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Mindshare (page 1/4)

Story Info



Title: Mindshare

Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)

Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)

Era: Post Avengers movie, directly after “Tesseract Parasitoid” fic.

Genre: Drama, thriller, action

Rating: M / FRM

Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Jane Foster, Nick Fury, J.A.R.V.I.S., Darcy Lewis, Loki, Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Erik Selvig, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor (, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts)

Pairings: Bruce/Tony, Bruce/Steve/Tony, Steve/Tony (, Jane/Thor)

Summary: As much grief as the Tesseract has already given the Avengers, a new dilemma is raised when the Cube takes Tony Stark’s body hostage. The problem soon escalates into something no one could have expected.
Complete. Sequel to “Tesseract Parasitoid”.

Written for: Marvel Universe Big Bang 2012 at LiveJournal marvel_bang

Artist: Hoktauri hoktauri (fanmix & art)

Warnings: Slash (m/m) & sexual content, three-way (polyamory) relationship, violence, some bad language, spoilers for Marvel movie universe films, especially “The Avengers” and some hints towards “Iron Man”.

Disclaimer: Iron Man and Avengers, their characters and everything else belong to Marvel. The movie versions belong to Marvel Studios, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon… in short: everyone but me. This is pure fiction, created to entertain likeminded fans, no profit made.

Beta: Mythra mythras_fire (I owe you so much of the finished product, as always!)
(Also, thanks to Mary (gamebird / game_byrd) for an early read and extra corrections and pointers!)

Feedback: Very much appreciated seeing as I’m still relatively new to the fandom and would appreciate any comments as to how the story “sounds”.

FANMIX!
Photobucket Photobucket


About Mindshare: A direct continuation to “Tesseract Parasitoid”. When I got the idea for this fic it was originally supposed to be part of the aforementioned story, yet I decided to write them as separate pieces of fiction. (I mean, come on, the chance for a major cliffhanger is not meant to be ignored!)

I have no idea if this fic would be technically possible in the Marvel universe but I’ve decided I don’t care. A few facts point in this direction and the rest is fiction, so do not squint too hard if it feels a bit implausible. (And since it’s Marvel we’re talking about, pretty much anything is possible.)

Enjoy!


Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.

Mindshare



~ ~ ~




Written for Marvel Universe Big Bang 2012.





the story continues from
Tesseract Parasitoid






Mindshare




The Triskelion,
S.H.I.E.L.D.’s island HQ and holding facility
near New York, NY, USA


Within the vault, the Tesseract shivered. Its shine intensified, and the Cube began to hover in the air.

Tony’s eyes were wide and he had stopped breathing. Bruce tried to tug him along, away, while Fury barked orders into his walkie-talkie.

As if responding to it all, the Cube floated higher, rotating, then suddenly it seemed its glow was being sucked back into it, leaving the room surprisingly dark in the aftermath.

Bruce let go of Tony to take a closer look – then jumped back when the Tesseract charged forward, through the window of the vault which smashed into a shower of a million pieces. The Cube sailed through the air, and for one glorious, magical moment the Tesseract hovered in the middle of the room, shining, its power making the air almost crackle and burst with unseen energy, blue-ish shades pulsing along the walls.

Then the Cube turned, moving right towards Tony. The man jerked back to get out of the way but the Tesseract hit him in the chest – then vanished. The arc reactor burst with a sudden light from within, then slowly settled, leaving everyone blinking.

Murmured words and cautious questions were thrown back and forth: where had the Cube gone?

“Tony, you okay?” Bruce asked.

Tony’s eyes were closed, his chest rising hard and fast for a moment, then calming down as if he were centering himself again. He opened his eyes as he lifted his head, and the brown was completely replaced by a shining, ever swirling blue in his eyes. He regarded the room, his face strangely passive.

“Stark?” Fury inquired, sliding his gun out of its holster.

The blue, shining eyes moved towards the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the face not even twitching. When he spoke, his voice was not his own, stripped of anything that made him sound like Tony:

“Anthony is not here right now. I am the Tesseract – the one you also refer to as... the Cube.”

They all stared, wide-eyed in disbelief. It might have been comical if not for the fact that there was something far too real about all this.

“Crazy,” was the first word uttered, Clint doing the honors to cut the silence.

“Stark,” Fury tried again.

An annoyed frown appeared on Tony’s face, the whirling blue stormier than before, swallowing all of his eyes for a moment, white and all.

“If… Tony isn’t there,” Bruce started, finally snapping out of it, and Tony’s head jerked around to look at him, the frown smoothing just slightly, “to whom am I speaking?”

“It can’t be the Tesseract,” Natasha objected.

“It is trickery,” Thor agreed, looking at Loki.

The God of Mischief, for his part, looked decidedly uncertain. “This is not something I would have anticipated. I can feel the Tesseract, but cannot… see it.”

Bruce regarded Tony; he looked well enough, a relaxed rise and fall of his chest, the arc reactor looking normal, his injured left arm still carefully tied against his side. “Is Tony still… okay?”

“He is well,” Tony – the Tesseract – replied.

“Do you mean to change that?” he asked next. The others remained silent for now, perhaps unwilling to believe this was happening, but Bruce had read the notes and listened when Loki told them about the Cube. Could he rule this out?

Tony smiled. “I have no intentions to harm Anthony. In fact… I am certain he finds this union most fruitful once he comes to accept it.”

Bruce nodded slowly. “Can I talk to him? Can I talk to Anthony?” The name was unfamiliar in his mouth, and he knew Tony wasn’t fond of it either; it probably reminded him of his childhood. Bruce had a pet peeve or two of that sort himself.

Tony frowned then slowly nodded as if it annoyed him somewhat, but he would do him this favor. “Very well,” he said then blinked, and in the next instant the blue was utterly, completely gone, and Tony’s eyes widened, his chest almost exploding with a yell muffled by lack of air in his lungs.

“Oh my god,” he uttered frantically, stumbling back to a wall. Bruce had never seen him look so shocked or frightened. Tony’s free hand clutching at his chest and he looked around at them. “Get it out of me!”

“Calm down,” Fury said, but that seemed to be about all he had to supply.

“Tony,” Bruce pushed forward, catching his attention, resting a careful hand on his good shoulder. “What just happened? Is the Tesseract really inside you?”

The dark eyes blinked, gaining a little bit of calm, but Bruce could feel the thundering of his pulse beneath the skin. “I… Yeah, I can… feel him in my head. It’s so much, I can’t…” He blinked, took a deep breath then focused on something on the opposite wall. Bruce followed the small movement, seeing the broken vault, the tiny pieces of glass on the floor. “He says he’s not going to hurt me – that he’ll show me things I never knew existed; that he’ll help me complete the energy field for the armor and so much more.”

Bruce was certain he would have babbled on, the fear turning into excitement, which was unnerving on its own. “Tony,” he shook him lightly. “Why would he do that? What does he want in return?” He dreaded the answer, knew how badly this could end, how the Cube didn’t need to give Tony a damn thing since taking over him was so easy, apparently.

Tony looked at him, confused for a moment, then answered: “He just wants to stay.”

“Stay?” Fury asked. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“He…” Tony seemed to search for words, closing his eyes briefly; they were still brown when he opened them again. “He’s planning on permanent residence. He wants a host body. Huh.” He seemed just as amazed as the rest of them once he said it.

“How?” Natasha asked.

“Why?” was Steve’s follow-up.

“The Tesseract had no need for such things,” Thor claimed.

Tony’s eyes narrowed and the blue returned, flooding the original color until none of it remained. “You presume to know what my will is, God of Thunder? You would wield me and use me, but do not think to understand what I want.”

“Could you explain it to us, then?” Bruce ventured.

“You’re okay with this?” Steve asked, almost as furious as the Tesseract’s earlier words. “This isn’t some science experiment, Banner!”

“No, but as long as we have no idea how to get him out of Tony’s body, we have to understand what is going on to the best of our ability,” Bruce replied.

“You would force me out?” Tony – the Tesseract – asked, cocking his head slightly. “It has taken me long to prepare this body, even though it was quite suitable,” he noted, tapping the arc reactor lightly. “In my true form, I am restricted. Like this, I am able to move and to defend myself at will.”

“Why would a cube of energy want to have those things?” Clint asked bluntly.

Tony raised his hand, and a blast of blue energy seemed to come forth from his palm, slamming the archer into the far wall. “A cube with a will of his own, human,” the Tesseract reminded them. “Your meager minds cannot comprehend…”

“We can understand a desire for freedom, for the ability to control one’s life and surroundings,” Bruce hurried to say before another blast emerged; he was concerned that Tony’s body might not be able to cope with it, no matter what the Tesseract thought. Human tissue was frail and he was beginning to see various problems rearing their ugly heads. They needed to contain this, to keep the Tesseract from exerting its power before they knew what exactly it had supposedly done to Tony’s body.

The Tesseract seemed to approve of his words, nodding.

Clint picked himself up, muttering, but knew better than to bicker.

“Can I speak to Tony again?” Bruce requested.

The Tesseract didn’t roll his eyes, but showed an expression worthy of the gesture – then the left eye turned brown.

It was Bruce’s turn to blink. “Ah…”

Tony frowned – he could tell it was Tony, it was so different when his face came to life again from the passive expression the Tesseract made him wear. “Okay, this is strange.”

“What?” Bruce asked.

“We’re… both on the surface. It’s like sharing a chair, or a pen…”

“Is he… holding you back?” Steve asked. Bruce knew he probably asked it for the same reason he would have; to make sure what Tony said was indeed his words, and not a perfectly veiled lie.

“Anthony can speak his mind; I am not preventing him from doing that.” It was the Tesseract, in tone and in brief facial change, giving a perfect example of looking at a person with severe multiple personalities – or some crazy, overacted serial-killer in a movie.

“Thank you,” Bruce said, slightly put-off.

The brown eye’s brow was raised slightly, the face coming to life again.

“I think we should do some tests,” Bruce said.

“Careful,” Clint warned, “he might get offended.”

“Tony likes tests,” Steve reminded him.

“Not on himself, necessarily,” Natasha murmured.

Bruce just looked at Tony. “I want to make sure this… situation isn’t harming Tony. Is that acceptable?”

“You know I have no objections to spending time in a lab with you, Brucie,” Tony smiled teasingly.

“I understand the necessity to confirm my words, and shall accept,” the Tesseract also gave his blessing.

“Damn,” was all Fury commented to the matter.



Stark Tower
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA

In case it would make Stark uneasy, they chose to move him to a more familiar environment, which meant the Stark Tower. The entire building had been cleared save for the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel and the Avengers.

Steve was uncertain how to take this new turn of events – for one, he couldn’t believe it would end well, or that it wasn’t some kind of trick. The Tesseract had not reappeared, though, and all the brief tests before leaving the Triskelion pointed towards the belief that the Cube was, indeed, inside Stark’s body. Loki said as much, and since Thor was convinced that his brother could not conjure something like this in his current state of powerlessness, that was what they went with.

When they first entered the Stark Tower penthouse, Stark’s face changed for a moment. He eyed the staircase, and it felt like forever ago to Steve since they found Pepper’s body, hidden away…

Then the blue took over Stark’s eyes, the sadness disappearing, and Steve wasn’t certain how to feel about that. Was Stark hiding, or was the Tesseract taking over to suffocate and conceal the unwelcome feelings? Could Stark have forgotten all the bad things he had done in the shock of this new turn of events and had only now come back to that harsh reality?

Whatever it was, Steve had already decided to keep a close eye on him and this only cemented the decision.

Of all of them, Banner seemed to be most at ease with what had happened although Steve could see there were moments when he hesitated and let his guard down enough to show concern and perhaps even fear.

“You should rest,” Banner told Stark after they were somewhat settled. They had their own temporary rooms here, but in the current situation they would probably take turns resting anywhere they could that wasn’t too far from their compromised teammate.

The now brown-and-blue set of eyes regarded Banner; Stark had apparently come back to surface, at least partially. “Rest?” the Tesseract asked.

“I’m fine,” Stark quipped.

“Your body is still healing,” Banner reminded.

The Tesseract – it had to be the Cube – looked down at the body, the slowly healing shoulder and numerous fading bruises. “Yes, I can… see the problem.” An instant later the air around him seemed to shimmer with faint blue, intensifying, sinking into the skin – or seeping through it, Steve wasn’t sure which. “I shall heal this body. It is the least I can do.”

The least the Tesseract could do was to leave Stark altogether, but Steve knew better than to suggest that. As it was, they watched in amazement as the damaged skin gained its color again, and when the blue glow faded Banner reached out to yank at Stark’s shirt, revealing the stitches had pushed out of perfectly healed skin at his shoulder.

“Incredible,” he whispered.

“Can I remove the bandages?” Stark asked.

“I want to make sure it’s… permanent,” Banner mused and led him to another room.

Steve looked after them, then decided to take the chance to freshen up and perhaps eat a little before it was his time to sit watch over their friend. By the time Banner and Stark emerged again, Steve was seated in the kitchen with Barton and Romanoff, food on the table which was being wolfed down mostly in order to keep up their strength should anything else happen. After all, in their lives one bad event was usually followed by another.

“How is he, Doc?” Barton asked.

“In good health, far as I can tell,” Banner admitted, taking off his glasses and pocketing them.

What he left unsaid, and none of them asked about, was how much lay beneath the obvious. Even Steve without any knowledge of this kind of science knew that having an alien energy source within your body couldn’t be healthy, not to mention two consciousnesses in your head.

Stark glanced at the table then sat down. Part of his face – the Tesseract half – seemed to regard the offered food more critically but Stark dug in, grabbing a cup of coffee Romanoff had no doubt filled for herself. It was an unspoken, healthy rule never to take things from Romanoff she had meant for herself, but something made Stark grab it – a new set of balls, perhaps, seeing as he always seemed wary of upsetting her. Steve had never heard that particular story, but he might have to ask Romanoff about it one of these days.

“Fury has contacted Dr. Selvig. He’s on his way,” Romanoff spoke up a moment later and returned to get herself another cup of coffee to replace the lost one.

Banner nodded, sitting down awkwardly as if his body ached somehow. Well, they had all had a hard time recently and turning into the Hulk so many times in just a few days was probably taking its toll without a proper chance to rest. Hopefully they wouldn’t need the other guy in the near future, if only to avoid any kind of confrontations of a violent nature.

As long as they were all on Stark – the Tesseract’s – good side, it should go well.

- - -

“Dr. Selvig!” Thor boomed, stepping forward as the elevator doors opened.

Three people stepped out, two of which Tony knew via professional interests, one only from her S.H.I.E.L.D. file, and Erik Selvig, of course, he had also met.

“Jane,” Thor went on, happy and surprised – there was never a chance for mistakes when it came to Thor’s moods, they were so completely unguarded and unfiltered. Now he lifted Jane Foster off her feet, swinging her in the air, and then they kissed rather passionately.

“Sweet,” Darcy Lewis grinned.

Selvig cleared his throat. “Dr. Banner?” he looked around and Bruce stepped forward to shake his hand.

“We didn’t expect you to have company,” Bruce smiled politely.

“Neither did I, but they insisted on coming,” Selvig shrugged.

“I am glad you are here,” Thor smiled fondly at Jane, who almost disappeared behind his enormous shape.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Jane smiled. It was hard to say what she meant, exactly.

Ms. Lewis, in the meanwhile, looked around curiously. “So, this is the Stark Tower?”

“Welcome,” Tony noted.

She looked at him and almost squeaked, just a little. “You’re Tony Stark!”

Tony just smiled the patented Stark smile.

Jane peered at him past Thor’s arm. “We have… met.” She frowned then. “I recall your eyes were…”

“Ah, that,” Tony shrugged. The Tesseract shifted against his mind, smooth, almost like a caress, not directly interested in what was going on but keeping himself on the surface. He knew it looked eerie, one eye brown, another blue – especially when they shifted places irregularly, sometimes mid-sentence, he was told – but it was of no interest to him. Making people nervous was one of the things he did best, even before this… incident, as Bruce called it; he made it sound like Tony had gotten his own version of the Hulk.

“Cool,” Darcy decided.

“Mr. Stark,” Selvig stepped forward. “I hear you have a… condition.”

Tony bristled – or rather, the Tesseract did. “I would not call it that,” he said. “Might seriously upset some involved parties.”

Bruce cleared his throat. “The Tesseract has related its plans for co-habiting in Mr. Stark’s body for the foreseeable future.”

“The Tesseract?” Selvig frowned.

“Didn’t Fury tell you?” Rogers spoke up from the side where he was standing, leaning against Tony’s wall, arms crossed at the chest.

“He did, but I wasn’t sure what to believe of that brief discussion,” Selvig huffed. “I thought I simply misheard. The Tesseract is an energy source, and while it could ‘behave’ there was never any inclination as to it having its own consciousness.”

“And that makes you deduce that what you could not see does not exist?” the Tesseract spoke with Tony’s mouth.

Tony didn’t particularly like when that happened. It was like his face went numb all of a sudden, and while he could feel it moving, distantly, he had no control over it. Then it was gone again, the tingling sensation gone.

Selvig stood in silence; he must have been able to tell the difference.

“Meet the Cube,” Barton joked from his position on a chair, where he was kind of… perched on top of it instead of sitting.

“Good Lord,” was Selvig’s reply.

Tony rolled his eyes – or eye, he wasn’t sure if the other followed the motion.

- - -

“How do you share a body with a cube of energy?” Darcy asked, looking at the notes on papers and screens.

Bruce looked up from his own calculations, then down again. Jane and Darcy had joined them in the lab. Jane was welcome, of course, since her expertise might be able to help them, but Darcy wasn’t helpful at all.

“She sometimes manages to ask the right questions,” Selvig offered.

So, Darcy stayed, ogling Tony’s body when they made him strip down to his underwear, then poked through all the readings and notes and high-tech gear in Tony’s lab.

“Well, we can establish there are significant traces of the Tesseract’s energy on him,” Selvig noted. “And I’ve seen the security feed from the Triskelion. I still don’t understand how he isn’t dead. Perhaps it is the arc reactor?”

“He did mention preparing Tony’s body for their initial… merging,” Bruce frowned. “The stress levels seem normal. There are no traces of abnormality in any of his bodily functions. In fact, it seems he’s… healthier than ever. His shoulder healed in a matter of minutes, which usually should have taken months, perhaps years.”

“Magic, baby,” Tony grinned at him. “Can I put my clothes back on now?”

“There is no hurry,” the Tesseract interrupted.

“You… what?” Bruce asked.

Tony frowned but before he got another word in the Tesseract took over, pushing him to the side. “Anthony has no problems being unclothed in front of you, contrary to what he may have made it sound like. He is rather fond of you, Bruce.”

Bruce felt himself grow a bit hot under the collar and moved to the side. “Well, Tony is… Tony.”

“His advances would be unwelcome to you?”

Bruce looked to the side. Selvig, Jane and Darcy were looking at him with varying stages of confusion and perhaps shock. He looked at Tony instead – the Tesseract. “I will not speak to you about it,” he said then.

His friend’s face twisted into an easy, comforting smile. “You need not fear, Doctor. Surely there are ways for you to conquer your fear and be intimate if you so desire.”

“Not a topic I feel like discussing right now,” Bruce said desperately.

The Tessaract looked at the three newcomers, narrowing his eyes. “Leave us,” he commanded. “I would have words with Doctor Banner.”

Selvig grabbed some of his notes then tugged Jane along, who was staring. Darcy picked herself up from the chair she had been sitting in, front to back, and shuffled off after them. As the door closed Bruce felt an increasing sensation of alarm.

“He wants you,” the Tesseract went on. “He desires you with his body and feels a kinship towards your mind.”

“Does he actually want you to speak on his behalf?” Bruce asked.

Again a smile, colder this time. “No. He is… unwilling to act on those desires but since I wish nothing but the best for him, I shall make his wishes come true.” And with that Bruce received his first kiss in years as Tony – the Tesseract – leaned forward, tugged him in by the collar of his shirt and pushed their lips together. It was chaste for Tony, he was sure, soft and wet, and when Bruce pulled back, Tony’s brown eyes stared back at him.

Tony almost fell off the table. “Oh my god… Bruce, I’m sorry, I didn’t…!”

“I know, it wasn’t you,” Bruce stammered, taking a few steps back.

The way Tony sat there it was almost as if it weren’t him at all; so nervous, self-conscious and reaching for his clothes. Bruce had never known Tony to be ashamed of himself, no matter what his state of undress.

“Tony,” Bruce said then, stepping forward, swallowing the suffocating lump in his throat. “Was that the truth?”

“The truth?” Tony looked up fast.

Bruce nodded. “Were you listening?”

Tony looked away, face hard to read but his eyes remained dark. “I heard,” he said then. “He wouldn’t stop. I wanted him to. You didn’t need to hear those things.”

“So they are true?”

Tony looked at him carefully, as if gauging his reaction. “You really can’t see it, can you?” he asked then, a sad, forced smile on his lips.

“Tony, you just lost Pepper,” Bruce started. He could understand the need to fill the void, to find comfort in companionship, and they hadn’t had time to talk about any of it.

“It’s not about Pepper,” Tony almost hissed. The lights above them flickered, as if in response to the heat in his voice. Blue lightning flashed across his eyes, then disappeared again. “It’s been there since day one, when I first shook your hand and offered you blueberries at the lab; before you caught me falling out of the sky, saving my life. It’s always been there, but you never saw it.”

He hopped off the table, looking for his pants and Bruce caught his arm although he knew it wasn’t smart.

It was like touching a live-wire, a sudden static between them, almost prompting the other guy to surface but Bruce fought it back, struggled to stay on top, to focus on this moment before he lost… everything.

“Tony, I’m sorry,” he finally managed.

“Don’t be. You don’t mean it,” Tony snapped.

“No, I do, I really do. I just know it’s not going to happen. I could never put you through that.”

“And it’s all on you to make that choice?” Tony asked, turning to face him, and he was himself right now, completely, no doubt about it. “You need to strut, Bruce,” he said then, voice breaking and it looked like he might cry, or laugh, or both. It wouldn’t be a nice laugh; not the ones Bruce enjoyed because they were real and pure.

“This is not a good time,” Bruce tried then – because there was no way he could say the kiss had been unexpected, or unpleasant, and that there weren’t times when he and Tony were absolutely perfect together.

“No time like the present,” Tony huffed. “We could all be dead tomorrow.” He cocked his head then. “Or maybe not,” he decided, as if a voice inside his head whispered another kind of promise. He locked eyes with Bruce again, his face blank, but not as blank as when the Tesseract took over; it was amazing to see there was an actual difference. Tony could never be so… empty. “Sooner or later, something’s going to give, but it sure as hell isn’t going to be me,” Tony told him then turned and left, grabbing the last articles of his clothing on the way out.

“Fuck,” Bruce sighed, leaning back again the table, still warm from Tony’s skin.

The sensation of the pressure of his lips still lingered on his own.

- - -

When Steve stepped into the kitchen, Banner was making himself some tea. He always made it the long way, brewing leaves, not liking the stuff they sold in the super markets that just needed to be steeped in hot water. As he stood there, stirring the drink in his mug, he was shaking a bit.

“Everything okay?” Steve asked.

Banner jumped then took a steadying breath. “Oh, it’s just you.”

“Whom were you expecting?” Steve prodded.

“I feared it might be Tony.”

“Did something happen?”

“You could… say that. But it’s fine, I’m… working on it.”

Steve nodded but wondered also. Stark was good at keeping everyone else on edge, but Banner seemed surprisingly resilient when it came to that, always smiling at the genius’ antics. Now, though, he didn’t seem nearly as at ease with it so perhaps he was concerned, or Stark had managed to finally piss him off as well.

“Do you want me to talk to Stark – Tony?” he asked, finding it a bit strange to use his first name after all this time, but that’s how Banner always called him and it felt appropriate.

“It’s fine, Steve. Thank you,” Banner reassured with that nervous smile and a twist of his hands before grabbing the mug and taking it with him.

Steve looked after him, a thoughtful half-frown on his face.

“The good doctor is in distress,” a familiar voice said from behind him and Steve turned to see Stark standing there – only it was the Tesseract, not Stark.

“Were you the cause of it? I would rather not have you antagonizing him.”

“Because of the green beast? Fear not, I am not aiming to push him that far.”

“But you are pushing him?”

“Ah, Steve…”

There was something in the way the Tesseract said his name that made a shiver run up his spine. It made Steve square his shoulders as if preparing for a fight. Only, he didn’t know what or who the enemy was.

“Doctor Banner is merely fighting himself to come to terms with what he wants,” the Tesseract supplied.

“And what is that?” Steve asked although he knew it was one of those trick questions Stark sometimes posed for him where he shouldn’t take the bait.

A smile drew across those devilish lips, yet the expression still seemed empty. “Same thing I suspect you are growing to want as well, Captain.”

Steve wondered what that would be. Well, Stark’s safety and the Tesseract back under control was something they both certainly wanted, but how could Banner struggle with that? “I don’t understand,” he finally admitted.

Stark’s body moved closer, the blue eyes intently staring at his. “For a man grown, you are shockingly naïve. Anthony tells me you are still innocent – a virgin. Is that so?”

Steve flushed, he couldn’t help it. Yeah, Stark made jokes about that frequently. Steve had never thought it was particularly funny or entertaining, even if it might be true – was true – but was the mark of the man in the twenty-first century really dependent upon whether or not he got laid?

The hollow smile persisted. “I assume you have no idea, then, that Anthony would love to help you change that.”

If not for his enhanced senses, he would have thought he heard wrong. “What?”

“You have been good to him, especially recently. He feels like he may have underestimated your affection for him. Did you know he used to idolize you? His father gave him all the best toys and comics, the most authentic Captain America Halloween costume… His boyhood dream – a wet dream – and then he met you, in the flesh, and you did not take kindly to him, at all. A huge disappointment, the hero of his childhood.”

Steve had no idea whether any of that was real. Then again, why would it be a lie? But if it was honesty, why did the Tesseract bother revealing those things to him?

When he focused again, the other man had moved closer. He could smell the cologne and the sweat overlaying the simple smell that was Tony Stark. And then he was much, much closer, his lips on Steve’s, and it was worse than crashing into the ice, freezing him from the inside then melting, waking up again –

He started to shove him away forcefully when his fingers squeezed around Stark’s shoulders and the wide eyes that stared back at him were dark brown, blown and horrified if that was possible. His mouth opened and Steve found his gaze falling from the dark eyes to the lips he had just felt on his own. He wasn’t certain what was going on but he could blame it all on confusion later, if need be, as he dove back down to reclaim Tony’s lips – it was suddenly easier to think of him like that, and not just a name on the side of a building.

Tony sputtered a bit when they drew apart, giving him a strange look. “Rogers, what the fuck?!”

“You started it,” Steve noted, flushed again, feeling defenseless and guilty although he had been told by many people that folks these days didn’t deem kissing, touching, dating or having sex as some kind of oddity; it was allowed to happen, just like that, no strings attached. Until this day he hadn’t really thought about that in any serious fashion other than that he thought he couldn’t handle it after being unable to get a date back when he was just a kid from Brooklyn.

Tony stopped sputtering, stopped breathing, his eyes focused on his shoulder far more intently than they should and Steve noticed he was still holding him in a tight grip. He carefully let go of Tony. The lack of contact seemed to jostle him out of it again and Tony stumbled back, hitting a chair, moving to the side to get around it. “This didn’t happen,” he claimed.

Steve frowned. “It did, though.”

Tony shook his head. “The fucker’s pimping me out…” he muttered.

“What?”

The other man looked up. “You heard that, right?” he asked almost suspiciously.

Steve flushed, just a little. “Can’t help it if you’re talking out loud.” He looked at Tony steadily. “Did you mean the Tesseract?”

“He’s… messing with things he shouldn’t meddle with. This wasn’t supposed to happen. None of this.”

Steve had a sudden dawning suspicion he wasn’t just talking about the kiss but the confession about his feelings, and maybe it had a bit to do with his problem with Banner as well. Could it be this exact same thing had happened between them?

No, he decided – that couldn’t be it and it had nothing to do with a tinge of jealousy that suddenly seemed to dwell inside him. Why would he be jealous? Tony had no limits when it came to other people, Steve had learned, and he and Banner were close – although not that close – but neither had Steve and Tony been, yet now that they had kissed, no matter how it came to be, Steve saw Tony in a completely different light.

“Goddamn,” he swore when Tony bolted out of the kitchen.

- - -




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