“Is this, like, a regular thing now?” Barton asked as he approached Tony’s temporary work space in the living room.
Tony looked at him, glaring. He was glaring at everyone. He didn’t want them to talk to him, or notice him, or… anything at all. “What?” he finally snapped to get rid of the archer.
“You, smooching people,” Barton grinned then wiped the expression from his face just as quickly as it appeared. “It’s a bit worrisome. We don’t want the Hulk and Captain fighting each other over your skinny ass.”
Tony had half a mind to turn the microwave he was working on into a lethal weapon just to shut him up. As it was, he needed to either repair the damn thing or buy a new one because Thor liked his pop tarts warm and no one wanted to try and teach him to use the oven. He had tried to be nice and heat up his own food after seeing how it was done by others many a time, but apparently he still managed to break the microwave without any direct usage of his hammer. Where were Jane and Darcy when you needed them?
“It was a one-time event. Not going to happen again. And how do you even know about it?” Tony asked, annoyed.
“I see a lot of things without being near enough to be seen,” Barton said cryptically and left him alone.
Tony decided he needed to make a sweep of the Tower with J.A.R.V.I.S. again, to take care of any S.H.I.E.L.D. bugs that were still lurking around.
Thor wandered in next, followed by Loki. It made Tony grit his teeth for an entirely different reason. “How is your magical box faring?” Thor asked, meaning the microwave.
“It’s coming along,” Tony said. “Why is he still here?” he asked, pointing at Loki with the screwdriver.
Thor looked at his brother – adopted or not, he still called Loki that – and then turned his attention back to Tony. “As long as the Tesseract remains hidden inside you, we cannot return home. I swear to you, on my honor, no harm will come of Loki’s presence here.”
“Right,” Tony scowled then looked at his project, thinking he might need to take it down to his lab after all. He heard the Asgardians leave and a moment later Darcy Lewis’ high-pitched voice greeted them. She and Jane must have returned.
Briefly he thought of Pepper, how she might have enjoyed showing them around the city, and the pain in his chest was unbearable. He still didn’t remember the moment, but seeing the video feed so many times… it was slowly starting to feel like he had actually been there more than just physically.
The Tesseract pushed at his mind. ‘Think not of her. She is gone, you cannot bring her back,’ the Cube whispered.
Because of you, Tony thought. It’s all because of you.
But then the Tesseract showed him a glimpse of all they could do together, the knowledge Tony had never dared to hope possessing, not for years or in a lifetime, and it was all there within his grasp. It made him forget why he was so angry and in pain. Sometimes… it made him forget everything.
“Mr. Stark,” Selvig’s voice called out, “would you join us in the lab?”
“Another round of tests?” Tony asked. “I’m a little busy right now.”
“Director Fury promised us your full cooperation,” Selvig noted, which of course was a carefully veiled threat; Tony would have to agree or Fury would stomp down here himself and put him under lock and guard.
The mere idea made his ire rise and the Tesseract hummed approvingly inside him. “Fury can promise you stars from the sky; I don’t give a fuck about that,” Tony replied.
Selvig seemed to re-evaluate the situation. “It’s for your own good.”
“I’m sure I can form my own opinion about that,” Tony snapped and knew the Tesseract was raising its head, regarding the man, making Selvig blink at the sudden change of color in one eye.
The scientists stepped back and left the room. Tony watched him go and smiled. Why did people never back off like that before?
Fear. Yeah, he knew that was it.
‘They should be afraid,’ the Tesseract told him. ‘Together, we are strong. We are protected.’
Knowing that made Tony feel stronger and far less frail. Ever since Afghanistan and being forced to co-exist with this device in his chest, he had felt a certain weakness he constantly tried to avoid acknowledging or showing, making play it didn’t exist, but it was there… Now, he felt invincible.
It didn’t take long before Bruce appeared, Selvig on his heels, the latter looking a bit worried.
“Tony, there’s no need for threats,” Bruce told him.
Tony put down his tools and looked at him. Bruce shifted uncertainly but he didn’t leave, didn’t turn away and run. Not with Selvig watching. “It was not a threat. I don’t have to threaten. I can just promise certain things.”
“Please come down to the lab,” Bruce tried again.
“I don’t feel like it.”
Tony pursed his lips. It could be a trap, just a game of words, but when Bruce put it like that… “What do I get in return?”
Bruce flushed and shifted uncomfortably. “What do you want?”
“I don’t think you want me to say it while Dr. Selvig is in the room,” Tony noted a bit dryly, still uncertain if he wanted to admit to anything the Tesseract had told Bruce – or Rogers, for that matter.
Bruce carefully drew a breath of air into his lungs. “Fine. Just come down. Please,” he said and turned.
Tony put away his tools and followed. Selvig gave them both a look but decided on a professional approach – which meant dismissing the whole thing.
After Tony was shirtless and sitting down they took some readings and blood from him. Jane joined them soon after, Thor hovering just outside the lab; he sometimes caused interference with the equipment when he came too close to them or just got excited. Some things were too expensive for Tony to want to replace every other week, and others had been re-built and calibrated with a lot of hard work so Thor was pretty much banned from coming inside.
However, the same restrictions didn’t apply to the other Asgardian and Loki sauntered in, touching things.
Tony gave him an annoyed look at that. “Don’t touch my stuff!”
Loki looked up, raised an eyebrow, even dared to smile a little but pulled back his hand from touching another expensive piece of equipment. “Someone is touchy today.”
“You have no idea,” Bruce agreed.
“Get out,” Tony supplied.
“I have been asked to assist in treating your… condition,” Loki noted.
“I don’t have a condition and I most certainly don’t need your help taking care of it.”
“Ah, now, Stark! I have never known you to be so appalled by my presence!”
“You smashed me through a window.”
“That I did,” Loki mused.
“Which is possibly why we’re here,” Bruce recalled.
Tony gave Loki a pleasant smile that was probably as cold as his frost giant heart. Not that he saw how Loki was a frost giant since he was neither gigantic nor frosty. One day he would have to ask Thor to elaborate on that small detail he had revealed about his brother.
“The Tesseract’s decision to bond with a human host is not my doing,” Loki defended himself.
“Bond?” Selvig looked up from his work.
Loki gave a graceful shrug. “The Tesseract has revealed to us that it went to some trouble to prepare its host body. That implies an intention to stay, un-removed, which could be considered a bond – unless the Cube plans to burn through this body eventually and leave only ashes in its wake.”
Bruce looked up in alarm.
In response the Tesseract burned against a side of Tony’s mind, shoving him back slightly. He felt numb again.
“You presume to know my mind, Loki, pawn of Mischief and Lies?” the Tesseract asked.
“Do you intend to harm Tony?” Bruce cut in before Loki could reply.
The Tesseract moved his attention to Bruce. “I have told you several times that is not my intention. Anthony is safe.”
“But when you leave him? What will happen to him then?” Bruce pressed relentlessly.
Tony felt a ghost of a smile. “Who said anything about leaving?”
There was much more Bruce wanted to say, Tony was sure, but an alarm from J.A.R.V.I.S. interrupted them: “Sir, I’m afraid Director Fury has called for the Avengers to assemble. There seems to be some kind of trouble brewing in Washington.”
“Finally!” Tony jumped up, ripping sensors from his skin. “It’s about time we get out of this nuthouse.”
“You’re not going anywhere,” Bruce started and Tony gave him a rather burning look – especially the eye that was still blue; he could almost see its reflection on Bruce’s glasses.
“Are we really going to have that discussion?”
What at first had seemed almost like a simple task of removing some super-powered protestors soon became a full-blown mission to stop the violence from spreading. The police had already thrown some figurative gasoline onto the fire by giving the protestors some ultimatums, taking them for dressed up lunatics.
It was shocking in this day and age, as more masked vigilantes and superheroes protected the streets, that they still treated potential super-villains as escaped outpatients with a case of bad medication. That was how the Washington Monument got another dent, government and civilians felt threatened and the zeros at the end of the damage costs kept multiplying.
Steve tried not to let any of that show when he approached the men in charge of the situation, offering the help of the Avengers although they had been pretty much ordered to take care of the situation with or without the local law enforcement’s help. He was too polite to just run over them, though, knowing coordination and cooperation between both parties was necessary seeing as disasters kept hitting them one after another.
As he listened to the report of the destruction so far, Steve kept a wary eye on Iron Man. Tony hadn’t been in his suit since the Hulk almost killed him in it on the Helicarrier, and with the Cube playing a part he had no idea what would happen. However, there was no telling Tony not to come, and after what he did to Hawkeye none of them felt like challenging him unless they knew what they were up against. Dr. Selvig and Banner still hadn’t been able to provide that question with an answer.
Iron Man landed next to the police vehicles, looking around, scanning the area. A safe distance away a group of villains were wreaking havoc, one of them with some kind of flame-thrower attached to his back and arms, another creating powerful shock waves with mere claps of his hands although he seemed to also possess some kind of light suit of armor, and the rest had all kinds of ammunition and weapons attached to them.
“I can take care of them in a few minutes,” Iron Man said into the comm radio. “Their tech is not very advanced.”
“It’s getting the job done,” Steve replied. “Wait with the others. We want to take care of this quickly and efficiently. There’s already been enough damage.” The insurance companies were still fuming about the short-lived alien invasion in New York and with each new super-powered disaster there was more bad blood going around.
Tony let out a snort and Steve knew he could expect him to fly off to deal with this at any moment.
“Stark,” he ordered, “stay put.”
“Aye aye, Captain,” came a dry reply.
“Maybe you should sit this one out,” Black Widow suggested.
Steve knew that wouldn’t go over well.
“Why?” Tony asked, voice hot and holding a cutting edge. “You think I’m not up for this?”
“You are not yourself, not hundred percent.” Trust the Widow to not even hesitate when saying that.
There would have certainly been more but their reason for being here suddenly turned to unleash an attack on them; a shock-wave sent two police cars flying and spinning through the air. Thor lifted his hammer while Hawkeye and Black Widow dove for cover.
Iron Man stood his ground and Steve waited for his chest beam to take care of the nearest flying vehicle but it never came; instead the air around the armor flashed with blue, a sphere of light surrounding it and the car bounced back several feet upon impact before crashing to the ground. The blue sphere receded back towards the armor, sliding over the surface like liquid energy, merging into the arc reactor at the chest.
Steve hoped the armor wasn’t malfunctioning. “Stark?” he asked, to establish contact – and to find out whether the Tesseract had taken over. That had been everyone’s main concern – and whatever would follow after that happened.
The flame-thrower-bearing villain approached before there was a reply and Iron Man took flight, raising one hand to block the flames. Whether that was instinct or an actual precaution, Steve didn’t know, but they needed to finish this fast.
“Hawkeye, find higher ground, Thor and Black Widow, work distraction until Hawkeye can take them out,” Steve ordered. “Iron Man, find a weakness in their armor for Hawkeye to exploit –”
Either Tony didn’t listen or wasn’t in control, but he flew closer, knocking down the flame-thrower guy, then swept down for the others, blasting them with quick repulsor blasts. The shock wave guy attacked him from the side but Iron Man flipped in the air before the wave could hit him. Then the sphere was around him again, but it kept growing this time, pushing forward to meet the shock wave until the two clashed together and the blue energy barrier pushed through it, smashing into the villain, sending him flying and leaving him lying on the ground, armor smoking. And just like that the blue sphere receded once again.
“Well,” Hawkeye observed. “I guess that took care of it.”
Yeah, Steve thought. Not that he liked it, not one bit. He was used to Tony ignoring his orders, or bending them at least, but this was different – and if he knew that, then so did a lot of other people.
Manhattan, New York, NY, USA
As could be expected, Fury pretty much blew a gasket when Steve reported back to him while the Avengers were still getting back from Washington. Bruce had stayed behind, the threat too minimal to risk him turning into the other guy and causing more damage than the villains combined had been able to create, but he listened as Steve talked to Fury.
Tony returned ahead of the others, refusing to ride on the Quinjet. It wasn’t that strange; he preferred going home at his own pace, should his suit be capable of flying post-battle, and he would be tinkering in his lab by the time the rest of them landed.
Bruce met the other man at the end of the Iron Man suit’s disassembly line. “I hear you have managed to make the energy shield work,” he noted.
Tony looked at him, side by side with the Tesseract, blue and brown eyes regarding him. “No, actually… that was all him,” Tony answered. “In the middle of all the tests I haven’t had time to focus on that, although I have most of the specs drawn up.”
Bruce frowned. “So this was… what, exactly?”
“The Tesseract,” Tony shrugged.
Bruce frowned, stepping towards him and taking Tony’s arm to stop him from walking past him. “Tony, you have to be careful. We still don’t know how the Tesseract affects your body, especially when its power is used. There might be unexpected results – and in worst case it might kill you.”
“I’m fine,” Tony smiled. “Don’t worry. I feel fantastic!” He grinned and grasped Bruce’s arm in return. “We could go work on the suit right now. I could show you the calculations. I could show you so much. There’s… infinite possibilities which he has shown me.”
The earnest light in the brown eye reminded Bruce of a child who was having the time of his life, full of energy and hope. Yet the blue one was cooler, more calculating, and it twisted his stomach every time. “He has told you things?”
“He has shown me,” Tony nodded. “With a little time, I could help you work on that cure you’ve been searching for. Perhaps there is a way –”
While Bruce may have embraced a chance to find a cure, even now after all the years he had spent resigned to his fate that the other guy was now a part of him, he found himself unable to accept this offer. It felt wrong. It felt dangerous. It was too good to be true. “Tony, there’s… a limit to how much a person should know. We’re not supposed to be all-knowing.”
“But you love information. We both do,” Tony frowned. The blue eye seemed even more alert now.
“Yes, but… Doesn’t it scare you? You have this entity inside you, unwilling to leave. It can take over in a heartbeat and you don’t stand a chance. As beautiful as the trade-off feels like, to lend him your body in exchange for all this, I cannot but fear that in the end you will be cast into some dark corner of your mind, caught up in the illusion that you’re still in control, ensnared by everything he can teach you.”
He could tell Tony didn’t take kindly to his suggestion but for an instant there was worry on his face. Bruce knew he wasn’t that far gone that he couldn’t at least consider the possibility of becoming a hostage in his own body – and in the end perhaps not even knowing it, pushed so far from the surface he couldn’t tell if he was alive or not.
The blue took over the brown and the expression vanished as if someone had wiped his face clean. “You still doubt me, Doctor Banner,” the Tesseract noted.
“I do,” Bruce admitted. “I worry for Tony. I care for him.”
“And Anthony cares for you,” the Tesseract confirmed. “You should embrace that happiness, this chance to have another being next to you.”
Bruce felt his breath catch. This again. His mind jumped right back to that kiss in the lab and the strange tension afterwards. Tony wanted him, liked him, but he wasn’t comfortable with Bruce knowing. And he had heard there had been some kind of incident with him and Steve as well… “I could not be with Tony even if I wanted to,” he said simply.
His friend cocked his head, although it wasn’t him that stared back. “There is much I can do to… help you. If you let me. Together, we shall be happy.”
“You mean Tony and I will be happy.”
Bruce wondered about that. He didn’t doubt for a moment that Tony’s emotions were real, because he knew him well enough to know it could happen. He liked closeness of other people – that much was certain from his constant stream of lovers and dates in the past – and he and Bruce certainly had things that made them compatible.
This slip of the tongue from the Tesseract, however, was uncommon. Could it be possible Tony’s affections were influencing the Cube as well? Or was the Tesseract only feeding the illusion that he wanted the best for everyone while it remained with the power to take over Tony’s body and mind at any given moment? And how did Steve fall into the equation? Was the Tesseract aiming to ensnare the entire team but hadn’t just made its move yet?
“I need to shower,” the Tesseract announced – no doubt voicing Tony’s wish to be clean. While he had put a lot of hours into making the suit as comfortable as possible it was still hot work at times and the Tesseract might change how his clothes and the armor responded to each other.
Bruce watched him leave, quiet and uncertain, then snapped out of it when the others arrived.
“How was he?” Steve asked before he had even put the shield down.
“Himself – until the Tesseract took over,” Bruce replied. “Tony still seems positively eager about all this.”
Steve nodded then followed the others to get cleaned up.
Bruce headed out to wait for them in the living room area, soon joined by their guests; Selvig and Jane emerged from the stairwell with Darcy in tow. “The others are back?” Jane asked. When Bruce nodded she disappeared, probably to see Thor.
“Where’s Loki?” Bruce asked, suddenly realizing he hadn’t seen Thor’s brother for a while. How was it possible they could forget he was around after all the grief he had given them? Loki had been so quiet and harmless that he kept disappearing into the background. Perhaps it was some kind of plan, or was he truly afraid of Thor’s potential wrath from misbehaving?
“He is currently residing in the room appointed to him,” J.A.R.V.I.S. answered, startling him a bit. “Do you require his presence, Dr. Banner?”
“No, it’s fine. Thank you, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Bruce thanked the AI.
Selvig had sat down, working on a tablet while going over some papers and making notes in the margins. “Is there any way we could get data from the Iron Man suit?” he asked then. “It has a vast array of sensors, right?”
“I would presume so,” Bruce nodded. “J.A.R.V.I.S. keeps a close eye on Tony while he’s in the suit, and even Tony himself runs trials from time to time…” He hadn’t even thought of that approach although he certainly should have, especially after today. If the Tesseract had used its power the suit should have some readings about how it occurred and perhaps tell them if there was an immediate threat. Bruce didn’t want to be pessimistic but part of him hoped for some kind of sign that would make Tony reconsider the Tesseract’s position in his body.
Tony wandered in a moment later, his eyes brown for the time being, and he wordlessly slumped down on the couch beside Bruce.
“Dr. Selvig, you have an incoming phone call from S.H.I.E.L.D.,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced a moment later.
Selvig looked up. “I’ll take it in my office,” he said and got up with his notes and tablet, disappearing. The good thing about the Stark Tower was that it had plenty of room to give them all their space.
Once they were alone Tony leaned against Bruce’s side, just slightly, as if seeking some kind of support; he usually gave Bruce a bit more space than that since that’s the way Bruce preferred it. He wasn’t certain why but he was reminded of the kiss again – and their heated exchange of words afterwards.
“You’re thinking about it?” Tony asked.
Bruce refused to physically jump at the words, looking at his hands carefully. “I’m thinking about a lot of things; you’ll have to elaborate.”
Tony twisted around to look at him although Bruce was still decidedly not looking back. Then Tony’s face was much closer to his than was necessary, his lips landing on the corner of his mouth because he couldn’t get closer than that without making Bruce move. “Something along these lines,” Tony murmured.
Bruce jerked his head back. “I told you… this is not a good idea.”
“And I gave you the impression I didn’t care about your crappy reasons, right?” Tony shot back. So much heat in his voice, so much emotion – and not a flicker of blue in his eyes. It was all him, all of this for Bruce, and it had been so long; being afraid for everyone else before they could even be afraid for themselves. But Tony didn’t fear the other guy, didn’t see him like everyone else eventually saw the green monster, and Bruce wasn’t sure what to think of that.
It would be so easy to just give in. It wouldn’t even be his fault, really, although he knew he would feel responsible regardless of who should be blamed for it.
“Damn it,” he grunted then turned his head towards Tony’s face and took his lips.
Definitely better than before.
Infinitely better than the small peck against the corner of his mouth moments ago.
Tony seemed to appreciate it too and didn’t get wild, didn’t go crazy, and that was a small miracle on its own since he seemed like a lover who rarely took his time with anything. Perhaps he was serious about this.
Bruce jerked back, noticing Steve standing there, freshly showered and a look of indecision on his face. There may have been a shadow of hurt in the blue eyes and although he looked like he wanted to, he didn’t look away.
“Hey,” Tony said softly.
“I should go,” Steve decided.
“Or you could stay,” Tony threw back.
Steve’s mouth hardened. “I think we both know that’s not a good idea. Whatever your game is –”
Right; something had happened between Tony and Steve. Bruce had heard about it and wasn’t certain what exactly it had been and if he could trust the rumors, but right now he could feel the tension between them.
It was Tony’s turn to appear hurt and he looked down as if he suddenly didn’t want to be here at all.
“Maybe I’ll let you guys talk this out,” Bruce decided.
“No, it’s fine, I get it,” Steve interrupted.
“Stop being so fucking fine with it!” Tony finally yelled. The lights flickered, as did his eyes, and he breathed hard for a moment, the brown eventually winning a struggle if there ever was one. “I’ve made out with both of you in an embarrassingly small amount of hours. It’s fucked up, neither of you were ever supposed to know about this, and don’t you dare fucking leave, Rogers!” he bellowed as Steve looked ready to bolt.
Bruce took a steadying breath, trying to rewind to Tony’s words. “You were never going to tell us?” he asked then.
Tony gave him a furious look. “I think that much was evident from my initial reaction to Little Blue Wonder’s revelation, but it’s out there now, he made a move on you both, and I have no idea how to fix that.”
“So…” Steve started. “You like us both.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Don’t give me a lecture about how inconvenient, evil and scandalous that is, not to mention illegal and depraved.”
“I was just going to say… Well, none of those things,” Steve looked uncomfortable.
“Maybe it’s a normal thing in a team?” Bruce mused carefully. “We have been through so much, it creates a certain bond –”
“I had a hard-on for Captain America before he was even fished from the ice,” Tony cut him off. “And don’t you dare belittle our bond with something like that. I’m not rubbing up against our other teammates, am I?”
“Yeah,” Tony huffed.
“So,” Steve proceeded, carefully sitting down in a chair across from them, “what do we do about this?” Ever the one to try and find a solution.
“I can’t do this,” Bruce blurted. “He knows that, I know that. There’s no competition, if that’s what you mean; he’s all yours.”
Steve raised an eyebrow. “And you kissing him falls within that statement how exactly? You were turning him down?”
“He’s still figuring it out,” Tony muttered, kicking his feet up on the table. The blue flickered in his eyes again then settled in the left one. “We’re all figuring it out although I think voting for ignoring it would be a smart thing to do.”
Bruce could tell it upset him to even say that; perhaps it had been an option when he hadn’t revealed his feelings to either of them but he could hardly take it back now unless they all suddenly forgot about it.
Steve looked down at his hands. “I don’t know if I can just ignore it. I know it’s out there, I can’t just…”
“You can if you want to. Ask Bruce for private lessons,” Tony glared at them both.
“There is no reason for anyone to ignore anything,” the Tesseract spoke up. “The prospect of a more intimate relationship appeals to all of you, no matter what your misgivings at this point. Why not explore it, all of you together?”
He blinked and Tony was back on the surface, looking a bit panicked.
“Is that what you want?” Steve asked.
“I didn’t say that, did I?” Tony tried to make it sound angry, but failed somewhere in the middle.
“No, but you haven’t recently been saying a lot of things that you actually mean,” their leader pointed out. That actually shut Tony up for a moment. “Well?” Steve asked again. Bruce wasn’t certain why he was so intent on learning the truth; he would be much happier not knowing, imagining it was the Tesseract pushing them all.
“I guess,” Tony finally admitted, looking away, towards the stairs; towards the spot where he killed Pepper. Maybe he was going over that again in his mind. He let out a nervous, self-conscious laugh a moment later. “It’s just my luck, being stuck here, unable to choose. Usually I wouldn’t choose; I would just take both.”
“Why not?” the Tesseract enquired almost teasingly.
Bruce was fully prepared to answer that, then thought it over: how normal were their lives anyway? “This is crazy,” he finally decided, leaning back, suddenly weary.
“It’s not how I expected my life to turn out,” Steve confessed. Tony and Bruce both looked at him. Steve shrugged. “I used to picture I would find someone, have a home, have kids – or die in the war defending my country a hundred thousand miles away from home because that looked far more likely than finding a lady on my arm even with the difficulty I had getting into the army. After that… I guess I didn’t expect much of anything, at least not until the war was over and then I was flying a plane into the ocean.”
“Well, you still have plenty of chances to have that life,” Bruce reminded him. “To find a nice lady, have a home.”
“While fighting every bad guy thrown our way, whether they’re from Earth or outer space? I don’t think that’s a good place to start any kind of family,” Steve smiled a bit sadly. “And I guess I was never that realistic about that particular dream anyway.”
“So you would choose this instead?” Bruce asked, only half-serious.
“With people I can trust and care about, who are going to have my back in the toughest spot I can imagine?” Steve looked at them both. “I could hardly think of anything better.”
“Uh, thanks.” Bruce wondered if it was really that easy. No, it wasn’t: “I can’t do this. I just can’t. Guys, seriously. And I don’t even… I’m not into men, in general. Steve, do you even understand what you’re getting into?”
“I know I enjoyed kissing Tony,” was his only answer. It seemed to be enough for him.
Tony was oddly quiet and Bruce expected he had either died or disappeared, but he was still sitting next to him, very much alive, just staring at Steve as if he were some kind of alien wearing their friend’s skin. That was almost amusing seeing as Tony was actually the one with that particular issue on his shoulders. “It takes more than a kiss,” he finally said.
“I figured.” And finally Steve flushed, like he did a lot when things got too ‘modern’ for him.
“A lot more than kissing,” Bruce confirmed.
“But if it’s with someone you care about, does that matter?” Steve asked, and it was an excellent question.
Tony had no idea how this was suddenly his life, and how he had gotten here without actually stopping to think.
Contrary to popular belief, Tony did indeed stop to think once in a while even though he might do that while speeding on the freeway. He could multitask and enjoyed doing that. In fact, he felt more relaxed when his body was doing one thing and his brain another although that didn’t mean to say he didn’t use his brain when he was driving at high speed.
What it came down to was that he had snapped out of being possessed – which he couldn’t remember – and had found out he’d killed Pepper – which almost made him want to hurl himself down those same steps – after which the Tesseract had suddenly taken up residence inside him – giving him a brand new look at split personalities – and there was currently no answer as to how to remove the Tesseract from him – with or without Tony’s own cooperation. When had he been able to turn down the possibility to unlock the world’s secrets and especially secrets he hadn’t even known existed?!
Perhaps it was Bruce’s constant worrying that eventually made him stop and think and this time he did it literally, standing on top of the Stark Tower from where Loki and his Brainwashed Henchmen had fired off the Cube to create a portal which had nearly killed him.
‘You did die,’ the Tesseract whispered in his mind.
“What?” Tony said out loud because conversing inside his head just wasn’t within his comfort zone yet.
‘You died, falling from the sky. I felt it, the life leaving you, your suit unable to take the strain; you were in an environment it was not designed for.’
“I think I’ll have to thank the other guy for saving my life after all,” Tony muttered.
‘The beast did not save you, nor did your friends,’ the confident voice told him. ‘I did. My spark within you brought you back to life, and eventually, to me. We are one, Anthony. We are meant to be.’
That was fucked up in so many ways.
“So I guess I owe my life to you, then,” Tony mused, looking out over the city.
‘And you will repay me by giving me residence within your body.’
If that was an order, Tony wasn’t sure there was room for him to say ‘no’.
“Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up while Steve was in the gym, giving the equipment a bit more than they were supposed to take. Tony had promised to make improvements to them, to give him a real workout, but his mind was quick to move to other things. He had grown used to that in a relatively short time.
“What is it?” Steve asked, stopping.
“I believe there is something going on you would like to see,” the AI went on and a holographic screen appeared in mid-air. Even at the gym… How come none of it surprised him while he was under Stark’s roof?
A video feed appeared on the screen. He could tell it was originating from the top of the building. Tony stood there, talking to himself it seemed.
“I have analyzed that Mr. Stark is most likely having a discussion with the Cube-being,” J.A.R.V.I.S. announced. “They seem to have concluded it was the Cube that saved him the day the Chitauri attacked, after his visit through the portal.”
Steve nodded hesitantly. J.A.R.V.I.S. played the video again from the beginning. “Did you show this to Banner or Selvig?”
“They are both currently visiting a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility. You were the only one present. Should I send them the video?”
“Yes, please,” Steve nodded, only then recalling he was alone with Tony – well, them and a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents who mostly stayed out of sight. He moved out, wiping the few beads of sweat with a towel, wanting to confront Tony about this. He met him in the stairs as the man was coming down, his face contemplative, brown eyes dark.
“What was that about?” Steve asked.
Tony stopped mid-step. “What?” he asked.
“About you owing your life to the Cube?” Steve pushed, taking a few steps towards him, stopping while he was still beneath him in the stairwell.
Tony blinked. This was one of those moments when Steve noticed how big his eyes were; he wasn’t squinting at anyone, or making expressions. “I… you heard that,” he stated then.
“J.A.R.V.I.S. showed it to me,” Steve confirmed.
Tony’s lips pursed. “We’re going to have to have a talk about that…”
“I think he’s worried.”
“He’s an AI. The first month you claimed it made the house feel haunted with him talking to you, switching the lights on and off and opening doors.”
Steve felt his skin grow hot. Yeah, it had been eerie. As advanced as S.H.I.E.L.D.’s facilities were, J.A.R.V.I.S. put it all to shame: a butler without a body, just a voice, warm and familiar with emotions as far as he could tell although Tony always scoffed at the idea. “Well, I’ve grown used to him. And you’re avoiding the topic. What did you talk about on the roof?”
The blue popped to the surface so fast it almost made him fall back. That he hadn’t grown used to. “It is none of your business,” the Tesseract informed him.
“I was talking to Tony,” Steve shot back, voice hardening. “Let him continue.”
“I am not yours to command, human soldier.”
“No, but you will let us speak.”
“You threaten me?”
“You want to make him happy. Let us talk.”
“You have upset Anthony.”
“I’m sure he can live with it,” Steve raised an eyebrow. “He’s not made of glass; his feelings most certainly are not.”
He could tell the Tesseract was not pleased and it didn’t have to let Tony back to the surface, so Steve decided on a different approach: he leaned up, which reminded him almost too much of how he used to be, a head shorter than everyone else, and kissed Tony. When he pulled back a good while later, a breath caught in his throat, the brown had returned to his friend’s eyes. “Huh, it actually worked,” Steve congratulated himself.
Tony blinked, an uncertain expression washing over his face. His hand rose then settled on Steve’s arm that was currently laid on Tony’s shoulder. “Is this some kind of new way to deal with the Tesseract taking over?”
“It seemed to work,” Steve shrugged. “So, we were talking about someone saving your life.”
Tony looked away, down the swirl of the steps, and reiterated his discussion with the Tesseract. It seemed to trouble him somewhat which honestly was a good sign.
“JA.R.V.I.S., will you include this information in the message you sent to Banner and Selvig?”
“Already sent, sir,” J.A.R.VI.S. responded smoothly.
Steve’s eyes fell back on Tony who was regarding him quietly, very still compared to his usually restless self; he usually moved when simply breathing in and out, but now he seemed frozen with Steve’s hand still on his shoulder and Tony’s hand on said forearm. The contact between skins was turning burning hot and he expected one of them to burst into flames at any given moment.
“Are you going to… do something?” Tony asked, a bit of a shiver in his voice that dropped down right around Steve’s balls - not in an unpleasant way, he might add.
Briefly he wondered what he could do, or should, and how he had no real idea where this was going, or how, or if it was even real and had the potential to last. He had spent seven decades in the ice just when he had had a date planned, though, and maybe waiting for the perfect moment was the world’s biggest lie; if he didn’t do something now, he could lose it all.
He tugged Tony closer by his shoulder, pushing their chests together, ignoring the pressure of the arc reactor, and met his lips. This time Tony didn’t hesitate, parting his lips, letting the kiss turn wet, his beard creating a strange friction on Steve’s skin which reminded him this wasn’t like kissing Peggy or that woman who felt like she had to thank him for saving all those soldiers. Tony’s weight against him was solid and warm, not a ghost of the past, and Steve hoisted him up, still kissing him, walking back down the couple steps he had taken.
They ended up on the floor because he couldn’t locate the couch with his eyes closed, not wanting to break the kiss long enough to see where he should go. Tony didn’t mind; he lay close to him, tugging his shirt up, touching skin, kissing and biting his neck, and then he touched Steve where it mattered most, making him freeze and hesitate for the smallest moment before Steve picked up the pace and decided he wanted this too.
Touching Tony in return was more awkward since he wasn’t sure what he should do or what Tony liked, but feeling his skin against his own was nice, even though Tony didn’t let him take his shirt off or move it high enough to reveal more than the bottom of the arc reactor. Maybe it was a sore spot. Maybe it was something he didn’t like to look at, or let others touch in this manner.
They moved against each other and it was not like he had pictured it, on the floor of the living room, barely out of their clothes, but Steve refused to stop. He touched Tony’s face, making their eyes meet. “I want to… I want you to look at me. I want to know it’s you.”
Tony stopped for half a second, shifting, resuming, taking the lead. “This is me,” he promised but kept his eyes on Steve, which bordered on too intense, yet when they came only some seconds apart from each other, wet and sticky and smearing clothes and Tony’s hand, it made his heart hammer harder and Tony lowered his head to kiss him again. Steve trusted that his eyes remained brown all the way through it although the blue color had returned to the right one by the time they pulled themselves up and went to clean up in their separate rooms.
When Bruce got back from the trip to visit Fury – mostly to give an oral, in-person report on Tony’s condition and any ideas on how to fix it – he found the Tower surprisingly quiet. He discovered Tony in his room, knocking carefully on the doorframe before entering. “Everything okay?”
Tony looked up. “Yeah. How was your day?”
“Not as exciting as you would think,” Bruce admitted, hovering at the door. “Natasha and Clint stayed behind, debrief or training, I don’t know. Jane and Darcy took Thor out to shop in the morning and I assume Loki had to tag along. Selvig is already back at work in his lab.” He looked at Tony a bit more closely. “Where’s Steve?” He had assumed the soldier would hover around Tony to make sure he stayed… well, himself.
“In his room, I guess,” Tony noted, looking away.
“Did something happen?” Bruce wasn’t sure why he asked. Tony had all the right in the world to not be interested in the company of others, of Bruce himself. This seemed different, though; almost tense. They weren’t tense around each other.
“Steve and I…” Tony started.
“Oh,” Bruce said, guessing there hadn’t been a fight but the opposite of that. That explained it, somewhat. “Was it nice?” he asked then, although it made him feel and sound like a total douche.
“Well, it was literally a roll on the floor and it wasn’t what I had imagined it would be like, but I guess it was okay. He liked it.” Tony still wasn’t really looking at him and Bruce moved into the room, closed the door and sat beside the other man. Tony leaned against him slightly once he was there.
“You don’t need to feel obligated to tell me, or even try to make it up to me; like I said, this is a bad idea,” Bruce started. “I’m okay with you and Steve hitting it off. It’s fine.”
“No, it’s not,” Tony argued, angry almost, and he looked at Bruce with eyes filled with brimstone. “He asked me to look at him so that he knew it was me; so that I was the one who wanted it.”
“I think at this point it’s only fair to at least… express some concerns,” Bruce said tentatively, knowing he was treading on thin ice.
“Exactly. This thing is ruining each and every one of my wet dreams suddenly coming to life.”
For the first time Tony sounded truly upset about the Tesseract’s presence in his body; like it was suddenly personal when before it hadn’t been. Bruce was glad of the change although not of the context it came up in. “I’m sure once this is all over you and Steve will have time to figure out it was you, not an alien consciousness.”
“And what about you?”
“What about me?”
“Do you know it’s me?” Tony asked, his eyes searching, earnest for truth.
“It’s you right now,” Bruce frowned. He was almost completely certain of that fact and not just because Tony’s eyes were brown without a single hint of blue.
Tony stared at him a moment longer, as if savoring his reply, then leaned forward. Bruce knew the kiss was coming, felt it and saw it, but he didn’t move. He could pretend it took him by surprise. He also wondered if he could taste Steve on Tony’s lips – wanted to ask how long ago it had been since they did whatever they had done.
The other man didn’t push it which could be taken as an indication that it hadn’t been all that long since Steve had been where he was now. Bruce knew the thought of that should have been a turn-off, or at least make him feel a bit miserable, but his lips clung to Tony’s and he stayed there, quite happily, savoring it even if it felt like leftovers, which it really wasn’t, and he wanted to hit himself for thinking that.
A knock came from the door and Steve pushed his head in. “I was wondering –” He stopped, looking at them sitting on the bed with their heads together and it was pretty obvious he had caught a glance of them kissing.
“Steve,” Bruce started a bit stupidly.
“It’s fine,” Tony uttered, shifting but not moving away. It made Bruce feel a bit better – that he wouldn’t be cast aside. “Do you want to come in?” Tony asked then.
“No. Thank you,” Steve added almost as an afterthought, finding it impossible to be impolite even now. He pulled back out and closed the door.
Bruce felt guilty although Tony had come onto him first, hadn’t he? Not that it was any reason to think like he had some kind of claim on Tony, and besides, he hadn’t even wanted him! Well, he had, of course he had, now that it was out in the open, but there were a hundred and one reasons not to do this.
And then Tony shifted, getting up, and Bruce felt his heart drop to his stomach with disappointment – until Tony sat back down in his lap, leaning in, and Bruce just looked at him, startled but not so much to let the other guy make an appearance. Their lips were fused back together an instant later, Tony’s hands caressing his face, his hair, and it was so easy to lean back on the bed, Tony falling on top of him, and to touch him all over until it was too much and Bruce thought his heart would hammer out of his chest.
“Tony, I can’t…”
“Shh, it’s okay,” Tony sighed above him but pushed up a bit, looking at his eyes.
Bruce caught his breath, just looking at him, and tried to find the reins again. “Could we just… lie here?” he asked, not wanting to risk it.
Tony gave him a nod and slid down a bit further, still mostly on top of him. Bruce could feel the edge of the arc reactor pressing against his ribs and Tony moved to the side as soon as he realized that. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“It’s fine,” Bruce said back. “Really, Tony, it’s not…”
Tony was quiet, leaning his head on his shoulder, staying close – just not close enough for the piece of machinery to come between them.
That’s how Bruce fell asleep, quite unexpectedly, yet he woke up alone some hours later. He knew not to be too disappointed by that.
Tony sat in his workshop, J.A.R.V.I.S. working around him, throwing him comments about calculations, processes and on-going projects. He didn’t need to pay attention to it since the AI was able to operate it all on his own within his earlier orders, but the familiar voice calmed him.
The screen in front of him had grown blank and two faint spots of light reflected back from it; his arc reactor and one blue eye, shining back at him…
“Sir?” JA.R.V.I.S. interrupted his thoughts if he had even had any; he found his mind surprisingly blank these last few days – after Steve and he…
“Yeah, J?” Tony glanced up from the screen.
“Captain Rogers is awaiting access to your workshop. Shall I let him in?”
Tony had told J.A.R.V.I.S. to block anyone from entering but he guessed he should let Steve in if he wanted to talk – especially after he had seen him and Bruce together.
Steve walked in a moment later, taking a look around to see if something was on fire that he should point out – he always felt like pointing out potential safety hazards in Tony’s labs, which was a little annoying – then headed over to where he was seated. “Are you working?”
“Diligently,” Tony replied.
Steve studied his face – or eye, he wasn’t sure which. “Can we talk?”
“Absolutely,” Tony smiled, then dropped the expression. The other man kept looking at him and it was making him oddly nervous. “You wanted to talk?” he prompted after a moment.
“You and Bruce…” Steve started hesitantly then wandered off, reaching out to touch some of Tony’s work equipment. It was actually a prototype for a new weapon designed for the Iron Man suit but it needed some re-design before he would even start fixing it into the armor for a test-run.
“We kissed,” Tony admitted. “More can be said for the two of us.” Steve turned red at his words. Tony sighed. “How did you think this was going to go? I come onto you both – unwillingly, but the fact remains – and we even talked about it, remember? You were the one who actually thought it was a good idea and we should pursue it.”
That didn’t make Steve act any more comfortably. “I did, yes, but I think I thought… the three of us. I don’t know, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.” He started to move back towards the door.
“Threesomes don’t just happen, Cap,” Tony reminded his retreating back. “I still need convincing this is going to happen, and Bruce… let’s not even talk about Dr. Banner’s issues on the subject.”
Steve turned to look at him. He didn’t look one inch like the man Tony would follow into battle. “What do you mean, you still need convincing? We just… did things on the living room floor!”
“Oh, that,” Tony dismissed, shifting his chair around a bit, one quarter of a whirl, then toed it back. “I’m good with sex. Fantastic, actually. That’s not a problem. If this was all about sex I would be all over it.”
And there Steve was again, blushing, but at least he didn’t try to hide it because for a man of his size that would be truly awkward. “So this is about more than sex?” he said after he found his voice again.
“Obviously. Boyhood dreams or no, I’m aware that being involved with you, Bruce, and especially both of you is putting a bit of strain on the team and I can’t afford to fuck it up. Have I mentioned I’m fantastic at fucking up personal relationships? You should… should have asked Pepper about that.” He fell silent. Even thinking about Pepper hurt. To fill that hole with anything, like a make-out session with Captain America, would numb it but not dissolve it.
“Tony,” Steve said and Tony noticed once again how he kept calling him that these days. Not ‘Stark’. It had happened some time after the first kiss. Steve stepped closer again, looking like a gentleman ready to draw out his handkerchief for his weeping lady. Not that Tony was weeping and he had plenty of his own – albeit greasy – towels to deal with any surprise leakages from his eyes, thank you very much.
“I’m fine,” he said quickly, shifting his chair around to swerve away and not be forced to look at Steve.
Steve didn’t argue – at least not verbally – but he laid a hand on his shoulder, squeezing, and it was so sickeningly comforting Tony wasn’t certain whether he wanted to make a biting comment or shrink back in repugnance.
“We’ll make it work,” Steve promised then turned and left, which made it all so much worse.
Another kind of promise rose from the depths of his mind and his eyes searched the twin points of light reflecting from the blank screen once again: ‘There is nothing we cannot accomplish, Anthony.’ He blinked, one blue glowing circle vanishing for a fraction of a second. ‘There is no reason to be concerned.’