sam_storyteller: (Alternate Universe)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2012-12-22 03:32 pm

Works No Longer In Progress, 2012

Title: Works No Longer In Progress, 2012
Rating: G through R
Fandoms: Avengers, Sherlock, Suits, White Collar, Merlin
Warnings: See descriptions for warnings. There's only one or two that even need them.
Notes: Every year (well, okay, once last year, and now again) I do a post of all the bits of fic I couldn't find a place for. Some stand alone pretty well; most are just starts I don't have the interest or energy to finish.

Also available at AO3.

AVENGERS

Most of the stuff in this year's post is Avengers. There's a lot of identity porn and some AUs and some just straight up adventure.

Operative 27

To a prompt from txrabbit asking for Phil/Clint involving identity porn.

There was a time before Clint knew his handler very well, a time when he was new to SHIELD, and times like that are actually Clint's favorites because he gets to Do Research.

Clint liked finding things out, winnowing out secrets, and SHIELD was all about secrets. Like Operative 27.

Operative 27 was fucking legendary. Clint found out about him (her?) when he got up to the very top of the Helicarrier command tower, a place where man was not meant to go, and found someone else had been there too. XXVII was carved into the paint.

"So what does XXVII mean?" he asked one of the other agents, later over dinner, and she looked at him like he was a kindergartener.

"It's Operative 27's callsign," she said.

"Who's that when he's at home?"

"Nobody knows. He's the black ops of black ops. Fury might know who he is. He's not even in the books, though. People have looked."

"Operative 27 is the guy who pulled the Myanmar job," another agent said.

"I heard about that," Clint replied. "I thought it was just a myth."

"God's honest truth. I worked with a guy who was on the ground when 27 blew the bunker."

"How do they know it was 27?" Clint asked.

"He left a calling card. XXVII. It's his thing, like that sniper who used to leave feathers on his victims."

There were tons of legends about Operative 27. The agents reckoned he'd been active for about ten years, maybe as many as twenty. He did the job SHIELD agents couldn't do. He was still around -- lived somewhere on the Carrier, probably, but nobody knew where.

"Hey, you've been around here a while," Clint said one day, on the range with Agent Coulson. "You ever hear of Operative 27?"

"Where'd you pick that old urban legend up?" Coulson asked.

"Here and there. So he's not real?"

"Above my pay grade. But I wouldn't listen to the stories. SHIELD agents are prize bullshitters, you should have figured that out."

"They weren't bullshitting me on purpose, though."

"If there is an Operative 27, the best thing we can do is let him get on with his job," Coulson said, and put three bullets into the target, but made only one hole. Clint gave him an impressed look. "Anyway, he's probably retired by now. That's a young man's job."

"Maybe he's like the Dread Pirate Roberts," Clint said. "The mantle gets passed down."

Coulson gave him an amused look. "Maybe one day you'll find out."

Three years later, when Clint found himself removed from his bunk in the middle of the night, blindfolded, and dragged up the command tower to where XXVII was still carved in the Helicarrier's paint, he realized Coulson wasn't bullshitting. He was prognosticating.

"We need a new Operative 27," someone said in a low voice, and Clint tried to see through the blindfold. "Interested in the job, Barton?"

"Fuck yeah, I'm interested," Clint replied. There was a chuckle.

"I thought you'd say that," and the voice was more normal now, and familiar. When the blindfold came off, Coulson was crouched in front of him.

"Do you swear to uphold the codes and regulations of SHIELD and to protect the agency inasmuch as you are able, to the death?" Coulson asked.

"Not to the pain?" Clint said, and Coulson slapped him.

"This isn't a joke, Barton. My reputation is on the line."

"I swear," Clint said.

"Are you aware of, and do you accept, the responsibility of this title?"

Clint swallowed. "I am. I do."

Coulson handed him a white card. XXVII was printed on it.

"Then this is yours now. And I have your first assignment for you, Operative 27."


Keeping Score

This is actually self-contained as a short short fic, though it was supposed to be a longer narrated-by-Tony fic. I thought having Tony narrate would be interesting but in the end it's just exhausting.

The day begins ordinarily enough: I'm up to my elbows in a small thermonuclear device not of my own making, trying to find its off switch.

But I'm not worried, and I'll tell you why.

One, I have two whole minutes to disarm it, and for this kind of toy I've never needed more than that.

Two, if it does go, my death will be quick and near to painless. The really nice thing about being a superhero is that if the world ends or a chunk of New York gets blown up, you are likely to be at the heart of the explosion. I'd rather go quick than deal with all the trauma.

So mostly I'm mumbling about inferior consumer electronics and how nuclear has been over for like, twenty years, it went out with greed and shoulderpads in the late eighties, while everyone else has to run around evacuating people. A pointless task if ever there was one, because this baby's going to take half of the city if it goes, but I guess it keeps them busy.

The bomb has some components made from Stark technology, which isn't that surprising; my company makes tech, and pretty much any of the tech we make can be used to make a bomb if you know what you're doing. No way to prevent it, but it helps that the man who designed the tech is disarming it.

At one minute seventeen seconds, the bomb whirrs, whines, and dies.

Tony Stark 1, Universe 0.


Human, Mostly

This was written to a magical realism prompt given to me by jackdaws-pocketbook.

Only Tony really believes Pepper is magic. Most people just think she's really efficient. But you live basically in someone's pocket for years, you get to know them.

So Tony is totally unsurprised when he undresses Pepper for the first time, after their third Official Date (he can be a traditionalist when he wants, fuck you) and finds a gorgeous blue tattoo stretching from the small of her back to her shoulders.

He's seen her in a backless dress. He'd have seen that.

He runs his fingers over it and she arches, turns her head and smiles at him.

"What exactly are you?" he asks softly.

"Human," she replies. "Mostly."

"Mostly?"

"Well, I know how you hate magic," she says. Then she shakes her hair out, and when she turns to face him her eyes are...different.

"Not to stroke your ego," she continues, "but great men draw things to them. Little things. Sometimes big things. Trouble. Trouble you couldn't begin to understand, Tony."

"Like you?" he asks, trying to smile, not quite making it.

"No. The trouble attracted me. And I made sure it never touched you."

He looks at her, cups her face.

"And now?"

She smiles. "Trouble is afraid of me now. Don't worry your beautiful little head about it. Let me take care of that. Why don't you take care of me?"

Tony traces the tattoo with his fingertips, looking in her eyes. "Well. That works for me."


Ben's Chili Bowl

A never-to-be-completed Pepper/Coulson based on this deleted scene from Iron Man II.

"Okay, I need two -- no, four -- all meat chili dogs, one with chili on the side, two large bowls of chili con carne, two of the chili burger sub, one with no mayonnaise, three jumbo beef dogs, tuna sandwich no onions, no, make that the sub, not the sandwich, but still no onions, and like...three pounds of fries. Like ten orders' worth of fries, and two of the potato salad -- you have cake? Okay, one...pineapple and two german chocolate, and one lemon, and three Cokes, one Diet Coke -- no, in addition to the three cokes. And a Fanta, and like...can I just buy a bottle of ketchup? Great."

The man who had taken Pepper's order didn't bat an eye, just occasionally interjected offerings and wrote everything down and said, "You know, hon, we do catering."

Normally she would have objected to the hon, but he'd seemed sympathetic, and she had needed a kind word.

"Yeah, this is for a road trip," she replied, and handed over her corporate credit card.

"Phew. Make sure you roll the windows down," the man said, and bagged up the sodas and the bottle of ketchup for her while the grill got busy with the rest of the order. She would say this, she wasn't assured yet of the quality of their food but they were fast.

By the time she returned to the hearing, Agent Coulson was standing on the front steps, with that usual look of patient forbearance that he got around Tony.

"Hey!" she said. "I got you a chili dog."

"Thank you," he replied. "Don't bother going in, they're almost finished."

"Already?" she asked. "I figured we'd be eating cold chili."

"Stark's coming out soon."

"How do you know?"

He smiled faintly. "I know a Tony Stark exit speech when I hear one. Here we are," he said, gently herding her over to one side as Tony, Happy, about fifteen reporters and twice as many security guards burst through the front door.

"Hey!" Tony said. "Food! Awesome. Come on, we're driving back to New York."

"You don't need to stay?"

Tony shrugged, relieving her of one of the bags in her hands. "This peep show is done. Let's hit the road. What do you think about driving back to California?"

"I can't think of anything I'd rather not do than spend even an hour in the car with you and Happy after eating chili," she replied, passing him the second bag. "There's potato salad and cake."

"Christ, you are awesome. Come on, hustle."

"I can't. I'm going to take the jet."

"So let's take the jet, I'll find someone to drive the car -- "

"It's in maintenance. Won't be ready until tomorrow."

"What, why is -- "

"I thought we'd be here longer."

"It's like you don't know me at all."

"We have a suite, I'll stay there tonight."

"Are you sure?" Tony asked, throwing a wrench into their usual rapid-fire bickering. He peered at her.

"I'll be fine. I'll see you back in Malibu," she assured him. She was probably going to have to do some cleanup before then anyhow.

"Okay, what's -- give me the -- "

"No, this is mine," she said, clutching one of the bags.

"Are you going to eat that entire bag -- "

"Some of it is for Agent Coulson."

"You bought Agent Sneaky-Creep food on my -- "

"Excuse me," Coulson said quietly, lifting one bag out of her arms, transferring two paper packages from one of Tony's, and snagging the Diet Coke and the Fanta. "Mr. Stark, please leave now."

"Okay, fine, you're missing out," Tony said, but he grabbed Pepper's hand and squeezed it before bolting with Happy for the car. The reporters, thankfully, followed him.

"SHIELD can get you a transport back to Malibu, if you want," Coulson said, as Pepper leaned against a wall and tried to get her bearings back.

"No, I don't mind staying in DC overnight. Besides," she said, digging in the bag he was holding, "we got the ketchup bottle."

His eyebrows lifted slightly. "I know all the best picnic benches in the city."

"Peril of being a super-secret code-talking spy?"

"Spy's such a uncouth word," he said, leading her down the steps.

"What do you prefer, Intelligence Expert?"

"Most of the time I just go by Phil," he said. He opened the passenger's door of a sleek black sedan. "Hop in. Won't take long."

They ended up in a smallish, empty park, with clean plastic picnic tables and a tree for shade. Pepper put the ketchup bottle on the table between them like a trophy.

"Fortunately I already booked a suite for the night, and Stark PR is dealing with the immediate fallout," she said, unpacking the rest of the bag. Of the metric ton of food she'd bought, they'd ended up with two chili dogs, the tuna sub, about half the fries, and a slice of lemon cake. Which was the one she wanted, so there was that, at least.

"Do you mind if I take the tuna?" he asked.

"Are you seriously letting me eat two chili dogs?" she replied.

"You looked hungry."

"Thank God," she said, and started eating. He opened the sub, piled a handful of fries in, and grinned when he caught her watching.

"Am I going to be horrified when I see the footage of the end of the hearing?" she asked, after a few bites.

"You don't strike me as someone who's horrified by much anymore," he replied, passing her the ketchup. "You want the Coke or the Fanta?"

"Fanta please."

"Basically, Stark hacked into the presentation, threw up some classified footage of other Iron Man projects that I have reason to believe he stole off the SHIELD servers -- "

"He monitors them," she said. "Other Iron Man prototypes, I mean."

"We're aware he probably has his own copies, but SHIELD uploads faster. He utterly humiliated Justin Hammer."

"Couldn't happen to a bigger prick. Mainly because there isn't one."

"I can't say that wasn't satisfying. He called the committee a group of assclowns, or something to that effect, got a standing ovation from the audience, and then made a masturbation joke as he left."

Pepper put down her chili dog, resting her face in her hands. "Okay, give me the joke."

Phil cleared his throat and said, in an uncanny rendition of Tony, "I will serve this great nation at the pleasure of myself -- "

"Oh god -- "

" -- and if there's one thing I've proven, it's that you can count on me -- "

" -- nooooo -- "

" -- to pleasure myself."

Pepper let out a giggle she couldn't help, because she did love Tony's stupid, immature sense of humor. When she looked up, Phil was checking his phone.

"It's not a bad thing, necessarily," he said. "The first youtube of the clip went up five minutes ago and it's getting hits left and right. Stark certainly has youth appeal."

"Unfortunately, youth is not a word I'd apply to our shareholders."

"No, but they like youth. Youth sells," Phil said, tucking the phone in his pocket. "Or, more accurately, youth buys. Anyone with the business skills to be where your shareholders are knows that he who owns the twelve-to-twenty-fours owns the world. Stark's target market for the phones and computers is fifteen to thirty. He'll be fine."

"How do you know that?"

"How do you think?" he asked, taking another bite of the sub. "This is some good tuna."

"Chili's not bad," she said, offering him a bite. "Eat some of these fries before I die of sodium overload. So are you our liaison now and nobody told us?" she added, as he helped himself to some fries, squirting ketchup directly on them. "Or are we just in your files? What's the deal?"

"SHIELD thinks Stark is important. Everyone wants a piece of Iron Man. The government wants him for the military, who want him to make robot suits for their soldiers. Stark's not going to play that game, we both know that," he said. "We have a different sort of service in mind."

"Tony doesn't really do service."

"Not yet," he said. "And I can't really tell you anything more. Even if I were confident you wouldn't tell Stark, this is information three, maybe four people in the organization are privy to. It would make you both a risk and a target."

"How high up in SHIELD are you?" she asked.

"I work for the Director. I have no rank," he replied.

Pepper knew, better than anyone, that being outside the chain of command meant you were either very low or very, very high on the totem pole.

"This would be a good time to change the subject, wouldn't it?" she asked.

"I can see why you've gone far at Stark Industries," he replied. He fixed her with a smile. "You like baseball?"

It was easy enough to change gears, to drop into small talk. She'd done it a lot, almost as much as Tony over the years, often in tandem with him at parties or business functions. Phil, she could tell, must be equally as experienced, but despite their talk of sports and eventually of art and classical music, she suspected they both came away with very little real information.

"I'll drop you at your hotel," he said, gathering up the remains of the meal, packing the leftover food neatly into the bag and throwing the rest out.

"Getting back to SHIELD?" she asked.

"Only our field office. The Director will want an analysis of the hearing," he said, as they strolled out of the park. "I have briefings here tomorrow."

"Another hotel inmate?"

"SHIELD has a place." He turned to her. "Given we're both in town and it's Stark's fault, would you like to get dinner tonight?"

She smiled. "Somewhere fancy? Tony can pay."

"I wouldn't mind. Eight o'clock? I should be free by then."

"Yes but -- " she said, as they reached his car. "I just remembered I have errands this afternoon. I'll get a cab to the hotel."

"You sure?"

"I'll be fine. It's nice of you to offer. I'm staying at the Hillside, do you know it?"

"I do. Pick you up?"

"Sounds good," she said, flagging down a passing taxi. "See you then."

He smiled and closed her door for her, tapping the roof to send the cab off. She caught a glimpse of him in the car's rearview mirror.

"Where to?" the cabbie asked.

"Where's the closest place to get a designer dress?" she asked.

***

By the time the lobby called up to tell her Phil Coulson was there to meet her, Pepper had managed to acquire a brilliant purple dress that flattered her skin tone, do her hair, and repack her black "going out to do fun things" purse from her "Tony Stark's pack mule" purse. She checked her makeup, stepped into her best black heels, and walked out into the lobby full of confidence.

Even if she had no expectations from dinner, the dip of Phil's eyes as he took her in was worth the effort.

"You look nice," he said, smiling at her. "Purple suits you."

"Thank you," she replied, taking his arm. "So. Given you're in a slightly nicer suit than this afternoon, I take it the dress was a good guess."

He raised an eyebrow. "Most people don't notice."

"The suits? Trust me, people notice," she answered. His car was parked in the turnaround of the hotel, and she settled in as he started it up. "Where to?"

"I wondered what could top Ben's Chili Bowl," he said, pulling into traffic. "But my boss recommended a place. Ever heard of the Scarlet Room?"

"No," she said, brow furrowing.

"Well, then it'll be an adventure," he said.

The Scarlet Room was a discreet little cafe hidden behind a boring-looking storefront. Pepper, who moved in circles of power, smelled the money and the politics the second they walked in the door. Most of the diners were men, though there were a few women in dresses and high heels like her. More muted colors, perhaps, and more modest hemlines, but she didn't think she stood out.

"I think I've been pranked," Phil murmured, as they were led to their table.

"It does come off a little bit like the back room of the Republican National Convention," she whispered.

"Never say die," he replied, and pulled her chair out for her.


Pulse

This is the first of two "waking up" fics, alternate-universe versions of how Steve might have woken up in The Future. This is the more AU of the two, and really concerns Tony more than Steve.

Tony Stark wants to save the world, People Magazine had announced, running as their cover photo the semi-shitty one that's on Tony's military ID. He'd just come out of Basic, hair buzzed close to his head and no goatee (so not a good look for him), eyes big and wide and dark and impossibly young. Eighteen, looking more like fifteen, on his way to join the Marine Corps Combat Engineers rebuilding Afghanistan -- because you don't slap a gun on an MIT graduate and make him hunt insurgents in the mountains.

They'd asked him, Why'd you join up? and he'd answered, I was drunk, because it seemed like such a self-evident thing: why the fuck do you think I joined up, assholes? My dad made missiles for a living. Gee, why would I ever want to experience the actual military?

And because when Tony went to Obadiah for advice, Obie said, "Kid, you're going to get so much shit in life for making weapons. You might as well have some emotional blackmail to hit 'em back with. Go be a war hero. I'll keep the home forge burning."

Tony could use a forge right now, it'd warm the place up.

Still, could be worse. He could be back in the Gulf, inventing a miniaturised arc reactor to keep shrapnel out of his heart, being made at gunpoint to build some new missile Obie put out that Tony didn't even work on and is redesigning from photos he's seen in the Stark Industries annual board prospectus.

When he was barely twenty-two and a Sergeant with the Marine Combat Engineers, they'd been in Afghanistan, building a school. And then a group of insurgents attacked his company and hauled his ass off when he took a fistful of shrapnel from what was clearly a Stark weapon.

They tried to make him build them some bombs. That didn't work so well for them.

Sergeant Anthony E. Stark was discharged from the Marines with full honors and a purple heart and an arc reactor in his chest after he totalled an insurgent base with a robot he built (in a cave, from a box of scraps).

Tony's almost twenty-five now. He built the second, sleeker Iron Man suit when he was relearning how to be a civilian, and he's been CEO of Stark Industries for three years, the only executive head since Obie went after him and got killed for his pains. Nobody knows he's Iron Man, because Tony at twenty-two wasn't interested in selling his soul back to the military-industrial complex. They'd already had it once and didn't treat it kindly.

Tony's company grows intellicrops and builds hospitals and, for the past few years, has been on the bleeding edge of telecom and digital technology. You see a Pixar flick? Animated on Stark computers. That phone in your pocket, if it isn't Stark Telecom, probably has chips or circuits produced by Stark. So do the satellites that allow you to make a call. Iron Man is, officially, just his bodyguard.

And here he is, in the motherfucking arctic, and the only time he ever feels warm is in the suit.

He's had to modify on-the-go to prevent icing over, because the suit's de-icer might have worked at altitude but doesn't work in the constant, howling wind coming off the Greenland Sea. And it's not just his suit he's had to mod.

"Okay, War Machine, you go ahead and you bring it," he howls, over the communications channel. He's only aware that he's flying right-side-up because his readings are telling him so. The storm is violent and the snow is thick and powdery, obscuring his vision, crackling when it gets into the joins in the suit and melts on the metal.

The suit keeps him warm, keeps him dry, keeps him safe. The suit is freedom.

"Boys, let's remember this is a training operation and not a shit-talking competition," General Bejarn reminds them. He's here to assess the limits of War Machine, and to audit Rhodey's fitness to wear it; it's routine, but it gives them a workout, and Tony's never really pushed either War Machine or Iron Man to the limit in this kind of extreme environment.

They flit through the storm, chasing each other, passing each other, sometimes racing and sometimes battling with light-guns substituting for weapons. Rhodey has the advantage of him when it comes to firepower, but Iron Man is more nimble and Tony's the better pilot. They open a private comm for shit-talking, so the General doesn't hear them, and while Rhodey tries to shoot Tony out of the air they catch up on life. Tony's dating a supermodel, if you define dating as "sleeping with whenever we happen to be in the same room", and Rhodey's having a mild, prolonged existential crisis over whether or not he should turn down his next promotion opportunity for the chance to keep flying War Machine.

"How is that even a choice?" Tony asks, hovering in the air, trying to let the snow cool him down enough that he can go stealth on Rhodey's instruments. Rhodey is about forty feet directly below him and not looking up. "Man, you can't ditch the armor and expect me to train some twenty-year-old hot shot to take your place."

"It's all a balance, Tony, that's what I've been saying," Rhodey replies. "I mean yeah, but what about when I get too old to fly this thing?"

"You're only twenty-nine." That's it Rhodey, just a little higher...

"Better to go out in a blaze of glory, you know?" Rhodey continues. "It's not like I'm gonna lose the title of first War Machine pilot ever. Maybe I wanna meet someone, settle down. I don't expect you to get it, you're too young -- "

"Have you met someone?" Tony asks, darting around above Rhodey's head.

"Maybe," Rhodey says cautiously.

"Anyone I know?" Tony asks, but then he sees his opening.

"Well, I -- holy fucking shit!" Rhodey yells, as Tony drops straight down onto him, arms going around his neck, legs kicking the backs of Rhodey's so that when he fires his repulsors they shoot sideways. Tony flips in midair, throwing Rhodey backwards, but on the way Rhodey tangles a leg in his and Tony hears a very bad noise as Rhodey's boot cracks into Tony's inactive flight repulsor. Tony tries to kick him off, and there's another crack, that's such a bad noise...

"Tony? TONY!" Rhodey yells, as Tony starts to fall. "Where the fuck are you?"

"Holy shit I'm plunging towards the Earth where the fuck are you?" Tony demands, before realizing that he's probably still so stealth Rhodey can't see him.

"I can't see you! Base, are you picking up Iron Man?"

"Negative," Base responds, as Tony tries to slow his descent with the stabilizing thrusters on his hands. He's still falling, just...maybe not as fast?

"This is really going to suck," he moans, because his proximity alerts are warning him, oh hey look, there's the ground...

The suit has the most advanced impact-absorption technology in the world, shit that Tony hasn't even put out on the public market yet, and the metal itself is incredibly durable. So while he expects to crash into snow, and beneath that ice, and beneath that bedrock, which is really going to hurt, he's reasonably confident he'll walk (or limp, or possibly crawl) away from this.

What he doesn't expect is snow, ice, water, more ice, metal, what the fuck, and then to find himself lying on his back on a metal grating while water and slushy snow oozes through a hole in the ceiling.

The ceiling of...

He sits up and looks around, shakes his head to clear it, watches the heads-up display fuzz for a second.

"Base, can you hear me?" he asks, ducking away from the little waterfall that's pouring down on him.

"We read you, Iron Man, what is your location?"

"Jarvis?" Tony asks.

"Transmitting GPS coordinates now," Jarvis answers smoothly.

"I should be there soon," Rhodey calls. "Just stay on top of the snow so I can find you."

"Uh, little too late for that, buddy," Tony replies. He must be in a ship; maybe some lost exploring vessel, or a sub that ran aground. He takes a step and metal groans. "I found some salvage, I think."

"What?"

"I'm on a boat. Well, in a boat." Tony switches on his headlamps and looks around.

What is clearly a command chair lies on its back, snapped off its mounting, and beyond the stumpy mounting platform is a control board, unlike any board Tony's ever seen. It's iced over, but he thinks he can see German printed on some of the dials. Above the board is a huge glass viewscreen, cracked but also sheened with ice, holding back the weight of who knows how much snow and water.

There's a knife lying on the floor, and a brief burn with the repulsors is enough to thaw it; he picks it up, pulls it from its sheath, and sees the swastika printed on the hilt.

"I think I'm in a U-boat," he says.

"No kidding?" Rhodey asks. "Any cool toys down there?"

"Not so far..."

Tony has turned around to scan the other half of the room, and there it is. Lying on the floor, one edge frozen to the metal, paint undulled by -- fifty, sixty years? -- decades of cold. A disc whose dimensions Tony knows by heart, whose design anyone who's read comic books knows.

Captain America's shield.

He crouches and blasts the ice, tugging the shield up, and it hums gently in his hand. Nearby, ice cracks with the vibration. The ship groans again, and Tony staggers, cracking the shield on a drift of ice in the corner. He props himself up with one hand, getting back to his feet --

And there's a face in the ice holy Jesus mother of God --

"Tony? Tony?" Rhodey's calling, and Tony realizes he's been yelling obscenities out loud as he scrambles backwards.

"Nasty surprise," Tony calls back. "This is not a U-boat. Rhodey, are you arriving anytime soon?"

"Almost there, just looking for your entry point. I'm right above you."

The ship groans.

"No!" Tony yells. "Get off the snow!"

"What?"

"It's not stable. Oh my God. Oh, my God -- " Tony skids back towards the body in ice. That's Captain America, in the outfit and everything, Captain America frozen in a chunk of ice.

Tony has never been much of a joiner, but he was a Marine, and Marines don't leave a man behind.

"Okay, okay, Rhodey, I got some work to do here, so just hover for a minute." Tony notices that the water that's been pouring in is up around his ankles.

He steps back and stretches his arm out, targeting through his spread fingers. A quick blast of his repulsor cracks the ice; a second cracks it further, but the impact rocks the ship (Red Skull's ship, this is Red Skull's HYDRA ship that Captain America crashed to save the world) and water gushes in.

"Tony?" Rhodey asks.

"Almost done," Tony replies. One more blast --

The ice explodes, crumbling, peppering him with fragments, and the body of Captain America rolls to the floor, face down in the water. Tony hauls him up, walking unsteadily through the icy water to the hole he punched in the ceiling, and lifts his headbeams to shine out.

"Gotcha," Rhodey says, and there's a whoom of displaced air pressure as he slides carefully through the hole. "What the he -- "

"No time, evil airplane sinking," Tony says, the shield strapped over his back, Captain America's body held against his with one arm. He wraps the other around Rhodey's neck, feels the metal lock in place, and they lift up into the storm again.

***

There's a gurney waiting for them when they land inside the big hangar at the research station (where Iron Man is testing War Machine, and Tony Stark is supposedly studying arctic core samples and doing extreme environment research with his newest intellicrops). Rhodey lands them gently and Tony staggers a little under the weight of the body in his arms, but he takes the shoulders and Rhodey takes the legs and together they get Captain America laid out.

"I need to report to Mr. Stark," Tony says, and hurries to the lab, where Tony supposedly spent the morning and where he'll have to spend some portion of tonight fixing the repulsors and designing safeguards to prevent that from happening again. They shouldn't have cracked; they're bulletproof and pressure-resistant. Might be the cold.

Inside the locked lab he rips off the armor as fast as he can, the cold creeping into his skin as he sheds metal. He ditches the bodysuit as well and fumbles for a shirt, pants, shoes; checks to make sure he doesn't have helmet-hair, pulls a sweater over his head (god damn it's so cold here all the damn time) and runs out of the lab.

He's not faking his excitement. Captain America was a hero of his youth, a friend of his father's, and even if it's only the body, it's still Captain America. He has to see him, has to pay his respects.

He almost runs into Rhodey, standing in the observation hall, looking through the glass at the Captain lying in state on a table in the medical lab.

"He looks uninjured," Rhodey remarks. "Like he's just asleep."

"Impact probably snapped his neck," Tony offers. "Quick death. Small mercy."

Then he looks again, and frowns.

"He does look good," he says, studying fingers, nose, ears. "He shouldn't look that good, actually -- "

Alarms go off when Tony pushes the door open, but he ignores the shouts of the medical staff. The base isn't equipped with enough tech to properly install JARVIS, who could do the scan for him, so Tony hauls a microanalysis scope over from the other side of the room and brings it down close to the corpse's face. His nose should be blackened and swollen. His teeth should have fallen out, his ears fallen off. But he's perfect, down to the cellular level.

"There's no swelling," he says. "No burst cellular walls. Jesus Christ, Rhodey, I think..."

"Mr. Stark, you can't just barge in here," one of the medics insists.

"Get me that gurney back," Tony orders. "Set up an isolation room -- I want an IV with a banana bag, warming blankets, heart and ox monitor. Rhodey, help me out here."

"You can't seriously think he's still alive," Rhodey says, as they heft their discovery back onto a gurney and Tony starts rolling him towards the room the medics are frantically prepping.

"Super-soldier serum. We have no idea what the side-effects are. He probably didn't either," Tony says. "One two three and lift -- "

He fixes the heart monitors and oxygen meter to the body's skin, cutting through the thick leather uniform with a pair of shears. Next comes the warming blanket. The body's core temperature begins, slowly, to rise.

When it hits eighty degrees, Tony inserts the IV needle and starts the drip. Doing an IV drip on a corpse is fruitless, of course, but --

There's a beep from the heart meter. Rhodey and Tony look up; the medical staff, who are grouped outside the room talking like conspirators, start to pay attention.

Two minutes later there's another beep.

Tony starts to laugh.


Come With Me If You Want To Live

The second of the two "waking up" AUs. I just wanted to write Steve being shockingly resourceful, really.

Tony is watching, of course.

JARVIS is always watching, and that means Tony can watch whenever he wants -- watches through the SHIELD cameras as Steve Rogers wakes up, watches him break free effortlessly (good boy) and run out into New York. He watches SHIELD surround the man, and he can read lips reasonably well, so he watches Fury say "You've been asleep for seventy years, Cap" though after that they're not in a good camera angle for him to see the rest. He sees the tension drain out of Captain America. A second before Fury sees it, he also sees that tension surge back.

The Captain steps up to Fury, as if conciliating, and then with a move so fast it's almost a blip on the camera screen he throws Fury into Coulson (oh, that's going in a highlights reel), goes up and straight over a car, and into the crowd.

"JARVIS, follow Rogers," Tony orders, as Rogers makes his second getaway of the day. "Block SHIELD access from any camera he shows up on."

"That is an act of treason, sir," JARVIS reminds him gently.

"Well, I won't tell if you won't," Tony replies, running for his suit.

He watches the monitors as he suits up; it's ninety seconds to get into the new suit, and the camera angle changes about every ten. He throws the display up in a corner of the HUD once he's got the suit active, and he can see as the gauntlets tighten over his arms and the greaves sheath up around his shins that Captain America is good.

"Look at you go," he murmurs, as Cap bursts into a crowd and starts milling around with them. "Hiding out in plain view, keeping people around so that they won't open fire -- this man is a master," he tells JARVIS, who hums noncommittally. "He's adapting every second, watch this, five million dollars says he goes for the shopping center -- "

And he does, bursting into one of the narrow little mini-malls that dot downtown, ducking into a Hot Topic store. He pulls on a hoodie, grabs a pair of sunglasses, and runs out again; the rent-a-cops have no hope of even giving chase. SHIELD has the building surrounded but Tony watches (while jetting out the access hatch of the building) as Cap drops into the basement, runs through a boiler room, and comes out in a totally different building.

"Keep updating me on his coordinates," Tony orders, as he soars out into the bright Manhattan skyline.

Cap has now well and truly given SHIELD the slip, and he looks just like any other young guy out on a Saturday afternoon, strolling along the street, pose casual, nipping from one crowd to the next. Tony's first instinct in his place would be to go to ground, go back to Brooklyn where Steve Rogers came from, but SHIELD -- he checks the display -- yes, SHIELD has the bridges staked out.

Instead, to his delight, Cap heads for Central Park.

Iron Man touches down in as remote a corner of the park as he can, and he steps out of the suit when he lands, setting the alarm and antitheft measures with a beep as he walks away.

JARVIS in Tony's earbud continually directs him, working his way in slow arcs towards Cap, until finally he can see the man walking along a footpath, drawing closer.

He stops him, smiles, and says, "Excuse me, do you have the time?"

"Sorry, I don't," Cap replies -- God, he's tall in person, and his teeth are all shiny and white -- and then he looks at Tony like he's seen a ghost.

"You knew Howard Stark," Tony says, a hand gentle on Cap's wrist.

Cap hisses, pulling away, but Tony hangs on and lets himself be dragged around by Cap's wrist.

"I'm his son," Tony says, stumbling forward.

They freeze that way, faces very close, Cap's arm upraised and Tony's hand still around his wrist.

"Howard's son?" Cap asks quietly.

"Tony. Tony Stark. Come with me. I have a safe place you can stay away from SHIELD."

"How did you find me?"

"I'm Howard Stark's son," Tony reiterates. Cap looks indecisive, then nods.

"How do I know I can trust you?" he asks, as Tony takes off to collect the suit.

"You don't," Tony replies. "But you want answers, and to get 'em you'll have to trust someone sometime. I'm not taking you into custody, Cap, I'm just offering you a lift."

"How'd you know how to find me?"

He's sharp, this one. "I've been watching SHIELD since they found you. Saw your escape -- nice job."

"Thank you. Who are they?"

"One more government intelligence agency. No more malicious than the rest. That stunt they pulled was stupid but you may find in time they're as trustworthy as anyone."

"What is that?" Steve asks, as they approach the armor.

"Believe it or not, this is a flying metal robot suit," Tony replies.

"This really is the future," Steve says, staring at it.

"Yep," Tony says, climbing into the armor. "Okay, get your arm around my shoulders -- there -- and I got you here -- hold on tight," he adds, and lifts off.


Juke Joint

In my head I called this story "Evil Steve", though he's not evil. He's just...a bad boy.

Everything Tony Stark learned about Steve Rogers led him to believe he was a down to earth all-American boy, probably a virgin, certainly the mom and pop kind of guy. The kind who paid his debts and fought with honor.

Everything Tony Stark knew about Steve Rogers was wrong.

***

"So what now?" Tony asked, over shawarma after the battle. "Off to polish the shield and salute the flag?"

Steve gave him a tolerant grin. He was soot-stained and weary-looking, but he was bouncing back faster than any of the rest of them. His eyes had a gleam in them that made Tony suddenly uncertain.

"You still got bars in this burg, right?" he asked. Tony blinked at him.

"I imagine they declared last call around the time the aliens invaded," he said. "And you can't get drunk."

"Only in Manhattan. And we can get to Brooklyn pretty easy from here," Steve said thoughtfully. "I'm not looking for a drink, anyhow."

"What, going to walk over the bridge?"

"Nah," Steve said, and stood up. "I'm going to go steal a car. Come along if you want, but you better hotfoot it."

Tony glanced at Bruce, then Natasha. Clint was already standing up. Thor picked up his hammer.

"I can't start saying no to parties now," Tony said.

***

Finding a couple of cars with the keys still in their ignitions wasn't hard. Getting out of the destruction zone was easy too, except for a few obstacles they had to go up on the curbs to get around. And finding a bar -- well, they didn't even have to leave Manhattan.

It was full of people when they walked in, hunched around televisions, watching the news reports. Nobody even noticed them until Steve stepped out into the middle of the floor and said, "Ladies and gentlemen."

Heads raised. A few people gaped. Tony grinned.

"My name is Steve Rogers. This is Tony Stark. About two hours ago, with the help of these hooligans," he added, jerking a thumb at the rest of the Avengers, "we saved the world."

There was a cheer. The bartenders were staring.

"So until we close this place down," Steve continued, and his hand landed heavily on Tony's shoulder, "drinks are on Mr. Stark. Have you boys got a jukebox in this place?"

"I'm on it," Natasha said, already crossing the floor, heading for the digital music player in the corner.

"Load it up," Steve ordered. "Who wants to be extra patriotic tonight and give these soldiers a dance or three?"

A dozen women shot to their feet. At least as many men did too.

"Well, isn't Natasha lucky," Steve drawled. Music began booming. Steve grabbed the nearest woman, a pretty brunette, and swung her around into something between the lindy hop and the lambada.

Tony settled in at the bar, passing his black Amex over. "Scotch, whatever's top shelf, and keep them coming."

"On the house for you, Mr. Stark," the man replied.

"That's what I like to hear."

"You're still paying for everyone else, though."

"Captain's orders," Tony replied amiably, as Bruce sat down next to him. "Can't disobey Captain America."

"I don't think this is the man I read about in the comics," Bruce said, watching Steve dance. The bartender passed him a beer without being asked.

"Infinitely superior," Tony agreed. "Unexpectedly intriguing."

Tony stuck to the bar, sipping his scotch slowly, keeping an eye on the others. It felt overly responsible, but he also felt like he was owed some downtime, and he was content to watch. Natasha had no shortage of dance partners, including Thor and Bruce, and Clint had found a number of young men to entertain.

Watching Cap was downright fascinating. He was courteous and cheerful and then he'd pull a woman close and grind a little before he let her go. Tony drastically revised his opinion of Steve Rogers around the time he caught him leaning up against a wall with one hand, a cute redhead bracketed by his arms, grinning that damn patriotic grin and murmuring quietly in her ear. After a moment she nodded, ducked out from under his arm, and disappeared, and Steve came back to the bar, grabbing Tony's drink.

"That's wasted on you," Tony said.

"File a complaint," Steve replied.

"Having a good time?"

"The best. This century's not too shabby once you get past the annoying parts."

"Aliens, uppity world governments..."

"Something like that. Can't beat the company, though."

"Yeah, I thought you were going to disappear with the redhead," Tony said.

"Night's still young," Steve replied.

"You are not what I expected," Tony said. "With all the crap about how we're soldiers and that six-foot stick up your ass."

"Gimme a break, I was figuring it out," Steve replied. "Besides, nothing like blowing off a little steam to get you back on track after combat."

"They didn't put that in your biopic."

"And your dad never told you any stories?"

"Not like this," Tony said, sipping his drink.

"Your dad knew where all the best whorehouses were," Steve said nostalgically, and Tony choked and sputtered briefly. "Your ma must have been some woman to get him to settle down."

"Stop, please stop now," Tony said. "And no, he did not tell his adolescent son about the good old days taking Captain America to the bordello."

"What do people think of me?" Steve asked. "I was a soldier. They really did leave all the dirty parts out of history, didn't they?"

"How exactly dirty are we talking?" Tony asked.

"Hell. What did they tell you, that I volunteered?" Steve said, a wicked grin on his face. "That was old in the forties, Stark. I didn't volunteer. I was drafted."

"What difference...?" Tony asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Bucky and I used to get up to mischief," Steve said, looking nostalgic. "Boys' stuff; street fights and petty theft. Not much money for sons of immigrants from Brooklyn. Bucky had a little gang. We got in some trouble once, and couldn't scrape up enough to bribe the cops. Bucky got sentenced to the Army; I got sentenced to the SSR. Look where that landed me, hm?"

"I don't know," Tony replies. "You seem to be doing all right."

"Sure. By the way, that redhead's name is Sally, and she wants me to talk you into taking her home with us."

Tony choked on his drink. "Us?"

"If you're interested."

"You and me."

"She'd like to thank us personally on behalf of New York. Her words, not mine," Steve added. "Up for it?"

Tony squinted at him. "Are you shitting me?"

"I expect she'd be just as happy with me solo," Steve said, and leaned forward to speak into his ear. "The Serum means I can go for days, you know that, right?"

"I have to make a call," Tony said, setting his drink down. "Don't leave without me."

"Don't take too long," Steve replied.

Tony stepped away from the bar, into a quiet corner. Pepper answered on the second ring.

"Steve Rogers just invited me to a threesome," he said.

There was a long pause.

"Captain America?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"And...?"

"A woman named Sally who is very grateful, apparently."

"Is she prettier than me?"

"She is not," Tony replied.

"Is Captain America prettier than me?"

"His tits don't compare."

He heard Pepper laugh. "Okay. Have fun, baby."

"Stark!" Steve called.

"Love you, love you so much," Tony said, and hung up, hurrying after Steve into the street.


Playing Chess Drunk

An early Coulson Lives story where Fury really didn't know he had survived, but played it to his advantage regardless.

About fifteen minutes after the battle ends and the Avengers comms go silent, a harried-looking medical staffer shows up on the bridge of the Helicarrier.

"Do you have triage reports for me?" Nick snarls.

"No, sir, sorry sir, doing the best we can," the man says hastily.

"Then why the fuck are you here?"

"It's Agent Coulson, sir," the man answers.

"...excuse me?" Nick asks, because he's not accustomed to people bringing up his recently-deceased friends.

"He's asking to speak to you, sir."

"That's not fucking funny."

"Agent Coulson doesn't seem to think so either." The man presents him with a StarkPad. "He's regained consciousness and he'd very much like to speak to you, sir."

"Regained -- the fuck?"

It's not often Nick Fury is caught off-guard. He knows he saw Coulson die, saw the lights go out. "Why wasn't I informed of his status?"

"You...are, this is...me informing you, sir."

"His status as still being alive."

The man's mouth works silently.

"Fine, Jesus Christ, lead the way," Nick says, reading as they walk. Revived en route to medical; multiple blood transfusions; minor surgery to repair the damaged lung; three cracked ribs, which is actually pretty lucky. All this was going on while the Helicarrier was falling from the sky and Loki was trashing Manhattan.

Nick's first thought is, Thank God.

His second thought is, Hawkeye's gonna try and kill me, I hope I don't have to fire his ass.

His third thought is, Oh, fuck, the cards.

"I want two things from you," he says, when he reaches Medical. The doctor standing in front of him visibly pales. "First, I want to know why the fuck I wasn't informed that Agent Coulson was revived. You can explain that while you fulfill my second command, which is that you show me where the hell he is."

Coulson is in a bed in what should be a private room, but they took heavy casualties during the attack; there are two other beds in the room as well, both with agents on them. The man on one has a leg in traction. The woman on the other is covered in a patchwork of bandages in a pattern Fury recognizes as the results of exploding glass. The man is conscious, and tries to push himself up when Fury enters.

"Relax, kid, I'm not here for you," Fury says. The man looks wary, but relaxes a little when Fury pulls the one chair in the room up to Coulson's bedside. Coulson's skin is pale and dull, and there's a respirator over his mouth. He's shirtless, white bandages covering his chest, left arm immobilized over his abdomen. His eyes are hugely dilated.

Fury holds up his hand, fingers spread. Coulson smiles under the mask and lifts his mobile hand, tapping out one-two-three-four-five on the railing of the bed. Five by five; they're fine.

"I see how it is," Fury says, sitting back. "You're lyin' around resting while we do the heavy lifting. Frankly I'm ashamed to call you an agent of SHIELD."

Coulson's eyeroll is overly expressive. Fury chalks it up to the drugs.

"What am I, your personal after-action report?" Fury asks. "Like you think we couldn't take Loki without you? That's some arrogance on you, Agent."

Coulson holds out his hand, a gimme-gimme gesture, and Fury puts his phone in Coulson's palm. Even one-handed and drugged he's still stupidly fast on a Starkphone keypad.

We win?

"No thanks to you," Fury says with a grin. Coulson grins back. "Loki's in custody. I'm not a hundred percent sure what the fuck happened but there was a nuclear bomb involved so rest assured, as soon as I pry myself off the ceiling we'll figure it out."

All ok?

"Still getting reports in, but the team is fine. Manhattan's not doing so well, but I never fucking liked Manhattan anyway."

Phil raises his eyebrows, questioning.

"There may have been an interdimensional portal and some invading aliens. But I have good news," Fury adds. "We got Hawkeye and Selvig back."

Coulson goes very still.

Back? he asks, tapping out each letter with great care.

"Far as we can tell. Hawkeye went into combat with the others. Romanoff deprogrammed him. Don't know how, didn't get time to ask. Selvig's being debriefed."

Where? Coulson asks.

"The team's doing an internal debrief. Which leads us to some awkwardness," Fury adds. "They're not aware you're alive."

Coulson blinks at him.

"I wasn't either until about ten minutes ago. I'd've brought some flowers or something, cheer this place the fuck up," Fury adds, to take the edge off, because he was very close right there to showing human emotion in front of his subordinates. "My next stop is to let them know."

Coulson hands the phone back to him, the word thanks finishing out the strange, one-sided conversation.

"Oh and -- if anyone asks you, your Captain America cards were in your pocket," Fury adds. Coulson's brows knit, but Fury stalks away (definitely does not run away) before Coulson figures it out.

In the hallway of the Helicarrier, he calls Stark, who he figures is the most firmly tethered to his phone and thus the most likely to pick up.

"Fury, union rules stipulate only one death-defying world-saving encounter per twenty-four hours," Stark answers. "Now, I've already bent the rules once and if you tell us anything else is exploding, I have to warn you as the Superhero Local One rep, we may be forced to strike."

Tony Stark is going to take ten years off his life, seriously.

"Phil Coulson's alive," he says, and wishes he could see Stark's face.

"You're shitting me, what?"

"He's in medical with a couple of staples in his chest. He says hi," Fury adds.

"Director, I just put you on speakerphone, could you repeat that?" Stark says, voice tinny with distance.

"I said, Agent Phil Coulson is alive and recuperating in medical," Fury says loudly. Agent passing him in the hall don't look at him funny, because nobody looks funny at the Director, but they do hurry past and look at each other.

"You son of a bitch," he hears, and the scrape of a chair on wood, and then a pained yelp. He can imagine what just happened; that was Hawkeye talking. The yelp was probably caused by Natasha.

His very first instinct is to swear he didn't know either, to tell them the truth. He didn't get where he is by telling the truth, however, and the Avengers are still going to need something to unite them. If not Phil Coulson's death, then Nick Fury's lie.

Yeah, that'll work.

"Got the job done, Hawkeye," he says.

"You played us," Stark announces.

"Well, it worked. Next time try being a grownup and maybe I won't have to."

"Try this bullshit again, we'll see just how grownup -- "

"That's enough," Cap says, and God bless Captain America, who is still trying to boss Stark around. "Both of you. Stark, settle the hell down before I put you down."

Oh man, maybe wherever they are has video surveillance. He would kill for footage of this.

"Director, when can we see him?" Cap asks, more subdued.

"You have a prisoner to deal with and I have an entire government agency to reassess," Fury says. "I'll have medical contact you when he's up for company."

"Sir?" Natasha's voice. "Did you tell him we're all right?"

There's a very, very slight emphasis on all that tells him she isn't asking for the sake of the team.

"He's been given a sitrep and informed that Selvig and Barton are back from Lokiland," Fury informs them. "I have business to conduct, agent. Contact me when you're ready for prisoner transport for Loki," and he hangs up.

Nick Fury might, occasionally, lose track of minor issues in the heat of battle -- after all, he had assumed Coulson was dead and needed that corner of his mind for a lot of other worries -- but when he isn't being actively assaulted by a god he keeps pretty good tabs on his people.

An hour after their conversation, half the Avengers sneak onto the carrier under the radar: Thor carrying Hawkeye, Stark carrying Cap. Thor and Cap loiter around on the roof of Medical, in camera blind spots carefully marked out by Stark, while Stark and Hawkeye spend twenty minutes watching Coulson sleep the sleep of the heavily drugged. Then they leave.

Around the same time, Nadia Ingersoll -- Natasha's "public" persona, the one that has a squeaky-clean digital presence and a job at a New York clerical firm and wasn't built for her by SHIELD -- calls a very exclusive recovery center in upstate New York, run by the Maria Stark Foundation. She requests a ground-floor suite with garden access for her brother, Cole, who is recovering from a car accident. Expenses to be paid by Tony Stark.

It's kind of adorable, really. Fury decides to let them have a try. It'll test SHIELD security and he's genuinely interested in how they're planning on removing a physically incapacitated man from the carrier.

It doesn't turn out to be very complicated. Natasha simply comes back to the carrier the following afternoon with a forged move order, and two medics cheerfully assist her in getting Coulson and a somewhat large bag of medication onto a helicopter.

Fury is going to be firing some medical staff, clearly.

He thought they'd take Coulson straight to the recovery center, but instead they touch down at the airport and Natasha helps Coulson into a nondescript rental car. Fury watches through the camera he planted in the collar of Coulson's scrub shirt as they drive into Manhattan, to a park. The others are there, including what looks from a distance like Loki.

"You got anything you want to say to him?" Natasha asks Coulson.

"No, I think the rest of you had it covered," Coulson replies. Good man.

Coulson gets out of the car but stays well back, giving Fury an excellent view as the Avengers assemble to send Loki -- in a metal gag, probably Stark's doing -- back to Asgard with his brother. He watches along with Coulson as they shake hands with each other, as they come up to say hello to Coulson individually or in pairs, as Stark and Banner take off in a car worth more than the gross national product of some small countries and Cap leaves on his motorcycle --

Which leaves Natasha, who climbs into the back seat of the car, and Hawkeye, who gets into the driver's seat.

"Road trip?" he asks Coulson, and hands him a package. "Got those little chocolate donut death snacks you like."

Coulson demolishes them. He is a man, Fury knows, of simple pleasures.

He switches off surveillance for the hour or three it'll take them to drive upstate. He actually does have other shit to be doing; the Avengers are just one small part of a vast security and intelligence network Fury is expected to oversee. Coulson has been his good eye, his right hand, for a long time now, but he's riding shotgun with an assassin in the backseat and a sniper at the wheel, and Fury has few worries about his safety.

When he tunes back in over dinner -- they really have to figure out some way to get efficient Thai delivery to the carrier, he's missing his Pad Se Ew -- a man with a StarkPad in one hand is showing Coulson around his new home. Oak Meadow Care Center doesn't stint: there's a living room and bedroom, guest room for overnight visits, kitchenette and a dining nook, and tall french doors looking out on a manicured lawn. Fury has his doubts about tall french doors, but presumably Natasha knows what she's doing.

When the man is gone, Coulson sits heavily in one of the chairs. Fury doesn't even blink when he says, "Director, I'd like a call, when you have a minute."

He picks up his phone. He doesn't feel guilty, and Coulson won't care. He doesn't bug Coulson nearly as often as Coulson bugs him. Besides, there's an understanding between them that if you aren't sweeping the place for surveillance, you can't be doing anything you particularly care about someone seeing. He shuts down the camera before Coulson picks up, to avoid feedback.

"Camera's in the collar of your shirt," he says.

"Huh. I was putting my bets on an implant of some kind," Coulson replies. "Mind switching it off, boss?"

"Already done. Just had to make sure they weren't going to smuggle you into Canada. Can't lose you to the fucking Mounties, Coulson."

"I don't like horses."

"I understand most of them don't, either. Where'd your puppies run off to?"

"Getting some food. They won't be long. You'll call if you need me?"

"Agent Coulson, you're on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into you being an idiot who got himself stabbed."

"Yes, Director." There's a pause. "So, should I submit a reimbursement form for those Captain America cards, or...?"

"Oh, fuck you," Fury laughs. He's not going to admit there's relief in it.

"Thank you, Director."

"I don't want to hear from you again until one of two things happens: you're discharged from care, or you hear something pertaining to national security while you're rubbing elbows with rich recovering drug addicts."

"Noted, sir." Coulson's voice is -- for him -- warm and amused.

***

After hanging up with Fury, Phil settles into the chair, twisting a little to get comfortable. He's found the most perfect position in which to sit, and this chair affords him a view of both the hallway and garden entrances, so he's feeling actually somewhat good about the world when Clint appears in the doorway with a fruit basket the size of Rhode Island.

"Stark," Clint says, and Phil nods, catching a pear with his good hand when Clint tosses it to him. Natasha sets a tray nearby with a bowl of soup on it and then sits down. She flicks out a knife Phil happens to know was once used to kill a man and begins daintily peeling an apple with it. Clint accepts the peels and eats them, because Phil attracts weirdos that way.

He doesn't need to ask. They just start talking, trading off, providing him with a much clearer idea of what he missed than any report ever could. He listens, drifting occasionally, mostly paying attention, eating the soup when Clint gets up and puts it in his hands.

His feeling for Clint and Natasha -- his feeling for all of the extraordinary people in his care -- isn't exactly paternal. That would be a little creepy, in some (perhaps many) cases. But there is an almost parental fondness he feels, hearing about their accomplishments.

Clint was his first field agent, young and talented and pissed off at the world, and somehow he's become this composed, insightful man who took a header into a steel bar and bounced back out into the fray to save the world. Phil's the only SHIELD handler Natasha's ever even had, since the night they showed up on his doorstep soaking wet, Clint injured and held up mainly by the shoulder of the woman he'd been sent to kill. Clint blurted, "So I may have made a field decision, sir" and Phil suddenly had a Russian spy sleeping on his couch for two weeks while he negotiated carefully to get the kill order off her head.

The others -- well, Stark at least seems fond of him now, and Thor trusts him, and Captain America looked almost fragile in his pleasure at seeing Phil among the living again, which is weird and something he'll examine later. Banner is an unknown, but Phil's studied him long enough, surveilled him long enough, to feel proprietary about him.

They are to be his, Fury made that clear, his team. Phil's little band of lost creatures.

He blinks when Natasha waggles her fingers in front of his eyes.

"Did you drug the soup?" he asks.

"Yep," Clint replies, taking the empty bowl away from him. It hurts, distantly, to get out of the chair, but a bed sounds like the best thing in the universe right now. As Clint walks him to the bedroom he catches sight of Natasha's kitbag on the bed of the guest room. Clint places a glass of water on the bedside table as Phil sits on the edge of the bed. Getting horizontal is going to take some work.

"Mind if I bunk in with you tonight?" Clint asks, his voice carefully mild and just light enough that he can blow it off as a joke if Phil says no.

Phil shakes his head, reaching out to grasp Clint's shirt and pull him close until the other man is standing between his legs, Phil's forehead pressed to his stomach. A hand carefully cups the back of his head, delicate like he might break.

"Couldn't leave you to SHIELD's tender mercies," Clint says finally. "Stark says this is the best recovery unit in the country. And you're only here 'cause we didn't think you'd appreciate the plane flight to Japan for the best one in the world."

"You're banned from Japan anyway," Phil reminds him.

"Only Hokkaido." Clint lets him go, steps away and starts pulling the blankets back from the bed. "In. When the drug kicks in fully, trust me, you're going to want to be in the bed."

Phil eases his way under the blankets, shifting until he feels comfortable; Clint crawls in next to him and curls up on his side, one hand outstretched to grip Phil's shoulder gently.

"Fury had a camera on us," Phil says, feeling compelled to share. Stupid drugs.

"We figured," Clint replies. "There was no way that stupid forged move order should have worked. Also, we'd have heard Fury screaming by now if he didn't know where you were."

"You could have just asked him."

"This way was more entertaining."

This is going to be fun, Phil thinks. Supervising the Avengers. It'll be like playing two games of chess at once, on the same board, with three opponents, all of whom cheat. While drunk. Him, not the three opponents. Though them too, probably.

Sadly, he means the part about it being fun.


The Apology

Tony's relationship with his father, in all its permutations from "reasonably good" to "terribly dysfunctional", fascinates me -- especially when you throw Steve Rogers into the mix.

"Your father would be ashamed of you."

For just a second, not even a second, Tony looked like he'd been slapped in the face -- not hurt, just total surprise.

Steve had thrown the insult out without thinking, and it was a harsh thing to tell a man; he wanted to take it back, to stop this stupid fight, their hundredth stupid fight over procedure, and apologize. He was opening his mouth when Tony started to laugh.

It was loud and full, and it went on a long time; he bent over, hands on his knees, and laughed with his head bowed until he was breathless. Steve just stared, stunned by this, uncertain what to do.

Nobody else was making any move, so he didn't; perhaps Tony had fits or something, and nobody had bothered to tell him. He just kept laughing, until finally he straightened and knuckled a tear of mirth away from the corner of his eye.

"Fuck," he said, sounding amused. "Do what you want, then. I'll be in my lab."

And he walked out. He didn't even slam the door.

Clint let out a low whistle. "Didn't see that coming."

Natasha just narrowed her eyes. "I did."

***

When Steve -- he couldn't say he walked into the lab, more like slunk, cautious and ashamed -- when he slunk into the lab, later that evening, Tony was sitting in what looked like a modified dentist's chair, surrounded by monitors, fingers clacking away on a keyboard. He glanced over, saw who it was, and went back to his work.

"Tony," Steve said quietly.

Tony pushed one monitor away -- it eased back silently on a well-oiled hinged arm -- and turning to face him, legs dangling over the side of the chair. He drew one knee up, letting an arm hang carelessly over his ankle, rested his chin on his knee, and regarded Steve warily.

"The software for the new communicators is a few hours from finished. Should be done by morning, especially if you leave me alone," Tony said, but he didn't move from his position, like a particularly handsome gargoyle, crouched to spring -- or to run.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome." Tony tilted his head. "Come to mend fences, or to bawl me out?"

"You run numbers on which is more likely?"

Tony sighed. "Captain, I run numbers on everything. Fifty-two percent likelihood I'm about to get ripped a new one. Forty-seven percent likelihood you'll say you're sorry."

"What's the other one percent?"

"Booty call."

Steve frowned. "I don't know what that is."

"Ask Coulson," Tony said, which was a surefire way to make sure Steve wouldn't ask Coulson. "So, let's get to it. Carrot or stick?"

Steve glanced away. "I don't think you're right. And I don't appreciate being questioned in front of the team in that fashion."

"But."

"But it was wrong of me to lose my temper. Free exchange of ideas is important; I didn't object to that, or -- well, maybe I did, but I could have kept a lid on it except...you were just so rude."

"I do that," Tony agreed.

"I wanted to put you in your place, so I went for the throat, and that was wrong. I'm sorry, Tony. When I found out who you were -- who your father was -- I told myself I wouldn't bring it up. Wouldn't throw him in your face. He and I were friends. Sort of. I'm sorry I used him against you when I promised I wouldn't."

Tony caught his lip in his teeth, released it slowly.

"Do you know why I laughed at you?" he asked.

"No. I assume I hit a deeper nerve than I even knew I would."

Tony shook his head. "I laughed because that was the meanest thing you could say to me, at least you thought so, and it barely raised any dust. You went for the throat and fell so far short you didn't even catch the tiger's tail."

Steve glanced at him.

"I'm very much my father's son, except when I'm not. Growing up, I was the best at everything I did, and I had all the advantages he never had. Nobody frustrated my genius, and I never had to earn or beg or steal the money for the projects I pursued. I'm told by people who have children that it's a joy to give them everything, and I did have everything. The best schooling, the best equipment. Brilliant men and women to teach me how to use my gifts. My father had nothing, and he made the world out of it. I had everything, and he was jealous. The only way to fight that kind of psychological war with your own child is to convince them you don't love them."

"Tony -- "

"You knew him for two years. I knew him for seventeen. Don't bullshit a bullshitter, Captain. He probably did love me, or at least the idea of me; I'm sure he was proud of me, but I didn't get to see that. What I knew was that I was never good enough to be the legacy of the great Howard Stark. Never quite smart or fast enough, never well-mannered enough. I was the golden boy to everyone except the one person who mattered. You get used to being a disappointment and you grow a thick skin. My father would be ashamed of me, really? Welcome to my life," he finished, but the bitterness of the last two words belied everything else he'd said.

Steve regarded him. "Be that as it may, it was still inappropriate, and I'm still sorry. Whether I hurt you or not, I intended to. At least be gracious enough to accept that apology."

"Accepted," Tony said. "Now, can I get back to work, or...?" he jerked his thumb at the computer monitors.

"It isn't even true," Steve blurted. Tony blinked at him. "I liked him, I did, but your father was an arrogant jerk with no manners or tact and he would have said exactly what you said today."

That earned him a smile more real than all the laughter from earlier.

"Now that is an apology," Tony said.


The Publisher

I actually work in a building like Stark Tower -- not quite so new or impressive, but basically the same. I was interested in writing a story from the point of view of someone for whom Stark Tower is just that place they work, seeing as how it has to have TONS of business-use space.

There's a certain cachet about working in Stark Tower. You mention where you work and people go "Oooooh!" especially if they're from out of town.

I don't even work for Stark Industries. I work for a publisher who leases the fifteenth floor. My boss says the company chose the fifteenth floor because it's high enough that explosions in the street probably won't hit us and low enough that missiles probably won't either.

When she tells the new staff this, they get all twitchy, it's funny.

Honestly though, I mean, on the one hand it's a little like working very close to a minefield. On the other hand, the Avengers live in the tower, which is like having police, fire, and ambulance all in one place, right over our heads. So if the tower does get hit again, we'll be fine.

Probably.

Anyway, we have monthly safety evacuation drills, and the place was built by Tony Stark. I figure the guy spent years building shit that blows up, he probably knows exactly how to build shit to keep it from blowing up. He said in a press conference once that if a plane flew into his tower, the tower would win. Boss thought it was in bad taste to say that, but it made me feel a fuckload better about working there, honestly.

Plus, it's really nice. There's a good cafeteria on the second floor, and a bar for after work hours, and you do get impressed looks when you tell people you work there.

And, if you get to the coffee shop on the ground floor early enough in the morning, sometimes you can have your coffee and read your morning blogs and watch a couple of the Avengers have breakfast out of the corner of your eye. You'd think, seeing as they live there, they'd have breakfast in their kitchens or something like normal people, but about three times a week there's Hawkeye eating an apple danish a few tables over. Or Captain America picking up a latte on his way in from his morning run.

The morning they didn't get Tony Stark's coffee right and Stark actually got behind the counter and pulled espresso shots for two hours to show them how it was done was the best morning ever. Totally worth being late to work to watch people double-take when Iron Man gave them their coffee.

I never talk to them. I figure they don't need some ass like me telling them I'm a huge fan. But I do still have the paper cup that Stark wrote my name on. It's better than an autograph.

Most of the companies that lease space from Stark Tower are way hipper than us; MTV has a communications office there, a couple of slick magazines share the space a few floors up from us, and a bunch of PR firms with "edgy" reputations populate the higher levels, before the Stark Industries floors start. We just publish math and science textbooks, mostly, and it was pretty surprising that the Tower accepted our application.

We finally figured out why when Angie -- our archive manager -- found an old book on radiation that we'd published by Dr. Bruce Banner. Nobody's supposed to know that Dr. Banner is the Hulk but it's kind of an open secret at the tower. I guess we were the only publishing house that would put his book out, and he remembered us.

It's nice. I like it there.

***

And then came the day Captain America walked into our office.

The receptionist kind of freaked out, but she's trained to deal with crises, so she called my boss but she was out so I ended up coming to the lobby to talk to him. I'm not very high up on the food chain, but I did supervise and edit GET PAID FOR EXPLOSIONS: The Freshman Guide To Careers In Sciences last year.

That sounds better in my head than it does written down. It was our attempt at being edgy. I'm not sure how well it worked.

Anyway, I asked Captain America into the conference room and offered him a coffee.

"No, thank you," he said, and flashed a smile at me that I swear was a little blinding. "Hey, I know you, don't I? You're always in the coffee shop when I come in."

"Um, yes," I answered, because Captain America probably just does that, recognizes people, it's like part of his National Icon Mystique. "So what can we do for you today, sir?"

"Steve is fine," he said. "I uh. Well, see, all these people have been after me to do interviews -- historians and stuff? -- because I was there, in the war and all, and they think I'll be able to contribute to the study of it, I guess. And it seems pretty complicated and Tony -- uh, Mr. Stark -- said not to trust interviews. So I thought, well, I'd write it all down myself, then I'd only have to do it once."

He takes a flashdrive out of his pocket and puts it on the table. "I wrote it down, and I asked Bruce -- Dr. Banner -- if he'd help me make it into a book, and he said he wasn't any good at that, but you guys published a book he did once, and you did a really nice job."

Oh my god, I thought, Captain America wants us to publish his memoirs. The Hulk told Captain America we could publish his memoirs.

"You'd like us to publish your book?" I asked, just to make really, truly sure.

"If you think it's any good," he answered. "I mean, not if you think you'd lose money on it."

"I can almost guarantee if we publish a book by Captain America, we will not lose money on it," I said faintly. "We'd be happy to have a look at it. Can you excuse me a second?"

Out in the hallway I took a minute to put my head between my knees and then went to get a standard contract.

So that was how we signed Captain America to our publishing house, though of course it wasn't that simple. He read over the whole contract, a thoughtful look on his face while I explained it was a preliminary measure until we could do a more detailed one, then signed and left me with the flash drive.

When my boss came back, she laughed herself sick and went off to talk to one of the Edgy PR Firms about possible publicity for a new memoir we were publishing.


The Helmet

Tony deals with a shocking amount of information in the suit...

The suit has changed him.

Pepper sees it, because she's spent the most time around Tony. Oh, anyone can see that it's changed him emotionally or spiritually or whatever, Pepper doesn't care about that because if she can deal with Tony at his worst, she can deal with this new, weird, caring Tony. It's the physical that she's finding fascinating.

When Tony wants to get out, when he's trapped somewhere he doesn't want to be, he takes on a new stance -- knees locked, arms at his sides, fingers spread. It's a subtle imitation of the takeoff stance for Iron Man.

When he's caught off-guard, defensive, he raises his hands. Any ordinary person would hold both hands up, fingers spread, a blocking gesture, but Tony pulls his left back, puts his right elbow out. Firing position.

But it's his face that worries her just a little. Tony's control of the suit is based on muscle sensors, in part, but the heads-up display inside the helmet is partially based on eye movements and blinks. If he looks at something, the HUD enhances it; if he looks in certain places and blinks, he gets different readings. He can give commands for functions of the suit with, literally, the blink of an eye.

Blinking is involuntary, so Tony has trained himself not to mis-command; he only blinks when he's looking either straight ahead or up and to the left, the dead zones in the display. Sometimes when he's trying to remember something he looks down and blinks twice, the database command for the suit. Sometimes he'll look at something he wants to study further and his eyes will twitch. He looks left when estimating measurements, because left is where the altimeter and scale calibration are in the display.

It's hardly noticeable, unless you knew him before.

"You don't want to do that," she says casually to Steve, one day in Tony's workshop. Steve's waiting for Tony to come home, has some business for him, and in the meantime he's picking carefully through the debris that always litters the workbenches. He has an Iron Man helmet in his hands, and he's studying it thoughtfully.

"Do what?" he asks. He's so good at the innocent thing.

"Put it on. Instant migrane," she replies.

"Really? Does Tony -- "

"It's designed for Tony's creepy brain, but anyone else gets overwhelmed. He's done studies, you know. The average human brain can handle between three and six information feeds the way the display presents them. Rhodey's helmet gives him seven, because he's a trained pilot. He probably only looks at four on a regular basis."

"How many feeds does Tony's helmet have?"

"Sixteen. Ten active at any given time and six more on a changeout relay if he needs them."

"Jeez," Steve lifts the helmet up, studying the way it catches the light.

"He says it's like piloting an F-16 while doing a Rubik's Cube and listening to talk radio."

"He doesn't ever mind, being stuck in the armor?"

"You should ask Tony that."

"He wouldn't tell me the truth."

"You'd be surprised," she says, amused. "No, I don't think he minds. He built it, after all. He knows its limitations and capabilities."

"This is the way the world ends," a new voice rings through the workshop, and they both look up. "Not with a Cap but a Pepper," Tony adds, coming into view, grinning. "Be kind to him, Pep, he's surprisingly breakable."

"TS Eliot," Steve says, offering him the helmet. Tony plucks it up, tosses it effortlessly back into place atop his armor, and flops down in a chair.

"Very good. Am I interrupting a tryst, or are we having an intervention?"


Don't Marry A Superhero, Be One

Written to a prompt by regonym asking for Avengers identity porn.

Tony, being such a public figure, gets his kinks made public whether he wants them to or not. It's something he's dealt with, something he occasionally seems to take pride in.

There's one secret kink that he's never indulged in or told anyone about. It's the one thing he never, ever wants strangers to know. But Pepper has kept his secrets for years, and now they're sleeping together, and she just outright asked him what his secret fantasies were.

"Like I'd keep anything from you," he scoffed. "Remember that time with the oranges and the rentboy?"

"I'd repressed that," she said. But she poked him in the ribs and curled up close and okay, so he confessed that it is the most embarrassing thing in the world to be a superhero with a superhero-rescues-me kink.

"I think it's sweet," she said. "Very...innocent, for you. You want to be saved?"

"It's more what comes after the saving, where I'd be so grateful I'd do whatever said superhero asked," he answered, leering at her. She ran a hand up his chest and rubbed at the muscles around the reactor, which was nice because they sometimes got tense and ached. "But it's not like, something I need or anything, it's just one of those private-moment-in-the-shower thoughts, you know. Probably suck in real life anyway."

"Which superhero?" she asked.

"I don't know, I don't care, it's not like I'm spanking to anyone on the team. It's an unimportant detail."

And Pepper let it drop, which was a relief, because Tony only allowed them one baring-your-soul conversation per month.

Two weeks later he woke up tied to the bed, and cursed, and yelled for JARVIS, and all JARVIS said was "Your safeword, sir, is Red."

"Ohhhh, fuck," Tony groaned, and immediately started yelling for help, which was when Pepper burst into the room.

She was wearing something that could be called Captain America's uniform if Captain America was a tall, shapely redhead who clearly had gotten something tailored to fit every curve. The white star really brought out her...breasts.

He stared at her.

She stared at him.

"Is that the actual shield?" he asked hoarsely.

She grinned. "Looks like you're in a pickle, Mr. Stark."

And this is why they had to make up a story about how they got engaged, because neither of them were ever going to admit that this was the moment when Tony Stark said, "Christ, oh my god, fuck, marry me."


Shrinkage

It's remarkably hard to write sickfic about Steve Rogers, because presumably he doesn't get sick. So to do that I also had to revert him to pre-Serum, and pre-Serum Steve...he had attitude.
Warning for brief era-appropriate homophobic slurs.


"....and for those of you keeping score at home, that makes us three and oh with Doctor Doom," Tony announced, touching down lightly next to the heaving green mass of Hulk. "JARVIS, put the word out on Twitter if you'd be so kind?"

"Tweeting now, sir," JARVIS said, sounding resigned. For a computer program, JARVIS had an unusual hate-on for Twitter. "Hash tag per usual?"

"#Avengingshit," Tony affirmed, and flipped his faceplate up, grinning at Hulk. "End of the show, big guy."

Hulk looked down at him -- always peculiar to see Bruce's features, roughened and enlarged on that face -- and then arched backwards, roaring triumph. Funny how you could totally learn the difference between a defiant roar, a triumphant roar, and an angry roar, if you spent enough time with someone who mostly communicated through yelling. This one was usually the signal that in about thirty seconds, Bruce would be lying on the ground, bitching about how hungry he was.

"Clint, you need a lift down from anywhere?" Tony asked, kicking at some debris littering the street of downtown Los Angeles. A little mass destruction might make LA more pleasant, to be honest.

"No, I'm on the ground," Clint replied. "Got Natasha here too, but her communicator was smashed. You got eyes on everyone else?"

"Just Hulk," Tony said. "You see Cap or Thor anywhere? Cap, Blondie, you guys on comms?"

"I HEAR YOUR SUMMONS!" Thor bellowed into the comm. He hadn't quite mastered the idea that you didn't need to shout into it. Tony squinted and shook his head.

"Cap?" he asked. Silence. "Anyone got a last-known on Cap?"

Too early to worry. Comms got broken in fights all the time, especially with Doom's pathetic excuses for robots.

"I saw him chasing a robot down fourth," Clint said. "Lost him at Olive. Tasha says she saw him heading north on Olive."

"SHALL I SEARCH THE STREET OF OLIVES?"

"No, Thor, that's okay," Tony sighed. "I'll get the air. You guys regroup at -- the fuck are we..." he glanced around. "Broadway between third and fourth. Bruce is currently unconscious outside Cinderella Bridal."

"I'm awake!" Bruce said.

"Bruce is awake outside Cinderella Bridal -- "

"I'm here," Cap's voice came down the comm, and Tony heard everyone exhale. "Sorry, I got a little tangled up."

"Where are you? I can come grab you."

"No, that's fine, I'm headed your way now," Cap answered. He sounded out of breath. "Uh. We may have a problem."

"More robots?" Clint asked, sounding like someone had told him Christmas was cancelled.

"No, not...no, I think we're good. Tony, can you give the locals the all-clear?" Cap asked. He seriously sounded strained. "We're going to need transport."

"SHIELD's on its way," Tony said, flipping his faceplate down and checking the HUD.

"Are you hurt?" Clint asked. Tony glanced up and saw Thor descending from the sky, landing next to Bruce and bending over to check on him.

"Something like that," Cap answered.

"Okay, well, get here or yell if you fall over," Tony replied. "SHIELD, that transport can show up any time, and we're going to need medical for -- "

He broke off, because there was a kid running down the street. God damned tourists.

"Hey!" he yelled, augmenting his speakers so that it boomed. "Get the hell out of here, what are you, crazy?"

The kid just kept running -- weedy, stick-thin, panting. Tony pushed off into the air, did a quick bound, and landed in front of him, crossing his arms.

"Do your parents know you're running around an international terrorist attack site?" he asked, as the kid pulled up sharply. He had wide blue eyes, a shock of disorderly blond hair, and was wearing a blue shirt two sizes too big for him. On closer examination he looked older -- early twenties, perhaps. He had Cap's uniform jacket bundled around an object under one arm.

"So," the kid said, and Steve's voice came out of him, "this could be an issue."

Then he collapsed.

"Oh, fuck me sideways," Tony said, catching him (barely) and flipping his faceplate up again. Cap was gasping for air, the whistling wheeze of an asthma attack. Steve Rogers had been asthmatic before the Serum.

"Shit, shit -- okay, uh, breathe slowly, don't freak out," Tony said.

"What's going on?" Clint demanded over the comm.

"You know how to stop an asthma attack?" Tony asked.

"Tell him to blow out," Clint replied.

"What?"

"I don't know, Natasha said it," Clint replied.

"Blow out," Tony said, propping Steve up against the armor. "Exhale hard."

"Sir, the armor is equipped with epinephrine injectibles," JARVIS said.

"Is that going to help?" Tony asked, already twisting his wrist. A needle slid out of the base of his thumb. Tony had never been a boy scout but they had a philosophy of preparedness that he was fond of.

"It may," JARVIS said cautiously. "Inject into the outer thigh."

"Try not to hate me," Tony told the wheezing man in his arms, and jabbed him hard in the leg. Steve stiffened and twisted, but after about ten seconds he went limp, breathing more easily, color coming back into his face.

"Yeah, okay, so, we're going to just..." Tony dragged him into the shade of an awning, leaning him up against a wall. "Cap, give me the word here, let me know you're not brain-damaged."

"I'm okay," Steve managed, drawing in slow, deep lungfuls of air. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes. His cheekbones could cut glass, Tony thought. The hollows under them weren't as attractive.

Steve lifted a thin arm and covered his face with one hand.

"Shit," he said feelingly.

***

There was only so fast you could get to California from New York, even at Tony's speed. He'd reached LA within forty minutes of the Doom brigade invading, but the other Avengers had taken another hour, and Tony was feeling the beating of spending an hour solo fighting robots and trying to contain them to downtown. The Helicarrier was still somewhere over the midwest -- Thor had gone to meet it and brief Fury, which Tony was sorry he was going to miss -- by the time the Avengers arrived at the nearest SHIELD base to LA.

Modest would have been a tactful adjective for it. Tiny would have been more accurate.

"I'm sorry we're not better equipped for you guys," the lead agent said, bringing Tony a bottle of water as he pried himself out of his dented armor. "We don't see much action on this coast. Usually everyone's going after New York."

"Tell me about it," Tony replied, chugging from the bottle. On the other side of a glass window, Clint was sitting on a gurney, getting some burns on his arm treated; Natasha was next to him, submitting without grace to having her cuts disinfected. Against the far wall, Steve was wrapped in a shock blanket, having blood drawn. An emergency inhaler sat next to him on the bed.

"It's a real honor to meet you though, Mr. Stark," the lead agent continued, as Tony watched Steve offer his other arm for an IV drip. One of his legs dangled off the gurney, and there was a long scar down the side of it.

"You wouldn't think that if you knew me," Tony replied absently. "Have you got an MRI in this place? Any kind of scanning equipment?"

"Nothing medical," the man said worriedly.

"Where'd you stash Bruce?"

"Mr. Banner's in the guest barracks, sleeping."

"You feed him first?" Tony asked, and couldn't resist fucking with the guy a little. "He's really cranky when he wakes up hungry."

"I'll double-check," the man said, and hurried off. Tony shed the last of the armor, put it in lockdown mode, and slipped into the medical suite just as Clint and Natasha were being shown out. Steve, alone, IV drip stuck in his arm, looked up when Tony entered.

"First smart remark you make about my size, I'll sock you on the jaw," he said.

"I come in peace," Tony replied, holding up his hands.

"I mean it, Stark. I can still fight you."

"Okay, so you were tiny and mean before the Serum?" Tony asked, and Steve started to get off the bed. "Easy! Sorry! No jokes, no jokes."

Steve glared balefully at him. "It isn't funny."

"No, I get it. Not funny," Tony said. "Mind if I sit, or are you going to punch me for that, too?"

Steve scowled, but he gestured at the gurney. Tony eased himself onto it, feeling joints pop. Sore muscles were beginning to make themselves known. Steve clearly saw it too.

"You see medical?" he asked.

"No need, just bruised," Tony answered. "Helicarrier's en route."

"You should get checked out."

"I'm fine. I wear armor, remember?" Tony said.

"I'm small, not stupid."

"Wow, you have a complex," Tony observed. "You hungry?"

"They gave me a protein bar." Steve hesitated. "Then I had an allergic reaction to the peanuts in it, so they gave me this thing."

He tugged lightly on the IV tube.

"What are you allergic to?" Tony asked. Steve gave him a dry look, odd on his thin face.

"Peanuts, milk, chocolate, citrus..." he groaned. "I ate a peach once and my hands swelled up. Didn't go down for two days. Bucky set up a booth and charged two cents to see me."

"Seems a little mean."

"It was my idea. We split the take sixty-forty."

Tony shot him a grin. "Enterprising young men."

"Yeah, well, there was a Depression on," Steve replied. He looked down at his hands, flexing them.

"What's the last thing you remember before..." Tony gestured at him.

"I had 'em all pretty much down. I was going for the last one of the bunch, and then it...spat something at me," Steve said. "Like smoke. It tasted metallic. Then everything went fuzzy for a minute and when I picked myself up off the ground, my pants fell down."

"God, I hope there's cellphone footage of that."

"You would." Steve seemed fascinated by his hands, long-fingered and delicate, the veins standing out near the skin.

"Hey, we'll fix it," Tony said. "No way Doom just happened to engineer an anti-Serum formula. It's probably some kind of chemical suppressant. Might even wear off on its own."

"Sure."

"Besides, I'm here, and believe it or not I am even smarter than my old man, and I have a lot to prove there, daddy issues et cetera, so it will be my genuine pleasure to restore you to your former glory," Tony announced.

"Let's hope it doesn't cause another blackout in Brooklyn," Steve sighed.

***

"Okay," Tony said, twenty hours later. (Two of those had been sleep. He was beginning to feel the way Steve looked.) "I have good nerd news, and I have good hero news."

"Which will actually get me an answer?" Steve asked tiredly. Tony knew he'd slept -- more than Tony had -- but nobody liked being in Medical. Even if they were out of the backwater of the west coast field office and back on the Helicarrier with all its shiny, delicious toys.

"Short answer is yes, we can fix this," Tony said.

"Great! When?" Steve asked, perking up.

"Easy, cowboy," Tony replied. "The fix is still fabricating. Hour, two hours tops."

"Fabricating?" Steve asked suspiciously.

"Which is why I tried to offer you the nerd news first," Tony sighed. "Look, here." He offered Steve the tablet in his hands. There was an image on it of something that looked like a flea made out of wires. "That is a nanodroid. We knew Doom was playing around with them but we had no idea he'd come this far. Possibly he's had help. Thor and the wonder twins -- "

"The who?"

"Clint and Natasha. The three of them are on the way to Latveria now to blow up his lab. Technically it's an act of war but, in the words of five year olds everywhere, he started it. Anyway, that thing is slightly too small to see with the naked eye, but there's about a hundred thousand of them crawling around inside you right now."

Steve looked nauseated. "Those things are in me?"

"Not for long. See, they infiltrate organic organisms and reset them to factory default. Any enhancements or drugs in the system are filtered out. They're clumsy and kind of pathetic but they do the job. Quod erat demonstratum," he added, gesturing at Steve. "They're suppressing the Serum. If they'd gotten to me, they'd have deactivated my nightlight."

He tapped his chest, thunk-thunk, and Steve swallowed audibly.

"Why didn't they?"

"Doom's a hack. The firing mechanisms on the bots malfunctioned. Plus the suit would filter them out. The one that got you was the lucky lotto winner. Anyway, the point is that it's a robot, and I do robots, which means I can do a better robot, which means we can get you all Capped up again. And that leads us to the bad news."

"You didn't say there was bad news," Steve said, alarmed.

"Why would I tell you ahead of time that there's bad news?" Tony asked. Steve rubbed his face. "Bad news is minor. JARVIS is fabricating my anti anti-Serum-droid droids as we speak; we can inject them directly. They'll go after the Doom tech and dismantle it, and your body replenishes the Serum naturally, so you should bulk up again once all the bad robots are out of your system."

"Bad news?" Steve prompted.

"Well, because your body thinks the Doom tech is part of it, and my robots will be attacking his robots inside your body -- which, by the way, is very cool science fiction movie material -- your antibodies are going to start attacking my robots."

Steve just looked at him.

"You'll get a robot-induced common cold," Tony said.

Steve started to laugh.

"I spent my whole life sick," he said, when he saw Tony's perplexed look. "Wasn't winter if I didn't catch cold at least four times. That's not bad news, that just comes with the territory."

"In that case, forward march. I'll let you know when the Stark nanodroids are ready. Don't eat anything -- nausea is an almost guaranteed side effect."

"Huh," Steve said, shaking his head.

"What?"

"The one time I can actually get drunk, and I still can't have any," he replied.

"We could do it tomorr -- "

"No!" Steve blurted. Tony blinked. "No, whenever it's ready. I was just. Life's funny that way," he said, looking down.

Tony leaned his hip against the bed, waiting. Steve glanced up, then back down again.

"The night before I got the Serum, Dr. Erksine came by. He had a bottle of Schnapps. We were going to toast and then he remembered I couldn't have any liquids. Then suddenly I couldn't get drunk anyway -- and he was gone." He shrugged, thin shoulders shifting under the scrub shirt they'd given him. "Never much cared for this body, but it wasn't all bad."

"Everybody underestimates the little guy," Tony said. Steve raised his head. "I went to college before my voice finished settling. I remember the feeling."

"Do we have to do it here?" Steve asked.

"Uh, random question," Tony replied. "As opposed to where?"

"The last time I got tinkered with in a lab, the guy doing the tinkering ended up dead."

"I promise you there are no Nazi spies on the Helicarrier," Tony answered.

"But we could do this at Stark Tower, right?" Steve asked. There was a stubborn set to his jaw that Tony knew pretty well, even if his jaw wasn't quite as prominent as usual. It meant they were going to have to debate this and Steve wasn't going to back down.

For form's sake, Tony dove into the burgeoning fight. "We could, except it's not sterile or, oh right, a medical facility."

"It's an injection, how sterile does it have to be?"

"There should be...doctors and things," Tony said.

"Why? It's all robots."

"Inside your body."

"JARVIS can monitor me. Can't you?" Steve asked the tablet.

"Yes, Captain," JARVIS answered, through the tablet's speaker.

"Traitor," Tony said. "Look, you're going to get sick. If it gets complicated -- "

"Bruce is there, and JARVIS can make sure it doesn't get to that point. I don't want to be here anymore," Steve blurted. "I hate the way they look at me. If I'm going to be sick I want to be home where I can be in my own bed and make my own food when I want it and not be stared at."

He sounded almost petulant, which would have made Tony amused in less serious circumstances. The man had been through a war, but he was complaining about a hospital bed?

"Sir," JARVIS said, "It would be significantly easier for me to monitor the progress of your nanodroids from the Tower."

JARVIS usually did know when to give Tony an excuse to capitulate.

"Fine," he said, gathering up the tablet. "Get packed for transport, the fabrication's going on in my lab there anyway."

Steve was already out of bed, gathering up his shield.

***

Tony noticed, and he thought Bruce did too, that Steve had a very slight limp in the leg with the scar on it. It hadn't seemed to bother him when running, but he walked slow to cover for it, and he favored it when he climbed into or out of the transport.

The big seats designed for hefty, muscular SHIELD agents made him look even smaller than he already was.

"What's up with that?" Tony asked as they disembarked on the landing pad at the Tower, Steve stubbornly lugging his shield despite the fact that it looked like it was going to topple him over.

"What?" Steve asked, adjusting his grip.

"Your gimp," Tony said, because he wasn't really very good at being polite when he wasn't concentrating on it. Bruce shot him a look over Steve's head.

"Got into a fight when I was sixteen," Steve said, as if that would cover it.

"Jesus, who were you fighting?" Tony asked. "Lab," he ordered, following Steve into the elevator.

"Some thugs," Steve replied.

"Well, obviously," Tony remarked. "What did you do, insult their mothers?"

Steve gave him a grin that was more teeth than smile.

"We were coming out of a nightclub. Some guys said some things I didn't care for. I said some things they didn't care for. First knife fight I was ever in. Bucky said it was a heck of a souvenir."

"You were in a nightclub?" Bruce asked mildly.

"We snuck in to hear the jazz."

"And then got into a knife fight."

"Well, you know how it is."

"No, I really don't think I do," Bruce replied. The elevator came to a stop. Steve led the way into the lab, very carefully not limping.

"They called us a couple of pansies. I said we weren't the ones too scared to go into a pansy club," Steve said. He paused. "That's not really appropriate language anymore, is it? Anyway, one of them asked if I was calling him a pansy and I said no, I was calling him a coward, and after that it was all knives and fists."

"You were in a gay club in the forties when you were sixteen?" Tony asked.

"They had good jazz," Steve said. "Nobody bugged us or anything. And when we got into the fight Bucky took out two of them and I got a lucky punch in on one and the fourth guy got pulled off me by one of the guys from the club. Tell you what, nobody calls you a pansy when you're big as he was. Not twice, anyway. Cut healed fine but not quite right, it just pulls a little."

"Oh, is that all," Bruce said.

"We were always scrapping, Bucky and me."

"How are you not dead?" Tony asked, as Steve settled himself on one of the stools in the lab.

"I'm tougher than I look."

"That wouldn't exactly be hard," Tony said, checking the fabrication unit. There was a small cup of liquid in the chamber. "Bruce, if you'd do the honors?"

Bruce nodded, tying a rubber tube around Steve's arm while Tony drew the liquid up into a syringe, checking it for bubbles. By the time it was ready, Steve was sitting very still, vein standing out nicely, skin shiny from an alcohol wipe.

"You're not going to pass out or anything, are you?" Tony asked. Steve looked pale.

"I'm not nuts about needles," he replied tightly. Tony handed the syringe to Bruce.

"Here's where I make the obligatory small prick joke," Bruce said, sliding the needle cleanly into Steve's arm and popping the tube off his bicep. He pushed down the plunger, drew the needle out, pressed a cotton ball to the injection site, and taped it down.

"Science fiction," Steve said, flexing his arm slightly. "Is that it?"

"Yep," Tony said, as Bruce began to clear away the medical debris. "JARVIS, initiate full medical-mode biological monitoring, Captain Steve Rogers, effective immediately."

"Initiating," JARVIS replied. "Captain, it is advised that you return to quarters as soon as possible. You may begin feeling the effects within thirty minutes. Your quarters have been stocked with appropriate palliatives and supplies."

"Thank you," Steve said, sliding off the stool. "Tony, Bruce...I really appreciate this."

"Anytime, Cap," Bruce said.

"Any excuse to play with miniaturized robots," Tony added. Steve started towards the elevator, and Bruce did too, and Tony wasn't sure why Bruce was following him but it seemed like the thing to do, so he did too. When he reached the elevator, Steve turned and gave them a confused look.

"I'm not going to fall down on my way to my quarters," he said.

"Just thought we'd get you settled in," Bruce replied.

"Why?" Steve asked, sounding puzzled.

"Oh, you know. Friends are sick, it's a thing you do," Bruce said vaguely.

"I'm fine. JARVIS'll let you know if anything goes wrong," Steve answered.

"Oh, okay," Bruce said. "Well, I'll bring you some soup later."

Steve gave him another weird look, but the elevator doors opened before he could reply.

"Quarters, please, JARVIS," he said, and the doors shut on tiny Steve Rogers, alone in the elevator.

"Was that strange?" Tony asked. "That was strange."

Bruce shrugged. "Some people want to be alone when they're sick. He's had doctors and us poking him for a day and a half, maybe he just wants some quiet."

"When I'm sick, I want the entire world to know and for my loved ones to visit my deathbed and bring me drugs," Tony said.

"That's because you're a spoiled narcissist," Bruce replied with a smile.

"Aw, you say the nicest things," Tony said. "JARVIS, put Steve's vitals up on the screen, would you? Transfer to peripheral when I leave the lab."

"Just because he doesn't want to see us doesn't mean we won't be creepily watching him?" Bruce asked.

"I'm only interested in the robots," Tony replied.

***

By the time Tony dragged himself up to the penthouse for dinner, Steve's temperature was at a steady hundred degrees; JARVIS said his hydration levels were fine, so Tony left him alone. Man wanted privacy, Tony could do that. He settled in on the couch to do some number crunching for SI -- he was still a shareholder and head of R&D, after all -- and fell asleep with his tablet cradled on his chest, waiting for news of the Avengers counter-strike on Latveria.

He woke around five in the morning to an insistent beeping on his tablet; email from Natasha that the nanodroids had been outsourced, and while they'd done appropriate damage to Doom's labs, they were off to Japan to hunt down the firm responsible for Steve's condition. He shot back an email that Steve was on the way back to being full-on Giant Cap, and added some recommendations for good places to eat in Tokyo if their travels took them there.

Somewhere in the mess of the morning, Cap's stats window got hidden behind half a dozen other windows displaying various projects he was working on, communications from SI and SHIELD, and a photo message from Clint of Thor posing with a group of excited-looking ganguro girls.

Around one in the afternoon, JARVIS cleared his screens.

"I believe Captain Rogers is in need of assistance, sir," he said.

Tony called up the stats and almost fell off his chair. Low hydration, fever of 102, elevated heart rate.

"Yes, he is," he said, heading for the elevator. "Get Bruce."

"Dr. Banner is currently out of the Tower. I am recalling him," JARVIS replied.

"Have medical on speed-dial. What happened?"

"I am uncertain, sir," JARVIS said, speeding him down to Cap's level. "Captain Rogers expressed a wish not to be disturbed unless there was an emergency."

"This counts," Tony said, bursting out of the elevator. "Override locks."

"Yes, sir," JARVIS answered, as the door to Cap's apartment popped open. Tony saw a crumpled figure on the floor.

"Jesus Christ," he swore, running over and dropping to his knees. "JARVIS, you didn't say he'd collapsed!"

"Captain Rogers requested all camera and audio be switched off," JARVIS said apologetically.

"I'm programming a medical override into you as soon as I get this fixed," Tony snapped, as Steve groaned and rolled onto his side. "Hey, Cap, you with me?"

"Tony?" Steve squinted up at him. "What...why are you here?"

"Because you collapsed like a loser," Tony replied, helping him up. He weighed almost nothing, and even as Tony got an arm around his waist he was trying to pull away.

"I just wanted some water," Steve said, staggering forward. Tony held tight and Steve grunted. "Lemme go."

"No, I don't think so," Tony replied, pulling him backwards. It would have been very satisfying, under other circumstances, to be able to just toss Cap around this way. "I'll get the water, you're getting back in bed."

"Leggo," Steve insisted, but Tony dragged him, struggling pathetically, back into the bedroom. The bed was in total disarray, and there was a pile of tissues on the bedside table. The room was depressingly bare, just his shield propped on the dresser and a few pairs of shoes lined up neatly by the closet.

"Stay," Tony ordered, pushing him into the bed.

"Make me," Steve retorted. Tony pinned him with one hand. He was shivering, chest vibrating under Tony's palm.

"Stay here and I'll bring you some god-damned water," Tony said.

"Nuts," Steve replied, but a bad shudder hit and he curled in on himself, groaning. Tony took the chance that he'd be distracted and went for the kitchen, taking a bottle of water out of the fridge. There was a small mountain of tupperware in the fridge, soup in meal-sized containers, with a note in Bruce's handwriting: For when you get hungry. 1:30 on High. Don't fear the microwave. There were no dishes in the sink.

In the bedroom, Steve was trying to burrow under the blankets, thin frame shaking. Tony pulled a corner around him, heaved him upright, and cracked open the water. Steve drank like he'd never seen water before, but a cough cut him off and he sputtered.

"Your fever's spiking," Tony told him, taking the bottle away before he spilled what was left. "When was the last time you took any aspirin?"

Steve gave him a blank look.

"Stay put," Tony ordered, and went to the bathroom. True to his word, JARVIS had stocked the cabinet with cold medicine -- cough syrup, decongestants, aspirin and lozenges. None of it had been opened. Tony pried the cap off the aspirin and then off the cough syrup, carrying both out into the bedroom.

He shoved a shot-cup of syrup against Steve's lips. "Swallow."

Steve gulped, grimacing. "What is that?"

"Swallow," Tony repeated, offering him the aspirin. Steve looked at the pills suspiciously, then took them and accepted the bottle of water again, finishing it off. He was sweating despite the shakes, and he smelled like stale sweat and menthol. Tony noticed a tin of Ben-Gay under the tissues on the bedside table.

"I'm familiar with the urge to tell the whole world to fuck off," Tony said, sweeping the water bottle and tissues into the trash can. "But I also happen to be able to actually take care of myself, all evidence to the contrary, and clearly that's not happening here. So, you no longer get to make the rules."

"The hell with you," Steve said.

"Uh huh," Tony agreed, pulling the blanket off him. Steve yelped and dove for it, but that just played into Tony's nefarious plan, which was to drag him out of bed and into the bathroom. Steve swung wild, which was fascinating to see, and Tony ducked it and dumped him fully-clothed into the bathtub.

"JARVIS, water, as hot as is safe," he ordered, and the bath obediently began to fill. He tugged off the hilariously oversized shirt Steve was wearing, then hauled him up long enough to strip off the equally oversized flannel pajama bottoms. Steve seemed to waver between shivering and trying to get away, but once the bathtub was half-full, he sank into the water limply.

"S'the nice thing about the future," he muttered, as Tony rummaged in his cabinet. "Big bathtubs."

"Sure," Tony said absently. "Do you even own a bottle of shampoo?"

"Soap," Steve said.

Tony turned to look at him. "You've been washing your hair with soap?"

Steve shrugged. "Works just fine. It's good soap. Ninety-nine and forty-four hundreths percent pure," he added with a faint smile.

"This isn't the war, you know, we won the war," Tony replied, giving up the hunt and kneeling next to the tub. Steve had his knees drawn up under his chin. "That gives us the inalienable right to hair products."

"Bucky used brylcreem," Steve said helpfully.

"That's delightfully random," Tony said, lathering up with a bar of soap from the dish. "And what did you use?"

"I didn't -- what are you -- " Steve pulled away as Tony began to soap his hair.

"Later, you will look back on this if you remember it and question your masculinity," Tony said, yanking him back and continuing his merciless assault on Steve's hair. "But needs must when Captain America's being a stubborn asshole."

Steve sulked, but at least it was a quiet sulk, for as long as it took Tony to finish scrubbing and rinse his hair clean.

"Can you wash yourself?" Tony asked.

"I'm not a child."

"Fine. Stay put and wash," Tony said, and stood up, drying his hands on a towel. Steve grumbled quietly as Tony left the room.

He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the wreckage of the bed. He had, in the past, made his own bed at least a few times, but it was a distant past and he had people for that most of the time. After all, if you had enough money that you could pay someone to make your bed, why wouldn't you? It created jobs and was one less thing to worry about. Still, he was an engineer and a genius. This shouldn't be difficult.

By the time he'd wrestled a new sheet into place, shaken out the blanket, and located a second one, the bathroom was ominously quiet. He returned to find Steve, chicken-chest and bad leg and all, trying to climb out of the tub. He was actually disconcertingly docile as Tony helped him out, wrapped him in a towel, and dressed him in fresh pajamas.

"JARVIS, health check," he called, as he helped Steve back to bed.

"Fever at 101 and dropping," JARVIS reported. "Recommend hydration."

"How are the bots doing?"

"Doom tech is 30% eliminated," JARVIS reported.

"So, another two, three days of this and you'll be golden," Tony said to Steve, who pulled the blankets up over his head. "You're welcome."

No response.

"Sir, Dr. Banner has returned to the Tower," JARVIS said.

"About damn time," Tony replied, hurrying into the living room. "I only have so much give-a-damn accrued at any given point. Bring him up here."

"Tony?" Bruce called, out of breath as he burst into the room. Tony put a finger to his lips and jerked his thumb at the closed bedroom door. "What happened? I just went to get some coffee -- "

"He tried to get out of bed when his fever spiked. It's handled," Tony said, a little proud that he had, in fact, handled another person's problem without involving technology in any way. "He's back in bed, hopefully asleep."

"I'm so sorry."

"It's cool, you're allowed to leave," Tony told him, grinning. "I saw the soup in the fridge by the way, well done."

"He didn't answer when I knocked, so I just left it there. I should have -- "

"He told us to screw off. His own fault."

Bruce ran a hand through his hair, clearly still feeling guilty. "I can sit up with him for a while if you think he needs it."

"I think he needs a smack in the head," Tony replied. "But he's dedicating all his energy to being as offputting as possible right now, which is actually pretty cool to see. I'm thinking I'm the better choice to look after someone who's actively attempting to enrage his caregivers."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure. I need some time out of the workshop anyway. I'll tap you for overnight duty if he spikes again."

"You're all heart," Bruce said with a lopsided grin.

"Now you're just insulting me," Tony replied. "Go, shoo."

Bruce clapped him on the arm and left. Tony cast around for a minute for something to do -- television was too noisy, books too boring -- then said, "JARVIS, locate that tablet I gave Steve and log me in, would you?"

There was a beep from the sofa. Tony dug under the pillows and found the tablet, looking surprisingly well-used considering its owner, and snagged a chair from the kitchen, carrying both items into the bedroom.

Steve had emerged a little from his cocoon, and a pair of huge blue eyes watched as Tony dragged the chair over to the side of the bed.

"What are you doing?" Steve asked. It was weird to see all that voice coming from such a toothpick. Even if it was hoarse and congested.

"Sticking around," Tony replied, taking off his shoes and propping his legs on the bed.

"Why?"

"Well, apparently JARVIS fails at babysitting," Tony replied. "I can call Bruce if you'd rather have him, but don't blame me if he hulks out on your ungrateful ass."

"I don't need anyone here."

"Then consider me a gift." Tony spread his arms. "Tadaa."

Steve's eyes flicked down to his lap, where the tablet was balanced. "That's my tablet."

"Relax, I'm not reading your secret diary. I had JARVIS port me in," Tony said, holding up the tablet to show off the armor specs on it. "Go to sleep, pretend I'm not here."

Steve coughed. "Has anyone ever successfully managed to ignore you?"

"You'd be surprised," Tony said drily. He could see the cough medicine kicking in; Steve's eyes were slightly unfocused, eyelids drooping. He concentrated on the tablet for a few minutes, working silently, and when he looked up again Steve was either asleep or doing a great job of pretending.


The Secret Affair

Written for elsajeni, who wanted Steve in a "pretending-to-be-married" situation.

Steve had always been uncomfortable with all the attention he gets as Captain America. From everyone, in general, but particularly women. He was...not used to it, but he knew at least how to handle it from his time selling bonds -- but clearly not enough to avoid being kissed by any woman capable of grabbing his tie (a very good reason not to wear ties anymore).

And he just wanted a break from it all.

Natasha wasn't perhaps the ideal person to gripe to about it, but she was there. And once he'd said his piece, she said, "I'll be your date."

"What?"

"I'll be your date."

"To what?"

"Everything. Forever." At his skeptical look, she added, "I like parties. And I can kick anyone in the face if they're bugging you."

But if you go out with someone three times in a row to events where the gossip papers are present, clearly you're married.

Before he really understood what was happening, half the rags said they were secretly married and the other half said she was having his baby. Natasha thought it was hilarious.

And Natasha is kind of a troll.

So when The View asked her to give them an interview she said yes, and when they asked if she was seeing anyone she said she was happily married, and the shrieks, oh god, you could hear them from space.

But Steve wasn't going to call a lady a liar in public, are you nuts?

So for about six weeks he and Natasha basically pranked the entire country by pretending to be married. Eventually Steve kind of got into it, because it was pretty funny.

Still, Natasha eventually got tired of it.

"It's not that I don't love pretending to be your wife," she said. "And I'll still go to stuff with you. It's just that I'd like to go out on a real date with a real boy again someday."

Steve looked at her and thought, fair enough.

"Do you want to go out on a real date with me?" he asked.

"What?"

"A real date. With me," he repeated. "I can provide you with at least two forms of identification proving I'm a real boy."

Natasha smiled at him. "I wouldn't mind that."

Eventually they had to get married in secret because everyone thought they already were.


Alternate Universe

I wrote this to explore the way comics and reality interacted; I wanted to write a comics-canon-based universe, and maybe look a little at how Steve and Tony got back from the state they were in at the end of Civil War. I have to admit I initially wanted Tony to step into our reality and be blown away by how detailed and colourful it is compared to comic books.

Nothing good ever starts with the phrase, "So then I created a stable universal bridge."

***

Tony can get from Seattle to New York faster in the Iron Man suit than by jet, but Reed sent over a bunch of documentation on his latest asshattery and Tony needs to study it. So he's flying out in less speed but more style, stopping over on the Helicarrier somewhere near Chicago to pick up Cap.

Why Cap is on the Helicarrier over Chicago is a mystery he has zero interest in investigating. Every time he asks Cap anything about professional business in which he is not directly involved, Cap gets that "This motherfucker got me killed and doesn't even remember it" look on his face. Tony's really tired of that look. He's considering what it would take to make it stop -- groveling, maybe, since apologizing mended the breach but clearly didn't do much more -- but it goes against his grain to grovel over something he a) doesn't remember doing and b) from his reading, would do again. Albeit more tactfully, if throwing the country into the middle of a superhero civil war could ever be considered tactful...

Also, he refuses to let Cap win Stubbornest Asshole Of The Year, because Tony has an unbroken run on that award since the age of nine, when he stole the title from his father.

It's gonna be a while before he and Steve are friends again, but Tony has done more with less before. Exhibit A: Rumiko Fujikawa. Exhibit B: Pepper's inexplicable willingness to still talk to him. Exhibit C: Stark Resilient. Exhibit D: Died and then rebooted his own brain from beyond the grave, bitches, so a little respect is in order.

"I don't like to talk about anyone this way," Steve says, settling into the leather seat next to Tony's and accepting a granola bar and a briefing printout, "But I really hate this douche."

"Objection noted," Tony replies absently. He's not so fond of Reed Richards himself right now.

"And the stretching thing creeps me out. Could he not make like a Dali unless actually necessary?" Steve continues, eyes flicking over the briefing.

"Hey, could you stop being so square-jawed and patriotic? I mean, unless it's necessary?"

Old Steve would have laughed and conceded the point. New Steve looks at him suspiciously, then smiles when he realizes Tony's joking.

"I don't remember a single time when Richards has managed to run an experiment and not cause more immediate problems than he solves, but cumulatively his work has been helpf -- " Tony breaks off, because Steve has inhaled sharply.

"The hell?" he murmurs, and Tony notices he's gotten to page three of the briefing, aka where things start to get fucked up. It's a full-page color printout of a comic book cover featuring THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.

"I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, since when did people make comic books about Iron Man?" Tony says. "The answer is, they don't. I control my brand very tightly, and I'm not going to parade around in metallic spandex for pubescent boys to sublimate their homosexual leanings over."

"It's not okay to be gay for Iron Man?" Steve asks, with a quirk of his lips.

"If they want to pretend the explosions get them hard and not the superhero asses, that's their purview, but I don't have to be part of it," Tony replies. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to be a sexual icon for both genders. I just draw the line at comic books."

"They sell lunch boxes shaped like your helmet."

"I have philosophical issues that strongly differentiate between helmet lunch boxes, which are cool by the way, and comic books where strangers purport to illustrate my inner thoughts."

"Oh, you have issues all right," Steve mutters. "So why is this big news I have to interrupt my day for? I mean, I'm startled by bootlegged comic books but -- holy what -- " he hits page four, where things start to get a lot fucked up.

"I know, right?" Tony says gleefully. At the top of the page is text, but at the bottom are two more comic book covers: Young Avengers and Hawkeye. "Clint gets his own comic!"

"This is messed up," Steve says. "Nobody should be making comics about the Young Avengers. Most of them aren't eighteen yet."

"Wait till you see this," Tony says, flicking the page up for him. There's a page from a comic underneath that clearly shows a dark-haired man with enormous brown eyes, pulling a Spider-man mask on. From off-page, someone is calling, "Peter Parker? Peter, where are you?"

"Oh, my God," Steve breathes.

"Peter Parker," Tony replies, passing him a photograph of the same brown-haired man, obviously a candid shot taken by a friend. "According to intel from the..."

"Intel from the comics," Steve replies.

"Yes, thank you for not making me say that -- Spider-man is named Peter Parker."

"He looks sad," Steve says quietly. "Where did this come from?"

"These are apparently coming across some inter-universal bridge Reed built in his spare time."

"So these aren't being published in this world?"

"No. But they're in this world now, in Reed's lab."

"Tony, this is insane."

"Reed says it gets weirder," Tony remarks.

***

"It gets weirder," Reed says, after Tony suits up and jumps them out of the jet over the Baxter Building, Steve hanging onto his shoulders. It's nice -- he's missed doing that.

They land perfectly on the roof, where Reed is waiting, and all of them know better than to talk until they're in the bowels of Reed's lab, in front of a bank of monitors.

"We need to call Spider-man," Steve says.

"I can't wait for that freakout," Tony replies.

"He's on his way -- tied up with some kind of robbery at the moment," Reed answers. "I wanted to speak to the two of you first."

"So run this past me again," Steve sighs. "A universal bridge like the one to Asgard?"

"No. Asgard is another world," Reed says patiently. Tony wants to step on his foot for his tone, but Steve's expression doesn't flicker. "The Negative Zone could be considered another dimension, which is a factor of physics, not of philosophy. What we're dealing with here is another universe, a parallel existence where certain factors have effected changes."

"Okay, I get the concept of parallel universe, but is this an important distinction? It hasn't seemed to be in the past," Steve points out.

"Within these four walls we will adhere to precision in language," Reed says primly. He turns back to the monitors and Tony can tell Steve can't help the man, I really hate this douche expression that crosses his face for a second before he schools it.

"And you thought opening a door between the two would be a good idea?" Tony asks blandly.

"Not the two worlds. Just two worlds of billions. Anyway, qualities of good and bad are immaterial in science." Reed stretches his neck up to put himself on eye level with the monitors, incidentally making him taller than either of them, a fact which Reed is probably unaware of but which Tony feels keenly. Stretchy fucker.

"This is what you've been pulling through across the bridge," Steve observes, sifting through the piles of comic books on a nearby table. He holds one up. "Who's Superman?"

"He doesn't seem to have an analogue in this universe; I expect as with ours, some of their comic books are fiction," Reed answers.

"So you opened a universal bridge into a comic book store?" Tony asks, still carefully neutral, though he's cracking the shit up on the inside.

"It would seem so. I think the two of you should see this," Reed adds. "They also sell DVDs."

Steve looks up from his perusal of the Superman comic book, eyes tracking to the nearest monitor. Reed presses a button and a video appears on the screen.

"Reed," Tony says, after about four seconds, "why is Robert Downey Junior wearing my armor?"

***

After Steve stops laughing, which takes a while but is good to hear, Reed passes him a DVD labeled CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER, with the unusually human remark that "It's got a lot of...private things in it, be careful when you watch."

The explanation for all the batshittery gets more coherent when Tony takes over and starts asking the right questions. Reed has been acting as an archaeologist, telling the bridge to pull in "artifacts" with strict size limitations so that he doesn't accidentally kidnap someone's kid or dog. This has kept him to comic books, a couple of DVDs, some action figures, and someone's car keys, which Reed looks at least a little sorry about.

One of the comics is actually a book, Civil War, and if there was any mirth left in Steve, that drains it.

"All the fighting...all the suffering and death, and they turn it into a story?" he asks, paging through it slowly.

"To them, that may be all it is," Reed replies. "There's a certain amount of detail in this that is missing from real-life chronicles in our universe. Nowhere in any of the media is there a mention that any of us are real. You both are copyrights of Marvel Comics. The same for me, and my family."

"And Spider-man," Tony says. He's worked his way through all eight Spider-man comics that have come through, while they've talked. If they're anywhere close to the reality -- given the uncanny accuracy of the few Iron Man comics, they probably are -- then Peter Parker has lived a reasonably awful life.

"Did someone call?" a voice asks, and they all startle. Spider-man is peering through the top of the doorway; he crawls around the lintel and up the wall, sitting there, looking down on them. "Big summit. Are mommy and daddy getting back together?"

"You're mommy," Tony tells Steve, but Steve isn't listening.

"Peter," he says quietly. "Come down."

The tension in the room rises so fast it almost makes Tony dizzy.

"Who?" Spider-man asks, but he can't keep the tremble out of his voice.

"We know who you are, Peter Parker. Come down and see," Steve says, his tone gentle.

For a second Tony thinks Spider-man -- Peter -- is going to bolt, but then he drops softly to the floor, just inside the doorway. He reaches up, grasping the material of his mask, and pulls it off.

God, he's young. And he's shaking.

"It's a relief, really," he says, voice wavering, the lie evident.

"C'mere, kid," Steve says, and pulls him into a hug. "It's okay."

Tony and Reed exchange awkward looks, while Captain America hugs Spider-man until the shaking passes.

"How'd you find out?" Peter asks.

***

About thirty minutes later, when Peter has finally stopped puking because an entire universe knows who he is, and while Reed is making interested if quiet noises about anonymity and psychological trauma associated with identity, Tony makes coffee. Because what he really wants is a big shot of vodka, and coffee and punching things are his two best coping mechanisms, and there's nothing to punch.

They sit around a little table in the lab, Peter chalky and exhausted, Steve rubbing his back paternally from the next chair over, Tony and Reed sharing a tablet as they study the readouts.

"Close it," Steve says. "Nothing good can come of this. Close the bridge, shut down the machine, destroy it, and burn the comics."

Reed looks like Steve just asked him to kill a baby. He glances at Tony.

"He could make you do it," Tony reminds Reed. "It's not a stretch to say that this endangers national security."

"Do you think I should?" Reed asks.

"I'm not relevant to this," Tony replies, and now both Steve and Reed look annoyed. "Really, I'm not. I'm not a policy maker anymore, I'm not the person whose identity is threatened by this, and I'm not the one who built it. I can't see what harm keeping it open would do, as long as no material leaves this room, but I also can't see how this could help either us individually or the progress of science collectively in any way." He pauses. "I do have two questions."

Steve rolls his eyes. Reed gestures for him to continue.

"First, how long do you seriously think 'nothing leaves this room' is going to last?" Tony asks, and Peter shivers. "Second, is this bridge bidirectional?"

Now everyone is looking at him. Tony savors the moment briefly (he'll take any boost to his ego he can get after reading his own internal thoughts in the Civil War book) and continues. "Can we send things the other way?"

"Why...?" Steve asks.

"Because that's where the value comes in. Pulling things into this world, that's asking for trouble, but if someone could go there and come back, we could recon and then close it down. It's a limited experiment, but it nets us more data. Everyone wins," Tony replies.

"We could open bridges into a thousand worlds," Reed points out.

"No," Tony and Steve say in unison.

"The potential for more dangerous intel -- " Steve begins, at the same time Tony says, "If you open into a world where the sun has gone nova -- " and they both look at each other.

Peter gives them a hesitant smile, like he really is a child whose parents have been fighting.

"Reed, let's take a walk," Tony says. Steve glances at him sharply; Tony gives a minute shake of his head, and it's like they're back to how they were for a second: silent communication, both of them on the same side. He stands, and Reed does too, and Steve thank God doesn't stop them. He turns instead to Peter and, as Tony and Reed walk away, says, "So, are you from New York originally?"

They dawdle over to the monitor bank, and Tony hitches a hip against it. Reed's fingers twitch, lengthening and shortening, a sign he's nervous.

"You and I both know the potential human cost isn't worth the risk," Tony says. Reed opens his mouth. "Shut up, I don't want to hear it. Steve is going to shut you down, and I'll help him hammer the machine to pieces if I have to, but even if I weren't on his side, this is inevitable. The question is how much information you want to get out of this before he does."

"What are you proposing?" Reed asks.

"If I'm reading all this correctly, the problem with getting someone back is latching onto the right combination of mass and density and yanking it through, right? That's why you're not pulling anything larger than a comic book out of the bridge."

Reed nods.

"But your computers have the precise mass and measurements of my armor, and with the armor retracted into my bones I'm denser than an average person by about twenty-five percent. Is that enough that you could find me through the bridge and pull me out?"

"With a small margin for error."

"Reed, your fucking error margins..." Tony rubs his face.

"I can do it," Reed sighs.

"Great. Now I get to go sell Steve on it," Tony replies.

***

The upshot of all of it, the argument he has to have with Steve, Peter looking tiny and forlorn, Reed wandering off when he loses interest -- the upshot is that they're going to meet again the next evening, when Tony will cross an interdimensional bridge to gather intel, after which the project will be officially shut down.

"Are you okay?" Tony asks Peter as they walk to the elevator, because the kid looks like he's going to hurl again.

"Not really," Peter answers. Steve hovers over him like a hen with one chick. He made Reed destroy all the Spider-man comics before they left.

"Can we give you a ride somewhere? My car's out front. Well, will be by the time I get there," Tony offers.

"Not in this," Peter says, pointing to his suit. "I'll be fine."

Spider-man, down the years, has been off-and-on with the Avengers, but it's the first time Tony feels like he knows anything at all about this boy. He wonders why that is.

"If it's okay with you guys, I'm going to try and forget tonight ever happened," Peter adds, pulling his mask back on.

"Call anytime," Steve says firmly, but Spider-man is out the window and swinging away with no reply. "Well, that could have gone better."

"Could have gone worse," Tony says.

***

It went worse.

His phone rang at two in the morning, Steve's private line on the caller ID. Tony answered with a fuzzy, "What?"

"Did you watch the full DVD Reed gave you?" Steve asks. He sounds strained. "Of the Iron Man film?"

"Not yet. It's my life, I don't need to see it in technicolor. I live it in technicolor. Why?"

"I watched mine."

Tony sits up, yawning. "And?"

"They got everything wrong," Steve says. "I...your father was in it."

"What?"

"Howard Stark? They had him helping with Project Rebirth."

"Dad never worked on that. At least not that I know of."

"No, he didn't." Steve sighs. "Tony, what were you thinking?"

"Well, the comics seem to say I was -- "

"With the Illuminati. The comics...that really happened, didn't it."

"Yes," Tony says, gritting his teeth, because this day was inevitable but he'd always hoped inevitable meant sometime after I'm dead.

"Secret meetings? Governing the shape of how we do things?"

"This is why I never made you a part of them. You would have said it was wrong."

"Maybe if I'd been a part of them, things would have turned out differently."

Tony lies back in bed. "Don't think that hasn't crossed my mind."

"If you'd let me in...I don't even know how long it's been since you started keeping me out."

Tony shuts his eyes. "Step nine."

"Making amends," Steve says quietly.

"I'd let you in now, if you wanted. I didn't think you did. I don't know how else to make amends to you, Steve. The problem with step nine is people always forget the except clause. Except when doing so would cause further pain. There's a fine line between making amends and tormenting your past victims."

"I'm nobody's victim," Steve replies. He pauses. "Does it occur to you possibly, somewhere in this other universe, someone is inking pages of this right now?"

"Well, I hope they get my good side, and also that's a creepy thought, you creepshow," Tony says. "Look, let's get through tomorrow night's mission, and when I come back we'll have lunch or something and talk."

"You think we can get through a whole meal without arguing?"

"We used to get through whole weeks without it."

"I'd like that," Steve says, voice low and sad. "I'm so tired of being angry at you."

"Believe me, I'm tired of that too."

That wrings a laugh out of Steve, quick and dry. "See you tomorrow," he says, and the line dies.


Iron Men Coda

This is a scene that never found a place, of what Ult!Tony did after he returned from the 616 verse in my fanfic Iron Men. It opens with Ult!Tony kissing Ult!Steve, which I didn't actually write.

Warnings for internalized homophobia and some homophobia-related violence.

He expected a punch in the face or some disgusted spitting, to be honest. Instead Steve just froze. Stood there, eyes closed, even after Tony pulled back from the kiss.

Then his eyes opened and he snapped to attention, all Captain in a way that always startled Tony.

"Who told you?" he snarled.

"Told me what?" Tony asked, bewildered.

"Don't play games with me, Stark," Cap answered, and shoved him, then grabbed a handful of his shirt and walked him backwards into a wall.

"Cap, I sincerely don't know -- "

"Who told you?" Cap bellowed, slamming him against the wall. Tony saw stars for a second. "Who else knows?"

"Knows what?" Tony bellowed back, hands coming up to grip his wrist.

Cap punched the wall next to him. The drywall shattered; a steel beam behind it creaked.

"Erskine was supposed to fix me," Cap growled, shaking him by the front of his shirt. "It was supposed to be fixed. I thought it was. I had Gail! She was good! And then you came along -- "

"Oh Jesus Christ," Tony blurted, still struggling with the iron grip on the front of his shirt. "Nobody told me!"

"Someone had to! Tell me who!"

"Nobody!" Tony yelled. "I took a chance, you fucking caveman! Nobody knows but me!"

The fire went out of his eyes, and his shoulders slumped; Tony sucked in a breath as the fingers that had been clenched in his shirt loosed and fell away. This wasn't Cap, now; he was back to Steve, horrifyingly insecure, socially maladept, out-of-his-time Steve.

"How did you know?" he asked miserably. "What gave it away?"

"Steve -- " Tony reached out, hands fluttering over Steve's chest, and Steve drew back sharply. "Okay, no touching, on it, got it. Nobody told me. I didn't know. Shit, you're bleeding," he added, looking down at the shredded mess of Steve's knuckles where he'd punched the wall.

"It's healing," Steve snapped, jerking his hand behind his back.

"Come on, I'm not going to shove my dick in your hand, I just want to clean it up," Tony coaxed. Steve eyed him warily. "Sit down. We can be rational about this."

"If you tell anyone -- "

"The hell is there to tell? That I made a pass at you and you threw me into a wall?"

Tony stepped forward and Steve took a step back, then another; Tony recognized full retreat mode when Steve cast around for a chair to sit in. Tony went to his workbench for the first aid kit and came back with bandages and alcohol pads, kneeling next to him -- carefully not in front of him. This time, when he reached for Steve's hand, Steve let him take it, let him clean it, not even wincing at the swipe of alcohol over the scrapes.

"You remember when Peter Parker made a brief visit from another world?" Tony asked, keeping his eyes on Steve's hand, his voice low and soothing. "And I went back with him for a day? I know you remember because you ripped me a new one over it."

"I remember," Steve said dully.

"Well, I edited my travel diary for content. I happened to run into myself, and myself happened to belong to the Avengers, which -- "

"Is the Ultimates in their universe, I remember that part."

"Yes. Of which you, at the moment, are the leader. It's a kinder, gentler world, that one. And you," he said, wrapping gauze around Steve's knuckles and taping it down, "happen to be in a relationship with the me of the other world."

"Not possible."

"Excessively, exquisitely possible. Trust me, I know," Tony replied. He let Steve's hand go and sat back on his heels, collecting up the wrappers and packing the tape back into the kit. "You seemed happy. Happier. Not so lonely. Granted, in that timeline you'd been around longer."

"I had a girl," Steve said. "In the war. Gail. And then after I...when I woke up here, I had Janet. I loved them, I really did."

"I completely believe you."

"I'm not queer."

"Darling, if you're attracted to me, you're at least a little queer," Tony said with a smile, looking up at him. Steve turned and glared. "You don't want to take it any further. I get it. But it's the twenty-first century, and sexuality is a fluid concept. If you can't accept that, you really are going to be stuck in a past you can't physically get back to, no matter how hard you try."

Steve looked down at his bandaged hand, flexing the fingers. "Sorry about the wall. Shoving you into it, I mean."

"My head will heal, and so will my pride."

"I can't afford to show weakness."

"If you did, what exactly is going to happen?"

Steve looked at him blankly.

"Say the whole world finds out that Steve Rogers has a secret hangup for another man. Who's going to go toe to toe with you about it? And if they do, you think they'll survive?"

"Nobody needs to. I knew guys in the service who...well. Whether it was true or not, once the word got out -- laughter in the mess, whispers in camp. It's a lot more insidious than someone calling me a queen to my face."

"You know what we've been through as a team. There's been plenty of shit slung your way," Tony said bluntly. "You're just scared this time because it's about your dick and not your politics."

"I'm not scared," Steve retorted.

"Right, you can't show any weakness," Tony answered, rising to his feet. "If you're not into me, that's one thing. I'm not carrying some secret torch that means I'm going to off myself because I couldn't bag Captain America. But if you are into me and you're just not willing to own up to the fact that if you tried cock you might like it, then that's plain cowardice, Cap."

"I'm not a coward!"

"Like you're not queer?" Tony asked icily, and turned to go.

It would have been such a good exit if Steve hadn't shot out of his chair, grabbed Tony's shoulder, and pulled him around.

"What the hell makes you so special?" Steve demanded.

"The fact that I don't let society dictate who I fuck," Tony shot back.

"That's not what I mean, Tony!"

"Well, what do you mean? Because if you want to stay in the closet, be my gues -- "

He broke off sharply because Steve had knotted his fingers in his shirt again, but the shove never came; instead Steve tugged their bodies together and kissed him roughly, tongue forcing his mouth open, one hand gripping his hair painfully tight to keep his head tilted back. It was harsh and mean and Tony moaned, leaning into it.

This time when Steve released him it was to bury his face in Tony's neck, his whole body shuddering.

"Why did it have to be you?" he asked, and Tony wrapped his arms around his shoulders, one hand settling on his head. "I don't want this, I don't want to -- "

"Easy," Tony soothed, petting his hair. Steve was shaking.

"I thought the Serum would fix me," Steve mumbled.

"Which is a perfectly valid hope to have when you're a bisexual in the forties, a horrible time to be a bisexual," Tony replied. "But here in two thousand and twelve we prefer to think that you didn't actually need fixing, my dear."

"It's a sin."

"Spare me your simple faith, soldier. You really think God gives a damn where you put your penis? Trust me, if you're going to be kicked out of heaven for enjoying sex, you don't want to hang out in that loser party anyway."

Steve laughed a little, and his body slumped into Tony's further, heavy against his chest.

"I'm supposed to stand for the people," he said.

"News for you, Captain: a significant percentage of 'the people' are much gayer than you. And those are some of 'the people' who are getting screwed and could actually use a big strong superhero to stand for them." Steve leaned back, and Tony smiled up at him. "But I'm not asking you to be grand marshal of a pride parade, Cap. I'm not even asking you to be public. Sit down."

Steve gave him a surly look, but he sat, and Tony sat down on the floor, back to the chair, shoulders against his thigh. Easier to say this kind of thing when he wasn't looking at him.

"When I met myself in the other world, he said eventually he just...stopped wanting a quick night with a stranger -- I'm censoring myself on your account, be grateful -- and started wanting someone to wake up to in the morning. And I thought...I've never felt that way about a single soul. Not even Natasha. I could picture her and me together, for the rest of our lives, but it wasn't like that. But you. I could want to wake up next to you. I could want that. Even if it was secret, even if it didn't last. Dear man," he added, and felt a hand come to rest on his head, fingers sifting through his hair.

"I've tried so hard," Steve said quietly. "Not to want. To be good. To keep people from seeing. To be what everyone wants me to be."

"Not everyone," Tony said drily. "Besides. What about what you want to be?"

"I gave that up when I picked up the shield."

"Even soldiers get shore leave."

"That's sailors, you idiot."

Tony tilted his head back and smiled at him. "Now that's my Steve."

Steve was staring off into space, jaw tense. "I need to think about this."

"Think all you want, but you won't come to any different conclusion. Something must give; either you crack your precious morals, or you deny what you want. Again." Tony got to his feet and bent over, cupping Steve's face and kissing it. This time, for the first time, it was sweet; just a kiss, no anger behind it. "Take your time, darling. I'm not going anywhere. Well, we all may die tomorrow, but aside from that."


Selling It

Written for a "pretending to be married" prompt by cathalins.

Once upon a time some aliens came to earth who actually did not want to kill all earthlings. They were nice, but they insisted on speaking to the Warrior Representatives of Earth, which meant the Avengers. And they insisted that anyone who was not married was not a full adult capable of negotiating with them.

And since all they wanted was like eight tons of TastyKakes, and they were willing to offer some really neat tech in return, Tony seized the moment.

"But we're married!" he said, and planted a wet one right on Steve's face. And while Steve was startled into total paralysis, Tony managed to slip his dog tags off and then Tony kind of went to town on him, all hands and nuzzling to hide what he was doing with the tags, so that when he turned around to face the aliens he said, "See? Why else am I wearing these?"

And the aliens had to admit he was wearing his husband's name around his neck which was a pretty good indication of marriage.

Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were not perhaps the ideal diplomatic envoy to visit an alien ship and negotiate a TastyKake treaty, but what could they do? Aside from glare. Which Fury did. A lot.

"Couldn't we just have sent Hill?" Steve asked.

"Hill's married?" Tony demanded, as they walked through the halls of the alien ship.

"Sure. Her wife's awfully nice. She always sends an extra cookie for me when she packs Hill's lunch."

"Given the way you reacted to my tongue in your mouth I did not expect this tolerant view of gay marriage."

"Marriage is marriage," Steve said with a shrug. "I got no problems with two women. Or two men. My problem was with your specific tongue in my specific mouth. And even then if you'd given me some warning I'd've sold it better."

"Well, sell it now, sweet-ass, because you and I are married for as long as it takes me to weasel all the tech I can carry out of these guys."

Steve put a hand on his chest to stop him, and in full view of a veritable platoon of aliens, tipped Tony's chin up, gazed into his eyes, and kissed him gently.

"Selling it enough for you?" he asked, when Tony stared at him dazedly.

"Man, you must have sold a lot of bonds," Tony said, and Steve chucked him under the chin and continued on his way.


Your Argument Is Invalid

Written for capt_spork, who wanted science-bro kidfic.

The battle was totally ordinary for the Avengers. They killed some aliens and did some property damage, your usual run of the mill defeat of evildoers everywhere.

Except that then Hulk showed up with a baby.

It was in a car seat and seemed perfectly fine but Hulk wouldn't give up that kid. Not when Steve tried coaxing him closer or when Tony punched him on the arm and demanded the child and even Natasha couldn't sneak up on Hulk, he just picked her up by the waist and gently set her aside.

So when Bruce finally put in an appearance, he woke up and he had this baby sitting on his chest. His face was priceless; he clearly thought it was some kind of prank. Here is a baby sitting on Bruce. Your argument is invalid.

Emergency services was dealing with actual injured people, and Clint got really upset when Tony suggested child services. So they took the kid back to Stark Tower and JARVIS put out this reverse Amber Alert: HEY, WE HAVE YOUR KID, PLEASE COME GET HIM.

But nobody showed up.

Steve was handling the debrief and Natasha was all fuck no, I'm not taking care of a baby, do I look like a mama to you? And Clint wouldn't go near it. And Thor, well, Thor has strength issues.

"What do you feed things that tiny?" Tony asked, when they'd resigned themselves to hanging out in Bruce's lab with a kid for the foreseeable future. Bruce, delighted if worried, was playing grab-hands with the baby, where he would poke it and it would grab his finger and they would both make stupid faces. "Do they eat bugs or what?"

"You are a sociopath," Bruce told him.

"Do you know the last time I interacted with an infant? The last time is never," Tony said, and Bruce up and DROPPED THE BABY INTO HIS ARMS and Tony freaked out and went very still.

Which was when JARVIS cleared his throat and said, "I believe I have located the child's parents, sir. They are, unfortunately, currently en route to the morgue."

"Wait," Tommy Banner-Stark said, fifteen years later. "You just put me under the care of someone who thinks babies eat bugs?"

"Seemed like the best way to teach him," Dad-B replied, pressing a kiss to Dad-T's cheek.

"Being fair, I never actually fed you any bugs," Dad-T said.



Contagion

Written to a prompt by chaiselounger asking for Avengers sickfic where Bruce is sick, Pepper is out of town, and Tony does his best.

Tony took one look at Bruce, dragging himself into the lab -- nose red, eyes a little glassy, hair in more disarray than usual -- and said, "JARVIS, where's Captain Rogers?"

"Hello to you too," Bruce said. Well, really, he said "Nello do yuu doo" but Tony got the gist.

"Captain Rogers is currently in Philadelphia -- "

"Fuck, the history conference at UPenn, right. Well, where's Pepper?" Tony asked, pulling a surgical facemask on.

"She's currently in her office -- "

"Great!"

"In Malibu. Anticipating your request, Thor is not currently on earth, and Agents Romanoff and Barton are in Paris."

"Why are you doig a roll call?" Bruce asked, sniffling.

"I'm trying to find someone to deal with the walking infectious disease you've turned into," Tony said, snapping on some gloves. "You're sick."

"Brobably."

"You should be in bed. With...soup and stuff."

"Bed's borig," Bruce said. "I cad be zick in dhe lab."

"That's ridiculous, and also you'll spread contagion," Tony replied.

"That mask mages you loog ridigulous," Bruce pointed out, shivering.

"I'm susceptible to infection." Tony put his hands on his hips.

"Seed your bloodworg. No you are'd."

"JARVIS, is there nobody else around who can escort Dr. Banner to his bed and keep him there?" Tony asked.

"Apparently not, sir," JARVIS replied.

Tony looked at Bruce. "Well, you're stuck with me."

"Id would seeb so," Bruce answered. He gave Tony a hopeful look.

"You're fucked," Tony informed him.

But he bundled Bruce into bed over his protests and after careful thought ordered a shit-ton of hot soup from somewhere (it was safer than trying to make some, he wasn't a god-damned chemist) and when he walked into Bruce's bedroom with the soup and some ginger ale (JARVIS recommended it) Bruce looked up at him miserably and said, "Dis is so borig."

"Yes, which is why I'm trying to avoid catching it," Tony said, offering the soup at arm's length. Bruce pushed himself up, shivering, and breathed in the steam.

He did look awful. And lonely. And helpless.

Tony sighed.

"JARVIS, cue up the entire first season of Mystery Science Theater," he said. "Play when ready."

He climbed onto the bed, a careful distance away from Bruce, and settled in. He'd have to decontaminate himself as soon as he left, but he probably wouldn't catch it from here.

Bruce sipped the soup quietly.

Tony took off the gloves.

Bruce sniffled, then coughed. And shivered, despite the soup in his hands.

Tony, with a resigned sigh, scooted over and pulled Bruce up against him. Bruce gave a contented little snuffle and rested his germy, flu-ridden head on Tony's shoulder.

"You are a nightmare," Tony told him. "You're a plague-monster."

"Mmhm," Bruce mumbled, and Tony took his soup away from him before it spilled.

"I don't know why I put up with you. You're a freeloading germ factory."

"Mkay," Bruce agreed, and fell asleep, breathing contagion all over Tony's chest.

Tony groaned and pulled the mask off -- probably pointless now anyway -- and said, "JARVIS, monitor his fever, please."


Phillip Coulson Once Walked Into Mordor

Ladyyueh asked me to tell her about "that one time that Pepper, Coulson, and Hill got drunk and became international sensations."

Really, they were already international sensations by the time they got drunk.

Well, Coulson and Pepper were. Hill got roped into the madness because she literally cannot say no to Pepper. It's Pepper's superpower.

Pepper, of course, was famous because she was the CEO of Stark Industries and also smokin' hot and dating Tony Stark. She preferred to think it was mostly that she was the CEO. Tony agreed with her because see: Pepper's superpower.

And poor Coulson, bless his publicity-hating heart. When he came back from being secretly-not-dead and took over as official Avengers handler...he became a meme. There are pictures of him all over the internet with captions like I CAN KILL YOU WITH MY NECKTIE and RUNS WITH THE AVENGERS...DRESSES BETTER THAN ANY OF THEM. Tony had the best ones up on the Avengers communal fridge.

So Pepper said "Maria, I'm kidnapping Phil for drinks, come help me," and Hill said, "Yes ma'am," and the three of them went to this really trendy bar Pepper liked. Coulson tried to remain inconspicuous, but the next morning the official LOLSUIT tumblr had a picture of him in a booth, with Pepper on one side and Maria on the other, captioned THE MAN YOUR MAN COULD DRINK LIKE and PHILLIP COULSON CHALLENGES THE WORLD'S MOST INTERESTING MAN TO A DUEL and EAT THAT TONY STARK.

And then there was a two-day discussion of who the hottie with Agent Meme and Pepper Potts was, and Maria couldn't do her own grocery shopping for three months without someone asking if they could take a picture with her.


Mighty Bygul, Scourge Of The Helicarrier

Bardofchaos suggested that Fury should have a kitten.

It's not well known that Fury has a soft spot for cats -- in fact, only Coulson knows it -- but Fury is the Director of SHIELD, are you gonna tell him he can't have a kitten?

Steve was the one who found the kitten originally. Being Steve, he just picked it up while battling a killer robot and shoved it into one of the pockets on his belt. Which could have gone very badly for the kitten if the fight hadn't been mostly over by then.

Once Evil was Defeated, they all loaded up into one of the Helicarrier's hoverjets to head back to the carrier for showers, debrief, and food.

And Steve's belt said, "Mew."

And everyone looked at Steve. Who, with the utmost of embarrassment, unsnapped the pocket and pulled out a tiny Siamese kitten.

"Do those come standard with the utility belt?" Tony asked. "You find cats particularly compelling as weapons against the Nazis?"

"Give it to me," Thor ordered. Steve looked at him suspiciously. "I demand it!"

The kitten let Thor pet it for approximately ten seconds before viciously attacking his thumb.

"Excellent," Thor said, watching the kitten hiss and bite. "We shall call him Bygul, after the cat which pulls my mother's chariot."

"Give him back to Steve, he's not a draft horse," Tony ordered, and Thor reluctantly gave up the kitten.

"What the hell do you have in your hands?" Fury asked, when they walked into the debriefing room.

"MIGHTY BYGUL," Thor boomed.

The kitten said, "Mew."

"Battle refugee," Steve said firmly, and set his gloves on the table, placing Bygul in the middle of them where it curled up and promptly went to sleep.

But Steve got distracted by the debrief, and didn't notice when Bygul woke up and stretched and began prowling up towards the head of the table, where Fury was standing. He didn't notice, but everyone else in the room, from the Avengers to the SHIELD clerks to Coulson, watched, totally engrossed, as Bygul snuck stealthily up to Fury and crouched, butt wiggling.

With a brave leap, he landed on Fury's coat and proceeded to climb up it, leaving little pinprick holes in the leather. Tony was waiting for Fury to lose his shit and just eat the kitten right there in front of them; Clint was red with suppressed laughter, and Thor looked delighted.

Bygul reached Fury's shoulder, perched there calmly, and began rubbing his head against Fury's ear. Fury kept talking and, without missing a beat, reached up to scratch Bygul under his chin.

Nobody said a single word when Fury walked out with the cat still perched on his shoulder. Coulson just sighed and put in an order with the quartermaster for kitten kibble and a litterbox.

Not even the World Security Council was willing to discuss the fact that Fury now made his reports to them from his office with a tiny Siamese kitten prowling around the shelves in the background. Probably they all assumed they were hallucinating.

But you know what, the Helicarrier no longer has a mouse problem.


The Five Steves

Written somewhat because of a random prompt (you can find the original, including notes on where the five Steves come from, here) about multiple Steve Rogerses encountering one another.

"I genuinely can't believe what I'm seeing," Tony said, staring through the observation glass at an entire room of Steve Rogers.

"Reed," his own Steve said grimly.

"Yeah, I know that part. I just..." Tony gestured at the four men on the other side of the glass. They'd had to separate out #5 and put him in special holding; he was declaring that they were imprisoning the President of the United States and he'd gotten aggressive with the one Tony kept calling Little Steve. They'd tried to make the others as comfortable as possible until they could get them home.

"If five of me showed up in my reality the headline the next morning would read Tony Stark Has Orgy With Self," Tony continued.

"How exactly would the newspapers find out about that?" Steve asked.

"Oh, I'd shout it from the rooftops. No shame, baby."

Steve turned back to the glass, pensive. Theoretically, since he didn't remember this happening once, let alone five times, these other men weren't from his own timeline but from various points along it in alternate universes. President Captain America, who was either insane or far more upwardly mobile than the others, sort of proved it.

"Is that really you?" Tony asked, pointing at Little Steve.

"Pre-Serum," Steve replied. Little Steve appeared to have recovered from his attempt to take on the really aggressive one and was happily playing cards, an ice pack strapped over one eye, with the one in Steve's war uniform. As they watched, a heated debate broke out over one of the bets.

"I will fight you," Little Steve threatened, slamming his hands on the table.

"Heck, relax," the other one said. "I'm not gonna argue with you, save it up for when you're me."

"Just so we're clear," Little Steve replied threateningly.

"Man, you are like three feet tall, what are you possibly going to do against yourself?" Tony asked.

"Get the crap beat out of me. Wouldn't be the first time," his Steve replied. "Well. First time I'd be on both ends of the fight, I guess."

He was more concerned with the other two, sitting together on a cot in the corner. The third Steve to come through had been unnervingly quiet, almost resigned, and immediately gone to the corner and curled up alone, ignoring the rest. Steve was pretty familiar with the misery of being displaced, but there was a weird sadness about that one even he couldn't fully figure. All they'd been able to get out of him was that he came from 1972, and he hated being Captain America with every inch of his being.

The fourth Steve was sitting with him, one arm around his shoulders, trying to convince him to join the card game and murmuring soothingly. Listen, this isn't going to last forever. Look at me. It's 1984 and I'm happy. Honest. You're gonna get a good job and meet a great gal. I remember, but I promise it'll get better.

They were startled out of their silence by a banging on the other side of the room, where President Captain Picks On Little Guys was being held.

"HEY! LET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!"

Tony leaned over and tapped the intercom switch. "Can it, crazypants, nobody's letting you go anywhere until you calm down."

"That little twig needed to man the hell up!"

"Is it possible he's a supervillain?" Tony asked Steve.

"Hey, you want to pick on someone, pick on someone your own size," Steve said over the intercom.

"You want to take me on? Bring it! I am the President of the United States!"

"I have an idea," Steve said, unlocking the door to the cell holding the others. "Hey, 1972?"

The really, really depressed Steve looked up at him.

"Do me a favor?" Steve asked.

"Don't suppose I can refuse," 1972 replied, standing up. Little Steve stood up too, stepping in front of him before he could reach the door.

"What do you want with him?" he asked Steve.

"Just need some help calming down the President," Steve said. "I'll bring him back in one piece."

"You'd better," Little Steve replied, pointing a finger at him, but he let 1972 pass.

"I'd just like you to have a few words with the President," Steve said, leading 1972 gently to the other room. "If he takes a swing, feel free to fight him."

"All I do is fight," 1972 sighed.

"You know, I am fairly certain I have some Zoloft around here," Tony offered. Steve glared at him. "Okay, keeping out of the Steve-on-Steve violence."

"Just talk to him. I'm sure you're the man for the job," Steve said, patting 1972 on the shoulder. He opened the door to the President's room, shoved 1972 into it, and shut it quickly. He stepped back, crossing his arms, and watched.

"What, did he send you in to fight me?" President Cap demanded, getting up in 1972's face.

"I think I was bringing the others down," 1972 replied. "I do that to everyone, sooner or later. They all leave, you know."

Tony watched, awe-inspired, as the aggression drained out of President Cap's stance. Another five minutes, and the two men were sitting on the floor together, talking quietly, faces unbearably depressed.

"Man, you are like Captain Downer," he said finally.

"Well, clearly my life's been peaches and cream," Steve replied, just as a crash came from the other room. "What the -- "

Little Steve was sitting on 1984's chest, arms swinging wildly; 1984 was laughing, one hand on Little Steve's forehead, holding him back. WWII Steve was watching, amused. As Steve looked on in horror, WWII hit the intercom switch.

"Hey, do either of you gentlemen have a smoke?" he asked.

"Sorry, Captain, this is a no-smoking alternate universe," Tony replied. "Hey, short pockets, get off the big guy."

Little Steve looked up, fire in his eyes.

"Oh man, Reed better fix this soon, I think the tiny you is gunning for me," Tony said.


Work Smart Not Hard

The prompt was originally by ninjapenguin713 but I strayed so far from it I'm not sure it's even relevant.

The Captain once asked him, "Why did you even come to France, Mr. Stark?"

And Tony replied, "America got boring."

Paris is never boring. Even now, with his hardest-drinking days behind him, the black sheep expat of Les Vengeurs can always find a gambling table, some dancing girls, or just the bright swirl of nightclub life to distract him. And tonight he has fine distraction indeed.

There is a new courtesan at this particular club, a club meant for men who enjoy the company of other men, some of whom simply enjoy the scandal and danger. And it's been a long week, with the odd god Loki attacking Paris once more, third time this year, and Tony has decided not only that he deserves a little fun, but that he must formulate a different strategy for this threat.

So he watches a dark head of hair and a fine-boned face and a tall, slim body move among the men in the nightclub, and he smiles, and he steps out in front of this newest shining gem -- the one they call l'Anglaise -- and says, "How much?"

In the curtained booth, decorated in the Japonaise style -- all paper panels and enameled boxes -- l'Anglaise says, "You're a brute, aren't you, American?"

"Just like to know what I'm getting," Tony says, drifting a hand down his already-bare back before gripping his waist, pulling him back against him. When l'Anglaise turns in his arms, Tony sees the barest flare in his green eyes.

Yes, this is Loki. Barely even disguised. Loki's cool skin under his fingers as the other man kneels, Loki's mobile mouth around him as he sucks, and Loki's throat Tony grasps when he's done.

"Do you really suppose you can murder a god?" Loki asks, smiling up at him. "And murdering a prostitute, Soldat-de-Fer, that's just crass."

"Oh, I'm not planning to kill you," Tony replies. "How would you like to be my kept man?"

"Excuse me?"

"No more battles. No more defeats. No more humiliation, even. Come with me," Tony whispers, pulling him up to speak into his ear, "and I'll make you the richest courtesan in Paris. I'll dress you in silk and emeralds. You won't have to rule the world -- you'll rule me, and I'll make you king of this debauchery of a city."

He watches Loki consider it.

"All the luxuries of rule, without any of the responsibility. And then...there's me," Tony says. He squeezes Loki's throat gently. "I prefer a quiet life, really. I'm tired of fighting you. I'd like to buy you. Own you. Wouldn't you like that?"

Loki swallows.

"Think about it," Tony says, offering him his calling card. "You know where to find me, when you have an answer."


The Redheads

Elucreh asked for historical Natasha/Pepper and I replied "I hope you weren't banking on anything other than Prohibition-era Jazz Glam because oh my god."

Tony is mostly irrelevant to the story, though he is the reason Pepper and Natasha meet. Pepper is Tony's amanuensis and when you're the amanuensis of the biggest rum-runner on the eastern seaboard, you get to know some strange and shady people. So she's definitely not overseeing an enormous shipment of alcohol being transferred to trucks in one of Tony's stash-warehouses when she catches sight of a head of red hair in a pageboy bob and realizes that one of their warehouse guys is in fact a warehouse girl.

It's not like Pepper's an innocent but she's never seen a woman in workman's trousers and heavy boots and suspenders before. She's a glamour girl and had lived a sheltered life until she told Daddy to stuff his marriage plans for her and went to work for a gangster for a living.

"Not going to change no matter how long you stare," the woman said, with a lush foreign accent -- she sounded a little like the immigrant Jews down in the garment district -- and Pepper blushed and looked away. "No, is fine," the woman added, grinning at her. "Only saying. Won't sprout a dress."

"But gee, you look awful fine in trousers," Pepper said, and then clapped a hand over her mouth, horrified.

The woman pulled off her gloves and leaned on a barrel of whiskey.

"You work for Stark," she said.

"Yes. Yes, I am his amanuensis," Pepper said primly.

"Is that like moll or like em-ploy-ee?"

"Employee," Pepper replied, smiling a little. "Definitely not moll."

The woman nodded. "Natasha Romanoff," she said, offering her hand.

"Pepper Potts."

"You like these clothes, I get you some."

"Oh, no, I have to...I couldn't wear that."

"No, not for work. But you come around tomorrow night, I get you some. Meet me here. Get you some clothes, dress up nice, go out. I know a place."

Pepper gave her a faint look. "Maybe," she said.

Natasha smiled knowingly.

Which is the start of how Pepper leads two different lives: one where she's Tony's glamorous dolled-up amanuensis by day, and one at night when Natasha loans her some trousers and they go out dancing at the extremely discreet speakeasies Natasha knows. It's really good for business actually, because she can make contacts and offer to supply the bars, and then Natasha pulls her away from the bartender and kisses her and they go home to Pepper's luxury flat and drink champagne together.

And that's how eventually Pepper Potts, Glamour Girl and Natasha Romanoff, refugee from the Russian Revolution, became the two most powerful women of the Jazz Age.


POWERS

Powers is an awesome if profane comic, and it has the tiniest fandom, it only has like three fanfics. Four, now, I guess.

What's-Her-Ass

So they saved the world, again.

Well, not strictly speaking they. Christian was careful to keep those lines in place. They, being him and Deena and Enki and a couple dozen of Chicago's finest, sat on their thumbs while a bunch of Powers saved the world.

But the point was, hooray, world saved.

And then they had beer.

"How's whats-her-ass?" Deena asked, as she put the beer down in front of him. The bar was pretty empty; nearly everyone was doing damage control or asleep. They had been doing damage control too, but a new shift came on and everyone else had to fuck off, union rules or some damn thing. He was too wired to sleep, and Deena, fuck knew if she ever slept. Maybe she had government-grade speed, now that she was a Fed. If so, she could do a fellow cop a solid and share.

"Who?" he asked wearily.

"What's-her-ass. The inappropriately young college student you are doinking."

Christian ran a hand over his face. "Deena, if I only slept with appropriately old women -- "

" -- you'd be fucking my gramma?"

"It's possible I did."

"Ew."

At least it shut her up. For maybe thirty seconds.

"So what's the deal?" she asked finally.

"With what's-her-ass?"

"Yeah. Are you no longer doinking?"

"Stop saying doinking."

"You break up?"

"I thought you said you were watching us," Christian said. "Isn't that what you said to Enki?"

"Well, I meant I was watching her," Deena admitted. "It's not creepy, it's my job."

"It's not your job."

"It was. These federales locos, you have no idea. The whole Bureau's fucking insane in ways you can't imagine."

"Pretty sure I can," Christian replied. "So you haven't been watching me?"

"Enki's a full-time job."

"Yeah she is," Christian agreed.

"Don't distract me, are you doinking the inappropriate college student or aren't you?"

"No. She left."

"What did you do?" Deena asked, leaning in with glee in her eyes.

"I didn't do anything!"

"You must have done something."

"I asked her to marry me! Fuck, no, she asked me to marry her." He rubbed his eyes with one hand. "We're lying in bed and she asks me to marry her."

"Did you want to?"

"Of course I wanted to! I went out and did things right, I got flowers and a ring and she was thrilled, she looked thrilled." He studied the wood grain of the table. "And I come home a day later and she's gone."

"Just like that?"

"Well, she left a note."

Deena whistled low. "Fuck."

"Better than no note," he said, glancing up at her.

"Oh no. No, we're not going to play the Dump on Deena game. I wasn't doinking you when I ditched out." She studied her beer. "Fuck, though. For real."

"Yeah."

"I mean, harsh."

"Yeah."

"You know where she is?" Deena asked.

"Why, are you going to go curb-stomp her in my honor?" Christian asked. "No, I have no idea where she is, because I'm not That Guy."

"What guy?"

"The cop who stalks his exes. No, I wish her a long and happy fucking life. Without me," he sighed.

Because he did. Because he loved her. Because he was a moron.

"So you didn't like, go looking for her?" Deena said.

"No."

"What did you do?"

"Called my therapist."

"For real?"

"Deena, do I seem like the kind of man who has a therapist?" he asked. "I went and got shitfaced."

"You did not."

"Yeah. At Johnny Royalle's old place."

"Holy crap, I am sincerely sorry I missed that," she said.

"I wasn't that entertaining."

"Holy crap."

"I did run into Cheshire."

"That bitch!" Deena yelled. "How is she out?"

"I asked. She got bounced before she could tell me."

"Bitch!"

"Deena," Christian sighed again.

"Then what? Did you get in a bar fight? Did you trash the place? Fuck, why wasn't I here for this!"

"No, I told you, I got hammered. The bouncer called Enki to come get me."

"And did she?"

"I don't know if you've noticed, but I am both of you put together with enough room left over for a large pizza. Apparently she tried. We ended up crashing on the floor of the bar."

"Then what?"

"What what?" he asked.

"What happened?"

"I woke up and went home, had a shower, pulled together the scraps of my manhood and got on with the job, what do you want from me?"

Deena gave him a skeptical look. "Just like that, you're over what's-her-ass?"

"No, but sitting around crying never did anyone any good." He sipped his beer. Deena studied him. "Not the first time I've been dumped, Agent Pilgrim."

"Special Agent Pilgrim." She grinned at him. "So you're over her?"

"I'm getting there."

"You're not over her."

"I'm this close," he said, holding up a thumb and forefinger.

"Because I'd really like to have post-averted-apocalypse sex in the next half an hour."

Christian choked on his beer.

"And I have been like, should I jump his bones? For -- " she rolled her eyes up to the ceiling, counting, " -- okay, forever. For forever."

"There's something deeply wrong with you."

"I know, right? But come on, I was a total professional. I did no bone jumping."

"You wore those belly shirts."

"I did that before I knew you."

"I think it counts," he said, sipping his beer.

"You are a pig."

"Who's spent an inordinate amount of time looking at your navel."

"Aww, you peeked?" she grinned. "Seriously, did you ever think about it?"

"Of course I thought about it, have you seen you? But we were partners."

"Yeah, we were partners."

"We were," Christian echoed.

"Yes. And now we're not, and okay, seriously, have you ever made it with a federal agent?"

"Yes."

"You are such a shithead. A horndog pig shithead."

Christian finished his beer and set it aside, sliding off his stool.

"Are you walking the fuck away from me?" she asked. "I just made a pass at you, shithead!"

"Are you coming or what?" he called back over his shoulder.

SUITS

Oh Suits. My poor red-headed stepchild of a fandom.

Corporate Card

I wanted to write a sickfic in Suits where Jessica INSISTED on Mike looking after Harvey.

Harvey's throat was working as if he were trying to swallow something distasteful.

Mike watched in fascination, because Harvey's face betrayed nothing -- he was smiling and nodding along with a client, occasionally stopping to speak, but from where Mike sat to one side he could see the slight bob of Harvey's Adam's apple, the muscles that tensed and relaxed in his throat and jaw.

Harvey glanced at him, turned back to the client, and took a sip from his Starbucks cup, throat relaxing.

The Starbucks cup, which had tea in it. That had been a discussion in itself.

"Tea?" Mike had asked, standing behind Harvey in line at the counter.

"What?" Harvey replied, irritated.

"You just paid like three bucks for hot water and a ten cent tea bag. Who buys tea at Starbucks?"

"Listen, when and if you're lucky enough to make Senior Partner, you can buy whatever you want at Starbucks," Harvey answered.

"I can do that now," Mike pointed out. "I just don't see why -- "

"He'll have the house roast, black," Harvey told the barista, and left Mike to pay for them both.

Mike understood, now, why Harvey had done it; he was paying for the cup, not the tea, because to all outside appearances Harvey was just a very charming lawyer having a coffee with his client. Mike had to give him credit: Harvey was a master of misdirection.

He was also coming down with something that looked relatively severe and was definitely respiratory, Mike thought. Donna had noticed first, probably before Harvey; she'd emailed Mike a demand to keep an eye on him and ply him with liquids. Mike wasn't sure what kind of magic Donna thought he was capable of, but he'd done his best. By the previous evening, after the second coughing fit in his office, it was obvious even to Mike that Harvey was sick.

Mike watched Harvey's throat clench again, holding down a cough.

They were this close to accomplishing a merger that Harvey had been gentling along for months, involving three different family businesses, one buyout, numerous cousins, brothers, mothers-in-law, and at one point a custody battle over a particularly useful piece of industrial equipment. The papers were supposed to be signed today, and Mike knew Harvey would never have let anyone else handle it, sick or not.

"Is he seriously going to go in there running a temperature and close these people?" Mike had asked Donna, earlier that day.

"Have you met Harvey Specter?" she asked scornfully. "If his arms fell off he'd go in there and fake his way through it."

Mike snorted at the mental image. "Maybe it's not as bad as it looks."

Donna had glanced through the glass wall behind her. Harvey was in his chair, ostensibly looking at his computer screen, but his eyes were closed and his hand was lax on the mouse.

"Yeah, okay," Mike agreed. "But he can take some time off once the deal closes, right?"

"Because Harvey's not a workaholic," Donna agreed. Then she got a speculative look on her face. "On the other hand...let me make a few calls."

Mike cast a worried glance through the glass at Harvey, and left her to her machinations.

Now, looking at Harvey, he could see a bead of sweat rolling down the back of his neck.

"Tell you what, let's do this," Harvey was saying, in a voice lower than usual but not yet hoarse. "I need to check in with my assistant. We'll take a break, you can read over the paperwork, and I'll be back in ten minutes with Donna to notarize the signing. Mike here can get you drinks," he added brightly.

"Just water for me," said the incredibly hot woman whose company was buying out her cousin's.

"Coffee," said the cousin.

"Water -- actually, a few glasses and a pitcher?" said their grandmother.

"Coming right up," Mike said, fake-cheerful, and followed Harvey out. Harvey made a sharp turn just before the kitchen, and Mike leaned against the wall, listening through the door of the men's room. Harvey's cough sounded nasty, sharp and dry, and it went on for a long time. He left before it ended, fetching a pitcher of water and glasses from the kitchen, along with the cup of coffee.

Harvey didn't look any worse when he came back into the conference room, Donna following behind with her Notary book and stamp. Mike noticed his eyes were red around the edges. Donna gave Mike a significant look he couldn't interpret.

"Okay," Harvey announced, grinning. "Let's get this thing signed, huh?"

Mike knew he should be cooler about this, but he couldn't help watching as each person signed in turn, eyes following the pen, tense and hopeful that this deal was finally in the bag. When it was done and Donna had witnessed it, Harvey lingered to make small chat, as this kind of thing more or less required. Mike slipped out behind Donna, hoping to catch her, but as he was heading in her direction Jessica Pearson appeared out of nowhere (how did she do that?) and stepped forward, forcing Mike back against the wall with her sheer presence.

"Ms. Pearson," he said, wondering what the hell was going on.

"Mike," she said, with a faux-pleasant smile. "Did everyone sign?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Good. I have a job for you."

"Uh?" Mike answered, intelligently. She held up a credit card.

"This is Harvey's corporate card."

"Shouldn't, um, Harvey have that?"

"Donna brought it to me." Ms. Pearson pressed it into Mike's hand. "You're Harvey's associate, so he's now your responsibility."

"I think it's the other way -- "

"He's sick, and Harvey hates to admit weakness, and he doesn't take days off. I don't want the face of Pearson Hardman to have a runny nose. You understand?"

Mike looked down at the card. "You want me to...buy him some kleenex?"

"I want you to take him home and keep him there until he's no longer a walking germ factory. I don't care how you do it," she added. "Don't let him come into work until he's well, and don't let him give you any crap. From now until then, you are with him 24/7. Am I clear?"

"Crystal," Mike said, aiming for calm but probably landing closer to subservient terror.

"Good. Harvey," Jessica said, turning smoothly as Harvey left the conference room. "Everything tied up?"

"Just like you asked," Harvey said, but his smile looked tired. "Mike, show Mr. -- "

"Mmm, no, I'll take them," Jessica said, as the families behind Harvey began to emerge. "The personal touch. Mr. Ross," she added, with a nod.

"Ms. Pearson," Mike replied. Harvey narrowed his eyes at Mike as Jessica led their clients away.

"What was that all about?" he asked.

"Search me," Mike said innocently. "So what now? Lunch? Early day?"

"Don't you have work you should be doing?" Harvey called, already stalking down the corridor, and then started to cough. Mike followed, warily, stopping at Donna's desk to watch as Harvey walked into his office, took a slug of tea, and dropped exhaustedly into his chair.

"You have to help me," Mike said.

"Aw, puppy," Donna answered.

"Jessica Pearson told me to take him home. I don't think he's going willingly," Mike said.

Donna sighed.

"Come on, he fears you."

"He loves me. But I see your point," she replied, standing. Mike followed her into the office.

"Harvey," she said.

"I'm sure I told Mike he had work to do," Harvey answered, not looking up from a folder he was peering tiredly at.

"Yes, he does. He's taking you home."

Harvey did look up then. "No he's not."

"You're sick, Harvey, and you're spreading contagion."

"I'm fine," Harvey said, and then sniffled.

"Yes, of course you are."

"Donna, I'm fine."

Donna crossed her arms. Mike knew from experience that the next step after this would be a toe-tap, and after that, complete annihilation.

Harvey knew it too. He looked down at his file, closed it, and heaved himself out of the chair.

"I'll be in tomorrow," he said.

"I'll clear your calendar. Ray's waiting for you downstairs."

"I'm indulging you, because you have access to my bank accounts," Harvey announced. "And not because I'm sick."

"You tell yourself that, slugger," Donna said, and gave Harvey a final push out the door. "Think you can take it from here?" she asked Mike.

"You'll hear about it if I can't," Mike said grimly, and followed Harvey to the elevators.


SHERLOCK

The Irregular

Written to a prompt by peasantwitch, who wanted Sherlock kidfic.

John came home one day to find a child sleeping on their couch.

Hopefully sleeping, anyway. As you do, they'd reached an agreement regarding corpses: Sherlock could bring home bits, but they could not have the entire complement of a human being in their flat, whole or in pieces, at any one time. (Two skulls were allowed, because John had grown fond of the skull on the mantlepiece. Great conversation piece when bringing a date home, and an excellent litmus test of how a woman might react to his flatmate.)

Anyway, he located Sherlock in the kitchen and asked him why there was an unwashed child on their couch, and Sherlock replied that the girl was one of his Irregulars. Which was horrible because that meant she'd been living rough at the very least, and she couldn't be more than twelve.

But apparently Sherlock found her playing lookout for a crew associated with Moriarty -- the lines between good guys and bad guys blurring when you're as hungry as she was -- and decided that this was a problem. The ideal solution was a stable roof over her head and a steady supply of food.

"You can't just take a child off the street and feed it and expect that sooner or later you won't have charges brought against you for kidnapping!" John hissed.

"I don't see why not. Clearly she came of her own free will and can leave anytime."

"What if she has a family?"

"Well, she says they're dead. If she lied to me it's no crime of mine," Sherlock said, which was when the girl woke up and introduced herself as Dodger and proceeded to charm the soul out of John Watson.

Dodger was really quite useful once she'd had a bath and a few square meals. She went out for tea and jam and white mice whenever they ran out, and she made sure John got to all his shifts at the clinic on time. When the school term started up again she made herself scarce for at least six hours a day, which John later discovered was because Mycroft had got her into the most exclusive day-school in London.

It became their routine: one or the other of them was always up in the morning and they'd fix her breakfast (usually John after the Lo Mein Omelette incident) and send her off to school. After school, she'd make tea so John could have a bite when he came home from the clinic. And if they were on a case she was at home to keep an eye on the flat and beat anyone about the head with a cricket bat if they tried to get in.

This went less than optimally when Lestrade showed up and, not knowing who he was the first time, she beat him about the head until he pulled a gun on her. That was an entertaining evening. But Lestrade had to admit the girl had spirit and anyway it wasn't his department if Sherlock had found someone just as insane as himself to raise as a protege. So he just gave her his card and told her when she got tired of living on cold Chinese and giving blood whenever Sherlock needed a test vial, she should look him up and he'd get her into the police academy.

Dodger, quite frankly, adored both John and Sherlock. Once she was old enough that they wouldn't be prosecuted for child endangerment she often went out on cases with them.

Sherlock was livid when Mycroft poached her from him to work for British Intelligence.


Taking The Piss

Written to a prompt asking for Sherlock hurt/comfort by persian-slipper.

Sherlock Holmes is pants at comforting.

Sherlock's not much one for guilt. He doesn't feel bad about John getting hurt, truly he doesn't. It's just that John is so utterly pathetic when he's injured. He won't look after himself properly and that means he takes longer to get well, so clearly someone has to take him in hand because life is 78% more interesting when John is there to provide a suitable audience.

But the thing is that Sherlock is very good at reading what other people want but truly, toweringly bad at reading what other people need, and he's not exactly experienced in caring about people. He fails in every possible way at being reassuring and empathetic. So for the first day or so of John's broken ribs, Sherlock just brings him tea every time he catches sight of him. John likes tea, but getting up to have a piss is hard, so that goes less than well.

Eventually Sherlock does what he does best: RESEARCH.

Enlisting the aid of Mrs. Hudson to explain to him what one does when one's "special friend" (her term, complete with airquotes) is hurting. Which leads to Sherlock arriving home with three bags of tinned soup, a fourth bag full of DVDs, and a determined look on his face.

John admits it's nice, it's just very confusing, when Sherlock puts a DVD in the laptop and plops it on his lap and curls up with him for an entire day watching dreadful science fiction films (because Sherlock didn't know about watching DVDs with people but clearly he knew John's favourite kind).

He even eats every bowl of soup Sherlock brings him, even though the soup is delivered in regular two-hour intervals.


Dinner Party

The never finished and now very Jossed sequel to Lab Book, one of my Sherlock fics.

"Well, I can't fault your methodology," John said.

"Of course you can't," Sherlock replied, slumping idly in his chair, long legs stretched out. "I'm a genius."

"You're a bit of a madman," John added, delicately turning a page in the slim notebook Sherlock had presented him with.

"I've long thought that the supposed thin line between genius and madness is just a matter of organisation," Sherlock observed.

"Hm, you might be onto something there," John said absently. Even Sherlock's charts were drawn with intense precision. It would have been a little worrying, perhaps, but after one got used to running around London and being stared at for hours on end by a self-proclaimed sociopath (rubbish, in John's clinical opinion) these things just sort of slid past.

They'd spent Christmas day in bed -- John's bed, the gargantuan old antique that had come with his room at 221B. John had got up briefly to forage for biscuits and tea, but otherwise they'd mostly slept and shagged. John felt it only fair to make up for lost time; he hadn't had a shag since before Afghanistan. Lord knew when the last time Sherlock had found someone willing to tolerate him long enough to get him naked had been, if ever. Besides, there was all kinds of experimentation to do.

But finally, on Boxing Day, John pried himself out of bed and made breakfast, and ferreted out his gift for Sherlock. The scarf, plain but sturdy, now hung around Sherlock's throat, an odd compliment to his dressing-gown. John was holding Sherlock's gift in his hands: the promised lab book, a thorough study of John Watson's sexual preferences conducted over a six-month period by Sherlock Holmes.

"As gifts go, this is very weird," John continued.

"Symbolically it's really not," Sherlock answered. "It's quite a sign of devotion, you know."

"Yes, I do know. That's what worries me, that I'm not finding this weirder," John said. "So if you hadn't propositioned me on Christmas Eve -- "

"But I did," Sherlock pointed out.

"Yes, but if you hadn't, would you still have given me this?"

"There would have been no point," Sherlock said, looking cross. "And if you'd said no, then we would have been all over awkwardness and you probably wouldn't have expected a gift at any rate. Do keep up, John."

"Being called stupid: still a turn on," John murmured. Sherlock grinned at him. He seemed, for once, at peace with the world. John entertained no delusions that it would last, but for the moment he was simply still: not plucking at his violin, not pacing, not complaining of boredom. Content to slouch in his chair and watch John review his research. Page after page of observations on John's habits, primarily as they pertained to romance -- well, that would be delicate. Sex, really. Pupil dilation, yes, they'd been over that, but also visible pulse rates, behavioural tics, social responses to male and female, friends and strangers. It was hard to refute.

John wondered if he wanted to refute it. He didn't think so; know thyself and all that. He hadn't thought he was the sort of man who would instinctively reject his own sexuality, but he remembered being ten and watching Harry row furiously with their parents the first time they caught her kissing a girl. He'd known he didn't want to be like Harry, didn't want to get into all the terrible shouting matches she got into. He'd always been the quiet child. And he'd been satisfied enough with the many women of his acquaintance, so perhaps it had been easier not to even admit this other half to him even existed. Like it had been in hospital, after he'd been shot -- easier to pretend a limp, even if he didn't know he'd been pretending, than to admit to the occasional tremor, the weakness in his left arm.

"Are you going to tell your therapist?" Sherlock asked, but it wasn't exactly a question except in tone; merely an oblique way of reminding John he knew precisely what was going on inside his head.

"Well, I'm not showing her this," John said, closing the book gently. "She'd have you sectioned."

"She wouldn't be the first to try." Sherlock rose abruptly, walking into the kitchen just as a timer went off.

"Is that the head again?" John called.

"No, it's the timer," Sherlock called back, amusement in his voice. John could hear him checking the head in the fridge. "By the way," he added, voice muffled, "were you serious about going round to Mycroft's for New Years?"

"Mostly not, but I've no objection. Why?" John asked, as Sherlock emerged into the living room, carrying the head. "Eugh, Sherlock! Must you parade it around?"

"I'm only getting some better light," Sherlock admonished, setting the head on the desk and turning the lamp on it. John rubbed his forehead. "Mycroft's sent me an invitation to some dinner affair he's throwing. It's going to be horrific. Care to come along?"

"Wouldn't miss it," John said, wondering if he should pack his sidearm.

***

They didn't discuss it again, however, because on the twenty-seventh, John woke to find Sherlock throwing on clothing like he thought it might disappear if he didn't.

"Murder," Sherlock said, looking delighted. "Coming?"

"Course," John grunted, and a handful of clothing hit him in the face. He sighed, pulled the pants off his shoulder, and began dressing.

"Come on, come on," Sherlock urged. "The body's getting cold."

"Most people complain about their dinner getting cold," John grumbled, but he dressed as fast as he could, still pulling on his shoes even as he followed Sherlock out the door.

When they reached the crime scene, he understood Sherlock's enthusiasm a little better. The dead man was a concierge from a hotel that had recently been the scene of a very public and very scandalous theft. One of the cleaning staff had been suspected, but now the concierge had turned up dead with the infamous Bruise Diamond shoved into his nose. Sherlock had uncovered the stone, small but exquisitely coloured, deep blue with a hint of purple to it. From there it only remained to discover why the diamond was in his nose, track down his killer (this involved a goose farm and a very unlikely encounter with a Christmas tree) and present their findings to Lestrade. Not difficult work, but it kept Sherlock busy and entertained.

"This is madness," John announced on the thirtieth of December. He was hiding behind a skip, Sherlock crouched alongside him, while an enraged goose farmer searched the other end of the alley for them. "It's total insanity."

"I don't know which you like more, what we do or how much you get to complain about it," Sherlock whispered. He sounded excited.

"Oh, it's definitely the complaining," John replied. "Nobody likes a good grumble like I do. I could have grumbled for England when I was in medical school."

Sherlock put a hand over his mouth, then, as the rattling at the other end of the alley stopped. John waited, not breathing any more than Sherlock was, and then the second Sherlock released him they were both running.

By the time they'd stitched everything up with Lestrade, it was early in the morning on the thirty-first. John wanted nothing more than to go home and fall into bed -- preferably with Sherlock, but without him if necessary -- and sleep for the rest of the year.

He almost got his wish, too. John staggered upstairs, shedding clothing like a trail behind him, and crawled under the blankets in his pants. Sherlock was doing something in the living room, apparently too excited yet to sleep, but at some point after John dropped off and before the phone woke him, Sherlock had insinuated himself into the giant bed, right up against John's back as if they were sharing a camp bed.

John fumbled for his phone, sliding away from Sherlock enough to lift an arm and answer when he saw it was a) three in the afternoon and b) Harry calling.

"'lo," he managed, clearing his throat.

"You owe me thirty quid," Harry said. John grunted and sat up.

"There is no way in hell that meal at Christmas cost thirty quid," he replied, outraged.

"I'm adding interest."

"I'm your brother!"

"Which is why I'm giving you such a reasonable rate." Harry did, at least, sound sober. "What are you doing, slugabed on New Year's Eve? You're not napping so you can stay up until midnight, are you? You're such an old man."

"Sherlock and I caught a case," John said, glancing over at Sherlock, who was either faking sleep to eavesdrop or dead to the world. Not that one could really keep secrets from Sherlock, so why bother trying? "Just wrapped it up this morning."

"Is that what they're calling it now?" Harry asked. "I'm told by several reliable judges of male beauty that he's adorable. When are you two getting married?"

John took what he estimated was two seconds too long to work out how to answer that without oversharing or lying.

"Oh my God," Harriet said. "Are you getting married?"

"No! No!" John insisted. "Nobody's getting married!"

"But you are shagging, yeah? I knew you were shagging!"

"We weren't!" John protested.

"Weren't when?" Harry demanded.

"Look, Harry, this is very complicated," John said patiently. He'd given this lecture often to patients, when he'd been in the army; fit young men spending all their time with other fit young men would naturally...indulge, and some of them needed The Talk About Fluid Sexuality. Although, admittedly, The Talk About Sexually Transmitted Diseases had been in much higher demand.

"It's not complicated at all, you're shagging your flatmate," Harry said. Put like that it was infuriatingly simple.

"For all you know I'm having a crisis of sexuality," John retorted.

"Well, are you? Because I have books. Ooer, did Mum and Dad lock you in the closet like they tried to do me?"

"What?"

"Not the real closet," Harry sighed. "The metaphorical heteronormative closet."

"I don't know!" John told her defiantly. "Sherlock seems to think I'm a repressed bisexual."

"Oh well, if Sherlock says so," Harry drawled. John almost told her about the lab book, but that probably wasn't going to give her the right impression. Not that Sherlock was likely to ever give the right impression, but John was big on avoiding self-sabotage when he saw it coming.

"Are you calling me for a reason, Harry?" John asked.

"Well, my reason now is gloating about your new boyfriend and teasing you mercilessly for coming out so late," Harry said.

"I didn't know!" John hissed.

"A likely story."

"Harry..."

"Fine, fine. I was calling to wish you a very happy New Year and tell you that Sherlock -- excuse me, your boyfriend -- was right about me and Clara. That reminds me, tell him he's a dead man for announcing it to all my friends."

John rubbed his forehead. How his relationship with his family could possibly be this complicated when his entire family was Harry was beyond him.

"I'm hanging up now, Harry," he said. "My love to Clara. Bye! No -- no, bye!" he added, when she tried to talk over him. He pressed end on his mobile and tossed it into the blankets. Sherlock stirred.

"She's going to give me books," John said gloomily.

"Do you good, I expect," Sherlock yawned.

"I don't want books," John replied. "I don't want to come out to everyone or go to clubs with lots of blinking lights or wear tight shirts."

Sherlock turned his head, lips curling a little as he looked up at John. "Homophobe."

John sighed. "All right, that was irritation talking. But honestly," he said, resting his forehead on his drawn-up knees. "I don't -- I just want to shag you and keep on as we were. I don't want things to change."

"Any reason they should?" Sherlock asked, rolling off the bed. He lifted John's dressing-gown off the back of the door and put it on. "Aside from snogging me in front of Mycroft, as you said you'd do that."

John barked a laugh. "Sure. You don't think he'll have me killed, do you?"

"No. That sort of thing causes rows," Sherlock said thoughtfully. John turned his head, because it also didn't sound like Sherlock was joking. "Theoretically," Sherlock assured him. "To my knowledge he's never had anyone killed for purely social reasons."

"That's very comforting," John told him.

***

New Year's dinner at the residence of Mycroft Holmes. It wasn't the palatial mansion John was expecting; it was, in fact, a snug, unassuming town-house.

Which they entered from the alley, through the back door.

The door led to a kitchen, where a handful of cooks were frantically preparing appetisers and cooking mysterious things in woks. Sherlock strode past them easily; John had to dodge a little to avoid flames, steam, and one very sharp knife.

"Why are we coming in through the kitchen?" John asked cautiously, ducking a tray of nibbles.

"Forewarned is forearmed. When we have the fish course, don't touch the scallops," Sherlock replied. He led John through another door, into a silent and empty dining room dominated by an enormous table laid for dinner. He only had time for a quick look round before Sherlock was holding another door open, music and chatter spilling out through the doorway.

"Best get it over with," Sherlock sighed.

The doorway led into a small, elegantly decorated room filled with people. Most of them were speaking quietly in small groups, drinks in hand, classical music coming from somewhere or other. The room was lined floor to ceiling with shelves of books and curios, and a couple of large, antique-looking chairs dominated the area around the fireplace set into one wall. Most of the women were in cocktail dresses, the men in elegant suits; John felt a little shabby, a little underdressed. Sherlock looked like he fitted here, but only in appearance; his lip was curling just slightly at the scene before them.

"Sherlock!" someone called, and a couple of heads turned. Not Mycroft -- John couldn't see Mycroft anywhere -- but a lanky blond man, who was hurrying over to where they stood. "My god, it is you! I didn't think you'd be seen dead at one of these 'dos."

"Fraternal duty," Sherlock said. His voice was carefully neutral, which probably meant that he loathed the man. "Birdie. It's been a few years."

"More than a few! Come along, have a drink," the man said, apparently intending to ignore John.

"Birdie, this is John Watson," Sherlock said abruptly. "John, Burton Smith-Terwilliger. We were at school together."

"Pleasure," John said, shaking the man's hand.

"So you're the infamous unbribable Watson," Birdie said, looking at him with more interest now. "Mycroft mentioned Sherlock was rooming with someone. You're a scientist or some such, aren't you?"

"Birdie handles my brother's accounts at the office," Sherlock said. He made it sound as if the business of Mycroft's accounting might be comparable to managing a large rubbish tip. "John's a doctor," he added to Birdie.

"Smashing, quite right. Come, both of you, Mycroft's just nipped out to show someone his little solarium. I think the lovely Irene is about, though."

"Irene?" John asked in an undertone, as they were hustled through the crowd.

"My sister-in-law," Sherlock replied. "Show no fear."

"Irene!" Birdie said, waving at a knot of people. "Look who's turned up, it's Sherlock."

"My goodness, Sherlock," said a voice, and a woman stepped out from the group. She moved slowly, eyes alert, pale brown hair swept back in an elegant updo. "Mycroft said you were coming, but I didn't think it would be without force of arms."

"Irene," Sherlock replied, taking her hand and, shockingly, bending to kiss it. John watched in awe while she accepted the kiss as her due with a small, pleasant smile. "Lovely as always."

"You're looking well," she replied. "You needn't flatter me, Sherlock, you're just showing off." She turned to John and her smile widened fractionally. "And you're Doctor Watson. Sherlock and Mycroft speak very highly of you. Well, Mycroft means to speak highly of you, I'm sure."

"The feeling's mutual," John said.

"I suspected it might be. I've been wanting to meet you, if only to study out the man who can tell my husband off in a darkened alley."

"Warehouse, in fact," John replied.

"Fascinating. Sherlock, be a dear and fetch us some drinks, would you?" Irene said. Sherlock, to John's surprise, went to do as he was told. "Sherlock never knows what to do with me," she said, when he was gone. "I blame single-gender education."

"I've never seen him do that before," John remarked.

"What, obey a request? No, he doesn't, generally." Irene took his arm, steering him away from the crowd and closer to the fireplace. "I've known Sherlock since I was sixteen, and he's never quite got over the time I slapped his face for impertinence. This was long before I married Mycroft, mind you -- we met through Sherlock, actually. Back then he was all elbows and knees, but he had a functional brain and I think he understood cause and effect fairly well, with regards to the slapping. The wounded look on his face, I don't think I'll ever forget it," she added, laughing gently. "I don't recommend it as a disciplinary measure, but it certainly shut him up."

John was about to ask what Sherlock had said to get himself slapped, because this was fascinating and also excellent blackmail material, when Sherlock returned with drinks and a look of suffering on his face.

"Thank you, Sherlock," she said. "By the way, I read about this recent gem theft in the papers. Below your usual standard, I think."

"It staved off the boredom," Sherlock answered. "There was an errant Christmas tree involved."

"I can see how that would be distracting," Irene said gravely. "Ah, here's Mycroft. Darling, your brother's turned up with Doctor Watson."

Mycroft appeared, giving them the constipated smile that John had come to assume was his rendition of "mildly pleased". He swept them with his eyes as he approached, and John could actually see the moment he deduced, however it was the Holmes brain functioned, that they were shagging. One eyebrow shot up, but the smile stayed fixed in place.

"Well, this is a surprise," he said to Sherlock, who narrowed his eyes.

"Mycroft," Sherlock snapped.

"Hallo!" John said cheerfully. Might as well brave it out. He'd done tours in active war zones, after all, and he was fairly sure he could survive this.

"Doctor Watson. I see you've met Irene. I'd love to chat but -- " Mycroft turned a half-second before the dining-room doors opened. "I believe dinner is served. My own?"

"Of course," Irene said, accepting Mycroft's arm as he led her away.

"What makes a woman like her -- " John started.

"Power," Sherlock replied. "He's one of the most powerful men in Britain, and he worships her. To be fair, she's reasonably fond of him, God knows why."

"Funny, Lestrade said the same thing to me about you," John remarked as they entered the dining room, but Sherlock ignored him.


Star Attraction

Written for greenet's "Sherlock Holmes circus AU" prompt.

Lestrade grew up in the circus, was a barker as a kid and learned to juggle and walk the tightrope from his old man. He knows every trick in the book when it comes to stage illusion, and he's still never seen anything like Sherlock.

It's street magic, it's not top hats and capes, but Sherlock can walk out into the ring and yell out a name and when someone stands up, Sherlock goes to town -- tells him about himself, or herself, pulls them down to do a card trick that ends up with their business card shuffled into the deck, makes black cats appear out of nowhere. The black cat trick his his specialty and damned if Lestrade knows how he does it.

Sherlock's got a brother named Mycroft who's infamous in performing circles; used to be a high-wire act but now he does backstage design stuff for Cirque de Soleil. Sherlock sniffs at him for a sellout.

He's not a friendly lad, their stage magician. He's only got one real friend, and that's John, who did a strap act for a while (flying high in the air, swinging and flipping and knotting himself into the strap only to tumble out of it). Well, he still does the act, but he didn't for ages. When Sherlock showed up, John was just a stage hand, still limping from the fall that nearly did him in.

Lestrade doesn't know how Sherlock fixed him up, either. None of 'em thought John would ever go up again.

He's annoyed, of course, by all he doesn't know, but he has to admit -- Sherlock brings in the crowds.


Sherlock and Magical Realism

I had a couple of people (taxonomassacre, howshouldibegin, and tzikeh, most prominently) ask me about BBC and original canon Sherlock Holmes and magical realism, which led to this hybrid essay of sorts.

The thing about Sherlock Holmes is that a major theme is turning the supernatural into the ordinary -- debunking, almost. So you can't cut out the deduction or turn the cases into supernatural ones because that eviscerates the spirit of the canon. (Actually it just annoys me.)

So what I would do is give Holmes a different sort of skill in addition. He's always known when and where there was trouble, ever since he was a child. He tried to ignore it as he grew up, but he can't. So he's driven to seek out cases, often presenting himself unannounced, and he has an unearned and unwanted reputation as something of a witch.

He found Watson, didn't need anyone to introduce them, because he knows Watson is the nexis of something. He just doesn't know what yet. Either that or he's not telling Watson. But at any rate, and this would really require at least a short novel if not a long one, it provides this wonderful tension for both of them of what's going to happen, the mystery of why Holmes is so sure Watson will need him.

I suspect in the end they'd realise that it's quite the other way round: that Holmes needs Watson, desperately and completely, not only to stay safe in his profession but to stay sane.

With modern canon you've got a bit more wiggle room, I think, and I imagine it'd end up being sort of a very subdued Supernatural fusion. You bring in that weird, unreal element and fix it into modern, gritty reality. Rather than giving Sherlock or John some kind of knack, I'd populate London itself with weirdness: lights that go out at odd times, people who can do strange things, ghosts and even demons. I think it'd be a short story -- well, not SHORT short, but reasonably so -- that's more about worldbuilding. John comes home to a changed London, one with more darkness, and yet wherever Sherlock goes, the lights come up, come on. Sometimes John's blog talks back to him.

Lestrade is just tired of dealing with imps fucking up his crime scenes.

And Sherlock can move among these weird elements because they think he's one of them, but it's just his deduction coming into play.

Sherlock thinks the lights go on because John is there.

I think the most interesting magical realism element might apply to Mycroft. He lives in so many shadows already. He moves between places; he's a bit of a trickster and not always in the nice sense. Perhaps he's not entirely real -- and if Sherlock hasn't noticed, John certainly has. The man makes him nervous, but the trick is that both the Holmes brothers need John; he's so unutterably real.

Mycroft uses him like a tool, an anchor, keeping him grounded even as he flits through reality like a knife. And he makes Sherlock use him too, because he never wants his little brother (as angry as they make each other) to end up like him, only half on this side of the many worlds.

WHITE COLLAR AND MERLIN

The Castle In Central Park

Because who doesn't want a Merlin/White Collar crossover?

It was, undeniably, a castle.

Neal stood with his hands in his pockets, leaning back slightly to stare at the massive castle which had appeared overnight, as if by magic, in Central Park.

"Yep," he said unhelpfully. "That's a castle."

"Yeah," Peter agreed. "I'm waiting for the reality of it to set in." He continued staring for another few seconds before turning to look at Neal. "You got anything?"

"Nope," Neal said. He was enjoying this.

"Nothing at all?"

"I promise I didn't steal a medieval castle and stash it in Central Park?"

Peter turned back to the castle. "I'm trying to figure out what we can charge them with."

"Vagrancy?" Neal suggested. "They are setting up housekeeping in a public park."

"Littering," Peter countered.

"Technically it's an invasion of American soil. Do you want to get Homeland Security involved, though?"

"No, they'll screw it up," Peter said contemplatively.

"Why are we involved?" Neal asked. "I guess if you called it Misappropriation of Public Property someone might suggest us, but..."

"I've got a pal in the Parks Department," Peter said. "He likes pranking me."

"This is definitely not a fake castle."

"That's the prank." Peter continued studying the castle. "I can see people moving around up there, I'm sure of it."

"Why don't we knock?" Neal asked suddenly, in a tone of voice Peter associated with people who think they're having a really good idea when they're really, really not.

"Knock," he repeated.

"The massive stone tower has a great big door," Neal gestured at the wooden door about thirty feet away. It was very big and very impressive.

"Keep," Peter said absently.

"What?"

"It's called a keep."

Neal muttered something about "Great big dork," and started forward. Peter sighed and followed. From a distance, beyond the police barriers, half of the NYPD and what had to be the entire SCA membership of New York watched them go.

Neal raised his hand and banged his fist on the door.

A head popped out of a window, high above them, and a young blond man aimed a crossbow in their general direction.

"Wow," Neal said, sounding genuinely impressed.

"Who goes there?" the man called down. "State your business."

Neal glanced at Peter, who shrugged.

"It was your idea to knock," Peter said.

"Neal Caffrey," Neal called up. "I'm here about your castle."

"Are you the sorcerer who has enchanted the kingdom?" the man demanded.

"Well, they do say I have a lovely smile," Neal replied. Peter rested a hand gently on the back of his neck, the threat of choking implicit if he got flippant again. "No, sir. Are you aware your castle wasn't here yesterday?"

"It was here!" the young man insisted. "It just wasn't here," he added, a mournful, confused note in his voice.

"I can sympathise," Neal agreed.

"Are you peasants?" the man added. "Go and fetch your king, we'll speak with him."

"Oh, ah," Neal said quickly, before the man's face could disappear. "It so happens this is the king. Right here," he said, patting Peter on the shoulder. "King Peter la Burke of the Isle of Manhattan."

"Neal, what are you doing?" Peter hissed.

"Undercover op," Neal answered, through gritted teeth. The man disappeared from view, and a few seconds later they heard the groan and thud of bars being removed from the doors, which swung inward. Peter reached for his gun.

"Are you kidding?" Neal asked. Peter glanced down at the gun, then sighed and re-holstered it.

On the other side of the door stood a lot of men in a lot of chain mail. They all had swords. One of them, the only one not wearing chain mail, peered out curiously from behind the blond man.

"King Peter la Burke, you are welcome in Camelot," the blond man said formally. Peter glanced at Neal. "Come. My father wishes to speak with you."

Camelot? Peter mouthed at Neal, as the men in chain mail turned smartly and marched up a winding road towards the castle proper.

"It is a silly place," Neal murmured under his breath, and Peter couldn't choke back a snort of laughter.

"My father is Uther, king of Camelot," the blond man continued, as they walked. "I'm prince Arthur, heir to the throne."

"That's nice for you," Peter commented, not sure what reaction this should garner. On the other side of them the one knight not wearing chain mail was staring hard, with narrowed eyes, at Neal.

"Were they short a suit of armor when you woke up this morning?" Neal asked him.

"I'm not a knight," the boy said. "I'm a servant."

"Me too," Neal replied easily, and heard Peter grunt in annoyance. "I'm Neal."

"Merlin," the boy said. "Have we met before?"

"I can reliably promise you we haven't," Neal told him.

***

"Sire," Arthur said. "This is King Peter la Burke of the Isle of Manhattan, whose lands we are currently...inhabiting."

Neal apparently didn't rate an introduction; when they'd entered the great hall, Merlin had grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the mass of funnily-dressed people standing on either side of the central corridor.

Uther was a tall man, with an air of gravitas that Peter mostly associated with higher-ups in the Bureau and very old priests. He had a crown and everything. Peter would have been impressed if he weren't seething inside at Neal for getting him into this.

"King Peter," Uther said, standing and inclining his head. "I'm sure we can sort this matter out quickly."

"We hope so," Peter said. "It's not every day a castle shows up out of nowhere in Central Park."

"It's very distressing, of course, both for our people and, I imagine, for yours. You brought no knights with you?" Uther asked, glancing at Arthur, who gave a mild shake of his head.

"Ah, well," Peter said, "We've...heard a lot of stories about Camelot, and we know you're an honorable man, King Uther. I didn't think I needed my knights."

Uther's sudden, friendly smile told him that had been the right answer. "Of course. Certainly not. There's no reason for armed tension, is there?"

"We're more interested in getting you back home where you belong," Peter said, very sincerely.

"Tell me, do you know how far we've...traveled?" Uther asked. "I was not aware of an Isle of Manhattan anywhere near Camelot's holdings."

"Oh, very far," Peter said vaguely.

"Beyond the eastern isles?" Uther asked.

"Ah, other direction," Neal said, stepping out of the crowd to join him despite Merlin's urgent hushed demands he come back. "To the west across the ocean. Sire," he added belatedly, when Uther frowned.

"My servant, Neal," Peter said, annoyed.

"He speaks very freely," Uther observed.

"You have no idea," Peter said, as Merlin actually darted out of the crowd and hauled Neal away. "Look, we'd just like to get you home and out of our park before there's some kind of...international incident. If you'd allow me and some of my...knights to speak to your people, I'm sure we can figure out what happened and fix it."

Uther seemed to be considering this. "Very well. An informal treaty. Before you summon your knights, you'll dine with us."

***

They were just sitting down in what Peter could only think of as a feasting hall when his phone rang. He clapped his hand to his pocket, then said, "Excuse me?" and looked for a convenient alcove to hide in while he answered.

"Boss," Diana said, when he picked up. "You've been in there for twenty minutes. What the hell is going on?"

"Little hard to talk right now, Diana, surrounded by mythical royalty," Peter hissed. "We're fine, we're negotiating a treaty."

"A treaty? Seriously?"

"Call the Harvard crew. The castle people are going to let some of us in to take some statements about how this happened."

There was a pause. "Why would they do that?"

"Because Neal told them I'm your king," Peter sighed.

"What, he didn't claim to be King Arthur?"

"No, we're about to have lunch with him, that would have been trouble."

"Lunch with king Arthur?"

"Well, Prince Arthur. King Uther. Look, just get everybody ready. I'll brief them when it's time. Right now I have to go eat...pheasant or boar or something with the king of Camelot."

"I'll tell Elizabeth she's been upgraded to queen," Diana said, and hung up. Peter stepped out of the alcove to find Uther standing there, waiting.

"Is that magic?" Uther demanded, looking put out. He pointed to Peter's phone. "The little box into which you speak, is that magic?"

"Ah." Peter looked down at the phone. "Yeah, I guess to you it would seem that way."

"Magic is forbidden in Camelot," Uther said, his voice and face tense. "The penalty for practising it is death."

Peter studied him. "Look, I don't want to make trouble, but you should remember that my country literally has you surrounded."

There was a very tense moment, when Peter thought he might actually have to go for his gun and shoot his way out of Camelot, but then Uther bowed his head.

"Of course. Some allowances must be made when visiting foreign nations," he said. "It would be...considered a favour if you didn't make any overt shows in front of my men."

"I'll do that," Peter agreed politely.

***

Servants apparently didn't get to attend the feast, but Merlin (who hadn't let go of Neal's sleeve since he pulled him back from Uther earlier) had dragged Neal through the kitchen, snagging some bread and cheese on the way, and now the two of them were sitting on the steps of a deserted courtyard.

"So what's your master like?" Merlin asked, biting into an apple.

"Who, Peter? He's okay," Neal said. "Little bossy, kind of uptight sometimes."

"Hm. I guess royalty's alike everywhere," Merlin said with a grin.

"You have any idea how all this happened?" Neal asked, tearing off a hunk of bread and taking a bite.

"I might," Merlin said. "I mean, I might have a guess."

"And...?" Neal prompted.

"Well, it must be magic, mustn't it? It only stands to reason," Merlin said, and Neal sensed for some reason that Merlin (MERLIN. THE WIZARD MERLIN! screamed a voice deep in his head) didn't want anyone to know he was a wizard. (A WIZARD! MERLIN THE WIZARD!)

"And if someone, say, who was still just learning to control magic had found a book of spells and injudiciously tried one out, it might have affected the entire kingdom and moved the castle of Camelot through time and space," Merlin finished. "Hypothetically."

"Allegedly," Neal agreed.

"But it shouldn't last too long. I mean, the spell says everything'll be fine again by sundown."

"Oh, that's a relief. Makes my job easier too."

"Erm, though I feel you should be aware," Merlin said, fidgeting slightly, "we might have brought the dragon with us."

"The dragon," Neal repeated.

***

Peter didn't find out until later about the dragon that raided the Central Park Zoo.

Being fair, by the time it hit the zoo it had already taken down three news helicopters, so nobody was really reporting on it.

Apparently it ate an elephant and then set a couple of crocodiles free.
beatrice_otter: Captain America (Captain America)

[personal profile] beatrice_otter 2012-12-22 10:57 pm (UTC)(link)
If you ever get the inspiration, I'd love to hear more about Captain America's memoirs, particularly from the outside.
schneefink: Teyla and Sora with drinks, laughing (SGA Teyla and Sora cheerful)

[personal profile] schneefink 2012-12-22 10:58 pm (UTC)(link)
The Merlin/White Collar crossover is fantastic.
I also especially love the Fury + kitten, Natasha + Steve, Pepper and Tony roleplaying, publishing company, and the comics-through-realities-bridge one. Thanks for posting them! :D
Edited (forgot one) 2012-12-22 22:59 (UTC)

(Anonymous) 2012-12-23 12:08 am (UTC)(link)
I am really glad I wasn't drinking anything while reading some of these. I only read the sherlock and Merlin/White Collar one, but OMG so funny!

None of those even feel really unfinished to me. Short and lacking in your usual detail, but they didn't feel disjointed or like they left on a cliff hanger.

Even if they did I would probably still read them, you are one of the only authors that can get me to read something out of my comfort zone, because I know it will be well written, and the characters will be superbly realised.

-joiedumone (on lj)
fenellaevangela: text: Kirk & Spock & Bones & some guy in a red shirt. (Default)

[personal profile] fenellaevangela 2012-12-23 12:56 am (UTC)(link)
"Don't Marry A Superhero, Be One" is a work of beauty.

sanura: (Default)

[personal profile] sanura 2012-12-23 02:13 am (UTC)(link)
Oh gods. Suits. Merlin-White Collar. All the Avengers. Everything. My only regret is that you say you're done with these things and there won't be more... I can only imagine what continuations might be like. Imagining. Sam, you win. I know you have no more room for extra internets, but Merlin-White Collar crossovers in which Anthony Head faces off with Tim DeKay... well, here's another internet for you.
soxykitty: (Default)

[personal profile] soxykitty 2012-12-23 06:42 am (UTC)(link)
All of these were excellent! There were several of the Avengers ones that I desperately want more of but still stood well by themselves. I loved Fury with the kitten, and Neal and Merlin!, and I love the AUs of Captain America being found (especially the one where him and Tony are then around the same age :o). Thanks for sharing these!
Edited 2012-12-23 11:22 (UTC)
lokifan: black Converse against a black background (Default)

[personal profile] lokifan 2012-12-26 05:28 am (UTC)(link)
AWESOME.
dr_schreaber: (Default)

[personal profile] dr_schreaber 2012-12-28 07:57 am (UTC)(link)
this is just so very wonderful, and it's taken me days to get through it, and it's just so wonderful. THANK YOU for posting these up, even if they aren't finished! Many of them are very finished! I really love just any bits of writing from you :3. PLZ DO IGNORE ME WHILE I GUSH

but for reals thanks, this was the bestest christmas present

also I was wondering where my keys went :/. RICHARDSSS *shakes fist*
pedanther: Watercolour picture of a cheerful-looking duck (Default)

[personal profile] pedanther 2012-12-29 11:45 am (UTC)(link)
Ooh, nice. And I second whoever it was said that with some of these I'd never have known they weren't finished if you hadn't said so.

I particularly liked "Playing Chess Drunk", "The Helmet", "Alternate Universe", "Your Argument Is Invalid", "Mighty Bygul, Scourge of the Helicarrier", "The Redheads", "The Irregular", "Sherlock and Magic Realism", "The Castle in Central Park", ...

(Oh, and this seems like something you'd appreciate: DC Comics once actually did a "crosstime archaeologists discover our Superman fiction" story. They retrieve a copy of the first Christopher Reeve movie and spend the rest of the story arguing about whether it can be true that Clark Kent is Superman in disguise, before deciding that if the filmmakers couldn't even get Jimmy Olson's hair color right they can't be trusted on any of the other details either.)
cantarina: donna noble in a paper crown, looking thoughtful (Default)

[personal profile] cantarina 2013-01-06 06:42 am (UTC)(link)
"Not to the pain?" Clint said, and Coulson slapped him.
"This isn't a joke, Barton. My reputation is on the line."

This is when the snippet snaps into focus and gets to being something more than another Coulson-is-a-secret-ninja story. I love it just for that slap!

I love love love the play between your Pepper and Coulson. I didn't even know I had a competence kink, but fuck me, there it is.

an old book on radiation that we'd published by Dr. Bruce Banner
Yeah, Tony's just that kind of guy, too. Bruce probably mentioned it off-handedly while peering at applications over Tony's (Pepper's?) shoulder and well, the rest is a given.

The Publisher is adorable.

"Tweeting now, sir," JARVIS said, sounding resigned. For a computer program, JARVIS had an unusual hate-on for Twitter. "Hash tag per usual?"
"#Avengingshit," Tony affirmed

<3

"I HEAR YOUR SUMMONS!" Thor bellowed into the comm.
Comedy Thor is my FAVOURITE and this is him at his very earnest best.

"Besides, I'm here, and believe it or not I am even smarter than my old man, and I have a lot to prove there, daddy issues et cetera, so it will be my genuine pleasure to restore you to your former glory," Tony announced.

"Let's hope it doesn't cause another blackout in Brooklyn," Steve sighed.

I love that this is Tony's way of being comforting. And Steve!

Hill got roped into the madness because she literally cannot say no to Pepper. It's Pepper's superpower.
Oh man. Now I'm super curious about the backstory there.

When he came back from being secretly-not-dead and took over as official Avengers handler...he became a meme.
He became a meme. HE BECAME A MEME.

I… I kind of want Lestrade having grown up in a circus to be canon?

Also, the banter between Peter and Neal was pitch perfect! Really fun crossover all around.

Come With Me if You Want to Live and Playing Chess Drunk are *fantastic*.