bucky. Still, the fact that Steve cared about having his permission – not just Bruce’s – went a long way. Tony had noticed months ago that Steve was earnest to a fault, and that he was always careful to not overstep the boundaries other people set for him. It was really very sweet, if a bit frustrating at times.

Besides, Tony couldn’t really blame the guy for his desperation to find and help Bucky. He would do the same thing in a heartbeat if it was Rhodey. Or god forbid, Pepper. He swallowed, his decision made. After all, it really was a no-brainer, wasn’t it? His body was certainly willing. “Yeah, okay,” he agreed hoarsely.

Immediately, JARVIS pulled up a visual, letting Steve see them. The Captain’s eyes widened, his face flushing as he made a strangled noise, his eyes following Bruce’s arm down to where his hand disappeared into Tony’s open jeans. Tony couldn’t stop his grin. “We haven’t even gotten to the good parts yet,” he leered. “Pants are still on.” He considered that briefly, then amended, “Mostly.”

Steve’s fingers twitched agitatedly in his lap, his eyes roving over the two men on the bed eagerly. He was in some sort of bedroom himself, though Tony wasn’t really focusing on that right now. Bruce had ceased tormenting Tony for the moment, and his hands just rested where they were, one pressing lightly against his stomach and the other loosely wrapped around Tony’s cock, keeping him interested but well away from orgasm. Tony shifted impatiently, eager to get back to their previous activities, but Bruce obviously had other plans.

“Your friend…he was gone before you arrived?” he asked sympathetically.

Steve shrugged. “If he was ever there to begin with,” he sighed dejectedly. Tony really, really hated seeing that look on the other man’s face. Later, he might blame his actions on the fact that Bruce’s hand was still down his pants, but really he just figured that sex certainly couldn’t hurt just then. It might not be a cure-all, but neither was alcohol. And endorphins were awesome.

“Forget this,” he muttered, his hands reaching down so he could push his pants and underwear down over his ass and off his legs. Bruce let him go to help, his hands on Tony’s hips to steady him as Tony shimmied out of his clothes until he was completely bare. The engineer lifted his eyes challengingly, his hand going to his lap.

The first touch of his hand to his neglected cock was enough to bring him rapidly back to full hardness. Bruce growled softly behind him and Tony grinned, pressing back against Bruce’s trapped erection. In retaliation, Bruce shoved his legs under Tony’s and hooked their ankles together, then spread his legs, forcing Tony to slide down a bit, his own legs opened obscenely.

On the screen, Steve’s mouth parted, his pupils dilating as he hungrily took in the picture the two men on the bed made. Tony moaned, spreading his legs even wider as Bruce murmured approvingly, pressing kisses into his hair. Tony wasn’t normally on this side of things, but the look Steve was giving him left him hot and trembling. And he hadn’t even done anything yet. “Fuck,” he hissed, his hand tightening around himself to prevent himself from coming with nothing more than that look.

“Not yet,” Bruce growled, at the same time that Steve said, “Show me?” Tony grunted, his free hand traveling down his stomach and thigh until he could cradle his balls, his other hand moving helplessly along his cock, twisting and pulling just this side of pain, the stinging rasp of dry skin treading a fine line between not enough and too much, his testicles heavy in his hand.

Bruce leaned back, reclining until Tony was more or less lying on top of him, everything exposed for Steve to see. Tony should probably have felt mortified, but the embarrassment only made him move faster, his eyes closing on their own volition.

“Eyes open, Tony,” Bruce murmured, pinching Tony’s left nipple sharply. The tiny spike of pain shot straight to Tony’s cock, and he opened his eyes obediently. “Look at him,” Bruce continued. “Look at how much he wants you.” On the video feed, Steve was standing now, his own erection straining in his pants as he held out his hands, fingers twitching erratically as if he was planning to jump through the screen to touch them.

“See the way his fingers are moving?” Bruce continued almost conversationally, only the slight tremor in his voice and the brand of his clothed erection against Tony’s ass giving him away. “Do you know what that means?” His hand joined Tony’s, and the genius shook his head frantically. “It means he wants to draw you,” Bruce murmured in his ear, his voice dropping to a low growl. “Draw you just like this. Exposed. Trusting. Vulnerable.”

His words struck Tony like a blow from Thor’s hammer, and he realized that no matter what hang-ups he might have, he trusted these people not to use his weaknesses against him. He trusted them not the hurt him. He trusted them enough to be vulnerable in front of them.

The realization was like releasing a flood, and Tony cried out wordlessly as he came all over his stomach and both their hands. Bruce twisted around a bit to reach the wipes on the bedside table to wipe down Tony’s stomach and their hands, then settled back down, petting Tony’s hair while Steve murmured words like “good” and “beautiful” and “wish I could be there” and Tony just trembled.

He didn’t even realize there were tears tracking down his cheeks until Bruce wiped them away carefully with callused fingers, Steve watching them worriedly. “Too much?” Bruce asked gently.

Tony couldn’t help it; he gave a wet, hiccupping laugh. “More like not nearly enough,” he rejoined, twisting around until he was able to crouch over Bruce’s prone body, his hands firmly gripping the other man’s waist.

Bruce gazed up at him complacently. “Oh, dear,” he murmured. “Whatever are you planning to do to me now, Mr. Stark?”

Tony hadn’t actually figured that part out yet, but Bruce didn’t need to know that. “That’s for me know and you to find out,” he threatened playfully. Remembering that they still had an audience, he shifted to look back over his shoulder and gave Steve a flirty smile. “No peeking,” he said. “We can play when you return.” JARVIS promptly severed the connection, and Tony took a moment to savor the look of surprise that had been on the other man’s face just before the connection had been broken.

Bruce shifted subtly under him, testing his hold, and Tony’s hands clamped down on his hips, using his weight to push the other man into the bed. “Sneaky, Banner,” he accused. “That was sneaky.”

The other man just smiled serenely. “I figured if you weren’t going to do anything, I’d head down to the lab. There’s science to be done.”

Tony’s grin widened. “Oh, well, with sexy talk like that, you’re definitely not going anywhere,” he teased, nudging Bruce’s legs further apart. Curling down, he pressed a kiss to Bruce’s chest, his hands digging into the other man’s hips as a firm reminder. Bruce stilled, his hands coming up to grip Tony’s hair, careful not to pull. Not that Tony would’ve minded. At all.

“So needy,” the physicist murmured, his tone affectionate, and Tony nipped at the flesh in front of him in retaliation before lifting his head, sliding his body teasingly along the length of his partner.

“Do you always talk this much?” he muttered, slithering up Bruce’s body so he could kiss the other man properly, enjoying the warmth and friction of a firm body underneath his. Bruce humored him, opening his mouth under the rough kiss, his tongue tangling with Tony’s when the genius deepened the kiss, his hands still for the moment as he reveled in the sensation of just being able to kiss the other man, with no further expectations or pushes to hurry things along.

Bruce chuckled when Tony finally pulled back just far enough to breathe. “Needy and rude,” he amended. “You hung up on Captain America, Tony,” Bruce chastised.

Tony rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well, if Cap wants to play, then he can get his perfect ass back here pronto,” he insisted. “In the meantime, I have a lovely, brilliant, handsome man all to myself. Are we done talking now?” he added petulantly.

Bruce smiled up at him, relaxing into the bed. “I thought you liked it when I talked, Mr. Stark,” he teased gently. His head tipped to the side as he thought. “What was it we were talking about the other day? Oh, yes, anti-electron collisions. I have to admit, I was impressed with how much you retained.”

Tony shivered, more pleased at the praise than he’d like to admit. He remembered that afternoon rather well; it had been the first time he’d seen Bruce really come out of his shell, display that unrestrained enthusiasm that most scientists had when they were talking about something they were passionate about. The other man was always so reserved, as if afraid to call attention to himself, but that day, Tony could finally see what he might’ve become if the Hulk had never existed.

Then again, if the accident that had created the Hulk hadn’t happened, Tony would’ve probably never given the other man more than a passing glance at a convention or guest lecture somewhere. He wouldn’t have ever gotten to know the man behind the science, and that would’ve just been tragic.

He smirked down at the other man. “Genius, remember?” he boasted. As if to prove it, he leaned down and latched onto Bruce’s throat, right above his carotid artery. He could feel Bruce’s pulse thrum in his mouth, against his tongue. Or maybe that was his own heartbeat, and he was just fooling himself. The body under his jerked, arching up into him, and Tony carefully set his teeth against the thin strip of skin. Bruce stilled under him with a throaty growl. Or maybe a moan, Tony couldn’t be sure.

Using the weight of his whole body to press the other man deeper into the bed, careful to telegraph his every move so as to not startle the other man, Tony’s hands moved upwards, tracing the outline of hips and ribs, following the contours of muscles made firm from constant running, from taking only what was needed to stay alive and eating only sporadically. Bruce wasn't soft, would never be soft. Even if he never ran again, Tony was pretty sure even if Hulk didn’t use up any extra resources, Bruce would keep in shape, because he’d always be expecting it all to end, always be waiting for his past to catch up with him, to force his hand. In that way, the two of them weren’t so different.

Still, that wiry strength worked to Bruce’s advantage now as he twisted his hips up sharply, neatly dislodging Tony and rolling him over, to the edge of the bed. Tony had let go of his lover’s throat when he felt Bruce struggle, and now he settled, his body stilling as he stared up at the other man with a grin. “You okay there, big guy?” he asked, and for all that his voice was light and teasing, he made sure that Bruce understood that he meant every word. If the other man needed them to stop, he would. They seemed to have a good thing going right now, and Tony didn’t want to ruin that. If he did something stupid, and Bruce backed off, he’d have nobody to blame but himself.

Bruce pressed down firmly against Tony’s cock, and Tony let out a strangled moan. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he managed, before Bruce’s lips crashed into his, stealing his words and his breath, even as Bruce’s fingers were probing at his entrance. Quick and rough, then. Tony could deal with that. He arched his hips upwards invitingly, relaxing as Bruce’s fingers slipped further inside. They were slick with something, and Tony moaned appreciatively; damn but his lover was a fucking genius. He hadn’t even noticed the other man opening up the lube that he kept under his pillow.

Bruce chuckled into his mouth, even as he twisted his fingers, blunt nails scraping against Tony’s inner walls, making the other man mewl at the rough treatment. Bruce wouldn’t really hurt him, and Extremis would make sure that even minor irritation was dealt with promptly, so Tony felt free to indulge in this sort of rough play. And it wasn’t like he hadn’t had rougher, considering the sheer number of past lovers under his belt.

When Bruce finally pulled his fingers free, his mouth still pressed firmly over top of Tony’s own, he used both hands to pull Tony’s hips up and back, curling the man over his thighs. His cock nudged at Tony’s entrance, and Tony struggled to press down on it, but Bruce was having none of it. Slowly, torturously, he pressed inside in increments, the push and pull of him slow and easy, and Tony would’ve howled in protest if he’d been able to catch his breath against the slow burn.

Bruce worked himself into Tony with small thrusts, then stilled once he was fully seated, pressed tightly against Tony’s ass, and Tony reached out for him, his hands slipping against damp skin before gripping tightly to Bruce’s upper arms, just above the elbows. “Move,” he gritted.

Bruce grinned down at him. “But if I move, Steve will miss out,” he teased. “Don’t you think we should wait for him? After all, you are the one that hung up on him to make him hurry up,” he pointed out, his body perfectly still, not so much as a twitch. Tony shuddered, shaking his head.

“You’re a real bastard, you know that?” he managed to bite out. Still, more than one could play this game, and if Bruce wasn’t going to move, then he’d just have to do the work himself. His legs were still raised, wrapped around Bruce’s waist, and he tightened them, using his grip on Bruce’s body to struggle upwards, so that he was more or less sitting in Bruce’s lap. The other man couldn’t hold both of them still at the same time, after all.

By the time he made it upright, not the least bit graceful about it, Bruce was shaking with laughter, his body shuddering with the force of it. Tony clamped down, catching Bruce’s mouth in a hard kiss, awarded for his troubles with a gasped moan. Bruce’s hands dug hard into his sides, and just like that, they were moving, the room quickly filled with the sounds of gasps and groans, and the slap of flesh on flesh.

As Tony had expected, once the teasing was over, Bruce didn’t bother going gentle, dropping Tony back to the bed and using his grip on Tony’s hips to pull the man towards him as he moved, each thrust jolting Tony’s body. Tony gave up trying to have any sort of control and instead set his sights on trying to make Bruce lose his cool, arching his back and tossing his hands up above his head, rendering himself as vulnerable as he knew how. His hands pressed firmly against the solid headboard, keeping him from bashing his head against it.

There was a strangled moan, and Bruce surged forward. He was still fucking hard into Tony, but now there was an almost protective overtone to the way his arms bracketed Tony, providing a barrier of sorts now that they no longer needed to hold him in place. Brown eyes met his, and Tony gasped to see the intense look of sheer, ruthless possessivness in Bruce’s eyes. It was different than the look he had come to expect from lovers that thought, however briefly, that they could own him, just for a little while. It was the sort of possessive look that said that Bruce knew him, and wanted him anyhow. Not even Pepper had looked at him like that, too familiar with him to actually believe that she could ever truly have all of him. Bruce had no such expectations, and he still wanted Tony.

The knowledge that Bruce knew him so well, and was still willing to risk it, was breathtaking in its potency, and Tony writhed, his heart captured as inescapably as his body. He rode the waves of Bruce’s surety, his hands leaving the headboard and grabbing Bruce’s arms, nails digging into slick skin. Bruce just grunted, pausing for a moment to shift position, giving Tony a better grip before starting up again. “Touch yourself,” he suggested, his arms busy holding his weight off of Tony.

Tony writhed, breathing hard. “Don’t need to,” he gasped out through gritted teeth. Bruce’s eyes widened, wonder and arousal darkening his pupils.

“Dammit, Tony,” he swore. “This is going to be over too quickly if you keep that up,” he growled.

The genius just grinned, twisting his hips and bearing down at the same time, making Bruce swear again. “You lied about your refractory period,” he said next, his tone almost – almost – conversational. He hadn’t let up, though, and Tony knew that he’d probably be sore for a while afterwards, but he didn’t care.

“Didn’t lie. Usually can’t,” he answered, his hands sliding up Bruce’s arms, trying to get a better hold. When that failed, he dropped his hands, fisting them in the rumpled sheets below him. “Your fault.” All of his higher thought and speech functions had flown out the window, and he was left trying to string two words together, without much luck.

His words seemed to please Bruce, who promptly did something that made Tony see stars, his body spasming around Bruce as he came, hands clenched into white-knuckled fists and a long, keening sob dragged out of his throat. “Dammit, Tony!” Bruce managed to gasp out, managing a handful of aborted thrusts before he was coming as well, his arms collapsing under the strain. Tony sighed, shifting just slightly to accept Bruce’s weight, his pulse thundering in his veins, his mind foggy with pleasure.

“You know,” Tony mumbled, when he felt he could actually manage complete sentences, “while I’d love to stay in bed with you for the next week or so, I’m pretty sure there’s stuff we ought to be doing. I can’t think of what right now, but I’m pretty sure it’s there.”

Bruce huffed a grumbling sigh against his collarbone, but moved, carefully easing out of Tony, though they both winced regardless. Tony was definitely going to be feeling that for a while. Not that he was complaining, not at all. “God, that was fantastic,” he mumbled.

“That’d be Thor,” Bruce muttered back unthinkingly. He paused, and Tony could practically see it as he replayed the words in his head, his face flushing a warm pink. “Forget I said that,” he pleaded, but he didn’t hide his face, and Tony grinned up at him lazily, sated and lethargic and unwilling to move so much as an inch. He was sticky and hot and his back would start to act up soon, pillowed support notwithstanding, but he couldn’t bring himself to care much right at the moment.

Unfortunately, Bruce was more sensible than that, and he rolled off of Tony with some effort before slipping off the bed and urging Tony to follow him. “Now?” Tony whined, but he allowed Bruce to pull him off the bed, his stubbornness taking a back seat to the chance to be close to Bruce for a bit longer. Because the other man was right – there was work to be done. He still had the Mark Fifty-Seven to finish, and while Natasha’s blades were finished, he still had to make proper sheaths for them. Then there were the new com units to piece together, because he didn’t know about the others, but he was damn sick and tired of losing contact every time Thor’s lightning struck too close or the enemy fired an electromagnetic pulse weapon at them. He was integrating the new coms with the same technology that kept the Iron Man suits from shorting out. And so he allowed Bruce to pull him into the large bathroom, where the water was already running. Pausing for a minute, Tony rummaged around in one of the counters, pulling out a round tan ball and handing it to Bruce, who looked at it curiously.

“Drop it in the tub,” he suggested. To his credit, Bruce did as he’d asked, and the two men watched as the water fizzed and foamed for a moment, a light, earthy scent filling the air. Bruce grinned at Tony, obviously delighted.

“Sandalwood?” he asked.

Tony nodded. “I have rose and lavender, too.” Of course, that was because the bath bombs had originally been Pepper’s thing, but he’d found that he enjoyed them as well. She preferred floral, while he preferred the earthier scents like the sandalwood. They’d compromised on occasion with something citrusy, though Tony was absolutely not above using the rose-scented bath bombs to woo himself back into Pepper’s good graces when he’d done something phenomenally stupid, even for him.

Bruce had turned around and retrieved a second fizzer – jasmine, this time – and turned it curiously in his broad hands. Tony held his breath, wondering if Bruce would notice what Pepper never had. After a moment, the other man smiled. “You made these?” he asked.

Tony shrugged, trying to hide his pleasure. “Yeah. I tried buying some, but they didn’t last long, and they tended to leave stains.” He grimaced, remembering the first time he’d tried a bright blue bath bomb. Never again. “I tried the melts, too, but again, they didn’t last long enough. And the fizz is more fun,” he grinned. “And really, why buy generic when I can improve it?” That got a low chuckle out of Bruce, but he didn’t disagree.

The formula wasn’t exactly difficult, and Tony had spent a fun couple of evenings messing around with different scents and combinations, working with salts and oils instead of circuits and metal compounds.

Bruce smiled at him affectionately, then drops the jasmine ball into the tub as well, the two scents mixing together rather pleasantly, much to Tony’s surprise. “Brilliant,” he praised, eagerly clambering into the scented tub and settling easily against the high back, the water stinging and soothing at the same time. He looked down at his skin, only now noticing all the little scratches and crescent-shaped nail marks from Bruce’s hands scattered along his hips and waist and ribs.

He reached eagerly for Bruce, who came willingly, settling down in the tub with a quiet hiss, then relaxing in increments, his head dropping back to rest against Tony’s right shoulder, his eyes closing wearily. Unconcerned, Tony just held him for a moment, allowing the warm water and soothing scents to do their work, the water still bubbling and fizzing around them, releasing more sandalwood-jasmine into the mix.

His hands soothed lazily up and down Bruce’s chest and sides, curling through hair and slipping across wet skin. “You’re thinking,” Bruce accused, his eyes opening so that he was looking up at Tony, who shrugged.

“I’m always thinking,” he replied lightly, allowing Bruce to shift so he could reach for the shampoo. They’d have to stand to make a proper job of washing, but this much could be done while they were still sitting down.

Bruce huffed, but allowed Tony to dip his head under the water before continuing, Tony’s hands massaging firmly through damp curls, lathering the shampoo, careful not to get any in Bruce’s eyes. “Yeah, but you’re not thinking science,” he said. “And you’re not thinking about the here and now. So what are you thinking?”

Tony gave the other man a shy smile. “I’m thinking that I’m the luckiest man alive right now,” he admitted quietly. Bruce’s expression softened. “And I’m thinking that it’s only a matter of time before I screw it up,” he whispered, the words out before he had time to reconsider.

Bruce twisted around to face him, Tony’s hands dropping down. But Bruce didn’t start feed him platitudes or reassurances – Tony knew them all, had heard them all at one time or another. “You trust me, right?” Bruce asked. Tony nodded; he didn’t even have to think about it. “You trust that I’ll be there when you need me?” He wasn’t talking about in the lab, and Tony flashed back to an alien invasion and a dusty, rumpled scientist driving up on a borrowed scooter. Stark, we got him. Just like you said.

Tony grinned self-deprecatingly. “I’m a mess, aren’t I?” he mused wryly.

Bruce’s eyes crinkled at the corners when he smiled back. “And that’s why we work,” he agreed. “None of us are exactly normal, as I understand it.” Tony laughed, reaching out and pulling Bruce down into a kiss, content for the moment. He was positive he’d mess this up – things like this just didn’t happen, and when they did, he tended to dive in headfirst and then wonder why he didn’t try to slow his fall on the way down – but for now, he was here, and Bruce was here, and if the other man was willing to give this a shot, then he was in one hundred percent. For as long as it lasted.

They did manage to get cleaned up, despite the fact that Tony was reluctant to stop kissing Bruce long enough for them to breathe, much less actually scrub themselves clean. But Bruce reminded him that they had science waiting – and that Steve would probably be back soon, if he didn’t find any clues as to the direction his brainwashed friend had gone – and Tony reluctantly pulled back.

Wrapped in a heated, fluffy towel, Tony rummaged around in his closet. Bruce had excused himself to go to his own floor, and though Tony had teased him about it, he was secretly relieved for a chance to gather his thoughts. He recognized what he was doing, because he had done the same thing with Pepper, and probably would have with Rhodey, if he’d ever shown the least bit of interest in being anything more than friends. Part of him just wanted to roll with it, to take what was offered and trust that the other person knew what they were getting into. The other part of him kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the other person to decide that the problems outweighed the benefits of having a lover like Tony Stark. He knew things were moving quickly – certainly more quickly than they had with Pepper – and he’d already slept with two of his teammates. Four, if he counted last night’s venture into Clint and Natasha’s territory.

Grabbing jeans and a t-shirt without bothering to look, Tony dressed quickly, then exited his rooms, his mind already on his armors and Clint’s new bow. He had originally just been making arrows, but last night had given him rather more intimate knowledge regarding Clint’s strength and build, and he was absolutely positive that he could make something so much better than what Clint had, a bow made especially for him. There was also the Hulkbuster Armor and the Mark Fifty-seven to work on. Natasha’s knives were done, he just had to get them to her. Dummy was probably eager to get out of the lab for a while; maybe he could take them to her. Natasha probably wouldn’t break him if he interrupted something. She seemed to like the bots, throwing knives at random objects they’d hold in their claws to see if they’d stick. The bots were fascinated by the game.

He took the elevator straight to the workshop, eager to work while he had the inspiration and motivation to do so. As Bruce had said, Steve would probably be home later, which meant that he’d probably want company. Tony wasn’t sure that the other man would want his company, exactly, but if the others were going to try to include him, the least he could do was try to be somewhat available. So he headed down, leaving a quick message with JARVIS in case Bruce or one of the others asked after him.

Three hours later, his work was interrupted by a phone call from Pepper. “Hey, Pep! How’s it going?” he greeted around a mouthful of screws, not looking up from his work to see her expression. When his CEO remained uncharacteristically silent, he looked up. “Pep?”

The redhead blinked at him, then smiled. “Sorry, Tony,” she apologized. “You look like you’ve been busy.” Tony looked around, realizing that he’d probably gotten more accomplished in the past three hours than he had in the last three weeks. Huh.

“Yep,” he agreed easily. “Busy, that’s me. What can I do for you?” He set down the recurve bow he’d been working on, giving Pepper his full attention.

Pepper smiled at him, affection clear in her expression. “I just thought you might to like to know that the military is sending their liaison to New York to negotiate, in person, the specifications of what Stark Industries will be creating and to get a timetable.”

Tony couldn’t contain the delight, his mouth curving up into a wide smile. “And would this liaison happen to be tall, dark, and handsome?” he asked next.

Pepper just laughed, and Tony rejoiced to see it – after their break up, it had been hard to see her, and even harder to bear witness to her faint regret that things hadn’t worked out between them. It had been for the best, they had both agreed on that much, but that hadn’t made it any easier.

“He’ll be here tomorrow morning,” she told him, still smiling. “And he’s not being put up in a hotel, so I hope you kept his floor.” Rhodey, like Pepper, had his own floor for when he came to visit. It wasn’t like there wasn’t room.

Tony pretended to think about that for a moment, more to cover the brief spark of panic than anything. What would Rhodey think of the changing team dynamics? “Oh, I suppose. I’ll have to move the giant stuffed bunny,” he mused.

Pepper just grinned, calling his bluff. “Pretty sure that thing is still at the bottom of the ocean, Tony,” she retorted. “And if you got another one, well, you can explain it to Rhodey.” They both knew that even if the giant stuffed bunny was there, Rhodey would just roll with it. He’d been around Tony for too long to do anything else. Besides, Tony was still the primary mechanic for the War Machine armor, and if he knew what was good for him, he’d leave well enough alone. Tony was very much not above painting the armor lime green or something equally horrific.

A second window popped up to the right, JARVIS alerting him silently that Steve had returned to the Avengers Tower, and Tony flicked it away idly, returning his attention to Pepper. “Yeah, I’ll make sure everything’s ready for his arrival,” he promised. “Send over the finalized contracts – I’m assuming they’re finalized, if Rhodey’s stopping by, and I’ll prioritize them.” By which he meant he’d have JARVIS prioritize them. The AI was pretty good at making timetables, despite the fact that Tony rarely ever actually followed them.

Pepper just gave him a knowing look, but nodded agreeably. “That’ll be fine, Tony.” She paused for a moment. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Stark?” she asked gravely.

“That’ll be all, Miss Potts,” Tony replied, giving her a small wiggle of his fingers in farewell before JARVIS cut the connection. With a heavy sigh, he leaned precariously backwards on his stool, staring up at the ceiling. “That went well,” he mused. Then he shook his head. Clapping his hands together sharply, he whistled at the bots. “What do you think you’re doing? You’re supposed to be helper bots, so how about you actually help?” he suggested wryly, flicking his hand to encompass the lab, with all of its haphazard components scattered everywhere. Carefully, he picked up the bow he had been working on and stashed it in a cabinet off to the side – the same cabinet where he kept all the prototypes and works in progress of their weaponry, gear, and uniforms. The cabinet was made of pure vibranium and had cost something equivalent to a small country nation, but it would probably survive a nuclear blast, which, given the Avengers’ penchant for making enemies, wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Grabbing the delicate-looking case that contained Natasha’s new blades, Tony swept out of the workshop. “JARVIS, make sure that Rhodey’s rooms are ready,” he ordered.

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied. Tony knew that within the hour, he’d have a food delivery and a cleaning crew in the rooms to prepare for Rhodey’s arrival, and that the rooms would be perfect before the day was out. Then he just had to figure out how to explain to Rhodey that he was sort-of-not-really in a semi-polyamorous relationship with some – or possibly all, if he was really lucky – of the Avengers, and that’s was probably not going to go over very well at all. Rhodey had been his best friend since he was just a loud-mouthed kid in university, too smart and too reckless and too condescending for his own good. The other man knew how Tony worked, and knew that most of his relationships – if they could even be called that – were based on sex and not much else. It had been different with Pepper, of course, but she was Pepper; too smart and pretty and sensible to let him get away with being an idiot. She had been the glue that had held him – them – together for so long, and he wouldn’t ever regret loving her.

But when all was said and done, his relationship with Pepper had been his only honest attempt at a permanent, stable relationship. He hadn’t cared before Afghanistan, and afterwards, his trust issues could have filled a nation. And now he was letting himself be dragged into the Avengers dogpile or whatever it was, and while he trusted his teammates, he wasn’t entirely that he trusted himself.

With a quiet sigh, Tony stepped out of the elevator and onto the common floor, looking around. He didn’t see Steve immediately, so he shuffled into the main living area, circling the couch. Sure enough, Steve was curled up on his side on the couch, appearing awfully small for someone who was so large, physically. His eyes were closed, but they flickered open at Tony’s approach, and Tony hesitated, suddenly unsure. Perhaps he would’ve done better to get Bruce or Natasha, or even Thor. This was…he wasn’t good with emotions, and Steve looked like he had been crying, despite the fact that there weren’t any discernible tear tracks and his eyes weren’t red or swollen.

“Tony?” Steve asked, frowning, his focus shifting as he sat up. He glanced at the clock. “Is everything okay? Did something happen in the workshop?” He was worried about Tony now, and the genius wasn’t sure if that was better or worse, but at least it meant that Steve’s focus had shifted away from his failure to find his friend, even if only temporarily.

“No, no, it’s fine,” Tony replied, holding up his free hand – the one not holding the box – placatingly. “Everything’s fine. I was at a good stopping point, and I have a delivery for Nat, and JARVIS said you were home, so I thought maybe I’d swing by real quick, say hi, you know, normal everyday kind of things. So, uh, yeah. Hi,” he managed, feeling stupid. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, but he honestly didn’t know how to interact with people outside of business or sex. He knew he was charming and charismatic – had been told so by so many people he’d lost count – but those were people that he really couldn’t care about on a personal level. Not like he found himself caring about his teammates. It was mortifying.

Steve was watching him curiously now, and Tony tensed, opening his mouth to make some lame excuse before retreating. Before he could force the words out, though, a semi-familiar voice spoke up from behind him. “Ummm….am I interrupting something?” Tony swung around to stare at Sam Wilson, who was completely unexpected, and perhaps just a tiny bit unwelcome, but Tony realized quickly that he should have suspected the other man’s presence. Sam had been instrumental in helping Steve and Natasha in Washington, and Tony had given the man an open invitation – as long as he was accompanied by one of the Avengers – to visit the Tower when he was in town. Sam had visited a few times, mostly when Tony was upgrading his wings, and the man had proven to be a good friend to both Steve and Natasha. He tended to be the voice of reason when Steve went haring after Barnes, too.

“Ah, Sam,” Steve smiled at the other man, accepting the bottle of imported ice water that Sam handed him. “It’s fine. Tony’s looking for Natasha.” Tony didn’t know whether to be annoyed or grateful that Steve was covering for him, mostly because he wasn’t sure of the other man’s motives. Did Steve want him gone so he could spend time with his friend? Was he just trying to give Tony an out, so that Tony could decide for himself what he wanted? He hated not knowing.

Tony smiled winningly at Sam. “Hey, Wilson, how’s it going?” he asked cheerfully. “You haven’t busted up your wings again, have you? Because I swear, you’re worse than Thor when it comes to breaking my stuff.”

Sam smiled back at him, relaxed. “Pretty sure it’s my stuff,” he argued. “And nope, they’re still in one piece. No thanks to Cap here,” he added. Tony chuckled; Sam was really, really hard to dislike.

“He does tend to get himself into tight spots,” Natasha agreed, slipping in on silent feet. Completely unselfconscious, she settled on the couch, leaning against the opposite arm and stretching her legs out so that they lay across Steve’s legs, comforting without being demanding, a reminder that other people were here. She looked up at Tony, then down to the box he was still holding. Her eyes widened in pleasure. “For me?” she asked, her hands stretching out in a gimme gesture.

Tony handed her the box, watching as she carefully tested the latches before opening the box, staring down at the delicate-looking blades inside. She touched the one in the middle reverently, her fingers tracing the dainty inscription that Tony had instructed JARVIS to sketch into the surface of the blades with a laser. To anybody else, it wouldn’t mean anything, but Natasha was clever enough to recognize it for what it was. She looked up at him in surprise, then her gaze softened almost imperceptibly. “Thank you, Tony. They’re beautiful.”

She lifted one out of the box, balancing it on two of her fingers. The blade didn’t dip at all, and she smiled more broadly. Without hesitation, she slipped it into the matching holster and with a flick of her wrist, it disappeared. Tony swallowed, more pleased at the show of faith than he’d expected to be. It wasn’t like he’d never given them anything before, but he’d never done so in person, unless it was right before a battle, a last-ditch effort to keep them just that little bit safer.

“Oh, great, you’re already here,” Clint greeted cheerfully, prowling into the room. “Phil is bringing pizza from Brooklyn.” He gave Steve a sympathetic look. “No luck, huh?” he asked. Steve shook his head, and Clint sighed. “I’m sorry,” he offered, one hand gripping Steve’s shoulder tightly.

The blonde smiled at him gratefully. “Thanks, Clint,” he murmured, his hand coming up to grip Clint’s where it rested on the curve of his shoulder. Blue eyes flicked over to Tony. “I don’t suppose JARVIS has any idea where he is now?” he asked hopefully.

Tony shook his head, his lips tightening in frustration. “No,” he admitted. “I hate to say it, Cap, but this guy is good. If I didn’t know better, I’d say that he’s actively trying to avoid JARVIS.” His eyes glanced over Natasha and Clint. “But I’m pretty sure he’s just that damn good at hiding,” he admitted reluctantly. “JARVIS has his feelers out, though. He’ll let you know as soon as he gets a hit.” Because it had hurt when Tony had watched Steve walk away from him to go chase after his friend, even as he understood the reasoning behind it.

Steve’s grateful smile was for Tony this time, and the genius looked away, uncomfortable. His eyes narrowed as he realized how many Avengers were in the room. Plus Wilson. Even as it occurred to him that something might be going on, Thor strode into the room, heading straight for Steve. “Captain, I heard that your friend continues to evade you,” he said, settling on the floor by Steve’s hip. “I fear that he is not yet ready to be as you once were,” he continued solemnly. His eyes were both sad and fierce, and Tony knew he was thinking of his own wayward brother. Loki was a bastard and had tried to take over the planet – after trying, and failing, to kill Thor and take over Asgard – but he was still Thor’s brother. Just like Bucky was still Steve’s friend, even if he was currently a brainwashed Hydra assassin. Though, to be fair, the only reports of deaths accredited to the Winter Soldier lately were those of Hydra agents, so good for him.

Realizing that he was still standing there like an idiot, Tony shifted, careful to not give away his discomfort. He could see exactly where this was headed, and while the other night – with Steve and Bruce on either side of him on the couch – hadn’t been terrible, Bruce wasn’t here, and Steve was the one in need of comfort. And Tony still wasn’t sure where he stood with the rest of them.

“Sir, Doctor Banner has requested your presence in his lab,” JARVIS spoke up politely, giving Tony the excuse he needed.

“On my way,” he said agreeably. “Also, I recommend The Hobbit if you haven’t seen it yet. Excellent movie. It should be right up your alley, Cap.” And without any further words, he was gone, heading for the elevators, aware that five pairs of eyes were watching his rather ungraceful exit.

The elevator moved downwards, and Tony blinked. “Wait, you mean Bruce actually asked for me?” he wondered out loud.

“Of course, sir,” JARVIS replied, sounding puzzled. “I would not have said as much otherwise.” Tony chuckled under his breath, pretty sure that his own AI was making fun of him.

The elevator came to a standstill, and Tony made his way down the hall to Bruce’s lab, popping his head in. “Hey, everybody’s gathering upstairs,” he greeted the other man, who was bent over a microscope, calculations running on a virtual screen to his right. “I think Agent’s getting pizza from that place in Brooklyn Steve likes.” He wondered if they’d actually watch The Hobbit, or if maybe they’d already seen it, on one of those long nights that Tony had spent locked away in his lab, working on who-knew-what and remaining oblivious to what was happening in his own home, just a few floors above him.

Bruce glanced up and blinked at him owlishly for a moment, then smiled. “Is that so? How’s Steve doing?” he asked quietly, not complaining when Tony strolled over and leaned against his back, his chin on Bruce’s shoulder.

“He’ll be all right,” Tony answered back just as quietly. “I’ve got JARVIS monitoring for any more sightings; hopefully the guy will just turn himself in, but I doubt it.” Bruce hummed in agreement, his hair tickling Tony’s cheek and jaw. Tony glanced at the slide that seemed to have captured Bruce’s interest, but he had no idea what he was looking at. It looked like water on a slide to him.

“Good,” Bruce replied, dismantling the slide carefully and disinfecting it before putting it away. Tony let go of him, content to watch him as he worked. “Are you planning to join them tonight?” Bruce asked.

Tony arched an eyebrow. “Them?” he asked. “Aren’t you going?”

Bruce seemed to think about that for a moment. “What movie?” he asked.

Tony laughed. “If they took my advice? The Hobbit,” he answered lightly. Bruce’s eyes flicked towards him, and Tony’s grin widened. “What? Don’t even try to tell me that you don’t approve,” he drawled.

Bruce’s look changed to one of surprise. “You know?” he asked, impressed.

Tony shrugged. “I guessed,” he admitted honestly. “And I had JARVIS pull up movie lists.” He grimaced. “Why does Clint like cartoons?”

Bruce chuckled. “Because they’re meant to be silly, and because he didn’t get to watch a lot of them as a kid,” he replied easily, and Tony realized with a suddenness that floored him that he’d been missing a whole lot more than just sex and cuddling. The Avengers lived with him, and he didn’t know their favorite foods – JARVIS took care of ordering groceries – or their favorite colors, or why they liked certain types of movies. He knew their fighting styles, and their preferred weapons; knew the size and shape of their bodies with intimate detail, understood the flex and pull of movement in battle, and he designed weapons and protection and uniforms accordingly. But when they weren’t fighting for their lives? He didn’t know very much at all.

It took him three beats too long to realize that his sudden disquiet had worried Bruce. He was waving his hand in front of Tony, and Tony grabbed at it, pulling it away from his face with a mock scowl, but he didn’t release the other man’s hand. “All right, Tony?” Bruce asked. “You’ve been more distracted than usual lately.” Tony grimaced; he was fully aware of that, thank you very much.

He shrugged. “Yeah, well, I’ve got a bunch of superheroes living in my Tower, and the military has been riding my back, and Pepper hasn’t called me into the office more than once a week, which is sort of scary, actually. Also, I’ve slept with four people in like three days,” he pointed out. “While not a personal best, considering who we’re talking about, it’s pretty damn impressive. I am impressed. With myself,” he added unnecessarily.

His rambling had the intended effect, though, and Bruce laughed. “I’d be impressed, too,” he agreed, leaning in conspiratorially. “But then again, I’ve captured the elusive Tony Stark.” The words caressed Tony’s lips, and he relaxed into the kiss that followed.

“Steve likes art galleries,” Bruce said when they broke apart, his thumb sweeping across the back of Tony’s hand in a soothing pattern. “Clint likes cartoons, and the circus, for some reason. Natasha likes old books – fairytales, mostly. Thor…Thor likes pretty much anything,” he smiled, “but he particularly enjoys riding the subways.” Tony grimaced. “I like science, and yoga. And you.” Tony chuckled breathlessly, a quiet huff of laughter.

“All right, already,” Tony agreed. “I get it. Even superheroes like normal stuff.”

Bruce grinned at him, his eyes bright with mischief as the two of them left the lab. “Who said anything about normal?”

Tony’s laughter followed them the whole way back upstairs to where the rest of the team was waiting, The Hobbit queued up and ready to begin.

As Tony settled into the lone arm chair, content to be close without being in the middle – this was Steve’s night, after all – Clint bounced a piece of popcorn off of his forehead, and Natasha spun a blade between her fingers, her head in Phil’s lap while he filled out paperwork, occasionally sending a message one-handed to his other team. Thor was enthusiastically guessing at what would happen, and Bruce just settled next to him, so that his head brushed against Steve’s ankle.

Tony just rolled his eyes and flung the popcorn back at Clint. He missed, of course, but the archer laughed at him anyhow, shooting him a grin and two thumbs up. Tony rolled his eyes.

“JARVIS, start it up,” he ordered. As the first strands of music filled the room, the lights dimming around them, Tony settled back, his mind working furiously, even as he kept half his attention on the movie and the rest of his team.

The next few days promised to be busy. And so he’d take this quiet, this easy camaraderie, and he’d let it carry him through whatever came next.

Little did he realize just how much he’d need that in the very near future.

Chapter Text

Tony was woken up the next morning by the insistent buzzing of his phone, and he groaned as he shifted, grimacing at the cricks in his neck and shoulders and back. He opened his eyes blearily, and it was a testament to the early hour that it took him several long seconds to realize that he was sleeping in the armchair in the common room.  The lights were still turned down, the movie long since over, a blanket draped over him.

 

Stretching stiffly, the blanket sliding down into his lap, Tony looked around. He was alone in the room, everybody else having retreated to their rooms – or somebody else’s.

 

Another loud buzz, and JARVIS’ voice, low and gentle in the dark. “Miss Potts is on the line,” he informed Tony.  Blinking more awake now, Tony’s hand felt blindly for the phone.  Pepper never called him at – he glanced at the clock on his phone as he grabbed it – four thirty in the morning unless there was an emergency.  Like a factory blowing up or something.

 

“Pepper? Pep? What’s wrong? What – “ He winced as Pepper’s panicked voice came over the line, his grip on the phone tightening.  “Wait, what?” he demanded, suddenly wide awake.  “Pepper! Calm down!” he ordered. “Take a deep breath.”  He heard her following his instructions on the other side of the line as he stood up, padding towards the stairs.  He could take the elevator, but he was tense and worried, and the stairs would help with some of that energy.  “Okay, now.  What’s happening?” he asked.  “Slowly this time, please.” 

 

This time, when Pepper spoke, Tony realized that she wasn’t panicking. She was furious.  “HammerTech and Oscorp are attempting a hostile takeover of Stark Industries,” she bit out.  “I need you to get your ass in here, now, and reassure the Board that there is no way in hell you’re going to let them have it.”

 

Tony scowled as he entered his floor. “JARVIS, speakerphone,” he ordered as he dropped the phone and started stripping.  He was actually going to have to put on a suit which meant a shower and a quick shave, at the very least.  “They joined forces?” he bit out next.  “I thought we owned controlling interest in the company?  And contingencies. Hell, we have contingencies for our contingencies.  What do Hammer and Osborn think they’re going to do?”  He scraped a hand down his face as the water in the bathroom turned on. 

 

Pepper’s voice was calmer now that Tony was awake and obviously taking this seriously. “We have controlling interest, yes,” she agreed, “but the Board has rights, too, and unfortunately, they seem to think that despite the military contracts, we won’t be able to hold onto the company.”  The disbelief and anger was clear in her voice, and Tony huffed a laugh.

 

“So what are they trying? I mean, obviously they didn’t take the legal route, because we would eat them and spit them out in pieces faster than they could say ‘takeover’, but they’ve got to be trying something if you feel the need to call me in. Because let’s face it, you’re definitely scarier than I am when it comes to Stark Industries. It’s why you’re the boss.”

 

Pepper hummed, not disagreeing, and Tony grinned. “Well, they tried to buy out the Board,” she replied, and Tony bit back a curse.  Cowards, the lot of them.  A bunch of old men, mostly hired by his father and Obadiah Stane, that had never approved of Tony, and who had actively tried to shut him out of his own company after he had closed the weapons manufacturing portion of the company.  “They’ve also initiated a tender offer.”

 

Tony’s eyes narrowed, his head turned up towards the water as he reached for the shampoo. “Who else owns stock in the company?  There’s me, you, Rhodey, and the Board.  For a tender offer to have any chance at working, HammerTech and Oscorp have to know that there are enough shares out there to give them controlling interest.”  He paused for a moment.  “And how did we not know about this sooner?  Don’t they have to file that with the SEC?” he asked.

 

He could practically hear Pepper’s agitated shrug. “They probably bribed one of the SEC employees to keep it a secret.  I only found out because JARVIS noticed that Hammer and Osborn were breaking pattern, and so I did some research of my own.  Which is how I found out that the Board members have been receiving very, very lucrative offers for their shares in Stark Industries.  I expect the official announcement will be made on Monday, if not sooner.”

 

Tony shook his head. “That still doesn’t….how are they getting the shares? Even if the entire Board sells out, that’s not enough to have a controlling interest in the company to allow for an acquisition.  Are they trying a proxy bid, as well?”

 

“That’s what we want to avoid,” Pepper told him. “Which is why you need to come in.  Justin Hammer might be a useless moron, but he’s got that slick car salesman vibe and the Board is already unhappy with you, Tony. You know that.”  She paused, probably typing something, and the continued.  “Also, they’ve been buying up stock from a handful of other shareholders under multiple subsidiary companies, many of which aren’t exactly legal.  We can nail them for that if we can get the proof. It shouldn’t be too hard.”

 

“But that’ll take too much time,” Tony finished for her, stepping out of the shower and toweling off. “So you want me to…what?  Go in and convince the board that they really don’t want to sell off their shares to Hammer and Osborn?”

 

“I want you to convince them that if we get bought out, their jobs and pensions are forfeit. They will get nothing but what HammerTech and Oscorp have promised them, and I’m pretty sure they’ll find a way to squirm out of that, too.” 

 

Tony sighed, carefully shaping his goatee – he should have JARVIS make an appointment with his stylist soon, but there wasn’t any time now. “Rhodey still on his way in?” he asked, his mind already working to determine whether Hammer and Osborn actually thought they stood a chance, or whether they were just annoying him because they could.  Either way, Tony was going to have to shut them down. Hard.

 

“Yes, he’ll be here in…about ten hours,” Pepper promised. “Look, I’ve got to go, I’ve got a bunch of Board members to herd.  You’re on your way?”

 

Tony was putting on his tie with deft fingers, and running fingers in a final pass through his hair. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied distractedly.  “I’ll be there in -.”

 

A loud roar cut off the rest of his sentence before the connection went dead, and Tony froze, fighting panic. “Pepper? Pepper!” he called.  “JARVIS, what’s happening? Get hold of Pepper!”

 

“I am attempting to do so now, sir,” JARVIS replied swiftly.  “However, communications appear to be down. Tapping into backup contingencies now.”  There was a brief pause.  “It appears that there was an explosion on the thirty-fifth floor. Unknown cause.”  Tony swore; Pepper’s office was on that floor! “The Mark Fifty-Four is ready for deployment, sir.”

 

“Get communications back up. Find out what happened to Pepper,” Tony ordered, running for the elevator and skidding into it. “Is the building being evacuated?”

 

“Accessing external cameras,” JARVIS replied. “Monitoring first response frequencies. The building is being evacuated, first responders are nearby, arrival in three minutes twenty-two seconds.” There was another beat of silence, then JARVIS continued, more reluctantly.  “No signs of CEO Pepper Potts at this time, however evacuation procedures in effect make it difficult to determine missing persons at this time.”

 

Tony swore even as he ran onto the launch pad, the Mark Fifty-four wrapping around him. He was in the air almost before the armor was fully assembled, blasting towards the Stark Industries office building downtown.  The Avengers Tower held Research and Development, and a few other departments like IT and Human Resources, but the offices and conference rooms were downtown, less of a target.  At least, that’s what Tony had thought, which is why Pepper was there.  He’d been so stupid to think that the business office with only standard security would be safer than the Tower that housed the goddamn Avengers.

 

The smoke from the SI corporate offices was thick and black, roiling into the sky like oil, and Tony swallowed, pushing his thrusters to go faster. He drew even with the building just as the first fire trucks and ambulances rolled up, first responders pouring out of the vehicles and swarming towards the injured, pulling them further away from the building. “JARVIS, put me on the police frequency,” he ordered, listening for the click as the AI did as he’d been told.

 

“Hey, officers!” he greeted, watching them startle below him. “I’m going to check the building, keep your men at a safe distance!  There might be another bomb.”

 

“Understood, Iron Man,” a deep male voice responded promptly. At street level, the men started pulling back, setting up a perimeter.  The fire trucks were ready to put out fires, but were willing to wait for his word, and he appreciated that.  “JARVIS, make sure our local responders get double the donation this year,” he ordered, circling the building, starting from the top and working his way down.  He wanted to dive straight for the thirty-fifth floor, but Pepper would kill him.  If she was still alive, that was.

 

He swallowed hard. “Are communications back up yet?” he demanded.  JARVIS was feeding him constant readings through the HUD, targeting heat signatures, and Iron Man swept through the glass on the thirty-eighth floor, yanking a toppled bookshelf off of a secretary and dragging her, screaming, back out through the window. People were still pouring out of the main doors, though it seemed like most of them were out already, of those that hadn’t been lost in the initial blast.

 

“Sir, there appears to be a second bomb,” JARVIS warned him, and Tony cursed, dropping the lady into the waiting arms of an EMT and taking off again, following JARVIS’ directions. “Explosion is imminent, I’m afraid there isn’t enough time to disarm it,” the AI apologized.

 

Tony swore. “Get everybody back!” he ordered through his loud speakers.  “There’s at least one more bomb.”  Below him, the cops started herding people further down, the fire trucks and ambulances and police cars pulling back.  He flew into the thirty-second floor, ignoring the glass windows as they shattered around him, spilling onto the street below and into the building itself.  Grabbing the bomb from where it was taped under the desk – could these guys be any more predictable? – Tony whirled to exit again, the plan a simple one; carry the bomb high enough that it would explode harmlessly into the atmosphere. 

 

He heard the familiar roar at the same time that JARVIS warned him of incoming. The next few seconds were completely surreal, as Tony found himself looking, once again, at a Stark Industries missile.  Even as he took off, he realized he wouldn’t be fast enough.  The missile was going to hit, and the building was going to be blown sky high, along with everybody still in the building, and probably people on the ground, too. 

 

He hit the missile at the same instant that something hit him with an angry roar, and Tony got to experience the nausea-inducing feeling of being grabbed by an angry Hulk. The armor was still in full flight, so he did a sort of twist and roll before being yanked back.  He had no idea what the Hulk had done, but there was an explosion above them, the pressure knocking them towards the ground.  Hulk curled his large form around Tony, and they hit with a bone-jarring thud.  Warnings were blaring all over the place, and Tony’s head was spinning as he stared upwards.  The missile hadn’t been knocked far away enough when it – and the bomb – had exploded, and the top several layers of Stark Industries were just….gone.  Along with the top floors of nearby buildings.  Tony felt sick.

 

“Sir, your heart rate is elevated and your temperature is increasing rapidly. Please calm down.  Communications have been disrupted again, but I was able to verify that Miss Potts made it out of the building during the evacuation, accompanied by Mister Hogan.”  JARVIS’ voice was almost frantic in his ear, and the Hulk was grumbling above him, his body tensed as pieces of the building continued to fall, hitting his broad back and rolling off.  The Hulk started moving, and Tony tried not to throw up inside the helmet.

 

“Iron Man! Status?” Phil Coulson’s calm voice came over the coms.  “We have eyes on the Hulk, but I need to hear your voice right now.”

 

Tony must’ve mumbled something, because he was pretty sure that was a chorus of relieved sighs he heard, along with an unfamiliar voice – Falcon, if he had to guess – asking, “Does he do this often, then?” The next few minutes were spent listening to muffled noises that he was pretty were comprised of his teammates chewing him out for rushing off without them and nearly getting himself killed.  Again.  Hulk brought him to the perimeter, setting him on the ground before turning around and rushing off, back towards the destruction.

 

There were hands patting at the helmet, and Tony stared up stupidly at the woman who had once been the love of his life. Pepper’s mouth was moving frantically, but there was a loud buzzing in Tony’s ears and he couldn’t understand.  His armor was heavy around his body, and he realized that it had probably been compromised when Hulk had grabbed him out of the air.

 

Pepper’s hands found the manual release, and the face plate popped up. Her worry didn’t fade at all, but Tony could have cried, he was so relieved to see her, dusty and with her hair a mess, her clothing covered in dirt and who-knew-what-else, alive.  She was alive.  “Pepper,” he mumbled, blinking slowly.  He realized he’d forgotten to open his eyes a moment later when Pepper shook him, despite how heavy the armor must be to her, too.

 

Dragging his eyes open, Tony looked over at her. “Damage check?” he managed, though he couldn’t hear himself talking, so maybe he’d just thought it.  Pepper was pulling off the rest of the helmet, and Tony grimaced.  Suddenly, the helmet disconnected, and the world flooded back in at full volume.  The air was filled with shouts and the scream of sirens, Hulk’s bellowing and the rumble of thunder providing a pounding bass that made Tony’s head ache.

 

“Armor integrity at thirty-eight percent,” JARVIS informed him.  Tony ineffectively tried to push himself up, only managing with Pepper’s assistance. “Power at twelve percent.” Tony grimaced; why was it always twelve? Why couldn’t it be like seventy-two?

 

“Disengage armor,” he ordered, struggling to his feet. Pepper made a sound of protest, but he ignored her.  Stark Industries was under direct attack, and the Avengers were mobilized.  He needed to be out there, not back here where it was safe.  Pepper was alive; he’d mourn over the casualties later.  “Please tell me you have the Mark Fifty-Five on the way,” he muttered, even as the familiar rumble of repulsors approached, the armor setting down in front of him while his armor clattered to the ground.

 

Without waiting to see what Pepper was doing, Tony stepped into the armor and took off, heading straight up. Steve and Natasha were undoubtedly handling things on the ground.  The Hulk was standing on the top of the ruins, keeping a watchful eye out for any further incoming. “It appears that there are no further inbound attacks,” JARVIS confirmed in his ear, and Tony bit back a wince.  He was going to have one hell of a headache later.  “Hulk was able to disarm the remaining detonation devices, emergency services are moving in. Your assistance has been requested in checking the integrity of the upper floors prior to entry by responders.”

 

By this time, rain was pouring down on New York, dousing the flames in a rush of water. Firemen were swarming into the building, checking for anybody who was still trapped.  Tony felt sick, even as he relayed status reports and heat signatures to the crews below.  Coulson was supplying updates of his own, having set some of his people to the task of finding out who had been responsible for the attack.

 

Steve, Thor, and Tony worked together to drag the injured and dead out of the debris from SI and the surrounding buildings, Sam circling the buildings and calling out to the people still trapped inside, keeping them calm until the rescue crews arrived. Clint and Natasha slipped carefully through the hallways ahead of the emergency crews, watching for any signs that the buildings were going to collapse further.  The lower levels held steady, though, and in a matter of hours, Tony was pretty sure they had found everybody that they were going to find.  It was quite possible that there were bodies that the armor’s sensors weren’t picking up, but if that was the case, then those people were well beyond his help.

 

By the time Tony realized that there was nothing more he could do until cleanup crews could start clearing away the debris, his vision was blurring and his head spinning. His limbs felt like lead weights. 

 

“Got anything for me, Agent?” Tony asked wearily as he touched down, though he already knew the answer.

 

“Negative, Iron Man,” Coulson replied apologetically. “Nobody is claiming credit for the attack, and Hydra’s movements are still mostly underground.  Our resources are stretched thin at the moment, I’m afraid.”

 

Tony swayed where he stood, the armor keeping him upright as he let his eyes slip closed for a long moment. “How’s that going?” he asked.

 

There was a moment of silence before Coulson’s reply came through. “We’ve recovered five agents at this time,” he admitted.  Tony grimaced; that wasn’t a good number, considering that JARVIS’ last report had located approximately forty-three SHIELD agents in eight countries.  Even if thirty-seven percent had been compromised, that still left nearly thirty agents who might yet be saved.

 

“You should be out there,” he murmured as he flipped his faceplate up, not accusing the other man of anything. Phil divided his time between the Avengers and his team, and he was at the Tower as often as he could manage.

 

“There’s nothing I can do for them right now,” Coulson answered tightly, coming to a stop next to him. “Missions have been assigned, and I’m fielding reports, but I’ve got too many eyes on me right now to break international border laws.”

 

Tony chuckled. “So much for being all but invisible, huh?” he muttered, checking on the suit’s integrity as the rest of the team moved towards him.  Steve and Sam were still down with the policemen, helping with organization, but Clint and Natasha had bracketed Phil.  “Where’s Bruce?” he asked, no longer hearing the Hulk’s angry bellows.

 

“Our Doctor is safe, Man of Iron,” Thor reassured him, causing Tony to turn around to watch the two of them come up from behind him. Thor’s cape was wrapped around Bruce’s bare torso, and his arm was wrapped around the shorter man’s waist.  Bruce accepted the help quietly, tired eyes flicking up wearily to look at Tony.

 

“You’re bleeding,” he said, disapproval evident in his tone.

 

Tony frowned, reaching up one hand and grimacing as the hard metal touched his head. It came away stained with blood, and he blinked.  “Oh,” he murmured, not really surprised.  “That would probably explain the headache.”

 

Bruce’s hands were firm on either side of Tony’s helmet, the other man’s exhaustion forgotten as he checked the injury, clucking impatiently when Tony was too slow in getting the rest of the helmet off. He rattled off questions, demanding – and receiving – a penlight that he shone in Tony’s eyes.  Tony flinched, but dutifully tracked Bruce’s finger when it was moved in front of him.  “The wound appears to be shallow,” Bruce said at last, gesturing for one of the passing EMTs to stop.  Tony scowled and waved them on, rolling his eyes when the man hesitated.

 

“They need you, I’m fine,” he snapped. Extremis wasn’t kicking in, but that was fine, it just meant that the scrape on his head wasn’t deep enough for it to initiate rapid healing. 

 

“Tony,” Bruce protested.

 

He shook his head. “No, no, they’re needed down there,” he replied adamantly.  “I mean, you said it yourself, it’s not deep.  What are they gonna do? Slap some Neosporin and a bandaid on it, for chrissakes? I’m fine.”  Never mind that his head was pounding a staccato rhythm and the armor was the only thing keeping from collapsing into an exhausted heap on the ground.  His body was trembling, and Tony focused on keeping his expression still and alert, trusting the suit to cover up the rest.

 

There were loud cries from below, and Tony watched as a body was pulled clear from the wreckage, families standing nearby hoping to hear from their loved ones, praying that they might have somehow survived, that they were far enough down and close enough to an exit to have gotten out.

 

Tony’s stomach tightened into a furious knot, his throat closing up, and he swore that when he found out who was responsible for the attack, he was going to drop them in a hole so deep that they’d never see daylight. He was pretty sure that SHIELD had an underwater prison somewhere that should do nicely.  Of course, he’d really prefer to just bury the asshole twelve feet under, but he was an Avenger now, and personal vendettas weren’t condoned.  Some days, he really, really hated being one of the good guys.

 

“Where’s Pepper?” he asked Coulson, who was talking into a headset. “And Happy? Did he make it out?”

 

“Happy took Pepper to the hospital,” Natasha told him quietly, her hand reaching up to grip Tony’s armored shoulder. He couldn’t feel the pressure, but he appreciated the gesture nonetheless.  “She wasn’t particularly happy about it.  She’s perfectly fine, just superficial wounds.  She was on her way to the break room when the first explosion went off.”  Tony nodded his thanks, swallowing hard.  He hadn’t been able to do a full check when he’d seen her earlier, relieved just to know that she was alive and conscious and moving.  The armor didn’t hide the shiver this time, and Natasha gave him a sympathetic smile before turning to go check on Clint, who had apparently sprained an ankle.  Again.

 

“I should be down there,” Tony said, taking a step forward. Bruce’s hand on his chest, against the reactor, made him pause, though the other man couldn’t really stop him if Tony insisted.  He glared at the other man, angry now.  “That,” he pointed sharply, “is my fault.  They attacked SI to get at me.  Those people are dead because I failed to protect them.  I didn’t even consider that they might not be safe!”  He was furious at himself.

 

Bruce just stared back at him calmly. “You attacked your own building?” he asked archly.  Tony snarled; that wasn’t what he’d meant, and Bruce knew that.  “The attack might have had something to do with you,” Bruce acknowledged, because telling Tony otherwise would have just pissed him off even more, “but you were not the cause of it.  Whoever did this will be found, and they will pay.”  His eyes flickered briefly to green, and Tony knew that he wasn’t the only regretting being one of the good guys right now.

 

Tony looked away, his eyes taking in the damage. Beyond just the glass and steel and rubble, there was blood and crying and rage; it wasn’t just the physical that had been lost this day.  Tony fought down memories of another town, buildings gutted and burned, wives screaming for their husbands, children crying for their parents.  That was neither here or now, and those people were equally beyond his help; he had done what he could.

 

“Stark, go home,” Coulson interrupted whatever Tony had been about to say next. “There’s nothing more to be done.  SHIELD and the National Guard will set up a perimeter, it’ll be nightfall soon.  Recovery efforts will begin in the morning.” 

 

Tony considered protesting, but then thought better of it and nodded. “Fine,” he agreed.  He glanced at Bruce, who was sagging against Thor now that he was relatively certain Tony wasn’t about to keel over and die on them or something equally ridiculous.  “You’ll get him home?” he checked.

 

“Aye, I will make certain that the Doctor returns safely to our home,” Thor promised him solemnly, pulling Bruce further into the shelter of his body. Bruce mumbled something, and Thor grinned.  “All shall be well, Anthony,” he promised.

 

“Yeah, not really, but thanks,” Tony said shortly. He made a show of looking around.  “Well, it looks like everything’s taken care of here.  I’m out.”  Without waiting for a reply, Tony flipped the face plate down and took off, angling towards the hospital.  It was time to talk with Pepper.

 

Chapter Text

Tony strode through the hospital, stopping briefly at a nurse’s station for directions.  Pepper had already been looked at and released on her own cognizance, and was borrowing one of the hospital’s conference rooms.  Happy was standing at attention outside, a dark bruise forming on his cheek and his arm in a cast from wrist to elbow.  When he saw Tony, he gave him a solemn nodded and stepped aside to let the genius enter the room.

 

Pepper was sitting on the edge of the conference room table, her eyes narrowed as she talked rapidly into her cell phone, already fielding calls from press and government alike.  No, she didn’t know who had attacked Stark Industries, or why, but she had been assured that the investigation was underway.  No, it had nothing to do with Stark Industries’ association with the Avengers via Iron Man.  Yes, Stark Industries would be completing an internal affairs investigation of their own.  Yes, she was aware that stock prices had dropped. No, Stark Industries was not in danger of being taken over by Oscorp or HammerTech.

 

Tony slouched into a nearby chair, pulling out his phone and conducting an investigation of his own while giving JARVIS instructions through his headset.  It hadn’t taken him long to put two and two together.  HammerTech and Oscorp were buying up Stark Industries stock and trying to oust the current Board members.  Stark Industries was attacked just prior to what would likely be a very public announcement of a takeover attempt, resulting in a nearly immediate drop in stock prices, making their standing offer even more appealing.  Unfortunately, he didn’t have proof, and storming into HammerTech with his repulsors at the ready would probably just get his ass thrown in jail.  It would probably be worth it, though, to wipe that smirk off of Justin Hammer’s smug face.

 

Pepper disconnected her last call – from a news journal, by the sound of it – and scowled.  She cut a glance over at Tony, who just sighed and slouched further into his seat.  Pepper’s expression softened.  “The families are being notified,” she told him, sliding off the table and moving to stand behind him, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders. Tony tipped his head back so that it pressed against her stomach. He could feel her breathing.  “Arrangements are being made by SI to cover all medical and funeral costs.”  She managed to sound both mournful and furious at the same time, a feeling that Tony was intimately familiar with.

 

“Why now?” he asked at last.  Pepper looked down at him, one eyebrow raised.  Her phone buzzed, and she glanced at it before promptly ignoring it and tucking it into her skirt.  She was still in the same outfit she’d been in when SI had been attacked, but her hair had been brushed and her face and hands and arms washed clean.  She had a busted lip and a large pad of gauze taped against her collarbone, probably to cover a cut.  Her hands were scraped red and smelled strongly of astringent, and her nails were chipped.  She was barefoot, her shoes given up as a lost cause.  God, she was beautiful. 

 

One of Tony’s hands fumbled upwards, gripping hers tightly where it rested on his shoulder.  Pepper just bent over him, her hair falling on either side of her face, surrounding the two of them.  “It’s not your fault, Tony,” she said.

 

Tony shook his head.  “But that’s just it,” he protested.  “It is my fault.  Whether they attacked because they want the company or because they’re sending me a warning, it’s still because of me.  How many people just died because I didn’t anticipate that?” he demanded.  “How many kids just lost their parents? How many husbands lost their wives?  And for what?!”

 

Pepper’s hands moved up to grip either side of Tony’s face, holding him still.  “It is not your fault,” she told him firmly.  Her eyes narrowed.  “You think you know who did this,” she surmised.  Pepper had always been able to read him, no matter how well he tried to hide it.  “I’m surprised you didn’t go after them.”

 

Tony scowled, pulling away from Pepper. She let him go.  “If I’m right, they’re dead,” he hissed.  “I’ve got JARVIS confirming a couple of things.  If I’m wrong – which, let’s face it, I’m not – it’d only cause trouble for the company.”  Actually, if it went wrong, Iron Man would be cast as a villain, and the Avengers Initiative itself would be called into question.  There was no way in hell that Tony Stark was going to be the downfall of the Avengers.  SHIELD had already been dissolved, as far as most governments were concerned.  The military was not equipped to handle the sort of shit that the Avengers dealt with on the average Tuesday. 

 

Pepper’s phone buzzed again, and she glanced at it, her eyes narrowing.  “Stay put,” she ordered Tony, answering with a sharp, “Potts.”  Tony couldn’t hear what was being said, but it didn’t matter because his own phone was ringing.  Tony checked the caller ID, a reluctant smile curling his lips as he answered.

 

“Cap, what a pleasant surprise,” he purred.

 

Steve’s voice was very much not impressed when he asked, “Where are you?”

 

Tony paused for a moment, the nagging feeling in the back of his head coalescing into a darker thought.  “Where do you think I am, Captain my Captain?” he asked.

 

Steve hesitated, as if sensing a trap – or looking to someone else for advice – then sighed.  “I don’t know,” he admitted.  “Otherwise, I’d probably be there with you.”  Tony blinked, caught off guard.  He had been expecting Steve to accuse him of haring off to do something stupid – like attack whoever had taken a shot at Stark Industries on a Friday morning.  Instead, Steve was offering him support in a roundabout way, offering to back his play without even knowing what the play was.

 

Tony’s shoulders relaxed, his tone more subdued as he answered the other man.  “I’m at the hospital, in one of the conference rooms,” he explained.  “I needed to see Pepper.”  He also needed to be where the survivors would be treated, needed to know they’d managed to save most of them, needed to know that they’d go back home to their families.

 

“I understand,” Steve said softly.  There was a brief pause, and Tony could hear him speaking to someone, the sound muffled.  He was back a moment later.  “Clint’s heading to you now,” he informed him, overriding Tony’s reflexive sound of protest.  “He needs his ankle checked out, and the hospital is closer than SHIELD medical right now.” 

 

Tony huffed.  “Fine, but tell Barton that he had better bring a giant fucking cup of coffee with him,” he told Steve.  The Captain just chuckled.

 

“He’ll be there shortly.  Wait for him,” Steve said, then disconnected before Tony could argue.  The billionaire rolled his eyes, dropping his phone carelessly onto the conference table.  Pepper raised an eyebrow at him, and he made a gesture.  She nodded, turning her attention back to the politician on the other end of the line.  Tony left her to it, slipping out the door.

 

“Sir?” Happy asked curiously, not moving from his post.

 

Tony reassured him.  “I need to go see a man about a thing,” he said, walking off before Happy could protest – or try to stop him.  He headed for the front of the hospital, occasionally moving up against a wall to allow harried doctors and nurses to fly past him, heading for an emergency or bringing a patient in to surgery.  Some of them, he even recognized.

 

“I’m surprised I haven’t been mobbed by the press yet,” Tony murmured, not quite to himself.

 

“Agent Coulson requested that I redirect all inquiries to himself or Miss Potts,”  JARVIS replied.  “Less reputable media outlets are being provided with a standard message indicating that you are not accepting calls at this time, and that an investigation is on-going.  I am afraid that it has bought  you only a little time, sir.”

 

Tony nodded; a little time was all he needed. Pepper, bless her, would deal with the politicians and the press, and Coulson and JARVIS would deal with the rest.  He was certain that shareholders were already scrambling, and he wondered how sharply Stark Industries stock would decline in the wake of the attack.  The company had lost nearly forty points when he’d shut down weapons manufacturing, but it had been swiftly recovered with the emergence of Iron Man and a bunch of shiny new inventions.  This?  This wasn’t something that people could be redirected from; there was a body count this time.  Tony could just see the headlines now.  “Tony Stark: Merchant of Death Fails to Defend his Own Company.”  It would only get worse before it got better.

 

“Please tell me there aren’t any immediate emergencies that are going to require our intervention,” Tony muttered, stopping at the hospital’s Starbucks Coffee bar and ordering the largest dark roast they had.  He considered leaving the hospital, but figured that Hawkeye or Coulson would probably just track him down.  Instead, he slumped into one of the waiting room chairs, not looking at anybody, just watching the doors to the main entrance.

 

“There do not appear to be any incidents that would require the presence of the Avengers, sir,” JARVIS assured him. “Mister Richards and Professor Xavier have been notified of the situation and are willing to provide back up, should it prove necessary.  Young Mister Parker wishes to inform you that he ‘has your back, anything you need, just ask, Mister Stark, sir,” the AI added drolly.

 

“Thank fuck,” Tony muttered fervently, catching sight of Clint as he walked into the hospital under his own power, dirty and bruised and grinning like a fucking loon.  He waved enthusiastically at Tony, who just slouched further down in his seat, pretending he didn’t know the laughing idiot.

 

Coulson, who had walked in with him, shoved his ass into the chair next to Tony and pointed at him firmly.  “Sit. Stay,” he ordered, then walked over towards the counter, probably to fill out paperwork.

 

Tony rolled his head on his shoulders until he was looking up at Clint, who wasn’t smiling anymore.  “Really, Barton?” he drawled.  “Coulson’s actually going to make you go through an examination at a normal hospital?  What’d you do to piss him off that badly?” 

 

Clint grimaced.  “I ducked Medical,” he admitted.  “Coulson seems to think that this means that I’m asking for punishment, and this?  This is it.”  He was grinning again, but his hand moved over and pressed firmly just above Tony’s knee, grounding him.  Tony gave him a small smile of gratitude, and Clint twisted sideways in his chair, his sprained ankle tossed over the arm of his chair and across Tony’s lap.  The genius gave him a dirty look, but he just batted his eyes at him, and Tony gave in with a small chuckle, allowing the other man’s presence to be a comfort.

 

“Mister Stark,” Coulson greeted, coming around the circle of chairs and settling on Tony’s other side.  “We need to debrief you about what happened this morning,” he said solemnly.  Tony grimaced.  “However, it can wait until we return to the Tower.”

 

Tony lifted his head, staring hard at Phil.  He twisted his head to look at Clint, then turned back to Phil, his eyes narrowing.  “You’re not here about Clint’s ankle,” he accused.  “You’re just here to make sure I don’t fuck things up.”

 

Coulson was filling out a stack of forms, though Tony was pretty sure that it was nothing but lies.  No way was Clint’s medical file that clean; the man had been beaten, knifed, shot, and who knew what else far too many times.  Certainly more than anybody else on the team, except maybe Steve, who seemed to think that getting shot was just a natural thing that happened, like all the time.  It was ridiculous.

 

“We are here,” Coulson replied quietly, “to make sure that whoever attacked Stark Industries this morning does not attempt to finish the job.” 

 

“I’m pretty sure they weren’t after me,” Tony pointed out.  “I live in the Tower, in case you forgot.  Which is just rude if you did, seeing as that I own the place.”

 

Coulson gave him an inscrutable look that somehow managed to convey that he thought Tony was being an idiot.  “What’s that look for?” Tony demanded. “I’m pretty sure that’s completely uncalled for.  How much do you know?”  He paused.  “You know what, never mind.  I’m pretty sure you know everything.  I don’t know why I even bother to ask anymore.”  The banter was familiar, and Tony felt himself unwinding.  Coulson was still filling out the paperwork, and Clint shifted so that he could lean across Tony to look at what the other man was filling out, his grin widening as he read the preposterous lies that somehow actually seemed like they might be true, anyhow.

 

When Coulson spoke, it came somewhat as a surprise.  “Miss Potts called you this morning with the news of a potential hostile takeover that isn’t on file anywhere, except that it is.  While she was on the phone with you, a small bomb went off and communications went down.  The first bomb was placed in the server room, by the way.  The attack occurred just before five in the morning.  The building was mostly empty at that time, but Miss Potts was there.  However, the inbound attack didn’t occur until after you were in building.  If they had wanted to destroy the building, or kill the largest number of people, just to make a point, they would have done so later in the day, and before the Avengers had a chance to respond.  But they waited until you were there.  Why?”  Coulson was looking at him now, and Tony frowned.

 

“Hammer isn’t that smart,” he admitted.  Coulson’s expression didn’t change, but Tony got the feeling that he was pleased with Tony’s insight.

 

“No, he isn’t,” he agreed.  “Which means what?”

 

Tony scowled at the other man, feeling like a toddler being led step-by-step to a simple conclusion.  “Which means that somebody’s backing him, somebody that is more powerful than Osborn, probably.”  And that rankled, that Osborn was even involved in this, in any capacity.  Oscorp wasn't even in the same field, sticking to the unstable area of chemical engineering.  Tony was surprised they hadn’t blown themselves up or turned them all into monsters yet.  And the United States government was riding his ass about the Iron Man armor. Morons.

 

“Clint Barton?”  A nurse was standing in the doorway, looking out.  Clint sunk down further in his seat, but Phil gave him a look, and he stood up with a sigh.  Phil followed him, and whatever look he gave the nurse, she didn’t protest.  Clint gave Tony a last despairing look before being herded into the examination area, and Tony chuckled.

 

A few moments later, another coffee cup was held out in front of Tony’s face.  “You should probably be looked at while you’re here,” Pepper said softly.

 

Tony grinned tiredly up at her.  “Done striking fear into the hearts of politicians?” he murmured as Pepper settled next to him.

 

The Stark Industries CEO didn’t roll her eyes – she was too classy for that – but she was obviously displeased.  “The politicians aren’t the problem.  The press is.  They’re already saying that Stark Industries isn’t safe, that it was one of SI’s weapons that took out the building.  At this rate, people are actually going to believe that nonsense that Justin Hammer would make a better CEO.”

 

Tony shuddered.  “Nope, not happening, I did not just hear those words coming out of your mouth,” he protested.  “There is no way in hell that Justin Hammer should even have his own company, much less think he can even look at mine.  And to be honest, I’m not sure the company is what they’re after,” he admitted, dropping his head into the cradle of his palms.  Pepper didn’t say anything, but her body language made a minute shift, and he looked up at her.  “What?” he asked, not really sure he wanted to hear it.

 

“I don’t care,” Pepper said, her voice quiet in the murmur of the hospital waiting room.  “I don’t care if they’re after the company, or me, or you, or the government contracts. It doesn’t matter if they’re trying to create a scandal or commit murder.”  Her eyes met his, and even red-rimmed and with dark bruising under them, her eyes were fierce and proud.  They were just as determined now as they had been when she had taken on Aldrich Killian and won.  He’d never stood a chance.  “This is unacceptable.  I will destroy them.” 

 

Tony grinned.  “Atta girl,” he praised.  Because when Pepper decided that a person – or a company – was going down, it went down hard.  HammerTech would be bankrupt and dissolved by the end of the month if she had any say in it.  “Leave a piece for me, would you?” he requested.

 

Pepper sniffed.  “You can do the gloating bit at the end,” she promised, and Tony couldn’t fight down the laughter.  He was tired and battered, and people were dead and dying and injured, and he loved Pepper so, so much that he ached with it.  “For now, though,” she said, standing up and nodding at Happy, who was waiting over by the door, always on watch, “go home, get some sleep.  They’ll need you tomorrow for the heavy lifting.”

 

Tony nodded. “What about the Board?” he asked.

 

Pepper’s smile was vicious.  “Don’t worry about the Board,” she told him.  Tony nodded agreeably; Pepper was not in the mood to be messed with right now.

 

She looked at him, her expression softening.  “Is that all, Mister Stark?” she asked, quietly. 

 

Tony could hear Clint and Phil returning, the archer cheerfully complaining about the pathetic wrapping job and the fact that the he’d wound up with a male nurse, and he shook his head.  “That’ll be all, Miss Potts,” he replied.

 

Clint slung an arm around his shoulders, his other hand holding two crutches that he was waving around in the air.  “Clean bill of health!” he proclaimed, even as Coulson snagged the crutches out of his hand and handed them to a nearby patient, who took them with a look of baffled amusement.  “Let’s go home, yeah?”

 

Pepper was already gone, Happy with her, and Tony looked at Clint, then past him to Coulson, who just gave him a generic smile.

 

“Yeah, let’s do that,” he agreed.  And he didn’t even complain when Clint used him as a crutch on the way out.  Go him.

Chapter Text

When they finally made it home, just after midnight, it was to find the rest of the team waiting for them in the common area. They were all spread out, but they weren’t even pretending to pay attention to whatever show was on the television.  Tony didn’t know what expression was on his face, but it must’ve been awful, because all of them rose from their seats.  Tony stepped back, then stopped, aware that Clint and Phil were still behind him.

 

It was Natasha who moved forward first, though, her hands spread out peaceably, her steps slow. Tony swallowed, but didn’t move, even as Clint and Phil moved forward on either side of him, moving towards the rest of the group.  Then Natasha’s arms were around him, his head pressed into her shoulder, her clean warm spicy scent surrounding him.  His hands gripped her waist, then slid around to her back.  They swayed there, neither of them saying anything.

 

Natasha didn’t offer platitudes, and she didn’t pull away. She didn’t stop him when he did, though, and he was aware that any longer and he’d have been sobbing helplessly into her shoulder.  He hated crying in front of other people, though – hated crying at all, actually, it wasn’t something that Starks did – and he was grateful that she let him go.

 

He opened his mouth, then closed it, the words he wanted to say caught in his throat. Instead, all he managed was, “I’m tired.”

 

Natasha nodded her acceptance, and again, nobody stopped him as he retreated up to his own floor, changing into pajamas automatically before sliding underneath the covers in his too-big bed. He was exhausted, but he couldn’t sleep, the emotional and physical exhaustion not enough to counterbalance his restlessness.

 

“JARVIS?” he asked after half an hour had passed and he was no closer to sleep than he had been before.

 

“Sir?” the AI replied immediately, the familiar response settling Tony a little.

 

“Are the others awake?” Tony asked, debating with himself internally.

 

“They are, sir,” JARVIS confirmed.  There was a pause. “Do you wish me to request the presence of one of them?” he asked when Tony failed to elaborate.

 

Tony shook his head with a sigh. “No, I…no.  Don’t bother them,” he ordered the AI, closing his eyes firmly and curling up on his side, determined to go to sleep.

 

He wasn’t sure how much longer he lay there, too tired to drag himself to the lab, and too restless to fall asleep. So when the door opened with a near-silent whisper, he just turned his head, but otherwise didn’t move.  “Hey,” Bruce murmured as he approached the bed, sliding in behind Tony and wrapping his arms around him, ignoring the tense lines of Tony’s body.

 

Bruce didn’t say anything else, didn’t try to get Tony to talk, or try to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, and that they’d fix it, together, as a team. He didn’t scold Tony for taking off without them, for not requesting backup, for thinking he could stop the attack himself.  Instead, he just laid there, pressed warm and soft against Tony’s ridged spine, his mouth occasionally pressing a gentle kiss to the nape of his neck.

 

Not five minutes later, the door opened again. There was a brief moment of hesitation, but when neither man protested, bare feet padded across the floor.  Steve moved around to the far side of the bed and stared down at them, silently checking in with both of them before crawling onto the bed, his legs tangling with Tony’s, one arm lying across Tony’s waist, and a large hand resting on Bruce’s hip behind him.  A kiss was dropped on the top of his head, and Steve sighed.  “I’m glad you’re okay,” he murmured, settling down.  Tony blinked into the darkness, his restlessness only slightly eased by the presence of the other two men, both of whom he’d slept with before.

 

Tony swallowed, but before he could say anything, the door opened again. “Oooh! Cap, you’re supposed to tell us when we’re having a sleepover,” Clint admonished, moving quickly for all that he had a sprained ankle.  He took a flying leap, and all three men protested as he landed on top of them, quickly rolling over and curling up at Bruce’s back.

 

“Clint, you’re an idiot,” Natasha’s softer voice spoke up as she, too, approached the bed.

 

Tony closed his eyes. “Seriously, guys, what is this?” he demanded.  “Who’s next? Phil? Thor? Are we doing the whole puppy pile thing now? What the hell?”  Now that the thought was in his head, though, he found it strangely appealing.  His bed was huge, and would easily fit all of them.

 

“If you but extend the invitation, I should be glad to join you and see for myself that you are all right,” Thor spoke up, his voice only slightly quieter than normal. Phil made a small hum of agreement, and Tony gave in.  Not like it was really that hard to do; after all, he had always been a sensual person, and the bodies around him were filled with life and warmth and concern, and they cared, he knew they cared, he had just refused to see it.  And this? This was pretty hard to fuck up, even for him, so why the hell not?

 

He said as much. “Sure, why the hell not?  Join the pile,” Tony said, his tone only a little sarcastic, but mostly resigned.  He’d seen this happen before, when there had been an bad op, when one of them was hurt more seriously than a couple of superficial flesh wounds, whenever one of them had gone dark, even for a few hours, whenever Tony had to turn JARVIS’ heightened search algorithms towards finding one of his teammates.  It was a need to reassure themselves and each other that they were all there, all alive and in one piece, still walking and talking and breathing.

 

Thor climbed in, shoving up against Steve’s back, and Phil was just kind of there, behind Clint, careful of the man’s injured ankle. Natasha just dropped on top of Tony, and he shifted so that he was lying on his back, her head resting against his chest, her legs curled up on top of his.  Her weight was warm and solid, but not too heavy, not like Steve or Thor, or even Bruce, would’ve been. 

 

It was Phil who pulled the comforter up over them, bringing the Indian afghan blanket up as well, closing them all in a cocoon of heat and heart and breath.

 

Tony allowed his eyes to slip closed, but his mind was still racing, trying to find answers for questions that he didn’t simply have the information to even begin to guess at. Why now? Why not before he had a team, when he was on his own? Why the guise of a hostile takeover attempt? Was it just a ruse? Or was there actually some truth behind it?  What did the world have against him in general? Was there somebody, some organization, behind Hammer, behind Osborn, behind all of it?  Was the removal of Iron Man from the picture part of a deal or something?

 

Natasha murmured something from her place on his chest, her lips brushing up against his clothed chest. Tony was pretty sure it was in Russian, but the tone was enough for him to get the idea.  He was thinking too loudly, too tense to make anybody believe that he was actually asleep, and he let out his breath in a sigh.  “Rhodey will be here soon,” he murmured back instead.  Nobody moved, and he just sighed again, slumping back into the bed, the fingers of his left hand toying with the edge of the afghan.

 

“That’s an unacceptable reason for still being awake,” Clint piped up cheerfully. “Rhodey knows his way around.  He’s got his own floor, even.”  There was a muffled sound as Coulson smacked the mouthy agent upside the head, but that didn’t deter Clint in the least, and he just squirmed around, jostling the entire bed as he rearranged himself.  Tony resisted the temptation to smack him just for the hell of it. 

 

“Colonel Rhodes is coming?” Steve asked propping himself up. Thor just mumbled something, rolling away slightly and tucking his hands behind his head.  “When did you know about this, Tony?” he asked, and the genius tried not to get his hackles up.

 

“He’s coming on official military business,” Tony sighed, giving Bruce’s hand a comforting squeeze where it had tightened on his hip. “It’s his job to be liaison between SI and the military, and because the military doesn’t trust me, he also gets to ride herd on me.” 

 

“He’s coming on military business?” Steve asked, and Tony could hear the frown in his voice. “Do they want you to build weapons or something again?”

 

Tony shrugged, sitting up. Natasha slid off to the side, shoving Clint a bit further away.  But it was Coulson who answered.  “The United States military has approached Stark Industries about contracting for combat protection gear and advanced surveillance equipment.  Weapons were not mentioned.”

 

“I’m surprised he hasn’t called in already,” Tony admitted. “He tends to yell when I nearly get blown up.” Tony paused to consider, then added, “A lot.  He yells a lot.”  He very maturely ignored the snickers coming from his left.

 

As if on cue, JARVIS spoke up. “Colonel Rhodes is on the phone for you, sir. He requests that you cease and desist in your attempts to get yourself killed.”  Tony sighed, but slid out of the bed.  Nobody stopped him, but Bruce did roll out of the bed to follow him.  Steve looked like he was about to follow, too, but before he could, JARVIS spoke again.  “Captain, Mister Wilson is on the line for you. He wishes to convey information to  you and Miss Romanov, and states that if you’re out running, he’s going to come and… "kick your ass”, were the exact words used.”

 

Tony didn’t even try to stop the snicker as he padded outside, listening to Steve’s muffled groan. He didn’t even bother to do more than toss on a robe before padding for the elevators.  Bruce slipped in next to him.  “Do you mind?” he asked.

 

Tony grinned at the other man. “If I minded, I wouldn’t have let you into the elevator,” he answered.  “JARVIS, Rhodey is on the disassembling platform?”

 

“Colonel Rhodes has chosen to forgo the disassembly process, sir,” JARVIS replied, his tone amused.

 

“I thought he was calling you,” Bruce frowned.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “If Rhodey was going to call me, he would’ve done it hours ago.  But if he’s going to yell at me, and is already on his way, then he prefers to do it in person.”

 

“Ah,” Bruce murmured. Then, “And the call to Steve?”

 

Tony’s grin widened. “Oh, I’m sure he called.  And JARVIS probably put him on hold or took a message.  He wouldn’t lie to Captain America.”  He made a quick gesture to stop JARVIS from correcting him.  Strictly speaking, that wasn’t true; the AI could, and would, lie if he felt it was in the best interest of Tony or other members of the Tower, but he generally preferred to simply lie by way of omission, rather than outright telling a falsehood.

 

They headed straight for Tony’s workshop, since Rhodey would have taken the underground exit rather than risking the disassembling bots on the platform. Sure enough, when they entered the lab, Rhodey was just stepping out of the suit.  He looked up, took one look at Tony, and strode over to him, ignoring the bots that were vying for his attention.  “Dammit, Tone,” he growled, his hands on either side of Tony’s head as he examined the shorter man.

 

Tony just raised an eyebrow and waited him out; Extremis had already taken care of the head injury; all that was left were a bunch of quickly fading bruises. “Hello to you, too, sugar plum,” he greeted sweetly. 

 

Rhodey let him go, and Tony glanced over at Bruce, whose face was carefully and pleasantly blank. Tony hated that expression; it meant that Bruce was unhappy, uncomfortable, or both, and trying not to show it.  “Aw, honey bear, were you worried about little ol’ me?” he asked, batting his eyes at Rhodey.

 

“Why do I put up with you?” Rhodey asked, throwing his hands up in mock disgust. “You’re crazy, you know that, right?  I’m starting to think that you like getting shot.”  Tony opened his mouth to protest, but Rhodey just rolled right over him.  “I mean, I thought that maybe for once, I’d get to New York and there would be no aliens or bombs or crazy psychos.  And then you get blown up while I’m in transit! Are you trying to kill me, too?”

 

Tony grinned at his best friend’s theatrics. “Rhodey, honey bunch, trust me, if I wanted to kill you, I’d get the suit and we’d have a go at it.”

 

Rhodey gave him a wry smile. “Yes, because that went so well for you the first time,” he retorted.  Tony shrugged; he had sort of been dying at the time, so surely that could be forgiven.  Rhodey’s eyes swept him from head to toe, and the other man grinned wryly. “Well, at least you’re wearing pants this time.”

 

“That was one time!” Tony retorted indignantly.

 

Bruce made a noise that sounded suspiciously like laughter, and Rhodey seemed to finally realize that they weren’t alone in the workshop. He held out his hand to Bruce, who took it bemusedly.  “Good to see you again, Doc.  I’d apologize for dropping in on you this late, but I had hoped that Tony would actually remember to tell his housemates I was coming.  I do hope that he didn’t wake you just so I wouldn’t yell at him.”

 

Bruce offered Rhodey a kind smile. “Not at all, James,” he denied.  “Besides, my presence didn’t seem to make much of a difference, even if that had been the case.”

 

Rhodey’s grin widened, and Tony could practically hear his friend’s thoughts.  “No,” he denied.  “No, Rhodey, you are not allowed to team up with Bruce.  It’s your own fault that you’re not here to babysit me.  You are not allowed to rope Bruce into doing it.”

 

His friend just gave him an unimpressed raised eyebrow. “It looks like I don’t have to rope him into anything,” he observed.  Tony managed to hide the flinch only through years of practice at hiding his immediate reactions to unexpected questions from the media.  Unfortunately, Rhodey and Bruce both knew him too well for that to actually work.  Both of Rhodey’s eyebrows rose, and he looked over at Bruce, then turned back to Tony.  “Huh,” he said, then wandered towards a computer stations.  “JARVIS, could you please run a complete diagnostics scan on War Machine?” he asked.

 

“Of course, Colonel,” JARVIS replied agreeably, robotic arms dropping from the ceiling to maneuver the heavy armor into place so JARVIS could run his scans.  Tony just sighed, shifting a bit so that he was standing slightly in front of Bruce, who didn’t appear concerned.

 

“All right, Rhodey, spit it out,” he said, resigned.

 

Rhodey gave him an innocent look. “Spit what out, Tone?” he asked.  “I mean, I would’ve appreciated a heads up, and I’m really hoping that Pepper knows, but – .”  There was a pause.  “You didn’t tell her,” he said flatly.

 

Tony scowled. “Of course I haven’t told her!” he snapped back.  “Yet.  It’s only been like, a week, give me some time.” To make sure it’s real, that they’re going to stick around. He was pretty sure, by this point, that Bruce, at least, was in it for the long haul. And Steve would probably be up for a more casual relationship.  Clint most certainly was, he liked to have fun and seemed pretty easy, but Tony was pretty sure that he was very determinedly in love with Coulson, so that might require…negotiations.

 

Rhodey sighed, his fingers reaching up to press against the bridge of his nose. “Figures,” he muttered.  Then louder, “How come it’s always me that gets involved in your love life?” he demanded.  “I mean, seriously.  How is this my life?  Because now, I’m going to have to listen to you whine.  I hate listening to you whine.”  His glare didn’t have any heat behind it, though.

 

Rather than be insulted, Tony laughed. He’d known Rhodey since MIT, and for all his bitching, he was actually giving Tony his blessing to try this.  Of course, he was probably thinking that it was only Bruce, and Tony wasn’t ready to tell him otherwise, but if he was cheerful enough to complain about having to listen to Tony’s whining, then he wasn’t against it.  

 

“Um, I’m sorry,” Bruce spoke up politely. “Did I miss something?”

 

Tony threw an arm around Bruce’s shoulders. “Not really,” he reassured him.  “Rhodey’s known me for too long.  According to him, I have a look that I get when I’m interested in someone.  I think he lies.”

 

Rhodey snorted. “Nuh uh, don’t even try it, Tony,” he warned. “I’m too tired for your bullshit right now.  And I’m sure that since I’m here, I’ll be roped into…oh, I don’t know, hauling rebar or something.”  He paused for a moment.  “Assuming that you’re heading back out in a few hours, of course.”

 

Tony nodded. Just then, the doors to the workshop opened, and Steve poked his head in.  “Hey, breakfast is ready,” he told them, nodding at Rhodey.  “Colonel.”

 

“Captain,” Rhodey greeted back, though he didn’t salute this time. Tony gave him an approving thumbs up, and he just rolled his eyes.  “Isn’t it a little early for breakfast?” he wondered.

 

Steve just gave him an easy smile, moving into to the workshop when Tony didn’t shoo him off. “We’re all awake, anyhow,” he pointed out.  “And we’re going to need the energy.”  Tony wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying, too busy staring at Steve in a loosely tied pair of grey lounge pants and nothing else.  Tony’s fingers twitched at his side, eager to touch all that warm, exposed flesh.

 

There was a quiet cough from next to him, and Tony blinked, glancing over at Bruce. The other man offered him a quick smile, then looked, very pointedly, over at Rhodey.  Tony grimaced; right, Rhodey might be okay with him starting something with Bruce, but going after Captain America, too?  He’d probably have something to say about that.

 

“Would you care to join us?” Steve asked Rhodey politely, giving his hand a firm shake. “I’m afraid that we’ll probably be out at the attack site all day today, so now might be the only chance you get.”

 

Rhodey shook his head, then nodded. “I could eat,” he answered truthfully.  “I got word of the attack on the way, but Agent Coulson assured me that everybody was all right.  I’ve already checked in with command, and will be helping alongside you today.  If that’s okay,” he added, almost as an afterthought.

 

Steve’s smile widened, genuinely pleased. “We’d be honored to have your assistance in the War Machine,” he replied.  “Especially as I hear you’re good with heavy lifting.”

 

Rhodey glared at Tony, who just smirked; it was Rhodey’s own damn fault that he had the suit; the least he could do was repay Tony by helping with the heavy lifting. “Yes, sir,” was all he said, though.

 

“What’s the holdup?” Clint demanded, sticking his own head in the doorway. “Oooh! Is there a party I didn’t know about?” he asked, laughing.  Dummy gave him a gentle nudge before gripping his shirt with his claw, pulling the archer into the room.

 

Steve looked amused. “I thought you were in charge of breakfast?” he asked.

 

Clint laughed. “I was,” he agreed.  “But given the fact that it’s dark o’ clock in the morning, we all felt it was safer to let Phil handle feeding the rest of us.  I’m pretty sure he’s already got everybody organized for cleanup assignments as well.”  Because of course he did.

 

Tony narrowed his eyes at the intruder. “Then what are you doing here, Barton? My lab is being overrun by idiots.  Except you, Bruce,” he reassured the other man, who did a marvelous job suppressing his smile.  “And Dummy, how many times do I have to tell you that Barton is not allowed in the lab without my express permission?”  Dummy was handing Clint a container with a couple of screws, ignoring Tony entirely.  You and Butterfingers, noting that the other bot was up to something, rolled over to see what was happening.  “What? No. No!” he insisted.

 

Clint leered at him. “Give it up, Stark,” he sing-songed.  “You know they love me.”

 

“Yes, because you’re at their level of intelligence,” Tony snarked back. Clint just laughed, tossing screws in the air for the bots to try and catch.  It didn’t work very well, as their claws weren’t exactly designed for snagging the small objects out of the air, but they enjoyed trying.

 

It was Rhodey who interrupted the oncoming argument, snagging a screw out of midair and giving Tony a pointed look. “Captain America just invited me to breakfast with the Avengers,” he said.  “I am hungry, I am tired, and I am cranky.  So I’m going upstairs to get some food.” He tossed the screw at Tony, and the genius ducked.  “JARVIS, I’ll be back for War Machine shortly,” he promised.

 

“Of course, Colonel,” JARVIS said, amused.

 

Rhodey walked out the door, still talking to JARVIS. Clint laughed, then promptly dumped the screws on the closest workbench.  The bots very nearly ran each other over in their haste to grab them and put them back in their container.  “Foooooood!” the archer sang, striding back out the door.

 

Bruce was smiling, cleaning his glasses on his sleepshirt, his hair a riotous mess. “Food would be good,” he agreed mildly.  He peered up at Tony.  “You’re coming?” he asked.

 

Tony threw his hands up. “Sure, why not? Family mealtime! If only because I know that look, our fearless leader has the same one, and I can’t fight off the two of you,” he grumbled.  Secretly, though, he was rather pleased. Other than Bruce, neither Steve nor Clint had given any indication that they were anything more than Tony’s teammates in front of Rhodey, and yet they’d still come down here to check on him. They were sneaky, but he was a genius, and it didn’t take much to figure out that they wanted to make sure he was okay.  Otherwise, they would’ve just had JARVIS pass the message along.

 

“J, make sure the Mark Fifty-Five is ready for a hard day,” he ordered, allowing Bruce to lead the way out of the workshop. “And install the updates on War Machine.”

 

“Sir, shouldn’t we inform the Colonel of the intended upgrades prior to their installation?” JARVIS asked.

 

Tony made a face of mock betrayal. “Why, JARVIS, you’re questioning my judgment?” he demanded.  “We seriously need to have a talk about this, it’s not cool.  You are very judgey, did you know that?”

 

“That is not a word, sir,” JARVIS replied, the banter as easy between them as ever. “And I simply believe that Colonel Rhodes should be made aware that there will be…improvements…made in his suit prior to his attempting to activate it.”

 

Tony sighed. “Fine,” he huffed, slouching against the elevator panel next to the doors.  “But explain it to him like you would a five year old. He’ll refuse if we use our big boy words.”

 

“That would be a pity, sir,” the AI agreed, and Tony would swear that he was being sarcastic. “I am certain I can find the appropriate terminology for Colonel Rhodes.”

 

Tony was still muttering under his breath to the sound of Bruce’s quiet chuckles when the elevator doors opened, releasing them onto the Avengers Floor. Tony sniffed appreciatively; bacon, sausage, eggs, and coffee. Oh, thank god, there was coffee.

 

Somebody – probably Steve – shoved a mug into Tony’s hands, and he gave an obscene moan as the first sip of warm liquid burst across his tongue. “I love you,” he muttered, not really caring who he was addressing it to.

 

“Is he…always like that?” The question was amused, and the voice was unfamiliar, and Tony opened his eyes reluctantly, glaring at the dark-haired girl who was watching him with something akin to fascination.

 

“Usually, he’s worse,” Coulson said, and Tony realized that the girl must be a member of his other team.

 

He narrowed his eyes. “Why are there baby SHIELD agents in my Tower?” he demanded, his words pronounced slowly and carefully. “You’re not secretly Hydra, are you?” he asked next, his eyes narrowed suspiciously at the girl.

 

She grinned. “I hope not,” she replied cheerfully. “Hydra sucks.”  Tony couldn’t argue with her logic, so he just shrugged in agreement, accepting the handout from Steve and glancing down at it in disgust. 

 

“An itinerary?” he demanded. “Seriously, what is this?”

 

“It would appear to be a Kaper Chart,” Phil observed mildly. The brunette chuckled lightly, and Tony glared at her.

 

She held out her hand. “Daisy Johnson, sir,” she introduced herself.  “I’d apologize for the intrusion, but since I’ve been assigned to help with clean up, it’s not my fault that I’m here.”  The way she stressed clean up made Tony’s eyes narrow suspiciously as he tried to place the name.   He’d looked into everybody on Coulson’s team.  Daisy Johnson, level five clearance, previously known as Skye.  His eyes widened.

 

“Rising Tide?” he asked sharply, grasping her hand and shaking it firmly. “You’re the brains behind Rising Tide?”

 

Johnson blinked at him. “I wouldn’t go that far, but I was part of it, yes.  Then AC found me, so now I’m part of SHIELD.”  She grinned.  “As for my role, you’ve probably got it figured out already.”

 

Leaning against the counter and sipping his own cup of coffee, Phil just sighed resignedly. Tony grinned delightedly.  “She any good?” he asked Coulson, who just gave him a look.  His grin widened.  “Excellent,” he praised, looking her over again.  “AC?”

 

“I assure you, it’s in your best interest to not pursue that line of inquiry,” Phil stated blandly. Tony flinched, and noticed Daisy doing the same.  “Miss Johnson, please see to your task,” he ordered politely.  The girl grabbed the tablet off the counter and wandered out towards the living room.

 

Rhodey, a stack of eggs and waffles in front of him, frowned. “You know her?” he asked Tony, who shrugged.  “And you trust her?”  He wasn’t subtle about it, but he’d been here often enough to know that it was best to just say what was on his mind, because otherwise somebody would get it out of him anyhow.

 

Tony shrugged again. “Not really,” he admitted, “but I trust Phil.”  He very carefully didn’t look at the other man as he said that.  “And since it appears that I’m going to be tearing down the remains of the top six floors of Stark Industries today,” he added, glancing down at the chart, “it looks like she’s going to be looking into the other matter.”

 

Rhodey snatched the paper out of his hands. “I’m coordinating with rescue workers?” he demanded.  “Isn’t that your job?” he asked next, looking over at Phil.

 

The agent shrugged, his fingers tapping idly away at his own tablet. “SHIELD is not recognized by any government entity at this time,” he admitted.  “You, however, are military, and therefore assigned to act as liaison.”  Rhodey grumbled under his breath, but didn’t argue.  It wouldn’t do him any good, anyhow. 

 

Thor clapped him off the back with a hearty laugh as he walked into the kitchen, nearly sending Rhodey face first into his plate of food. “Aye, you are a man of honor and strength who commands the respect of those around you!”  Tony was pretty sure that Rhodey was blushing, but he just mumbled a quick thanks, his hand fumbling blindly for his mug of coffee as Thor filled his own plate.

 

Clint tossed himself onto the stool next to Tony, picking up the paper next to Rhodey and handing it to Nat without even looking. Steve frowned.  “I have one for everybody,” he pointed out.

 

Clint waved his hand dismissively, grinning as Bruce settled on his other side with a wide yawn, a cup of hot tea and some toast on the plate in front of him. “No worries, Cap, we’ve got this.”  He glanced over at Bruce, whose assignment mostly consisted of providing food and water for the workers.  The hope was that Hulk wouldn’t be needed today, but it was good to have him nearby just in case the building collapsed further or, oh, the villain of the week launched a surprise attack or something.

 

Still, between Tony, Rhodey, Steve, and Thor, they should be able to get most of the heavy debris cleared away today. The rest would be up to Stark Industries’ contractors. Tony didn’t particularly care either way – the Stark Industries corporate office wasn’t really distinguishable from any other skyscraper in the city.  Internally, however, was a completely different matter, one that would likely require Tony’s personal attention.  But that wouldn’t be for a while yet – his contractors were good, but it would still take time.

 

A plate was set on the counter in front of Tony with a sharp click, and he stared at it blankly for a long moment. Clint reached over and snagged a piece of bacon, his leg bumping against Tony’s under the counter.  Brown eyes moved from the plate to the archer, and Clint waggled his eyebrows.  Across the way, Rhodey was chuckling under his breath.

 

“Man, watching you guys never gets old,” he commented in amusement when Tony looked his way. Tony thought about that for a moment, then shrugged; he didn’t disagree.

 

The sharp tap of high heels announced Pepper’s presence as she strode into the room, perfectly groomed and dressed in a pants suit, a StarkPad in her hands as she strode by, snagging Tony’s coffee cup and downing the remains before setting it back under the K-cup machine, which Steve obligingly snapped another cup into. “Thirty minutes to be dressed and out the door,” she told Tony.  “Thank you, Steve,” she smiled up at the Captain, who smiled kindly back at her.

 

Tony narrowed his eyes at his CEO, and she looked back at him. “Thirty minutes,” she insisted firmly.  “Also, the Maria Stark Foundation is already providing aid to those who were misplaced by yesterday’s attack, but you’ll have to swing by there later to sign off on the expenses.”  Tony nodded reluctantly; the Foundation mostly ran itself with very little input from him, but he still had to authorize certain expenses and attend most of their fund-raising events.

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll stop by afterwards. Ms. Cochran?” he confirmed.  Pepper nodded, giving him a small smile of approval.  It had been decided a long time ago that only one person should be subjected to Tony on any sort of regular basis, and it was easier on Tony, as well, to only have to remember one person’s job.

 

Steve set another mug of coffee in front of Tony, then offered tea to Bruce, who accepted with a quiet murmur of appreciation. Natasha wandered back over from wherever she’d been, dressed in jeans and an old t-shirt that read “Surrounded by boys, and I’m the Queen”.  Snagging Clint by his collar, she smiled prettily at Pepper.  “We’ll be ready,” she promised the redhead.

 

Pepper smiled back. “Thank you.”

 

“Aw, food, no,” Clint whined as he was dragged away. Phil snagged a muffin from the basket in the center of the table and tossed it to the archer, who cheered and allowed Natasha to navigate them both towards the elevators.

 

“Tony,” Pepper said expectantly.

 

The genius blinked at her over the rim of his coffee cup. “I’m wearing the suit, Pep.  I can be ready in, like, thirty seconds. It’s fine.”  He ignored Bruce’s polite cough.

 

Before Pepper could yell at him, Steve gently removed the coffee cup from his hands and held another mug in front of him. When Tony reached for it, he took a step back, forcing Tony to either follow or forgo more coffee.  Tony followed.  “I’ll have him ready, Miss Potts,” Steve promised.  “Bruce?”

 

“Yeah, I’m….yeah,” Bruce replied, sliding off of his stool and following Steve and Tony.

 

“Thank you,” Pepper said to them in general, then turned back to Phil with a friendly smile. Phil, of course, was already dressed, impeccable in his three-piece suit and shiny shoes.  And Rhodey was still dressed from his early morning arrival.

 

As soon as they were in the elevator, Steve let Tony grab the mug from his hands. The engineer took a sip, then grimaced.  “Decaf? Seriously?” he demanded, glaring mutinously up at the blonde.  Steve just grinned back at him.

 

“I think you’ve had plenty of caffeine, Tony,” Bruce smiled at him, his hand brushing down Tony’s bare arm. “Besides, Pepper made Steve promise not to over-caffeinate you.”

 

Tony blinked owlishly at him for a moment, then frowned, turning to Steve. “Wait. She banned Captain America from giving me coffee?” he asked, completely bewildered.  “How is that even a thing?”

 

Steve shrugged, his cheeks pinking with embarrassment. “Apparently I have a habit of feeding people,” he admitted.  “Miss Potts thinks that I sometimes overindulge you.”

 

There was a silent pause. “I’m not seeing the problem here,” Tony admitted at last.  Bruce just sighed, and Steve grinned, throwing Bruce a triumphant look.

 

The elevator door opened up on Bruce’s floor, and the scientist stepped out, his eyes flicking to Steve with a small smile. “Twenty minutes,” he said.  Steve nodded in agreement, and the door closed again, taking them up to the Penthouse Suites.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “Seriously?  Are we actually doing this?” he demanded in mock indignation.  “Are you going to dress me too?”  He stepped out of the lift, heading for his bedroom, only to be pulled back by a strong arm wrapped around his waist.  “Hey, what?” he asked.

 

Warm lips brushed against his forehead, and Tony grinned, twisting in Steve’s grip so he could see the other man, who was grinning back. “Did you just….did you promise Pepper you’d keep me on schedule so you could have your way with me?” he asked, pretending to think about it for a moment.  “Well, we might have time for a quickie,” he teased.

 

Steve laughed, swooping in for a kiss that was far too brief. Tony tried to follow, but Steve straightened up, setting him on the floor.  “Clothes, Tony,” he chastised mildly, though he didn’t release his grip on Tony’s waist.  “We don’t have time for anything right now.  I just…missed you.”

 

The smile slid off of Tony’s face. “I’m sorry you didn’t find him,” he said quietly.  And he really was, as surprising as that might seem to most people.  He might be jealous of the hold that Barnes had over Steve, but if something happened to Rhodey, he’d do the same damn thing.  Besides, Steve had come back to the Tower rather than continuing to chase after the Winter Soldier, and Tony was grateful.

 

Steve tried to smile, but it was filled with pain and regret. “No, but Hydra hasn’t either,” he murmured.  “I have to believe that he’ll stop running soon, that he’ll let me find him.”

 

This time, it was Tony who initiated the kiss, leaning up to press a kiss against Steve’s collarbone above his t-shirt, then another one on the underside of his chin. Steve tipped his head down so that Tony could kiss him properly, warmth curling in Tony’s stomach at the simple touch.  When they broke away, Steve didn’t seem quite so sad anymore.  “Look,” Tony said, not meeting Steve’s gaze, “I’m not really good at this.  But I have JARVIS looking for him, and anything you need, just tell me and you’ll have it.  I’ve already done research into some of the top neurosurgeons in the world.  We’ll get your friend help.”

 

There was a brief pause, then Steve dropped a kiss to the top of Tony’s head. “Thanks, Tony,” he murmured, his voice thick with both grief and gratitude.  “That means a lot to me.”  Tony just nodded, not knowing what to say, but not really willing to move, either.

 

Steve, on the other hand, was nothing if not a self-starter, and in one swift move, he had Tony tossed over his shoulder. “Hey!” Tony protested.  “What do you think you’re doing? Put me down, dammit! This is undignified!”

 

“Right,” Steve drawled, a hint of his Brooklyn accent threading through his words. “And your little show the other day was the epitome of all that is dignified and proper in the world.”

 

It took Tony a few precious seconds to remember what show Steve was talking about, and he felt his face heat up with embarrassment as he recalled – with perfect clarity, thank you very much – Steve’s phone call from the other day. “Ah, would it help to say that it wasn’t my idea?” he offered weakly.

 

Steve tossed him casually onto the bed, and Tony scrambled into a sitting position, then watched in dismay as Steve turned and wandered over to his closet. “What are we doing here?” he asked plaintively.

 

The soldier looked at him over his shoulder with raised eyebrows. “We’re making sure you’re dressed and ready to go in the next fifteen minutes,” he informed Tony.  “What did you think we were doing?”

 

Tony was pretty sure that under normal circumstances, he’d have a witty retort for what should really be a rhetorical question, but then he remembered what he was getting dressed for. His stomach flipped, and he swallowed hard, beating back the memories of heat and fire and fear, his hands clenched into fists in the comforter.  “Shit,” he hissed, more furious at himself than anything.  He was a goddamn Avenger; this sort of shit happened all the time.  If it wasn’t a bomb in an office – an office that Pepper was in, he reminded himself – then it was robotic chickens or alien portals or a runaway sea monster.  They dealt with the problem, the same as always, then helped with cleanup.  This shouldn’t be any different.

 

Except that it was. Because this was personal.  This wasn’t some random villain going after the Avengers Initiative.  This was Justin Hammer and Norman Osborn going after Tony Stark.  It couldn’t be anything but personal, and Tony’s fingers twitched with the renewed desire to take the armor and destroy HammerTech and Oscorp.  He could do it, too, could bring the buildings down around their ears, destroy their labs, everything they’d managed to build.  Though, really, he’d probably be doing them a favor if he did.

 

“Tony!” Steve’s Captain America voice brought Tony back to the present, and he looked up at the soldier, who was watching him with concern. “There you are,” Steve said when Tony focused on him.  “Are you okay?”

 

Tony took a deep breath and held it for a moment before reaching for the clothes that were in Steve’s hand, noticing idly that the soldier had picked well-loved, comfortable clothing and loving him just a little for it. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he assured the other man, though he could tell Steve didn’t believe him.  But Steve didn’t say anything, just nodded in acceptance and stepped back, obviously waiting for Tony to get dressed so they could go.

 

With a sigh, Tony climbed to his feet, stripping his shirt off over his head and putting on the new one before slipping out of his sleep pants and pulling on jeans. Steve politely looked away, and Tony wasn’t sure whether he should find that charming or just ridiculous.  Socks next, and worn, comfortable sneakers. 

 

Tony was almost out the door when Steve’s broad hand landed on his shoulder. “We’ll get them, Tony,” he promised solemnly.

 

Tony flashed him a quick smile. “Yeah,” he agreed, content to let Steve’s hand rest there for a moment longer.  “I know.”

 

Steve’s hand gave a quick squeeze before letting go, and the soldier strode out of the room, his posture straightening, his expression firming up. “Let’s go.”

 

Following him to where the others were waiting, Tony took a deep breath, his resolve hardening. There was work to be done, and woe to anybody who decided that today was a good day to launch an attack.  They wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

As the Iron Man armor surrounded him, Rhodey already suited up and waiting, Tony made a silent promise to himself. He’d take out Hammer and Osborn, and then he’d finally take the time to figure out what the hell he was going to do about the rest of it.  Namely, how much of himself he was willing to give to make this thing with the Avengers work.

 

After all, how complicated could it possibly be?

 

 

Chapter Text

The Avengers all but dragged themselves into the Tower later that night, hot and sweaty and exhausted.

 

“I’m just saying, there had better not be any bad guys for the next week or so,” Clint grumbled, rubbing his shoulder and walking with a slight limp, his sprained ankle still wrapped tight under his uniform. “I don’t think I can lift my bow right now.”

 

Natasha just rolled her eyes, moving around and in front of them on light feet. “Big baby,” she mocked the archer, who just hummed in agreement.  Phil just sighed.

 

“Oh, man,” Rhodey groaned. “Tony, just so you know, you owe me.”  He was grinning, though, pleased with their progress.

 

Tony just raised an eyebrow at him. “I’m upgrading War Machine,” he pointed out.

 

Rhodey scowled at him. “I don’t recall asking for upgrades, Tony,” he retorted.  “Just diagnostics.  Why do you insist on your ‘upgrades’ every time I stop by?”

 

“If you’d stop by more often and let me work on it, I’d have to do less,” Tony mock-snapped back, the banter easy and familiar between them. Rhodey had been putting up with his bullshit since MIT.  And if he could put up with a fifteen-year-old genius with a smart mouth and deep-seated anger issues, he could put up with a couple of modifications to the armor.  There was a reason that Rhodey was the only person other than Tony who was allowed to have one of his armors.  Not even SHIELD was allowed to touch his tech. The last time they had tried, Tony had fried every circuit in their labs deliberately, and then set a virus rampaging through their systems.  Nothing harmful, but it got the point across.  Attempts by baby scientists to access his suit without his permission had stopped after that.

 

Rhodey just rolled his eyes. “How long?” he asked with a long-suffering sigh.

 

Tony shrugged. “Why’re you asking me?” he asked as he flopped face-first onto the sofa in the common area, his muscles slowly relaxing as he sank into the cushions.  He couldn’t really breathe like this, but turning his head required too much effort just then.

 

Clint’s cackling overrode Rhodey’s snort. “True,” he conceded.  “ JARVIS?” he asked next.

 

“The War Machine armor upgrades will be complete in another four hours and twenty-seven minutes,” the AI replied readily. “Do you wish me to notify you when it is ready for deployment, Colonel?”

 

Rhodey waved vaguely at the air. “Nah, no need,” he said.  “I’m going to crash, the least this guy can do is put me up for another night.”  Tony raised his arm enough to give the other man a thumbs up, and Rhodey laughed.  He looked around.  “So, what does a guy have to do for food around here?”

 

“Food, we’ve got,” Sam replied readily, already at ease in the Tower. Tony sighed; he supposed he’d be decorating a floor for their newest unofficial team member sooner rather than later.  “Come on, let’s see what we can scrounge up.  Steve?”

 

“Yeah,” the soldier agreed, then paused, taking a second look at himself. “On second thought, I’m thinking a shower first,” he admitted ruefully.  There was a general murmur of consent, and the team slowly dispersed to their own floors, heading up for showers and clean clothes. 

 

Tony thought about getting up and going to his own floor for a shower, but dismissed it almost immediately. He was comfortable exactly where he was, thanks so much.  He did turn his head so he could breathe, though, his eyes closing of their own volition.  Then again, he hadn’t exactly slept the previous night, and had then spent all day moving heavy bits of rubble and blasting holes in things so they could be cleared away safely, plus a stop at the Maria Stark Foundation during one of their few breaks to check in with Debra.

 

The sharp scent of some type of mint shampoo heralded the entrance of a freshly cleaned Natasha, holding a phone in one hand and wiping a towel through her auburn hair with the other. “Yes, of course, Pepper,” she said, glancing at Tony.  “He’s here.  Yes…yes.  I’ll let him know….Phil’s got somebody working on it.  She’s good.  Yes. Okay.  I promise.  Have a good night, Pepper.”  She hung up, and Tony gave a low grunt of inquiry, shifting over accommodatingly when Natasha perched on the end of the couch, the curve of her spine pressed firmly against Tony’s shins.  “Pepper says that she’s spoken to the Board, and they’ve agreed to stay with the company for the time being.”  Which meant that Pepper had scared the old geezers witless.  “She’s already planning their replacements,” Natasha added.

 

Tony grinned. “Good,” he agreed.  “She’ll pick the most-qualified people she can get her hands on.”

 

Natasha was looking at him, and he asked, “What? I know, I should shower, I probably smell like smoke and concrete, but I’m comfortable right where I am.”

 

Natasha seemed to think about that for a moment, then shrugged. She stood for a moment to grab one of the afghans from a nearby chair, which she then dropped over Tony.  Before he could protest, Natasha climbed right on top of him and settled in, curled up on his back like a particularly large cat.  “What are you doing?” Tony asked after a moment.

 

“Making sure you don’t lock yourself in your lab before you’ve had food and sleep,” Natasha replied honestly. “Pepper asked me to keep an eye on you, so that’s what I’m doing.”  Her chin dug into the dip between his shoulder blades when she spoke, but Tony found that he really didn’t mind.  Her weight was comforting, and he remembered the night he’d spent with her and Clint, just firm, gentle touches and quiet questions spoken in the dark, no pressure to answer any of them.  He shivered, then stilled again, unwilling to dislodge Natasha from her perch.

 

But, being who he was, Tony couldn’t keep his mouth shut. “Do you pin all the boys down this way?” he quipped.  Natasha’s answer was a press of sharp nails against the nape of his neck, and Tony grinned.  “Is that a yes?” he asked, amused.  He didn’t move away from her, and after a moment, Natasha’s hand flattened out against the back of his neck, warm and steady.  Tony relaxed into it.

 

“Nat!” Clint exclaimed. “Are you trying to poach?”

 

Tony could just imagine the disdainful look Natasha shot at her partner. “I’m making sure he doesn’t try to escape to his lab,” she sniffed.  “Pepper asked me.”

 

Clint chuckled, moving closer. “And you can’t say no to Pepper,” he agreed.  “She might be scarier than you.”  Nobody disagreed.  Pepper might not be able to kill a man six different ways with a bobby pin, but if she set her sights on you, she would ruin you and not blink twice.  “You planning to lay there like a lump all night, Tony?” Clint asked.

 

“Sure, why the hell not?” Tony mumbled, raising one hand to give the archer the middle finger. Clint just laughed again, completely unfazed.  He knew he was an ass; he didn’t take it personally.

 

“Because I thought maybe you’d want to talk to Coulson’s favorite new project,” he drawled. Tony remembered the brunette from breakfast – Daisy Johnson – and the fact that she had probably spent the day hacking the servers at HammerTech and Oscorp.

 

“Yes, actually, now that you mention it,” Tony said, trying for dignity and failing. After all, he was lying on his stomach on the couch, wrapped up in an ugly – but comfortable – brown afghan with the Black Widow curled up on top of him.  He undoubtedly looked ridiculous.  “I’d very much like to talk to her.”  He got a whiff of himself and grimaced. “Right after I take a shower.”

 

Natasha slid off of him, taking the blanket with her and rolling straight into Clint’s arms. He scooped her up with a laugh and spun her around.  Natasha’s free foot reached out and kicked Tony’s leg, and he sighed, pushing himself upright.  “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered, “I’m going.”  Clint grinned widely at him, but it was Natasha who smacked his ass on the way past.  Tony startled, but before he had a chance to come up with a wisecrack in response, the elevator doors slid open and Rhodey walked out.

 

Catching sight of Tony, Rhodey raised his eyebrows. “Oh, good,” he said, waiting for Tony to walk up to him and turning back around, “just the guy I was looking for.”  In an undertone, he added, “We need to talk.”

 

Tony grimaced; when Rhodey said they needed to talk, he meant the same sort of talk that Pepper sometimes gave him, usually when he was being more annoying and less productive than usual. It wasn’t a good tone, and Tony sort of hated when it was directed at him.  Admittedly, however, he usually deserved it.

 

“Yeah, well, I’m going to take a shower,” he replied shortly. “So unless you wanna follow me, I’m afraid this talk is going to have to wait.”  He really kind of hoped that was the case, but as usual, the universe refused to cooperate with him for two goddamn seconds.

 

“This won’t take long,” Rhodey promised, and Tony just snorted, not believing him. Rhodey’s mouth tipped up into a wry grin.  “Well, okay, it might take a little bit,” he conceded.  “But only if you make it difficult.  So don’t try to evade the question, and just answer me this, okay?  You’re planning to make this thing with Banner permanent, right?  I mean, this isn’t like a casual fling sort of thing, right?”

 

Tony winced, and supposed he should feel relieved that Rhodey had at least waited until they were in the lift to ask. “Yes,” he said, biting back the rest of the words that wanted to escape.

 

Rhodey said nothing for a moment, just staring hard at him. Tony shifted on his feet, then lifted his chin defiantly, glaring at his best friend and daring the other man to tell him what a bad idea it was to get involved with one of his teammates.  He was surprised instead when Rhodey just clapped him firmly on the shoulder – their version of a hug – and nodded.  “Good,” he said firmly.

 

“Good?” Tony repeated dumbly, his mind trying to jump tracks. He had been expecting to have to defend his relationship with Bruce – never mind the others – so having Rhodey’s instant approval was disconcerting, to say the least.

 

Rhodey rolled his eyes. “Tony, it’s been months since you broke it off with Pepper! And I’ve seen how you look when you’re hanging out with Banner. You’ve been in love with him practically since you two met.”

 

Tony frowned at him. “I have not,” he protested sharply.  “It’s just that he’s so damn smart, talking to him actually makes sense.”  He wasn’t explaining it properly – he never had been any good at this part of communicating – but it was true nonetheless.  Meeting Bruce for the first time had felt like coming home, like finding a kindred spirit.  Still, he didn’t like that it had apparently been so obvious that even Rhodey had noticed.  The soldier wasn’t exactly around a lot, unless War Machine was needed.  Tony was part of the Avengers now, and until recently, the military hadn’t needed to have a liaison for Stark Industries.  Tony would be lying if he said that part of the reason for agreeing to military contracts wasn’t so that he’d get to see his best friend more often, knowing that Rhodey would be assigned to be their representative. Tony was brash and loud and abrasive, and Rhodey had been dealing with him, successfully, for years now.  The military wasn’t likely to give up an advantage like that.

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Rhodey said, obviously humoring him now. His expression sobered after a moment.  “Just…please tell me you’ve told the rest of your team,” he pleaded.  “I mean, I don’t know them all that well, but I don’t think they’d be offended by a relationship between two guys, though you might know better than me.  But it might affect team dynamics, and they should probably know that.”

 

Tony stared at him incredulously for a moment before checking himself and turning his face away, remembering that Rhodey wasn’t aware of the full truth behind the aforementioned team dynamics.  “They know,” he said at last, remembering that Rhodey was actually expecting an answer.  “Geez, Rhodes.  What did you think? That we were going to sneak behind everybody’s back?”

 

Rhodey frowned as they walked into the Penthouse. “No, I didn’t think that,” he replied.  “But you tend to do things without thinking about them, and it might not have come up yet.  I just wanted to make sure that somebody would have your back.  And Doctor Banner’s.”  Tony could tell that the other man was biting his tongue, trying not to point out that a break up with Bruce could go very, very badly.  What Rhodey didn’t realize was that it was far more likely that Bruce would be the one to break things off first, scared of the very thing that Rhodey was trying so hard not to verbalize.

 

“We’re good,” Tony reassured him, offering his friend a smile that was far more confident than he felt. Not that he doubted Bruce’s commitment – they had always gotten on spectacularly, from their first meeting aboard the Helicarrier – but he still couldn’t help the nagging worry that dogged him.

 

There was movement in the living room, and before Tony had a chance to think about it, his right hand was up, his other hand reaching for the innocent-looking watch on his wrist. Rhodey grabbed his wrist before he got there, though, halting his movements.  The taller man gave him a concerned look.  “You all right there, Pepper?” he asked, and Tony froze.  Shit.

 

“I’m fine, Rhodey, thank you,” Pepper reassured him from where she was standing in front of the couch, Daisy hovering next to her, eyes wide. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think,” she told Tony next.

 

The genius sighed, dropping his hand when Rhodey released him. “It’s not your fault,” he disagreed.  “I’m just a little paranoid right now.”  Not that anybody who wasn’t authorized to be here should be able to get into the Avengers Tower under JARVIS’ watchful eye.  But they shouldn’t have been able to plant bombs in the SI corporate offices, either.  He clapped his hands together.  “So, what can I do for you, Pep?” he asked, glancing over at her companion.  “Johnson.”

 

The SHIELD agent had been watching the interplay between them, but now she blinked at him. “Oh!” she remembered, flustered, reaching into the bag on her shoulder and pulling out a slim flash drive, which she then held out to him.  “It’s everything that I’ve found on HammerTech and Oscorp,” she told him, a quiet pride in her voice.  “It looks like the attempt wasn’t serious on Hammer’s part, but you might want to watch out for Norman Osborn.  He’s sort of crazy.”

 

Tony snorted; he’d heard that, too. “Thanks, kid,” he murmured, gingerly accepting the flash drive from her – he’d been getting better about accepting things when they were handed to him by people he didn’t know well, though it still made his skin crawl.  “Pep?” he asked next, as Daisy excused herself.

 

“I’m keeping an eye on it,” the redhead promised. “I’ve already got our lawyers on it.  You don’t happen to want to buy out HammerTech, do you?” she asked with a shark’s smile.

 

Tony shook his head. “Nope,” he agreed cheerfully.  “It’s far more satisfying to watch them implode under their own incompetence.”  Rhodey snorted in agreement next to him.  Pepper gave him a small smile, and Tony just sighed.  “But you need me to come in anyhow,” he surmised.

 

“You do still own the company, Tony,” Pepper pointed out. “It would be a show of strength.  Even though there’s no way for either company to acquire SI legally, they’re not playing fair.”  She had a look in her eyes that Tony hadn’t seen in a long time, not since she’d punched out Aldrich Killian, scared and furious and so very, very beautiful.

 

Tony was reaching for her without conscious thought, his fingers brushing her hair back behind her ear. Pepper just smiled at him gently, affectionately, and then stepped back, putting some distance between them.  Tony let her go.

 

“All right,” he agreed. “I’ll be there.”  It was a promise he intended to keep.  He tilted his head.  “Will that be all, Miss Potts?” he asked.  “Because I really need a shower.”

 

Pepper laughed at him. “That’ll be all, Mister Stark,” she replied, a reversal of their usual goodbye.  “I’ll give JARVIS your itinerary.”

 

Tony grinned; Pepper knew him so well. “Might want to give it to Steve, too,” he said without thinking, then winced.  He was getting careless.

 

Pepper’s smile widened. “You know, I think I will.  That man is a miracle worker, I swear,” she praised.

 

“Hey now!” Tony exclaimed, feigning insult. Pepper just gave him a serene smile before heading for the elevator, where Rhodey was waiting patiently.  “I’ll be there!” he called after her.

 

Pepper looked back at him. “I know,” she said.  Then she was gone, and Tony was left standing in the middle of his penthouse suite, wondering how his life had ended up the way it had.

 

With a full-body shudder, Tony shook himself back to awareness, heading for his bedroom, stripping as he walked. Now that he was actively thinking about a shower, he realized just how dusty and tired he really was.  His shoulders and back ached, and he wondered idly if he could talk Clint into giving him another massage.  Or maybe Steve; he’d probably be good at it, with a little instruction. Instruction that Tony would be more than happy to provide.

 

Stepping under the hot water, Tony tipped his head back and just let the water sluice the dirt and grime and sweat from his body, the heat easing the deep-seated ache in the muscles of his shoulders and neck. He stood there for several long minutes before rousing enough to grab the soap. He took his time showering, careful not to think about the reason he needed a shower in the first place.  Instead, he turned his thoughts towards his teammates.  To Bruce, whose normal unassuming manner contrasted sharply with his surprising aggressiveness in bed, and Steve, with his concerned gazes and sweet, careful touches.  Clint and Natasha, two deadly assassins who had allowed him to see a private, intimate part of themselves, who had trusted in him enough to allow him at least a glimpse of their relationship with Phil.  There was something different, something special, about having his suspicions confirmed like that, rather than just guessing that the three of them were together.

 

Without really thinking about it, his hand dropped lower to wrap around himself, already half-hard as images from the past several days cascaded through his mind. For a man who had thought he had nothing, he’d certainly gained more than he ever could’ve expected.  His teammates were all gorgeous, deadly, and they had accepted him just as he was, fully aware of his flaws.  Tony was under no illusions; without the suit, he was the weak link in their team dynamics.  He was older – Thor didn’t count, he was a god and would probably live to be a million years old, and Steve had been more or less suspended in time in his twenties  – and he’d spent his youth drinking too much, partying too hard, and just generally not bothering to take care of himself. 

 

His hand moved almost lazily over his skin, no sense of urgency as he allowed his mind to wander to far more pleasant thoughts, like what Phil’s voice might sound like in the bedroom, or what Clint’s hands would feel like pinning his wrists above his head. Hell, what would it be like to sleep with a literal god?  He pressed his other hand against the tiled wall of the shower, letting it bear his weight as he leaned forward with a soft exhale, his body trembling and warm, his vision unfocused.

 

Closing his eyes, he thought back to last night, to the warm press of bodies all around him. He had seen it before – or glimpses, at least – when one of them had come back from an op that had gone ass over teakettle on them, but this was the first time that he’d ever been the one in need of comfort.  Warm hands pressed against his skin, soft breathing on his neck and shoulders, a warm weight pressed against his legs and chest.

 

He came with a shudder and a quiet moan, his body loose and sated. The water was still warm as it flowed around him, and it took him a long moment to gather himself enough to finish cleaning up, humming tunelessly under his breath.  His stomach rumbled, but he was also exhausted, so he supposed that food would wait until morning.

 

Toweling off, Tony slipped on a pair of soft sweatpants and wandered through his bedroom and out to the kitchen, another towel pressed against his damp hair. He figured he’d at least grab a bottle of water before crashing for the night.  “JARVIS, pull up Johnson’s data, would you?” he asked, figuring he’d take a look at it until he fell asleep.  He fingered the drive in his pocket, but JARVIS wouldn’t need it to access the data, not if Johnson had been using the Tower’s resources.

 

“I hardly think that will be necessary, Mr. Stark,” a familiar tenor murmured as Tony wandered into the kitchen, making the genius startle. Phil Coulson was standing at the stove, flipping what looked – and smelled – like grilled cheese sandwiches.  There was a pot of soup heating on the stovetop next to the pan.  Tony made a mental note to start checking for people in his Penthouse before wandering about half naked, even as his mouth watered at the familiar scent.  When he was much younger, Edwin Jarvis would make him grilled cheese and tomato soup whenever he’d had a bad day.  It was comfort at its most basic level, something that his parents would never even think to feed him, and Tony felt tears prickling at his eyes.  He blinked them away, not wanting Coulson to see that he might be just a tiny bit emotionally compromised at the moment.  Stark men are made of iron. What a stupid thing to cry over.

 

“When Barton first joined SHIELD, this was the only food I could get him to eat that wasn’t from a convenience store or fast food restaurant,” Phil admitted, seemingly unaware of Tony’s dilemma. “Especially after a bad op.”  Dark eyes flicked in Tony’s direction, and Phil gave him a small smile.  “Unfortunately, this is about as fancy as I get when it comes to cooking,” he added ruefully.

 

Tony grinned. “Hey, you’re still doing better than me. I can’t even scramble eggs.”  And he’d been damn lucky he hadn’t set the plane on fire while he’d been attempting it.  Realizing he was still holding a damp towel in his hand, the engineer grimaced. “Ah, I’ll be right back,” he promised, retreating towards his bedroom to scrounge up one of his band t-shirts.

 

While he took his time finding a shirt, Tony tried his best not to wonder why Coulson, of all people, was cooking him dinner. Surely the other man was just as tired as the rest of them.  Besides, he should probably be wherever Clint and Nat were right now.  Instead, Phil was here, standing in his damn kitchen, barefoot and jacketless, with the sleeves of his white shirt carefully rolled up to show his forearms, making grilled cheese like this was something he did regularly.  How did this stuff keep happening to him?

 

With a quietly resigned sigh, Tony walked back out into the living room, planning to send Phil on his way. Not that he didn’t appreciate the other man cooking for him, but he was tired and really just wanted to find Bruce and curl up with him in bed.  He realized, though, that he needn’t have worried.  When he stepped into the living room, he saw Phil and Bruce settled, Phil in a chair and Bruce on the couch, plates balanced on their laps.

 

Bruce turned to smile shyly at him. “Tony,” he greeted.  “Phil said he had something he wanted to discuss with you, so I invited him up.  I was hoping you wouldn’t mind.”  He held up a second plate in offering, and Tony flopped cheerfully onto the couch, grabbing the plate and biting into the thick bread, the cheese just as thick and gooey.  He moaned appreciatively in lieu of answering, which garnered chuckles from both men.

 

Content with the silence until he’d finished the first sandwich and started in on the second, dipping it into the seasoned tomato soup – he’d have to figure out what spices Phil had added, it was good – Tony gestured at Phil.  “What’s up, Agent?”

 

Phil considered him seriously for a moment. “I would like you to consider bringing either Agent Barton or Agent Romanov with you to Stark Industries tomorrow,” he said seriously.  Tony narrowed his eyes, his gut reaction being to refuse to be coddled.  Phil held up his hand.  “Please, Tony,” he said, and only the fact that he’d probably never heard him say please in quite that tone before stopped Tony from turning him down right then and there.  He settled back with a grumble, feeling Bruce’s arm pressed in a long, warm line down his back.  “I’m well aware that you’re fully capable of taking care of yourself, but we haven’t actually determined the perpetrators yet, and they’ve already shown that they’re willing to play dirty.  They didn’t go after you; they went after your people.” 

 

Phil’s tone was hard, his eyes dark with anger. For a guy who was normally quiet and composed, it was a startling contrast.  “Natasha is still in SI’s system as part of legal,” Phil admitted, making Tony’s eyes narrow.  He had thought he’d had her removed from the system.  Which meant that either SHIELD or Pepper had made sure she remained on the company’s payroll.  “And Barton is part of your security team.”

 

Tony blinked at that, startled. “Wait, he is? When did this happen? And why wasn’t I notified?” he demanded indignantly.

 

“He was added shortly after the Chitauri Invasion, though we’ve never had to actually send him in,” Phil admitted candidly. “But we wanted to be sure that we could send them in without trouble if necessary.”

 

Tony didn’t like the thought that SHIELD had gone behind his back like that, but he kind of expected it from them, if he was honest. They were a super-spy organization; just asking Tony to add another employee or two to his payroll wouldn’t have even crossed their minds.  But Pepper was in charge of new hires, and the fact that she had to have known – and hadn’t told him – hurt.  A lot.

 

He could see Phil bracing himself for an argument, for his refusal. At his back, Bruce had stilled, not tensing, but not really relaxed, either.  He was waiting to see which way things went, waiting to see if he was going to be forced to take sides.  Tony wouldn’t do that to him, though, not unless it was a matter of life or death.  And this was just an annoyance, really, a small battle that he could afford to let go.

 

Deliberately slumping back, forcing Bruce to shift to take more of his weight, he looked straight at Phil and said, “Fine. Go ahead. Why the hell not?”  He didn’t mention the discussion he was going to have with his CEO in the very near future.

 

He waited while Phil considered him, bringing the bowl of soup to his mouth and sipping at it carefully as he watched the other man over the rim of the bowl. A small flicker of amusement went through him at the thought that Phil had been caught off guard by him not arguing.  Maybe he’d give in without a fight more often – not too often, though, or they might come to expect it.

 

“Thank you, Tony,” Phil said at last. The genius gave a noncommittal shrug.  “Do you have a preference?”

 

Tony raised his eyebrows, already knowing his answer – though he hadn’t actually expected that he’d be given the choice. “I’ll take Barton,” he said.  He felt Bruce tremble with silent laughter behind him, and hid his own grin behind his bowl of soup.  Clint liked to flaunt the rules as much as Tony did, and was far more likely to go along with Tony’s plans than Natasha was.  Not to mention that he was less likely to report it to Pepper, even if things went off the rails.  They’d just have to beg Phil’s forgiveness after the fact.

 

“Of course you will,” Bruce muttered behind him, and Tony grinned, setting his empty bowl on the low coffee table in front of the couch and reaching under the cushion for a Starkpad, content to stay out here for just a little longer.

 

There was a moment’s hesitation from Phil before he stood with a nod and a sincere thank you, politely excusing himself. Tony peered over the top of his tablet as the other man gathered his suit jacket and left, slipping out of the Penthouse as quietly as he’d slipped in.  “That man is the sneakiest sneak ever,” he swore lowly.  Bruce chuckled, turning so he could tuck his chin into the curve of Tony’s shoulder and look at the data that Johnson had acquired.

 

“Phil’s a good man,” he murmured. Tony hummed under his breath, not disagreeing.  Phil Coulson had a moral code that was unwavering, and he’d protect his assets even at great cost to himself.  He’d died to save Clint, for fuck’s sake.  If that wasn’t loyalty, Tony didn’t know what was. 

 

“What are you planning?” Bruce asked next, pressing his mouth gently against the back of Tony’s neck. Tony just bent his head down, giving the man more access.

 

“I’m not planning anything,” he lied blithely. Bruce bit him sharply and he yelped.  “Hey, ow, watch the teeth!  No need to get testy,” he grumbled.  Bruce just nipped him again, and he twitched away, but the other man’s arms around his waist and legs bracketing his hips and thighs kept him from moving away.  “Seriously, Bruce. I just didn’t see the point in arguing with him.  He’d win anyhow.”  And wasn’t that the absolute truth?

 

Bruce hummed, watching as Tony plugged Johnson’s drive into his StarkPad and brought up the information she’d managed to hack her way into. “You chose Clint, Tony,” he pointed out, one of his hands sliding back to sneak under Tony’s shirt, cupping the dip of his waist, warm flesh molding itself effortlessly to the contours of Tony’s body.  Without conscious thought, Tony felt himself relax, settling more firmly against Bruce with a pleased sigh.  “Natasha would have been more acceptable for a meeting with the Board, as a member of the legal team.  She may have also appeared more threatening.”  Which was, admittedly, a good point.  There was nothing that would make the bunch of geezers on Stark Industries’ Board sweat like having a representative from legal there, likely to make sure they were no longer a problem for the company.

 

“Yeah, but Barton won’t even bother to act the part,” he pointed out. “And I don’t know about you, but having Hawkeye glaring at you from a corner while playing with sharp, pointy arrows seems like it might be just a little bit intimidating.  Besides, his resting bitch-face is awesome.”  It really was.  Clint was an awesome bro, and didn’t mind getting into trouble now and again, but when he was bored, most people assumed he was only seconds away from shooting them.  Tony didn’t even bother to try and hide his glee at the thought of the Board Members wetting themselves while Barton glared at them from some shadowy corner of the room.

 

Bruce huffed out a quiet laugh, and Tony smirked, pleased. The smile dropped from his face a moment later as he stared in disbelief at the schematics that he’d pulled up.  What the hell?  He read over what little data was available, muttering to himself.  Pumpkin bombs, stun bombs, ghost bombs, glue bombs – he apparently had a thing for bombs – electro-blast gloves, something called a Goblin Glider that looked like it shouldn’t work at all.  But the rest of it? That was so much worse.  Tony stared blankly at the data for a long moment, Bruce a silent weight at his back.  Finally, he spoke. “JARVIS? What am I looking at? Because I’m not entirely sure I’m not dreaming right now.”

 

“It appears that Mister Osborn has been conducting illegal genetic experiments within Oscorp,” JARVIS replied, deepening the feeling of dread in Tony’s stomach.  He wasn’t sure if he’d actually wanted an answer or not; Peter Parker’. “I have been unable to obtain evidence that any of their experiments on human subjects have succeeded.” Tony felt Bruce shudder behind him, and he reached up, patting the other man’s hand comfortingly.  Bruce knew, probably better than anyone except maybe Steve, that ‘illegal genetic experimentation’ usually ended in disaster.  And collateral damage.  He flipped past that screen quickly.

 

“Are those….are those mechanical bats?” he demanded incredulously. “And I’m pretty sure those are Batarangs or something. Wait, no, that’s Batman. This is…I don’t even-“ he trailed off, staring blindly at some sort of flying mechanical broom-thing that made him want to shoot the creator on principle.  There were tiny notes scrawled in next to several of the weapons, written in some sort of code.  “JARVIS, buddy, scan these and see if you can translate, all right?  I want to know everything.”

 

“Wait,” Bruce said softly, reaching around Tony and flipping back a few pages, to the information regarding human experimentation. “That kid you know…Parker?  You don’t think he got his powers from this, do you?”  He was looking at a report on Oscorp’s attempts to recreate the Super Soldier serum – why was it always the serum? – and the various animals it had been tested on.  Including spiders.  The report was mostly redacted, and there were no successful results that he could see, but Tony supposed that if Parker had been bitten and hadn’t noticed, or hadn’t changed prior to leaving, then it wouldn’t be recorded. Which was just as well, because Tony suspected that Osborn was of the same mindset as Ross – any live subjects were property of Oscorp, and therefore belonged to them to do with as they pleased.

 

“Let’s not ask,” he suggested faintly. Peter never talked about how he’d gotten his powers.  Tony hadn’t pushed, and if he was honest with himself, he hadn’t wanted to know, either.  Bruce nodded and allowed him to skim past it again.  The thought wasn’t going anywhere, though, and Tony marked it before moving on, knowing full well he’d come back to it.  But later.  Much, much later.

 

Skye had hacked way down into Oscorp’s servers, and Tony made a note to have Jarvis perform a deep scan on the Tower’s servers. Just to be safe. He was pretty sure that Skye wouldn’t have hacked him if Coulson had asked her not to, but even he had to admit that Avengers Tower was an incredibly tempting target, if only to see if she could hack into the system without alerting JARVIS. 

 

By the time he was finished, he had enough information to sink Oscorp in inquiries from every alphabet agency in the US, and probably a couple of international ones. Shutting down the tablet – he’d speak with Coulson in the morning before deciding whether to disburse the information or to keep it to himself – Tony leaned tiredly back against Bruce, who had been content to just hold him, occasionally making a quiet comment or pressing a kiss against whatever skin he could reach, his hands petting soothingly up and down Tony’s sides.

 

“Nothing about Stark Industries,” Bruce said, the frown evident in his tone.

 

Tony shook his head. “Nope,” he agreed.  “Which could mean a couple of things.  I don’t like any of them.”  Bruce murmured his agreement.  It was possible that Norman had no idea what was going on within his own company, but he seemed like the kind of man that liked to be in control.  It was also possible that he knew what was happening, but it was all by verbal agreements, so there wouldn’t be any sort of paper trail.  The most likely scenario, though, was that somebody else was using Oscorp (and probably HammerTech, as much as it pained Tony to admit) as a front, and neither company was actually involved.  

 

That wasn’t going to stop Tony from confronting them, of course. It just meant that he’d have to do so professionally.

 

“Come on,” Bruce said, nudging Tony out of his irritated thoughts. “There’s nothing more to be done tonight, and you have a board meeting tomorrow.”

 

Tony grimaced. “Yeah, now I really want to go to bed,” he muttered.  “That just shortens the time I have until I have to see them.”

 

Bruce’s light laughter made Tony’s lips quirk into a reluctant smile. “Well, then, I guess I’ll just have to make it worth your while, hm?” he asked, tipping his head a bit to the side.  An unruly strand curled into his eyes, and Tony surged forward to kiss the other man breathless, wrapping around him like a clingy octopus and sending them both sprawling back onto the couch they’d just left.  Bruce yelped as Tony’s elbow dug into his side, his fingers tightening against Tony’s sweat-clad hips.

 

Tony kissed as enthusiastically as he invented, with little regard for his own safety. Fortunately for him, Bruce was safe enough for them both, and he gradually gentled the frantic kisses into something softer, the slow, rasping slide of lips and tongue, leisurely kisses that would take them nowhere fast, but were enjoyable just for their own sake.

 

Despite the slower pace Bruce had set, Tony was breathless when he pulled back, dropping his forehead to rest against Bruce’s shoulder, his breath loud and harsh in his own ears. One of Bruce’s hands was scratching soothingly through his short hair, the other pressed warm and heavy against his ribs.  “Okay?” Bruce murmured in his ear.

 

Tony chuckled. “Not really,” he admitted.  “But definitely getting there.”  He lifted his head to meet Bruce’s warm gaze.  “You could help me get there faster,” he suggested sweetly.

 

Bruce grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corner with amusement. “Oh?” he replied.  “And just how do you suggest I do that?”

 

Tony laughed. “Let me show you,” he purred, leaning down for another of those drugging kisses.  Bruce twisted them around, somehow managing to not knock them both off of the couch as he flipped their positions so that Tony was below him, covered by his body. 

 

“I’m a fast learner,” Bruce told him mock-seriously.

 

Tony laughed, reaching for him.

 

“I know.”

Chapter Text

Tony stared blearily at the man slouched at the kitchen table, booted feet propped up on the chair next to him. Clint Barton stared back, twirling an arrow idly between his hands.  Tony supposed he should be grateful he wasn’t field-stripping a gun or something.

 

“Clint,” Tony said, his hand fumbling on the counter. With a quiet sigh, Phil handed him a mug filled to the brim with black coffee.  Tony’s hands tightened around it gratefully as he swallowed the life-giving liquid.

 

“Tony,” Clint replied steadily.

 

“What are you doing here?” Tony asked finally, remembering that he’d been in the middle of doing just that when the lack of coffee had distracted him.

 

Clint laughed. “Wow, Bruce really wore you out, huh?” he teased.  Tony didn’t bother to blush.  “I’m your backup today, remember?”

 

Tony frowned down into his cup. He vaguely remembered something about Pepper and a Board Meeting and Phil wanting him to have a bodyguard or something.  “Right,” he agreed.  “That’s a thing that happened.”  He needed more coffee.

 

“What’s a thing that happened?” Steve asked, sauntering into the kitchen, his hair still dripping from a recent shower. Tony took a moment to appreciate the damp super soldier, until Natasha carefully nudged him aside so she could get to the toaster.

 

“Tony forgot he agreed to having backup for a board meeting,” the red-head informed their Captain. Steve glanced at Clint, who raised his mug in a mocking salute.

 

Steve nodded. “Probably a good idea,” he admitted, chagrined.  He glanced at Tony.  “You don’t think they’ll try anything, do you?” he asked.

 

Tony shrugged. “I doubt it,” he muttered, sliding his mug under the Stark-modified Keurig machine and watching the steady flow of fresh coffee.  “But that’s what Bird Boy is for.”

 

“Bird Boy?” Clint squawked indignantly.  “That’s bird Man to you, mister.”  Nobody paid him any attention, and he slumped back down.  “Fine, see if I waste an arrow on your dumb ass,” he muttered.  Tony fluttered his eyelashes at him, and Clint grinned.  Then stuck his tongue out.

 

“Wow. It’s like a full-time frat house in here, isn’t it?” Sam asked as he walked through the door, Rhodey right behind him. Tony opted to ignore Rhodey’s snort of amusement.

 

“Why are you still here?” he asked.

 

Sam shrugged. “It was late. I was tired. You have like a hundred guest rooms,” he listed off. 

 

Tony considered him for a long moment. Sam just waited patiently.  Tony grinned. “I like you,” he decided.  “I’m going to keep you.  Let JARVIS know what room you want and what you need, and he’ll get you set up.”

 

Sam blinked at him, then looked over to Steve, who just raised his eyebrows in a clear I told you so.  Tony opted to ignore that in favor of smiling at Bruce as the other man shuffled into the kitchen.  Natasha handed him a cup of his preferred tea, already dosed with a small amount of honey.  Bruce smiled back at Tony, thanked Natasha, and nodded to Sam and Rhodey before settling down at the table.  Clint politely moved his feet to the floor.

 

“Sir, you have a call from Miss Potts,” JARVIS spoke up politely. Tony waved his hand idly, and the AI put the call through.

 

“Tony, Happy will be in the garage in ten minutes. You need to be ready to go,” Pepper greeted him crisply.

 

“What? Not even a good morning?” Tony teased back, but he was already moving back towards the elevators, bringing his unfinished coffee with him. He’d need to start getting dressed now if he wanted to meet Happy somewhat on time. He’d probably still be at least twenty minutes behind schedule, but Pepper had probably already planned for that.  She’d been anticipating his habits for years now, after all.

 

Tony nodded to Phil and Skye when he passed them in the hallway, his ear still pressed to his phone. “There’s no time for good mornings,” Pepper informed him archly, and Tony grinned.  “The board meeting is at ten.  Phil already informed me that Agent Barton will be accompanying you.  He is not allowed to bring his crossbow into the meeting, Tony. I mean it,” she warned him seriously.

 

Tony rolled his eyes. “And you think I have any control over what Barton does?” he asked.

 

“Of course not,” Pepper replied. “Which is why I texted Phil.”

 

Tony’s grin widened as he strode into the Penthouse. “You’re amazing, Pep,” he complimented.

 

“Yes, and you definitely owe me three pairs of shoes,” Pepper said, but she wasn’t angry, so Tony just hummed in agreement.

 

“Get dressed. Do not bring the armor. Keep Clint with you,” Pepper told him.  There was a brief moment of hesitation.  “Be safe,” Pepper said lastly.

 

Tony’s smile softened. “Always,” he agreed.  They both knew it was a lie, but it was all he had.  He’d be safe until he wasn’t, it was just the way things were.  And it wasn’t just because he was Iron Man. Obie had tried to take him out when he just a drunk billionaire playboy.  Hammer had been the same when he’d teamed up with Vanko.  And now, whoever was after his company wanted more than just Iron Man; they wanted to hurt Tony Stark. 

 

“Will that be all, Miss Potts?” he asked.

 

“That will be all, Mister Stark,” Pepper replied with fond exasperation. The line went dead.

 

Tony tossed the phone onto the bed and made his way into the closet, stripping as he walked. He was down to….he checked the clock.  Six minutes now.    And he still needed to shave.

 

Twenty-three minutes later, Tony was sliding into the back of the limo, Clint seated on the opposite side, though the way he was lounging made sure that he took up most of the back seat. “Leave a little room for me, would you, Katniss?” Tony grumbled, shoving Clint’s feet over so he could sit down.  Clint just stretched and put his feet up on the other side. 

 

“Sure,” he agreed easily, comfortably slouched as they pulled out of the garage. Tony was tempted to pour himself a glad of the good brandy, but he resisted.  He was about to go threaten the board, and the last thing he needed was for them to find an excuse to fight back.  He didn’t know how Pepper dealt with them on a near-daily basis; Tony hadn’t even dealt with them when he’d first taken over the company.  That had been Obie’s job.

 

Thinking about Obie left a sick taste in his mouth, and Tony fished out a bottle of cold water, offering a second one to Clint, who took it with a grin, then shifted so he could lean over Tony’s shoulder and take in the contents of the mini fridge. Tony shoved him back with his shoulder, but Clint had the upper hand and just leaned more heavily on him. 

 

“Always knew you filthy rich types kept the good stuff in the limos,” he laughed, finally leaning back and twisting open the cap to his water bottle.

 

Tony gave him an affronted scowl. “Excuse you,” he snarked, “I keep the good stuff everywhere.  Billionaire, remember?”

 

Clint just grinned, taking a large swig of his water. Tony cracked open his own bottle and took a few sips, sighing as the cold liquid slid down his throat.  Clint slouched back into his former position.  “So, is there a plan?” he asked casually.  “Or are you just winging it, Stark?”

 

Tony gave Clint a look. “Of course there’s a plan,” he scoffed.  He didn’t say anything else, though, and Clint just snorted, but settled back to gaze out the window at the New York City traffic, leaving Tony to his thoughts.

 

Tony spent the twenty-five minute drive ruminating on what Johnson’s hacking had dug up, searching for patterns or links. He was pretty positive by now that whoever was behind this didn’t actually have any interest in Stark Industries.  They’d wanted to send a message.  Well, they’d succeeded.  Tony had heard them, loud and clear, and they had his attention.  He wondered when the bad guys would learn that attracting his attention was a really bad idea.

 

“Aw, man,” Clint grumbled, pulling Tony out of his thoughts. “Why do you have to be rich and famous?” he grumped.

 

Tony looked out the window of the car at the reporters stationed around Stark Industries’ temporary headquarters. The guards stationed around the outside were doing their jobs and maintaining a perimeter, but there was no way the media was going to pass up a chance to get a shot of Tony Stark following the bombing of his own company.

 

With practiced ease, Tony slipped on his sunglasses and left the limo when Happy opened the door. “Side entrance, boss,” Happy told him, gesturing towards a door set in the side of the building that said Emergency Exit Only.

 

“Good man,” Tony murmured, ignoring the shouts of the reporters and the flashes of cameras, trusting Clint to stay close. Happy glared at the reporters, but didn’t say anything, trusting the guards to do their jobs, and as Tony approached the door, it opened up to reveal another security guard.

 

“Mr. Stark,” the guard greeted. “Glad you could make it.”  Tony flashed him a grin, and the guard smiled back.  Happy cleared his throat, and the guard schooled his face into something more professional.  “Please come this way, sir,” he said, gesturing down the hall to the right.  The door closed and locked behind them, and the four men moved down the hall towards what Tony assumed was going to be a conference room.

 

Clint stayed two steps behind and to his right, while Happy and the guard led the way. They passed several guards, all of them obviously alert and wearing security badges.  Tony recognized Happy’s hand in the color-coded badges.  He narrowed his eyes as they turned a corner and he caught a glimpse of a familiar figure.  He flicked a sharp glance back at Clint, but the archer just stared back at him impassively, and Tony huffed, but stayed quiet. 

 

Tony and his entourage stopped in front of a set of wooden doors, and Tony took a deep breath before pushing the doors open, striding in like he owned the place. Which he did, so there was that.  Clint slipped away and made himself comfortable in the back corner, where he had a clear view of the entire room and a direct line of sight to the only exit.  “Gentleman!” Tony exclaimed, bringing the low murmurs to a slow halt as he dropped indolently into chair at the head of the table and slipped his glasses off to give them his most arrogant smirk.  “Glad to see you all could make it! You know, given the fact that your offices uptown just got blown up.  But that’s all past us now, let’s move on.”

 

Without giving them time to respond, the smirk slid off his face and Tony glared at the assembled board members. “Now, I’ve heard rumors that Stark Industries has been approached by representatives of an unnamed entity looking to get in on the action.  And for anybody who actually believes that Oscorp or HammerTech has the guts to do something like this, you should seriously reconsider your position on this Board.  Now, I have people working on finding out who approached you fine upstanding citizens and who blew up SI Headquarters.” 

 

He paused to make sure he had their attention, then stood up, leaning his hands on the table in emphasis. “Fourteen,” he enunciated.  “Fourteen people died that day, twenty-seven more were injured.  And for what?  So somebody could make some kind of point?”  His lips curled up in a sneer.  “And you wanted to sell out to this guy?  Not that it would have done you any good, because I and a few of my friends own the majority, but it might’ve made things…messy.”

 

“There are ways around that, Mr. Stark,” one of men, Edward, spoke up. “Surely you do not believe that you are the only one with this company’s best interests in mind.”

 

Tony gave the man a slow smile. Edward was one of Obie’s choices, made after the death of his father.  Tony had never had the leverage to force him out, nor had he particularly cared.  He would have to reevaluate his priorities, it seemed.

 

“You sure about that?” he asked. “Because you seem to forget who owns this company. And who runs it.  So let me remind you.  Stark Industries belongs to me.  And Miss Potts?  When has crossing her ever worked out in your favor?”  It was gratifying to watch half of the men pale at the mention of Pepper.  She was ruthlessly efficient when it came to protecting the interests of Stark Industries, and her boss.

 

“So consider this your first, and only, warning, gentlemen,” he addressed the group, straightening up. “Stark Industries is preparing to submit itself to a very thorough audit.  If you’ve got anything to hide, I would suggest that you start looking for a new job.  Or find a good lawyer.  Probably both.  Because this?  This will not be tolerated.”

 

As if to emphasize his point, an arrow embedded itself into the center of the conference table with a quiet thwap.  The board members flinched as a unit, and Tony gave Clint an amused look.  The archer just shrugged, then went back to spinning another arrow between his fingers, staring down the men who were finally realizing that they had a lot more to worry about than bad PR and a pissed off Tony Stark.

 

Tony gave the uneasy board members his most annoying press smile. “Now, I’m sure we all have more important things to be doing, like reassuring our shareholders and whatnot, so you all have fun with that.”  He glanced back towards the door.  “After your meeting with Miss Potts, of course,” he added gleefully, watching all eleven men grimace.  Pepper was going to read them the riot act, and probably bring in their team of lawyers to let them know exactly what was going to happen to them if they stuck so much as a toe out of line.  Tony had done his part, and he was more than happy to escape, Clint close on his heels.

 

“Wish you’d let me use one of the sticky arrows or something,” Clint muttered on their way out the door.

 

Tony chuckled. “As amusing as that would be, Barton, Pepper would be angry if she had to get a cleanup crew in there to unstick them all.”  Clint sighed, aggrieved, and Tony whistled as he strolled down the hallway, hands in his pocket as he nodded to Happy, who was standing guard by the doors.  Pepper was a bit further down, talking to what Tony presumed was Stark Industries’ team of lawyers.  He was almost surprised that Natalie Rushman wasn’t among them.

 

He nodded to Pepper as the two of them passed by, and Pepper gave him a quick smile before gathering her team and leading them to the conference room, where the Board was no doubt in an uproar, now that Tony had left, having said his piece. Happy had stayed behind to guard the door – he was technically Pepper’s bodyguard and chauffer now, but he still occasionally pulled Tony-herding duty – but Tony was under no illusions.  He wasn’t allowed to leave until Pepper said he could.  Or an Avengers emergency cropped up.

 

“So now what?” Clint asked, voicing Tony’s silent musings. “I mean, can we go?  It seems kind of dumb to just hang around here twiddling our thumbs.”  He was rolling an arrow between two hands, his eyes roaming the hallways as they passed them, checking sight lines and exits, habits born of paranoia and employment by SHIELD heavily ingrained in him.

 

Tony sighed. “Normally, I’d say fuck it, let’s get out of here,” he admitted. “But I almost lost her.  I can’t….not while she’s still here,” he said softly, hating that he had to say it at all.  Pepper was a grown woman, she could take care of herself.  But all Tony kept hearing was the explosion cutting off their phone call, and he kept replaying the panicked search for his CEO and ex-lover.  He knew that Pepper wouldn’t appreciate the hovering, so he let her have her freedom, but right now?  The excuse was too good to pass up.  Pepper wanted him here, and he wanted to be here, where she was. Win-win. 

 

He glanced back at his companion. “You can go, though, if you want,” he said.  “We’ve got security here. I’ll be fine.”

 

Clint raised a single eyebrow. “Nah, I think I’ll stick around,” he replied easily.  “No way am I reporting back to Coulson that I left a man behind.”

 

Tony snorted. “Yeah, because it’s not like there aren’t at least two other agents here keeping an eye on things,” he pointed out sarcastically.  He’d seen them in the hallway on their way in, blending in with the Stark Industries security personnel. They’d even had badges.  Clint just grinned unrepentantly, and Tony rolled his eyes.  “Whatever,” he muttered, turning back around to continue down the hallway, pulling out his phone.  Giving a couple of taps, he pulled up a map of the building on his phone.  Tony took a left, heading for the lounge.  If he was going to stick around, he needed coffee, even if it was crappy office coffee in a paper cup.

 

The hallway was empty except for the two of them, so Tony wasn’t entirely surprised when Clint wrapped a strong arm around his waist, pulling him to a stop, his body a line of heat at Tony’s back. His grip was firm, but not caging, and Tony knew he could break away if he wanted to.  Clint leaned down to murmur in his ear, “So, if we’ve got to hang around here, anyhow, d’you think we’ve got enough time for a quick blowjob?”

 

Tony shuddered, an image of Clint on his knees peering up at him flashing behind his lids. Conversely, he could be the one on his knees, sucking off the other man, his hands gripping firmly to that tight ass to encourage the other man to thrust. He gave a soft moan, tilting his head in implicit permission.  Clint took advantage of the new angle to muffle his chuckle against Tony’s throat.  “Yeah?” he breathed, his tone hopeful even as he snuck in a quick grope to Tony’s ass, making the genius squawk with mock-indignation.

 

“Geez, Barton,” he complained, “you could at least find us a room.” There should be plenty, since most of Stark Industries either had time off for grieving, or had been temporarily relocated to Stark Tower.  And really, Tony probably shouldn’t be giving in this easily, but he was stressed and tired and pissed, and Barton was offering a brief moment of respite.  He wasn’t stupid enough – or strong enough – to turn him down.

 

Clint laughed, and before Tony could protest, he’d grabbed him around the hips and lifted him up, tossing him over his shoulder. “Seriously, Legolas?” Tony asked, propping himself up a bit and appreciating the view as Clint took off down the hallway.  “You’d better hope there aren’t any security cameras here, or I might have to fire you for sexual harassment,” he informed him crisply.

 

“I’m security, and you’re in imminent danger, sir,” Clint informed him gravely, shouldering his way into one of the side rooms, taking care that he didn’t knock Tony into the door. “It is my duty to see you safe and happy.”  A quick glance confirmed that nobody was in the room, nor was anybody likely to walk in and interrupt at an inopportune moment, and he set Tony on his feet before locking the door.

 

That done, he turned back to Tony, who had moved further into the empty office to lean against the desk, content to watch Clint walk towards him. Somebody – probably Coulson – had made sure that Clint was wearing a suit like the other bodyguards, but somehow, it still managed to look rumpled, the top couple of buttons undone at the collar of the shirt, sleeves rolled up, the suit jacket resting haphazardly on Clint’s shoulders, like he’d just tossed it on with no care for how it sat.  Still, as he shed the jacket and dropped smoothly to his knees in front of Tony, the genius couldn’t help but stare.  “How do you manage to look so hot when you’re obviously a mess?” he demanded.

 

Clint flashed him a quick grin. “Nat says it’s my super-power,” he told him, his tone almost smug.  “Suits are uncomfortable. I wanted to wear my uniform, but Phil vetoed that.  So a suit it was.”  His hands were stroking up the outside of Tony’s slacks, from ankle to hips and back down to his knees, the caress oddly soothing in its repetitiveness.  Tony stared at him through hooded eyes, and Clint leaned forward, nuzzling against Tony.  “You okay with this?” he checked.

 

Tony swallowed. “Katniss, either stop teasing or go the fuck away,” he managed to bite out. “We’re kind of on a time limit, here.”

 

“Sure thing, boss,” he replied cheekily, his hands already reaching for Tony’s fly. “Just wanted to make sure we weren’t moving too fast or anything.”

 

“Definitely not fast enough,” Tony replied without thinking. He blinked, then replayed the last few seconds.  “Oh,” he managed, ignoring Clint’s grin, even as the other man undid his belt before moving on to the button and zipper.  “Yeah, no, I give up.  I’ve got an invite from half a dozen of the hottest people on the planet to engage in some sort of exclusive Avengers-only poly-something, and honestly, as long as Bruce is okay with it, I’m just fine.”  He drawled out the last word, grinning when Clint muffled his cackles against Tony’s clothed leg, his previous intentions forgotten for the moment.

 

“Phil will be glad to hear it,” he said at last, grinning up at Clint. “But right now, I’ve got you all to myself.”  He seemed almost smugly pleased about that, and Tony shivered as Clint trailed fingers lightly up the outside of his thighs and to his waist, untucking Tony’s dress-shirt so he could get to the skin underneath.  Tony’s stomach muscles twitched, and Clint leaned forward, nuzzling against Tony’s cock where it was trapped by his underwear.

 

“Time limit,” Tony reminded him hoarsely, watching Clint’s tongue flick out to lick his lips before the archer gave in and hooked his fingers under the waistband of Tony’s underwear, easing them down carefully along with his slacks. Tony groaned with relief at the sudden ease in pressure, and then Clint’s mouth was there, his tongue flicking out quickly as if to get a taste before wrapping around just the head of Tony’s cock, his hand curling easily around the base, the calluses creating a whole new set of sensations for Tony to catalogue.

 

“Dammit, Clint, a little warning might’ve been nice!” he managed to hiss, his hands clenching around the edge of the desk as his knees threatened to go boneless on him.

 

Clint pulled off with a quiet huff. “What, stripping you wasn’t enough of a clue?” he demanded.  Tony just reached out with one hand, fitting it to the curve of Clint’s cheek before sliding to the back of his head, urging him gently forward.

 

Clint opened up easily, the head of Tony’s cock sliding back in, surrounding him in heat and wet. “Oh my god,” Tony managed, his voice strangled as Clint pushed forward, letting Tony slide back until he bumped the back of Clint’s throat before pulling out.  Tony stared down at him with wide eyes, and Clint grinned around his mouthful, his tongue curving around Tony’s dick before sliding sinuously along the large vein.  Tony whimpered, his hand tightening in Clint’s short spikes before he grimaced and relaxed his grip, not wanting to pull.

 

One of Clint’s hands just went up and covered Tony’s, curving around the engineer’s hand until he got the idea and tightened his grip again. “Okay?” Tony asked, feeling his face heat when Clint gave a heartily approving hum, the vibrations traveling straight up Tony’s cock to his balls.  “Fuck, Barton,” he groaned, his other hand joining its twin in Clint’s hair, the desk the only thing holding him up now as he gave a careful thrust, feeling his cock bump the back of Clint’s throat again, and then slide past it.

 

Clint’s hands were suddenly on Tony’s ass, pressing him forward before letting him drop back, and it took a few repeats before Tony’s brain kicked online enough that he was able to keep up the pace on his own; short, shallow thrusts followed by a slightly longer one that sunk him deep inside Clint’s throat, so that he could see where he pushed against the muscles.

 

One of Clint’s hands had moved down and forward, playing with Tony’s balls, and his other had disappeared. The soft sound of a zipper answered that question; Clint was seeking relief of his own, and Tony groaned, wishing they’d thought this out a little better.  He’d love to be able to return the favor.

 

Clint hummed again, repeating a previous pattern, and Tony laughed as he caught on. “Really, Barton?” he asked, torn between lust and humor, his hips moving of their own volition now.  Clint’s tongue pressed against his slit, and Tony shuddered, feeling his balls tighten, his legs tensing.  “Careful, I’m almost there,” he warned the other man.

 

Clint just hummed again, completely unconcerned, staring up at Tony and shifting a bit, so that Tony’s cock practically slid straight down into his throat. Orgasm caught him by surprise, and Tony barely had the presence of mind to release his grip on Clint’s hair before he was coming, not wanting to choke the other man.

 

Clint just waited until he was done, his throat remaining loose as Tony shot his release down his throat with a whine before collapsing back against the desk, his arms barely supporting his weight. Carefully, Clint pulled back, using his tongue to clean Tony as he did, making the genius shiver, oversensitive and sated.  “My god, Barton, do you not have a gag reflex?” he asked as Clint pulled back, allowing him to slump to the floor.

 

“Carnie brat,” Clint shrugged. “One of my friends was the sword swallower.”  Tony groaned, his spent cock twitching in interest, but even with Extremis, it was too soon.

 

Instead, he gestured towards Clint’s hand, which was still wrapped around the archer’s cock. “Want some help with that?” he offered.

 

Clint arched his eyebrows. “You sure you’ve got the stamina for that, Stark?” he teased.  Tony just rolled his eyes and pulled his pants up, resituating himself.  Barton hadn’t left anything behind, so there was no mess to clean up.  He was sure he still looked like he’d been fucking around, but Pepper had absolutely seen him in worse shape before.

 

Reaching into his back pocket, Tony pulled out a slender tube of lubricant and showed it to Clint. The archer’s eyes narrowed. “You had that this whole time?” he demanded.

 

Tony shrugged, twisting off the cap and squeezing a liberal amount onto his fingers before shifting forward, taking over Clint’s grip on himself. “I was hoping to convince Bruce for a quickie in the lab when I got back,” he admitted, watching Clint’s eyes darken.  Tony tested his grip and stroke length, watching Clint’s face and listening to his breath hitch, trying to learn the other man, the same way he’d learned Bruce.  And Steve.  Everybody had their preferences, and Tony wanted to know them all.  Let it never be said that he wasn’t an attentive lover.

 

“That is really hot,” Clint admitted ruefully. Tony grinned, shifting up onto his knees so he could kiss Clint, his tongue sweeping inside the other man’s mouth.  Clint tasted of him, of course, but under that was the taste of coffee and something that was uniquely Clint.  Tony rested one hand on Clint’s thigh, letting that arm hold him up while the other played with his cock, lube slicking the way.

 

Catching Clint’s bottom lip in his teeth, Tony left a small mark there before moving downwards, leaving a trail of kisses down Clint’s chin and throat, pausing to flick his tongue out and taste the dip of his clavicle. “Damn, Tony,” Clint murmured appreciatively.  “You sure know how to make a guy feel appreciated, huh?”

 

Tony smiled, stretching back up so he could kiss Clint again, hard and possessive, swallowing the other man’s moans. His eyes flicked briefly to the door before he decided that he didn’t care if anybody was listening.  “Gonna return the favor, Birdbrain,” he murmured, breaking from the kiss.

 

“Hmm..return the - ?” Clint trailed off, blinking dazedly. Tony didn’t even try to hide the smugness in his expression.  Instead, he slithered downwards until he could nuzzle against Clint’s cock, the smell of musk and cinnamon making for an oddly attractive combination, and Tony grinned, pleased with himself for having the foresight to purchase flavored lube in bulk.

 

Flicking his tongue out, Tony took a quick taste before pressing his tongue flat against the head of Clint’s cock, making the other man swear. One hand came to rest on the top of Tony’s head, not pushing or pulling, just resting there. The other one was on his shoulder, and Tony grinned before opening his mouth, letting just the tiniest bit of Clint past his lips, guarding his teeth carefully.

 

Tony used one hand to map the size and weight of Clint’s cock and balls, knowing that he couldn’t take the entirety of him, but willing to give it a good try. He used his index finger to nudge at Clint’s perineum, his other hand moving to the man’s hips to keep him from thrusting on accident.  Clint managed to stay still, but he flopped backwards, his legs opening a bit wider so Tony could press a little closer.

 

“Damn, Tony,” Clint swore, “I’d heard the rumors, but you’re better than I’d pictured.” Tony grinned around his mouthful, letting Clint’s cock stroke across the roof of his mouth, the slightest scrape of teeth making the other man buck and swear, forcing Tony to back away a bit or risk choking in a not-pleasant way.

 

Tony slipped his index finger in alongside Clint’s cock in his mouth and made sure it was thoroughly wet before pulling it out, though not before dragging it across the other man’s dick in a slide of wet friction. Pressing down, Tony shifted to get a better angle before taking as much of Clint in his mouth as he could, inordinately pleased to find that the archer was quite respectable in size.

 

Along with the slow slide of his lips and tongue, Tony pressed just barely inside Clint, watching him through lowered lashes to make sure the other man was okay with it. Clint propped himself up on his elbows so he could watch Tony, blue eyes dark and wide, his face flushed as he worried his lips between his teeth, obviously trying not to thrust, even as Tony slid his finger a bit further in before crooking it, seeking.  Clint shifted again, and then practically howled as Tony found what he was looking for, his hand coming up in front of his mouth so he could sink his teeth into the meat of his hand as he came, shuddering.

 

Tony swallowed what he could, but some of it managed to slip out, trailing down his chin as he pulled back, pleased with himself. He might not be able to completely tamp down his gag reflex, but he was pretty sure that he’d be getting enough practice that it wouldn’t take long.  “You’re a mess, Barton,” he teased lightly, wiping his mouth and chin with the back of his hand before licking it clean, almost absentmindedly as he watched Clint panting on the floor, his fly still open and his dick still out, sated and damp.

 

“Phil’s gonna be so jealous,” Clint managed after a moment, before righting himself with a groan and somehow managing to get himself tucked away while still on the floor. Standing, he raised an eyebrow at Tony, and then very obviously looked him up and down.  “I’m not the only one,” he pointed out with a leer.

 

He held his hand out, and Tony let the other man pull him to his feet. Clint kept tugging, and Tony found himself back in the archer’s arms, warm and strong where they caged him in.  Even trapped, though, it wasn’t scary.  Instead, it was comforting, like Clint’s broad back and shoulders shielded him from the outside world.  It was nonsense, of course, but Tony didn’t feel like arguing away the lethargic contentment he was feeling at the moment.

 

“So…” Clint started after a long moment of just standing there, swaying in each other’s grip, “where’s the closest bathroom?”

 

Tony blinked, his brain taking a moment to process the question – and wasn’t that something else, to realize that his brain had all but stopped thinking in the aftermath. “Uh…yeah. Umm…no idea,” he admitted finally. “But it’s a big building.  There’s probably one either in this hallway, or the next one.  Didn’t we pass any on the way here?” he asked.  He hadn’t been paying attention.

 

“Yeah, if we want to go back to the main thoroughfare looking as if we’d just spent the last twenty minutes locked in a broom closet together,” Clint told him, laughter evident in his tone. Tony didn’t have the strength to flip him the finger, so he scratched nails lightly down Clint’s clothed back instead.  Which just made the archer giggle at the tickling sensation, his arms tightening around Tony briefly before loosening again.

 

“Fine,” Tony grumbled, half-heartedly. “We’ll go the other way.  There’s a break room nearby. ‘S where I was headed before you manhandled me into an empty office.”

 

“Right,” Clint drawled. “Because you protested so hard.  But you’re right, there’s probably a bathroom by the break area, and we can clean up and then get you some coffee until Potts summons us,” he agreed, pulling back and running his hands through his hair before sweeping his jacket back on, settling it with a quick shrug. 

 

“Coffee,” Tony agreed, yawning. “And maybe some donuts.  Are donuts in the break room still a thing? I mean, they should be, because everybody likes donuts, and it just seems like the thing to have in an office.  I mean, I usually just go find the nearest donut place, but still, there should definitely be some here.”

 

His rambling was cut off when Clint reeled him by his tie to deliver a very thorough and exploratory kiss. Pulling back, the archer grinned at him.  “Shut up, Stark,” he said, laughter in his voice.

 

Tony gave him a mock-affronted look. “Oh, I see how it is!” he said. “I obviously made that too easy for you, and now you think you can backtalk me.”

 

The two of them were still bickering as they exited the office, a quick sweep of the hallway reassuring them that nobody had probably walked past while they had been otherwise occupied. Taking a left, Tony pulled up the building schematics on his phone again, more so he had something to do with his hands that didn’t involve reaching for Clint again, and sure enough, there was a bathroom just a few doors down from the break room.

 

After a quick clean up, Tony checked himself out in the mirror and decided that he probably didn’t look like he’d been giving a blowjob less than twenty minutes ago. Clint looked a bit rumpled, still, but it was more or less how he usually looked whenever he wasn’t in uniform.  “You’ll do, I suppose,” Tony judged, stepping aside as another man walked into the restroom.

 

Clint batted his eyelashes at him as they exited. “Aw, aren’t you just the sweetest talker,” he drawled.  Tony grinned, then sniffed appreciatively – the scent of fresh-brewed coffee was wafting into the hallway, and Tony moved towards it eagerly.

 

“Oh, Tony, there you are!” Pepper said, looking up when he walked in. She was sitting on one of the lounge chairs in the large room, a cup of tea in her hands as she watched them.  “I figured you would have made your way here as soon as you left the conference room.”  She was smiling, though, so Tony knew she wasn’t mad.

 

He grinned. “Figured I’d explore a bit,” he answered, pulling down a mug from the cabinet and glancing into its depths before grimacing and walking over to the sink, leaving Clint to grab his own mug.  “I don’t think I’ve set foot in here in ten years, probably.”

 

“You’ve never set foot in here,” Pepper corrected. “This building is primarily used for administrative purposes.”

 

Tony considered that for a moment, then shrugged, taking an eager sip of his hot coffee. It wasn’t the best coffee, but it wasn’t bad.  And really, coffee was coffee, and he gave a pleased sigh as it slid down his throat.

 

Clint, having gotten his own coffee, had settled in a third chair, his legs tossed over the arm as he slouched. If nothing else, Stark Industries believed in making its employees comfortable.  Clint smiled over at Pepper. “Is the Board amenable to your demands now?” he asked.

 

Pepper’s answering smile was sharp. “They are,” she admitted with a sort of dark satisfaction.  “I fully intend to take advantage of it while it lasts.  They’ll rally eventually.”  She turned to Tony, leaning forward a little.  “How’s your research going?” she asked quietly.

 

Tony frowned. “We’re still working on it,” he hedged.  “I’ll let you know when we have something concrete.”

 

Pepper eyed him for a moment, but then nodded. “All right,” she agreed, standing up and smoothing out her skirt.  “Please keep me updated.  In the meantime, I think we’re about done here.  When you’re ready, just let Happy know.”

 

Tony shook his head. “No, you keep Happy,” he protested.  “We’ll take one of the others.”

 

Before Pepper could insist, Clint pulled a phone out of his pocket and flipped it open. “Hey, wanna give us a ride?” he greeted the person on the other end.  “Yeah, thanks.”  Ending the call, he tucked the phone back into his pocket and smiled at Pepper.  “Phil will give us a ride,” he told her.

 

Pepper blinked. “Well, that’s fine then, I suppose,” she said after a moment.  She looked at Tony, who just shrugged, holding his hands out in a I have no idea gesture.  “Tell him I said thank you, would you?” she asked.  Clint nodded, and she smiled at the two of them before excusing herself, no doubt to go do something CEO-ish. 

 

After Pepper had left, Tony turned to Clint. “I thought Agent was heading out with his B-Team,” he said.  “Something about New Mexico?”  Actually, Phil hadn’t said anything, but Tony didn’t have JARVIS around just for his wit.

 

Clint grinned, not the least bit surprised that Tony knew Phil was out of town. “He is,” he agreed.  “He left shortly after we did, actually.”

 

Tony narrowed his eyes. “Then who’s picking us up?” he asked.

 

“That would be me,” spoke up a familiar voice. Tony tipped his head back and looked up at an amused redhead.  “Hi,” Natasha said, smiling down at him.

 

“Ah, Natalie, my second favorite PA,” Tony smiled back. “And here I thought Legolas over there was going to tell me he hadn’t been talking to anyone.”

 

“Naw, I just figured Pepper would be happier if she figured it was Phil coming,” Barton shrugged. Natasha just sighed, too far away to smack her partner over the head.

 

“Come on, then,” Natasha said, giving Clint a look.  Tony didn’t know what it meant, but they were obviously communicating between themselves.  “Before Pepper realizes that I’m not Phil.”

 

Tony stood up and moved over to the sink, rinsing out his mug before setting it upside down on the drain, then following Natasha out the door, ignoring Clint’s exclamation of, “Aw, mug, no!” as he apparently dropped it to the floor, where it shattered. He’d catch up.  Probably.

 

“You look like you had a good day,” Natasha observed, watching him with a small smile. Tony flicked his eyes towards her, wondering if she knew what he and Clint had been up to earlier.  “I take it the Board meeting went well?” she asked, and Tony felt some of the tension ease out of his shoulders.  Not that he was ashamed of what he and Clint had done, but this really wasn’t the time or place for it, and Natasha’s disapproving face was almost as cringe-inducing as Steve’s.

 

“I honestly don’t know,” he admitted. “I went in, said my piece, then let Pepper and her team of lawyers lay into them.  My guess is that they’ll back off for a little while, and hopefully give us enough time to do some more digging.”

 

Natasha’s gaze sharpened, and she stopped walking, hands on her hips. Tony stopped with her.  “You have an idea who’s behind this,” she surmised.

 

Tony shook his head. “No,” he disagreed.  “I have plenty of people I can rule out, but whoever did this has resources. And connections.  The type of connections that don’t come from working on the side of the angels.”  For them to not only manage to turn both HammerTech and Oscorp into scapegoats, but to get hold of Stark ordnance, they had to have contacts in the Black Market.  He wondered idly if the stockpile he’d discovered in Kazakhstan was in any way related.  Tony wasn’t arrogant enough to think he knew every major player out there, but somebody with the money and contacts that this guy had?  Or girl, he wasn’t judging, girls could be scary, too.  There should have been something.  Especially since whoever it was seemed to be targeting him personally, regardless of the fact that he was a member of the Avengers.  Tony didn’t like feeling like he was missing something big, because whatever he was missing, other people had already paid the price.  And might pay it again, if he didn’t figure it out.

 

Natasha was watching him, something almost like sympathy in her eyes. “We’ll catch them,” she promised him, turning away to continue walking as Clint caught up to them.  “It’s only a matter of time.”

 

And that, Tony thought grimly, was exactly what was worrying him.

Chapter Text

Tony strode into the office and flashed a press smile at the young girl sitting at the desk, looking surprised.  “Now, now, no need to get up. I’m just here to visit with your boss, I’m sure he’s expecting me, won’t be but a minute.”  He was already breezing past her, heading for the doors when she called out after him.  He ignored her - even if she called her boss now, he wouldn’t have enough time to avoid him - and threw open the doors, striding in and smiling at the three men sitting there, bickering with each other.  They fell silent upon Tony’s entrance.

The phone on the heavy mahogany desk rang.  Without taking his eyes away from Tony, Norman Osborn answered, and spoke two words.  “You’re fired.”  Then he hung up.

Tony grinned sharply.  “Always knew you were a bastard, Osborn,” he said sweetly.  His eyes flicked dismissively over Hammer and settled unerringly on the third man.  “You, I don’t know,” he said conversationally.  “And I thought I knew all the people who wanted to stab me in the back.”

The sandy-haired man merely smiled at him, standing up and offering Tony his hand.  Tony didn’t take it, and his smile widened before he dropped it to his side.  “Tiberius Stone,” he introduced himself.  “I am here as a representative for an interested third party.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Can’t say the feeling’s mutual,” Tony replied, taking in what information he could.  Tiberius Stone was tall, blonde, and muscular underneath a three-piece bespoke suit.  Tony knew that he was probably considered to be quite handsome, but compared to Steve and Thor, he was just a pale comparison.  “Whose interests?” Tony asked, though he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to get an answer.

“He’ll introduce himself when he’s ready, Tony,” the man said.  “I can call you Tony, right?”

“No,” Tony snapped back, resisting the urge to call the suit to him.  The whole reason he hadn’t just flown to Oscorp and blown in their windows was because he was trying to be less obvious.  Which, given who he was, was pretty much impossible.

Choosing to ignore the third man for now, he turned back to the two familiar faces.  “So, I hear I have the two of you to thank for eight deaths and a bunch of destroyed buildings downtown,” he said, cutting straight to the chase.

“Now, Tony,” Hammer spoke up quickly, “you know we wouldn’t do something like that!  There would be no point!”

Tony turned to look at the other man.  “Well, you wouldn’t,” he agreed easily.  Hammer smiled. “Instead, you’d hire somebody else to do it for you.  It’s a pattern.”  Hammer had better not think for a moment that he had forgotten about Anton Vanko and the bombs at the Stark Expo.  Hammer had nearly been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people, thanks to his poor choice in partners.  Neither of the men in here looked like the type to take orders .

“You, on the other hand,” he said, pointing at Osborn, “would absolutely do it yourself if you thought there was profit in it.  You and I really need to have a talk about what you’re hiding in the basement,” he added, just to see if Osborn flinched.  The businessman gave nothing away.  Tony had expected nothing less, especially if what he’d read in the files that Johnson had pulled were true; and he had no reason to doubt their validity.

“Which means that the one who wanted to building destroyed,” Tony declared, “was you.”  He glared at Stone, who just gave him a mock innocent look.

“I assure you, I had nothing to do with the bombs,” he told Tony, who didn’t believe him for an instant.  Even if he hadn’t been the one to pull the trigger, he likely knew who had.  All three of them did.

“Tony, Tony, Tony,” Hammer said mock-regretfully.  “Surely you aren’t so stupid as to walk in here without your armor and make these wild accusations!”

“Shut up, Hammer,” Osborn told him firmly.  Hammer turned and opened his mouth, probably to protest, and Osborn just glared.  Hammer shut his mouth with a scowl, but settled back in his chair, his arms crossed like a petulant child that hadn’t gotten his way.

Satisfied that Hammer was sufficiently silent, Osborn turned back towards Tony.  “As much as it pains me to admit it,” he said, “Hammer does have a point.”

“Ah ha!” said Hammer triumphantly.  All three men ignored him.

“You are here with no protection, no witnesses,” Osborn said.  “If we truly meant you harm, you would not still be standing there, accusing us of committing an act of terrorism on native soil.”

Tony raised an eyebrow.  “It’s not like there isn’t a precedent,” he pointed out.  He glanced at Stone.  “You, though, you’re an unknown.  I don’t like unknowns.”

Stone laughed as if Tony had said something clever.  “No, I don’t suppose you do,” he agreed.  “However, I am afraid that it is not my place to tell you about my employer.”  He turned to the other two men in the room.  “Gentleman, if you’ll excuse me, I must take my leave now.  It has been a most...enlightening conversation.”  And with that, he turned smartly on his heels and left the room.  Tony let him go; he had a name now, he’d see what JARVIS could dig up before making any decisions on what to do with him.  Pepper would be so proud.

Tony smiled sharply at the remaining men once Stone had gone.  He saw Osborn’s hand inching towards the bottom of his desk and held out his hand in a familiar pose.  The watch around his wrist popped open and wrapped a gauntlet around his hand, the familiar whine of activation making Osborn freeze.  “Ah ah ah,” he said, wagging his other finger at the other man like a parent to their wayward child.  “I wouldn’t call security if I were you.  They won’t be fast enough...and you’re sitting in front of a window.  Nice view, by the way.”  They were on the top floor of Oscorp’s building; falling from this height would give Osborn plenty of time to think on the way down.

Osborn sat back carefully, pressing his hands flat to the top of his desk.  Tony smiled approvingly.  “Now….where were we?” he asked, moving forward and taking the seat that Stone had recently vacated, his gauntlet lowered but not removed, still a very visible threat.  “Oh, yes.  That’s right.  Destroyed buildings, plenty of people injured, fourteen dead.”  His eyes went cold.  “So...let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

Tony strode into the Tower, still fuming.  He gave a short nod to the security guards posted by the front desk before heading for his private elevator, his mind churning as he turned over what information he’d been able to get out of Hammer and Osborn.  Unfortunately, they hadn’t known much more than Tony did.  Tiberius Stone had approached them, and had promised them that he had a benefactor that could take out their strongest competition.  He had not, however, mentioned anything about using old SI missiles to blow up downtown Manhattan.  

Tony had just looked at Hammer, who had grimaced.  “How often does that happen, really?” he’d protested.  Tony had been tempted to shoot him on principle. He’d probably be doing the world a favor, honestly.  They were incredibly lucky that between Iron Man and Hulk, the missile had detonated high enough up that it had only wiped out the tops of several of the tallest buildings.  Collapsing metal and stone had damaged several others on the way down, but the death toll was almost impossibly low for something of that magnitude, for which Tony could only be grateful.  A part of him suspected that the missile had been tampered with prior to launch - it had been exponentially weaker than the originals had been - but he couldn’t prove it, of course.

Still, he had learned that neither Osborn nor Hammer knew who Stone’s boss was.  He apparently preferred to keep to himself.  But he was obviously intelligent enough to use other companies to hide his dealings.  JARVIS would have torn through dozens of shell companies if their mystery attacker had gone that route.  Instead, he had used legitimate companies to acquire the minimum percentage of stock and file a 13-D with the SEC, drawing all of SI’s attention to the potential threat, and in doing so,  had given himself time to erase his tracks.  JARVIS was already tracking and gathering as much information as he could about Tiberius Stone, but so far, he’d had little luck in finding the man’s boss.

Tony took the elevator up to the common floor.  He’d promised Bruce that he’d at least check in with somebody before he got back, but he didn’t really feel like dealing with people right now.  So he’d breeze through the common area and grab some leftovers or something, just long enough to be seen by whoever was there, and then he’d be gone again.  He had some SI projects that he needed to work on, anyhow.  He’d been letting himself fall behind while he explored his place in the shifting team dynamics, and Pepper would kill him if he didn’t have a working model of the miniaturized arc reactor ready for the next shareholder’s meeting.

When he stepped into the living room, he found Natasha there, in a pair of boy shorts and a tank top with spaghetti straps, one of which was sliding down off a pale shoulder.  Her hair was up in a messy ponytail, and Thor’s head was in her lap, a small grin on his face while she braided his hair with all the concentration one normally resolved for difficult math problems.  

Natasha glanced up when he walked in, acknowledging his arrival with a short nod before returning to Thor’s hair.  “Welcome back,” she said easily.

Tony gave a small smile to the back of her head.  “Thanks,” he said, grateful that she wasn’t asking questions.  He hadn’t exactly told anybody where he was going, or why.  Bruce had seen him leave, but hadn't pushed for information, and Tony hadn't offered, had just kissed him and assured him that he'd be back soon.

He moved closer the couch and peered over the back.  Thor opened his eyes and smiled happily up at him.  “Looking good, Goldilocks!” he said, grinning back.  Thor’s happiness was contagious, and Tony found himself relaxing.

“Thank you, Anthony!” Thor answered jovially.  “I have been reliably informed that braiding each other’s hair is part of the tradition of Midgardian Slumber Parties!”  Natasha patted Thor’s chest in approval before shooting Tony a warning glare. The genius held up his hands in mock surrender, backing away.

“Oh, absolutely,” he agreed.  “Us Midgardians also paint each other’s nails.”  The look Natasha shot him was filled with a wicked glee, and Tony winked at her as Thor enthusiastically embraced the new information.  It looked like Natasha was planning on having some fun tonight, at least.

Walking into the kitchen, Tony got his coffee, breathing deeply of the dark brew before taking a sip, risking the scalding temperature.  “Mmhmm,” he mumbled.  Then he straightened up again and headed for the lift.  He still had work to do, after all.

“J, lab,” he said, and the elevator started moving smoothly downwards.  “Any luck finding out who this Stone guy is working for?” he asked.

“I regret to inform you that there is no employment contract on file,” JARVIS told him regretfully.   “I am employing other means to try and determine patterns, but have thus far been unsuccessful in my endeavors.”

Tony shook his head.  “It’s fine, buddy,” he said.  “Stone seemed awfully confident that his boss would find me first.  I just really, really want to prove him wrong.”  Something about Stone had rubbed him wrong.  The guy had seemed like someone used to getting his own way, no matter what he had to do to get it.  People like that usually ended up slipping up in major ways, ways that oftentimes required Iron Man to step in.  Tony had already been put on the defensive, and that was unacceptable.  He really preferred it to be the other way around.

The lift opened, and Tony walked down the hallway towards his lab, pausing when he got close.  Steve was sitting on the couch set off of to the side, a sheaf of paper clutched and crumpled in his hand, and a look on his face that spoke of desolation.  Great, an unhappy Captain America was exactly what he needed right now.

Striding into his lab, he called out, “Hey there, Cap!  Want to tell Doctor Stark what’s on your mind?”

Steve startled, which told Tony just how bad it was.  Even when he was drawing, he was usually aware of when other people were in the room with him, and Tony wasn’t exactly trying to be subtle.

“Oh, Tony! You’re back,” he said weakly.

Tony raised an eyebrow.  “Uh, yeah,” he agreed.  He nodded towards the paper in Steve’s hands.  “Bad news?” he asked.

Steve looked guilty as he folded the paper in half.  “What makes you think that?” he tried to evade.  Tony tried not to roll his eyes.

“You look like somebody ate the last piece of pie and didn’t say thank you,” he shrugged.  “Look, it’s fine if you don’t want to talk about it.  But if you do, I’m here.”  And that was about as much emotion as he was comfortable with right now.

Steve smiled at him gratefully, well aware of how hard it was for Tony to offer to talk about emotions.  “It’s nothing, really,” he shrugged.  “I just...Bucky wrote to me.”  Tony froze.  Barnes.  Wrote a letter.  To Steve Rogers.  No wonder the guy was down here moping like somebody had stolen his shield.

“Oh,” he managed uncomfortably. “Um...what’d he say?” he asked, curious despite himself.  “I mean, if you want to talk about it,” he hurried to reiterate.  If Steve really just wanted to be left alone with a piece of paper and whatever mystery words Barnes had written, then that was fine.  It really was.  It would be stupid of Tony to be offended over something like that.  The guy obviously had no intention of turning himself in yet, if he was sending Steve letters.

Steve was turning the folded paper over in his hands, his lower lip pinned under perfectly white teeth, and Tony cursed himself for noticing.  Steve was upset right now.  Tony should be offering comfort, not ogling the man.

“He’s asked me to give him some space,” Steve muttered.  “And...there’s another letter.  It’s for you,” he added reluctantly, and Tony realized that Steve likely already knew what it said.

“Yeah?” he said with forced casualness, shoving his hands in his pocket.  “You read it yet?” he asked.  Not that he would’ve blamed Steve if he had - Tony would have done it, out of curiosity if nothing else.

Steve shook his head.  “No,” he said.  Then he took a deep breath, his chest expanding with the force of it, before blowing it out in a harsh sigh and running one hand through his hair.  Judging by the way it was sticking up, this wasn’t the first time he’d done that today.  “But I’m pretty sure I know what it’s going to say,” he admitted, obviously reluctant.

And Tony suddenly understood.  “You think he’s going to tell me about my parents,” he said bluntly.  Blue eyes flew up to meet his, startled, and Tony rolled his eyes.  “Seriously, Steve?” he demanded.  “The guy’s your best friend, and he’s been brainwashed by Hydra.  And you want him back, that much is obvious.  Of course I was going to do my research. I don’t like surprises.”  The last was said pointedly, and he watched as Steve’s expression crumpled guiltily.  

“I’m sorry,” Steve said helplessly.  “I just didn’t know how to tell you.”

Tony’s expression softened, and he turned his back on the other man, moving stiffly towards his workbench.  “It’s fine, Cap,” he sighed.  “The guy’s your best friend, and you were afraid I might not help you find him if I knew he’d killed my parents.”  He thought he’d proven himself to be less petty than that, but apparently he hadn’t, and that stung.

“What?” Steve asked, confused. “Wait, no! No, I know you wouldn’t do that!” he protested, moving forward and wrapping his arms around Tony’s shoulders without hesitation, holding him firmly.  “I just really didn’t know how to tell you!”

And now Tony felt like a heel.  Steve had just been told by his best friend that he wasn’t ready to see him yet, and Tony was making him feel bad because he couldn’t keep his stupid thoughts to himself.

“Look, Steve,” he sighed.  “It’s fine.  I understand why you wouldn’t want to tell me, but I’m glad I know.  It’s given me time to forgive him.  And I’m still gonna help you find him,” he added, just in case Steve had any doubt.

He felt a kiss pressed to the top of his head.  “Thank you,” Steve said earnestly, his arms tightening around Tony’s chest for a moment before loosening, though Steve kept leaning against him.  Tony was content to hold the other man up for a while.  The reactor could wait a few more minutes.

“Sir, you have an incoming call, ” JARVIS informed him.   “Agent Coulson is on the line.”

Steve started to pull back.  “I should….go,” he said, reluctance written in every line of his body.

Tony reached out and wrapped his hand around Steve’s wrist.  “No need, Cap,” he said.  “The cat’s already out of the bag, you might as well stick around for the fun.  Hey, Agent Agent!” he greeted, his tone cheerful.  “How’s the weather?”

“Hot,” Phil answered dryly, and Tony grinned.  Phil was back in New Mexico, chasing a lead on another InHuman.  “We’re having trouble locating the 0-8-4,” Phil continued.  “Seems like he can block our surveillance equipment.”

And now Tony knew why he was calling.  “On it,” he said.  By which he meant JARVIS was on it, of course.  The AI was already in the Bus’ systems, it should be easy enough, and there wasn’t much that could keep JARVIS out.  Of course, he didn’t know exactly what the Inhuman’s abilities were, so it was possible that not even JARVIS would be able to locate him, but they’d cross that bridge if they came to it.

“Thank you, Tony,” Phil said warmly.

“Thanks, Stark!” a familiar voice called over the coms.

Tony laughed.  “Hey there, Tremors!!” he greeted.  “What’s shakin’?” 

Johnson groaned.  “Yeah, like I haven’t heard that one before,” she complained, but she sounded pleased nonetheless.  “Just hanging out, waiting for AC to let me go be the welcome wagon.”

Phil sighed.  “You can’t be the welcome wagon when we don’t know where they are, or what their abilities are,” he pointed out in a weary tone that indicated this wasn’t the first time they’d had this argument.

“We never know that their abilities are,” Johnson retorted in disgust.  Tony bit back a laugh, sharing an amused glance with Steve.  “I mean, that’s kinda the point of an 0-8-4.”

“I’m with Shake and Bake on this one,” Tony agreed.  “As long as this guy isn’t dropping bodies, I’m pretty sure your team can handle themselves.”

“Thank you for your input, Tony,” Phil said in a tone that indicated exactly the opposite.  Tony grinned, even though Phil couldn’t see it.  “I’ll take it under advisement.”  He wouldn’t, but that was okay.  Coulson took the safety of his team very seriously; it was why Clint and Natasha trusted him unconditionally.

“Be careful out there, Phil,” Steve said.  “Daisy.”

There was a moment of silence.  “Thank you, Steve,” Phil managed at last, while Johnson squealed in the background about Captain America calling her by her name.  Tony could relate.

They disconnected a moment later, and Tony turned to Steve.  “So, what do you want to do?” he asked.  “About Barnes, I mean,” he clarified when Steve just looked confused.  “I can keep looking for him, if you want.  I take it he didn’t leave a return address,” he stated, nodding at the letter.

Steve shook his head.  “Ah, no,” he said.  “He dropped it off at the front desk, actually.”  His shoulders were slumped again, and Tony found himself frowning in sympathy.  It must be awful to know that Barnes had been so close, and yet Steve had still missed him.

“That’s really good, actually,” Tony mused.  Steve shot him a confused, hopeful look, and he he shrugged, turning his face away as heat warmed his cheeks.  “I mean, it’s obvious he knows where to find you when he’s ready.  And if he dropped it off, then he’s probably staying close by.  It gives us a smaller area to search.”

“He doesn’t want to be found,” Steve pointed out.

Tony rolled his eyes.  “No, he’s not ready to meet yet,” he corrected.  “Just because we know where he is doesn’t mean we have to go get him.  But it does mean that we’ll know if he’s in trouble.”

Steve’s expression shifted as he considered that for a long moment.  Tony waited with bated breath until he nodded.  “Yeah,” he agreed slowly.  “Yeah, that’d be great, Tony.  You don’t mind?” he asked.

Tony smirked. “Steve, it’s not like I ever stopped looking for him.  He’s just always a step ahead of us.  But if he’s coming to us, then that’s a good sign.  It means he’s coming around.  I’m sure you’ll get to see him soon.”  As far as reassurances went, it wasn’t the best job he’d ever done - that kind of thing was more Pepper’s area, or even Rhodey’s - but judging by Steve’s grateful smile, it was good enough.

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve said.  “I mean it.”

Tony waved him off.  “Not a problem,” he dismissed.  “Now, if there’s nothing else, I’ve got to get this done, or Pepper is going to write me out of the will.”  He opened up the appropriate files and looked over the data, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully.  If he could shrink that part down by another ten or fifteen percent, he could add in an extra power source, but it might still be too weak.  He reached out and tweaked some numbers.  “J, run that for me,” he ordered.

“Of course, sir,” the AI replied, beginning the simulation.

“Do you mind if I stay here for a while?” Steve spoke up, making Tony jump and whirl around.  He hadn’t realized the other man was still here.

He blinked, then processed the question.  “Oh. Not at all, Cap,” he said, gesturing towards the couch where Steve had been earlier.  “Pull up a seat, make yourself at home.  Mi casa is su casa and all that.”

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve said.  But instead of moving back over to the couch, Steve sat right next to Tony at the worktable.  “Show me what you’re working on?” he asked, smiling when Tony looked at him in surprise.  “What? Just because I don’t understand half the words you say when you’re talking about your inventions doesn’t mean I don’t like listening to what you’re doing.  You always sound so happy.” 

Tony studiously ignored the way Steve’s words warmed him.  “Yeah, well, not everybody can be a genius,” he countered jokingly.  “But this one’s easy.  I’m basically building a miniature arc reactor to power large buildings like hospitals and emergency call centers..  A lot of times, if there’s a natural disaster or something, power goes out, and then people die because the machines they need are just useless hunks of metal.”

Steve didn’t say anything for a long moment, and Tony’s curiosity finally got the better of him.  He looked up, just in time for Steve to grab his face in both hands and kiss the hell out of him.  Well, if that was the sort of reward he was going to get, maybe he’d meet his deadlines more often.

“That’s amazing, Tony!” Steve praised him.  “I didn’t know Stark Industries worked in those fields.”

Tony shrugged.  “Yeah, well, SI kind of works everywhere,” he said.  “Medical, military, retail, conservation.  You name it, we’re probably involved in some capacity.”  And it was true.  SI technology was in high demand, and the fact that they were expanding into other fields only increased their worth.

“No wonder you’re the biggest threat out there,” Steve said, sounding amused, though there was an undertone of seriousness there.  “Nobody else does what you do.”

“What SI does,” Tony corrected.  “I mostly just tinker.  The R&D department actually does a lot of the work.  There’s a quarterly contest for the greatest invention between the various groups, and whoever wins gets a nice little bonus.”  The last one had been a trip to Tahiti; the irony wasn’t lost on Tony.

“Still amazing,” Steve murmured.  “You’re amazing.”

Tony flushed.

Tony wasn’t sure how long he’d been working on the arc reactor specs, Steve settled next to him, handing him tools - Dummy was quite put out that his job had been taken over, even temporarily - when JARVIS interrupted.

“Sir, Doctor Banner is approaching the workshop,” he informed him quietly.  Tony blinked slowly before looking up.

“Hm? Oh. Yeah, okay.  Let him in when he gets here,” he murmured.  Next to him, Steve was getting to his feet, stretching his arms above his head and flashing a strip of pale skin.  Tony grinned, but manfully resisted the urge to reach out and tickle the other man.  Finding out that Steve was ticklish had been a delight, and one that Tony was determined to take complete advantage of some day.

Bruce walked in a minute later, taking in the room and the two men now in the middle of it.  He blinked. “Ah, I’m sorry,” he murmured.  “Am I interrupting?”

Steve smiled.  “Not at all,” he reassured Bruce.  “I just needed some company.”  And wasn’t that a lovely thought, Tony realized, that Steve had needed another person nearby and had chosen to come down to his workshop.  He could have sought out any of the others who were already in the building, but instead, he had come down here and waited for Tony, even knowing that Tony had no reason to care about Bucky, beyond the fact that he mattered to Steve.

Bruce smiled at Tony, even as Steve left the workshop, pausing to grip Bruce’s shoulder warmly before leaving the two of them alone.  

Tony smiled back.  “Hey, Bruce,” he greeted.

“Hey,” Bruce said, moving forward and leaning down for a kiss.  “Having fun?” he asked, glancing at the scattered parts on Tony’s workbench.

Tony shrugged.  “It was nice,” he admitted, “having company.  Did he tell you what - ?” he trailed off.

Bruce shook his head.  “No, but then again, I’ve been in the lab,” he admitted ruefully.  “Besides, he normally seeks out Natasha or Sam since they’ve been helping him search for Barnes.”  Bruce said it without animosity, and Tony could understand why.  Sam and Natasha had been with him in DC when he’d first found out that his best friend Bucky was alive. And more than that, they’d been willing to put their lives on the line to help him track the guy, even knowing that it might lead them straight into a trap.  It took a special sort of friendship to make people willing to do that sort of thing.  Tony should know.

Tony was sorely tempted to tell Bruce what Bucky’s letter had said, but he held back, if only because it was Steve’s personal business. If he wanted to tell the others, he would.  But he’d come to Tony - or, more accurately, Tony’s workshop - for a reason, and Tony should respect that.  Even if he had no idea what that reason was.

Bruce smiled at Tony and let him off the hook.  “I’m sure he’ll tell us when, and if, he’s ready,” he said.  “In the meanwhile, you can tell me how your meeting went,” he said mildly.

Tony winced. “You, uh, knew about that, huh?” he asked.

Bruce shrugged.  “Pepper stopped by the Tower this morning, said you had the day off.  Apparently, she brought up a letter or something for you, too.  She gave it to Steve.”  And that would be the letter Steve had mentioned, where the Winter Soldier admitted to killing Howard and Maria Stark. Tony made a mental note to never, ever read it. In fact, maybe he’d set it on fire.  Butterfingers would be thrilled for the opportunity to use a fire extinguisher on an actual fire.

Bruce had continued talking, unaware of the current direction Tony’s thoughts had taken.  “Since you hadn’t taken the suit and no emergencies had come up, there were only so many places you could have gone.  And I looked over that information with you.”

Tony frowned.  “Do the others know?” he asked.

Bruce shrugged. “Not much gets past Natasha,” he replied.  “But I don’t think the others knew exactly what you were up to.  And it’s not like you haven’t gone into SI without Pepper knowing about it,” he added.  Tony grinned; Pepper always asked him if he was dying again if he showed up unexpectedly.  It was sort of a morbid in-joke between them now.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t get anything useful,” Tony admitted.  “Though I did sort-of-hire Osborn’s personal secretary after he fired her for not stopping me,” he added ruefully.  Bruce snorted.  “But there was another guy there.  JARVIS is looking into his background, trying to figure out who he’s working for.  Because Osborn isn’t interested in the kind of weapons SI used to make, and Hammer doesn’t have the intelligence to modify one of my missiles to do so little damage.”

Bruce made a surprised noise, and Tony glanced at him. “Oh, yeah.  That was an SI missile meant to be used on the war front in deserts.  Not as powerful or wide-spread as the Jericho missile, of course, but it should have done a hell of a lot more damage than that.  Whoever tampered with it basically turned it into a very big grenade.”

Now Bruce was frowning.  “Who has the ability and resources to do something like that?” he asked.

Tony nodded.

“Exactly.*

Chapter Text

Tony had a headache.  He reached blindly for the mug of coffee on the counter, frowning when he only touched cool marble.  At last, he looked up, bleary eyes taking in the empty counter for a long moment before his brain finally caught up.  “Bruuuuuce,” he whined, though the sound was closer to a mumble than anything. “I need coffee to live.”

 

“You really don’t,” Bruce told him, amused as he brought Tony’s cup to his mouth and took a sip before grimacing at the cold sludge and dumping the rest down the sink.  “You need sleep.”

 

Tony scowled, his eyes drifting back to the tablet he’d been reading before Bruce had so rudely interrupted by swiping his coffee mug.  On it was everything JARVIS had managed to dig up regarding Tiberius Stone, and none of it looked promising. Tony had been searching through it in the vain hope that he might find something JARVIS had missed, but so far, nothing had stood out, beyond the fact that Tiberius “Ty” Stone was a grade-A asshole.  He’d been a corporate spy for several companies, and had been the forerunner in numerous hostile mergers, acquisitions, and outright takeovers that Tony suspected hadn’t been strictly legal. Reports of sexual harassment against him from both men and women alike had been covered up or settled out of court, and people who stood against him tended to end up in the hospital or out of a job.

 

But no hints as to who he might be working for, and Tony found himself wondering if Stone worked for anyone at all.  Maybe that was just another one of his cover-ups. Either way, if he’d set his sights on Tony and Stark Industries, the attack was probably just the opening gamble.

 

“Tony,” Bruce said firmly.  “Bed. Sleep. You’re no good to anyone exhausted and on the verge of collapse,” he pointed out.

 

Tony sighed, but shut down the tablet and pushed it away from him.  Bruce scooped it up neatly with a murmured, “Thank you, Tony,” and he nodded wearily.  It wasn’t like he hadn’t memorized the information already, anyhow.

 

Bruce moved around behind him, his hands rubbing at Tony’s shoulders.  “It’ll be fine,” he told Tony, his tone reassuring. Tony snorted, and Bruce wrapped his arms around him instead, resting his chin on the top of Tony’s head.  “It will. We’ve got some of the best people in the world working on it. They won’t get another chance.”

 

“You sure about that, Big Guy?” Tony asked wearily, leaning back against Bruce’s chest, letting the other man move them both in a gentle sway.

 

“No,” Bruce admitted ruefully, “but I think that after the Chitauri, a shadowy businessman with delusions of grandeur should be nothing in comparison.”

 

Tony chuckled softly.  “Tell that to Killian,” he contradicted, but allowed Bruce to chivvy him to him feet and turn them towards the bedroom.

 

“Aldrich Killian wasn’t a businessman,” Bruce argued.  “He was the head villain of an evil organization.” He paused.  “And a terrorist.” Tony didn’t exactly disagree.

 

The moment they crossed the threshold, Bruce pulled Tony back against him and turned them, so that Tony was pressed up against the wall next to the door, one of Bruce’s hands braced on the wall next to Tony’s head and the other making a gratuitous grope of his ass.  Bruce’s lips pressed against that tender spot just beneath his ear that made his knees go weak when Bruce sucked hard. “Ohhh,” he managed to moan out, headache forgotten and no longer the least bit tired, “wish I had known sex was on the table.”

 

Bruce’s teeth scraped across his jawbone, followed by his tongue, and Tony sagged against the wall, letting it support him as Bruce’s hands wandered, skimming down his sides before slipping under the hem of his shirt to touch warm skin.  Tony shivered, his cock firming where it was caught between him and the wall. He shifted, moaning again as he got some friction, but it wasn’t enough, wasn’t nearly enough!

 

Bruce pulled him back, away from the wall, and Tony whimpered, but then Bruce’s had was there, pressing firmly against him on top of his pants, and Tony jerked forward into that touch.  “So desperate for it,” Bruce murmured. “Beautiful.”

 

“I’d be a bit less desperate if you would get these pants off !” Tony panted.  Bruce laughed, but nonetheless helped Tony shimmy out of his sweats until he was able to kick them off.

 

Twisting around, Tony kissed Bruce like he was dying, hard and fast and sloppy, his hands running through his lover’s hair before moving further down.  Bruce growled into it, but kissed him back just as fiercely, even as his hands went to his button-up. Tony did his best to help, their fingers tangling and snagging in fabric as they struggled to get Bruce out of his shirt and move towards the bed, neither willing to break away long enough to actually watch what they were doing.

 

By the time they made it to the bed, Bruce falling backwards onto it and Tony tumbling after him, managing to catch himself on his hands, Bruce’s shirt was mostly undone, held by a single button.  The top gaped loose, showing off Bruce’s collarbones and chest, his nipples just barely visible between the edges of fabric. The shirttails splayed out around his waist and hips. With reddened lips and his hair tousled by Tony’s fingers, he looked artfully messy, and Tony kissed him again, unable to resist the allure that was a disheveled Bruce.

 

Bruce tugged impatiently on his shirt, and it took a few seconds before his intent sank in.  Rearing back, he knelt between Bruce’s spread legs and pulled his shirt over his head impatiently, tossing it away somewhere.  While he had done that, Bruce had managed to get his shirt unbuttoned, and he shrugged out of it. Tony pressed him back down before he managed to get it out from under him.  “Tony!” Bruce protested.

 

“Hmm?” Tony asked, his lips and teeth making a trail across Bruce’s chest, stopping to pay extra attention to the curve of his collarbone before working one nipple into his mouth, bringing it to a peak while his hand worked at the other one.  Beneath him, Bruce squirmed and made that low growling sound that Tony equated to whimpering. He groaned at the noise, pulling away to nose at Bruce’s chin and throat before letting the other man drag him back up for another of those drugging kisses.

 

Tony managed to pull away several minutes later and help Bruce wriggle out of his pants, sliding down until he was kneeling at the end of the bed, tugging Bruce’s pants off his ankles and letting them drop.  Bruce had been going commando underneath, which Tony approved of.

 

Grabbing Bruce’s ankle, Tony pressed a kiss to the little bone, his other hand skimming up Bruce’s other leg, catching on the fine hairs there.  Bruce’s body was almost the exact opposite of his, broad and compact where Tony’s was more lean and wiry. They fit together like pieces of a puzzle, and Tony wriggled his way back up the bed, encouraged by Bruce’s hands reaching for him, gripping his hair and shoulders and urging him upwards.  Up and up and up, until he could kiss Bruce again, his body settling easily into the vee of Bruce’s thighs, pressing them together, Bruce’s cock pressed against Tony’s thigh and leaving behind a damp trail of precome.

 

“Bruce, Bruce, Bruce,” Tony chanted, peppering kisses across Bruce’s chin and cheeks and nose, chuckling when Bruce’s nose crinkled up.

 

Tony arched his back and rolled his hips down, giving them both some much needed friction.  Bruce’s eyes went wide as he gasped. “Tony, what?” he managed.

 

Tony grinned.  “Like that?” he crooned, doing it again, his body moving sinuously against Bruce’s.  Bruce arched up into him as he shifted down, and this time, it was Tony who moaned at the pressure.  Bruce fumbled around on the bed for a moment before pressing a small tube of lube into Tony’s hand.

 

Tony flipped the cap off with one hand, not stopping his movements even as he slicked up his fingers, letting the lube sliding down his palm before reaching down and gripping Bruce, watching the way that Bruce shuddered and writhed under him, pushing up into Tony’s clever fingers.  Tony gripped him more tightly for a moment, then trailed his fingers down the side of Bruce’s cock, shifting to the side so that he was lying next to Bruce, watching Bruce’s face as he stroked him off. “You’re gorgeous,” he murmured, leaning down to press a kiss to Bruce’s mouth, swallowing his moan.

 

Bruce pressed up into Tony’s hand with a groan that ended on a sigh, warm brown eyes locked on Tony’s.  “What do you want?” Tony asked, leaning down to press a gentle kiss to the corner of Bruce’s mouth. “Anything you want.”

 

“I want you to blow me,” Bruce said promptly, then flushed, though he didn’t take it back.  Tony laughed. That would explain why Bruce had handed him the edible lube, at least.

 

“As you wish,” he teased, sitting up and swinging his legs over Bruce’s hips so he was straddling the other man.

 

“Nerd,” Bruce accused breathlessly, his body stilling in anticipation.  Tony just grinned wickedly at him before bending down and opening his mouth, letting Bruce’s cock slide between his lips.  He moved carefully, sinking down just a little before sliding back up, letting his saliva help slick the way, strawberry and precome bursting over his tongue.  He used his hands to pin Bruce’s hips down, because Bruce was definitely big enough to choke him if he wasn’t careful.

 

Bruce made the loveliest noises, Tony though as he slid lower, adjusting the angle so he could take in another inch, Bruce’s dick bumping against the back of his throat.  Bruce’s cry was both surprised and grateful, brown eyes blown wide and his lower lip red and swollen where he’d bitten down on it as his thighs tensed with the effort of holding himself still.

 

Tony rewarded his lover’s restraint with a pleased hum, delighting in the way that Bruce writhed under him.  Fingers scraped lightly across his scalp before settling there, not pushing or pulling. “Tony,” Bruce sighed, looking down at him with a complicated expression.  Tony gazed upwards, his lips wrapped around Bruce’s cock. He’d seen himself in a mirror when giving a blowjob, and he knew exactly how he looked. Big, dark eyes; red, swollen spit-slicked lips, Bruce’s cock disappearing far enough down his throat that he’d be talking funny for a bit; hair slick and loose, face flushed with exertion. He’d been told it was a good look on him.

 

Tony slipped his hand down lower, exploring, and Bruce nearly jackknifed off the bed. Tony pulled back, surprised.  “Sorry, sorry!” Bruce told him, flushing with embarrassment. “I wasn’t expecting that,” he admitted sheepishly, and Tony grimaced.

 

“Sorry, probably should’ve asked,” he said guiltily, his voice pleasantly raspy.  To be honest, it hadn’t even occurred to him that Bruce might have preferences like that.

 

Bruce smiled at him.  “No, it’s fine,” he reassured him.  “I was just so focused on your mouth that I sort of forgot about your hands.”

 

Tony stared at him for the space of a heartbeat, then dropped his head onto Bruce’s stomach laughing.  “And here I thought I had fucked something up,” he murmured, chuckling helplessly.

 

Bruce propped himself up and reached for Tony, drawing him upwards for a kiss, his hands sliding comfortingly up and down Tony’s back.  Tony smiled into the kiss. “So is that a yes or a no?” he asked.

 

Bruce pulled back and met Tony’s eyes.  “That’s a yes, Tony. Always yes. Just...give me some warning first, please.  I don’t always do well with surprises.”

 

Tony nodded; he didn’t do well with surprises sometimes, either.  He squirmed, working his way back down Bruce’s body with rather more wriggling than strictly necessary.  “So,” he drawled, enjoying the way Bruce’s eyes darkened at the rasp in his throat, “was that enough warning for you? Or do you want me to finish this?” he asked, flicking his tongue out to lick a broad stripe across the head of Bruce’s cock.

 

Bruce made a strangled noise, his hands reaching for Tony and then pausing, fingers curling in towards his palms as if he wanted to grab Tony and move him where he wanted him.  “Both?” Bruce finally managed, teeth digging into his bottom lip again. Tony grinned.

 

“Sure thing, Big Guy!” he agreed easily, opening his mouth and letting Bruce’s cock slip through his lips again.  He slicked up his right hand and teased at Bruce’s balls before slipping behind them. Bruce just sighed and allowed his legs to fall open a little wider, arching up into the touch as Tony circled his entrance, probing carefully before slipping inside, just a little, giving a particularly hard suck when he did so.  Bruce groaned, his hips stuttering upward before dropping back down again.

 

“Tony,” he mumbled, “gonna let me return the favor then?”

 

Tony lifted his head and grinned at Bruce.  “Sure,” he agreed. “Later, you can plow me into the mattress, fuck some of the tension outta me.”

 

Bruce barked out a laugh.  “Crude,” he accused Tony, who just stuck his tongue out before leaning down and kissing Bruce’s stomach, breaching Bruce just a bit further, his finger seeking out his lover’s prostate even as he mouthed at Bruce’s cock.  Bruce was shifting restlessly now, his hands reaching up and stroking the sides of Tony’s face before settling in his hair, urging him down again. Tony went easily enough, letting Bruce’s cock slip just a bit into his throat and pressing firmly against the nub, not bothering with finesse.  It was a race to the finish line now, and Tony used every trick he knew, using Bruce’s moans and mumbled words of praise to guide him.

 

“T-Tony,” Bruce managed to warn, even as he arched up, pushing himself deeper into Tony’s throat.  Tony relaxed, letting Bruce come as deep down his throat as he could, and then pulled off slowly, nursing Bruce through the aftermath until his lover lay there trembling, his breath shuddering out of his body in great gasps.  “Oh, god,” he managed.

 

Tony preened.  Then promptly ruined it by coughing.

 

Bruce chuckled, pulling him upwards and checking his mouth and throat.  “Let me get you some water,” he offered lightly. “Then I’ll take care of that,” he added with a small smirk, gesturing down at Tony’s neglected cock.  Tony nodded with a murmur of thanks, letting Bruce slide off the bed and pad out towards the kitchen to get a bottle of water. He should probably consider keeping a few in here.  Almost idly, his hand dropped to his own lap, stroking lazily while he waited for Bruce to return.

 

Bruce was back a moment later, a water bottle in his hands and a possessive look in his eyes.  Crawling into the bed, he held out the water to Tony, his other hand dropping to Tony’s lap, wrapping around Tony’s own grip on his cock.  “Your turn,” he purred, testing their combined grip.

 

Tony arched up into their fists with a pleased noise.  He couldn’t have agreed more. “Definitely the best,” he managed to sigh out as Bruce leaned down to kiss him.

 

Bruce just chuckled.  And kissed him again.

 

Tony was okay with that.

Chapter Text

Tony stretched, warm and comfortable and wrapped around another body.  Which moved under him as Bruce chuckled. “Good morning, Tony,” he murmured.

 

Tony shifted with a smirk.  “Very good,” he agreed. In fact, he was still a bit sore from their third round.  Or had that been their fourth? Eh, technicalities. The fact that he was still sore was just an indication of how very...vigorous their lovemaking had been the night before.

 

“What time is it?” Tony managed, opening his eyes and smiling at Bruce before leaning up to kiss him.  Bruce’s arm tightened where it was wrapped around his shoulders.

 

“The time is nine forty-two, sir,” JARVIS answered.

 

Tony blinked, then looked up at Bruce, who just looked smug.  “Wow. That’s like….what? Six hours of uninterrupted sleep?” Tony asked, grinning.

 

“Something like that,” Bruce agreed.  “Coffee is almost done.”

 

Tony moaned appreciatively, dropping his head back down to the hollow of Bruce’s throat.  “Marry me,” he mumbled, mouthing over his lover’s adam’s apple.

 

Bruce chuckled.  “Predictable,” he teased.

 

When Tony lifted himself so he could protest, Bruce slipped out from under him.  As this meant that Tony got to watch his backside while he bent over to pick up his pants from the night before, he wasn’t complaining. Much.  “Lookin’ good there, Banner!” he leered.

 

Bruce turned to look at him over his shoulder, his cheeks flushing dully.  “Tony,” he protested.

 

“Bruce,” Tony answered back in a sing-song.  Bruce just sighed and shook his head, but he was smiling, so Tony figured he wasn’t terribly offended and grinned back.

 

“Coffee,” he reminded Tony, buttoning his pants as he headed for the kitchen.  Tony waited until he was gone before sitting up himself, grimacing at the sticky feeling on his skin.  He and Bruce had done a quick wipe up the night before, but they were definitely going to need a shower before they were fit to be seen in public.  But first, coffee.

 

Tony managed to find a pair of boxers to pull on, then stumbled out to the kitchen, following the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  He paused at the sound of laughter, and his grin widened. “Sugarbritches!” he exclaimed, striding into the kitchen. “Nobody told me you were back in town!”  Rhodey had left a few days earlier, once they had finished with as much cleanup from the bombing as they could help with, recalled back to his duties.

 

Rhodey twisted around on the bench, his expression one of resigned amusement.  “Dammit, Tones!” he exclaimed, even as he opened his arms for a hug. “I did not need to know you got laid last night.”  He glanced over at Bruce, who had his back turned while he filled a couple of mugs with coffee.  “Sorry, Doc,” he murmured.

 

Tony laughed.  “Aw, pumpkin, don’t be jealous!” he crooned.  “You know I love you best!” Then he landed a smacking kiss on Rhodey’s cheek.

 

“Tony!” Rhodey protested, pulling back and making a face of mock disgust.  “Not in front of your guy!” But he was laughing, and Bruce was looking amused, so Tony just smiled, throwing himself onto the stool next to Rhodey at the kitchen island and reaching eagerly for the mug of coffee Bruce slid his way.

 

“Not that I’m not happy to see you, James,” Bruce said, “but Tony does have a point.  I thought you had been recalled?”

 

Rhodey nodded.  “Yeah,” he agreed.  “And I’ve gotta head out again in a couple of hours.  But I came across some interesting information, so I swung by on my way back from New Jersey.”

 

Tony made a face.  “New Jersey? What could possibly be of interest in New Jersey?” he asked.

 

Rhodey just rolled his eyes.  “That’s classified,” he told Tony, who made a noise of disgust. As far as he was concerned, classified just meant slightly harder to find out .  Rhodey grinned at him.  “Don’t you dare,” he told him.  “I could get in trouble for even telling you where I was.”  And while it sounded like he was joking, they both knew he wasn’t.  Rhodey got a lot more high-clearance missions now that had the War Machine armor.  And sometimes that meant keeping Tony, who was no longer directly involved with the military, in the dark.  Neither of them particularly liked it, but Tony understood. Besides, it wasn’t like he couldn’t get Rhodey’s location if the man was out doing something really stupid.

 

Bruce offered Rhodey a cup of coffee, which he accepted gracefully, taking a careful sip.  He looked at the mug in surprise. “That’s good,” he murmured.

 

Bruce smiled.  “Sugar, milk, and just enough coffee to pretend, right?” he asked.  Tony laughed at Rhodey’s chagrined expression - it was a well-kept secret that Rhodey wasn’t a fan of coffee.  Tony thought that was blasphemy, but he indulged his friend nonetheless. That Bruce had remembered his preferences after only seeing him prepare his coffee that way once wasn’t actually that surprising.  Bruce liked taking care of people, and he was observant. And yet, people always seemed to be surprised when he did something thoughtful, like remembering how they took their coffee.

 

“Yeah, thanks,” Rhodey told him.  Bruce just smiled at him, then ruffled Tony’s hair.

 

“I’m going to take a shower,” he told him.  Tony perked up, and Bruce gave him a tolerantly amused look.  “You two go ahead and talk,” he said. Tony slumped; shower sex sounded like a fantastic way to start the morning.  He shifted, then amended that. Maybe Bruce had a point.

 

“All right, Platypus,” he told his friend once Bruce had left, “what’s up?”

 

Rhodey was turning the mug of coffee in his hands, staring at it as if it held the secrets of the universe.  “The military is negotiating new weapons contracts,” he started.

 

Tony scowled; the problem with no longer providing the military with weapons was that somebody had to fill the gap.  And Tony didn’t trust anybody’s tech but his own. It was an unending conflict, but one that he couldn’t do anything about, unless he planned to reopen the weapons manufacturing plants.  And most of those had been repurposed for less lethal options.

 

Rhodey’s shoulder bumped against his.  “You did the right thing, Tone,” he murmured, knowing where Tony’s thoughts had taken him.  “I might not have thought so at first, but you did.” There was a moment of comfortable silence before he continued.  “The new bidder sent us prototypes,” he sighed. “And the thing is, they work like a charm. They’re….probably as good as Stark Industries weapons.”

 

Tony stiffened, remembering the SI missile that had been tampered with before being sent into lower Manhattan. He’d known before that it would take someone much smarter than Hammer to modify a Stark weapon to such a degree.  If that same person was now selling Stark-grade weapons to the military…

 

“Who?” he asked, his throat hoarse as his stomach sunk, leaving him feeling nauseous.

 

“I don’t know,” Rhodey admitted.  “But the name Stone has been floating around.”  Tony’s hands clenched around the mug. Tiberius Stone again.  That guy was becoming a serious pain in his ass. “There are rumors that he’s working for somebody who knows you,” Rhodey added reluctantly.

 

“Somebody who knows me,” Tony repeated dully, his mind working frantically.  “But not somebody that I know.”

 

“That seems to be the case,” Rhodey commiserated solemnly.  “I’m sorry I don’t know more than that.”

 

Tony shook his head, tracing idle patterns in the countertop with his finger. “No,” he disagreed, “that’s….good, actually,” he said, becoming more animated as his thoughts picked up speed.  “JARVIS, start looking into past associates,” he ordered. “Not just business associates, but anybody who I dealt with for any length of time, or that dad did. And look into the military negotiations.  Another name has to be in there somewhere. Or a company. Something .”

 

“Of course sir,” the AI replied, sounding almost relieved to finally have a direction to work in.   “I shall begin immediately.”

 

“Thanks, J,” Tony smiled gratefully, then flicked a glance at Rhodey.  “I guess you did okay, too,” he teased.

 

“Jerk,” Rhodey told him, grabbing him in a headlock and giving him a noogie.  Tony laughed, struggling half-heartedly as the two of them tussled like schoolboys, banging into the counter and knocking over a stool before stumbling out into the living room before Rhodey finally released him.  Tony dropped to the floor, and Rhodey sat down next to him, one knee bent upwards and the other leg flat as he smiled down at Tony.

 

“He really is good for you, huh?” Rhodey commented softly.  “I don’t think I’ve seen you this relaxed in years.” Tony bit back the flippant reply that came to his lips and considered that, realizing that Rhodey was talking about pre-Afghanistan.  And it was true. Even with Pepper, Tony had still been tense, trying to keep his personal and business life separate from his duties as an Avenger. It hadn’t been fair to either of them, and the fact that it hadn’t worked had, perhaps, been inevitable.  But with Bruce - with all of them, he reminded himself with a grin - it was different. They were Avengers, too. They understood in a way that Pepper had never been able to.

 

“Yeah,” he agreed.  “It’s good. Things are good now.”  He grinned widely at Rhodey and pointed to his own face.  “And I’m even sleeping!” he said, almost proud.

 

Rhodey broke into a startled guffaw, clutching his stomach as he rolled around on the floor.  Tony frowned in consternation; it hadn’t been that funny, had it? He was pretty sure his friend was overreacting. A little.  Okay, maybe a lot.

 

“What’d I miss?” Bruce asked, wandering back into the living room and observing the two of them - Tony sitting up watching as his friend lost himself to hysterics on their living room floor.

 

“S-sorry, man,” Rhodey managed with a small hiccup.  “It’s just that Tony is finally starting to realize the miracle that is a proper night’s sleep.  I’ve been trying to get him to sleep for more than three hours at a time for years now.  Whatever you’re doing, keep it up, would you?”

 

Bruce’s smiled turned a bit impish.  “It’s just a matter of wearing him out in the bed ,” he admitted.  “It doesn’t do him any good to fall asleep at a table in the lab.”

 

Rhodey considered that for a moment, then made a face. “TMI there, doc,” he said with a grimace.  “I really don’t care what you’re doing, as long as it’s working. While you’re at it, how about you see if you can get him to eat more than coffee and donuts when he’s on a bender, huh?”  Tony jabbed him in the ribs in retaliation, leaving him gasping, but otherwise unphased.

 

“Anyhow, I’ve got to get going,” Rhodey said, climbing to his feet.  Tony frowned at him, and he shrugged. “Sorry, Tony. I told you, I just stopped by on my way back to base.”

 

“Can we at least get you something to go?” Bruce offered.

 

Rhodey smiled at him.  “Thanks, but I’m good,” he said.  “Besides, with the armor, I’ll be back at base by lunchtime.”

 

“Yippee.  Canteen food,” Tony muttered sarcastically.  Rhodey and Bruce both ignored him, and he sighed, then reached out for Rhodey, who pulled him into a quick hug.  “Thanks for the info,” he said.

 

Rhodey nodded.  “Sure,” he agreed.  “I just hope it helps.”  He pulled back. “Hey,” he said, searching Tony’s face, “you know if you need backup, you can call me whenever, right?” he asked.  His hand squeezed Tony’s shoulder reassuringly.

 

Tony smiled; Rhodey really was the best.  “Yeah,” he agreed. “And believe me, if I need it, you’ll be the first call I make,” he promised.  “But, you know what? I think I probably have the best backup right here.”

 

Rhodey nodded, pleased.  “Yeah,” he said, “I guess you do.”

 

With a final goodbye, Rhodey headed out to the assembly platform, where the War Machine armor was waiting.  A moment later, the windows vibrated as he took off into the New York sky.

 

“Breakfast?” Bruce asked after a moment.

 

Turned turned to him and smiled.  “Sure,” he agreed, “might as well.  Steve’s probably got a feast already.” Bruce didn’t disagree, and Tony looked down at himself.  “But shower first,” he said. “Bad enough that Rhodey saw me, I don’t need Steve’s super soldier nose to know exactly what we got up to last night.  Hell, he’d probably be able to tell how many rounds we went,” he added in disgust. Bruce chuckled, but didn’t disagree.

 

“I’ll meet you downstairs, then?” he asked.  Tony waved him off as he headed for the shower.  It would be a quick one, because while Steve often made enough food for everybody, if they took too long, he’d get hungry again and eat the leftovers as a snack.

 

Twenty minutes later, clean and freshly groomed, Tony made his way downstairs.  JARVIS was still running down names, and Tony figured that since he’d waited this long, a few more hours or days wouldn’t make much difference.  He’d made sure to beef up security at all Stark Industries locations, including the ones in California, France, and Japan. He was almost positive that New York had been the only target, but until the culprit was found, he wasn’t willing to risk one more life.

 

Stepping into the kitchen, Tony found it to be as lively as ever.  Steve was at the stove, with Clint nearby trying to snag fresh bacon from the platter Steve was putting it on.  The bigger blonde just rolled his eyes and moved the bacon to the other side of the stove, which didn’t deter Clint in the least.  Bruce and Natasha were sitting at the table, their heads bent over a tablet as they conversed quietly, mugs of tea sitting neglected nearby.  Thor was beaming, regaling an amused Pepper with all the knowledge he’d gained from Natasha about Midgardian Slumber Parties, and sporting bright blue nail polish with small gold, glittery lightning bolts.

 

Tony caught Pepper’s eye and winked at her before moseying over to the stove, ducking under Steve’s arm as he reached into the cabinet overhead for more pepper and snagging a piece of bacon, hissing as he burned his fingers.  “Tony,” Steve sighed. The genius grinned up at him unrepentantly, and Steve smiled back fondly, glancing over to make sure Pepper’s back was still turned before dropping his head to deliver a quick kiss to Tony’s upturned lips before reaching past Clint on his other side - swatting his hand away from the still sizzling bacon in the process - and grabbing the mug of coffee that had just finished filling.  “Here. Go sit down, breakfast will be done soon.”

 

Tony sniffed, but nonetheless took his mug and made his way over to the table, pulling out the chair next to Bruce.  The other man glanced up at him with a smile before turning back to his conversation with Natasha, but his hand found its way to Tony’s leg, just resting there, a point of contact between the two of them.  Tapping his fingers on the table, he activated the display and started idly sorting through the information, sending some potential leads to the trash as unlikely leads and pushing the rest into two separate categories - those of people he knew personally, and those he didn’t.  A couple of names stood out, and Tony tapped on them, flagging them for further research and pulling up bits of data that JARVIS had already gathered.

 

“Huh,” he said, sipping at his coffee as he read.  He ignored Clint when the archer peered over his shoulder.

 

“Hey, I know that guy,” he said, pointing to one of the names in the list of people Tony wasn’t familiar with.   Wade Wilson .  “Probably not your guy, unless you want him to kill the bad guy for you.”

 

Tony blinked, then turned to look up at Clint incredulously.  “And you’d know this how?” he asked.

 

Clint shrugged.  “Apparently, this guy Deadpool is some kind of unkillable mutant.  He’s also a mercenary. And completely insane.” Ah. Which meant that SHIELD - and probably HYDRA - had probably had a file on him somewhere.  Tony dismissed Wilson with a flick of his hand - he doubted an insane mutant mercenary had modified a Stark missile to send some sort of pointed message.

 

That still left about half a dozen names on the list, and JARVIS was still working, so there would probably be more.  But it was a good starting place.

 

“Eat, Tony,” Steve told him, setting a  plate filled with waffles and fruit and home fries.  Tony’s nose twitched, and he turned off the table display in favor of breakfast, digging in with a pleased moan.  Steve was a really excellent cook, and he liked to feed people, so there was never a shortage of hot food when he was at the stove.

 

“You know, for somebody who subsists on coffee and smoothies for days at a time, you sure do love food,” Clint teased.  Tony flipped him the finger, stuffing his mouth with gooey, syrupy waffle, and Clint just laughed, not the least bit insulted.  

 

Bruce’s hand squeezed just above Tony’s knee, and he turned to smile.  “Any luck in your search?” he asked quietly.

 

Tony shrugged.  “I’m not sure,” he admitted.  “I mean, a lot of these names don’t mean anything to me.  A few business rivals, a few of dad’s competitors, a handful of army brass, a couple of random vigilantes that hang around parts of New York, but that probably know who I am.  But nobody that has reason to want me dead. Or discredited. Certainly not any more reason than Hammer,” he scowled, still irritated about that mess with Vanko, even though it had been years since that incident.  Osborn worked in a completely different field, and Killian and Vanko were dead. Tiberius “Ty” Stone was involved somehow, but until Tony could link him to somebody higher up the food chain, he was a dead end, too.

 

“I’m sorry,” Bruce said sympathetically.  “I’m sure you’ll find them soon.” Tony knew it was meant to be reassuring, but all it did was remind him that people were hurt because he hadn’t been fast enough .  Hell, if Pepper hadn’t called him about the takeover ploy, he might not have known anything until it was far, far too late.  As it was, he’d barely been fast enough to get the second bomb out of the building and knock the missile off-kilter. That was unacceptable.

 

Tony pushed his plate away, suddenly not very hungry.  He stammered out a lame excuse and got up from the table, heading for the elevators.  His heart was hammering in his chest, sweat breaking out on his body, his breath coming short and fast by the time the elevator doors closed behind him.

 

“Garage,” he gritted out, and the elevator started moving.  JARVIS was talking, but the words were hard to understand over the static in his head. There wasn’t enough air in the elevator, and his chest felt heavy, like it had when the arc reactor sat there, pressing down on his lungs.  His vision was blurring, narrowing down to a single focal point, a small scuff mark on the elevator. He found himself wondering almost idly whose footwear had caused the mark. It was a focal point, something to focus on that wasn’t how close he’d come to losing Pepper, to losing so many more than just fourteen people.

 

By the time the elevator came to a stop and the doors opened, Tony’s breathing was slightly steadier.  He stumbled out of the elevator, ignoring the cars lining the garage in favor of heading for the exit. He just needed some air, that was all.  Just a few minutes outside, and he’d be fine.

 

Stepping out in the warm summer air, Tony took several deep breaths, still well within the shadows of the building.  On the sidewalk beyond the Tower, the city was as busy as ever. It was...comforting, Tony supposed, all those people going about their lives, not concerned with the man lurking in the shadows while he regained his composure.

 

Once he was steadier, Tony straightened up and took a look around, deciding what he wanted to do.  He gave a heavy sigh. “You can stop hiding in the shadows, now,” he said wearily.

 

Natasha stepped silently out from where she had been leaning against the wall to the right of the garage door.and approached him, coming to a stop next to him and watching the cars out on the road.  At least, Tony assumed she was watching the cars. “Sorry if I ruined breakfast,” he apologized.

 

“It’s hard, isn’t it?” his companion asked softly.  “Thinking about how you failed to protect the people who are important to you.”  There was something odd in her voice, like she was talking from personal experience, but she didn’t meet Tony’s gaze when he turned to look at her.

 

Tony shrugged.  “It could have been worse,” he admitted.

 

Natasha smiled grimly.  “It could always be worse,” she agreed.  “That doesn’t make it any better, though.”

 

“No,” Tony agreed. “It doesn’t.”

 

Natasha turned and considered him for a long moment. “Do you know where you’re going?” she asked at last, the slightest lilt in her tone that meant she was making fun of him.

 

Tony chuckled.  “Not a clue,” he admitted.  “I just needed to be out of the Tower,” he said.  He grinned. “I’m guessing you have an idea?” he asked.

 

Natasha nodded.  “But we’ll need a car,” she said, holding up a set of keys.  “I’m driving.” Tony wisely didn’t argue, and less than five minutes later, they were speeding down the roads of New York in Tony’s most understated Ferrari, black and sleek.  And fast.

 

Natasha was currently singing along to Cher’s Half-Breed , and Tony was doing his best to muffle his laughter, without much success.  This was a side of Natasha that he rarely got to see. Probably because she had a reputation as a badass assassin, and if she was seen being ridiculous by any of the baby SHIELD agents, they’d probably collapse from the shock of it all.

 

“I don’t suppose you’re going to tell me where we’re going?” Tony asked when the song ended.  Natasha just grinned at him, then started singing along with Pink’s Trouble .  “What kind of station is this?” Tony demanded, laughing.

 

“Mine,” Natasha said smugly, then continued singing.  Tony just shook his head and settled back in his seat, slipping on a pair of sunglasses and closing his eyes.

 

“Wake me when we get there,” he told his friend.

 

It was almost forty minutes later when Natasha slowed, pulling onto a long drive.  Tony shifted, opening his eyes and blinking incredulously. “Seriously?” he demanded of Natasha.

 

Natasha shrugged.  “Why not?” she asked, though there was something almost cautious in her tone.

 

Tony looked at her over the top of his sunglasses.  “We could have made it here in like ten minutes,” he teased.  Natasha relaxed.

 

“You needed the sleep,” she told Tony with a smile.  “Besides, the show doesn’t start for another hour yet.”  

 

Tony looked up at the giant blue and gold circus tent.  “It’s been years since I’ve been to the circus,” he admitted wistfully.  “I think I might’ve been six. Jarvis brought me here for my birthday.” A birthday that neither of his parents had been home for, though Maria had at least called.  Howard tended to forget that things like birthdays and children existed.

 

“When Clint first brought me in,” Natasha said carefully, staring at the tent, “it was...overwhelming.  One day, he grabbed me on my way out of another of Fury’s interviews and kidnapped me.” She didn’t sound the least bit offended by that.  “He took me to a circus. He bought me this silly little thing, a book that you colored. And cotton candy, which I had never had before.” She looked over at him with a bright smile, looking young and innocent.  “And then he spent the whole time making fun of the acrobats and cheering for the animals. After, he let me ride an elephant, and then we went for ice cream.”

 

Tony smiled.  “Sounds like fun,” he commented softly, not wanting to disrupt Natasha’s reminiscing.

 

Natasha’s grin widened.  “It was,” she agreed. “And so, when one of us is sad, we come to the circus.  And we buy cotton candy and snow cones and watch the acrobats that Clint could best with both hands behind his back and buy silly little things.  Sometimes, if he could get off, Phil would come, too.” She paused. “You, Tony Stark, look like I do sometimes, or Clint. Like you can’t bear to be in your skin a moment longer, thinking about the bad things.  And so, we will go to this show, and we will have a good time, yes?”

 

Tony swallowed.  “Yeah,” he agreed.  “Sounds like a plan.”  Maybe a few hours watching jugglers and animal tamers and tightrope walkers would distract him long enough for JARVIS to finish running names.  He waggled his eyebrows at Natasha, his voice taking on a teasing tone. “Shall we go see a circus, then?” he asked, holding out his hand. He was actually looking forward to it.

 

Natasha accepted with a grin.  “We shall,” she said decisively.

 

Together, they stepped out of the car and approached the line heading into the large tent.  It was time to see a circus.