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"Mum, you really don't have to wait around with me," said Martin for at least the third time since they'd got to the airport. "You and Simon can go, I'll be fine."

"Oh, don't be silly, Martin, of course we'll wait," said Mum, patting his arm. "Who knows when we'll see you again?"

"Mum-o's right," said Simon. "Now you're spending all your time over the pond, we've got to take our chances where we can."

Martin gritted his teeth with impatience. He'd spent the best part of a week staying at Mum's, putting up with all the usual condescension from Simon, and now he just wanted to get on the plane, put his headphones in, and blank out until it was finally time to see Tony again.

"You probably see me just as much now as when I was in Fitton, Simon," he said. Simon hadn't exactly gone out of his way to make time for Martin when they'd been living in the same country.

"Nonsense," said Simon, reaching out and ruffling Martin's hair. Oh god, why did he have to do that in public? Why did he have to do it at all? "Besides, it's not about me, it's about Mum. Poor old girl, being left alone by her youngest child at her time of life."

"Oh no, it's fine," said Mum. "I don't mind. I can't expect my children to sacrifice their lives for me. It's just a shame about Christmas, that's all."

"Yes, I really do think you should reconsider that one, Martin," said Simon. "Christmas is for family, after all."

"Tony's my family as well," said Martin, wondering just how long it would take for that to sink in. He didn't know if it was because he was a man or because they didn't have children, but it felt like his marriage to Tony had never really fitted into his family's minds in the same way that Caitlin and Gavin's had, before the divorce. Gavin had been 'part of the family' even before they'd been married, but somehow Tony was still just the strange American who existed to intrude on family events.

"Oh well, yes," said Mum, as if she wasn't sure about that but didn't want to argue. "Of course. And you know he'd be welcome, but if he's busy you know you're always welcome on your own."

"Would have thought you'd be happy to have a bit of a break from the old ball-and-chain," said Simon. "Or is it different with you people?"

Martin didn't have the first idea how to respond to that, beyond shocked gaping. Why did it always come down to this? Tony was his husband, why couldn't his family just accept him?

"Mommy!" called a whiny, high-pitched voice from the check-in line next to Martin's, distracting everyone's attention. A small boy was apparently getting sick of waiting.

"Yes, hun?" asked his mother, crouching down to his level.

"I'm bored," he announced, loudly enough for everyone in the area to send looks over that ranged from irritated to sympathetic.

Martin took a deep breath. “You know, you really should go,” he said to Mum. “All this waiting around is only going to be boring, and if you go now, you'll be in time for Countdown.”

“Oh, yes,” said Mum, glancing at her watch. “Well, if you really don't mind, Martin.”

“I really don't,” said Martin.

Simon insisted in engulfing Martin in an uncomfortable hug and then rocking back to lift him up off his feet, all while Martin weakly protested and tried to push him off, to no avail.

"Goodbye then, darling," said Mum, leaning in to kiss Martin's cheek. "I do hope you have a good flight."

"Thanks, Mum," he said. "Goodbye."

They left, and Martin's shoulders slumped with relief.

“Families, right?” said the woman next to him, hitching another, even smaller, child up higher on her hip.

Martin managed a smile that he hoped covered his agreement with that sentiment without giving away how much he wished no one had been watching that scene.

It wasn't so much that he minded being judged for the way his family treated him, because after thirty-five years, he was more than used to it. What he didn't like was the way they treated Tony and, worse, the way he never quite managed to find the words to defend him, at least not until hours later.

Tony deserved so much better than that. He always managed to protect Martin, from pretty much everything: super-villains, the media, even his own family's occasionally snippy comments. If he'd been here, Martin had no doubt that he'd have found something to say back to Simon that would have made it clear to him just how much of a dick he was being. And he'd definitely have stopped Martin having to endure one of Simon's awful hugs.

He wasn't here though, which meant it was up to Martin and Martin, as usual, had failed. And, worse, failed with an audience.

He took a deep breath, rubbing a hand over his face, then picked his bag up and shuffled forward in the queue.

****

Steve didn't look like he'd slept at all when he came in from his morning run. Clint took a sip of his coffee and met Natasha's eyes over the breakfast table, but he only got a tiny shrug in response. Great, so much for having one of them manage Tony's meltdown while the other dealt with Steve's. Clint hadn't been able to do much once Tony disappeared into his and Martin's suite, and since it looked like Steve was still on the verge of coming apart, Natasha clearly hadn't had any luck either.

"Good run?" he asked, as Steve got himself a glass of water and downed it.

"Okay," said Steve, shortly. He refilled his glass and then turned to lean against the sink as he sipped at it. He fixed a very serious look on Clint. "You sat with Tony on the flight back yesterday. Do you think he'll come round?"

Oh man. Clint raised his hands up. "Probably best to ask him about that. Uh, and try it in a more diplomatic manner."

Steve frowned. "I don't see that diplomacy has a place here. Tony needs to accept that—"

"Seriously? You're talking about me behind my back? Classy, Cap," said Tony, coming into the kitchen.

From the look on Steve's face, he was just as surprised to see Tony up this early as Clint was. He recovered quickly though, fixing Tony with the same look he'd just given Clint. "Tony, I understand that you're upset, but we need to—"

Tony held up his hands. "We don't need to do anything, Cap. Well, I need to get some breakfast, and you presumably need to go lift some weights, or try and understand internet memes, or whatever it is you do all day, but—"

"Tony," said Steve, heavily. "We need to talk about this."

Tony blinked then turned around. “You know what? I've got smoothies in the workshop.”

"Tony," said Steve. "You know we're going to need to talk sooner or later."

"Later, then," said Tony, heading for the door. "Later is always better."

"I didn't take you for a coward," said Natasha, standing up to take her plate over to the dishwasher.

Oh man, too far, Tasha, too far.

Tony stopped in the doorway, then turned around to level a glare at her. "I'm not, I just don't see the point in having the same damned argument over something that neither of us are going to change our minds on. This fucker killed my parents—"

"Hydra killed your parents," corrected Steve. "And I'm sorry about that, Tony, of course I am, but can't you see that Bucky is just as much a victim as—"

"Don't preach at me," Tony snapped back and whoa, this was going just about as well as Clint had thought it would. "And don't try to get me to exonerate a serial killer."

It didn't look as if Tony was going to stand down at all and Steve was fronting up against him, hands clenched into fists. Clint had a feeling that he was taking out on Tony the fact that he hadn't been able to protect his friend from Hydra. Oh man, this was only going to get messy. Really messy.

Clint looked over at Natasha, wondering why she'd picked at Tony in order to cause this. Tony and Steve had already had this argument twice, and got nowhere with it. What was the point in making them have it again?

Natasha gave Clint a meaningful look, then raised an eyebrow. "There's an argument to be made that we're all serial killers," she said, not looking away from Clint.

Aw no, Tasha, no. The last thing Clint wanted to do was to get involved in this fight.

"There's a bit of a difference between what we do, and what Hydra's pet assassin has spent seventy years doing," said Tony.

Natasha's glare at Clint turned fiercer, and he suppressed a sigh and gave in.

"And how much difference is there between Hydra's brainwashed assassin and Loki's?" he asked.

Tony and Steve's heads both whipped around to stare at him.

"I thought you were on my side," said Tony, sounding betrayed.

Clint shook his head. "Oh no, there's no sides. Come on, we're a team. If we start taking sides against each other, things are going to get out of hand."

Tony shook his head. "You know what, this whole thing is academic anyway. The guy's in the wind, it's not like there's anything we can do about him. Cap can't find him and wrap him in cotton-wool, I can't find him and get some justice for my parents, you can't find him and bond over being brainwashed, it's a pointless argument."

Okay, that stung a little. Clint gritted his teeth and stared down into his coffee. "Just saying," he said. "Seems like you're blaming the weapon rather than the hand that wielded it."

Tony shook his head. "I'm blaming all of them. Every single fucker involved.” He walked out without another word, leaving Steve to glare after him.

Clint looked at Natasha. "What was the point of that?"

She shook her head. "Don't be naive. The Winter Soldier isn't going to stay in the wind, and we need to have a coherent strategy for dealing with him when he resurfaces, rather than just ignoring the problem and then falling apart when he does."

"No one is falling apart," said Steve. "And when we find Bucky, we're going to do everything we can to get him back. If Tony tries anything else, then I'll just have to stop him." He set his glass down and strode out of the room.

Clint let out a sigh and tipped his head back. "Oh yeah, this is going to end well."

****

Halfway across the Atlantic and Erin was secretly impressed with how well-behaved her kids had been. Tammy had got a bit fractious at the start, but quickly settled down and fallen asleep on Erin's lap, and Robbie had been content to watch a couple of movies and was now also mostly asleep.

The man she'd watched be berated by his family in the check-in line was sitting just across the aisle from them, which Erin had been relieved by when they'd sat down. If the way he'd been a pushover with his family was anything to go by, he wasn't the type to raise a fuss over some noisy kids, and if he did, Erin would be able to glare him into submission.

He'd spent most of the flight with headphones on and his face buried in a book though, so clearly he wasn't bothered by them.

Martin, that had been his name. A weak name for a weak guy.

There was a click and the movie Erin had been half-watching along with Robbie froze.

"This is Captain Harris speaking," came over the PA. Robbie woke up enough to make a distressed sound that the movie had paused. Martin pulled his headphones off so that he could hear.

"I'm afraid we've had a technical problem, and we're going to have to make an unscheduled landing in Halifax, Nova Scotia."

There was a general groan from the cabin.

"I am sorry about this, but rest assured that there's no danger. It's just a mechanical issue that we've got to get checked out as soon as possible. All things being well, we'll only be in Halifax for a very short time, and then we'll be able to get you on your way."

He clicked off and the movie restarted, but Robbie didn't go back to watching it.

"Is the plane broken, Mommy?" he asked.

"Only a very little bit," said Erin. "I'm sure it will be fine."

Except she wasn't sure of that at all and was trying very hard not to freak out. The last thing you wanted to be told when you were thousands of feet up in the air with your two precious children was that some part of the thing keeping you up there wasn't working properly.

"If it's broken, will we fall down?" asked Robbie.

Oh god. What if the plane did fall down?

There was an awkwardly cleared throat and Erin glanced over to see that Martin had heard him.

"It won't," Martin said. "The problem isn't that serious or the seatbelt lights would have gone on and the cabin crew would be cross-checking the cabin."

Robbie gave him a wide-eyed look.

"Are you sure?" asked Erin.

"Oh yes," said Martin. He puffed his chest out slightly. "I'm a pilot," he said, with as much self-satisfaction as if he were announcing the creation of a new universe.

"Wow," said Robbie, breathlessly. "You fly real planes? Like this one?"

"Yes," said Martin. "Well, no. Not exactly like this one. This is a Boeing 747, and I fly a much smaller plane, called a Piper M350. But I used to fly a plane that was a bit more like this, which was a Lockheed McDonnel 3-12. And, uh, sometimes I fly another plane as well, but that's very different."

"Wow," said Robbie again, looking at him with stars in his eyes. Erin resigned herself to a few weeks of being told he wanted to be a pilot every few minutes.

Martin readjusted his shoulders, looking very smug, as if a small child's awe was hard to come by. Erin decided not to tell him that the same expression had been produced by one of her brother's friends pretending to take a coin out of his ear.

"The cockpit of a plane is covered in little red warning lights," he said. "Most of them never go on, but if they do, you have to land and wait for a mechanic to have a look. Then, they usually tell you that it's the little red warning light that's broken, not the plane, and you can take off again."

"See?" Erin said to Robbie, running her hand over his head and making him duck away with a scowl. "Nothing to worry about."

"It just means a delay," said Martin, gloomily. He glanced at his watch, and Erin saw that it was a very fancy-looking Starkwatch. Apparently piloting paid pretty well. Maybe she should be encouraging Robbie on this one in a way she hadn't when he wanted to be a clown.

It was early evening when they landed in Halifax, but there was still enough light for there to be something to see when Erin pointed out the window and told Tammy and Robbie that they were in Canada.

"Are there polar bears?" asked Robbie, staring out at the view of the airport, which was much like every other airport in the world.

"Not in this part of Canada," said Erin.

Tammy turned back to press her face into Erin's arm. "I want to go home."

"I know, sweetheart, me too," said Erin, putting an arm around her. "We're on our way, though. We've just got to wait for the mechanic to look at the plane, and then we'll be on our way."

"No, Tony, you cannot come out here and fix the plane yourself," Martin said in a loud, exasperated voice. Erin glanced over her shoulder to see that he, like most of the rest of the passengers, had taken the chance of being on the ground to immediately pull a phone out and call someone.

Tony, wasn’t that the name of the husband he'd mentioned to his family? Erin wondered if maybe she should be spending slightly less time spying on the poor guy. Eh, what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, and anything that distracted from the boredom of long-distance travel was, frankly, very welcome.

"I'm sure it won't be a long delay," he continued. "They haven't even got us off the plane. I'll be home soon, seriously."

There was a click and the Captain's voice came back on. "Good evening, everyone. Welcome to Halifax. I'm afraid the mechanics are going to need a bit longer to fix this, so we're going to get you off the plane, give you a chance to stretch your legs. Please take all your belongings with you."

There was another communal groan and Erin resisted the urge to bash her head on the seat in front of her. Getting the kids and all their bags out of the plane, just to then have to kick around inside an airport where there wouldn't be anything to distract them, was going to be hell.

"Oh god, I spoke too soon," said Martin to his husband. "We're getting off. I'm going to be trapped in Canada. I thought my days of being held up because of a part falling off the plane I was on were over."

“No, Tony, seriously. Just stay where you are—the workshop, right?—and keep working. I'll call you when they update us.”

Everyone was starting to stand up and open lockers, pulling bags out. Erin started pulling all the crap Robbie had managed to stash in the seat pocket out and packing it away, telling herself very firmly that this was only going to be a short delay and they'd be back on the plane soon enough for it to have felt like a waste of time.

****

The best thing about living in a house with a kitchen kept stocked by a billionaire for the benefit of a super-soldier and a god was that there was always enough shit in the fridge to make a totally epic sandwich. Clint had three layers stacked up already and was contemplating a fourth when his phone rang.

“Barton,” he answered, opening the fridge and having a look. Pastrami was pretty thin, he could definitely get away with adding that on top, right?

“Hi, Clint,” said Martin's voice.

“Oh hey, Martin,” said Clint. “Aren't you meant to be back here about now? Has Tony left you stranded at the airport cuz he's all holed up in his workshop? I can go dig him out for you if you want.”

“No,” said Martin. “I'm, uh, I'm actually in Halifax. They had to put down to fix a mechanical fault.”

Clint would need another layer of bread, of course, but he could totally squash it all down and still fit it in his mouth. Yeah, okay, he was doing it. He pulled the pastrami out.

“See, this is what I don't get,” said Clint. “Why the hell are you flying on someone else's plane when you're married to Tony Stark? Sorry, Tony Stark-Crieff.”

Martin let out a very long sigh. “You know this. Tony had to leave early because of the Avengers alert, so he took the jet.”

“Right, okay,” said Clint, tucking the phone against his shoulder so he could start on the final level of his masterpiece. “But doesn't he have, like, three other jets? And a contract with your old company? And, you know, access to the quinjet? Not to mention, he flew home a few days ago now, plenty of time for the jet to go back for you.”

“Yes, that was what Tony said,” said Martin. “But it was just easier to book a flight. Especially once I checked with Pepper and she said that the company was actually using all the jets, and that when Tony said 'they're all free, pick one', he was lying.”

“Ah,” said Clint. “Yeah, okay, good call to check with Pepper. But still, seems weird for the husband of the world's foremost aviation genius to be on a random airline. Are you at least in first class?”

Martin let out the kind of aggravated sigh that meant no. “Look, this isn't why I called.”

“Probably not,” agreed Clint, adding the final touch to his towering glory. “It's kinda fun messing with you, though. Are you trying to get through to Tony? JARVIS, has he fallen asleep on a workbench again?”

“I've already spoken to Tony,” said Martin. “But, uh. He seemed a bit. Well, I told him I was going to be delayed by a couple of hours, and he got all—weird. Like it was an utter disaster if he didn't see me immediately. I wanted to ask, is he okay? Did something happen on the mission?”

Ah. Ah crap. Clint paused in the process of cutting his sandwich up. “He didn't say anything?” he asked, cautiously.

“Oh god, there is something,” said Martin. “Is he hurt? Is someone else hurt? Did someone get stuck in a parallel dimension again?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” said Clint, quickly. “Just-—some stuff came up. Look, it's not really my place to say.”

Martin let out a very long breath. “No, okay. Right, well, I can't do anything till I get back, but could you keep an eye on him for me? He sounded—I don't know. He sounded like he used to when he first stopped drinking and was having a bad day.”

Clint stared down at his sandwich for a moment. “Yeah,” he said, quietly. “He kinda looked like that as well. Okay, I'll head down to his workshop and bother him until you can get here.”

“Thank you,” said Martin, with relief. “I'm hoping it won't take too long.”

“No problem,” said Clint. “See you in a couple of hours, then.”

He clicked off the phone and looked at the sandwich again. Oh crap, if he was taking this down to eat in Tony's workshop, did that mean he was going to have to share?

****

Tony was hunched over a bench when Clint got down to the workshop, but it didn't look like he was working on anything. His hands were clenched on the edge of the bench and his head was hanging as if he were bowed down by a heavy weight.

Clint tapped on the door for JARVIS to let him in and Tony immediately straightened, turning to him with a plastered-on smile.

"Hey, Hawkeye, to what do I owe this—" He stopped and stared at Clint's sandwich with a frown. "Is that a sandwich, or some kind of weird food sculpture?"

"I guess that answers my question about whether you'll want some," said Clint, sitting himself down on Tony's sofa with his glorious sandwich of awesome.

"You came down here to offer me food?" asked Tony, sceptically.

"Oh, hell no," said Clint. "This is all mine. I wasn't going to give you any even if you asked."

Tony rolled his eyes. "So much for the camaraderie and brotherhood of the warrior bond, or whatever it was that Thor was going on about the other day."

"Hey, I'm all up for brotherhood," said Clint. "Just as long as no one tries to take my food."

"Right," said Tony, and there was a sour note to his voice. He turned back to stare at the scattered metal parts on the bench in front of him. "We're all about the team, right?"

Clint winced. Right, okay, that might be a sore point right now. "You know that Steve didn't mean—"

Tony held up a hand. "I don't know what Steve did or didn't mean," he said. "And, frankly, I'm done with caring about that right now. Seems like we've got other shit to worry about."

"Okay," said Clint slowly, thinking that there was no way in hell Tony had actually stopped caring and that this was exactly the kind of thing that was going to end up festering and causing issues further down the line.

"Are you seriously just here to drop bits of sandwich on my floor?" asked Tony.

Clint winced and looked down. Aw, sandwich, no. Apparently there was a reason people didn't build them this high. "Uh, basically," he said. "Sorry."

One of Tony's robots rolled over and started trying to sweep the mess up, which involved it attacking his feet. Clint curled his legs up and scowled at it. "You couldn't wait?"

"He doesn't like mess," said Tony. "Which is hilarious, because he's usually the one causing it."

The robot succeeded in cleaning up the floor, then raised its arm to hover close to the remains of Clint's sandwich.

"Get off," said Clint, waving a hand at it. "Mine. You can't clear this up until it's on the floor."

"Remind me to come to your range some time and throw food around," said Tony, picking up a screwdriver and poking at whatever he was pretending to work on.

Clint shrugged. "I'd just borrow one of your robots to clear it up. Not this one, this one sucks."

The bot's arm lowered with a little whine and Clint felt bad, and then was irritated with himself. It was a robot, he couldn't hurt its feelings.

"Hey, come here," said Tony, clicking his fingers at it. "Come on, I appreciate you, even if Hawkeye is a mean bastard."

The bot rolled away towards him and Clint moved his legs back down to the floor. "I'll bring him some motor oil or something next time I drop by," he said, and then wanted to roll his eyes at himself for being a sap.

He finished his sandwich and put the plate on a desk. "So, what are you working on?"

Tony sent him a narrow-eyed look. "I'll tell you, just as soon as you tell me why you're here." He hesitated. "Did Steve send you?"

"Nope," said Clint. "Martin did."

Tony's frown deepened. "Martin decided that what I really needed right now was an archer cluttering up my workshop?"

Clint shrugged. "He knows you pretty well. He called me and asked what happened on the mission to upset you, then asked me to hang out with you until he got here."

Tony sent him a sharp look. "Did you tell him?"

Clint shook his head. "Not my place."

Tony nodded, then stared at the workbench for a few minutes. Clint settled back on the sofa, pulling out his phone to entertain himself for a bit.

It took nearly ten minutes for Tony to stop pretending he was working. He dropped the screwdriver on the workbench. "I just want my husband to get back," he said. "How the hell is he stuck in fucking Canada? This is the kind of bullshit you get if you don't use Starktech. Fucking Boeing."

"They're assholes," Clint agreed. "Probably did it on purpose. We should head over to their offices and start blowing shit up."

"Don't think I'm not tempted," said Tony, heading over to sit next to Clint. "Pepper would probably get mad if I started using the Avengers to take out my competitors, though." He collapsed down and tipped his head back against the sofa. "Man, I really want a drink," he said, just quietly enough for Clint to pretend he hadn't heard.

Okay, right. So maybe Martin had been right that this was going to be a thing. Clint patted Tony's leg. "Want to go up to the range and shoot some shit? Always makes me feel better."

"Nah," said Tony. "Trust me, leaving the workshop isn't a good plan right now."

The last time Tony had said that, he'd meant that if he got distracted from what he was working on there was going to be an explosion. And then Martin had started asking him questions about the latest revamp to the quinjet and Clint had ended up with plaster dust in his hair.

"I'm not risking death just by sitting here, am I?" asked Clint, glancing around.

Tony stared at him, then shook his head. "Nah, you're all good. Nothing to worry about. I just meant I should stay here because I know there's a bottle of vodka in Natasha's room, and some beer and a disgustingly cheap bottle of whisky in yours—seriously, Clint, I know what you're being paid, you should be ashamed of yourself—and two mysterious unlabelled bottles in Thor's room that I'm 95% sure are Asgardian mead, and which would probably be a really great way to blow off this teetotal thing." He stopped and took a breath. "Plus, there's booze on at least three of the non-Avenger floors in places that are all easily accessible. Trust me, it's better if I stay down here, out of temptation's way."

That was actually less booze than Clint would have guessed was on-site but he supposed Martin, Steve and Bruce didn't really drink either, and the others tended to keep it on the down-low out of respect for Tony.

Clint wondered if Tony always knew how much alcohol was in the Tower or if this was just a special occasion. Either way, staying down here probably was their best bet.

"Okay then," he said. "Guess you're going to have to show me those new arrows you were talking about the other day."

Getting Tony to talk about tech was always a pretty good distraction. His face brightened and he stood up, gesturing at Clint. "Oh yeah, you're gonna love this, come over here."

****

Two hours without any news, or anything appearing to change. Martin wasn't sure he could take much more of this, although he didn't know what the alternative was. Phone Tony and just whimper at him until he came up with a solution?

He'd ended up sat in the gate lounge opposite the woman and her two children, who'd taken their chance to run around noisily for a bit before collapsing onto the floor by the window that looked out over the airfield.

“I'm sorry,” said the woman. “They're just tired.”

Martin gave her his best understanding smile. “They've been a lot quieter than they could have been,” he said, because he could remember when his nephews were about the same ages.

She found a smile and held out her hand. “Erin,” she said.

“Martin,” he replied, shaking her hand.

She nodded as if she'd already known that and he had a bad moment when he wondered if she'd seen him in a magazine or something, standing beside Tony and trying not to look intensely awkward.

She didn't look as if she'd linked him with a billionaire superhero, though. Mostly she just looked as tired as Martin felt.

"I swear to god, I'm never going over to see my brother again. This is way too much hassle, he'll have to come back to New York instead, " she said, rubbing her hand over her face.

"He lives in the UK?" asked Martin.

She nodded. "In London. He's just got married to an English woman. We went over for the wedding." She sighed. "I'm very happy for him, but I'm beginning to wonder why he couldn't just find someone in New Jersey."

"I expect that's what my mum says about me, only in reverse," said Martin, thinking of the way she'd fussed over him this morning when he'd been trying to leave for the airport.

"You're English, right?" asked Erin.

Martin nodded. "Yeah. I live in Manhattan now. With my husband." And there was the little shimmer of pride and happiness that came every time he got to refer to Tony as that. He'd thought it might have worn off after a year and a half, but apparently it was going to have just as much staying power as the similar shimmer he got whenever he thought about his pilot's licence.

"It was my mother's seventieth birthday. We were both over for it, but Tony got called home for a work emergency, so I'm flying back alone."

"Work emergency?" repeated Erin. "Yeah, my husband used to have a lot of those. They all turned out to involve some woman who worked in accounts."

Martin stared at her. Oh god, what response was he meant to give to that? "Um. Tony hates pretty much everyone in accounts," he said, weakly. And besides, it hadn't been that kind of work emergency. There was no way in hell Tony was using the Avengers as cover for an affair. Who would he be having an affair with for that to be true? Steve?

There was no way that Captain America would engage in an extra-marital affair, even if he wasn't about as straight as they came.

"Oh god, I'm sorry," said Erin. "I guess I'm still pretty bitter. I'm sure your husband is a lot better than mine was."

Well, yes. Martin's husband was the best.

Before Martin could respond, an announcement came over the system.

"Hi, this is a message for the passengers of delayed flight BA438. I'm afraid we've been unable to fix the problem with your plane, and we're having to source an alternative. Unfortunately, we're unlikely to be able to find one tonight. We're arranging for hotel rooms for you for tonight, and will keep you updated."

Everyone in the waiting area groaned, and Martin could hear angry muttering springing up.

"Oh god," said Erin, looking at her children. "This is a nightmare."

"Yes," agreed Martin. Tony and Clint had both been right. He should have just let Tony arrange some kind of private jet for him, even if it did make him feel like a pretentious arsehole to be the only passenger on a flight. He pulled out his phone and stared at it, then took a deep breath.

"Right, time to upset my husband," he said, and dialled. Of course, there was an alternative to upsetting Tony, and he was starting to think there wasn't any reason not to just give into it.

Tony answered immediately. "Please tell me you're about to take off again."

The note of desperation that Martin had detected in his voice earlier was now a lot more obvious. Oh god, he really was having an emotional meltdown of some kind. Martin needed to be there.

"They can't fix the plane," he said. "And they can't find another one at the moment."

Tony made a frustrated noise. "Oh, come on, Spitfire, this is— Please, let me come and get you. Please? Please please please, pretty please, I'll do anything you want, just— I just want you back here."

God, even if Martin hadn't already decided, hearing Tony like that was all it would have taken to change his mind. "That was why I was calling," he admitted. "If you're okay with coming—"

"Am I okay?" asked Tony. "Are you kidding? I am so freaking okay, I'm heading to the quinjet hangar right now. Clint! Get over here, we're going to Canada!"

"Great," said Martin. "Thank you. And, uh, Tony? Don't forget to let the airport know you're coming. You remember how ATC got last time."

"ATC are a bunch of whiny dicks," said Tony. "But yes, fine, I will bow to your love of regulations and make sure we're all sorted. See you very, very soon."

"Looking forward to it," said Martin, and hung up.

Erin glanced over at him with a frown, and he gave her an awkward shrug. "He's coming to pick me up."

She stared. "From New York?"

"Yeah," said Martin.

"That's got to be a twelve hour drive," she said. "By the time he gets here—"

Martin cleared his throat awkwardly. "Actually, it's probably only going to take him about an hour. Possibly less."

"From New York?" she repeated incredulously.

And this was the bit Martin should have worked out how to be smooth about by now, but somehow 'my husband is super-rich' never got any easier as a reveal. "He's got a plane he can bring out."

"He's got his own plane?" she asked, and her son's head came up to stare at Martin.

"He's got several planes," he said, then took a deep breath. "He's, uh. His name is Tony Stark-Crieff."

She goggled at him. Her son sucked in a loud gasp and opened his eyes so wide Martin was a little worried his eyeballs were just going pop right out.

"Iron Man? You know Iron Man?!" he gasped, loudly enough for a couple of heads to turn in their direction.

"Um. Yes," said Martin. "I know him fairly well, actually."

Erin shook her head as if trying to get a grip. "Why the hell were you flying coach?"

That was a question that Martin had a feeling he was going to be really sick of by the end of the day. "I just was," he snapped, then took a breath. Not her fault, and she had more than enough problems right now without him getting tetchy. He looked at the two small children, both of them clearly exhausted and grumpy, and made a decision. "Look, do you want a lift back? Tony's getting Clint to fly the quinjet out to get me, there'll be enough room for you and your children."

"The Avengers quinjet?" repeated the boy, and then turned his face to Erin. "Oh Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, please, can we?"

"Hush, Robbie," she said, and looked back at Martin. "If you're sure it wouldn't be a problem?"

"Not at all," said Martin.

"Would all passengers from delayed flight BA438 please make their way to baggage claim. We have offloaded your luggage and it should be coming through in the next half hour."

Martin met Erin's eyes. "By the time we get our bags, Tony will probably be here."

Robbie, clasped at his mother's sleeve and shook it. "Mommy, please."

She let out a long sigh. "Okay, yes, thank you. That's very kind of you."

"Oh, yeeeesss!" said Robbie, leaping up to jump with joy.

****

After Tony's parents had died, he'd retreated to his workshop and drunk himself insensible for a week. It had been Rhodey who'd pulled him out, thrown him in the shower, poured him into a suit, and taken him to the funeral that was little more than a blur in his memory now.

Rhodey had only just joined the Air Force though, and he hadn't been able stay longer than a few days. Once he'd gone, Tony had retreated back to his workshop, only coming out when he ran out of booze in order to find the nearest party to drown himself in instead. If he were brutally honest with himself, that was a pattern that only ended in Afghanistan.

And now it felt like he was right back there. He'd holed himself up in his workshop but there was no drink there now, and it turned out that what he really wanted was not to lock himself away from the world alone while he licked his metaphorical wounds, but to lock himself away with Martin.

It was completely stupid how much Tony wanted to see Martin again, given that it had only been three days since he'd had to abandon the Crieff family gathering in favour of beating up Hydra. You'd think he'd be able to go three days without seeing the guy, given that they used to live thousands of miles apart—but apparently Martin was as addictive as the booze had been. Three days was enough to make him start getting all jittery and grumpy. Especially three days like the last three had been.

"Okay, the airport have given us permission to land in one of their parking lots," said Clint. "They've cleared a space on the top floor."

"That's nice of them," said Tony. "Remind me to send them a Christmas card."

"It's not exactly secure, though. I'm gonna stay with the quinjet," said Clint.

"I think I can handle meeting my husband on my own," said Tony. He resisted the temptation to bounce in his chair at the thought.

"Right," said Clint. "Just, try not to explode with excitement before you get to him, yeah? Not sure how I'd explain that to Cap."

Tony flinched and then scowled at him. "Just blame it on your best friend and refuse to assign any guilt over the matter."

Clint made a face to himself that said he hadn't been thinking when he said that. "Coming in to land," he said, rather than continuing the conversation.

Tony pushed all thoughts of Steve and the mission from his head and held on to his arm-rests as they descended. The moment they'd touched down, he sprang up, heading for the doors.

There was a handful of people staring at the quinjet in the parking lot, so he gave them a merry wave as he got out and jogged towards Arrivals.

Martin was standing by the Arrivals exit with his bag beside him, saying something to a woman beside him. He looked exhausted and he'd clearly run his hands through his hair a few too many times. Tony had never seen anything more perfect.

"Spitfire!" he called, and Martin spun on his heel and a grin took over his face.

"Tony!" he said, but that was all Tony let him get out before he'd wrapped him up in his arms and fastened his mouth to Martin's.

Fuck yeah, that was just what he'd been needing ever since all the shit went down with Steve and Hydra. Martin held on to him just as tightly, kissing him back as if he'd found it just as hard to get through the last three days. Given he'd been with his family, maybe he had done.

Tony pulled back and gave Martin a smile that he hoped said everything he couldn't put into words. "You realise your hair is a mess, right?"

Martin's hands let go of Tony in order to try and scrape his hair back into some semblance of order. "It's been a long day."

"Tell me about it," said Tony. "Come on, the quicker we get back to the Tower, the quicker I can get you into bed."

Martin went faintly pink. It had become a lot harder to win a full blush from him now he'd spent enough time with Tony to get a bit immune, but Tony rather liked the more subtle colour he went now.

"Uh, Tony," Martin said, glancing at the woman he'd been talking to. "This is Erin. She was on the plane with me, I said we'd be able to give her and her kids a lift back to New York."

Tony tore his eyes away to look at her and realised that she wasn't their only audience. A small boy was staring up at Tony with awe, while an even smaller girl was sat on a suitcase, looking half-asleep and about thirty seconds away from crying. Okay, probably he should make an effort to keep things PG if there were small kids watching.

"Um. Hi," said Erin.

The last thing Tony wanted right now was to have to deal with strangers, but he could tell from her face that she'd had almost as shit a day as he had. Plus, she had two small kids, which was an unbelievable nightmare Tony didn't ever want to have to deal with.

He plastered one of his media smiles on. "Hey, good to meet you."

Her small boy was giving him a wide-eyed look, so Tony gave him a wink. The boy drew in a choked breath and for a moment Tony was worried he was going to pass out.

"Thank you so much for this," said Erin. "I really appreciate it."

Tony shrugged. "No problem. That's what superheroes are for, right?"

The girl looked up and blinked at him, then looked at Erin. "Superheroes?" she asked, doubtfully.

Yeah, okay, so Tony had come straight from his workshop and probably looked more like a hobo who'd rolled around in motor oil for a bit.

"He's Iron Man, stupid," said the boy to her.

Her face creased up and she let out a shrill cry. Erin rushed to pick her up. "Robbie, don't call your sister stupid," she told her son. “Tammy, sweetheart, please don't cry. We're going home now, like you wanted."

The girl sniffed. "Home?" she repeated.

"Yep," said Tony, picking up Martin's bag and slinging it over his shoulder, and getting a glare from his husband for his troubles. "The quicker we go, the quicker we'll get there." And the quicker he could get alone with Martin.

Martin picked up two of Erin's bags, as if trying to prove a point about his baggage-carrying skills, and Erin grabbed the last one, keeping hold of her daughter in one arm in an impressive feat of juggling.

"This way," said Tony, and put a hand on the small of Martin's back to guide him towards the quinjet. The boy, Robbie, jogged to keep up with them, and then started in on a steady stream of questions.

"Are the other Avengers here? Is Captain America? Do you have your suit? Can I see the suit? Are we going to your Tower? Will the other Avengers be there? Will Captain America? Can I see his shield?"

Tony did his best to keep up with answering them and told himself very firmly that he wasn't allowed to snap at the kid just because he was tired and cranky.

When they got to the quinjet, the sight of it was enough to render the boy speechless, which was a merciful blessing. Clint was outside, lounging against the door while a small crowd took selfies with him and the quinjet.

"Hey, Martin," he said. "You seem to have picked up an entourage."

"He's offered them a lift home," said Tony. "Because he's filled with the milk of human kindness."

Martin snorted. "Just seemed like the obvious thing to do."

"It's very kind of you all," said Erin.

"We're the best," agreed Clint, opening up the door and waving them on. "Come on, let's get going." He turned to the crowd. "You'll probably want to move back," he said. "You don't want to be too close when we take off."

Tony bundled Martin on board and left Clint to try and wrangle gawping spectators.

"Grab seats anywhere," he said to Erin. Her son immediately headed for the pilot's seat. "Not there. Any of the ones at the back."

The boy turned a disappointed look on him, so he gestured at a random seat.

"That's where Captain America usually sits," he lied. Steve didn't have a regular seat any more than the rest of them did, but if it was going to get the kid to sit down, a white lie was totally allowed. "And he always wears the seatbelt," he added.

The boy threw himself in the seat and did the belt up immediately. His mother sent Tony a grateful look as she put her daughter down in the seat next to him. If dealing with Martin's nephews had taught Tony anything, it was that the best way to get kids to do something was to tell them it was something Cap did.

Martin slid an arm around Tony's waist. "I missed you," he said, quietly.

"Not half as much as I missed you," said Tony, giving him another kiss. "Are you gonna want to pilot, or can we just grab a couple of seats and shamelessly snuggle?"

Martin snorted. "I think we should let Clint fly," he said, raising his voice as Clint came back on board, shutting the door behind him. "Wouldn't want him to feel useless."

"Nothing useless about the best damned marksman in the world," said Clint. "But if you want an excuse to get all disgustingly clingy, go for it."

"I don't ever need an excuse to be clingy with my husband," said Tony.

The flight back seemed to take forever. Tony had thought he was doing sort of okay but having Martin beside him, his hand in Tony's, was only serving to make it clear to him that he was holding on by his fingernails. He just wanted to be curled up with him, somewhere private where they could block out the rest of the world.

Instead, he had two small children staring at him with wide eyes and an exhausted-looking woman clearly experiencing some level of social anxiety about getting a lift on the Avengers' private jet. It was a good thing Tony had spent a lifetime pinning on a smile and engaging with strangers, even when he felt like shit.

"You're an Avengers fan, then?" he said to the boy, Robbie. It was a stupid question because he hadn't yet met a kid that age who wasn't, but as long as he was running through the standard spiel with a tiny fan, he was able to keep the video that was on constant repeat in his mind pushed to the back.

The kid nodded fervently. "I love when they fight robots."

"Me too, kid," said Tony. Turning killer robots into scrap involved a whole lot less guilt and soul-searching than trying to take down human villains without killing them. "Should we see if we can get you some merchandise when we get back to the Tower? A t-shirt or something?"

"We've got a lot of those action figures kicking about still," said Clint, over his shoulder. "Who's your favourite, kid?"

Robbie glanced at his mum with excitement, then back at Clint. "I like Captain America!"

Right. Of fucking course. Just what Tony need; a reminder of how much everyone loved Steve. "Seems like no one has any taste any more." He looked at the girl instead. "You got a favourite Avenger?"

She thought about that for a very long time, frowning with concentration. "I like the Hulk," she said, eventually.

"You can't like the Hulk," her brother told her with scorn. "You're a girl, you're not allowed. You have to like Black Widow."

The girl screwed her face up and started loudly crying. Tony winced at the shrill sound and squeezed tighter at Martin's hand.

"Where on earth did you get that from?" Erin asked Robbie. "Girls can like whoever they want, just like boys can. Tammy, darling, don't cry, you're allowed to like the Hulk."

The girl didn't stop crying. Tony gritted his teeth against the noise. Oh man, how long before they got home? Too fucking long. It felt like his skull was shrinking around his brain.

"Robbie, apologise to your sister," said Erin, sounding a bit desperate.

"No!" said Robbie. "I'm right. Girls have to like the girls and boys have to like the boys!"

Erin sent Tony a frustrated look. "I don't even know where they get this stuff from," she said. "I've never said anything like that." She put her arm around her daughter and gave her a cuddle. "Come on, Tammy, please stop crying. You can like the Hulk."

"We can give you a figure of him," said Tony, desperate to just get the noise to stop so he could feel slightly less like he was about to splinter apart. "Actually, we can give you two, because we've got both the Hulk and Bruce. Bruce is awesome, he's all science bro, comes with a tiny microscope."

The loud cries tailed off and she stared at him with a tear-streaked face. "Two?" she repeated.

"Yup," said Tony, thinking that he'd give her a lot more than that if it got her to shut up.

"I want two," said Robbie.

"You'll get what you're given and be grateful," snapped Erin. "And if you upset your sister again, you'll get nothing."

Robbie made an indignant noise but shut up under her glare in favour of crossing his arms and staring resentfully at the ground.

"I'm sorry," said Erin. "They're both tired and over-excited."

"It's cool," lied Tony. "Nearly back, and then you can get them to bed." And then he could get Martin to bed. Not even to have sex, just to curl up, cling on, and try and push past all the crap crowding in on his brain.

"I don't want to go to bed," sulked Robbie.

"I do," said Martin. "I'm very tired." He sent Tony a glance that made it very clear that he was thinking pretty much the same thing as Tony. Thank fuck, Tony wouldn't even have to ask him for it.

"Yeah, I reckon I'll go to bed as soon as we get in," he said, squeezing Martin's hand, and then finally relaxed it a bit. He didn't need to hold on so tightly; Martin wasn't going anywhere.

****

The children were reasonably quiet for the rest of the flight, although there was a brief row over whether or not Tammy was allowed to undo her seatbelt, followed by another about whether or not Robbie was allowed to open the locker next to his seat. Tony just kept his smile on and hoped that the cracks weren't showing.

Happily, landing in the hangar at the Tower was enough to awe them into silence. The moment Clint had shut down the engines, Tony was on his feet, pulling Martin up from his seat. "Come on, come on, let's get to our room."

Martin stood up, but resisted his efforts to get him off the plane. "Do you need a hand with your bags?" he asked Erin.

Right, sure, okay, deal with the civilians first. Oh man, being an Avenger sucked. Tony just wanted to tell them all to fuck off, but he took a deep breath and turned a smile on them.

"Whereabouts do you live?" Tony asked. "We can get you a cab?"

"We live in Queens," said Erin. "A cab would be great, thank you."

They had to stop by the main lounge to find the action figures Tony had promised the kids which, naturally, meant they ended up running into Steve.

He was hunched over some papers with Natasha, frowning at whatever they said. Tony was willing to lay a guess that he knew what they were about, and felt himself tense up. Oh man, this was the last thing he wanted to be dealing with right now.

Robbie sucked in a strangled gasp. "Captain America," he said, with reverent awe.

Steve looked puzzled for a split-second before putting on his greeting-small-children smile. "Hello," he said. "Have you come to join the team?"

Robbie made a very strange sound and then glanced around at his mom as if asking permission.

"We gave them a lift back so they wouldn't be stranded in Halifax," said Martin.

Steve nodded, then glanced at Tony with an expression that said he was just waiting for his chance to start back in on him.

Nope. Tony wasn't having that, not right now.

"How about we get you those action figures?" he asked, looking at the kids to avoid looking at Steve, because the sight of his face was making his fists itch.

"Yes, please!" said Tammy, giving a little jump.

The Avengers had a cupboard full of merchandise that had been sent over either as samples or because someone had decided they wanted to play with it. Usually that someone was Clint, who probably had the world's largest collection of Hawkeye merchandise.

Tony knelt down to open the cupboard and the kids crowded in close next to him, gaping at the contents as if it were a treasure chest. "Okay, let's see, there's a Hulk," he said, pulling a packet out and handing it to Tammy. "And there's a Bruce, all done up in his nerdy science togs. And you want Cap, yeah? I think he's back here."

"Wow, look at his shield," said Robbie, taking it with reverent hands.

"Yeah, it's pretty cool, right?" said Tony. "You know, my dad made that shield."

Steve made a frustrated noise that Tony ignored with an immense strength of will power. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to turn on him and start shouting again, but they'd tried that and it hadn't really got them anywhere.

"What do you say?" said Erin, and Tony got a chorus of thank yous.

"No problem," said Tony, standing back up. He glanced back at Martin to see him giving Tony a faint frown that meant he'd cottoned on to just how messed up Tony was feeling right now.

"And thank you for flying us back as well," said Erin. "It was very kind of you."

Tony shrugged. "Thank Martin for that." And then leave, he thought. He was so done with having to deal with anyone he wasn't married to right now.

There must have been some sign of that on his face, because Clint stepped in and took charge, getting JARVIS to call a cab and then conducting Erin and the children to the lift to go down to the lobby.

The moment they were out of sight, Tony turned to Martin and dropped his head to rest on his shoulder. "Oh man, please tell me you won't ever want kids."

Martin snorted. "God, no." He rested his hand on the back of Tony's head, stroking over his hair. It felt amazing. Tony wanted to just collapse into him and curl up and let everything weighing him down go away.

"Tony, can we talk?" asked Steve, and Tony felt himself stiffen. He straightened and grabbed Martin's hand.

"Nope," he said. "C'mon, Spitfire."

"Tony, please—" started Steve, but Tony was already out of the room before he could finish the sentence.

Martin let him pull him out of the room towards his bedroom without comment, but once they were away from the others, he cleared his throat.

"What's going on with you and Steve?"

"Nothing," said Tony, concentrating on getting to their room as quickly as possible, to where he'd be able to get JARVIS to lock down the door and keep the rest of the world out.

Martin tugged at his hand, keeping him in place for a moment. "I'm not an idiot, Tony."

Tony stopped and looked at him. "Right," he agreed. "Sorry, I just—" He leaned in and kissed him. "Look, can we get to our bedroom first?"

Martin nodded and kissed him in return. "Lead on, then."

****

"Lock us down, JARVIS," said Tony, the second the door was shut behind them.

"Yes, sir."

He'd made it. He'd finally got where he wanted to be for the last two days, with the one person he wanted to be with. It felt a bit like having his strings cut. He collapsed down on the edge of the bed and rested his head in his hands for a moment.

Martin knelt down in front of him and put his hands on Tony's shoulders. "Hey," he said, in a careful voice. "What's going on?"

Tony glanced up at him and it felt like a wall tumbling down. He tipped forward until he was resting against him, head tucked into his neck.

"We found the guy who killed my parents," he said, and wow, saying it was an emotional rush he couldn't really control. He clutched at Martin's arms and realised, with some shock, that he had tears in his eyes.

"Oh," said Martin, moving to hold on to him properly, arms circled around Tony's back. "Oh, Tony."

Tony couldn't control it at all. He broke down into the kind of tears that he hadn't given into since he was a tiny kid. Martin stayed right where he was, holding on to him and stroking a hand over his back.

"Hey, Tony, it's okay," he said. "Just, let it out." He paused, and then added, as if it were nothing, "I love you."

It wasn't nothing, it was everything. Tony slipped off the bed so that they were both on the floor, where he could press as close to Martin as he could get.

"Oh man," he managed to get out between sobs. "This is— Sorry. I didn't even cry like this when they died."

"Sounds like it's been building up, then," said Martin. "It's fine, seriously, Tony. Everyone needs a good cry every so often."

Tony shook his head, but wasn't able to put anything else into words.

Eventually, the emotional storm abated and he was able to choke the tears off and sit back, wiping at his face.

"Ugh," he said. "That was kinda gross, sorry."

Martin rolled his eyes and kissed him, which whoa, Tony probably would have waited until he'd washed his face. "I married you, didn't I? Gross comes with that."

Tony snorted. "Kinda feels like you got a bad deal on that one, then."

"No, it was great," said Martin. "You're great."

God, Tony loved this man so much, it probably should be worrying. He levered himself back up off the floor to sit on the bed. Martin stood up and went into the bathroom to get him a glass of water and some tissues that Tony didn't really need, because he'd wiped most of it on Martin's shirt. Uh, oops?

"I kinda made you a mess," he said.

Martin glanced down and shrugged, showing a lot less concern for the neatness of his appearance than he usually did. "Knowing you, you had an ulterior motive," he said, and unbuttoned his shirt, stripping it off.

Tony managed a wolf-whistle, but it came out a bit weak. He really needed to pull himself back together. Come on, he was Tony Stark, he didn't let himself get all pathetic like this.

Except, he wasn't Tony Stark any more. He was Tony Stark-Crieff, and maybe that meant it was okay to let all his walls down with his husband, on occasion.

"Come on," said Martin, pulling the covers back on the bed. "We're going to curl up, and you're going to tell me all about it." He toed his shoes off, then undid his belt to take his pants off.

"Okay, that sounds like an awesome plan," said Tony. "Especially the bit where we take our clothes off."

Martin smiled at him. "I could have guessed you'd approve of that."

Tony pulled his pants and shirt off. "What can I say? I've got a hot husband, I like seeing him in as little clothing as possible." He shifted back on the bed until he was leaning against the headboard.

"What a coincidence," said Martin, climbing in next to him. "I've got a hot husband too."

****

Martin had never seen Tony anywhere close to this upset, not even when he was going cold turkey and pretending everything was fine while shaking with withdrawal. It made Martin feel horrible, like there was a black hole in his stomach, sucking all the warmth out of him.

If he'd known things were even close to this bad, he would have been back here the very quickest he could, even if that meant using one of the Stark Industries jets and pissing Pepper off.

In the wake of Tony's tears, he tried to put on a front of his usual attitude, but Martin could see he was still fragile. Martin propped himself up against the headboard and just held onto him, stroking a hand gently over his back. Here was another thing that he should be protecting Tony from, and he'd failed again. Tony shouldn't have had to deal with small children and a stranger if he was feeling this bad.

Well, the thing about being married at least meant that he had a lifetime to try and get this right, starting now.

Martin pressed a kiss to the top of his head, and then to his lips when Tony lifted his head to meet Martin's mouth. "So, what happened?"

Tony lowered his head back down to Martin's chest and let out a long sigh. His hands tightened their grip on Martin, then relaxed.

"Okay, so, you know we went after a Hydra base, yeah?"

Martin nodded. "Natasha got some intel, right?"

"Yeah," said Tony. "Turns out she's been chasing a ghost for a few years. Some legendary assassin who most people think is a myth, but who got involved with one of her missions a few years before the Avengers formed, kicked her ass and managed to shoot her to boot."

"Right," said Martin, trying to picture someone who would be able to beat Natasha in a fight and finding it unnerving. "And he was working for Hydra?"

"Yep," said Tony. "She got word from a source that led her to one of their bases, then gathered us all up for an assault when a bit of recon showed they were planning to infiltrate SHIELD and take it down from the inside."

"Jesus," said Martin. "But you got them all?"

Tony shrugged. "Most of them. Enough to scupper their plans. The Winter Soldier—this assassin Natasha had a gripe with—was there, and he helped a handful escape, and then got away himself. I've got to be honest, I was on the other side of the fight, blowing open the back door for Clint and Thor, then infiltrating their systems, so I didn't see him, but by all accounts he's the kind of scary good that meant he took both Steve and Natasha on and still somehow had the upper hand."

Martin felt a shiver go down his spine at the thought and he held on to Tony a little bit tighter. "And he's still on the loose?"

"Yup," said Tony. "Don't get stressed though, cuz apparently he may not be a bad guy. Although, frankly, anyone who has spent seventy years killing people for Hydra—"

"Seventy years?!" repeated Martin. "How old is this guy?"

"Ah," said Tony. "Well, yeah. That's the thing.” He took a deep breath, then went back to the story without explaining, as if he needed to lay it all out in order before he got to the heart of the matter.

“So, we took the base, and then we found this room, deep down in the basement. It had this really terrifying-looking chair, like, proper nightmare material, and a bunch of ancient tech. Seriously ancient, it kinda made me feel unclean to have to look at it. And there was all this paperwork, actual paperwork, all put in cardboard files like we're still in the fifties, I felt so defiled. Anyway, we started looking through it, and it was all about this Winter Soldier, about his missions, going back decades. And then Clint found a book detailing all this nasty shit they'd done to his brain. They've been wiping his memories and programming him to be the perfect killer, then chucking him in cryostasis when they didn't need him."

Martin felt himself shudder at the idea, fear creeping into his heart. "Oh god," he said.

Tony immediately sat up, putting his hand on Martin's shoulder. "Oh no, hey, don't be like that. No way he's ever going to be anywhere near you. You know how secure this place is, trust me, you don't need to worry."

Martin managed a nod, because Tony always protected him. "Right, yes, I know," he said. "Just, it sounds like a horror film."

"Yeah," said Tony. He gave Martin a wan smile. "In fact, that's basically what I found on their computers. A whole folder of film clips from the missions they'd sent him on, and one of them was—" He stopped and took a deep breath. Martin tightened his grip on him. "One of them was called 16th December 1991. That was— That's the day my parents died."

"Oh god," said Martin, very quietly.

"Yeah," said Tony. "So, I set it playing, and— Well. It was pretty bad. Security footage of the road they were driving down, and then this fucker just—"

He stopped and shook his head as if he couldn't say anything more. Martin felt his heart break for him and he pressed another kiss to his forehead. "That's horrible."

Tony nodded. "Fucking Hydra bastards," he muttered, then took a deep breath. "So, at the same time as I was watching a video of my parents being murdered, Steve found a file about this Soldier asshole from before he was Hydra's brainwashed killer, and it turns out he was Bucky Barnes."

Martin frowned, trying to place the name.

Tony glanced up at his face. "He's Steve's best friend from back in the day. They grew up together, fought Nazis together, all that."

"Oh, right," remembered Martin. "He died, didn't he? During the War?"

"Yeah," said Tony. "Well, that's what we all thought anyway. Same as I thought my parents had a car accident. Turns out we were all wrong, and Hydra are fucking bastards."

Martin blinked as he tried to process that. When the hell had his life become the kind that involved ninety-year-old brainwashed assassins?

"And I thought getting stuck in Canada meant I was having a bad day,” he said.

Tony snorted out a laugh. "To be fair, that really sucked." He took a deep breath. "Anyway, then Steve and I had a fight, cuz I wanted to go out and rip apart the guy who killed my parents, and he wanted me to— Well. To not. It got kinda heated, and he ended up stopping me by throwing his shield at me—"

"Oh god!" said Martin, picturing the hard metal of Steve's shield crashing into Tony, before remembering that Tony would have been in his suit.

"It's cool, I was fine. Well, pissed off, but fine," said Tony. "I took off anyway, but it was way too late and the Winter Asshole had completely disappeared, so I came back here, Steve and I had another fight, and I've mostly just been in my workshop since."

"Right," said Martin. "Christ." He thought about it for a moment, then shook his head. "I can barely get my head around it."

"Yeah, me neither," said Tony. "I've just spent the last two days doing nothing but have it chase round and round in my mind." He made a face. "I'm so done with it." He sat up and leaned in close to Martin, kissing him with thorough intent. "I think I'm ready to be distracted by something a bit more worthwhile."

His eyes were still rimmed with red from crying and there was a manic look in his eyes that usually signalled bad things. Martin stroked his hands down his shoulders and apparently that was enough of a signal for Tony to lean in and kiss him again, wrapping his arms around Martin's waist and clinging on as if he was the only thing keeping him going.

Martin wasn't sure that sex was the best idea for making Tony feel better right now, but he was also pretty sure it wasn't going to make him feel any worse. At any rate, it would distract them both from images of shadowy assassins murdering those they cared about for a bit, which had to be a good thing.

Tony fell asleep afterwards, curled up into Martin and clinging to his waist as if he never wanted to let him go.

“I'm so glad you're back,” he muttered, just before his eyes slid shut. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Martin, and a faint smile traced over Tony's face.

Martin watched him sleep, stroking a hand over his shoulder, and thought about all the things he should be able to do something to help with and yet always felt useless in the face of.

Tony shifted to press his face closer to Martin's shoulder. Maybe Martin was helping. Certainly Tony was already looking a lot better than he had before, as if just having Martin there was enough to make a difference.

Martin was never going to be the kind of husband who could protect Tony from super-villains or Hydra or any of that stuff. He had to just sit back and trust the rest of the team to be able to do that for him. He could do this, though, hold Tony tightly while he talked out his emotional hurts and then make sure he knew he was loved as he drifted off to sleep.

And, he thought, thinking back to the look on Tony's face earlier, when Steve had tried to talk to him, maybe there was something else he could do as well.

****

The security footage from the Hydra base was in black and white, but the quality was reasonably clear. Steve rewound back through and watched the moment he'd been fixating on again.

On screen, the Winter Soldier ducked under Steve's shield, spun around, pointed his gun and then paused. Was that recognition on his face? Had Steve's face been familiar to him somehow, enough to cause the hesitation?

He fired a split second later, a shot that had missed Steve, and then dashed away, leaping over a wall.

Steve gritted his teeth and rewound again, watching for that second of hesitation and freezing the screen on it.

"Can we zoom in on his face?" he asked.

"Of course, Captain," said JARVIS. Bucky's face appeared full-screen. Steve leaned in to study it. With the mask covering so much it was hard to see his expression, but there was something around his eyes that might have been surprise.

If he had recognised Steve, then surely that meant they could get through to him somehow? Break the brainwashing?

A throat was cleared behind him and he turned away from the screen to see Martin hovering in the doorway. "Sorry," he said, fingers gripping at the doorway. "Um. Can I talk to you?"

"Sure," said Steve, putting on a smile. Even after living with the guy for a few years, it still felt like he had to tread softly or risk scaring him into a sudden retreat.

Martin nodded a few too many times and took a step inside, then cleared his throat and fixed a determined look just over Steve's shoulder, as if he couldn't quite bring himself to meet his eyes. "I wanted to ask you if you wouldn't mind- No, hang on, let me—" He paused and took another breath. "You need to leave Tony alone," he said, firmly.

Ah, right. "I appreciate you want to protect him," said Steve, "but Tony's the one being stubborn about not talking it through."

Martin shook his head. "No, it's— Look. He thought his parents died because his father was drunk at the wheel, and now he's found out there was far more to it than that, and he's been blaming the wrong person all these years."

Steve felt himself scowl. "He's still blaming the wrong person. Bucky's not responsible for being brainwashed."

Martin shook his head. "I don't want to get in an argument with you," he said. "I'm just saying, you need to back off and let Tony deal with this, because if you keep trying to talk to him about it, he's just going to—" He waved his hands vaguely. "—shut down over it."

Steve didn't have the time to let Tony shut down over this. He'd wasted seventy years already, he wasn't going to waste any more time. He glanced back at the image of Bucky's face that was still frozen on-screen. "Martin, this is Avengers business," he said, in a tone of voice that he hoped would shut him down.

Martin went a strange blotchy red colour and opened and closed his hands a few times, but he didn't back down. "It's my business too," he insisted, "because it's making my husband miserable."

Steve felt himself scowl and Martin took what looked like an involuntary step backwards.

"You just—just leave it," said Martin, in a voice that was starting to go high-pitched with fear. "Give him a couple of days to work it all through."

Abruptly, Steve realised that he was terrifying a guy who was just trying to help his husband out. He forced himself to relax his shoulders and take a step backwards. Martin was all too easy to scare, he needed to remember that. "I'm trying to protect my friend."

Martin took a deep breath, looking as if he was getting a better handle on himself. "I know," he said. "Just— Please don't take it out on Tony. Give him a bit of time. Remember, he's your friend too."

Steve didn't want to have to give anyone any time. He wanted to get hold of Bucky, get him back, and crush Hydra for ever laying a finger on him, and he wanted to have done it all decades ago.

He held all that back though, and gave Martin a nod of agreement.

Martin let out a long sigh of relief. "Thanks," he said, and left the room with his hands still shaking.

Natasha slipped in through another door. "That was interesting."

"You were eavesdropping?" asked Steve.

"I prefer 'gathering intelligence'," she said. "Did you notice how scared he was?"

Steve shook his head as he turned back to the security footage. "Three years we've been living together. You think he'd be over that by now."

She tipped her head to one side. "That wasn't what was interesting about it. We both know he's something of a coward, and that he tries to avoid getting involved in Avengers business, and yet he still came and confronted you."

"For Tony's sake," said Steve. "Tony's in the wrong on this though, Martin should be talking to him, not me."

"No," said Natasha, turning to go. "I think he did exactly the right thing. He's fighting his husband's corner, after all. Tony spent a lot of years without anyone willing to do that."

She left Steve staring at the image of Bucky. He stayed there for several more minutes, thinking that maybe it was time Bucky had someone to fight in his corner too, before he sighed and turned away. This wasn't getting him anywhere.

****

Steve didn't see Tony for three days. He stopped himself from tracking Tony down and trying to talk him around to Steve’s viewpoint, and instead concentrated on tracking Bucky down—which turned out to be nearly impossible.

He and the other Hydra agents who had escaped from the base had gone to ground somewhere that even SHIELD's best intelligence couldn't find. None of the computer files they'd retrieved from the base showed the locations of any other bases and all the paperwork that had been left behind was at least fifteen years old.

Steve found himself going for long runs every day, trying to pour his frustration into physical activity, but all it did was make him feel useless.

He was in the kitchen getting a glass of water after a run when Tony wandered in, looking rumpled and bleary-eyed in a way that meant he'd been in the workshop all night. He paused when he saw Steve, then carried on towards the coffee machine.

Steve thought of the look that had been in Martin's eyes when he'd confronted Steve and bit his tongue on the first three things he wanted to say.

"Morning," he said instead.

Tony gave him a vague wave, concentrating on the coffee machine. Right, okay, so much for re-establishing communications. Steve turned to wash his glass up.

"SHIELD haven't been able to find him," said Tony, and Steve turned back to see him still staring down at the coffee machine.

"No," he said, carefully.

Tony nodded. "I looked over the data, but there's nothing particularly conclusive. If we want to find other Hydra bases, we'll have to find another way. I've got JARVIS running facial recognition scans in case any of the known agents pop up."

Steve crossed his arms. "And if they do?"

Tony looked at him with exhausted eyes. "I don't want to fight you, Cap. Clint was right about the team needing to stick together. If we find him, I'll let you try and, I don't know, prove that he's the guy you think he is, and not a stone-cold killer."

Steve felt an enormous weight lift off his shoulders. He hadn't realised just how worried he'd been that he'd end up fighting Tony over this whole thing. "Thank you," he said, with feeling.

Tony pointed a finger at him. "It comes at a cost," he said. "If he's become a Hydra assassin completely, and there's no way back to whoever he was when you knew him, you've got to let justice take its course."

"Justice?" asked Steve. "You were talking about killing him."

Tony shook his head and turned back to pick up his coffee. "Heat of the moment. I’m meant to be a good guy, right? We'll find a court that can try him, and a prison that can hold him, and I'll let the blood-thirsty revenge thing go."

Steve couldn't hold in a grin, which made Tony scowl at him. "Thank you, Tony. I knew you'd come round."

Tony rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, try not to get too 'I told you so'. Just remember, we've gotta find him first, and take down as much of fucking Hydra as we can find."

Steve's grin didn't diminish. "No problem," he said. "Come on, we're the Avengers. That'll be easy, once we're all working together."

"Yeah, okay, Captain Optimism," said Tony, heading back out of the kitchen. "Try to keep the after-school special crap to a minimum, yeah?"

Steve went up to his rooms to shower, but he made sure he was in the lounge at the time Martin got home from work.

"Uh, hello," said Martin, as he stepped out of the elevator.

"Evening," said Steve, setting down his book. "How was work?"

Martin gave a shrug. "The rain made the runway slippery, so we had to increase the landing distance, but I managed to avoid any hydroplaning. Or, at least any dynamic hydroplaning."

Steve nodded as if he knew or cared about any of that. He usually avoided asking Martin any questions about his job because the answer was always far more detailed than anyone wanted, but Steve figured he owed him.

"I wanted to thank you for what you said about Tony the other day," he said. "You were right."

Martin gave an awkward shrug. "No need to thank me," he said. "I didn't do it for you." He winced. "Uh, wait, sorry, that sounded harsh, I didn't—"

"That's okay," said Steve. "I get it. Tony's lucky to have you standing up for him."

Martin went a faint pink colour and cleared his throat. "It's only what he deserves." He frowned, then shook his head. "Well, no, he deserves so much more. Not that I'm not more, obviously he married me, he knew what he was doing, just, he does so much, he should get more in return than what I can—" Martin stopped himself, took a deep breath with his eyes shut, then opened them again. "Thanks," he said.

Steve gave him a nod and let him head off up to his and Tony's rooms. He could remember when he'd first met Martin, and had wondered what on earth Tony had seen in him when there seemed to be nothing more to him than red-faced stuttering. Now, though, he couldn't imagine Tony with anyone else. The two of them worked together in ways Steve would never have been able to predict. So much of the brittleness that Tony had kept hidden under a veneer of brash arrogance had disappeared, replaced by a secure sense of contentedness.

We should all be so lucky with our spouses, he thought, and picked his book back up.

****

Erin had never really paid that much attention to celebrity news on TV, but in the wake of meeting Martin, she kept half an eye on some of the endless footage of the Avengers. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that she actually saw him, on a spot on some terrible gossip show.

“Tony Stark-Crieff and his husband were spotted leaving the cemetery where Tony's parents, Howard and Maria Stark, are buried. Yesterday was the twenty-sixth anniversary of the technology tycoon and his wife's deaths in a car accident.”

The footage was pretty jerky, showing Tony and Martin coming out of a cemetery gate and heading towards a black car. There were several paparazzi waiting for them and they started following them along the street, cameras flashing as they yelled out to them. Tony and Martin did their best to ignore them but Erin could see Tony's hand tightening its grip on Martin's.

The media really were assholes, Erin thought as she watched Tony's face take on a blank mask.

Martin kept glancing over at the paparazzi with increasingly black glares, then one of them yelled something that Erin didn't catch and he just snapped. He let go of Tony and turned towards the crowd.

“Why don't you all just piss off?” he said. “You're bothering a man while he's mourning his parents! What kind of person does that?”

Erin blinked. Wow. That was far more backbone than she'd have ever expected Martin to have, after having watched him meekly put up with all that crap from his family.

Tony grabbed Martin's hand and pulled him away again. His expression had changed to reflect amusement and affection. “You know, it's totally sexy when you're protective of me,” he said, and Martin sent him a startled look that was swiftly followed by a grin.

They both disappeared into the car and Erin flicked channels, feeling vaguely bad about having watched that at all. Martin had been right, hounding a guy at his parents' graves was pretty lame.

Still, it was interesting to see Martin standing up against the press like that. Apparently she'd misjudged the guy. She probably should have known that Iron Man wouldn't marry someone who was as pathetic as he'd seemed when she'd first met him.

“Mommy! Robbie's being mean to me!” came a shrill cry and she sighed. Time to get back to her life and leave obsessing about celebrities to people who didn't have anything better to do.