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An Agathokakological Mind

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I.

 

Tony wasn’t often absent during mornings in the kitchen.

 

Contrary to the lackadaisical, spoiled-little-rich-boy persona the media often attributed to him, he actually didn’t often sleep in or whinge and gripe about having to get up before nine am. He didn’t have his own personal coffee carafe (not in the kitchen, at least) of which he had to consume three pots before becoming fully coherent. He didn’t throw tantrums or things at people who force him to think and interact just after waking, and he certainly wasn’t anything less than a functional human being even before his first cup of coffee.

 

In fact, he was probably at his most pleasant of the day when his mind was still a little fuzzy around the edges from sleep (or lack of it when he pulled all-nighters): he refused to rise to Clint’s and Bucky’s barbs, he answered Pepper’s emails and took her calls, he brainstormed lightly with Bruce, he humored Thor, and he was pleasantly gentlemanly toward Natasha. To Steve, he was sweet as sugar and all nuzzly.

 

In all actuality, this fuzzy-around-the-edges Tony was probably Steve’s third favorite look on him, right after needy-clingy-desperately-begging Tony and glorious-in-the-midst-of-battle Tony.

 

It was no surprise, therefore, to find him sitting at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee at his elbow, a tablet in front of him and a plate of bacon, eggs, fried tomatoes and toast a little ways away, at just after seven am when Steve had finished his run. What was surprising, though, was that instead of working off of the ten different gadgets he usually had on him at any point in time, he was staring with what seemed to be disbelief and a certain amount of alarm at a sheet of paper he held in one hand.

 

“Is something the matter?” Steve asked as he pulled a bottle of Gatorade out of the fridge and drank it down while strolling to the other side of the counter to Tony’s side to press a kiss to his head. He didn’t want to pry, so he sat himself near Tony’s breakfast plate and started working on its contents while waiting for Tony to speak. The smaller man’s eyebrows drew together, and then he exhaled heavily. It was just this side of ragged and his eyes this side of moist when he looked up at his husband.

 

Oh yes. Something was definitely the matter, and it took its form in an innocuous, handwritten letter addressed to him from—what Steve could read—one “May Parker.” Tony put the letter down slowly on the kitchen table.

 

“It’s a friend. He… Well, he and his wife passed away a few days ago,” he answered. Steve’s eyes widened in sympathy; then he quickly dropped his fork to reach over and clasp Tony’s hand firmly.

 

“Oh. I’m so sorry, Tony,” he murmured, squeezing lightly. Tony gave him a small smile and squeezed back in thanks while his other hand picked up the letter and scanned through it again, skipping the parts where May let him know of their death and zooming straight to the details of their wake. “Is it anyone I know?” Steve asked, reading over Tony’s shoulder. Tony shook his head.

 

“I wouldn’t think so. I met Richard back in college; we were very good friends, but we didn’t keep regular contact over the years. This is actually the first I’ve heard from him in a while.” Steve squeezed his hand again briefly. “I might take the day to go over there, though. I’m sure May would appreciate the company; her husband, Richard’s brother, passed away a few years ago. I’m not sure if she has anyone else.”

 

“Do you want me to come with you?” he asked. Tony tilted his head onto Steve’s shoulder, setting the letter aside and pulling the tablet toward him, so Steve took the opportunity to press a kiss to his hair.

 

“Yeah, that would be great.”

 

……………

 

They arrived with none of the pomp and circumstance that usually surrounded them when Captain America and Iron Man (or Steve and Tony Stark-Rogers) decided to go out in public. After a five-year relationship—including a two-year marriage (and wasn’t the ensuing media storm after that a fun affair)—they learned how to dodge the media when necessary.

 

Their first order of business had been to buy a normal, boring sedan with dark-tinted windows. Tony had nearly cried at the sight of the five-year-old Honda Civic, but Steve had shown him why a car with a back seat could be fun too (and of course after Tony was done “improving” it, it could no longer be considered normal or boring—at least internally). With that covered, the second order of business had been coming up with a way to get out of the building without drawing attention. Tony had solved that by connecting his private garage to the Stark Industries’ parking level via elevators and a hidden door. A five-year-old stock Honda coming out of the public parking space drew zero attention, so they could easily get in and out when they needed the secrecy.

 

It was with that that they managed to dodge the paparazzi that were eternally camped out around Stark Towers, hoping to get that million-dollar shot, and make their way down to Queens to the memorial chapel that housed the Parkers’ wake.

 

Steve put the car into a park at the side of the building, and they discreetly alighted, hoping no one would put up too much of a fuss over their appearance. He followed Tony in the building, one step behind, and up the aisle to where he greeted an older woman who was graying slightly at the temples. She was calm and steady while they spoke in hushed tones, and after being introduced and paying his respects, Steve took a moment to look around the room. The two caskets were set up side by side in the front of the room and a few people sat in the pews around him, speaking amongst themselves quietly.

 

It was the sight of a small child, though, of about four years old who quietly sat at the front-most pew that caught his attention, and his heart clenched painfully at the implication of his presence. He silently made his way to the child and sat on his haunches beside him. The boy looked at him almost immediately, and Steve saw his brown eyes widen.

 

“You’re Captain America,” he murmured in awe. Steve smiled gently and nodded.

 

“And what’s your name?” he asked. The boy bit his lip.

 

“Pe—Peter Parker.” He looked over at the caskets, and Steve followed his gaze. “Those are my mommy and my daddy. Aunt May told me they were protecting the world from the bad guys.”

 

“I haven’t met your parents, Peter. They were a friend of my husband. He’s over there with your Aunt May, see?” Peter looked over his shoulder to see May and Tony talking. Tony caught Steve’s eye, and he gave a small wave to Peter. Then Steve placed a hand over Peter’s to draw his attention back to him. “But I’m sure they were great heroes.” Peter nodded and bit his lip again before his head bowed. “Can I sit beside you, Peter?” Steve asked, and the boy nodded again, so Steve did and placed an arm around his shoulders.

 

They sat in silence for a long time while Tony and May continued to talk about Richard and Mary Parker in the background. He remembered when he had lost his own mother when he was fourteen, but he couldn’t imagine how a child of Peter’s age felt. Instead, he let the boy settle against his side and stroked his hair gently.

 

It was much, much later when Peter spoke again, and when he did, Steve’s heart once again clenched painfully and the arm around Peter inadvertently did the same.

 

“I want my mommy and daddy back.”

 

……………

 

They returned the day after where Steve spent the day talking to and entertaining Peter, while Tony and May went over the details of the funeral and the plans afterwards.

 

Richard and Mary weren’t by any means poor people. They owned a home in Queens, where the four of them had been living in for the past few years after Ben, May’s husband’s death, and they had insurance and savings in place to help out May with the funeral bills and a little bit thereafter. Nevertheless, their savings wouldn’t last forever, what with May having been unemployed for a long time to take care of Peter for the couple whose work took them out of the country often.

 

Tony could have given them enough money to live comfortably for the rest of their lives—even more, if he so chose—without having to take even a minute to think about it; it was hardly even a drop in the bucket for him. But then once—once—he glanced at Steve and Peter and saw them with their heads bent together, laughing softly. Happiness was evident in Peter’s eyes and adoration in Steve’s, and he knew that it would never be enough to just give them the money and go.

 

They talked about it the night before the funeral. It was a topic they’d been discussing long before this because it wasn’t a simple decision to make—not with the nature of their jobs or their histories and backgrounds and affiliations and fame—but they began again that night with the hopes of coming to a resolution where there hadn’t been one before, fuelled by, if unfortunately, Richard’s death. It took them all night to talk and think about it and talk some more until the sun started rising and they stood to get ready.

 

But then they already knew that the conversation had been almost nearly pointless because ever since it began, they had been coming up with reasons why they shouldn’t.

 

So after the caskets were lowered and the guests had drifted away, Steve took Peter’s hand and walked through the headstones, stopping to take note of the more interesting ones, while Tony spoke with May.

 

“I want to ask you and Peter to come live with us at the tower,” he said without preamble while both of them watched Steve and Peter weave through the paths. May turned to him sharply, her eyes wide with surprise.

 

“I… That’s beyond generous, Tony,” she said. “I—I don’t know if I can accept. I mean, I know you and Richard were good friends, but you owe him no favors.” Tony shrugged.

 

“It’s not through any sense of misplaced obligation or guilt that I’m offering this to you,” he answered. “And it’s not for entirely unselfish reasons either. Steve and I… Well, we’ve been discussing it for a long time—well before all of this, I assure you—and we talked about it again last night. We’ve been planning to—well, we were hoping you’d let us help you take care of him…” May’s eyes, if possible, widened further.

 

“Tony, I—”

 

“We don’t want you out of his life,” Tony said quickly, turning to her. “Quite the contrary, really, and I won’t retract my offer to help if you decide not to agree. It’s just that, I think—I hope we can be good for him and him for us.” May’s gaze dropped to her feet, then to the dug graves and then to Steve and Peter in the distance.

 

“He’s all I have left, and I’m all that he has…” she started slowly. Tony’s gut clenched in anticipation of the rejection, and he opened his mouth to tell her that he understood and that he supported her decision wholeheartedly even if he really didn’t. “But maybe it doesn’t have to be…”

 

And with that, he suddenly found his own words stuck in his throat, which if one knew him, one knew that that was about as common as hearing Nick Fury apologize. During that silence, May turned to him with a warm, if hesitant, smile. Her eyes crinkled at the corners, Tony noticed, and maybe it was the sight of those crow’s feet—those physical evidences of happiness and delight—that made him recognize the approval and gratitude for what it was and hug her back.

 

……………

 

II.

 

“No, Senator, it doesn’t seem that you understand,” Tony drawled almost lazily over the phone, leaning back against his chair as he gazed out of the windows that decorated the entire rear wall of his office. Had he a table in front of him, he’d have kicked his feet up on it in a parody of casual arrogance. However, seeing as there was no table and no one in the room with him to appreciate the action anyway, he settled for conveying his boredom and his annoyance through his voice.

 

Senator Stern, on the other line, had him flitting back and forth between the two emotions so much that Tony was sorely tempted to pull up his bank account details and fuck with them a bit. Seriously. There was a fixation on his tech, and while usually Tony appreciated embarrassing fanboying—especially by the good lawmakers of the free world—all over his tech, the bastard was still trying to take it away. More than that, he was hiding it—badly—behind poorly veiled bribes and threats. Really.

 

Who did he think he was talking to?

 

“So let me put it in a way that you can understand—,” he continued, and he had such a good line for that—it was an excellent line—but then his communicator suddenly started blaring a warning that he had prayed never to hear. He dropped the phone, not even bothering to check if it was hooked up to the cradle in favor of nearly yelling at JARVIS while pulling the suitcase armor from beneath the desk. “Location?” he demanded while standing and dropping the suitcase onto the floor.

 

“The young sir is at his school. The Captain is leaving the house as we speak,” JARVIS answered.

 

“Give me a run-down on the situation, JARVIS, stat,” Tony barked. He lifted the armor against his chest and allowed the plates to climb down his arms and legs.

 

“I’m accessing nearby CCTV cameras to determine the situation, and—oh,” JARVIS’s answer ended abruptly as the alarm had come. Tony jerked just as the armor closed around him.

 

“’Oh’? What do you mean ‘oh’?” Tony asked as the HUD booted up in front of his eyes. In his periphery, he saw Pepper enter the office, concerned but unfrazzled even in the face of an emergency.

 

“I think you should see for yourself, sir,” JARVIS said before the CCTV footage filled Tony’s vision. Peter and another boy stood in the middle of the schoolyard, surrounded by about a dozen other children. There seemed to be a commotion that involved the two of them—evidently an argument with the way Peter’s face was contorted in anger. In the hand that he was holding out to the other boy was the reason for the alarms: the panic button Tony had made for him to alert Steve and him to any emergencies. There seemed to be an interest among the children in it.

 

“Audio,” Tony prompted, tapping into the panic button’s tech.

 

You shut up! My papa and my daddy are on their way, and that’ll show you!” Peter was yelling at the other boy. Tony didn’t know whether to feel angry or relieved that the alert had been a fluke.

 

You’re a liar! Liar, liar pants on fire! You’re going to hell just like your daddies!” the other boy taunted. With an enraged cry, Peter tossed the button away and lunged toward his classmate. All hell broke loose among the children as the two boys tumbled around in the middle of the circle. Their fight was cheered on loudly and enthusiastically, and Tony could only watch Peter pound the other kid until two teachers caught sight of the commotion and broke them up and scolded them. Then they were both ushered into the schoolhouse, and the rest of the crowd was dispersed.

 

Tony was confused and not a little bit alarmed. His baby—his quiet, sweet, little baby boy who wouldn’t harm a fly—had gotten into a fight with another child at school, serious enough for him to even consider pressing the panic button when he and Steve had expressly and repeatedly told him to do so only in real emergencies. They had even gone so far on drilling him with what constituted an “emergency.” He lifted his faceplate when he realized that he’d been standing still for all of three minutes and Pepper was starting to get that confused look on her face.

 

“Peter got into a fight at school, and he pressed the button,” he told her. Pepper’s jaw shut with a click.

 

“Was it an emergency?” she asked carefully. Tony shook his head and sighed before disassembling the armor.

 

“Steve and I are going to have to have a long talk with Peter about emergencies,” he answered just as the suitcase snapped closed, and when it did, his head also snapped up to meet Pepper’s gaze.

 

“Steve!” they gasped as one.

 

……………

 

“I hate him,” Peter said, his arms crossed, an angry flush staining his cheeks and his eyebrows drawn together. It wasn’t a tantrum because Peter rarely ever threw tantrums, but his anger was concerning for a boy of six. Tony traded a look with Steve before wrapping his arms around his son and carding his hand through his hair.

 

“Why do you hate him, Peter?” he asked gently. Peter held his silence for all of ten seconds before declaring:

 

“Because he’s stupid and has an ugly fat nose!” Tony glanced up again at Steve, trying not to find humor in the situation. The secret they’ve been keeping for years—that Peter was their son—so that they could protect him from the media and wrongdoers alike had finally been revealed, and Tony only wanted to laugh at Peter’s words.

 

“What did he do, baby?” Steve asked. He was kneeling on the floor in front of his husband and son. He picked Peter’s hands from where they were crossed over his chest to hold each in each of his much larger ones. He pressed a kiss to each one. “Did he do something to you?” Peter shook his head. “Did he say something about you?” Peter shook his head again, so Steve only stayed silent and waited for the boy to find the courage to speak.

 

“He said… he said that I can’t have two daddies because his daddy said it was wrong to have two daddies like I do.” A fat tear started rolling down his cheek, so Tony hugged him just a little but tighter. “He said his daddy said you were evil and disgusting and an abo—abominabation and that you were going to hell!”

 

“Oh, baby,” Tony murmured, pressing a kiss to his hair.

 

“So I told him that you won’t go to hell because you’re Captain America and Iron Man. You can’t go to hell because you fight the bad guys. Superheroes don’t go to hell! But he didn’t believe me because he said Captain America and Iron Man are rich, and I’m just poor Peter Parker, and I don’t even have the same last name.” Peter hiccupped a sob. “So I showed him my panic button, and I told him you’d come if I pushed it, and he dared me because he still didn’t believe me, and I—I’m sorry, papa!” Peter wailed and threw himself into Steve’s chest, burying his face into his neck. The blonde sighed but held on to the boy nevertheless.

 

“It’s fine, Peter, it’s okay,” he murmured, cooing and consoling the boy until his sobs died down after which Tony drew him back into his arms and tilted his head up. He kissed Peter’s forehead.

 

“Baby, you’re going to meet a lot of people who aren’t nice, especially now that everyone knows who your daddies really are. They’re going to say things that aren’t true, and they’re going to try to make you feel bad, but you shouldn’t let them or else they win,” he explained gently. “You know what the truth is, your Aunt May and papa and I know what the truth is, and all the other special and important people in your life know what the truth is, and that’s all that really matters, okay?” Peter’s lip trembled as he answered, “Yes, daddy,” so Tony kissed his forehead and hugged him again.

 

Peter’s life was going to change, of that much Tony was sure.

 

Having a billionaire for a parent and growing up in the limelight hadn’t been an easy thing for Tony, no matter what other people thought, and it wasn’t going to be easy for Peter either. At the very least, he’d have to change schools and double up on security. His public excursions would have to be pre-planned and his playmates background checked. He was going to have to learn how to talk to the press and how to deal with people who only wanted him for his fame or his trust fund.

 

But Tony was going to be damned before he allowed Peter to have the life he had when growing up. If there was one thing Howard Stark had taught him, it was how not to act as a parent, and so he swore, on the very few things he considered good in his life, that he’d give Peter the safe and happy childhood he’d never had, that his son deserved.

 

……………

 

The clamor had started to die down three weeks later, but by then, Tony knew Steve was skittering at the edge of his patience. What calm presence he’d possessed at the start of the whole media frenzy had now degraded into snarls and snaps every time they made an excursion out of the tower. It amused Tony to no end when Steve thought to bring out the full force of his wit and his bulk to keep reporters at bay. Clearly, whoever thought that Captain America was nothing but wholesome, apple pie goodness had never been on the wrong end of his temper, but the media were definitely well on their way of being disabused of that notion.

 

Tony caught up with his husband as he was systematically scrubbing the enamel off of each breakfast plate with nothing but the abrasive end of a sponge and pried the objects out of his hands. The soldier allowed himself to be turned (or else Tony would have never been able to), and the shorter man placed a gentle kiss on his mouth.

 

“Why don’t I pick Peter up later?” he suggested when they pulled apart, and Steve rested his forehead on Tony’s shoulder. The smaller man’s fingers wound themselves in his hair, and he stroked Steve’s back with his other hand.

 

“I’m sorry,” was the blonde’s muffled reply. “I know I shouldn’t let them get to me, but they’re just so… so—gah!” Tony chuckled and petted him.

 

“I know, babe. They’re vicious and bloodthirsty and are soon going to be fodder for livestock if you remain exposed to them any longer,” he teased. Steve growled softly and bit his neck which only made Tony laugh, so Steve kissed him, harder this time, to shut him up. He always knew how to shut Tony up.

 

“Yeah, okay. I’ll whip up something nice for all of us tonight, okay?” Tony kissed his cheek, the highest part he could reach without having to stand up on his tiptoes.

 

“You make the cutest housewife,” he teased again and got a swat on the backside for his efforts.

 

……………

 

“Why are you still here?” Pepper asked sharply when she came into the office, surprise evident on her face. Tony stared at her as if she’d grown a second head.

 

“What do you mean why am I still here? I still work here don’t I?” he asked sourly. Pepper shook her head as she strode over and pulled him out of the chair, shoving his arms into his jacket.

 

“No, you idiot! You were supposed to pick Peter up! I walked you to the elevator two hours ago! Why are you still here, Tony?!” she shrieked, and Tony paled.

 

“Fuck! Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck! Shit, Steve’s going to fucking murder me!” he cried, grabbing his car keys and suitcase armor and running out the door with a speed not often seen of him. He kept up the steady mantra of “shitshitshitshit” all the way to the private school they moved Peter to two weeks ago. He jumped out of the car with the armor in hand, leaving the engine running and the door open and crashing into the main entrance with none of the finesse and grace he usually possessed. Alarmed looks greeted him, so he drew himself upright and looked around. “Uh… hey,” he said and then made his way to the reception desk. “I’m here to pick up my son, Peter Stark-Rogers?” The girl gave him a confused frown.

 

“Peter?” she asked and then looked at the other receptionist seated beside her. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, but someone came to pick him up a few hours ago.” Tony blinked and then thanked her before stepping away and pulling out his cellphone.

 

“Steve?” he asked, but didn’t wait for confirmation. “I’m so sorry! I was on my way to pick him up when someone at R&D came to me with a fuck up in the Starkphone specs, and I kind of just got lost in work, and I’m really, really, really sorry! I’ll be home in a few minutes. Are you mad at me? Is he mad at me?” There was a silence on the other line that made Tony bite his lip guiltily.

 

“You’re lucky you give really good head,” Steve finally said, and Tony cracked a smile. If Steve was willing to make jokes—and of a sexual nature at that—then he couldn’t be too mad. “Bucky went over to pick him up a few hours ago and took him out for ice cream, so he hasn’t yet remembered that you were supposed to pick him up.” Then, under his breath, he said, “Idiot.”

 

“Yeah, well this idiot’s coming home to apologize, okay?”

 

.............

 

III.

 

On any given day, Stark Tower was host to a whole bevy of people: employees, civilians, business owners, guests—even the occasional tourist group.

 

The lower floors were rented out to other businesses who wanted the prestige and the convenience Stark Tower afforded them. It was located in the middle of Manhattan, on Park Avenue, just behind Grand Central Station, after all.

 

Most of the building—the entire middle section—was reserved solely for Stark Industries as its head office, and with three thousand employees in the building alone, the space was entirely justified.

 

The upper, more secured floors (and by ‘secured’ we mean ‘impenetrable by any regular human being’) were allocated to the Avengers as their living space, training space, general hanging-out space and work space. Very few people were able to access the area unless specifically allowed. Of those that weren’t specifically allowed, they fell into two categories: supervillains and SHIELD.

 

Nick seemed to think that, by virtue of the Avengers being in his command, he was granted blanket permission to access the tower and/or allow any of the SHIELD agents he sends to have the same access. Granted, he wasn’t careless enough to let a lower-level agent accidentally cross paths with a possible half-dressed Black Widow in her own abode and the only “unauthorized” agents he usually sends are Phil Coulson, Sharon Carter and Maria Hill, so Tony hadn’t yet disabused him of the notion that he had blanket permission (that Nick Fury is a conniving bastard who scares the bejeesus out of him is entirely irrelevant (the conniving part) and untrue (the scaring part)).

 

That being said, it wasn’t uncommon anyway for Tony to encounter a random agent he wasn’t acquainted with wandering the halls of the communal living floor, so at two in the morning when the lights were dark, his team and family were sleeping and his eyes were blurry with lack of caffeine (he was just about to head into the kitchen to remedy that), when he encountered a young brunet with close-cropped hair and a sharp pressed suit, he paused momentarily, blinking in sleepy surprise. Then he spied a thick folder stamped with the SHIELD logo in his hands, so he waved broadly in the general direction of the hallway, saying, “Check Clint’s room. I think I saw Phil there,” and then proceeded toward the kitchen without a backward glance.

 

Six hours after that, Tony was sharply dressed in a red shirt, black tie and a pair of slacks with his business jacket thrown over the back of the chair—it was board meeting day today. Whoop-de-doo. He was sat at the breakfast table, sipping his coffee and arguing with Pepper through an unseen earpiece while he tapped on the glass table’s built-in interface, looking all for the world that he hadn’t been up since last night, working on the armor.

 

“No, Tony,” she was saying in exasperation. “They’re going to try to bring up that factory in China again. It’s cheap, it’s easy and it’s going to help us corner the Asian market.”

 

“Yes, I get that. But I’m telling you that that is not going to happen. Not while I’m in charge,” he answered. “We’re keeping production in the States. Set up a factory in… I don’t know… Holmes, Mississippi if they want to keep costs low, but I’m not giving jobs that our people could have to other countries. Let them give their citizens jobs on their own.” Pepper sighed heavily, but he could hear the approval in it.

 

“Fine, but you’re telling them that,” she said.

 

“Don’t I always?” he said with a broad grin, then he tilted his head up and back as Steve passed by, and his husband granted him an easy kiss and a smile. “Gotta go, Pep. See you in a bit.” He hung up her, and then pulled Steve back for a longer, deeper kiss. “So,” he started, taking note of the tight Captain America hoodie (it was easily a size too small for him) Steve had on—even when he was out of the uniform, he still chose to be in it—but Tony didn’t say anything because it was his hoodie, and he so liked seeing Steve wear his clothes. “I have this board meeting thing to get through, and then I’m going to swing by and pick you up for a nice lunch at Gianno’s.” Then he leaned in and leered a little. “And a nicer stay afterwards at the Shangri-La.” Steve chuckled.

 

“Our bedroom’s much nicer than any hotel in the city,” he thought to point out, just to be contrary.

 

“Yeah, but it has this annoying habit of containing too many people and one little boy—who I love very, very, very much, don’t get me wrong—that fail to grasp the concept of privacy. And I thought you might appreciate a little privacy since I plan to do wicked, debauched things to your body that may or may not include a basket of fruits, some zip ties and a set of ladies under—”

 

“Oh come on!” Clint cried as he stepped into the kitchen at precisely the right moment to interrupt the tail end of Tony’s sentence. Tony turned to him with a grin. “Didn’t we install rules for these kinds of things when Peter came to live with us? ‘Rule number seven: no talking about sex-related things in common areas where our baby boy can be accidentally educated on your sexual depravity.’” His ability to mimic Tony’s voice was amazing as it was amusing. Tony threw a spoon at his head; it hit him, mostly because Clint didn’t bother dodging.

 

“It’s my tower, so I can choose to break my own rules,” Tony shot back as Phil came in, followed closely by Thor and Bruce, after Clint with a heavy sigh. Unlike the archer who was still half dressed, Phil was primed and ready to leave for SHIELD. “Did that kid find you okay?” Phil frowned in confusion.

 

“What kid?” he asked.

 

“The kid from last night. Had to give you a file. I told him to go find you in Clint’s room,” Tony answered and didn’t bother hiding his grin when the agent’s neck flushed red. Clint guffawed unabashedly, earning himself a glare.

 

“No, Tony; no kid came to see me last night to give me a file,” Phil said firmly enough that Tony mimicked his confused frown and turned to Natasha who came in the room.

 

“You!” he pointed accusingly. “You gave me coffee last night. What did you put into it?” Natasha looked affronted and amused in equal parts.

 

“Do you really think I need coffee to force you to imbibe narcotics?” she asked. Tony looked thoughtful then shrugged to concede the point, but Steve shot Natasha a disapproving look.

 

“No forcing my husband, or anyone else, to imbibe narcotics, Nat,” he admonished, then turned the stink eye to Clint as well. “And that goes for you, too.”

 

“Who’s forcing narcotics on who?” Bucky asked as he stepped into the kitchen.

 

“Can we focus on the kid Tony was talking about here?” Phil said with a long-suffering sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. “JARVIS?” he called out after he had managed to stave off his headache.

 

“Good morning, agent,” JARVIS’s cool British tones answered.

 

“Did Nick send anyone over to give me some files last night?” he asked.

 

“There was a young agent here whom Sir did encounter at precisely one in the morning, though he did not seek you out. He left the folder on the hallway table and left.” Phil nodded.

 

“Thank you,” he said and turned to go retrieve it. That was when the interface Tony was working on suddenly turned a bright, alarming red. An accompanying sound echoed around the room, forcing everyone to jerk upright and go into a tizzy.

 

Panic Button Deployed. EMERGENCY’ The tabletop read, and Steve was out his chair and halfway across the room before his chair landed on the floor. Tony rushed into action after a moment’s hesitation, running after his husband into Peter’s room to find the panic button lay in a heap of clothes in the middle of the very empty room.

 

“JARVIS, shut down the building as scan all CCTV for Peter!” Tony ordered, pulling up one of the holographic interfaces he installed there to input his shut down code and send out emergency notices to the rest of the building’s occupants. He then turned around to see Bucky, Natasha, Steve and Thor huddled around the mirror. Natasha and Bucky were going through the folder the boy from last night had left, while Steve and Thor were discussing strategies to find him.

 

Tony couldn’t help but notice the family picture Steve clutched in his hands; it was from his 45th birthday. He remembered asking why there were only eight candles and received an admonishing look from Steve.

 

45 candles on a cake is a fire hazard, Tony,” Steve had only answered, so Tony declared that that was his eighth birthday, not forty-fifth.

 

It can’t be your eighth, daddy, because you’re so old,” Peter had laughed, so Tony tickled him mercilessly. A warmth had bloomed up inside him because Peter had only just gotten used to calling him “daddy” then.

 

He blinked and snapped out of his trance, turning to rush out of the room and into his workshop without further word to the others. He saw Phil hurriedly talking on the phone, barking orders at the agent on the other end of the line, and Bruce and Clint inspecting the room for evidence. He was briefly proud at just how adept Bruce had gotten in controlling his transformations, but the feeling passed as his vision was blocked by the hallway. It took him ten seconds to get into the workshop and boot up his computer screens.

 

The CCTV footage from last night showed that he didn’t imagine meeting that agent at one in the morning. He watched as on-screen Tony waved the agent away and headed into the kitchen while the agent only watched him leave. Then the boy set the folder on the hallway table and exited through the elevator. But that couldn’t be right. Tony watched it again, closely, and saw a small jump in the image in between the moment he set the file down and the moment he left.

 

With a quick flurry of motion, he brought up the video codes and scrolled through the lines of coding until he found it, the huge chunk of data that had been deleted right between 1:14am and 1:53am.

 

“JARVIS, give me a facial recognition scan and match it up with SHIELD and the FBI’s databases. I want to know who that kid is,” he ordered. A small screen at the edge of his periphery flickered rapidly as JARVIS went through the personal images of SHIELD employees and FBI mug shots. In the meantime, his fingers flew over the keyboard, analyzing the delay in the panic button’s system. It was designed to go off as soon as Peter hit it or if it was separated from Peter for more than an hour (it was kept as a necklace around his neck). Why it deployed five hours later, he needed to know.

 

And there, in the override code that lengthened the delay from one to five hours was a cell phone number. He didn’t bother waiting to discuss it with the others before calling the number up.

 

"Hello, Mr. Stark," a calm, composed voice answered.

 

“It was a mistake to take my son,” Tony said coldly. There was no need for pleasant small talk. “I’ll give you one chance to give him back.” In the background, he quietly started tracing the call. There was an amused laugh.

 

"A pretty vague threat from someone who’s lauded security is so lax that his son was swiped from right under his nose," the other man said.

 

"Okay, let me try that again," Tony hissed. His main computer screen flashed red and zoomed into a building just outside Manhattan. "You will give me back my son right now, or in about ten minutes from the end of this call, I will find you, and I will take the biggest missile I have in my possession and shove it up your ass right before I trigger it. Am I being clear now?" The man only laughed again.

 

"Much better, Mr. Stark. Now, why did you think I left you this number? I fully intended for you to find me and come get your son yourself. Come alone; I will be waiting," he only answered before the line cut off.

 

.............

 

It took him five minutes—tops—to zero in on the location of the call at a penthouse apartment just outside Manhattan.

 

The building was rather small but tasteful and bustling with everyday life. It wasn’t the kind of place he’d expected a kidnapper to set up shop in (based on his own experience, he knew they usually went for abandoned buildings or warehouses because apparently all kidnappers were clichéd pieces of shits). Initial scans identified five people in the penthouse, but none of them were a six year old boy, and an urge to blast the building to the ground welled up inside Tony. In the interest of the apartment building’s other tenants, though, he reigned in the urge and simply blasted his way through the roof instead.

 

Inside, the penthouse was sparsely furnished, enough to live on, but not enough to show that anyone did actually live there.

 

In the living room, where he landed, stood five men, four of them dressed to the nines and armed to the teeth and who would have looked menacing and formidable if Tony hadn’t been wearing the armor. As such, they were of no more concern to him than if they had been potted plants.

 

In the middle of the group, though, was the man Tony recognized from last night.

 

“Hello, Mr. Stark,” he greeted easily with a warm smile and open arms as though Tony were a guest in his house rather than an invader who had destroyed part of the roof. Exactly as Tony remembered, he had close-cropped dark brown hair. Everything else about him—from his common brown eyes to his five foot ten stature and medium build—was nothing remarkable, but were important traits for someone whose goal is to blend into the crowd rather than stand out. Only his suit betrayed the fact that he was more than just a nondescript minion of some supervillain: from just a look, Tony could tell it cost easily as much as one of his own suits. “My name is Brian Simmons. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I gather you did not have any trouble finding the place?”

 

“Where’s my son?” Tony asked, lifting his repulsors into Simmons’ face and taking a threatening step forward. It was a credit to the goons that they didn’t even flinch at the sight of the glowing blue lights that promised an easy death to anyone they were aimed at. The smile didn’t leave Simmons’ face.

 

“I do apologize, Mr. Stark, but before we proceed with our business, I must request that we find a more… secure location,” he answered. Behind the faceplate, Tony’s jaw clenched, but he otherwise made no movement or noise. Simmons continued, though, unconcerned. “My master insists that we relocate to his home as soon as you are ready to leave so that he may speak to you himself. I’m sure you understand the necessity. His safety is our paramount concern, after all.”

 

“Does he have my son?” Tony asked.

 

“I can assure you that your son is well cared for.” Simmons was evading the question, which meant that Peter was somewhere else, and that didn’t sit well with him. He didn’t need to meet Simmons’ “master” to find his son. He could easily pry the information straight out of the double agent’s mouth. He attempted to do so by lighting up the repulsors. It pleased him to get a reaction out of Simmons other than easy confidence. The other man’s eyes flickered minutely with fear. “I could show you if you like?” he offered quickly, and that made Tony power down the repulsors slightly.

 

“Show me,” he demanded before Simmons nodded to one of the goons who pulled out a laptop from the bag slung on one shoulder and opened it up. Tony's heart nearly stopped in his chest when the video started. Peter was tied up on a chair and a gun was pressed to the back of his head. He looked scared, and his eyes were puffy from crying, but he still had his pajamas on, which looked nearly pristine—a small mercy, all things considered. Tony discreetly shut off his external speakers. “JARVIS, trace Peter’s location through the feed,” he instructed quietly.

 

“I can offer you a bargain, Mr. Stark,” Simmons said, his confidence returning with Tony’s silence. “Come and meet my master, and I will provide you more evidence that your son is safe.” There was a pregnant pause while Tony weighed his options. In the background, JARVIS was verifying the coordinates of the video feed, his data scrolling down Tony's HUD.

 

"It's recorded, sir. I cannot find the point of origin," JARVIS murmured softly.

 

“I assure you that it’s in his best interests that you agree. We wouldn’t want anything untoward happening to him, do we, Mr. Stark?” Simmons added, the threat audible in his pleasant tone. “And it would be best to leave any contact you have with SHIELD here, of course. I know you’re being watched right now and that you are sending back your own information—neither you nor SHIELD are sloppy enough to fail to do so. But it wouldn’t be good for any of us, least of all Peter, if any harm were to befall my master.”

 

"I'm taking the suit off, JARVIS," Tony said. "You'll pilot it back to the tower or else destroy it before anyone can get their hands on it. And make sure you take SHIELD home with you."

 

"Sir, I would advise you--"

 

"I won't chance Peter, JARVIS... even if it means I give myself up to Simmons."

 

"Sir, please--" But Tony didn't get to hear the rest of the sentence because he put the faceplate up and shifted the plates enough that he could climb out of the suit. One of the minions started towards it, but Tony shot him a glare that pinned him in place.

 

"Touch it and it will blow you the fuck up," he warned then turned to Simmons, holding his arms open. "You can have me how you want me." Behind him, the suit's boot repulsors fired up and took it out of the building. There was a moment's pause before Tony said, "You better hurry, Simmons. There's a narrow window between now and when SHIELD finally realizes I'm not in the suit anymore." Simmons nodded to the goon on his right who approached Tony cautiously. Tony only held the glare he aimed at Simmons even as the burly man wrestled his arms behind his back.

 

"Hold on," Simmons said, eyeing Tony speculatively. "Take your clothes off," he told Tony then to another minion, "Get him something to wear from the wardrobe." Tony frowned at him.

 

"I'd like to think you and I have tastes that are worlds apart, Simmons," he said. Simmons smiled at him.

 

"It's precautionary, Mr. Stark. I'd like all my bases covered," he answered. The clothes came in not a minute later and were set down on the coffee table in front of Tony who eyed them distastefully.

 

"I don't suppose I could ask for privacy along with the clothes?" he said.

 

"You suppose correct. Hurry now, let’s not dally." Simmons gave him a particularly wide grin as though it amused him to watch Tony flail in embarrassment. Tony, however, had been with more people than he could care to count; what's five more people to add to that list? He didn't stall, stripping and redressing with methodical, clinical precision. The clothes—a pair of too-long slacks and a white, too-big dress shirt—fit him awkwardly, in a way he'd rarely ever felt before because his clothes were almost always tailored for him, but there was no point whining about it now because his hands were twisted behind his back and cuffed together, and then a chloroform-soaked rag was pressed against his nose and mouth, and darkness quickly overtook him.

 

...............

 

He came to and found himself lying on a bed in a nicely furnished bedroom, which was unusual in that it was an odd way of treating a kidnappee, most especially a superhero. Most of the time, he'd be tied up on an uncomfortable chair in a dank, dark room.

 

He got up to inspect the doors and windows, none of which were locked or overly secured in any way, which led Tony to wonder if Simmons and his master were either really stupid, over confident or just really that good. In any case, he wasn't going to get answers by staying put, so he pulled the bedroom door open and found himself face to face with Simmons.

 

"The Baron will see you," he greeted as though he'd been waiting for the right opportunity to say that.

 

"Been standing here waiting for me, have you?" Tony asked snidely. "I hoped it took you five hours." Simmons only laughed in good humor. He was wearing different clothes now, though, so it had to be a different day. How different, he didn’t know.

 

 "Oh, I had no trouble at all, Mr. Stark, but thank you for your concern,” he answered as he led the way through the hall. Tony would have shot that notion down if he knew Simmons wasn’t being deliberately obtuse. Then Simmons leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, “One of the advantages of being a higher up of an organization is that I have a bunch of lackeys to do the grunt work for me.”

 

Tapestries and paintings hung every few feet and chandeliers hung above. It was tasteful, if ancient, and very visually pleasing. Unlike the penthouse, this place screamed grandeur—one Tony was familiar with, though not on a personal level. Howard Stark became a self-made millionaire in the thirties, thus the aesthetic Tony grew up in was contemporary; this, with its brocades and velvets and woodwork and porcelains, was at least Victorian in design and possibly went as far back as Elizabethan if he were to go by some of the dates on the paintings.

 

More importantly, though, along with the dates were names: Dame Annabeth Langley, Lord Ellroy Dudley, Count Dmitri von Strucker. None of them Tony recognized, but he filed them away anyway for later.

 

Simmons led him through several more hallways before coming to a stop before a set of small but beautifully carved doors. He did not see the need, it seemed, to say anything more because he simply opened the doors and gestured Tony in. The genius bit back a scathing remark and entered.

 

Inside, it was decorated similarly to the outside, with the same rich finery Tony was used to seeing in many of the old family mansions he used to frequent. Everything was decadent and rich in golds and reds and satins and brocade and, in the near center of the living room, reclining carelessly on a chaise lounge was a man he did not know, flanked by two women who looked like the kind of women he used to surround himself with before Afghanistan. His sharp suit and insouciant motions professed a privileged upbringing, but his scarred face, bald head and mechanical eye looked impossibly out of place.

 

There was a moment more where they only stared at one another, waiting for the other to break the silence. It was the man who eventually did.

 

"Welcome to my family's home, Mr. Stark," he said with a heavy German accent, gesturing briefly with one hand. Tony ignored that.

 

"You have my son. Where is he?" he asked instead, resisting the urge to scream a threat.

 

"Is it not polite to greet your host first, Mr. Stark?" the scarred man said while playing with the hair of one of the ladies. "I am sure your father brought you up better than that," he flashed Tony a winning smile that only grated on his temper.

 

"My father didn't bring me up at all. But if you want pleasantries, I can do pleasantries. What name would you like to be known by so that I may carve it on your headstone?" Tony asked, not even bothering to hide his threat behind his media-ready plastic facade.

 

"It saddens me that you have yet to know who I am. But that is of no one's fault but my own, so be assured that I will not ask you to pay for that mistake. I will assure you, though, that my headstone is ready and waiting, Mr. Stark, but your words do interest me," the man said. Casually, he stood and walked to the nearby bar, heedless of the anger simmering in Tony. “Tell me, how do you plan to carry it out? I, for one, think that your very reputation as a superhero would limit the effectivity of any of your threats. And, without your armor, what advantage do you have over me in my own home?” He turned back to Tony, holding two glasses aloft, one of which he offered to him with a small wiggle. Tony ignored it which made the man's good eye narrowed minutely. Eventually, he only shrugged and tossed back the liquid in both glasses before setting them aside and then walked back to the recliner, sitting down and resuming his nonchalant air.

 

Tony seethed.

 

Here he was, forced to make small talk and observe social niceties with the man who was threatening his son’s life. He was arrogant and confident and so very sure of himself that Tony wanted to prove him wrong, prove what a bad decision it was to mess with his family by blasting the smile off of his face with a well-applied repulsor beam.

 

“I’m the greatest engineer in the weapons business. There is nothing in this building that I cannot use to made a gun that would take out your other eye and make your face more horribly disfigured than it currently is,” he sneered.

 

"I have to admit that I'm rather disappointed," the man said with a small moue. "I've seen and heard you spar with the best orators in the country and beat them at their own game. I was hoping to witness firsthand such prowess, and yet you speak as though you were as simple as the buffoon that calls himself Captain America." Tony's entire being jerked sharply at the name, but he didn't rise to the barb. "Though I suppose being in close proximity to such illiteracy for extended periods of time would affect any person." He gave an affected sigh as he stood from the chair and stepped closer to Tony. It irked the CEO to have to look up to meet his eyes, but he did so anyway if only to attempt to glare the other into submission.

 

"I came here for one reason only, and it does not involve providing you amusement in any way," he said lowly.

 

"But doing so would not harm your chances, would it?" the other answered.

 

"What do you want?"

 

"I would have thought that would be obvious, Mr. Stark." His grin was sinister as it was amused, and Tony only wanted to roll his eyes.

 

"World domination? Really?" he asked with a quirked eyebrow. Then, to the room at large, he said. "Why is it always world domination with you villain types? No, really? Do you have any idea how hard it is to run the world? This isn't the Middle Ages where you would demand taxes and go about your merry way; there's economics, politics, environmentalism, humanism, insanely complex things you have to consider when running a goddamn company, much less the world!" The scarred man gave a hearty laugh.

 

"Too true, too true, but I wouldn't have to run the world; I'd only have to own it.” He threw his arms open dramatically, turning his back to Tony. “Imagine: countries and their governments answering to me, people groveling at my feet for an ounce of my good will, discoveries, technologies credited toward me, and so much, much more. Incomparable wealth is just a small part of what I want," he explained. "Before this, you didn't even know who I was, but after this, no one will ever be able to forget the name Wolfgang von Strucker!” He turned back around and said as he walked closer, “I'll be immortalized in history; I would overshadow the greats like Genghis Khan, Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, and Stalin." His hand shot up quickly and wrapped itself around Tony's neck, squeezing slowly and tightly. Tony refused to flail. "For many centuries past, it has been the dream of every single ancestor of mine to carve our name into the fabric of time, and you, Mr. Stark, once you join Advanced Idea Mechanics, are the key to getting what I want."

 

"I don't know if you got the memo recently, but I am a superhero. I.e. I will not be helping you get what you want. I don’t help terrorists," he answered, enunciating through gritted teeth. Strucker laughed.

 

"True, Mr. Stark, very true. And that is precisely why I have your son." The grip around his neck tightened once more. "I am going to make this very simple for you: you are going to join my organization and help us realize our goals, and in return, I will give back your son without a single hair on his head harmed in the process." Tony clenched his jaw and attempted to swallow through the grip.

 

And here it was, the choice all heroes had to make at one point in their lives: the one person who meant the world to him or the rest of the world.

 

But the thing is, for Tony, it wasn't a very difficult choice to make at all: he'd choose Peter--he'd always choose Peter. As for the rest of the world, Tony wasn't egotistical enough to think that he alone would be substantial in bringing it down. He, even as Iron Man, was nothing compared to the other superheroes he worked with on a daily basis; any one of them could take him down if and when they had to.

 

"I have no way of keeping you to that promise," he finally said. Strucker grinned and released him.

 

"Come with me," he said and walked toward the door without checking to see that Tony was indeed following. Tony tamped down his bristling indignance and obeyed anyway. Simmons was waiting just outside the door and brought up the rear behind the pair, and the three of them made their way through the house into the basement.

 

Unlike the rest of the house that was swathed in history, as the doors opened up, Tony found himself looking at a modern facility, not unlike SHIELD's. Directly in front of them was an antiseptic white hallway lined with doors, and their respective guards, each assigned a specific name. "Biology Wing," "Weapons Development," and "Technology Wing," among others, were written on some of the placards, leading Tony to believe that each of them branched off into a much larger space. The three of them stopped in front of the "Biology Wing" double doors and the doors were opened up for them by the guards.

 

Inside was another hallway, this time with windows that allowed Tony to see what the scientists inside were working on. Biology was a field not of his own, so even though he recognized some of the equipment, that was as far as his brief glances could comprehend. Nevertheless, what details he could remember, he filed away for further research when this was all over with. The doors at the end, which they entered, held the placard "Medical Unit," and further inside, they entered the "Operating Room."

 

Tony tried not to cringe at the significance of the setting, but it didn’t help that while the room was as clean and sterile as any other hospital Tony had been in—up to and including SHIELD Medical—the equipment, the tools, and the doctors milling about only reminded Tony of a dim, dank cave. He physically, though casually, turned away from the operating table that was illuminated by the harsh lights. If he was right, he was going to be well acquainted with it much later, but he didn’t see the need to preface that by inspecting it.

 

Strucker, after having conversed briefly with one of the men in lab coats, turned to Tony whose dread suddenly started forming at the pit of his stomach. The Baron held out his hand to reveal a small box in the center of his palm.

 

"No thank you. I'm married," Tony said in a weak attempt at humor. Strucker only grinned and flipped open the lid to reveal a small chip, not unlike a computer's.

 

"If you agree, we will proceed with planting this chip in you. This is my insurance policy, Mr. Stark. It will ensure that you will hold true to our bargain." Great. Mind control.

 

"And your end of the bargain?" Tony asked.

 

"The chip will activate as soon as your son steps foot in your tower, and you will retain your independent mental faculties until then, enough to observe that I have upheld my word," Strucker answered. Tony clenched his jaw. "I know you do not think highly of people who use harm against your loved ones as a means to an end; it is but a natural impulse. However, I, Mr. Stark, am from an ancient and noble line, and if there is anything you must know of nobility, know that we are always true to our word. Here is mine: your son will come to no harm and his custody will be relinquished to your husband if you agree to my bargain."

 

For the record, Tony did not believe a word he said, but nevertheless, he had already made his choice anyway.

 

...............

 

For the second time, he came to, comfortably and of his own volition, though not in the same room he initially woke up in. This time, he found himself in what looked to be a hospital room. He wondered how much time had passed this time around.

 

Strucker stood at the end of the bed with Simmons hovering behind him, both of them watching him as two men in scrubs checked his vitals and a woman stood beside them taking notes of the equipment readings. Another came over and ran a diagnostic which required some participation. He was asked to sit up and turn his head this way and that and lift his arm and then clench his hand into a fist. He was groggy and doped up enough to comply without hesitation, and then the... doctor? whose voice was soft and sympathetic, but methodical and professional, announced that the operation was a success.

 

“We’re ready to activate the chip at anytime, Lord Strucker,” he said. The Baron nodded and waved him away, but not before Tony caught a pitying look thrown his way. He almost sneered at the man but at the last moment decided that he didn’t want to get him in trouble by calling Strucker’s attention to him.

 

His own attention was drawn away from the doctor soon enough when a TV flickered to life on Tony's right.

 

"As promised, Mr. Stark," Strucker said. The screen filled with a CCTV image of the Stark Tower front doors where a black car pulled up, and Peter was pushed out. The car zoomed off, leaving Peter standing on the curb, looking around fearfully. And then there was a sudden commotion when two SI security guards seemed to recognize him and rushed over to save him from the slowly swarming paparazzi. They waded through the throng of reporters and civilians who were clamoring to get Peter's picture, and then Peter finally, finally stepped foot in the door of Stark Tower, safe and none the worse for wear, and another bout of blackness overtook Tony.

 

...............

 

Tony woke up for a third time, but this time it was stranger than any of the times in the past he had woken up from a sudden black out. He kind of felt like he was swimming; he was floaty and a little bit lightheaded, and it took him a while to remember that he had undergone brain surgery in the bowels of Strucker's mansion and that he had watched Peter step into Stark Towers which triggered the chip, as Strucker had promised.

 

Strucker was speaking to Simmons at the foot of his bed, but Tony had to struggle to listen because his ears didn't seem to be functioning well. He shut his eyes and took in a deep breath and then he opened them again to find Strucker, Simmons and the doctor observing him critically. The nurses stood by the equipment, seemingly observing the readings, but Tony was coherent enough to recognize their apparent interest.

 

"How do you feel, Mr. Stark?" Strucker--no, not Strucker--the Baron asked, drawing his attention away from everyone else.

 

"Could be better," he answered easily, sitting up and lifting his hand to run over the bandage on the back of his head. The doctor jerked forward in alarm, and the Baron hissed at him.

 

"Don't touch it. You'll open up the wound and undo all our work," he snapped, and Tony's hand immediately fell back on the bed.

 

"Of course. I'm sorry, baron," he answered. The Baron's face took on a minutely surprised but approving glint, and Tony felt warmth bloom through him.

 

"What do you remember?" he asked, which confused Tony because what was he supposed to forget?

 

"You took my son, Peter, and promised to give him back if I allowed you to put your mind control chip in me," he answered, which was a silly bargain really because the Baron only needed to have asked and he would have obeyed; why the leverage in something as unimportant to Tony as a child? Or more importantly, why the need for the chip altogether?

 

"And how do you feel about that?" the Baron asked again. His line of questioning was strange, and it only made Tony confused.

 

"I feel... I don't--How do you want me to feel about it?" The Baron smiled widely, and Tony found once again a warmth that he recognized as pleasure blooming through him at the reaction, even if he couldn't understand why the Baron smiled.

 

"Come here, Mr. Stark."

 

"Please, baron, for you it's 'Tony,'" he said even as he gingerly threw aside the bedcovers and stood.

 

"As it should be," the Baron answered. Beside him, he could see Simmons leaning closer and whispering in the Baron's ear. Tony frowned in annoyance, but the Baron pulled away from him and all was right again. "You must forgive me, Tony, but we need to test the extent of the chip's capabilities," he explained.

 

"Of course," Tony agreed. "I'll assist in any way I can."

 

"Very good. On your hand and knees then, and then come to me," the Baron instructed. Tony didn't even have to nod before he obeyed, slowly falling to his hands and knees, mindful of his head wound, and then making his way to the Baron's feet. He sat back on his heels and peered up at the man, heedless of the scientists around them but marginally aware of Simmons who still stood, in Tony's opinion, much too close to the Baron. "Will you obey everything I command you to?" the bald man asked.

 

"Of course, baron. Anything," Tony confirmed with a nod. Given the position he was in, it came out breathier than he intended, but the Baron smiled again, so he only preened when the older man stroked a line down the side of his face to beneath his jaw, tilting his head up further and drawing him upwards until Tony was fully kneeling.

 

"Then pleasure me with your mouth, pet," he murmured, ghosting his thumb over Tony's lips. The CEO kissed the digit as he attempted to control the bigger wave of pleasure that washed over him from the instruction. He then lifted his hands to the Baron's belt and undid it with practiced ease. He barely managed to pull his pants open before he pressed his mouth to the Baron's brief-covered cock, more eager than he wanted to appear in front of an audience, so he tuned them out of his consciousness. He kissed and licked at the distorted fabric in front of him while his hands tugged it down. There was a brief pause when the Baron's cock got caught in the garter, but Tony inhaled sharply when it came free.

 

The Baron was thinner than Steve, who he remembered sucking off not a few days ago, though about as long, and his cock curved toward his belly sharply. Tony shivered with delight when he thought about how it was perfectly suited to hit his prostate if and when he rode it. He hoped the Baron would allow him to do so soon. Nevertheless, he didn't dally and took the Baron into his mouth, intent on putting his best foot forward with this first contact.

 

And he was good--oh how he was good. He kissed and licked and sucked on the cock like it was his last meal, with the experience of a hundred blow jobs and the eagerness of the first. He moved his hands to pleasure what he couldn't reach with his mouth and moved his tongue to pleasure what he could. Delight ran through him when the Baron moaned and threaded his fingers through Tony's hair, gripping the locks tight. Tony lifted his eyes into the Baron's one mechanical and one real one and silently communicated his wish that the Baron "Take me. Take what you want from me." And the Baron did; using his hair as leverage, he snapped his hips forward and thrust into Tony's mouth, making him gag and cough and choke around the cock, but Tony only clutched the backs of his thighs and urged him for more.

 

The Baron moaned once more in assent and fucked his way into Tony's mouth, taking and taking and taking and allowing Tony no time to recover in between thrusts. But it was fine, it was all fine because Tony wanted him to. He sucked on the cock as it left his mouth, as though willing for it to remain, and relaxed his mouth as it thrust in, making for a soft an painless channel to use. With such expertise working him, it wasn't long before the Baron reached his limit and emptied himself into Tony's mouth with a satisfied groan. The genius drank him down with a moan of his own and then had the cheek to lick his lips noisily afterwards.

 

"Have I pleased you, baron?" Tony asked, equal parts pleased with himself and cautious. The Baron sank onto the bed with a satisfied groan that had Tony smiling like a self-satisfied cat. He resisted the urge to nuzzle against the Baron only because there was still an audience.

 

"Yes, yes you have, very good, Tony."

 

"How else can I help you test the chip?" Tony asked again, eager to please the Baron. The other man looked up at Simmons before looking back down at Tony. "Brian has done a terribly good job in all of this, don't you think?" The smile fell off of Tony's face, but he nodded slowly.

 

"I suppose he was instrumental in letting me see what a good idea it is to serve you," he agreed because he didn't want to contradict the Baron in any way.

 

"Well, then I think he deserves a reward," the Baron concluded. "Use your mouth on him as well, Tony. Make him see stars." A frown spread over Tony's face which put an interesting expression on the Baron's.

 

"Surely there has to be some other way to reward him, baron?" he asked with a distinct note of petulance. The question made the Baron draw himself up.

 

"Are you questioning my orders?" he hissed with a low, dangerous note in his voice, and Tony ducked his head in remorse and shame and reached to clutch at the other man's ankles in apology.

 

"No! No, baron! I'm sorry, I wasn't--no. I just... I only want to pleasure you, sir." Tony peered back up at him meekly, apologetically, but the Baron continued to glare.

 

"And how does it pleasure me that you are being insubordinate?" he asked. Tony shook his head and apologized once more. "If I shall so please, pet, you will give yourself to any person of my choosing, immediately and without question. If it pleases me, you would whore yourself out to anyone I point you to, be they my right hand man or the person that scrubs the toilets clean. Am I understood?"

 

"Yes, of course, baron. I'm sorry," Tony said, pressing his mouth to the Baron's knees in apology. There was a lull in the room before the Baron spoke again.

 

"You have been insulting to Brian and that insults me as well," he said. Tony tensed at the words but said nothing. "Beg for his forgiveness and for his favor and maybe I will accept your apology."

 

"Of course, sir," Tony murmured and then turned to face Simmons. He couldn't help the glare he shot at the smug man, but he wasn't about to defy the Baron again. Thankfully, Simmons said nothing. "Sorry, Simmons. Let me suck your cock and call us even," he said. A grin quirked Simmons' lips and he crossed his arms over his chest.

 

"Come on, Stark. We both know you can do much better than that," he taunted. "Beg for my cock like the slut you are." Tony's glare turned positively poisonous, but he only took in a deep breath before pasting on a ridiculously fake apologetic look.

 

"I'm so very sorry, Brian, for implying that I didn't want to suck you off because I really do," he said, saccharine in tone. "Please, please let me suck your cock. Let me make you feel good. There's nothing I want more than to taste you, to drink your come. I'll be so very good for you." He moved closer on his knees and pressed his mouth to Simmons' thigh before looking up and conveying all the hate he could through his eyes. "Use me, use my mouth to get yourself off. You know it's going to feel so much better than any other blow job you've had before." Simmons ran a hand through Tony's hair and jerked his head back sharply while his other hand worked his belt and fly open.

 

"Of course your mouth's going to feel so much better, Stark. You're so very well practiced after all, aren't you?" he asked just as sweet, just as fake as Tony had been. Tony glared at him as he pushed his cock against his mouth. "Open up, little cumslut. I know how much you like having a dick and come in your mouth." Tony did as told only because the Baron was watching him.

Simmons didn't allow Tony to work him like the Baron did. Instead, he took the initiative to fuck Tony's face with reckless abandon. He jacked into Tony's mouth continuously, constantly, hardly allowing Tony to take in a breath. He thrust deep and hard, and, for a few seconds at a time, held Tony against his pelvis, his cock worked all the way in his throat until Tony choked around him. Saliva slipped out the corner of Tony's mouth, staining his hospital gown, while he gagged around Simmons who was only encouraged by the sound.

 

"Come on, Tony," Simmons murmured. "I want you to come while I fuck your mouth. Show us how much you want this." Tony resisted the urge to bite him, but he knew Simmons wouldn't stop if he didn't come first, so he slipped his hand beneath his gown and stroked himself to the mental image of the Baron bending him over the side of the bed and fucking into him. Simmons continued to fuck his mouth while he stroked himself to completion, and when he groaned and his come stained the insides of his gown, Simmons pulled out of his mouth and shot his load onto Tony's face.

 

Tony glared at him through the come that decorated his lashes and moved to wipe it away, but Simmons caught his wrist and pulled it away before using his own hand to smear the come further on Tony's cheek. Then he held his stained fingers up to Tony's mouth and wiggled it.

 

"It's not cock, Tony, but I'm sure it tastes almost exactly like it," he taunted, and Tony sucked on the digits with every ounce of skill he possessed just to spite the man. Sure enough, an aroused look glossed over the former SHIELD agent's face.

 

"That's enough, Brian. Come here, Tony," the Baron instructed. Tony only barely resisted biting the fingers in his mouth before he complied. The come was cooling on his face, but the Baron didn't seem to mind. "We'll keep you under observation for defects in the chip while your wound heals. After that, we will discuss your mission." Tony nodded once.

 

"As you wish, baron."

 

...............

 

IV.

 

"Steve... Steve! Come get me, Steve, please..."

 

……………

 

He was found two weeks later in the middle of Bumfuck, Iowa with an old farmer and his wife who found him bruised, bloody and naked, hiding in their barn next door.

 

Steve found him two hours after the call came in, fed, cleaned and dressed, napping on the old couple’s guestroom bed, and two seconds after that wrapped in his arms.

 

He couldn’t even muster up the care that his teammates and the SHIELD agents with him stared unabashedly as he sobbed his relief into Tony’s neck while the other man crooned words of comfort into his ear and stroked his back. All he could feel right now was an overwhelming sense of relief from the guilt, the anger, the misery and the fear of the last two weeks. When he could, he lifted his head and pressed a wet, messy kiss onto Tony’s mouth and then pressed their foreheads together while chanting a litany of “Thank God. Thank God.”

 

“It’s fine. I’m fine. Stop crying, Steve,” Tony murmured gently, punctuating his words with soft kisses in between, holding him and petting him until Steve finally, finally ran out of steam and heaved a giant sigh and a last hiccup. Tony kissed him again and then asked softly, “Peter?”

 

“He’s back at home. I didn’t tell him we were coming to get you in case… in case—“ He broke off, having lost the correct words to say.

 

“It’s real, Steve,” Tony filled in for him. “I’m here.” And he was, and it was such a relief to have him back.

 

Steve knew he was being stupid; things like this weren’t unlikely in their line of work—far, far from it really—and losing Tony to a kidnapper for two weeks probably won’t be the worst thing that would happen to them, but at this moment in time, nothing hurt as bad as it did when Tony was lost and nothing felt as good as it did now that he was back, so no one could ever blame him for acting stupid.

 

“Let’s go home,” Tony suggested as he stroked back a lock of blond hair off of Steve’s forehead. The action drew Steve’s eyes to the large bruise that decorated the side of his husband’s face, and he prodded it gently, earning a hiss.

 

“Medical first. I need to know that you’re okay,” he said and then startled when Tony jerked back. “What?”

 

“I want to go home,” Tony said, carefully but firmly, brooking no room for argument. Steve frowned.

 

“You need to be checked over. I want you to be checked over,” he answered. Tony shook his head.

 

“It’s just some bruising, Steve. I got knocked around while trying to escape,” he explained, but Steve held firm, so Tony sighed. “It looks much worse than it really is. Please. I really just want to go home.” Steve frowned some more. It had been a long time since Tony tried to weasel his way out of Medical; he didn’t remember having to deal with this much argument about it since they’d adopted Peter three years ago. But eventually, he thought to compromise, in light of what was possibly a traumatic experience.

 

“Will you let Bruce check you out at least?” Tony let out an annoyed growl.

 

“It’s fine! Stop making a bigger deal out of it than it really is!” he exclaimed. Steve jolted away, taken aback at the tone, but then Tony seemed to realize what he’d done and pulled Steve back against him. “I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I’m sorry. I just—it’s been two weeks, Steve, I really just want to go home and spend the rest of the evening with you and Peter.” His fingers curled into the material of Steve’s uniform as his head dipped into the junction between Steve’s shoulder and neck. “I’ll have JARVIS give me a quick scan in the morning, and if there’s anything serious, I’ll go see Bruce, okay? Please?” And his tone was so quiet and meek and pleading that Steve didn’t have the heart to deny him any small comfort he wanted.

 

“Okay,” he sighed. “Okay, let’s go home.”

 

……………

 

Tony found his way back to his lab at two in the morning when he managed to sneak away from Steve and Peter, under the guise of heading to the bathroom, after they’d fallen asleep wrapped around each other in their room.

 

The lights flickered on and everything booted up without even so much as a word from him. Dummy, Butterfingers and You all rolled over to him, excitement evident in their chirps and whirrs and beeps while they moved around him like a pack of excited puppies.

 

“Back to your stations,” Tony ordered when the excitement became too much for him. There was a pause in the three before they silently rolled back to their charging stations, a distinct note of sadness in the air, but Tony ignored it easily.

 

“Do forgive them, sir,” JARVIS said, his voice the pleasant murmur Tony designed it to be. It was familiar and unnerving in equal parts, and he didn’t know how to feel about it right now. “They’ve been worried about you since they found out you’ve been taken, as have I. I’m very glad to see you back, sir.” Tony ignored him, but JARVIS didn’t seem to notice. “Shall I run a full biological scan?”

 

“No!” Tony snapped. There was another bout of tension in the atmosphere when JARVIS paused.

 

“Very good, sir,” he answered perfunctorily. It was a strange tone in JARVIS because even though his voice was always calm and proper, it wasn’t often that it was emotionless and cold. Tony didn’t comment on it, however, because he had an immediate and pressing task to do.

 

“All systems shut down, JARVIS. Code C15203BK-Vector,” he said as he sat down at the main terminal. There was a third moment of silence, this one questioning and fearful.

 

“All… my systems too, sir?” JARVIS asked slowly. There was no mistaking the surprise in his voice because never, since the time Tony first booted him up, had he ever been shut down, not in any of his incarnations anywhere in the world, and here, his creator was doing just that to every single aspect of his consciousness.

 

“Now, JARVIS,” Tony ordered. There was a hesitation which Tony continued to ignore in favor of setting up the station the way he wanted it, and then JARVIS answered:

 

“System shut down acknowledged. Executing in three… two… one—” And then there was silence and darkness in the workshop, and it was so wrong that Tony jumped into action, booting up the terminal manually and bringing the lights and sounds back up. Neither JARVIS nor the bots would respond until he brought them back, and he will, just as soon as he made the necessary updates.

 

With that in mind, he brought up JARVIS’s code.

 

……………

 

Everything was back to normal again.

 

Everything was so back to normal that Steve could almost forget that he’d lost Tony for two weeks, and he was so very, very fine with that. The bruising on his husband’s face and a lot over his back and thighs still made Steve cringe, but JARVIS had assured him that there was nothing severely wrong or damaging, and, like Tony had said, it was all just bruising. So Steve hadn’t pushed Tony to see Bruce or Medical, and he didn’t push Tony to slow down and rest. He allowed Tony the small comfort of doing what always made him feel better: spend hours holed up in the lab, tinkering and inventing and creating new things for himself or the team, until he either had to go to work or he had to eat and sleep.

 

After school, the next day, Peter went down to the workshop and sat like he was taught at his own miniature workbench, watching Tony work or working on his own inventions, like he always did. Later, Steve came down and spent a few minutes watching the both of them tinker away, his heart swelling with fondness, before telling Peter to go wash up for the dinner May and Clint had prepared.

 

The next few minutes were all theirs. Steve wrapped his arms around Tony’s neck from behind, pressing his nose to his hair and inhaling the scent he’d missed for weeks. Then he pressed a kiss to the base of Tony’s scalp, right where the hair tapered off into skin. He felt Tony caress his forearm gently and then the genius wriggled around to face him. He stroked Steve’s jaw, studying his face for a moment. Right when Steve turned his head to kiss his palm, the soldier saw the moment the tenderness in his gaze turned heated. A thumb stroked his lips and Steve parted them to allow Tony to press it in. He sucked on the digit, eagerly and full of heady promise, and then pulled back completely.

 

“Later. Dinner time first” he murmured, a hint of tease in his tone. Tony’s eyes darkened further, and Steve gave him a teasing grin. The inventor stalked forward almost menacingly, but Steve danced backward, hardly covering up the laugh that escaped him. They continued their game of cat and mouse until Steve’s back hit the inside of the elevator, and Tony pinned him there with his mouth. Steve heard the doors closing behind them and felt the elevator moving them up, but Tony’s lips were back on his, right where they belonged, so all other thoughts quickly fled him.

 

Tony’s kiss was familiar and comforting and, after two weeks of going cold turkey, painfully, arousingly, strangely novel, and Steve clung to it like it was the last kiss they were ever going to share. Tony pressed their bodies flush against each other’s, lifting himself up slightly on the balls of his feet otherwise he would have never reached Steve, and ground his hips against his husband’s. A moan escaped Steve’s mouth, and though it was muffled against Tony, it was loud enough, apparently, to carry out of the doors that just parted.

 

“Eeeeew!” Peter cried, covering his eyes and pressing his face into Bucky’s hair where he sat atop his shoulders. Bucky pulled his own face that looked like something smelly was shoved under his nose, but, after years of his having caught his best friend and his husband in various, numerous compromising positions in various states of undress, Steve knew it was faked and that Bucky was hardly fazed anymore at having caught them. He blushed anyway because that was a quintessentially Steve thing to do, and shoved Bucky playfully but carefully so as not to dislodge Peter.

 

“You should be thankful your dads still kiss, Peter,” he scolded teasingly at Peter’s scrunched up face, pushing himself up on his tiptoes to reach Peter’s cheek and kiss it. The boy giggled and held out his arms to his father, expecting to be pulled down from Bucky’s shoulders. Steve’s compliance was rewarded with a sticky kiss. “Come on then, dinner.”

 

“Exactly why we were coming down to get you. Clint was starting to bitch about how the food was getting cold,” Bucky said just before Steve leveled a baleful glare at him.

 

“Language!” he hissed, and Bucky was decent enough to look apologetic.

 

“Whoops?” he offered sheepishly. Steve shook his head at him then glanced at Peter.

 

“You better not start copying Uncle Bucky’s potty mouth or I will wash yours out with soap,” he warned sternly. Bucky laughed, but Steve ignored him while Peter nodded solemnly. “Good boy.” Steve kissed the top of his head before turning to Tony, who’d been strangely silent through the exchange, to find him working on a tabletop interface, completely detached from the scene altogether. He frowned and shifted Peter to one arm before using the fingers of his free hand to twine with Tony’s. “Hey,” he said with a small tug to draw Tony’s attention to him. Tony looked up after a second.

 

“Yeah?”

 

“You okay?” he asked. There was a note of concern in his voice that he didn’t bother hiding. Tony shrugged then shut the interface off.

 

“I’m fine. Come on then,” he said and led them to the dining room where the rest of the team and May were already seated and dishing out the meal: spaghetti with tomato cream and basil sauce, buttery garlic bread and a healthy serving of roasted chicken.

 

“Look who finally decided to show up,” Clint said with an exaggerated sigh of relief. “We were pretty sure you weren’t planning on coming for dinner.”

 

“Well not for dinner,” Steve answered casually, but there was a mischievous grin playing at his lips. Clint paled momentarily before shaking his head to clear it away.

 

“Okay, one: eeew! Nobody wants to hear about their parents doing it,” he said with a scrunched up nose.

 

“We’re not your parents, Clint,” Steve thought to remind him—again—while settling Peter in and heaping a load of spaghetti onto his plate. Clint only waved the comment away.

 

“And two: I think Tony’s rubbing off on you—”

 

“Well, not right now,” the Captain interrupted cheerfully. There was a heavy pause where eyebrows were raised and snickers were badly hidden, and then Clint very nearly wailed.

 

See? See what I mean? I remember a time long ago when you didn’t even know what innuendos were, much less dish them out yourself!” he exclaimed to the others, looking around for support. Bruce, Thor and May only looked amused, Natasha looked mildly interested in Steve’s words, Phil and Peter were both uninterested in the proceedings (although if Clint knew Phil—and he did—he could tell Phil was just as interested as Natasha), and Tony…

 

He wasn’t interested at all—he was busy, it seemed, with tapping away on his cellphone. But just as he opened his mouth to call Tony out, Phil, who didn’t seem to notice Tony’s detachment, sighed heavily, as if greatly put upon, and then rapped the archer’s knuckles with his fork.

 

“If you’re so bothered by it, then stop feeding Steve lines and he’ll stop giving you innuendos in return. Now, eat your dinner,” he said. Clint sucked his knuckles into his mouth as he sent a small glare Phil’s way.

 

Steve chanced a glance Tony’s way to see what he thought of the whole exchange, but he too found Tony busy with his phone. The smile on his face gave way to a concerned frown. Something was obviously wrong because it wasn’t like Tony to be completely uninvolved (especially not when there were jokes of s sexual nature thrown into the conversation), but he chose not to say anything right then. He’d talk to Tony later when it was just the two of them and maybe find out what was bothering him. For now, he turned to the rest of the table and heaped food onto his plate.

 

……………

 

“Phil told me that Fury wants you at SHIELD tomorrow for a debrief,” Steve said as he tugged off his shirt in preparation for bed later that evening. He heard Tony puttering around the bathroom, going through his own bedtime rituals. “But I could tell him to put it off for a few days if you want,” he offered. Tony spat out the toothpaste and gargled twice before coming out the bathroom, still naked after his shower.

 

“Yeah, sure, you do that,” he said offhandedly, grabbing a shirt from the closet and tugging it on and then doing the same for a pair of boxers. Steve walked over to him as he did and wrapped his arms around his waist from behind. He pressed a kiss to the back of Tony’s neck before resting his chin on his shoulder, watching the both of them in the closet mirror.

 

“You’ve been distracted all day,” he murmured, his thumb rubbing circles into Tony’s hip. He hoped it would be enough of an opening for Tony to speak up about what was bothering him, but the genius only hummed noncommittally while he turned in Steve’s arms.

 

He pulled Steve down by the back of his neck and claimed a kiss that was neither tender nor rough, but almost exactly in between. In its ease, Steve grasped Tony’s hips and slotted his own neatly against it, almost casually brushing their groins against each other. He wasn’t hard, not with the concern still running through his mind, but their kiss was slowly changing that, and he knew they should talk first and he knew he should care more that Tony could have been traumatized by the experience Steve still didn’t know anything about, but Tony like this, pliant and accommodating would never not turn him on, would never fail to make him want to take him right where they stood.

 

Tony lifted his hands, one to Steve’s jaw and the other to his shoulder, almost gently caressing Steve’s still-exposed skin, and then he pressed down, hard enough to let Steve know what he wanted. So the taller man broke the kiss and sank to his knees and pressed his mouth to the flat plane of Tony’s stomach. The hand at his jaw stroked it briefly to tip it up such that their eyes met, and then Tony spoke.

 

“You’re going to use that gorgeous mouth of yours to please me, won’t you, Captain?” he murmured. Steve suppressed a smile and a smaller, less significant wave of concern—if Tony wanted to play a game, Steve wasn’t going to deny him that small desire.

 

“Anything you want, Mr. Stark,” he answered. His voice was breathy and laden with lust, but that was a natural effect Tony had on him. The hand stroking his jaw stopped momentarily.

 

“Anything?” Tony asked. There was glee forming in his eyes; Steve could see it from where he knelt, and it was so very familiar and so strange at the same time that he wasn’t sure what Tony meant by it. He nodded anyway because he had no reason not to. Tony’s mouth curled into a satisfied grin, and he undid his pants and pulled out his cock, stroking it over Steve’s lips. “Go on,” he prompted, and Steve obeyed by opening his mouth and wrapping it around Tony. The CEO hissed in pleasure, carding his hands through Steve’s hair and gripping onto it tightly. “Fuck, yessss,” he groaned as his hips gave small, jerky thrusts into Steve’s mouth.

 

His cock was still cool from the shower, but musky and heavy and oh so very familiar, as was the way Tony moaned and held on tight. And he missed this; he missed everything about Tony including this, so he sucked him off with all the desire he held in his heart, clutching at the backs of Tony’s knees while his husband’s thrusts grew harder and harder.

 

“Christ, Rogers,” he groaned, and then the grip in his hair grew tighter—painfully tight. Tony thrust once, a shade too deep, and had Steve gagging around his cock. “Yessss,” Tony hissed again and repeated the motion, delighted, it seemed, with the way Steve was forced to respond. Steve’s grip grew tight around his husband’s legs, but he didn’t ask to stop. He could take it—he knew he could—even if it wasn’t something they usually indulged in. Tony preferred it rough and steeped in wanton, shameless abandon when he bottomed, but he was always careful and considerate when Steve did.

 

“Fuck, yes. Take it, Rogers,” Tony grunted, pushing his hips into Steve’s mouth and dragging him closer by his hair, using his mouth as though it were nothing but a convenient hole to fuck into. “Such a pretty, perfect mouth. Made to be fucked, isn’t it?” he murmured almost absently through thrusts. Steve shifted on his knees and met each one in an attempt to regain some control of the pace, and Tony moaned in appreciation. “You’re so eager for more, aren’t you? A fucking slut for my cock,” he said, and Steve’s eyes flickered up. It wasn’t unusual for Tony to talk dirty—far from it really—but this wasn’t his usual dialogue, which surprised Steve. Tony preferred describing, in lewd detail, what he wanted to have done to him or what he wanted to do rather than going for name calling. Nevertheless, it was still sure as hell damn arousing, so Steve let it pass without comment.

 

Then Tony pulled him off, sharply that he would have stumbled and fallen over backwards if Tony still hadn’t held him by his hair. His head was tilted up so that he could look at Tony while he spoke.

 

“I’m going to fuck you, Captain, until you scream for me,” he murmured and then let go of his hair. “I’ll give you two minutes to prep yourself for me, and nothing more.” Steve shivered under the intense look and the harsh words, and he nodded eagerly. “Very good,” Tony purred. “On the bed then. On your hands and knees.” Steve leaned over to press a kiss to Tony’s bared hipbone and complied with the instructions, purposely sauntering to give Tony a good view of his retreating backside.

 

He discarded his pants at the foot of the bed and climbed onto it, aware of Tony watching his every move. He reached for the bottle of lube they kept in the nightstand and poured a liberal dose on his fingers before pressed the first into himself. The sound of clothes hitting the floor and of footsteps padding on the carpet met his hearing, forewarning him that Tony stood just at the foot of the bed where his pants still lay. Knowing Tony was appreciating the view, he slipped another finger into himself, doing nothing to muffle the moan that escaped him.

 

“That is beyond beautiful,” Tony said. “Seeing you spread your legs and bare your hole for me like some two-bit whore. Watching you and hearing you stretch yourself open. Who would have thought Captain America was such a cockslut?” Steve dropped his head down and pressed his forehead to the mattress as the words seared his skin. His hips moved of their own accord to meet his fingers and he used his other hand to grasp at his cock to stave off his orgasm. When it was held sufficiently at bay, he reached for the bottle of lube again to pour more over his fingers. “That’s right, put on as much as you can, Rogers. That’s all the lube you’re getting,” was Tony’s warning. Steve only groaned to acknowledge the words but didn’t falter in his motions to prep himself for his husband. Tony was smaller than Steve was, but that didn’t make him small at all in any sense of the word. The bed dipped behind him, and he felt Tony move closer. Then his hand was slapped away from his ass as Tony hissed, “That’s enough.” That was all the warning he was given before Tony plunged into him straight to the hilt with one thrust, and a scream was torn from Steve’s throat because godfuckingdamn! He’d experienced much worse in the field, and Tony had taken him hard and rough innumerable times in the past, but it still hurt like a bitch to be torn through so abruptly.

 

Tony didn’t slow, didn’t speak, didn’t acknowledge the pain he’d caused in any way and simply proceeded to fuck the ever living daylights out of Steve at his own pace. His second third, fourth and fifth thrusts proceeded in almost exactly the same way until Steve was gasping and moaning and writhing into the bedspread beneath him. Steve lost count after that as Tony steadily and silently plowed into him. It wasn’t like the genius to make him feel this way, but the way he fucked into him, Steve got the impression that Tony was simply jerking off and was using his ass as a substitute for his hand.

 

It was incredibly novel and, admittedly, incredibly arousing.

 

Tony didn’t dally or stretch the session out longer than he had to. It took him just over two dozen strokes to jerk into stillness and Steve knew he was spilling himself into him. He bit his lip in slight disappointment before reaching beneath him to jerk himself off. It was quick and not particularly pleasurable, but he was coming soon enough, just as Tony was pulling out.

 

There was a stillness as he caught his breath and then he lifted his head to aim a pleased smile at Tony, but found the other man standing from the bed and reaching for Steve’s pants to wipe himself off then reaching for his boxers to pull them on.

 

“Hey,” Steve called. “Where’re you going?” He was confused and more than a little bit disappointed at Tony’s standoffish attitude. Tony looked up at him.

 

“Back to the lab. I’ve got a couple of things to do,” he answered, casual and vague. “Don’t wait up,” was all he said before he left the room. Steve watched the door shut behind him before he dropped his head back onto the bed and released a loud, confused sigh.

 

……………

 

Tony’s eyes flickered up briefly at Phil before dropping back down to his cell, fiddling with some coding that would allow him an easier back door into SHIELD’s systems. Even with using just his cell phone, it was nigh undetectable if only because he knew SHIELD’s IT staff were only a little above incompetent. The only thing was that he had needed to be in SHIELD before he could input the backdoor. He never needed one, really, because it didn’t use to bother him when Nick caught him hacking into the database. This time around, though, he needed to be a little more discreet.

 

The perfect opportunity arose when he’d been called in for a debriefing on his kidnapping. He’d been able to avoid it for a little under a week now, with Steve helping him do so, and was planning to do so indefinitely. Nevertheless, the benefits were two fold: getting his backdoor in and getting Phil off his back. Christ, that man was nothing if not persistent.

 

“Tony,” Phil said, tapping impatiently on the table. Tony ignored him for a second longer. He just needed to input one little thing—there!

 

“Okay, agent, let’s get this over with,” he said, pocketing his phone, and looked up to see that Nick had joined them. “Oh, so this is going to be a two-for-one deal? Okay, great. So I lost Peter, that much you knew about.”

 

“Can we skip to the part where you sent home the armor? What happened then?” Tony fiddled his thumbs and shrugged then looked away.

 

“Simmons took me to meet his ‘master.’ He made me change my clothes where I stood to make sure I had no trackers on me and then chloroformed me. I woke up in the basement of a dank, dirty, dilapidated house.” Phil and Fury were silent. “They kept me there for three days, gave me leftovers to eat and just enough water to be kept alive, and then Simmons came back with another video of Peter. He said they were going to let Peter go if I agreed to be injected with only God knows what.” Tony affected a fake unaffected look, as if trying to show Nick and Phil that he was pretending not to care about something that was affecting him deeply (even though he did not, in all actuality, care). “I found out later it was Rohypnol.” Phil frowned.

 

“That’s—”

 

“A well-known date-rape drug,” Tony finished for him. He laughed sardonically. “You can predict what happened next, I suppose, but in the interest of full disclosure, Simmons fucked me as soon as it took effect. Right there on that dank, dirty floor, he fucked me, and I let him.”

 

“Tony—”

 

“Full disclosure, Phil. Full disclosure,” Tony cut him off. “Of course, I know you’re going to keep this hidden beneath every possible encryption method you can think of and then some, right?” Phil nodded, so Tony nodded back. “Okay. So he fucked me, and then minion number one fucked me, then minion number two fucked me, then minion number three and four and—you know what? I think you get the picture.” His grin was self-depreciating. “Point is, by the time I was taken to the ‘master,’ which was maybe three, four days later—I’m pretty hazy on the details because I was constantly doped up. I’m pretty sure I was given more besides Rohypnol, but I couldn’t really focus enough to find out—I was the organization’s fucking bicycle.” He paused then laughed. “If you’ll pardon the pun.” Phil and Nick exchanged discreet glances, and Tony pretended not to notice.

 

“I suppose they did give Peter back, which was all that mattered anyway. So then I meet the ‘master.’ I was washed and prepped and thrown at his feet, and he, like the rest of them, fucked me. But he was very creative about it. He chained me against an old bed frame that was propped up against a wall and shoved a gag in my mouth because, and I quote, ‘Your mouth is only good for one thing to me, Stark, but I have no use for it as of yet.’ So yeah. Chained and fucked and drugged repeatedly for all of two weeks, occasionally fed and watered and showered, until Simmons, for some unfathomable reason took pity on me. When the master was away, and all the minions were sated and fucked out, he hustled me out of the hideout.” He paused then looked down at his hands.

 

“It wasn’t an easy escape. They caught up with us almost immediately after we had left. Simmons slapped me into semi-coherency and shoved me away, telling me to run. I was too smashed to realize he wasn’t behind me while I did, but by the time I turned, they had already shot him.” He added another pause to his story there. “I continued running, keeping to the trees, of course, because the bastard thought to slip me out without slipping me even a pair of underwear.” He laughed hoarsely. “And so that they wouldn’t find me as well. I ran into the McCleod’s farm three hours later where they found me a few more after that.”

 

“Did they say why they took you?” Phil asked. Tony made a show of thinking it over.

 

“It’s—I can’t remember a lot, but I think at one point, one of them said, ‘Who cares about a goddamn symbol?’” He shrugged. “That’s it.”

 

“Do you know who took you? Do you remember where the hideout was?” Tony frowned.

 

“I was doped up to my eyeballs and had been running for hours. So no, I don’t remember where the hideout was. But them… they called themselves ‘the Brotherhood.’” Nick sat back and folded his hands over his stomach thoughtfully. Tony allowed an awkward moment or two to pass before he stood up. “So, as much and I loved this little pow-wow, are we done here?” Nick looked at him critically for a few seconds more before nodding and waving him away.

 

……………

 

V.

 

The call came in a month and a half later.

 

By then, Tony had been back to work at SI, cleared for active duty by SHIELD and had participated in several minor missions. Life had gone as back to normal as it ever could.

 

Of course a month and a half was still not enough time to recover from a traumatic event, right? Because if Tony wasn’t willing to talk with Steve of all people about what happened when he was kidnapped, then it certainly had to be a traumatic event of large proportions, and traumatic events tended to take their toll on a person’s attitude and behavior, which probably accounted for the changes in Tony’s, right?

 

And Steve didn’t want to push him; he wasn’t about to add another stress on top of the hundred other things Tony already had going for him. So for the meantime, he ignored the small nuances in Tony’s attitude that weren’t there before, like how their lovemaking was abrupt and cold, like how Tony very nearly ignored all of them in favor of working in the workshop or at SI, and like how he no longer joined in tucking Peter in for the night.

 

It wasn’t only Steve who noticed though. Peter asked for Tony almost every day, and sometimes Tony would favor him with a smile and a few words, but most of the time he was mentally, if not physically, absent. Steve could only tell him that his father was busy catching up after being gone so long. He wondered how long that lie would hold up with the boy.

 

May asked Steve several times how Tony was doing and remarked that she didn’t see him around the kitchen anymore even though, after the workshop and the bedroom, Tony used to spend the most amount of time there. Steve told her the same thing he told Peter, but she wasn’t as convinced. Her eyes were sad and full of pity, so Steve tried to avoid her when he could.

 

Natasha and Phil were conspicuously and frequently missing from the tower, and even when they were present, they’d suddenly disappear when any issue concerning Tony was brought up. Steve couldn’t find the right moment to ask them—he couldn’t even corner them for long enough to do so—but he was sure they knew everything. The thought depressed him a little bit more, that they knew more about his husband than he did.

 

Thor, when he wasn’t busy travelling to or from Asgard or New Mexico, would offer suggestions on how to woo Tony away from his work, which Steve would graciously decline. It wasn’t as though he was avoiding having sex with him, not really. But he thought he should resolve the issue first before working on the benefits of having done so.

 

He’d purposely seek out Bruce often, to ask if Tony’s mentioned anything to him. Of all the tower residents, Bruce was probably the person who’d spent the most time actually conversing with Tony since his return. Admittedly, it was all science talk, but maybe a few personal talks had gotten squeezed in there somewhere? Unfortunately, Bruce would only shake his head and tell him to, “Give him time.”

 

After talking to Rhodey about it—once—the other man promised to find out for him and let him know as soon as he had anything, but “Tony’s an asshole and often damn inconsiderate. He has a history of shutting down to protect himself from anything and everything, including and especially the people he loves. I’m sorry, Cap.” That he hasn’t called back or visited yet told Steve volumes.

 

Pepper’s case was strange. He’d tried calling her and visiting her several times. Out of everyone in Tony’s immediate vicinity, including Steve, she was probably the person he’d spent the most time with since coming back (he tried not to feel petty jealousy at that because, come on, this was Pepper. There was nothing to be jealous of), so if there was something to be known, she’d know about it. Every time he managed to start a conversation with her, though, she’d be side tracked by a phone call or a secretary from accounting or a research assistant in R&D who needed her attention now because of one problem or another cropping up. It was strange because, as busy as she was before (even if she was only an assistant to Tony’s CEO), she had always faced each problem coolly, professionally and with a competence Steve had always envied. Now, with the numerous, simultaneous problems that seemed to be arising one after the other, she seemed so frantic and frazzled that Steve didn’t have the heart to bother her with his personal problems. So he stopped visiting her just until he was sure her work had calmed down. He admittedly hadn’t seen her in a few weeks.

 

Out of all of them, though, it was Bucky and Clint who managed to come to a head with Tony by working together and cornering him in his workshop while Steve was picking up Peter from school. He knew they knew he’d stop them from confronting Tony if he knew about it because “Tony needed time, dammit!” So they waited for him to leave before gaining illegal entry to the workshop and barring any escape.

 

“And?” Steve asked. Bucky and Clint exchange guilty and worried glances that transferred to and multiplied in Steve.

 

“We want to tell you, Cap, but we aren’t sure if we should,” Clint admitted.

 

“It’s not our story to tell,” Bucky added apologetically, and Steve nearly hit him. His best friend, his childhood companion, who he’d known since the twenties, who he’d lost and found again, his best man at his wedding, his almost-brother and he wanted to hit him.

 

“He’s my husband, Bucky. If anyone has a right to know, I do,” he said instead, crossing his arms over his chest to pretend to give off a stern countenance, but really meant to keep his hands away from both Bucky and Clint’s faces. Bucky, the stupid, oblivious idiot, stepped closer to him and put a hand on his arm.

 

“Go ask him, Steve,” he suggested instead. So Steve did.

 

“Don’t worry about it,” was Tony’s answer while he refused to turn to him while working on a gauntlet, and Steve was too much of a wimp, it seemed, to push anymore than that (because it hurt that Tony would open up to Clint and Bucky, but not to him). Steve didn’t speak to Tony for a few days after that, and when he went to apologize for the silent treatment by offering him coffee and a sandwich, Tony only said, “Thanks,” and turned back to modifying Clint’s arrows and Natasha’s guns.

 

A week later, the call came in.

 

……………

 

“So what is it? Flying monkeys? Rabid squids with lust-inducing tentacles? Giant pink bunnies of doom?” Several sets of eyes, widened in surprise and incredulity, turned to Clint who only grinned and shrugged. “What? It’s known to happen.” Natasha rolled her eyes and shut the door behind her, being the last to enter the briefing room.

 

“Yeah, and you just jinxed it for the rest of us,” Bucky shot back. Steve sighed and tuned them out.

 

“What have we got, Phil?” he asked while the rest of them took their seats around the circular table. There was a sour twist to Phil’s mouth, and when he answered, his gaze was directed at Tony.

 

“Battle suits,” he said, gesturing to the screen which showed several hundred battle suits (it was unclear as of yet whether or not there were humans in them) marching through Park Avenue, southbound towards the Avengers Tower. Steve frowned, and his eyebrows drew together before his head jerked around quickly to Tony. There was a pensive look on the CEO’s face, though it was partially hidden by the fingers that tented in front of his mouth, as he stared at the screen, ignoring the conversation around him.

 

“Like Tony’s?” Steve asked with legitimate concern, turning back to Phil. “Is it Hammer again?” Phil shook his head.

 

“Initial reports say they’re AIM, but we’re still working on finding out what they want and where they got the intel on the tech needed to build these suits,” he answered. “The only thing we’re sure of right now is that they’re headed this way.” Steve turned to Tony again, but the genius had yet to move from his seat.

 

“Tony?” he asked. He was hesitant because he didn’t want to imply that Tony’s kidnapping had anything to do with it, which he was sure it didn’t because the Brotherhood, which had taken him and Peter, and AIM were hardly bosom buddies... right? The genius stood and approached the screen.

 

“I resent that you’d even think to compare them with my suit, but I suppose it’s evident where the inspiration was drawn from,” he said carefully. “From the looks of it, they used a ferro-titanium alloy to construct them, which means they’re much more brittle than my suit, though still strong enough to hold their own against most blows. From the bulk alone, I can tell there are humans inside. The joints look like pieces of shit, and the builders should be strung up by their ankles and flayed for such crappy work, but unless you want dismembered limbs, I need to get closer to find a better point of attack.”

 

“Can’t you access their server remotely? Control them from a distance? Surely there has to be some way for you to access their tech.” Bucky suggested, and Tony shook his head.

 

“I can try, but I guarantee you they have safeguards against that kind of control. It’s probably the primary reason why they chose human pilots rather than pure mechanical structures: they wouldn’t have as much remote control over the suits, but at the same time, they avoid any hackers from taking that control away from them. It would probably be easier to take them out altogether.” Steve nodded in understanding, his strategy already forming in his head.

 

“Go ahead and try anyway if you can do it from the suit and go get the information you need about any alternative weak spot. The rest of us will have to contain the fight to 48th and 50th. Aim for the torsos for now. No dismemberment.” He was stern enough to force Clint to hide his snicker. “Bruce, stay here as back up. We’ll call for you if we need you.” Bruce nodded, never eager to join a fight. “Everyone else, let’s go.”

 

Once outside, Thor took Clint up to the roof of the tower for him to set up shop there then flew toward the fray, a few blocks away, landing heavily in front of the small army. Said army all stopped simultaneously when they caught sight of him. There was no movement for a long while even when Steve managed to catch up with Thor, and, a bit later, Natasha and Bucky arrived.

 

“Iron Man?” Steve called into the comm.

 

“Not yet,” was Tony’s answer, so Steve stepped up to the nearest suit.

 

“You know there’s no way you’re going to defeat us. Surrender, and we’ll offer leniency,” he said. Of course, he wasn’t naïve enough to think that they actually would, but it was a standard offer for potential defectors, and it helped fill any awkward silences. As he expected, there was no response, though it was almost eerie the way the army stood motionless and silent, like the terracotta armies of China.

 

And then Steve heard it.

 

It was so very slight that he had to strain his supersoldier senses to hear it.

 

“Stop! Please! Help us! We aren’t part of this, please!” was a muffled cry. Steve turned to the team.

 

“Do you hear that?” he asked them, but he expected the shaking of their heads, so he turned his head up to scan the skies for Tony. “Iron Man, can you scan the immediate vicinity? I think they have hostages.” There was no response, which was only a bit concerning, so Steve only tried again. “Iron Man, can you—” The army suddenly stepped forward once, prompting the Avengers to jump back and adopt defensive positions. A beat passed before Tony spoke.

 

“There are hostages inside some of the suits, about fifty people in random locations. I can’t get them out just yet. Do not engage, Cap,” he warned just before the army jolted into action and swarmed around them. Back to back and surrounded on all sides, Steve barked out commands.

 

“Thor, take Widow and find the controller, the leader, whatever. Take him out. Hawkeye, try finding the hostages and point them out. They have to have some tells that the others don’t. Soldier, you’re with me. Iron Man, find that weak spot.”

 

And then they were moving like a well-oiled machine, and it was fine; it was easy. They’ve dealt with this before—hostages and minions and robots and armies—it was all in their repertoire; they could handle this.

 

He took down one suit, and Bucky held it down with his metal arm to be able to poke around it, looking for a latch or a lever that would allow them to pull out the pilot and dispose of the rest. Steve started flinging the rest of the suits away from him and Bucky as they approached to allow his best friend breathing space. The suits weren’t light by any measure of the word, but Steve could handle it until the rest of the team managed to find a solution.

 

“There!” Natasha barked over the comm. about fifteen minutes later. “On the Waldorf!” Steve was moving before she even finished speaking, leaping onto the shoulders of the nearest suit and bounding over several more until he found his way onto 49th street.

 

“Can you see, Hawkeye?”

 

“I got him, Cap. Bald guy, black trench, mechanical eye. He’s on the helipad with one more of those suits, a better looking one though. Could pass for War Machine if it had a few more guns.”

 

“Stay on the hostages. I’ll handle him,” Steve ordered. “Thor!” He held out a hand as he ran up Park Avenue to the Waldorf. Thor caught him not a few seconds later and hauled him into the air before dropping him on the roof, right in front of the man and the suit Clint described. There was a wide grin on his face, as if he were happy to see Steve there. It was a common expression on overconfident villains, though, so Steve wasn’t too concerned. “I’d bother asking what you want, but either way, you aren’t getting it,” he said coldly. The other guy only smiled wider.

 

“Well at least I know Johann wasn’t lying. You do certainly look the part of the peak of human perfection, Captain America,” he said in a heavy German accent. Steve frowned. Johann? As in…? “Pity for him that he couldn’t make the same claim for himself, but I suppose that can only benefit me in that it gives me a chance to succeed where he failed.” Steve’s confusion must have shown because the man laughed. “You are well acquainted with Johann Schmidt, yes, Captain?” And to that, Steve scowled.

 

“You should be wary with expressing such fond familiarity with that bastard in front of me,” he said. “Who are you?” The grin widened to show a glint of teeth.

 

“A name you shouldn’t soon forget, Captain,” he answered. “I am Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, founder and head scientist of Advanced Idea Mechanics.”

 

(“Iron Man. Status!” He could hear Phil prompting over the comm. Where was Tony and why hadn’t he relayed his information yet?)

 

“It doesn’t matter who you are; you aren’t getting away with this. Surrender now.” The Baron only laughed, which irked Steve because what rock has he been living under? The Avengers have yet to fail to bring in their man, didn’t he know that? Steve chanced a glance at the suit standing beside Strucker, noting that Clint was right; it was so much like War Machine that Steve was half tempted to check in with Rhodey just for the sake of it. His glance, though, was more than to appreciate the suit; he checked to see which joint to aim for first—he wasn’t as hesitant to dismember the pilot of this suit who was surely Strucker’s bodyguard.

 

Something suddenly exploded behind him, and, though his first instinct should have been to check on where it came from and who was injured from it, he didn’t. He used the distraction as an opportunity to sling his shield at the bodyguard’s knee. The man was ready for him, though, and he sidestepped the shield once and again when it rebounded back. Steve caught it and barely dodged the missile that was aimed for him. He jumped from his spot and ran along the roof wall, dodging several more missiles that were aimed at him. He threw his shield again, aiming for the right shoulder joint, but it was deflected with a smaller shoulder missile.

 

He expected that—it was what he wanted, really, because it took attention away from him and allowed him the opportunity to rush forward, grabbing the shield as he passed it, and tackle the bodyguard onto the ground. He lifted this shield and brought the edge down onto the faceplate, once, twice and then once more until the mental bent under the pressure, and then he back flipped off of the metal chest before he could be swiped at.

 

Safe at several feet away, he watched as the bodyguard pulled the distorted faceplate off to reveal that he was Brian Simmons, the guy who kidnapped his son. Anger swamped him when Simmons returned his look with a cocky smirk.

 

“I’ve always admired your skill, Captain. Know that the memory of seeing it, experiencing it firsthand will always be kept in my mind,” he said.

 

“Big words from a man who’s soon to meet the business end of my shield,” Steve spat.

 

“We’ll see,” Simmons answered coolly just as another explosion rocked the building.

 

“Cap, we’re getting killed here. Iron Man isn’t responding,” Bucky said over the comm. Steve swore under his breath.

 

“Hawkeye, do you have a lock on the hostages?” he snapped.

 

“Affirmative. Thor’s extracting them, suit and all, but it’s taking time because the suits holding them are fighting back,” Clint answered. Steve swore again.

 

“Iron Man!” he barked, ignoring the way Simmons’ and Strucker’s grins widened. Tony was silent. “Goddammit, Tony! Where the fuck are you?!” But then Simmons was suddenly attacking him and he didn’t manage to find out if Tony responded or not.

 

He parried each of the suit-enhanced punches with ease because he sparred with Iron Man on a regular basis. But then bullets from all over the suit randomly shot at him, and he spent the better part of trying to fight back ducking out of range and recovering from those that did manage to come into contact with him. Simmons was relentless and aggressive, but Steve knew his bullets couldn’t hold out any longer; they weren’t infinite. So when there was a slight pause in the barrage of projectiles, he pulled his fist back and aimed a punch at Simmons’ exposed face. The other man staggered back, and then Steve had his opening.

 

He pressed forward, ignoring his own wounds and launching himself once again to tackle the suit down, and then he rained punches repeatedly on Simmons’ face. When the man was suitably beat up, he punched him once more for good measure and knocked him out completely. And then he looked up to the horrified face of Strucker.

 

“Give up. Now,” he ordered, but the Baron drew himself up defiantly.

 

“You’ve taken my right hand man down, Captain, but you’ve yet to defeat me,” he said. He lifted his hand to his ear and opened his mouth to speak, but Steve couldn’t allow that because he knew that whatever Strucker was going to say was sure to be a kill order. He pulled his arm back and sent his shield spinning straight at Strucker’s chest, the end of the fight almost clear in his mind.

 

Until a repulsor beam shot the shield out of its current trajectory.

 

What—?” Steve’s head shot up so fast that he was momentarily dizzy, but it cleared within milliseconds for him to confirm that Iron Man hovered just to their right, an arm outstretched, having clearly fired the repulsor. His shield clattered loudly a few paces away, unnoticed. “Iron Man, what are you doing?” he demanded. Tony didn’t answer him, but in his periphery, he could see Strucker starting to smile, so he tuned Tony out for the time being—he didn’t want to waste any time allowing Strucker the opportunity to escape—and ran to the Baron, his fist pulled back for a punch that was intended to take him down and out.

 

Suddenly, Iron Man was in front of him, and two repulsor beams shot him in the chest, sending him flying backwards and hitting the low wall of the roof. His arms instinctively wrapped themselves around his chest as he writhed on the ground, fighting to gasp for breath. The impact of the beams had pushed all the air out of his lungs and seared his suit and part of his flesh, and he couldn’t find the ability to breathe through the pain.

 

“Shit!” he heard Clint screeching over the comm. “Tony’s taken down Cap. Buck, get your ass up there now!” But Steve was torn between struggling to breathe and struggling to comprehend the confusion and betrayal in his mind to concentrate on the happenings of his teammates.

 

Any lesser man would have been down for the count, but Steve was a super soldier. More than that, he was a man who was betrayed and attacked by his own husband. The serum healed him—slowly, but much faster than any regular human—and the adrenaline afforded by his mind surged through him. It took him all of five minutes, but he lifted his head to look up at Tony who was standing protectively in front of the Baron. Then he pushed himself off the ground and staggered to his feet.

 

“Tony…” he called, his tone pleading for an explanation, begging to understand. Strucker only laughed.

 

This, Captain, is why I will succeed where others have failed,” he gloated, stepping closer to Tony. His arm wormed around the suit’s waist and up to caress the arc reactor. “Because I have the one thing that is sure to put a stop to you, your team and your operation.”

 

“JARVIS,” Tony said, audible over the comm. “Light our babies up.” Hundreds of sharp, mechanical snicks echoed through Park Avenue, and Steve turned to see the suits moving simultaneously, crowding around his team.

 

“Cap. Orders!” Bucky shouted over the line as a group gathered around him. Steve faltered for a moment before remembering that he was team leader—he had to be even in situations like this.

 

“Have the hostages been evacuated?” he asked.

 

“Not all of them,” Phil answered. “We still can’t pinpoint the others, and for those that we have, we still can’t get them out of the suits.” Steve gritted his teeth; he had to make a decision and it wasn’t going to be a pretty one. He gave his orders.

 

“Take them all down. Aim for the joints, try not to kill anyone, and try to identify those hostages before you take them out.”

 

Thor took to the skies once more, and several suits broke out from the rest to follow him up. Over the comm., Steve heard the distinct thwackthwackthwack of Clint’s bowstring. Natasha and Bucky’s own arms were also audible in the distance as well as the explosions that were surely also of their doing.

 

With his team working on their own, Steve turned back to Tony only to see the armor disassembling around him. He stepped out, cocksure, confident and still wearing the same clothes he had worn when Steve had sucked him off not two hours ago, and the smirk he shot the blond could only be described as sadistic. Steve watched as he turned to the Baron and tilted his head into the caress Strucker gave his cheek, his smirk transforming into a reverent, happy smile, not unlike the ones he’d give Steve when the soldier would cuddle around him and whisper sweet nothings in his ear.

 

Then he tilted his head up to the Baron and accepted a kiss, and Steve’s heart fell to the bottom of his stomach.

 

“There’s something wrong!” Bucky yelled. “My arm’s going haywire, and there’s something wrong with Nat’s guns!”

 

“None of my arrows are working either!” Clint added. “I can’t get—shit!” And then there was a grunt over the line that, once again, meant Clint had jumped and Phil’s “Barton!” confirmed it. A roar sounded in the distance almost immediately after, and Steve felt momentary relief knowing Hulk would catch Hawkeye, but he couldn’t look away or reprimand his idiot of a teammate for jumping off a building when he knew his grappling arrow wouldn’t work because Tony was still in front of him, wrapped in the Baron’s arms like that was where he belonged.

 

They parted, and Tony stepped back as the Baron spread his arms open. Then the Iron Man suit wrapped itself around him with deliberate slowness as if to give Steve the opportunity to digest the fact that Tony was well and truly under Strucker’s command because he would never let anyone, much less a villain, use his suit. The boot repulsors fired up gently, lifting Strucker off of the roof and into the air dramatically.

 

“Come and get me, Captain,” he dared easily, cockily.

 

And then two missiles hit the back of the Iron Man suit. It flickered briefly, like Steve had seen it do before when hit with an EMP blast, then it went dead and dropped like a rock through the roof of the Waldorf, straight into the lobby’s marbled floor.

 

There was a moment of shock that rippled through them. Then Steve looked up into the direction the missiles had come from and spied a pale figure with a bazooka standing on top of a tall building on 3rd Avenue.

 

“You’re welcome, Captain,” came the dulcet tones of Sharon Carter through his comm. He gave a short salute back and turned back to Tony who was staring in horror at the hole the Baron created. He lifted his eyes to look at Steve, and then they darkened in anger.

 

“Tony, it’s me. This isn’t who you are. He did something to you,” Steve pleaded, willing him to remember. “Tony, please.” Tony only picked his cell out of his jeans pocket and lifted it up.

 

“New target, JARVIS. Aim all units at Captain America,” he ordered tonelessly. “Kill him.” And then suits started crawling over the Waldorf roof walls and flying overhead, swarming and surrounding him and his shield was ten feet away. He put his fist through the head of the first one, and it came away dripping with oil and fluids.

 

Not blood.

 

“The suits are empty, possibly except for the one with hostages. Start taking them out!” Steve commanded as he systematically went through the rest, punching one after the other. For each one, his fist revealed a mess of electronic components and wires. “Thor, take the ones with broken heads out! I’ll keep searching for the rest of the hostages.”

 

“Aye, captain!” Thor answered as Steve dodged a missile from one of the broken suits. He punched the next suit closest to him and jumped again to avoid another missile targeted at him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tony barking commands into the phone, but he ignored him for now, focused only on dodging and punching and blocking and jumping over each of the suits he encountered. And then he heard it again.

 

“Stop! Please! Help me. I can’t get out!” He went through each suit one by one, listening carefully, watching their motions. And then he found it. He quickly neared the suit knocked on the metal sharply.

 

“Can you hear me?” he asked. “We’re going to get you out!”

 

“Help me. Please! I can’t get out!”

 

“Hold on!” Steve said and braced both hands on the suit’s “collarbone” intent on prying it open. It was hard, and Steve had to work at it, but the metal was slowly buckling under his grip.

 

“JARVIS! Detonate all!” he heard Tony yell, and the suit in his hands beeped thrice. Steve had barely a millisecond to jump and turn away before it exploded behind him, the explosion contained but hot and loud. Similar explosions rang around Park Avenue, and he heard his team’s exclamations of surprise and anger as the hostage suits blew up. A bigger explosion came from near the Tower where, presumably, they had corralled the hostage suits they had already found. And when the explosions had subsided and there was an eerie stillness, Steve turned to Tony, his eyes blazing with anger.

 

“You killed them,” he said in both horror and rage. “Fifty people, Tony, and you killed them all!!!” Tony smirked at him, clearly self-satisfied, and Steve screamed as he lunged at him. But even without the suit, Tony wasn’t a pushover; being with Steve for over half a decade made sure of that. He dodged the attempted blow and called on two of the suits to fight for him. Steve took them out easily and lunged for Tony again. Again, two more suits attacked him, and he had enough of this. He loved Tony—he still did—but this was enough! He jumped for his shield, three feet away, with suits close on his tail. He twisted in midair and threw it at them, slicing the heads right off, and then the shield rebounded back into his hands and he threw it once more.

 

Straight at the back of Tony’s head.

 

……………

 

VI.

 

Bright light assaulted his eyes when he woke, but he struggled to see through it. He pried his eyes open with more difficulty than he was used to, which probably meant he was in Medical because he always had difficulty waking up in Medical. True enough, a spackled ceiling with bright fluorescent light greeted him, and only after he recognized that did he recognize the soft beeping of the medical monitoring equipment.

 

He turned his head just enough to see who else was in the room with him because he was sure to have some company. It had become tradition, after all, for his family to berate him for his “stupid decision making” as soon as he was coherent enough to listen. On a hard, plastic chair, three feet away against the wall, he found Steve sitting calmly, simply watching him come to, which was strange because Steve, though he did chew him out—often—for his “stupid decisions,” could usually be found sitting as close to the bed as he possibly could. He lifted a hand to beckon Steve closer.

 

Or tried to.

 

“What…?” he asked, his voice hoarse from disuse. But that didn’t bother him because he was concerned with the straps that held him to the bed. Steve stood and approached him. “Steve…”

 

“You don’t remember?” Steve asked, coldly, distantly. Tony frowned. Remember wha—?

 

Oh.

 

“Oh,” he repeated out loud. “Steve, I—“ He broke off while he struggled to form words around his explanation. It was more difficult than it had to be for someone who knew how to talk his way out of a paper bag, but how should he even start to apologize for everything he’d done, willingly or otherwise?

 

But Steve didn’t allow him to speak.

 

Tony may or may not have let out a (manly) squeak when Steve suddenly launched himself at the genius and slammed their lips together. But then Steve’s mouth was warm and grateful and understanding and forgiving, so Tony pressed closer to him, not willing to question the good favor his husband gave him. Steve kissed him deeply, desperately, cupping his jaw with both hands to pull him even closer and kiss him even deeper until Tony found his cheeks were wet and Steve above him was jerking minutely. He pulled at the bindings that wrapped around his wrists, but they didn’t budge. The rattling prompted Steve to pull away though.

 

“You idiot!” he hissed in a whisper, tears staining his face and falling onto Tony’s. “You stupid, stupid, stupid idiot!” He was tugging Tony’s hands out of the restraints, though, so Tony took that to mean the situation with Strucker had been resolved. When his hands were free, he grabbed Steve by the back of his head and pulled him in for another kiss that went on for far longer than it had to because Tony was afraid.

 

He was afraid to hear what Steve had to say about what happened. He was afraid to say something that would ruin this tentative forgiveness. He was afraid to lose the love and trust of his team, his family.

 

He was afraid to lose Steve.

 

But Steve pulled away again eventually and sniffled back a last sob before pressing their foreheads together.

 

“You are such a fucking idiot,” he whispered again.

 

……………

 

“His shield crushed the chip when it hit you and you just kind of… went down. You weren’t moving, so we took the chance to take you to Medical,” Bucky explained hours later. Tony petted Peter’s hair carefully where he was sleeping beside Tony on the hospital bed, tired from hours of talking and catching up. He didn’t understand as much what happened and was only happy that Tony was showing interest in him again. Steve, after having spent almost a week straight at Tony’s bedside, was forced to go home thanks to the combined efforts of Tony, Phil, Natasha and Fury, leaving Tony in the care of Bucky, Bruce and Clint. Thor would be by later to pick Peter up. “They took it out, realized what it was and what it was doing and kind of backtracked on the whole plan to throw you in jail for eternity.”

 

“That was also after they found out you’d planted those hostage suits that didn’t actually have hostages in them. Clever, but a rather unexpected move from a supervillain,” Bruce added. Tony shifted uncomfortably, chancing a quick glance at Clint.

 

“The effect of the chip was strange. It was though I was cut up into two different consciousnesses: the one I really am and one that contained only the parts of me Strucker wanted—it was still me, with my memories, my brain, my tells, everything, but I just didn’t care about anything except what Strucker wanted—then the one that cared about… everything was stuffed into a see-through box,” he explained. “I could see everything and I could talk to the other consciousness, but I couldn’t control anything. I suppose, to a certain extent, that other consciousness listened to me when I told him what to do.” He could see Clint fidget because if there was anyone else who would know about mind control, it would be Clint. “I told it to hide the better features of my suit away from Strucker’s suits, I told it to use hostage simulations instead of real ones and convince you all that there were humans inside the suits rather than actually put humans in them, and I told him to suppress JARVIS rather than recode him altogether.” Then he realized, “How is JARVIS?”

 

“JARVIS, it seemed, answered only to you, so when you became unconscious, he stopped responding altogether,” Bruce said. “After we found the chip, SHIELD started working on creating containment software for him in case he started responding again. It’s crude and probably won’t hold for long, but now that you’re up, they can take the containment down.” Tony nodded.

 

”How about Strucker and Simmons? What happened to them?”

 

“They’re both in secret, high security prisons,” Bucky answered. “More to protect them than anything really. Steve was pretty mad.”

 

“Which, of course, translates to ‘homicidal rage’ for the rest of the human race,” Clint added. Tony cracked a small, fond smile before it fell into a frown.

 

“How is he?” he asked in all seriousness, but of course Clint had to ruin it.

 

“Because you were either too busy sucking face or too chickenshit to ask him yourself,” he snickered. Tony punched him in the face. Hard. And he didn’t even feel sorry for it. Bruce glared at Clint.

 

“He’s fine. A bit banged up because you didn’t have to fire your repulsors straight into his chest,” Bucky answered. Tony looked halfway between contrite and guilty. “And he’s coping with the whole my-husband’s-been-mind-controlled thing. Mostly though, he’s really worried about you.” Tony looked down at Peter because he didn’t want all the emotion he felt at those words put on display.

 

There was a knock on the door, and Thor, Natasha and May came in. The god spied Tony awake on the bed and beamed.

 

“Brother! I’m glad to see you’re well.” He strode over and wrapped Tony in a short but painfully tight hug. Tony winced and patted him on the back.

 

“Thanks, Thor,” he said and leaned around him to look at Natasha whose arms were crossed over her chest as she glared at him. Her hips swayed as she walked over, which made Tony fear for his balls because it meant she was pissed enough to feed them to him. She stopped beside him and uncrossed her arms so that she could cup his jaw with both hands and place soft kisses on both his cheeks.

 

“I’m sure Steve has told you how stupid you are,” she said. Tony smiled weakly. “Don’t do it again.” And then she wrapped her arms around him and hugged him in a considerably less enthusiastic manner than Thor had. Tony sighed into her embrace and returned it briefly.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, intended only for her ears, but he didn’t doubt all the rest of them heard it too. Natasha kissed his cheek again.

 

“Stupid,” she said firmly then walked away to stand behind Bucky.

 

Tony then turned to May who had tears in her eyes and a hand pressed against her lips. Hers, probably, was the reaction Tony had been so very, very afraid to face. He had put Peter—and everyone, but most especially Peter who he had promised to take care of—in serious danger. How could any normal person trust another with a child after that? How could she trust him?

 

He opened his mouth to apologize, to explain, to beg for forgiveness and a second chance—anything because he didn’t want to lose his child—but she rushed forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, cutting him off.

 

“I’m glad you’re okay,” she said with a sincerity and gratitude that brought tears to Tony’s own eyes and formed a heavy lump in his throat, and then said, “Thank you for rescuing Peter.” At those words, Tony buried his face into her neck as hot tears suddenly and involuntarily spilled over his eyes, and when he couldn’t choke it down any longer, a sharp, loud sob echoed in the room before he was able to muffle it. May hugged him tighter as subsequent silent ones racked his body, and she rocked and shushed each one away.

 

“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her shoulder when he could breathe through his sobs, watery but firm and sincere. May only shushed him again.

 

“It’s not your fault, Tony. It’s not your fault, but you saved him, and you’re fine—we all are—and that’s all that matters,” she said, pushing him back to wipe the tears off his face with the handkerchief she pulled out of her pocket. “Now shush. It won’t do Tony Stark any good to be seen with puffy red eyes.” She kissed his cheek. “Be strong,” she whispered, hugging him again then stepping back. Tony ran the side of his forearm over his eyes, dragging the remaining moisture away, and then he reached over and clasped May’s hand tight.

 

“Thank you,” he said. May kissed him one more time, and then turned to Natasha, Bruce, Bucky and Thor, who was gently picking the sleeping Peter up off the bed. As gingerly as he tried to, though, the movement still managed to rouse Peter from his sleep. He jerked up in Thor’s arms, quickly rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, before doing his best to wiggle away from the god and back beside Tony. The CEO didn’t complain when Peter burrowed into his arms; he only stroked the back of his head and pressed kisses to his hair.

 

“I don’t want to go yet, daddy,” he begged softly. Tony said nothing because he also didn’t want Peter to leave, so it was Natasha who said gently, “Your daddy needs to rest, baby.” Peter pressed his face into Tony’s hospital gown and shook his head. “I’ll be quiet, I promise. I won’t talk, and I won’t move. Daddy can rest even if I’m here, please.” His pleading tone broke Tony’s heart, but he only hugged him tight and then tipped his chin up. He cupped both of Peter’s cheeks

 

“I’m not going anywhere, Petey. I’ll be here when you come back tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that, and when Uncle Bruce says I can go, we’re going to go to that new science exhibit you wanted to see, okay?” he said.

 

“Promise?” Peter’s voice was small and hopeful, and Tony knew he was asking for more than just a trip to the exhibit. He nodded and kissed Peter’s forehead.

 

“I promise, baby,” he said firmly. Peter nodded and burrowed his face in Tony’s chest once more. He held on for much longer than he had to, and then Tony heard him say in a small, small voice, “I’m sorry, daddy.” Tony pressed his hand to his mouth to muffle another sob (because Clint’s already filled his yearly quota of hearing him cry, thank you), and then wrapped Peter in a tight, tight hug and buried his face in Peter’s hair. He didn’t notice another loud sob escaping him.

 

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “It’s not your fault, never your fault, Peter, do you understand?” The strength of his resolve was bordering a little on manic, but he wanted Peter to understand. Peter gave a small nod. “I’d go through every circle of hell and back again to find you and save you. Always.” Peter clutched at Tony tighter.

 

“I love you, daddy,” he whispered.

 

“I love you, Petey,” Tony whispered back, and then, loathe as he was, he let go of his son and allowed May to pull him into her arms. He wiped a stray tear off of his cheek, and then said, “See you tomorrow, baby.”

 

“Bye bye, daddy,” Peter answered with a small, watery smile and a wave. One by one, they filed out of the room, leaving Clint with Tony.

 

They waited until the door was shut before Tony turned to the other agent.

 

“I didn’t know psychology was part of your skill set,” he said. Clint slouched in his seat and turned his gaze away.

 

“Yeah, well apparently being mind-controlled once qualifies me to listen and dole out advice to other mind-control victims,” he answered. Tony laughed humorlessly but otherwise said or did nothing until the silence stretched between them for a long time. Clint eventually turned to face him. “Look, man. I’m not a fucking shrink. I won’t tell you to talk to me, I won’t ask you how you feel, I’m not going to tell you what to do. I just… I’m your friend. You let me know how I can help you and I will. You want to talk, I’ll listen. You want to… I dunno, cry, go ahead.” Tony snorted. Clint glared at him. “Hey, I’m being serious here. You want someone to kick you around, let me know and I’ll sneak you down to the gym.” Tony looked away, saying nothing at first.

 

It took a while—precisely thirty surprisingly not awkward minutes—before he spoke.

 

“Does the guilt ever go away?” he asked softly. Clint chewed on his lip before he answered.

 

“It took me a hell of a damn long time,” he finally said. “But yeah… yeah, it does. It helps if you talk to Steve, talk to the people you think you hurt, and if you need their forgiveness, then ask for it. I’ll bet my bow they’ll give it, no questions asked, and they’re gonna tell you you’re stupid for having asked for it in the first place because it’s not. Your. Fault.” He was firm and confident with his choice of words, and Tony struggled to believe him; he wanted to believe.

 

“You know who took the longest to forgive me?” he added after a moment. Tony looked at him. “Me,” the archer shrugged. “You can choose to let it go on for longer than it has to, or you can choose to let it go now. In the end, you’re the only one who’s going to beat you up over it.” Tony looked pensive as he turned away again from his friend.

 

“Will you forgive me?” he eventually asked. Clint waited until Tony was looking at him before he shook his head emphatically.

 

“Fuck, no,” he said. And then grinned. “That punch fucking hurt, you asshole!”

 

……………

 

“You’re thinking too loud. Again,” Steve grumbled from behind Tony as they lay on their bed in the darkness of the night, sleep just outside their grasp. He tightened the arms that were wrapped around Tony’s midsection and burrowed his face into the back of Tony’s neck. “And no. Nobody hates you.”

 

“You don’t know what I’m thinking,” Tony pointed out, petulantly because Steve did actually hit the nail on the head.

 

“Yes, I do,” Steve answered. There was a grin forming on his lips; Tony could feel it against his skin, but he couldn’t understand why Steve was so happy, was so normal. “Because you’re the stupidest genius I have ever met,” Steve said, seemingly answering his thoughts. Tony rolled around to frown at him, so Steve kissed him, long, languorous and lazy, rolling on top of him and pinning him to the bed. “And because I know you’re never going to be as stupid as that ever again.”

 

“You don’t know that,” Tony pointed out again.

 

“No, I don’t,” Steve agreed. He kissed Tony again, harder this time, and Tony felt every ounce of fear he held for the future when Tony might be as stupid as he had been. “But next time, you’re going to talk to me. Properly. And we’re going to figure it out together. I’d honestly thought you’d grown out of that phase after our second anniversary, but apparently I have to remind you again, frequently.” Tony looked away, so Steve cupped his face and redirected his gaze. “Hey,” he said. “You’re everything I deserve. More importantly, you’re everything I want. I knew what I was getting into when I married you, so stop beating yourself up for being you. Just…” He kissed Tony again while he searched for the words to say. “Just next time, remember that, okay?” He pressed their foreheads together, not demanding an answer but just waiting for one.

 

“Okay,” Tony eventually whispered. “I’m sorry.”

 

“I love you, Tony.”

 

“And I love you.”