sam_storyteller: (Gen Fic)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2013-12-15 03:12 pm

Works No Longer In Progress, 2013 1/2

Title: Works No Longer In Progress, 2013
Rating: G through PG-13
Warnings: There's one instance of dubcon due to sex pollen, and some descriptions of injuries.
Notes: Every year 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.




This is a sort of Sherlock Holmes conceptual sequel I was playing around with, where Sherlock Holmes' son was an American musician and the actual deductive power of the pair was John Watson's son, who had been mentored his whole life by the elder Holmes.

I met John Watson for the first time on a tour of Europe, after the war. The tour was to raise money for an American society of concerned citizens who were trying to get as many refugees as possible across the pond, where the war had touched us much more lightly.

I'd performed that night in London, and I was sitting in my makeshift dressing room packing away my things when a young man entered with a violin case.

"Mr. Abra," he said, offering his hand. "My name is John Watson."

"No relation?" I joked, and he sighed.

"Son, I'm afraid," he said.

"Christ, I'm sorry -- "

"It's of no consequence, and would have come out in a moment anyway," he said, setting the violin-case on the vanity. "Sherlock Holmes was my godfather."

I raised my eyebrows. "I assume you know who my mother was."

"The Woman," he said, with a small smile. "Elaine Abra. Yes. I was sorry to hear of your loss," he added.

"She had a good life," I replied. It was true; my mother died in bed with a man twenty years younger than she was, and left me more than enough money to live comfortably, and to pursue my music. "I hear your godfather passed during the war."

"Hence my mission," he said, unlocking the case. "I couldn't get over to America during the war, but I swore when it was ended I'd make sure you received your inheritance."

"My inheritance!"

"Yes," he answered, and opened the case.

It lay there, gleaming darkly in the low electric light, a thing of perfect beauty: the Holmes Stradivarius. Any Strad is well-respected amongst musicians, but this was the infamous instrument that Sherlock Holmes had played, a lifelong companion to a man who could have been a brilliant musician himself if he hadn't chosen a different pursuit. I stared at it in awe.

"He wished you to have it," Watson said.

I kept my hands steady as I reached for it, taking it out of the case with infinite care. Someone -- probably Watson -- had looked after it the past few years, and when I plucked a string it was untuned but beautiful.

"I'm afraid it comes with some rather unsettling news," he said. I looked up from the Strad, and he offered me a letter. "Mr. Holmes asked me to deliver the violin and this letter to you."

"Do you know what it says?" I asked, reluctantly putting the Strad back in its case.

"In a general sense. Sherlock Holmes was your father."

It wasn't a complete shock to me. That the son of Elaine Alba would be a musician wasn't unlikely, but that he should show an affinity for the violin...well. Remarks had been made. Still, I always thought it was nonsense. Sherlock Holmes, after all, was an infamous misogynist.

"Hence the Strad," I murmured, setting the letter aside.

"Indeed." He looked uncomfortable. "Well. There you are then."

"Wait -- " I said, as he turned to go. "Just like that?"

"Like what?" he asked. I stood.

"Well, I mean, that's all you had to say?"

"Mr. Abra, I've been waiting three years to deliver on a promise I made to my dying godfather. I'm really not sure what else there is to tell you."

"But you knew him -- and your father knew my mother."

"Passingly," he admitted.

"Don't you think we should...talk about things?"

"I'd really rather not."

"Well, at least come to the show tomorrow night," I said. "I'll play the Strad."

"With all due respect, Mr. Abra, I've heard it before," he replied, and turned to leave again.

"I'll leave a ticket for you at the box office!" I called after him, but he was gone.

It wasn't exactly a great first meeting, I admit.

***

When I was a child, my mother used to take me on tours with her. First with a nanny, then with a tutor, always with my music instructors, we would pack up and travel around Europe while she sang and I watched from the footlights. When I was ten or eleven, and the word prodigy was starting to get thrown around, I'd sometimes perform with her. I saw all the big cities of Europe as they recovered from the Great War. I spoke German fluently, French passingly, and I knew my way around Paris before I was old enough to be allowed out into it alone.

But mostly I was raised in America, in New York, and I served in the American army in the second war. I was an American with European manners; a wealthy man whose mother had been an entertainer, not a society wife; a musician who had never starved for his art. I felt I was an outsider, a man who seemed everything he wasn't.

And now I was the son of an Englishman, not the only father I had known, who died when I was young. The great Englishman, Sherlock Holmes. The letter was brief; nothing more than an acknowledgement of paternity, and an explanation that it was dangerous for it to be known, and besides my mother hadn't wished me to know until she was dead.

People will tell you that I played the Strad for the first time at dinner that night. They'll tell you they were there, but if everyone who said they were there was actually there, I'd have been playing to a pretty packed house. Besides, I hadn't had time to restring or tune the Strad, or practice on it at all.

But I suppose the legend doesn't hurt.

The first time I played it in front of an audience was the following night, the second concert. I'd spent the day rehearsing on it, and it was a wonderful instrument, but until that evening I didn't know how wonderful.


I never had anywhere I was going with this one; I just thought the idea of Rory's "Roman" past influencing him was cool.

Rory talks in his sleep sometimes.

He never used to do that, before, she's pretty sure anyway. Before the Doctor, before the end of the universe. They've been shagging since they were teenagers, and she never remembered him talking in his sleep before. Maybe she's a lighter sleeper now.

At first Amy thought it was nonsense babble, but it's not. She's been able to pick out a few words, enough to know he's making sense -- just not in English.

Rory talks in his sleep. In Latin.

It shouldn't even be in Latin. They're inside the TARDIS most nights, so even if he is speaking Latin she should hear English. She wonders if he actually is speaking Latin all the time and she just hears English, but surely if that were the case she wouldn't hear Latin when he's asleep.

This being an interdimensional time traveler is complicated stuff.


Once upon a time I thought about writing a Nero Wolfe fanfic. One of the policies Rex Stout had about his creations was that they kept up with the times but didn't age, so if you set a Nero Wolfe fic in the modern day, they'd still be the same age and would have flawlessly adapted to things like cellular phones and eating local (which Wolfe did anyway).

Nero Wolfe likes to make an impression. That's why he keeps the big brownstone on West 35th Street in New York, and it's why he wears a suit every day even though he never leaves the big brownstone. Some people think he likes to give the impression he's eccentric, but the truth is it's not an impression. He is eccentric. He's also a genius, so he gets away with it most of the time.

I'm not a genius, but I like to make an impression too. I wear a suit every day and I do leave the brownstone, which is peculiar when you think about it because the outside world's a lot harder on Thomas Pink than the brownstone is. Still, it gets the point across, and people like to talk to a man in a suit. It's also why I get a haircut every week and drink a lot of milk, because I hear it's good for you.

Wolfe buys his milk, along with butter, cheese, eggs, and the occasional chicken, from a little place upstate that's certified organic and I think they give the cows names or something. Maybe it makes the cows happy. I'm a city dweller, so I couldn't tell you. They deliver every Thursday. You might think this is an irrelevant detail, but you don't know the story and I do, so you'll just have to trust me.

Thursday's also my night to go out, because after a long and thorough study of the habits of New York's criminal element I've discovered that almost nobody ever gets murdered on a Friday morning. Premeditators like to do it on a Saturday when the body won't be discovered for a few days, and impulsive types usually lose it over something that happened on a weekend.

All of this is leading up to the fact that there I sat on the Thursday in question, a little past nine at night, watching Fritz dress birds for what he calls frite du polle rustique and I call southern fried chicken. I was not in a suit, because during the day my life, my soul, my smartphone, and my time belong to Nero Wolfe, but after dinner concludes around eight in the evening on Thursday nights, Archie Goodwin is a free man. Besides, nobody wears a suit to go clubbing.


SUITS

This was never really going anywhere; I just thought it would be fun to write Harvey's Sexual History for some reason.

Harvey discovered boys while he was at Harvard, at which point he became part of a long and honourable tradition of "guys who discovered boys at Harvard".

Technically he didn't discover he was bi, really, so much as he was kidnapped into the revelation by a second-year student who grabbed him in the law library one night, yanked him into the men's room, locked the door, and went down on him.

"It's Harvey, right?" the second-year student (Harvey can't remember his name) asked, right before undoing his fly.

"Yeah -- yeah," Harvey breathed, in a mixture of arousal and mild panic. When it was done he shyly offered a hand job in return, which the judges awarded a 9.8; would have been perfect ten but he cut himself some slack for post-orgasmic haze.

Harvey Specter is, after all, nothing if not a gentleman in bed (or bathroom).

In the days that followed, he discovered there were men everywhere, which distracted him from pre-exam nerves and helped him score third in the class cumulatively in his first semester. Jessica yelled at him for not scoring higher, but Harvey took it with aplomb; it wasn't the first time she'd yelled at him and would not by far be the last.

It helped that the second year who'd abducted him into the law library bathroom and an entirely new sexual orientation also had a tendency to kiss and tell, because finding guys with which to experiment would otherwise have required a lot more tact and discretion. As it was, Harvey found himself invited to all kinds of interesting post-term parties, and for the next few months he got cruised in the law library stacks more often than he cared to recount, which was startling if gratifying.

He didn't always put out, of course. Nobody wants to be the slut of Harvard Law. But a few escalating encounters here and there, with both genders, led to his having a certain cachet. One didn't sleep with Harvey Specter; one achieved him. It was a lesson he easily went on to apply to his professional life.

His professional life, which as Senior Partner included an associate of his very own.

Of course, Mike Ross was the prettiest and smartest of all the associates, so it was only right that he should be Harvey's.


This was based on a prompt someone linked me to, but as I never got to the porn, I never posted it.

The bar was wood, and slick from age and polish. The glass tumbler slid along it easily, silently, and the two fingers of scotch in it barely sloshed as it came to a stop.

Mike, who'd been leaning back on the bar exchanging lazy insults with Kyle, looked up when it halted at his elbow, barely nudging the fabric of his suit.

"Speedbump," Kyle snorted into his highball.

"Hey," Mike called, leaning back a little further to catch the bartender's eye. "Who's this for?"

"You, blue-eyes," the bartender called back, and winked at him.

Mike shook his head. "I thought this was a cash bar. I'm not carrying."

"What are your student loans like?" Kyle asked. "I hear you still live in a roach motel."

"Hey, when Mommy and Daddy stop paying your rent, hit me back," Mike told him, annoyed, and then turned back to the bartender, offering to slide the drink back. "Sorry, man."

"On the house," the bartender said, ignoring two or three handwaves for drinks as he ambled over. He looked like he was about Mike's age, maybe a little younger; short dark hair, brown eyes, a tattoo of some kind barely peeking out from under the starched white collar of his uniform. "You're with the lawyers, right? All you guys drink scotch like it's some kind of badge of honor. Don't worry, it's top shelf," he added. "Your pals are bringing in enough to spot you."

"Hey, thanks," Mike answered, lifting to sip it. It was smooth -- not quite as smooth as Harvey's, on the rare occasion Harvey had deemed him acceptable enough to share a drink, but it went down nice, plus it gave him something to do with his hands.

Pearson Hardman and a couple of other firms, most notably Bloch, Smith, and Young (Mike didn't make the Crosby, Stills, and Nash jokes he wanted to) had rented the bar for the evening on the premise that, the fiscal year closing, they'd all probably be shedding a few associates soon, and also might be looking to scoop up some bargains. It was a mercenary form of networking, one Mike didn't much enjoy, especially since the partners from every firm seemed to have formed an exclusionary grownup table, claiming one end of the bar and the few booths for themselves and effectively throwing up a wall against the Associates.

He was supposed to be making small talk with associates from other firms, men and women he'd someday face off against, perhaps -- all part of Harvey's "getting it". But he'd already schmoozed a few and after them even Kyle was a welcome break.

"Taking the rough trade home?" Kyle asked, as the bartender walked off.

"Jealous?" Mike grinned, sipping again.

"Bet you fifty bucks I can land a partner tonight," Kyle said, scanning the partners at the other end of the room.

"You're a creep, Kyle."

"So you're in?"

"No," Mike said, and turned back to the bar.

"Loser," Kyle muttered. Mike figured Kyle would spend Monday telling everyone he owed Kyle fifty bucks, but it was worth it to make him go away. He finished his drink and set it down, startling when it was swept away almost immediately. The bartender who'd called him 'blue eyes' winked, leaning on the other side of the bar.

"Why were you making time with that asshole?" he asked.

"I work with him. I have to pretend I don't want him dead," Mike replied.

"Lawyers." The bartender shook his head. "I'm Rich, by the way."

"Mike," Mike answered, shaking the offered hand.

"Well, Mike, you could make time with me," Rich said, grinning. "Smile pretty and I'll pour you another scotch."

Mike blinked at him.

"This is the part where you ask me what time I get off," Rich added helpfully.

"Oh -- hey, no, that's cool and all, but I'm not like that," Mike said.

"Really?" Rich asked, grinning.

"No, I mean -- I don't really...pick people up," Mike stammered.

"Mmhm. But you are like that?"

"I, uh." Mike stared, unused to such direct seduction.

"That's what I thought. Catch you in a while, Mike," Rich said, and went to fill a drink order down at the partners' end of the bar. Mike saw Harvey glance his way, then drift back into a conversation with someone.

He pushed off from the bar, intending to find Howard and either mock him for drinking cosmopolitans or save him from eternal wallflowerhood. He was halfway there when a waitress zipped past, placed a drink in his hand, and said "From Rich," with a lewd smile. Mike stared at the drink, perplexed.

"Who's Rich?" Rachel asked, appearing with possibly supernatural timing next to him. "New beau? I didn't know you swung that way."

"The bartender," Mike said. "He told me to ask him what time he gets off."

"Hmm. Usually the answer is 'half past nice try', but if he set you up, maybe you're going to get lucky," she said. She glanced around. "At least someone is."

"You're outnumbered by men by like...three to one," Mike pointed out.

"Half of whom I work with, the other half of whom have already tried to see down my shirt," Rachel said. Mike studied it; he could see how it might pose a challenge to lesser men. "Ugh, now you're doing it."

"No! I was just -- " he broke off as she swept away. He sighed and looked around for Howard, but Howard had already gone back to the bar, and Mike didn't want to actually encourage Rich.

Great. Ditched by the wallflower. Nice night.

He wished Harvey wasn't over there chatting and laughing with the partners. He got why it was that way, of course he understood, but half the point of working for Pearson Hardman was getting to work with Harvey, getting to learn from him, and Harvey was a master of social situations like this. He could be picking up pointers by the shovelful.

He nursed the second drink, half to keep his wits about him and half to prevent Rich from sending him another. It worked for a while, long enough for Mike to meet-and-greet with a few more associates from other firms, who moaned about the Harvard Clubhouse and seemed interested in hearing about the cases he'd worked. Apparently Pearson Hardman was progressive, by some standards; some of the associates from the other firms had been out of law school for a year and still hadn't handled a single case themselves.

He found himself back at the bar to drop off his glass, but Rich spotted him and before Mike could stop him, another was sitting on the bar.

"I saw you get shot down by the lady lawyer," Rich said. "Guess her gaydar's not broken."

"Look, this is flattering and all, I guess? So...thank you? But no thanks," Mike said, pushing the drink back at him. Rich eyed him, and Mike pushed away through the crowd, heading for the narrow hallway that led to the bathrooms. He'd take a moment, dig some cash out of his wallet, and slip out quietly, catch a cab home. At this rate, nobody would notice -- certainly not Harvey. As he edged his way past the partners, he heard Harvey laugh at some joke, and the sound of his voice in reply if not the actual words.

He didn't see Rich flip up the end of the bar to follow him, but he became aware someone else was coming down the hallway as he reached the men's room door; when he put an arm out to open it, he felt a hand on his elbow. He turned, startled.

"Go ahead," Rich said, nodding at the door. "My relief's on, we can be quick."

Mike let go of the knob. "Go on ahead."

"Aw, c'mon. Look, I'm not going to out you to those assholes, if that's what you're worried about," Rich said.

"I'm not -- "

"Then come on. If not now, when, you know?" Rich said. "Unless you want to wait. I bet you have a sweet place."

"Hey, I didn't mean to give you any mixed signals, but if I did, I'm sorry," Mike said. "It's nothing personal, but I don't want to get off with you in the men's room of the bar, okay? I'm not interested. End of story."

Rich's fingers snapped around his wrist and Mike, after a startled second, said "For real?"

"Are you a virgin?" Rich asked earnestly.

"Am I -- okay, you know what?" Mike said, and clearly he'd gone insane, because the next words out of his mouth sounded crazy even to him. He half-turned, wrist still in Rich's grasp, and pointed to Harvey, barely visible down the hallway. "See that guy? That's my boyfriend. I'm taken."

Rich let him go as he craned his neck to study Harvey. "Wow. Sugar daddy? He's gorgeous. I'm totally okay with a threesome, you know," he added, looking back at Mike, who turned to stare at him incredulously. "It can be a one-time thing."

"At this point I'd rather fuck the douchebag you saw me with earlier," Mike said. "Seriously, back off."

"Aw, you don't mean that. I like shy boys," Rich said.

Mike was opening his mouth to reply when he felt a sudden warm weight on the back of his neck, and heard a voice say, "Michael." He looked around to see Harvey standing there, watching Rich. "Problem here?"

Mike could feel Harvey's thumb working down the side of his neck, rubbing small circles into the muscle. Visible to Rich, and clearly for his benefit.

"Just making small talk," Rich said, and there was a smile on his face, but underneath he had a sudden air of nervousness.

"I don't think we've been introduced," Harvey said, maintaining his gentle grip on Mike's neck. "Harvey Specter. I'm one of the people paying your salary tonight. You are tending bar, right? I rarely forget a face," he added, and he smiled small and dangerous. "

"Mike and I were just talking...possibilities," Rich said, the slouch of his body unmistakable. Mike swallowed hard.

"Really?" Harvey glanced at Mike. "You didn't tell him I'm the jealous type?"

Mike just stared at him.

"Let me put this in perspective," Harvey said, turning back to Rich. "This? Belongs to me. And if that isn't enough incentive to run you off, here's a little lesson in harassment law for you: if you come up on my boyfriend again, I can sue you for your minimal net worth and, more importantly, I can sue your employers, because it's taking place on company property. In fact, you already assaulted him when you grabbed him just now. I should let them know that..." he trailed off, looking around as if he might spot the owner of the bar.

"Hey, he didn't say it was like that," Rich said, holding up his hands.

"Oh, he didn't," Harvey repeated darkly. "Get your ass back behind the bar. Mike, it's time to go."

He tugged gently on Mike's neck, turning him and shifting his hand to the small of Mike's back as they walked away. Mike didn't see where Rich went, but he definitely didn't follow them.

"Thank you," Mike said, as they pushed through the crowd.

"I enjoyed that," Harvey answered. "I so rarely get to play the possessive asshole."

"You're pretty good at it." Mike began drifting towards the door. "I'm gonna go. I appreciate the save."

"Oh, we're not done yet," Harvey replied, hand still on his back, following him. "He sees you leave without me, God knows what he'd do."

"But the partners -- "

"I told 'em I was rescuing my associate. Normally that'd be career suicide, but in a situation like this it just looks like I'm a conscientious shepherd, and it means I don't have to spend another hour listening to Young talk about his golf game. Relax, I'm not going to make you pay for the cab."

They emerged from the bar into the cool New York evening, passing a couple of associates smoking nearby. Harvey, because he was Harvey, held out a hand and a cab just appeared. Mike climbed inside, expecting Harvey to close the door, but instead Harvey shoved him over and climbed in after.

"I was doing fine," Mike said, as Harvey gave the driver his address. "I could have handled it."

"Which is exactly why I didn't show up sooner. Though when he suggested a threesome I just about choked on my drink."

"You were listening?" Mike gaped.

"Of course I was listening. I was eight feet away. You think I don't know everything you do?" Harvey asked. "I've been tracking you all night."

"Why?"

Harvey shrugged, looking out the window. "Comes with the job."

"You didn't think you could have stepped in a little sooner?"

"Like you said, you were doing fine." Harvey turned to look at him. "You think that's the last time someone's going to make a pass at you at one of these things? You're playing in the major leagues now, Mike. All the little triple-As see your suit, they see the way you walk, they see you out with a bunch of lawyers, they think one of two things: great fuck, or rich daddy. If I stepped in every time someone bought you a drink, you'd never learn how to deal with it."

"But you did step in," Mike said.

"If I didn't step in when someone wouldn't take no for an answer, I'd be kind of a dickhead," Harvey told him. "Besides, you brought me into it. That's my boyfriend," he repeated, but it wasn't as mocking as Mike would have expected. "Clear SOS. Before that, I was just enjoying watching your giant brain try to figure out how to get the guy to back off."

"What would you have done?" Mike asked.

"I would have thanked him for that third drink, told him I'd meet him out front once he got off shift, and made a point to be somewhere else once I knew when that was," Harvey said. "Some people aren't interested in listening. Most people will accept the direct approach you tried first." He looked thoughtful. "Though if he hadn't been such a massive asshole, I probably wouldn't have said no, in your shoes."

"Excuse me?" Mike said.

Harvey shrugged. "He was young, attractive, looked bendy, sounded like he wouldn't mind being kicked out in the morning."

"I uh. Didn't know you -- "

Harvey rolled his eyes. "Do I seem like someone who lets gender get in the way of a good time?"

"No..." Mike said, slowly.

"Anyway, it's not like you don't do a once-over, once in a while," Harvey said, leaning back, utterly relaxed. "I've seen you check my ass out."

"I was looking at the cut of your suit!"

"Uh-huh." Harvey seemed to consider him for a moment, and Mike felt a blush creeping up his neck. "Listen, I'm not the kind of guy to ask for repayment for being a decent person or looking after my responsibilities. What I did back there had no ulterior motive. But if you're interested in not making a total liar out of both of us or finding out just how possessive I can be, come up with me. Promise I can be better than that punk could dream of."

Mike's jaw dropped. Harvey gave him a slight smile.

"No pressure. Unlike some people, I don't take rejection as a personal affront."

The cab pulled to a stop. Harvey reached for his wallet.

"In or out?" he asked. "No wrong answer, Mike."

Mike gave him a suspicious look. "You didn't set this all up, did you?"

Harvey snorted. "If I wanted to seduce you that badly, you think I'd need to bribe a bartender to help?"

"Are you paying or what?" the cabbie asked.

"Keep your meter running and keep quiet," Harvey replied.

"Whatever, man."

Mike heard himself say In, before he really thought about it. Like anyone was going to say no with Harvey's intense, dark-eyed stare focused on them.

Harvey smiled, handed the driver a bill, told him to keep the change, and got out of the cab. Mike climbed out feeling almost numb, almost drunk, and felt Harvey's hand in the small of his back again, a point of warmth spreading outward.

"This way," Harvey said in his ear, guiding him into an opening elevator. Mike had been in Harvey's building before, but he hadn't been paying much attention at the time. Now, as the elevator sped upwards, the silence seemed to stretch out and wrap around them, comfortable but anticipatory. When the doors opened, Harvey pushed him gently into the hall, never losing that one point of contact even as he unlocked the front door.

Inside, however, he let Mike go with a suggestive drag of his fingers, walking into a spacious kitchen. Mike drifted past him towards the windows, looking out.

"Pour you a drink?" Harvey asked.

"You have a patio," Mike said. "On the..."

"Fifty-third floor," Harvey offered. "Comes standard. Technically it's a terrace."

Mike pushed open the door and stepped out onto it, expecting a blast of cold wind that never materialized. The terrace was sheltered on both sides, forming a still, quiet little pocket, hundreds of feet over Manhattan.

He heard Harvey follow him out, heard the clink of glasses being set on a table and then a soft clicking noise. He glanced over to see Harvey turning a small metal dial on what looked like a camping lantern on steroids, and suddenly warmth began to flood the terrace. Harvey nodded, satisfied, and then picked up one of the drinks, offering it to Mike. He sipped, feeling awkward, unsure what to do now. Harvey looked amused and loosened his tie, popping the top button of his shirt open.

"You said it comes with the job," Mike said, as Harvey slid the tie off and set it down on the table next to his drink. "What did you mean?"

Harvey rolled his shoulders, shrugging out of his jacket and hanging that on the back of a soft-looking chair. "You're my responsibility. It's my job to ensure you make it to partner without any unnecessary dents or scratches. I get that I suck at it, but it's my first try at this side of the mentorship equation. If it's any consolation, I'm trying hard."

"And that's why you stepped in."

Harvey settled into the chair, slouched, legs spread almost obscenely wide. "That, and I don't like people touching my stuff."

"And I'm your stuff?"

"You can be, if you stop hiding behind the heater." Harvey began unbuttoning his vest.


This was an old Hurt/Comfort I never finished.

As with all wise cyclists, especially those in New York, Mike is prepared for the inevitable: he will be hit by a car.

It's not an option. It will happen. It might be nothing more than doorhandling, or being forced into a curb. It might involve going up on the hood of a car, or every cyclist's nightmare: aggressive bus drivers.

He carries a small first-aid kit in his messenger bag with antiseptic wipes, bandages, and medical tape, which is also useful for patching rips if he goes off the bike and his clothing gets torn. Harvey will kill him if Mike ever shows up to work with pants patched by medical tape, but Mike calculates his odds of sneaking in and stealing a pair of Harvey's spare pants from his office are pretty good, especially if Donna is aiding and abetting. Which she will if Mike shows her bloody knees and scraped palms, because Donna is a goddess but not immune to pathos.

More importantly, in his wallet, there's a piece of paper. It's in case his phone gets trashed when he gets hit. It lists his name, his address, Gram's name and phone number, and his emergency contacts. Until a few months ago that was Trevor and Jenny; Jenny's still on there, but now her name is listed below Harvey's, with Donna's office number and Harvey's cell number. He doesn't like the piece of paper, because it assumes the worst, but he also finds it reassuring.

And he's sort of proud; below his blood type, his doctor's name, and NO KNOWN ALLERGIES there's a line that says I work for Pearson Hardman Law Firm. It practically screams I am not a failure anymore.

So when he gets hit, the last thing that flashes through his mind is how glad he is he updated that piece of paper when Trevor turned out to be a douchebag, and how pissed Harvey is going to be when that phone call comes through.

***

"Mike, don't make me come to your apartment," Harvey says into Mike's voicemail, and leaves the rest unsaid.

It's the fourth voicemail he's left that morning -- seven am, seven-twenty, eight-fourteen, and now at eight-thirty -- and Harvey is seriously pissed off. He can't actually figure out how to punish Mike for being late in any way that Mike will find meaningful and yet won't open Harvey to assault charges, but if Mike doesn't get here by nine he's going to start devoting serious thought to the issue. He has considered setting up a looped text message to hit Mike's phone every two minutes, but technically that's e-harassment.

Eight forty-two. Harvey picks up his phone and is about to dial when Donna appears in his doorway, looking pale.

"What?" he asks, and an uncomfortable amount of worry floods him right before Donna says:

"Mike's in the hospital."

"What?" Harvey asks, thinking guiltily of Voicemail #3, which said "I hope you're in the hospital because otherwise I'll put you there."

"They just called. He was knocked off his bike this morning -- "

"Which hospital?" Harvey asks. Donna looks genuinely shaken.

"St. Mark's."

"Clear my morning," Harvey says, already moving. "Once you're done rescheduling, pack up the relevant files -- you know which ones I need?" he asks, and she nods. "Pack them up and take a cab to the hospital. Use my expense card," he adds, handing it to her. "Call me when you get there and I'll tell you where to go. Wait, before you do that, email Louis and tell him Mike won't be in today. You can copy anyone you think is relevant."

Donna nods, already opening his calendar to begin rearranging his schedule.

"And call his grandmother!" Harvey adds over his shoulder, already on his way to the elevators.

***

The news spreads outwards: Donna emails Louis and copies Rachel. Rachel comes to talk with her in low, worried voices as Donna packs up Harvey's files; she tells the paralegals, who pass word to the admins and associates, who talk among themselves and mention it to the partners that supervise them. Slowly it passes through the company. One of the associates is in the hospital, Harvey Specter's associate is in the hospital, Mike's in the hospital. Louis rides the associates so hard they don't have time to gossip and speculate; that's his job, and if he's worried about Mike or about Harvey because of Mike, well, herding all these cats keeps him occupied.

But while the news spreads, Mike is lying unconscious in intensive care. Harvey is working his way through the hospital, following Mike's paper trail from emergency to triage to treatment to ICU. Donna is in a cab, on her second call of the day to Mike's grandmother, who is sick with worry and so, so grateful for the nice young woman who works with Mike and who promises to tell her as soon as she knows anything, and should she come to St. Mark's, does Donna think?

Donna knows that Mike's Gram is not in the best of health, so she makes the executive decision and says, "No, let's see how he is first -- might just be bumps and bruises, you know?" even though if it were, Mike would have called himself. And as she says it, and promises to call back and hangs up, Harvey is standing in the doorway to Mike's room, speaking with the doctor handling Mike's case, arranging for the room to be 'converted' to a private care room so that there will be no roommates here, no other broken bodies wheeled in to lie next to Mike's.

"Are you his partner, sir?" the doctor asks. Harvey quickly runs down the list of perks being Mike's boyfriend might get him, in a medico-legal sense, and finds no great advantage to lying.

"No," he says. "I'm his boss."

"Well, he must trust you like hell," the doctor says, offering Harvey a slip of paper. It's torn printer paper, folded in quarters, and one sentence, underlined in red, stands out:

In the event I am incapacitated and no family members are available, Harvey Specter is authorized to make medical decisions on my behalf.

"His grandmother's his next of kin," Harvey says. "My secretary's in contact with her. We'll route all decisions through her if possible." He pauses. "Do you know what happened?"

"No," the man says, and nods to a cop standing down the hallway. "But she does."

Donna, breathless, appears at his elbow from the other direction, a file box under one arm.

"I owe you something shiny and expensive," Harvey says. "Get the scoop -- tell her anything she needs to know," he orders the doctor. "She's -- "

"Mike's girlfriend," Donna says smoothly. The doctor eyes her, visibly calculating their age difference. "Problem?"

"Problem?" Harvey repeats. The doctor shakes his head. "Good. I'm going to find out what happened..." he trails off, because the cop down the hall is holding something, dangling by a strap from her hands. Mike's bike helmet.

It's split in half.

***

Mike, bless his safety-conscious uptight little soul, was doing everything right. He was in a bike lane, for Christ's sake, and some overeager tourist in a rental car wanted to turn and didn't want to wait. The car jumped out, Mike swerved, the driver didn't notice, and Mike went up on the hood, smashing his head against the metal, where his helmet cracked. The tourist braked, Mike tumbled off, slamming his head again on the fender (sans helmet) and breaking his leg when he landed.

And then the tourist backed up, pulled into traffic, and drove away.

But they know what happened, because along with a cabdriver who stopped to call for help, there's a young man with the cop, also a tourist, not the guy who hit Mike. The man looks shaken and furious, and he shoves a flip camera into Harvey's hands.

It's on tape. Clear as day, complete with the plate number and rental car sticker, complete with the sickening crunch of Mike's body against steel.

"I mean what a prick!" the young man is practically yelling, apparently grateful that someone other than the stone-faced cop is now around for him to vent on.

"Will he be fine?" the cabdriver asks. There's genuine concern in his voice. "May I go? You have my..." he points to the information in the cop's notebook. "I don't want to be rude, but I have a living to make..." off the cop's nod, he looks between her and Harvey. "Will he be fine?" he repeats. "Will you call and tell me?"

"We already have an alert out for the car, and we're contacting the rental company," the cop is saying.

"Jesus Christ, you tell him for me he's a dickhead!" the young man insists.

Harvey spares a moment to wonder if Mike Ross actually has some kind of guardian angel. The kid charms people like nobody he's ever met, even unconscious, which is just weird, because Mike's frankly not that socially adept.

"Thank you," he says to the cop, and then "I'll call you," to the cabdriver, and then to the young man with the flip camera, "I appreciate you turning this over. Make sure you get a receipt and a business card from the police officer."

After that, things calm down. He gets the case number from the cop and gives her his business card, mentioning casually that he's Mike's attorney. When he gets back to Mike's room, he and Donna confer in low voices, exchanging information until they both know everything.

"Are you going to stay here?" Donna asks. Harvey tilts his head. "Someone should stay here, so if you're not, I will, but if you are, I'll handle the office."

"Go. I'll stay. How's his grandmother?"

"They're arranging transportation for her to come see him, but not until this afternoon. They put her on some anti-anxiety medication, I think," Donna says. She looks almost...distracted.

"What is it?" Harvey asks quietly. Donna glances at Mike.

"Should I clear your afternoon?" she asks.

Harvey mentally scrolls down the list of meetings, updates, court dates, interviews, depositions, networking events, and finds nothing that can't wait a day (well, nothing can wait a day but everything's going to have to, and nobody will die or lose millions of dollars).

"Do that," he says.

***

The day stretches long. Harvey works on what he can, glad of some occupation with the ubiquitous pastel-green Pearson Hardman file folders. Most of the casework has Mike's notes scrawled in the margins. He steps outside a few times to make phone calls, never longer than a minute or two, and charms a hot nurse (what? he's worried, not dead) into bringing him a hospital-issue lunch, which he eats without paying attention, buried in a case.

He's coming back from a phone call with Jessica to discuss some of the finer points of a buyout contract when he sees a woman sitting in a chair -- no, a wheelchair -- next to Mike's bed. Ah, this is the grandmother. He doesn't know her name. She's petting Mike's arm, careful of the IV in his wrist, talking softly.

"You're gonna be just fine, sweetheart, I'm not mad," she's saying softly.

He wonders -- half his mind turning over whether to stay or discreetly fade back into the hall -- whether she was angry with Mike's parents, when they were killed. That makes sense. It occurs to him for the first time that Mike might have been angry too, and that his grandmother wants him to know this won't be a rerun.

Before he can process this, she looks up.

"Can I help you with something?" she asks, curious.

"You must be Mike's grandmother," he says.

"And I think you're the infamous Harvey," she replies. He raises his eyebrows. "The one who works my poor grandson to -- "

They both wince. To death.

"Guilty," he says.

"Well, come in. I thought you might be back," she tells him, waving a hand at the legal briefs spread out over the little tray next to Mike's bed. Her hand grips Mike's, but it's shaking, and he can see the slight glassiness in her eyes -- that'd be the Xanax, or whatever they put her on to stop her from having the kind of freakout anyone would have when their only grandson is unconscious in a hospital.

"I don't know how much Donna told you," he says, pulling a chair up next to hers. "But he'll be fine. There's no evidence of intercranial bleeding, no skull fracture."

"Just a very nasty knock to the head," she murmurs, still petting Mike's arm. "He took a few of those learning to ride his bicycle. Was he wearing his helmet?"

Harvey nods. "Probably what saved his life."

"Along with that thick skull of his," she says, and starts to cry.

Harvey is not mentally prepared for a weeping octogenarian, but he's not a hundred percent inexperienced. He offers her a handkerchief and takes one clammy hand in his, because that is what decent people do. He's very good at pretending to be decent in public.

"He's my baby," she says, weeping. Harvey rubs her palm with his thumb, while wondering when the last time she had a sedative was.

He doesn't reassure her, or even try to soothe her. That's not what she wants. She knows, has been told, that Mike will be fine; him repeating it isn't going to help, so he just sits quietly until she stops crying (thank god). She sniffles and wipes her nose, tucking the handkerchief into her sleeve -- his mother used to do that.

"He talks about you," she says finally, and Harvey slowly lets go of her hand. She smiles damply at him. "Every time he visits. If he's not pissed at you -- then he just complains. Otherwise it's all Harvey said this or Harvey did that."

This is news to him. Of course he dominates Mike's life and rightly so, Mike is his associate, but he would have thought Mike's visits with his grandmother would be a refuge from all that.

"Sometimes he re-enacts parts," she adds, and her smile warms a little. "I don't think he quite has his impression of you down yet."

"Yeah, his Stallone sucks too," Harvey remarks.

***

They don't let her stay very long, which in some ways is a relief for both of them, and a few hours later they try to kick Harvey out too. At some point tonight he will go home, go to bed, get up and shower and handle tomorrow, but when they try to punt him at five he reminds them he's a lawyer, Mike's lawyer, a very important lawyer, someone who could easily find a reason to sue the hospital, and they back right down. Donna brings him a carry-out dinner from Coste, the hot new eatery of the moment, and after he's eaten and put the files in order for tomorrow he just goes and sits with Mike for a bit.

This is all incredibly stupid, there's no point to him being here. Mike, if -- when -- he wakes up, is going to use this in his neverending battle to convince Harvey that caring is a positive act. Tomorrow he has to go to work, he should have gone back to work today.

But he just keeps sitting there, for some reason.

He's contemplating getting up and leaving for the third time, around nine o'clock, when there's a grunt from the bed, and Mike opens one hazy blue eye.

Harvey tilts his head, trying to figure out if Mike's in there or if it's some kind of unconscious tic.

"Trevor?" Mike asks hoarsely.

A few things happen at once. Harvey has a sick, annoyingly emotional moment where he finds the idea that Mike might have forgotten him horrifying; Mike doesn't forget anything, ever. Mike, at the same time Harvey is having his epiphany, looks frightened and worried, like he doesn't want Trevor there or maybe thinks Trevor somehow got him into this. Harvey opens his mouth to say No, it's Harvey, and Mike breathes a sudden sigh of relief.

"Harvey," he says.

He should probably call a doctor or something. Instead he just stares at Mike, who is still trying to focus with his one good eye.

"Car?" Mike offers.

"Tourist," Harvey confirms.

"Fucker," Mike pronounces. His eye slides shut again and then snaps open. "Am I dying?"

"No," Harvey says. He holds up a finger and Mike follows it as he moves it, so he figures the kid is probably conscious enough to comprehend what he's saying. "You hit your head twice, broke your leg. Your bike's totaled. Also you made your grandmother cry."

"Ohhhhh Graaaaam," Mike groans, panic evident.

"She's fine. She knows what happened. Soon as we're done here I'll call her."

Mike's eye is blinking furiously. "It hurts."

"Push through. You'll live."

"It really hurts, Harvey," and there's a desperation in Mike's tone, in the way he uses Harvey's name, that makes him uncomfortable, unsettled.

"I'll get a doctor," he says.

He ends up getting about four, without meaning to, and they fumble around Mike's bed doing things to his associate that can't possibly be comfortable. But Mike's gaining in coherence by the moment, his weird little brain whirring away like always. By the time they've left, a few with suspicious looks at Harvey, Mike is drugged up but still more intelligent than earlier.

"I don't remember," he says, sounding frustrated. "I don't even remember getting up this morning."

"Don't let it get to you, I'm sure you'll live to enjoy Cheerios again at some point," Harvey says.

"But I don't remember," Mike says, distressed. Harvey leans over the bed, doing his best loom.

"It doesn't matter," he tells Mike, firmly.

Mike gives him the best defiant look he can, considering he looks like Mummy #3 in some horror film, head all bandaged up, face black-and-blue. "You said you'd call Gram," he accuses.

"See? Your memory is annoyingly fine as ever," Harvey says. He leans back. "I'm going to call your grandmother, then I'm going home. I'll check in tomorrow before work. Don't let them discharge you unless I'm here."

Mike's smile is goofy, gratified.

"Because we need to make sure they document your injuries," Harvey says carefully.

"You caaaaare," Mike sing-songs. Jesus, he thought it would take at least a day for this shit to set in.

"I'm going now," Harvey informs him.

"You caaaaaare, Harvey caaaaares," Mike's voice follows him out.

At the entrance, he is arrested by the sight of Mike's girlfriend, Jenna or Julie or something, arguing fiercely with a security guard. The guard is twice her size but she's clearly ready to throw a punch. Harvey watches, intrigued, as she takes off her high heels and waves them in his face.

"You see these?" she asks, furiously. "I've been wearing these for twelve hours while he lies dying in the hospital and I had to turn my phone off while I was at work and I just got the call and the cabdriver who brought me here hit on me and it's been a really long day and I want to see him!"

"Visiting hours are over," the guard says implacably.

Harvey could just walk out, but the last thing Mike needs is to wake up tomorrow and find the girl is in jail for assaulting someone, so he steps up.

"Oh, my God," she says, startled. "Mr. Specter."

"I'll handle this," Harvey says, deftly pulling her away from the guard and putting himself between them, and if he takes a high-heel upside the head for this there will be consequences. "Jenna."

"Jenny," she growls.

"Jenny," he repeats. "I just saw Mike, he's not dying."

"I want to see him!"

"That's not going to happen tonight."

"Fuck you!" she spits.

"He's asleep. He's fine. I spoke with him. And the last thing he needs is to be woken up," he continues, subtly backing her towards the door. "The best thing you can do for him right now is let him rest. So what I'm going to do is have my car service take you home, and on the way there I'll tell you what I know."

"But he's -- "

"Not. Dying," Harvey repeats. "And tomorrow at eight in the morning you can see him. Right now, we're leaving, okay?"

She's clearly still angry, but at least she puts the damn shoes back on and lets him herd her into a waiting car. He feels weary, and very old, and also like he's gone through this five or six times already, but they sit in the car and he explains things to her while Ray takes her home. Once they've left her at her door, he calls Mike's Gram's nursing home and leaves a message to be given to her in the morning.

His apartment is peaceful, dark, soothing, all blue light and blond wood. He sets his alarm, has a few mouthfuls of scotch, and sinks gratefully into his bed.

***

By the time Harvey is out of the shower the next morning, he has a dozen messages:

The police want to inform him that they've apprehended the man who hit Mike, and they're arraigning him on charges of vehicular assault, fleeing the scene, and reckless driving.

Jenny calls to ream him out for not helping her get in to see Mike.

Jessica wants to know what Mike's status is because Harvey really can't miss tomorrow, they need him there.

Jenny is sorry she called earlier.

Mike's Gram is thrilled he's awake, glad Harvey called her, looking forward to seeing him again that afternoon.

Donna is bringing breakfast to the hospital and will meet him there.

Jenny wants to know if Harvey will represent Mike when they sue the shit out of this guy.

The police want to know if Harvey is representing one Jenny Griffin, who wants the record of the incident.

The hospital wants to assure him that Mike is continuing to do well.

Jessica seriously needs to know if Harvey will be in, call her now.

Louis wants an update on Mike and whether he thinks Mike will be in today.

"When did I become his point man?" Harvey wonders aloud.

***

When he arrives at the hospital, having called Jessica to assure her he will be there and texted Louis to stop being a prick, Donna and Jenny are sitting with Mike, eating breakfast. Jenny looks one hundred percent less insane and vaguely contrite that she spent the whole night calling him, but Harvey gets it; he's had a few rough nights over the years and done things he shouldn't have, so if they could ignore it that would be fine by him. He tries to convey this to her by not responding much when she talks to him, which seems to work.

Mike is loopy, only about half there, but he's with-it enough to bring up the fact that he's getting discharged that evening, which sparks a lively if somewhat baffling debate.

"I thought I'd come home with you," Jenny says. "You know, look after you for a few days."

"Do the doctors want that?" Donna asks.

"I want it," Jenny says firmly.

"Look, my place is claustrophobic enough," Mike mumbles.

"You can come to my place."

"Maybe."

"Why maybe?"

Then there are significant looks exchanged. The mating habits of young idiots. Donna looks just as fascinated as Harvey.

"Mike, I'm not going to let you roam around your apartment alone with a head wound," Jenny says.

"No, but like...you need to work," Mike says.

"I'll take some time off," Jenny says, but she sounds uncertain. Harvey doesn't even know what she does but he suspects it's not the kind of job where you get FMLA leave.

"I'll be okay," Mike insists.

"What about a home medical aid?" Harvey offers.

All three of them look at him like he's the crazy one here.

"Insurance covers it," he says lamely.

"The point is to have someone who cares about him looking after him," Jenny says. Mike's eyes go kind of unfocused for a second.

"Harvey," Donna says delicately, into the weird silence that follows, "what about your place?"

"What?" Harvey asks, blindsided.

"You have guestroom, you have a maid, there's an in-house restaurant that can send food up, and the guy who lives below you is a neurosurgeon," Donna continues brightly.

"I don't think -- "

"Plus you have that big flat-screen," Donna interrupts.

"I'm fine in my place," Mike protests feebly.

"But she's -- " Harvey begins, because surely a girlfriend is better than him when it comes to crap like this and he'll pay her, goddammit, if he has to, but Donna coughs sharply and both Mike and Jenny look seriously awkward.

"Great, I'll set it up," Donna says. "Harvey, Jessica wants you in her office by nine."

"I should go too," Jenny says reluctantly, rising and kissing Mike on the cheek.

"I'm not kissing you," Harvey informs him, and Mike gives him a wave as he and Donna leave too.

"You would never survive without me," Donna says, once they're on their way to the office.

"What? You just shoved a coma patient on me," Harvey complains. "Why can't his little girlfriend do it?"

"Because she's not his little girlfriend, Mr. Oblivious."

"Since when is she not his girlfriend?"

"Since they broke up two months ago."

Harvey vaguely recalls Mike being unusually cranky, two months ago, but sometimes Mike's just that way. He didn't really think much about it.

"What am I supposed to do with him?" he tries.

"Take him home, feed him when he looks hungry, show him where the DVDs are, and pretend you have feelings."

"That's so much work," Harvey complains.

***

Because Mike will probably be out for at least a few days and Harvey has become used to having someone at his beck and call, he stops at the bullpen after meeting with Jessica and plucks a lucky associate from obscurity to glory and loads him up with Mike's work, telling him to be familiar with all cases by noon (the boy pales, but nods). He has his own work to do, and catch-up meetings from yesterday, and he also has to stay on top of the police report, plus start prepping paperwork for Mike's civil suit, where they will take this asshat to the fucking cleaners.

The guy who hit Mike is some rich snowbird from Florida, which is good, because if he were young or pretty or a single mom or something Mike would probably object to Harvey ruining his life. He hit Harvey's associate with a car and then drove away; he deserves to have his life ruined. Plus, though it would be fun to bill Mike, if he takes the case pro bono it'll go towards his quota and he won't have to take some other pro bono case that Mike will get his big dumb emotions all over.

Boy Associate, Harvey discovers, is useless. He ends up sending him for coffee just to get him to shut up and stop regurgitating information Harvey already knows.

There's too much work and not enough time, which normally would just mean working until nine, but Donna buzzes him at four-thirty to remind him to pick up Mike, and when he walks out of the office she presents him with a paper bag, a backpack, and a battered gym bag.

"Jenny packed some things for him," Donna says, pointing at the gym bag. "Dinner," she adds, pointing at the paper bag. "The files you'll need tonight," and she points at the backpack.

"I want a divorce," Harvey grumbles. Donna pats his cheek, which he can't do anything about because his hands are full.

"Harvey, I'm only going to say this once," she says, smoothing his lapels. (Why all the touching?) "Mike is young, and he's in pain. I know Pearson Hardman is a culture of sadism, but try not to think of him as your associate for a little while, okay? He didn't ask for this or want it."

"Neither did I," Harvey points out.

"You're not the one in a walking cast. You are the one who will anger me if Mike suffers unduly."

Donna knows how to go for the throat.

At the hospital, Mike is sitting alone in a wheelchair in the hallway, dressed in a set of scrubs, battered messenger bag in his lap, watching the door. Harvey has a moment of -- something. It's just so pathetic. Mike's face breaks into a painful smile when he sees him.

It's just as well he had to pick Mike up, considering he has to turn in requests for Mike's medical records and make sure they took pictures of the damage. He hadn't seen Mike's ribs before, but the photos show wide mottled bruises that make Harvey suck air in through his teeth. Outside, a nurse is helping Mike into the town car.

"I'm kind of bummed it's not a real cast," Mike says, as they work their way through downtown traffic. He's studying the boot strapped to his right leg. "More convenient for showers, I guess. Nobody can sign it, though. Maybe I can get some bumper stickers to put on it, like they do on guitar cases."

Harvey ignores Mike's hopefully painkiller-induced rambling, focusing on his phone, where he is sending Donna an email promising dire punishment for getting him into this and yes, he picked Mike up and he's fine.

When they finally reach Harvey's high-rise, the driver unloads the baggage and passes it to the doorman, who promises to send it up. Mike hisses in pain as he climbs out of the car, and against his will Harvey finds himself holding onto his arm to help him balance. He's unsteady on the boot, and it clearly hurts to move.

Despite having spent most of yesterday watching over his wayward associate, Harvey hasn't really taken in all of the injuries at once, didn't like to look at the bed Mike was lying in. Now he has a better view, and it's not pretty: there's a bruise all the way down the side of Mike's face, a bandage kind of hilariously taped to his hair where he had to have stitches in his scalp, yellow marks on his arms from disinfectant, the cast of course, and the bruising all over his ribcage that Harvey now knows without looking is there. He's a mess, a mess flopping down on Harvey's sofa in relief and carefully, stiffly leaning forward to rifle through the gym bag Jenny packed.

"Cool, DVDs," Mike murmurs, sorting through them.

"Guest room's through that way," Harvey says, nodding at the doorway to the room he usually uses as an office -- there's a bed in there, a leftover from his last apartment years ago that got shifted into the office because this place came mostly furnished. He catches Mike's look -- longing, frustration, measuring how far he'll have to walk to get there -- and comes over to the couch. Mike plucks a handful of DVDs and a worn-looking blanket out of the bag as Harvey picks it up.

It's a thoughtful gesture, the bag -- the clothing is mostly t-shirts and loose pants, easy to wear. There's a toiletries kit, a box of cookies, and a plastic bag full of tea bags and cocoa packets.

He emerges from putting it in the bedroom to find Mike has curled up in the blanket, head propped against the arm of the sofa, nose buried in the blanket's fuzz. Harvey begins unpacking the dinner Donna gave him (Italian, nice, he's been craving ravioli) and dishing it onto plates, because after all they aren't savages.

"Water or wine?" Harvey asks, pouring himself a glass of the latter.

"M'not supposed to mix booze and painkillers," Mike replies, muffled.

"Yes, but one of the pleasures of being severely incapacitated by a car is that you get to cheat a little," Harvey says.

"Water's fine," Mike replies. Then, hesitantly, "I would have been okay at my place."

"Hey, don't tell me, I agreed with you. This is by decree of Donna," Harvey says, carrying the plates into the living room and sitting down next to him on the sofa. "Was that a pathetic attempt at thanking me?"

"Yes," Mike groans, sitting up. He settles the blanket back a little and picks at the food. It looks like chewing hurts.

"What did the doctors say about work?" Harvey asks.

"They want me on my ass for a week," Mike mumbles. "I can go back in a day or two, I think."

"Not like that, you can't," Harvey says, pointing at his face. Mike frowns. "We have a reputation to maintain. I'm not going to have you parading around in front of clients looking like you got stomped in a bar fight."

Mike nods, head bowing, and Harvey's about to move onwards when he sees Mike's shoulders jerk. There's a sound like a soft sob.

"Aw, Jesus," Harvey says, because crying, seriously?

But he grabs Mike's head and pulls him carefully over against his shoulder, because he's supposed to be emulating comfort. Mike shakes, face pressed into Harvey's shirt, one hand clutching the fabric against his chest. "The point of that was that you should probably stay on your ass for as long as the doctors tell you."

Mike nods against his shoulder, and Harvey remembers what Donna said about youth and pain.

"You'll be fine," he adds awkwardly.

"Everywhere hurts," Mike says, soft and broken. "And Gram's freaked out and they wrecked my bike -- "

"Your grandmother is a grown woman and under continuous medical care, and your bike was a cheap piece of shit anyway," Harvey says.

"It was my bike."

Clearly there's something deeper going on here, but Harvey has no frame of reference for this, he has no file or briefing or deposition on the emotional status of Mike Ross, so he just rubs his hair soothingly and waits until Mike stops shaking.

"I started prepping a civil suit for you," he offers, as Mike wipes his nose and sits back, looking humiliated and tired. "Believe me, when we're done with the guy who wrecked your bike, you can buy a new bike. Or a car," he adds significantly. "Like a real grown up person."

That gets him a sniffly smile. Mike turns back to his alfredo, cutting the noodles really small.

"There's panna cotta for dessert," Harvey says. "Donna ordered it. Might be easier on your jaw."

"What's panna cotta?" Mike asks.

"It's like very expensive pudding."

So they end up having panna cotta for dinner. Which is kind of fun.

Harvey's putting the dishes in the sink when he catches Mike, out of the corner of his eye, heaving himself up on the end of the couch, making a really game try at standing.

"Going somewhere?" he asks.

"Shower," Mike grunts, but he seems to be walking okay now that he's upright.

"Bathroom's through there," Harvey points. "You need supervision?"

"I hope not," Mike mutters, working his way along.

"Towels on the rack!" Harvey calls.

"Holy crap," Mike's voice drifts out. "Your bathroom is awesome."

"This was such a mistake," Harvey announces, to nobody in particular.

He can hear water running into the tub, and various splashing noises; after a while there's silence, and then a happy groan. Sounds like Mike opted for a soak instead of a shower, which Harvey can't really deny seems the more sensible course.

After about twenty minutes spent digging through the files Donna sent home with him and putting them in order, though, he starts to feel vaguely uneasy. After thirty, when there's more splashing and frustrated noises, he gives up and goes to the doorway.

"Problem?" he asks.

"I didn't think about getting out," Mike admits. "I'm good, though, I got it."

"This is why I suggested you hire an actual nurse, instead of conning your boss's admin into conning your boss into doing it," Harvey says, leaning on the doorjamb. He's not trying to look, but he can see the bruises in full now. The photographs didn't do them justice. There's also a narrow, dark purple bruise on the inside of his left leg, which looks almost like someone took a pipe to him until Harvey realizes that must be where the frame of his bike was slammed into him when the car hit him.

He watches Mike struggle for a while longer, waiting patiently, getting his renewed anger at the driver under control.

Mike looks up at him and rolls his eyes. "Please, Mr. Specter, will you help me out of the bathtub?"

"I should be billing your naked ass," Harvey sighs, but he strips off his shirt so it won't get wet and lets Mike wrap a stiff arm around his shoulders, hoisting him to his feet. Mike staggers out of the bathtub, left foot first, no weight on his right.

Harvey takes out the bottle of pills that they gave him at the hospital and sets them on the counter while Mike towels himself down.

"Get dressed, take one, and yell if you need help getting to the bedroom," he says.

"And they say romance is dead," Mike replies, which draws a startled, unintended laugh out of Harvey.

When Mike limps out of the bathroom again, he detours towards the living room. Harvey really does think that sleep is probably the best option here, and is about to say so, but Mike just collects the blanket he left on the sofa and stands there, turning it over in his hands.

"Um, thanks," he says. "I'm gonna..."

"I think that's a good idea," Harvey agrees. "Sleep as long as you want. If I'm gone in the morning, there's food in the fridge."

Mike nods and limps off, and Harvey watches him go, pretending to read a file.

He puts on an LP, soft jazz with the volume low, and does some catch-up work; has another glass of wine, unwinds, makes a list of crap he has to tackle tomorrow. By the time he's done, it's late, and there hasn't been any noise from the guest room for a while. When he looks in -- just to make sure Mike's not dead, because training up Boy Associate to be a half-competent human being is beyond his level of patience -- he sees a huddled lump curled up under the two blankets on the bed, plus the one Mike seems to be treating as a security blanket. Mike is lying facing away, towards the floor-to-ceiling windows, as if falling asleep is easier with the reassuring lights of Manhattan below.

***

He'd hoped Mike would sleep in, thus saving him from having to look at the kid's pathetic bruised face, but when Harvey walks out of the bedroom the next morning, still in his pyjamas, Mike is curled up on the sofa and under that damn blanket again, with his booted foot propped on the coffee table and a book in one hand.

"Couldn't sleep?" Harvey asks. Jesus, Mike made coffee.

"Slept for a while. Weird dreams," Mike says. "I went over the Bothaven filings and fixed your typos."

Harvey pauses with the coffee halfway to his mouth. "Why did you do that?"

"Because you had a lot of them?" Mike ventures.

"You're supposed to be...resting and stuff."

Mike shrugs, not quite meeting Harvey's eye. "So you're heading in?" he asks.

Harvey sips his coffee, contemplating his impossible, bizarre, wounded associate. Two days ago, when he saw Mike in the hospital, it felt like his heart stopped, and he hates that feeling. It occurs to him that in that moment he would have given anything to see Mike's eyes open. Anything to have stopped that car.

Mike's helmet split in half, hanging from a cop's hand like an afterthought...

"Probably," he says, and sets his coffee down.

In the bedroom, he pulls his phone out of its charger and calls Donna.

"How's my schedule look today?" he asks.

"Well, you have the Portman meeting at eleven and two subpoenas you need to file are in your condo," she says. "Puppy getting to you? Did he do the thing where his eyes get all big and sad?"

"Mock later," Harvey tells her. "Portman loves lunch meetings, can we push him back to noon and get a table at that French place he likes?"

"If I can't push him to noon, can you do an eleven o'clock lunch?"

"Somehow I will suffer through. Talk to IT, get Mike a new phone and courier it over along with anything I need to see today. I'll courier the subpoenas back. Do you trust whatshisname to file them?"

"I'll bribe Rachel to do it."

"Great. Anything else?"

There's a slight pause.

"Louis," Harvey concludes.

"He's going to want to know why Mike's not back."

"He's not back because someone hit him with a car two days ago."

"You remember how he got about Bert when he had strep throat?"

Harvey frowns. "Who the hell is Bert?"

"You're such an ass. Bert the associate had strep throat and Louis made him come in anyway and sit in an isolation cubicle so he could do his work and not infect anyone else."

Harvey pinches the bridge of his nose. "Okay, take a letter. To Louis Litt from Harvey Specter, re: Associate Mike Ross. Dear Louis colon return, he's my associate and you can kiss my ass full stop return, sincerely return, Harvey Specter."

"Shall I doctor that up a little?" Donna asks.

"Don't lose the gist of it. Copy Jessica on it."

"How's he doing?"

"He's fine. I'll keep him busy. Call if anything comes up."

He hangs up, glances around, and begins dressing for the day.

Back in the living room, Mike squints when he emerges in a henley and khakis. "Did we just get Casual Friday?" he asks.

"That's funny, because I don't do casual," Harvey replies. "I have a lunch meeting today, but I can do the rest from here."

"Oh." Mike looks thoughtful, and also a little zonked. "You don't have to."

"Of course I don't have to," Harvey says, pulling his laptop out of his briefcase and switching it on, settling in next to Mike. "I'm a senior partner, I do what I want to. Pass me the Bothaven filings."

He works in silence for a while, correcting the errors Mike (somewhat waveringly) underlined in red, Mike slumped next to him, reading and occasionally shifting his right leg restlessly. Eventually even that stops, and shortly after there's a soft thump as Mike's head hits his shoulder. He's dead to the world.

Mike's supposed to be resting and he's all bruised, which is the reason Harvey comes up with for not elbowing him off.

The courier shows up just before noon, while Harvey is dressing for lunch and Mike's still unconscious, though he's laid out on the sofa now. They swap packages, phone and files for subpoenas, and Harvey leaves the phone on the coffee table for Mike to find when he wakes up. He resists the urge to leave a note explaining where he's gone. Mike isn't either his girlfriend or his child, after all.

He feels off-kilter, being out in the city; his routine has been disrupted, between the hospital and catch-up work and the morning spent with someone sleeping on him. Cars are menacing. It's annoying.

"You seem distracted, Harvey," Portman observes to him over lunch. "I hope I'm not boring you."

"Not at all," Harvey says, though Portman is an insufferable bore and Harvey suspects he's here discussing changes to Portman's extensive will because the man doesn't have anyone else to talk to.

"It's woman trouble, isn't it?" Portman asks. Oh god, he's going for locker-room talk. "You ladykillers are all alike."

"I could wish," Harvey forces a grin. "No, my associate -- have you met Mike?"

"Yes, the young man with the skinny ties?"

Well, at least Mike's making an impression. "He was injured a few days ago."

"I'm so sorry. Not seriously, I hope?"

Harvey does a quick calculation before answering. It was serious, undoubtedly, but calling it that, admitting it's been the cause of his distraction, may show weakness -- then again, Portman doesn't care about that kind of thing overmuch. Still...

"Yeah. He was in the hospital," he says finally. "He'll be fine, but it's made the past few days a little...disorderly."

"Understandable. You know I'm not terribly close to my family -- " Portman grins, because Harvey does know; he's leaving most of his estate to a series of charities, rather than his equally boring children, " -- but I have very strong friendships with many of my colleagues. One grows to care about them. It's terribly upsetting when something happens to one of them."

He launches from there into a story about an accountant with some kind of flesh-eating disease, and Harvey pretends to pay attention. He is not upset. He doesn't care about Mike, it's just that Mike is the best -- as Boy Associate has proven -- and Harvey never settles for less. When Mike isn't there to do his bidding and look pretty, it means Harvey has to do a lot of boring paperwork.

This whole stupid thing is messing with him and Harvey does not like it.

He returns to the condo still feeling weirdly dissociated from the world. Mike is awake, standing at the glass, one hand resting on it (fingerprints!) while he talks on his new phone. Scattered across the coffee table is the wreckage of his messenger bag: broken pens, a few battered Pearson Hardman files, the guts of his old phone, and on top of those, the key to a bike lock that no longer exists.

"I'm okay, Gram," Mike is saying, clearly not having heard Harvey come in. "No, I told you, I'm at Harvey's place." There's a pause. "He's not like that. No, it's not about that, he said I didn't have to come in for a week. Well, yeah, but only because the files are there and I get bored." A long pause. "I know. She's fine, I talked to her earlier."

Harvey tilts his head, wondering just what kind of impression Mike's grandmother actually has of him. He's not cruel to Mike. He's staying home to look after him, isn't he? And anyway why does he care what Mike's grandmother thinks of him, it's not like she's a client.

"I think I'm better off here," Mike says, in a weirdly intense voice. "Okay. I love you too. I'll call you tomorrow. Bye."

Harvey shuts the door loud enough to make his presence known, and Mike turns -- then grunts when the sudden movement pulls at some bruise or other.

"I see you got your phone working," Harvey says, pulling off his tie.

"Yeah, just like new," Mike answers. "By the way, You'd better be in the hospital because if not I'm going to put you there? Not that funny in retrospect. How was lunch?"

"Tedious," Harvey calls from the bedroom, changing back into his khakis. "Pointless. Food was good."

"Harvey 'silver lining' Specter does it again," Mike replies. "Hey, do you care if I put in a DVD? Reading's bugging me."

Harvey leans out of his bedroom. "Do we need to worry about that?"

"No, I think it's the painkillers. Okay: Shawshank Redemption, Rudy, or Legally Blonde?"

Harvey gives him a look. "Legally Blonde?"

"It's a cinematic masterpiece," Mike protests, and Harvey has the terrible suspicion he's serious.

"None of those." Harvey picks up the remote and queues up number four in his DVD-changer. The menu for the collector's edition original TRON appears on the screen.

"Oh, I forgot, you're a closet geek," Mike says, settling back on the sofa.

"I play for the Users," Harvey replies, and starts the film.

***

Aside from the hospital, where Mike was mostly just quiet, Harvey hasn't really seen Mike do anything but sleep after taking the Vicodin the hospital prescribed. There are probably more surreal films than TRON to show someone high on opiates, but even Harvey will admit that he can't think of many. Mike is fascinated and horrified by turns. It's really funny.

Mike has also managed to twine his hand in a corner of Harvey's shirt, and every time Harvey gently untangles him, it's about three minutes before he grabs it again. It's not really getting in the way of the work he's doing while the movie plays in the background, it's just this strange constant reminder -- of Mike's presence, of Mike's injuries, that Harvey has an entirely separate human being living in his home that he's expected to look after.

He rubs his eyes. This brief is uninteresting, the worst kind of scutwork, and for the last half hour he hasn't really been paying attention. He keeps thinking about the split bike helmet, the bruise on Mike's leg, the crunching sound on the little handheld video camera when Mike hit the hood. He keeps thinking about Portman saying One grows to care about them.

Mike has his right leg propped up again, but his left is curled against his chest, and the pajama pants he's wearing have ridden up enough that the edge of the bruise is visible. Harvey stares at it, covertly. When he played baseball, he was hit a couple of times by line drives; the bruise was always really ugly, but in the direct center, at the hardest point of impact, it'd be numb. Sometimes it was weeks before the nerves would recover, long after the bruise had faded.

He doesn't realize he's reached out to trace the line of the bruise with his fingers until Mike shifts and turns his head, looking at him.

There's no real way out of a situation like this, no graceful retreat. Harvey presses lightly against the center of the bruise.

"Numb?" he asks. Mike nods. "It'll heal up."

"Parts of my face, too," Mike says, lifting Harvey's hand away from the bruise and pressing it just below his cheekbone. "Here. I think it was the strap."

Harvey nods, exploring the bruise with the pads of his fingertips until Mike twitches away and turns back to watch the movie again. His hand is white-knuckle tight in the edge of Harvey's shirt. Harvey untangles it for the fifth or sixth time and stands up.

"Press until it hurts," Mike murmurs, but Harvey goes to the kitchen to get something to drink, pretending not to hear.


Avengers: Shortfic

I think this one was actually cut from some fic, but at this point I'm not sure which one. Steve has just called Tony on "showboating" for a crowd who are watching them pick up after a battle, and Tony decides to prove that showboating can have depth, too.

"What the hell do you think it is I'm doing here?" Tony said, with his best fake smile still on.

"Enjoying the spotlight."

"For a guy with good aim you're so far off the mark you're not even in the same zip code," Tony continued pleasantly. "You want to know how you stop the fucking mess the world is in? You teach people not to be psychopaths. Watch."

He walked up to the barricade, grinning and waving. "Hey there," Steve heard him say to a gaggle of schoolkids at the front. "Bet you didn't think you were gonna see this today, huh? Hey, who wants to be an Avenger?"

Every hand popped up.

"Well, ya can't, you're too young. So you have to find some stuff to do till you get a little bigger. You, what's your name -- yes, you, with the glasses -- "

"Micah, Mr. Stark."

"Tony, come on, I'm not your teacher. What are you studying -- biology, cool, you like biology?"

"Yessir."

"Good. You go be a biochemist, you maybe cure the common cold, huh? 'Cause there's nothing worse than sniffles. Ohhh, look at you," Tony added to another kid. "Bionic leg and all," he continued, and Steve saw the child shuffle nervously, one stiff -- oh, god, a prosthetic leg, there was no way this could go well --

"Look at this, is this a StarkOrtho leg?" Tony asked, and the little boy nodded shyly. "Awesome. Want me to sign it?"

Another shy nod, and Tony dropped to one knee, pulling a sharpie out of his suit. He picked up the leg, bending it carefully at the knee, and propped the foot against his thigh. "To -- what's your name?"

"Bobby."

"To...Bobby...Keep...kicking ass," and Tony signed with a flourish. "There. You're going to have the coolest left leg in the fifth grade. Oh, man, hey there," he said, as a small face appeared at his eye level. "Can I pick you up? Can I pick him up? Promise to return him. Here we go," he said, and Steve watched as Tony hefted a young child in his arms, standing. Before he could register what was happening, Tony had walked back to him, kid still in his arms, and Steve could see he was wearing a CAPTAIN AMERICA t-shirt.

"This," Tony said to the kid, "is Captain America. Neat, huh?"

"Wow," the kid replied. He must have been about six.

"Yeah, wow."

"Hi," Steve said nervously.

"You know what Captain America stands for?" Tony asked.

"Truth n'justice," the kid said.

"That's right. But he also stands for hope, and compassion, and kindness," Tony said, eyes locking with Steve's. "Isn't that right, Cap?"

The little kid was looking up at him with the biggest brown eyes Steve had ever seen.

"That's right," he managed, and smiled, and the kid smiled back.

"You want him to sign your shirt? Here," Tony said, passing Steve the marker, and pulling the kid's shirt out taut. "Sign, or I'll end you," he murmured in Steve's ear.

Steve signed, obediently, more of a squiggle than anything, and drew a star next to it. The kid squeaked.

"Be good," Steve told him, and Tony put the child down, sending him back to his mother with a gentle shove.

"And that's how you save the world," Tony told him. "One meet and greet at a time."


I was going to write a fic about How Steve Rogers Slept With Everyone, but I only ever got the Coulson With Sex Pollen scene written, and even then not completed.

The one small rational part of his mind that hasn't been overwhelmed is split: half of it is screaming at him that this is wrong, and the other half is thinking, over and over, delicate, fragile, be gentle. Be gentle, he's breakable.

It's not something Steve has ever associated with Phil Coulson, fragility, but then he's never been in this particular position before. Agent Coulson, at SHIELD, is a commanding officer; he orders, Steve obeys, that's how chain of command works. In the field he's a fellow-general, an equal who defers to Steve's judgement as often as Steve defers to his. Smallest in stature of any of the Avengers, he still carries a taser and a gun and an air of authority, and Steve has never seen anyone outside the Avengers disobey an order from him. Coulson in his mind is an authority figure.

Coulson in his lap is a man. Ordinary -- short like Steve was before the serum, more wiry but still slightly built. He has more scars than Steve would have credited, dark and white lines across his otherwise smooth skin.

The drug demands touch, not violence; stimulation, not abuse. He can do this, he can give Coulson what he wants and get what his own nerves are screaming for, and he doesn't have to hurt either of them to do it. Control is out of the question but kindness is not.

***

"Are you okay?" Steve asks afterwards, when they're dressed again and the last of the gas fog is clear from his mind. They're sitting together on the floor, not quite touching, and he's worried.

"Yes," Coulson answers, after just long enough to consider it. "You?"

"Fine."

"Good." Coulson is silent, then inhales. "Well, that's a story to tell the grandkids, anyway."

"What is?"

"Nailing Captain America."

"Excuse me?" Steve asks.

"Sorry, too soon to joke?"

"I think it was more like getting nailed by Captain America, that's all," Steve grumbles.

Coulson laughs. "You have a reputation to maintain?"

"We nailed each other?" Steve offers.

"That's not how my grandkids are going to hear it."

"Creepy, Coulson."

"Comes with the job."


This was the opening to something. I have no idea what.

Before Clint, before SHIELD (long before Clint, a little before SHIELD) Phil Coulson had been an Army Ranger, a specialist sniper; his training and qualifications could fill a book you'd never be allowed to read.

He'd been recruited for SHIELD because his skill set lent itself well to a certain kind of espionage, and because Nick Fury called him the coldest motherfucker he'd ever met. This sometimes confused people, because Fury didn't seem the type to let another man win in that kind of competition, but the truth was Nick definitely wasn't cold. He was all about passion of one kind or another, usually a passion for shouting at people until they gave in. That was basically how he'd recruited Phil.

Fury had given him to Clint, not the other way around, something few people knew; he'd come back from a mission to find Fury in his office with a sullen-looking manchild who had, unless Phil was very much mistaken, recently come from prison (bruises on the insides of his wrists, that hair, and the certain set of his mouth).

"Phil Coulson, Clint Barton," Fury said. "You're partners now."

Clint, to his credit, stuck out his hand. "Coulson."

"Barton," Coulson replied, glancing at Fury. "Do I get a briefing, or have you finally discovered I know everything?"

Fury passed him a folder with a grin. "You're now Barton's spotter."

"I don't need one," Barton repeated, bored.

"Then I'll be your mother," Phil said, already nose-deep in the file.

"Definitely don't need one of those," Barton said.

Fury didn't so much send them out on missions as he did unleash them in the general area of a target. There was a settling-in period, of course, but Phil never pressed to actually be the spotter Clint genuinely didn't need, and Clint knew better than to try and push anyone's buttons when this was his life pardon.

Their fourth mission out, they found themselves in the rain, in a field in Germany, digging under the roots of a tree.

"Your stash box had better fucking be here, Coulson," Barton told him, tossing muck off his hands.

"It's here. Enough cash to get us somewhere warm and dry, and probably some clothes."

"Probably?"

"I don't remember the precise details of every stash box I've littered across Europe," Coulson replied tightly.


I was going to write a fic about Bruce trying to give Steve the shovel talk over Tony, and Steve being all ahahahahaha this is funny because he's so into you! but it never really got off the ground.

"I think we should talk," Bruce said, sitting down on the bench.

"Sure. What's up?" Steve asked, still pounding the bag.

"Uh, I've never done this, so..." Bruce took off his glasses, polished them, put them back on. Steve stopped the swing of the bag, glanced at him, and began punching again. "I know you and Tony have been spending some time together."

"Sure," Steve grunted. "Team bonding's important."

"Yeah. Of course. I just...Tony's great, but he's not always the most stable, when it comes to his personal life," Bruce said hesitantly.

"Is he having problems? I mean, he and Pepper have been..." Steve blew air through his teeth, then punched the bag again. "I thought they were okay after they broke up."

"They are. But I just want to make sure you're...doing this right," Bruce said.

"Doing what right?"

"I want to make sure Tony doesn't get hurt. And that you don't get hurt. Dating him," Bruce said.

Steve tried to swing at the bag and turn to gape at him at the same time, missed the bag, slammed into it with his shoulder, and fell over. Bruce stared for a second, blinking, and then blurted "Oh, my god!" and got up to help him up. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah -- ow -- fine..." Steve was still gaping at him as Bruce helped haul him to his feet. "Dating?"

"Oh -- Christ, I'm sorry, I didn't think...look, it's fine now, people can do that, but maybe you thought -- I'm not here to beat you up or anything," Bruce babbled. "Not like I could, or would, I mean the other guy...but you know people are okay with it. I mean. most people. I am. Okay with it. If you are."

"We're not dating!" Steve said, jerking away. "Mother a'God, Bruce."

"It's fine if you are! I won't tell, and I just -- I don't want it to end badly -- "

"But we aren't!" Steve said, voice rising in pitch. "We're not -- do people think that?"

Bruce spread his hands and then let them fall, haplessly. "You just...you guys get dinner together and you spar, and..."

Steve blinked at him. "I'm not gay, Bruce. I'm, I'm not good with women, but women are...where things are...for me."

"But you and Tony -- you're always talking, and..."

"I misjudged him," Steve said. "I said he wasn't anything without the suit, and it's true he's just...he's just a man, you know, but he's a good man, he's a fine person, he works real hard and...does, does he think...?" A horrified look crossed Steve's face. "He doesn't think we are, does he? Have I led him on?"

"I..." Bruce shook his head, "...don't know. I just assumed."

"I haven't got any friends, not really, not outside the team," Steve said, looking away. "He reminds me of my friends from before. We're friends. That's all. All I wanted, anyway." He set his jaw. "I should talk to him, maybe. Make it clear."

"Um, maybe find out if he thinks it first. Because maybe he doesn't! I don't know, now." Bruce slumped onto the bench, head in hands. "Aw, Christ, well done Banner."

"No, it's okay. It's not your fault. I'll find out. You know. Subtly."

Bruce looked up at Steve, despairing.

"I can be subtle!" Steve protested.

"Look, just...I'll talk to him and find out," Bruce said. "And if he doesn't, fine, then you're good."

"Are you sure?"

"I fix my mistakes," Bruce said. "Mostly, I mean."

Steve nodded, and then tilted his head. A small smile crossed his face.

"You came down here to tell me to treat him right, huh?" he asked.

"Don't rub it in."

"You came down all protective of Tony Stark, to warn me off hurting him. Aw, Bruce," Steve said, smile widening into a grin. "Look at you, you team player."

"I could get the Other Guy out and we'll see about that," Bruce threatened.

"You want your friends to be happy, it's sweet," Steve replied, chucking him under the chin. Bruce batted him away, smiling. "I promise, I have only Tony's best interests at heart."

"I'm gonna go salve my wounded pride now," Bruce said, getting up.

"Yeah, don't bump your head on Tony's ego."

"Goodnight, Steve."

"Hey, Bruce," Steve called, just before he reached the door. Bruce turned. "Tony is one of mine. You are as well. All of you. We have to look out for each other 'cause nobody else is gonna. Your instincts are good, when it comes to protecting what's yours. Listen to them."

Bruce nodded. "I'll see you at breakfast."


This is a scene I considered putting into a sequel to Better To Reign In Hell, my AU where Loki is banished to Midgard instead of Thor. I decided that if I did write it, I'd go a different route.

It wasn't difficult to locate Stark Tower, though it wasn't the tallest tower or the most decorative. It did, however, have the world STARK on it in large letters, which was helpful.

"I am here to present myself to the King of New York, Tony Stark," Loki said to the woman who greeted him.

"Do you have an appointment?" she asked.

"Yes," Loki lied.

"Name?"

"Loki Ofmidgard. Loki with an 'o'," he added, because he'd found this was helpful.

"How do you spell that last name?"

He spelled it, and she frowned. "You're not on our access list for today."

"I imagine not. I'm new," he said. "But it is somewhat urgent that I speak with him."

"Journalist?" she asked, giving him a shrewd look. He made a quick decision.

"No," he said.

"Oh -- are you the rep from Landworks?" she asked. "Your appointment's not until tomorrow."

"If I could see him today..."

"I'll check, hold on hon," she said. She had a communication device similar to the ones he'd seen in New Mexico, and she tapped it. "JARVIS? Hi, Landworks is here early. Is Mr. Stark -- yes, I'll hold." She covered part of the device with a hand. "JARVIS handles Mr. Stark's appointments. Mr. Stark is in his workshop today, he probably doesn't want to be disturbed. What's that? Oh, sure." She tapped the device again. "JARVIS says you can go on up. The elevator will take you straight to the workshop."

She gestured at a door opening behind her, so Loki stepped into the little room beyond. He had a sensation of great speed, and eventually one of great height, and when the doors opened again he was looking out on an interesting sight.

Tony Stark's workshop appeared to be inspired by dwarven forges. Music filled the air, quieting considerably when he walked into the room. Tony Stark himself was standing at one of the workbenches, wiping his hands on a rag.

"You know, I'm not a prompt guy myself but I like it in others. Being a day early might be overdoing it," he said, when he caught sight of Loki. "Nice suit. Prada?"

"Gucci," Loki replied. He'd done a lot of magazine reading on the bus ride to New York.

"Well, try not to get it stained or set on fire or something. You caught me on a workday," Stark continued, picking up a red gauntlet from the bench. He slipped it onto one hand. "Just testing out the new tech."

"It's quite impressive," Loki replied.

"Thanks. Packs a punch, too," Stark said, and a beam of white light shot past Loki's head, putting a dark char-stain on the wall behind him. Loki stared at it. When he turned back, the light at the center of the gauntlet's palm was aimed at him.

"I know who you are," Stark said. "I know what you're capable of. My guy JARVIS recognized you from the SHIELD database. I don't know what exactly happened in New Mexico but I know you fucked some shit up and I am not interested in buying anything you're selling."

Well. This was not entirely what he had expected.

Before he could speak, the doors behind him opened again and a woman walked out.

"Tony, Beth at the front desk just called and said the Landworks representative was here a day early and I thought -- oh my god, what are you doing?" she asked, darting forward and putting herself between Stark and Loki. "You can't shoot salesmen, Tony!"

"Fighting evil here, Pep, you want to step to one side?" Stark asked.

"Are you Virginia of the Pots?" Loki asked. She turned.

"Excuse me?"

"Pepper, seriously, will you get out of the -- "

"Not now, Tony, rescuing you from a PR disaster."

"He's an evil mastermind!"

"I'm sure," she replied, offering Loki her hand. "Yes, I'm Virginia Potts. Beth says you're Mr. Ofmidgard?"

"Just so," Loki replied, taking her hand and kissing it. "And may I say what a pleasure it is to make your acquaintance, my lady."


This was going to be a Tony/Bucky fanfic, because of reasons.

Tony was not pleased, at first, by the request.

"Look, I don't mean to besmirch your eternal bromance or anything, but I've done my time with murderous sociopaths, I'm not eager to repeat the experience," he said.

"He's not -- that's not him," Steve said.

"Funny, all the murdering could have fooled me," Tony said. "You want me to put a new robot arm on a guy who probably shouldn't have one to begin with."

"It's old and it's falling apart. I know you could help," Steve said.

"Could is not Will." Tony glanced at Natasha. "Your turn."

"To what?" she asked, blank-faced.

"Convince me. This is where you jump in with a status update, right?" Tony asked, crossing his arms.

"I was trained by the Winter Soldier. Before him, I was trained by Red Room. I know what his programming was like," she said. "I personally helped them clear out his triggers. He's gaining himself back by the day."

"But he's not back yet."

"He has days," she allowed. "But fewer and fewer."

"I'll be there," Steve said.

"And if he rips a screwdriver out of my hand and stabs me in the eyeball with it?" Tony asked.

"Then you get to build yourself a bionic eyeball," Natasha said evenly.

"I didn't think you used anything as plebeian as a screwdriver," Steve said. Tony glanced at him. "Yeah, I know some fancy words."

"I have to have tools if I'm going to upgrade his arm, and those tools are frequently pointy," Tony said.

"We can sedate him," Natasha replied.

"Yeah, I'm sure that'll work about as well on him as it does on the guy who shakes off horse tranquilizers," Tony said, jerking his thumb at Steve. "I don't think you get it. I am the ultimate symbol of capitalist America. More than Captain America, more than a flag made out of hundred dollar bills. I am everything Winter Soldier was trained to kill. How can you be sure my god damned face won't set him off?"

"Never figured you for a coward," Steve said.

"Sure you did, and as I get older I value having all my body parts intact," Tony said.

Natasha glanced at Steve, shrugged, and held out her phone to Tony.

"Specs on the arm," she said. "Can you even do anything with them?"

"Are you saying I can't do better than Communist Russia in the sixties?" Tony scoffed, accepting the phone. "I just don't want to be murdered while I'm..."

He trailed off, one hand rising to scratch thoughtfully at his beard.

"How much does this weigh?" he muttered, scrolling through the specs.

"Got him," Natasha whispered.

"You do not," Tony replied. "I could redesign this thing all night long but that doesn't mean I'm getting anywhere near Capsicle Mark Two."

"I'll be there the whole time," Steve said. He hesitated. "Please, Tony."

Tony glanced up.

"You're damn right you will," he said, handing the phone back to Natasha. "Email me everything. We'll do a prelim exam tomorrow. I may just need to rip the whole thing off and build something new. What he's got now is like, one step up from steam-powered."

He wandered off, muttering about pistons and gears, and Natasha smiled as she emailed the specs on her phone.

"Got him," she murmured softly.

"I really hope Buck doesn't kill him," Steve replied, just as softly. "Some days I still want to."

"Well, look on the bright side. You have a hotter temper than James does," Natasha replied. Steve gave her a weak smile.

***

"So, you're Stark's kid," Barnes said, when Tony walked into the cell he was currently occupying. It wasn't bad; a clean white room with a pallet and a bookshelf, a bathroom, a television protected by shatterproof plastic.

James Barnes was leaning against a wall, arms crossed -- really, that arm was horrifying, Tony itched to disassemble it for scrap. Every inch of the man radiated tension, which wasn't surprising. The frontal attack wasn't a shock either. Tony grinned.

"I like to think that Stark's my old man," he replied, even as Steve said Bucky! in a scandalized tone. "Well, I don't know, he's dead now, so. My revenant?"

"You as good as he was?"

"He wasn't building circuitboards when he was six, so I'm gonna say yes," Tony answered.

"Hear you got a built-in nightlight," Barnes said.

Tony shot a glance at Steve, who looked guilty.

"Okay, here's some rules," Tony announced, turning to Steve. "You, stand there, say nothing, save my life if your buddy here tries to kill me. You, over here," he said to Barnes, pointing to the floor in front of himself. "And gimme a hand."

"You're funny," Barnes snarled, staying put.

"You have no idea, baby," Tony replied. "Look, I don't have to fix the train engine you got hanging off your shoulder. I'm doing this as a favor to Frosty. I'm told on good days you still like him, even though I think he's kind of a prick. If you don't want to be nice to me, I don't require it, but you could cooperate on his account."

Barnes seemed to be evaluating him carefully.

"Yeah fine," he said, and came to stand right in front of Tony. They were about of a height, and their noses were nearly touching. Tony grinned.

"Peaches, I'm gonna like you," he said, and grabbed the arm, pulling it between them. "This, I don't like. Let's have a look, and we'll get you into the fake arm equivalent of a new suit from Gucci."

***

It was three weeks before Steve was comfortable leaving them alone while Tony worked -- three weeks, really, before Bucky was comfortable without a safeguard there. Tony, if he cared, gave no sign once the initial verbal sparring was over with.

He'd run through the entire gamut of fruit nicknames, from Kiwi to Applesauce to Satsuma, and was now working his way through insects.

"Okay, Junebug," he said one morning, carrying a small case of tools into the cell. "The time has come for a little cybernetic surgery."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bucky asked, sitting on the bed, tossing playing cards at a bowl.

"I can't go any further with the shoulder-joint design on the new model until we rip out the old one and have a poke around," Tony replied. Bucky tossed another card, and it spun gently into the bowl. "Once it's out, it's out for good until the new one's ready. You prepared to go unarmed?"

"You're so funny, punk," Bucky said, but he was grinning. "Sure, I jerk off with my right, I can give up the left for a bit."

"Does Rogers know you talk like that?" Tony asked, pulling a chair up to the bed. Bucky went to sit up, but Tony put a hand on the arm, holding him in place. "No, this is a good height."

"Who d'ya think taught me to talk like this?" Bucky asked. Tony opened the case, tucking it between his feet, and set to work prying the housing off the arm.

"Butter wouldn't melt in Capsicle's mouth, don't feed me that line," Tony said around a screwdriver clenched in his teeth.

"Yeah, he likes people to think that," Bucky said. Tony raised an eyebrow as he got the housing off. "The stories I could tell you."

"You know, I'm a fan of him and all, but..." Tony grunted as he began probing the shoulder joint where the arm was implanted, "...I'm not that interested in Tales Of Captain America's Youth."

"What are ya interested in?" Bucky asked. Tony glanced up.

"At the moment, clipping some of these wires," he said, and set to work.

***

Steve cornered him in his workshop that evening, looking better than he had in weeks -- like maybe he'd actually slept and eaten a square meal, which there hadn't been a lot of since they recovered the Winter Soldier.

"You took his arm off?" he asked.

"Had to. Can't put the new one on over the old one," Tony replied. "It'll be four days, a week at the outside."

"But it's his arm!"

"No, it's a piece of shitty technology that's probably giving him constant pain," Tony replied.

Steve drew up short. "What?"

"His body is continually cycling between rejection and adaptation, and it weighs a fucking ton. It's likely he's been in more or less constant low-level pain since it was installed," Tony said. Steve blinked. "I am fixing your friend, Cap, and when I'm done with him he'll have an ultra-light, ultra-durable arm with all the bells and whistles. So back the fuck down," Tony added.

To his credit, the Captain ducked his head and stepped back. "Sorry. I just -- he's all I have left from before. And -- and he's my friend, I -- "

"Okay, your trauma is super-fun and all, but this isn't actually about you. Let me do my goddamn job and when I'm done you can have your playmate back."


Iron Man: Identity Porn

This is the middle of a fanfic about Tony hiding his identity from the team and specifically from Steve. In the opening scenes (never written), Tony Stark ends up in the hospital, supposedly having had a heart attack while the Avengers were off doing battle. After securing him, Steve runs to the Mansion to tell Iron Man that his boss is sick...

"Iron Man!" Steve yelled through the glass, banging on it. "Iron Man!"

No movement.

"I can see you in there! Get out here!"

"He's not there," said a voice, and Steve startled.

"JARVIS?" he asked. "Let me in. He's right there!"

"No. He isn't."

"JARVIS, I can see him."

"I can't let you in, Captain Rogers."

"Is something wrong with him? I need to see him, JARVIS!"

"I'm sorry, Captain."

Steve leaned against the glass and looked up.

"I know you're programmed for security, but you know me," he pleaded. "I know you're also programmed to assess emergency situations. Mr. Stark's in the hospital, he's vulnerable. I need to get in, JARVIS, please."

There was a sound like a sigh, or maybe just the hiss of hydraulics. The door swung open, and the lights went on.

"Iron Man?" Steve asked, stepping inside. Eerie silence. "Listen, I know you must be scared, I know how much you like Mr. Stark, but..."

Not even a twitch of metal. Steve drew closer, concerned.

"At least tell me you're functional."

Nothing.

"Iron Ma -- " Steve reached out, coming around the front, and broke off in shock.

The armor was open. The helmet and faceplate were in place, but the chest was retracted, the thighs and biceps of the armor unclamped. Inside it was empty.

"JARVIS?" Steve said uncertainly.

"I did say he wasn't there," JARVIS reminded him.

"Where is he?"

"I'm not authorized to answer that question."

"Dammit, JARVIS!"

"I'm sorry, Captain. To locate Iron Man would be to reveal his identity."

"Can he even survive outside the suit? I thought..." Steve touched the helmet lightly.

"I can't answer that, Captain."

"Of course not," Steve muttered. "JARVIS, is everything secure?"

"Certainly, Captain. Mr. Stark gave the secure lockdown code before he lost consciousness. Unauthorized entry will be met with force."

"Good. Listen -- if, when Iron Man comes back, please tell him I need to speak with him. If you can get him a message, tell him?"

"I will do my best, Captain."

"Thanks," Steve said. He touched the helmet again, worried, and then left. The locks clicked shut quietly behind him.

***

When he got back to the hospital, things had quieted down; only Coulson was left, waiting for him.

"You just missed everyone else leaving," he said, offering Steve a cup of hospital cafeteria coffee. "They're on their way back to the Mansion. Any word from Iron Man?"

Steve shook his head. He didn't want to explain about the empty armor. Coulson patted his shoulder.

"He'll turn up. He always does. At least we know why he left early."

"Can I see Mr. Stark?"

Coulson gestured over his shoulder. "Visiting hours are over, but not many people have the heart to say no to Captain America."

Steve smiled.

"Room 238. Ms. Potts is in there now."

Steve made his way down the hallway, unaccosted by nurses or orderlies, and he could hear raised voices as he drew close.

" -- just a blip, Pep! I'm fine."

"A blip? A blip?"

"Okay, more of a bleep."

"Tony!"

"I'm a heart patient," Mr. Stark's voice rose, mock-petulant. "You're supposed to be nice to me."

Steve heard Ms. Potts make a low, growling noise of annoyance, and he stood aside quickly as the door opened. She brushed past without even noticing him, stalking down the hallway angrily. He caught the door before it slammed and put his head in.

"Safe to enter?" he asked.

Mr. Stark lay on the bed, head and shoulders raised, an IV running into his wrist. He was pale, almost grey, lips white and dark eyes huge.

"Captain," he said, going for his usual sardonic smile and missing by a lot. "Come in. They send you to stand watch?"

"Just wanted to see how you were, sir," Steve said, sitting when Mr. Stark waved him weakly into a chair. He peeled his cowl back, letting it hang behind his head. Stark watched him.

"I always forget how young you are," he said softly.

"Not so young," Steve answered. "Technically I'm in my eighties. Guess Pepper read you the riot act, huh?"

"She gets loud when she's worried. She'll be fine."

"Will you?" Steve asked. Mr. Stark pushed himself a little further upright, and the sheet slipped down his chest. It was covered in a thick, square white bandage. "Are you sure you should even be awake? You just had heart surgery."

"Didn't, actually," Mr. Stark rasped. "There's a cup of ice..."

Steve picked up the cup on the side-table and offered it to him. Mr. Stark fumbled around and slipped a chip between his lips, sucking on it quietly.

"They thought they'd have to, but they got me stable. I don't even need to be here now, really," he said, around the ice chip.

"You look like you do. No offense."

"None taken. They can rehydrate me and do an EKG or five tomorrow, and I'll be happy to go home then." He narrowed his eyes at Steve, thoughtful. "Something's eating you, Captain."

"It's -- " not nothing, and he wouldn't lie. "Not something you should worry about right now."

"Aw, fuck it, I could use a little worry. It's pretty boring. Come on, lay it on me."

"Can..." Steve swallowed, then tried again. "Can Iron Man survive outside his armor?"

Stark raised a hand, clumsily rubbed his face.

"There is no Iron Man without the armor," he said finally.

Steve's heart sank. He bowed his head.

"I went to the Mansion," he said. "I went to your workshop -- JARVIS let me in but he wouldn't say where Iron Man was, and there was just...empty armor..." he looked up. "Is he dead, Mr. Stark? There wasn't any body..."

"Christ -- " Stark choked, coughed. "No, he's not dead."

"But -- "

"Jesus, you're an innocent," Stark said. "Don't worry about Iron Man. He's where he needs to be right now."

"I just want him to know you're okay," Steve said. "We were worried about you."

Stark smiled. "If I die, the bankroll won't get pulled, promise."

"Mr. Stark!"

"What? I guarantee that's what Coulson was thinking."

"Well...maybe," Steve admitted. "But it's not only that. And not that at all, not for us. We like you, Mr. Stark."

"Thank you, Captain," Stark replied, softening a little. "Iron Man knows what's happening. You," he said, raising a hand waveringly to point at him. "You go protect the world. I'm going to nap."

Steve smiled, reassured -- Mr. Stark wouldn't lie about Iron Man. "Yes, sir," he said. "Goodnight, Mr. Stark."

"Sleep well, Captain. I plan to."

***

JARVIS didn't let him back in the workshop, but Steve went down the next morning to check on the armor anyway. It was still there, slump-shouldered in the darkness, gleaming dull red and gold.

"Are you worried about him?" Natasha asked, joining him in the hallway, looking through the glass.

"Mr. Stark says he's where he should be," Steve replied.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It's Stark, who knows." Steve shrugged. "I thought about it. Maybe he's undercover at the hospital as a doctor, to keep an eye on Mr. Stark. Or maybe he's...running errands? Getting things ready for when he comes home."

It sounded weak, even to himself.

"Maybe," Natasha said dubiously. "Stark's checking himself out today, I heard Pepper fighting about it with him on the phone. Against Medical Advice."

"Yesterday he said he didn't need to be there. He's an odd one."

"We're all odd ones. Come on, we'd better make sure everything's ship-shape for when the master of the house returns."

Mr. Stark did come home that afternoon, looking less grey but no less tired. He walked in the front door with no fanfare, Happy's arm around his waist to keep him upright, and Steve watched from the kitchen, unwilling to bother him as he made his way to the elevator. It occurred to him that perhaps Happy was Iron Man, but now that he'd seen the inside of the suit, he didn't think Happy would fit.

He poured out a glass of milk, made a second sandwich, and carried the food up to Mr. Stark's room, knocking gently with an elbow.

"Happy, stop hovering, I -- oh," Mr. Stark said, when Steve stepped inside. "Two voluntary visits in two days? I should have myocardial infarctions more often."

"I thought you might want some food," Steve said, offering the plate. Mr. Stark looked at it, surprised, and then took it out of his hand.

"Thank you," he said, sitting down at a desk near the window. Steve glanced around subtly. Every surface in the room was piled with blueprints and design sketches; a huge touchscreen was mounted on one wall, and a holographic projection of the Iron Man armor turned continually in a corner. Stark took a huge bite of the sandwich and moaned in pleasure.

"Avocado," he said, mouth full, pointing to the sandwich. "I love avocado and turkey."

Steve smiled. "Do you need anything else?"

Stark swallowed and looked at him thoughtfully. "Not for now. Let people know I'm home?"

"Of course, sir. Can I..." he hesitated.

"Spit it out, Captain."

"It's just, Iron Man's still not back."

Mr. Stark was quiet for a long time. Finally he looked down, out through the window, back at Steve.

"Thank you for the sandwich," he said. It was a clear dismissal, so Steve muttered you're welcome and left.

***

Mr. Stark wasn't an easy man to get to know. He was abrupt and absent on the rare occasions he socialized with the Avengers, and of course he was also a famous man, had a lot of demands on his time. Steve had probably spoken more with him in the last two days than in the last six months.

Iron Man had been that way at first too, but you couldn't go shoulder-to-shoulder against the bad guys with someone for so long and not lapse into some kind of familiarity. For all Mr. Stark's assurances, Steve slept uneasily.

He woke, sometime around dawn, to a gentle tapping noise; rain, perhaps, but not quite enough tapping for rain, and too regular --

When he turned his head, Iron Man was hovering outside his window. He was tapping on the glass, delicate, almost hesitant.

Steve felt a grin wash over his face, and then a surge of annoyance. He climbed out of bed and walked to the window, opening it before crossing his arms.

"I have a bone to pick with you," he said.

"Mea culpa. Stark business," Iron Man replied. "You know how it is."

"That doesn't mean I like it. You left, and Mr. Stark was in the hospital and you weren't there to protect him, and then I came here and your armor was in the shop, and Mr. Stark wouldn't say where you went, I didn't even know you could leave the -- sorry, sorry," he interrupted himself when he saw Iron Man's shoulders slump. He rubbed the back of his head. "I'm ranting. But I was worried."

"I know. Stark told me." Iron Man's head tilted, ingratiatingly. "Come on, don't be mad. I saw you smile when you saw me."

Steve gave him a shy grin. "Well, it'd be hell to replace you."

"You're not kidding. Forgiven?"

Steve narrowed his eyes. "Mostly forgiven."

"Guess that'll have to do." Iron Man glanced around, like someone was going to see him hovering outside the window, and then leaned in. "You want to fly?"

"I'll get dressed," Steve said.

Flying with Iron Man was one of the best things, maybe ever; with his leg flaps partly extended, Steve had a firm toe-hold, and with one arm around his neck he could lean out over open space and look down, confident that if he did slip, he wouldn't fall far. It had only happened once, but free-fall had been exhilarating and amazing. He'd known Iron Man would catch him.

"You're cautious today," he yelled over the wind, a few minutes into the flight. "Come on, you know I won't fall."

"Give me a break, I've been running on empty for two days," Iron Man answered. "You want fancy flying, huh?"

"Yes!"

Iron Man laughed, secured Steve's arm around his neck with one firm gauntleted hand, and did a barrel roll that left him kicking for purchase, hanging out over open space.

"That's more like it!"

They weren't up for very long, maybe only half an hour, but when they landed on the roof, Steve beamed at him.

"Okay, fully forgiven," he said, and Iron Man clapped him on the shoulder. "But I want to ask you something."

"Oh?" his helmet raised, and Steve wished for the hundredth time that he could see expressions in the faceplate.

"I didn't think you could live outside the suit. I guess I assumed it was some kind of...life support," Steve said. "But you can, can't you?"

The expressionless helmet tilted a little. "There is no Iron Man without the armor."

"Mr. Stark said that too, but -- it's okay, you know, you're a person in there, you're more than the armor. I'm not saying you have to, or anything, but I wouldn't mind seeing your face. You know your identity's safe with us. With me."

"There's more to it than just who I am."

"Is there? Would it be so awful if I knew? If you're worried Mr. Stark would be angry, I could talk to him."

"Aw -- fuck," Iron Man answered, shaking his head. "It's not that."

"Then what?"

He had barely finished talking, wasn't even expecting much of an answer, when Iron Man said, "Helmet retract, override twelve beta," and the metal slid back smoothly, folding in on itself, telescoping away from his face.

It took him a second to understand what he was seeing: the touseled black hair, dark eyes, the familiar-unfamiliar scruffy beard of --

"Mr. Stark?" Steve asked, staring.

"Sorry, Cap," Mr. Stark said, brushing hair out of his eyes with a gauntleted hand. He looked genuinely ashamed.

"Is this a joke? Where's -- "

"I'm Iron Man. There's nobody else. Always have been." He looked away, out over the rooftops. "You see how things get complicated fast."

"You son of a bitch," Steve breathed.

"Cap, I know -- "

"You should be in bed, you almighty idiot!" he said, and shoved him in the shoulder. Iron Man -- Mr. Stark -- stumbled backwards. "You had a heart attack! What the hell are you doing -- "

"That's what you're pissed about?" Stark asked.

"Take off the armor. Take it off right now, I know you can."

"Easy there, buy me dinner first -- "

"Take it off, Iron Man!"

Stark sighed. "Release," he said, and the chestplate flipped out, the limbs opening. He stepped down from it, wearing nothing but a pair of loose cotton trousers and the bandage over his chest, shivering in the cold.

"Inside, now," Steve ordered.

Stark gave him an incredulous look, but he turned to the suit and said, "Return home, override gamma." It closed itself, pulled the helmet back out, and took off of its own accord. "Look, we can -- "

He stopped, because Steve had taken off the coat he was wearing for flying, settling it around his shoulders. Here, in the wind and cold, Stark looked small -- bereft of the armor, huddling into the coat, barefoot, still pale.

"Inside," Steve repeated, pointing at the door.

"You realize I pay your salary -- "

"Stark!"

"Fine, Jesus," Stark muttered.

They walked downstairs in silence, Steve with one hand on Stark's arm, until they reached his bedroom.

"We should talk -- "

"You should go inside and lie down before I punch you in the face," Steve warned.

"You're an awfully big talker when I'm not in the armor," Stark grumbled, but he went inside and sat down on the bed, crosslegged, pulling the blanket up around his shoulders, over Steve's coat. Steve pulled a chair around from the desk and sat on it backwards, staring at him.

"I'm a public figure," Stark said, finally. "Two, now, but I was Tony Stark first. I'm an easy target outside the armor. And I didn't think it was fair to make you give orders to the guy paying for the Initiative."

"Maybe not at first, but -- " Steve shook his head. "I feel like a hypocrite. We all have secret identities. Just...not from each other."

"It's easier in the armor," Stark murmured.

"Easier isn't always better," Steve pointed out. Stark rubbed a hand over the bandage on his chest. "And you shouldn't be fighting if it's going to give you a heart condition. I'm grounding Iron Man until you're well."

"I'd like to see you try," Stark replied. "Anyway, it's not what you think."

"Then what?"

Stark shrugged the blanket off his shoulders, reaching up with both hands to peel off the tape holding the bandage down. Light filtered out from underneath, eerie and unreal, and then the bandage came off. Between his pectorals, over his heart, there was a glowing metal object, a palm-sized circle.

"What is it?" Steve asked, fascinated.

"Primary power source for the suit," Stark replied. "It's also keeping me alive. There's shrapnel..." he gestured to the slim white scars that pocked his chest. "It's inoperable, and it's threatening my heart. The arc reactor powers an electromagnet that keeps the shards in place. When I had to leave the fight -- sorry about that, by the way -- it was because the reactor had taken a hit. One in a million chance but it hit just right, threw the electromagnet slightly out of alignment. Almost took a piece of metal about yea big -- " he held up thumb and forefinger, not very far apart, "right in the aorta. I've made some adjustments. Shouldn't happen again."

He pulled the blanket back up around his body, but didn't put the bandage back over it. Light glittered through the fabric.

"I don't want special treatment, and I don't need coddling," he said.


Ultimates Kidfic

In Ultimate Comics, a spinoff of the regular Marvel comics, Tony Stark had a brain tumor that he managed to initiate communications with. He pictured his tumor as a young boy named Anthony, a surrogate son. Before Anthony and Tony both died in the comic (only Tony came back), I had an idea for getting Anthony out of Tony's head.

After Steve resigned as President -- the evening he resigned, or at least the evening that it was made official -- Tony took him out for a beer. Well, by "took out" Steve really meant "kidnapped him to the Stark Mansion".

"I do appreciate it," Steve said, accepting the drink from Tony as he stood at the window, looking out on the manicured lawn of the estate. "It's a relief to be done with it, that's for sure."

Tony nodded. "Yeah, don't think you slipped that past me."

"Slipped what past you?"

"Standing on a rooftop, shaking your fist at the falling debris in the sky? Were you consciously trying to die your way out of office, or didn't you know that's what you were doing?"

"I wasn't trying to get myself killed. It was a matter of principle."

"Whatever you say, Steve," Tony sighed. Steve sipped from his beer bottle.

"What a mess," he said finally.

"Less mess than there would be," Tony said. Steve glanced at him. "If you hadn't taken the reins. Less mess than someone else would have caused."

"Perhaps," Steve said. "I don't think I said, by the way, how proud I was of you."

"For what?" Tony asked. "I mean, there's so much to be proud of..."

"Egotist."

"Fuddy-duddy."

"Guilty. No, I mean, getting yourself to Sacramento. They kidnapped you and you broke yourself out without even any help, and then you came to help us."

"Anthony did most of the heavy lifting getting the armor to me."

Steve cast a look at him. "Anthony, of course."

He'd made it clear that he thought Anthony was a delusion -- a harmless one, a name given to Tony's mortality, but still not quite real.

***

The second time Tony was kidnapped, Steve tried to stay calm. Tony had failsafe after failsafe in place and had proved he could get himself out of trouble. Still, of course he went after him. Tony was an Ultimate, and Ultimates stuck together. Tony was his best friend. When they found the HYDRA warehouse where he was being kept, Steve wasted no time in attacking.

They went in with flashbangs to disorient any HYDRA agents and a long ground perimeter to catch runners. Steve was very satisfied to charge in after the flashbangs and start knocking heads together, and with Thor next to him he was sure they'd get Tony out in no time. He left Thor to the cleanup once the smoke started to clear, and went looking for Tony, opening doors, checking for hidden rooms.

When he finally opened the right door, he wasn't prepared for what he found.

Tony was lying on the ground, head lolled to one side, stripped to the waist and bruised all over. There were wires leading from his head to a machine, still functioning, and someone crouched over him, too small to be an adult.

The boy looked up, blue eyes widening, and threw himself forward.

"Steve!" he cried, wrapping thin arms around Steve's waist. "He won't wake up, I tried to wake him up -- "

"Who..." Steve took the boy's shoulders and pushed him back. He had Tony's delicate features, even finer in youth, and his his eyes -- everything about him told Steve who the boy was. "Anthony?"

"Please," the boy said. He couldn't be older than eight or nine at the most. He grabbed Steve's wrist and hauled him over to where Tony lay, and Steve went into triage mode immediately. Breathing seemed good, temperature was a little high, no visible blood and the bruises looked superficial.

"MEDIC!" he yelled.

There was a soft inhalation of breath behind him -- Tony was in front of him and the boy at his side, so Steve threw his shield without turning and heard a wet choking noise. Near the doorway, a man in a white lab coat collapsed to the floor, clutching his throat. No mercy for those who hurt Steve's friends.

"He won't wake up," the boy repeated, frantic now. "I can't make him come online, he won't -- "

"Shh, he's breathing, he'll be fine," Steve said, pulling the electrodes out of Tony's hair, off his temples and forehead. "He'll be okay."

Paramedics pushed past him and Steve started to back away, but the boy wouldn't go -- he clung tightly to Tony's belt, until finally the medics looked to Steve.

"Anthony," he said, and the boy did look up at the name. "Anthony, we have to let them work. Come on," he urged, pulling Anthony away firmly. The child's hand shook in his.

Steve got them at least out of the way and then crouched, shucking his scale-mail and his uniform jacket. He pulled the mail back on over his undershirt and wrapped the jacket around Anthony, lifting him up.

"We're going to go wait for him outside, okay?" he asked. Anthony nodded, burying his face in Steve's chest.

"CHILD IN ARMS," he called, heading back through the doorway to the warehouse. "COMIN' THROUGH WITH A KID."

"Who the hell is that?" Hawkeye asked, dropping from his perch at one of the windows.

"Not right now," Steve answered, carrying Anthony out into the late evening chill, heading for the medical truck SHIELD had on site. Arms reached out for the boy, but Steve held on tightly.

"Be really brave for me, Anthony," he said, and felt Anthony nod against his chest. He climbed into the van and sat down on the low bed, reluctant to let the child go.

"He's in shock," he said, as a SHIELD medic crouched in front of them, taking Anthony's pulse. She checked his eyes, then snapped a bit of plastic around his finger and took out an IV bag.

"You're gonna feel a little pinch, okay?" she said to Anthony. "Make a fist for me."

"Good soldier," Steve murmured, still holding the boy. The medic tapped out a vein, swabbed it, and held his arm in a firm grip as Anthony turned his head away. He flinched when the needle went in, but didn't make a sound.

"That's it. You're not afraid of a little needle," Steve said, approvingly. Anthony curled every part of him but his arm into Steve, still shivering. The medic wrapped a blanket around them both.

"Keep him warm," she said. "We have another incoming?"

"Stark," Steve replied, even as a field-gurney arrived with Tony on it, looking pale and drawn under an oxygen mask. "Anthony, look, see? There he is."

"Is he gonna die?" Anthony asked, peering out from the nest made of the blanket, Steve's jacket, and Steve's own body. The medic with Tony looked at Steve, who nodded.

"We don't think so," he said, hooking Tony up to a bank of monitors in the truck. "Pupil dilation response is good, no major internal injuries that we can find. Was the kid with him?" he asked.

"When I got there, yes," Steve replied.

"Well, did you see him hit his head?" the medic asked Anthony. "Or did someone hit him?"

"He fell out of the chair pretty hard," Anthony offered, around sniffles.

"Hey," Hawkeye said, leaning into the van. "Cap, are you coming back out?"

"Am I needed?" Steve asked.

"No, we're good. What you want done with the guy with the large shield-mark on his throat?" Hawkeye asked, tossing Steve his shield.

"Isolate him, lock him up, and tell him I'll see him when I'm ready," Steve replied.

"Can do. Heading back to the Triskelion?"

"I think I'd better stay with Tony."

"I'll let Thor know. Page you for debrief," Hawkeye said, and disappeared. He hadn't once looked at Anthony.

"Okay, we're lifting off," the female medic said, locking down the gurney where Tony lay. "Captain, we need to belt him in."

"Belt me in," Steve said. "I'll hold him."

"That's not -- "

"Ma'am, I'm not interested in moving from where I am right now," Steve said, as Anthony burrowed deeper into the blanket. "So either let us both be or belt me in."

She looked from Anthony's huddled form to Steve's set jaw, and wisely went about securing him with a couple of shoulder straps.

***

By the time they reached the Triskelion medical bay, Anthony had stopped shivering and was looking around inquisitively. Steve eased him onto a second bed in the room where they were working on Tony, and Anthony clung to the jacket wrapped around his shoulders but otherwise seemed all right. Steve let the nurses take care of him while he wandered over to see what they were doing to Tony.

"He's got some unusual swelling," the doctor in charge said, pointing to what looked like a green blob on a screen. "It's like he's had the mother of all concussions."

"Tony's mind is his life," Steve said in a low voice. "Is there a possibility his brain...?"

"There's always a possibility, but I doubt it. What we're seeing isn't that severe. Still, I'd like to get him down into a medically induced coma for a few days." He glanced around Steve. "Who's the kid?"

"Anthony," he said. "He's...it's a long story I'm not sure you're cleared to hear. Just call him Anthony Doe for now."

"Whatever you say, Captain." The man gave him an expectant look that Steve chose to pretend he didn't understand. They wanted him out of here, and he could respect that, but he wasn't budging, not with Tony in a coma and his sentient brain tumor walking around outside his body. He nodded at the doctor and went back to Anthony, who was whining through his teeth as a nurse took blood.

"Hey, where'd my soldier go?" Steve asked, and Anthony's eyes popped open. "Don't tell me you're crying over that."

"No, m'not crying," Anthony said, wiping his eyes. The nurse looked appalled, but Steve ignored her.

"Good. You don't want to disgrace the uniform," he said, poking the sleeve of his jacket where it hung off Anthony's shoulders. Anthony gave him a shy smile. The nurse finished and pressed a cotton pad over the needle site, taping it down with a band-aid. She left to do whatever it was they did with peoples' blood, and Steve hitched himself up onto the bed to sit next to Anthony, legs dangling off the edge.

"So," he said. "This is new."

Anthony nodded.

"Do you know how you got outside Tony's mind?" he asked.

"Not really," Anthony said. "Tony told me to hide but they found me."

"Who?"

"Dunno. Tony was afraid of them. He said I just had to hide until Captain America came. And then you did!" he added with a bright look at Steve. "But not before they found me."

"Do you know how old you are?"

"I feel younger out here. I think I'm seven," he said.

"The docs are gonna keep Tony asleep for a while," Steve said. "So for now it's just you and me."

"You're not gonna leave me here, are you?" Anthony asked, voice rising. "I don't know who anyone is or where we are and Tony can't protect me -- "

Steve panicked. "No! I won't leave you here. Obviously. Tony would never forgive me."

Anthony looked up at him, searchingly, with the kind of scrutiny he usually only saw on Tony.

"He said you'd come for us," he told Steve finally, and then looked away.

"Of course I did. Ultimates protect each other. You know that," he added hesitantly.

"We aren't used to it is all," Anthony said.

"Hey, little soldier," Steve said, and Anthony turned to look up at him. "Tony's gonna be fine, squirt. Until he wakes up, you're with me. You're in the safest place on the planet, the Triskelion."

Anthony's eyes were wide and a little awestruck. "You're just like Tony said."

"I hope that's a compliment," Steve sighed.


Steve's Unexpected Threesome

In the comics a while back, Jan van Dyne cheated on Hank Pym, her ex-husband and current sort-of-boyfriend, with Clint Barton. When Steve found out about her and Clint, he said that if they caused trouble for the team with their shenanigans, he'd have to "involve himself". Everyone I told about this was like "does Involve Himself mean Have A Threesome?" Then Hank walked in on Jan and Clint having sex while the team was doing a mission in England.

When the Avengers left England for home -- Steve still thought of Manhattan as home, despite the fact that the Avengers were now technically "citizens of the world" -- they left Hank Pym behind. It was Hank's request, made with bowed head and mutterings, and Steve had tried to be gracious and understanding and kind, but he suspected his kindness might have made things worse.

He was at the controls of the quinjet, admittedly probably kind of broody, when Tony dropped himself into the empty copilot's seat and turned to throw one leg over the arm, facing him.

"Privacy," Tony said, and the doors between the cockpit and the passenger seats began to close.

"What the hell, Tony?" Clint called.

"Mommy and daddy are talking, you kids play nice," Tony said, as the doors closed. Steve kept his eyes on the controls, waiting for Tony to talk.

"So," he said, finally. "Why the broodface, Capple Pie?"

"Not brooding," Steve said. "Concentrating."

"Uh huh. You can tell Tony."

"Are you the mommy or the daddy?"

"I'm the mommy, not that it matters," Tony said easily. "Is this about Hank staying behind?"

Steve sighed. "I can't discuss this with you."

"Really? Now I'm intrigued," Tony said, glancing out the cockpit windshield. "Is it because Clint and Jan are fucking and you think my tender feelings will be hurt?"

Steve looked at him, surprised. "You know?"

"Of course I know. Clint had her underwear tucked in his belt when we loaded up for that last mission."

"How do you know those were her underwear?"

"I remember those underwear. Those are her freaky superhero sex underwear. Come to think of it, I may have given her those underwear."

"She was worried you'd be hurt."

"Because when we were going out she dumped me and said she couldn't sleep with someone who was Hank's friend, and now she is again? Please. That was like a hundred years ago, and it was an excuse. She didn't trust me, and she had every right not to, given how I lied to her about not being Iron Man. Anyway, even if that was a reason, Clint and Hank have never been, you know, tight with each other." Tony's dangling leg swung idly.

"Hank and Jan were still dating. While she was with Clint."

"That's not how I heard it."

"How did you hear it?" Steve asked.

"How I heard it is that Hank asked her to re-marry him and she said no. When they finally had it out about -- " Tony grew more serious. "When they finally talked about the time Hank hit her, back before the divorce -- "

Steve flinched.

"Hey, look, none of us knew how to handle that. We did all we could. Got him off the team, gave her the support she needed. I don't think we did too badly."

"I should have separated them sooner."

"They were married, and none of us knew he was unstable."

"We should have read the signs."

"Look, we handled it, Jan's fine, we did okay. The point is, when they finally talked about it, she told him she wanted an apology, she wanted him in therapy, and when he said no, she told him that was just one reason she was never going to marry him again."

"How do you know all this?" Steve asked.

"Jan told me."

"Well, I suppose I'm glad she talked to someone."

"Gee, thanks."

"You know I didn't mean it like that, Tony," Steve said.

"Here's the thing: she told him she didn't want to marry him again and would never marry him again, because he hit her and he still won't admit he's to blame for that, which, good for her. But it means that relationship was dead in the water, and the only one who didn't understand that was Hank. So yeah, maybe technically they were still dating, but it's hard to fault Jan for moving on. The break was going to come, and it was never going to be pretty."

"I think it could have gone better than Hank walking in on them."

"So really, I'm still trying to understand. You're bothered because Hank dropped off the team?"

"No, that damage is done."

"Wouldn't be the first time you got broody over something you couldn't change."

"It's not leaving Hank behind. The team can do without him." Steve's grip tightened slightly on the control yoke. "Maybe it's better, even."

"Then what's wrinkling your flag panties?"

"Tony."

"Sorry. What's the problem?"

Steve heaved a sigh. "I told Clint that if his and Jan's affair destabilized the team, I'd have to involve myself."

"You really cannot keep your little headwings out of other peoples' business, can you?"

"I'm the team leader. What's bothering me is that I don't know what to do. I said I'd get involved, I can't just blow it off now. I mean, punishment seems…" Steve sighed. "Wrong. And how would I even do that? Put them in the corner until dinnertime? But I can't let this slide for either of them."

Tony shrugged. "You're too stubborn to fight with about that. So now you have to, ahaha, involve yourself?"

"What's with that?"

"With what?" Tony asked.

"Ahaha," Steve mimicked. "What's the laugh?"

"Oh, nothing," Tony said lightly.

"Not nothing," Steve corrected.

"I was just thinking, did you actually say you'd involve yourself? Because I can tell you where Clint's mind went if you did."

Steve gave him a blank look. "What?"

"Still so innocent," Tony said, a fond look on his face. "I love the pants off you, Steve, never lose that innocence."

"What, Tony?" Steve asked, annoyed.

"Not that you didn't get involved when I was dating Jan, because boy did you ever. But if you had actually told me you would involve yourself, I would have gone straight to a threesome."

Steve choked. "That's where your mind goes?"

"I promise you it's where Clint's went."

"No. No! Are you nuts?"

"Come on, Steve. If you whistled for Clint, he'd be naked before you stopped whistling. As for Jan," Tony continued, while Steve's world tilted on its side, "having the two of you? It'd be like sex with twins, without the skeevy incestuous edge."

"Clint...no, not really."

"He has spent years doing whatever he thought would get your attention, from yelling at you to being your protege to competing with the east coast team when he finally got his own out west. We all watched it happen."

"He needed guidance. He needed a father figure."

"My hand to God, that boy wants to call you daddy in the worst way."

"Tony, don't be gross."

"Hey, don't be shaming. Anyway, it's not like you should be surprised. There are very few Avengers who haven't wanted to hit that at one point or another." Tony gestured at Steve.

"Not that many."

Tony held up a hand and ticked them off on his fingers. "Tigra, Jess J., Jess D., Jen, Natasha, Jan, Wanda -- I don't know about Carol, you two are the bro-est bros I've ever seen -- Hercules, Thor -- "

"What."

"I'm pretty sure Dane would have if he was willing to admit he's a little queer, rather than barring that closet door. Eros, but Eros wants to fuck everything -- Pietro maybe? Maybe Pietro. And definitely Clint 'problem child' Barton."

"Oh, my God," Steve groaned.

"If it helps, most of them don't want to date you, they just want to know what a night with the pinnacle of human perfection would be like. And they know you'd be a gentleman."

"They don't know that," Steve mumbled, face red.

"Why, are you a freak in the sack?"

"You're an asshole, Tony."

"Been called worse," Tony said with a shrug. "Look, if you want me to help you brainstorm how to put Clint and Jan on warning, I can, but I don't think there's much point. If you want my advice -- "

"Oh yes, please, do share the wisdom of your years," Steve drawled.

"Punk. If you want my advice, threesome."

"I fail to see how that's a punishment."

"Well, it's not really, as long as everyone's consenting, and I know you better than to think you wouldn't get a yes from both parties. But you'd have fun, which would at least make up for all this agita."

"I'm not rewarding them for poor judgement. Or myself for not stepping in sooner."

"Sooner than what? You're not the sex police."

Steve had a visual moment, where he pictured what exactly the sex police would look like -- the uniform, the night-vision goggles, the utility belt strung with condoms. He bit his lip to keep from laughing.

"What?" Tony asked. Steve made an undignified noise. "Oh my god, you're giggling, what?"

"The sex police!" Steve blurted, laughing. "It's like the newest ill-conceived superhero..."

Tony stared at him for a second and then burst out laughing too.

"Can't be worse than your Nomad costume," he said, and Steve laughed harder. "Halt! In the name of love!"

Steve flicked the autopilot, rested his forehead on the control yoke, and laughed himself sick. Tony swung his legs around so he was nominally watching the copilot controls, hands resting on his belly. When Steve stopped laughing, he looked at Tony and smiled.

"I'll sort it out," he said. "Thank you, Tony."

"Never let it be said I allowed a Steve Rogers sulk to go unmedicated," Tony said, standing and patting his shoulder. "Focus on driving. I'm going to get some shuteye before we hit Manhattan."

The doors slid open, and Steve heard a few curious murmurs from the Avengers as Tony took his seat again. If they did pump him for information, he didn't give it up; when Steve turned to check on them all, Tony was asleep, snoring lightly in his chair.

***

When they landed in Manhattan, Steve saw the faint look of regret Clint shot Jan before scurrying off to the range. Clint didn't do well cooped up in small places for long periods, and he always ran for the range after a long flight. Steve also saw the significant look Tony shot him, before Tony trotted off to occupy himself with domestic concerns (viz: find Jarvis, who would no doubt have baked cookies, and hog the cookies).

"Jan," Steve heard himself say, before he thought about it. "Can I have a word?"

"Sure," she replied, following him into the Assembly room. She shut the doors behind her. "Are we already in trouble?"

Steve sighed. "Let's just talk about it."

"Okay," she said warily. Steve leaned on the table, crossing his arms.

"You and Hank," he began, but she interrupted.

"Are over."

"Yes, I know," he said.

"...you do?"

"Yes. If Hank hadn't made it obvious, Tony clued me in."

"Oh, right," she said quietly.

"Jan, listen, I'm not mad you ended it with Hank. He's...he has been a friend, he's been better lately, but Tony made it clear the two of you weren't going anywhere for pretty good reasons."

"He didn't, uh, he didn't...again, you know -- "

"No, but he didn't apologize, either. He never has, has he?" Steve asked quietly.

"No. Not in any way where he actually took responsibility for what he did. He has a lot of reasons..."

"And I know how that goes," Steve said.

Jan blinked at him. "You do?"

"I can extrapolate. I guess they're a lot like what I used to hear from my father," he said.

"Oh -- Steve, I didn't know -- "

"It's in the past," he said, waving a hand. "See, the thing is, yes, it's good you ended it with Hank if it wasn't going anywhere, if you weren't happy. I just..." he sighed.

"It might have been better if it didn't end with him walking in on me and Clint?" she ventured.

"I'm going to talk to Clint about this, too, it's not just you," he said.

"We're both sorry."

"I know you are. But I told Clint if it hurt the team I'd have to involve myself, and..."

He broke off, because the look on her face was becoming depressingly familiar.

"You told Clint that," she said with a smile.

"Yes, Tony also informed me of how that sounded," he sighed, rubbing the back of his head. "I didn't mean it like that, I just can't make that kind of threat and not follow through -- Jan, seriously," he said, as she giggled.

"Sorry, sorry," she said. There was an awkward moment of silence while he worked out what else to say. He was just inhaling to say...something, when she blurted, "Would you be into that?"

He paused. "Into what, you and Clint and me?"

"Oh my God, forget I said anything," she said. "I can't believe I asked that."

"Why...did you ask?" he managed.

"Oh, I just, you know, you're you," she said. "I mean, half the Avengers would -- "

"Wait, that's true?" he asked. "I thought Tony was just pulling my leg."

"How can you not -- Steve, seriously, do you not notice, or are you just not into sex?" she asked, then clapped her hands over her mouth. "Stop me talking, please!"

"No, it's fine," he said hurriedly. "I uh. I like -- but it just never occurred to me, I mean, I'm kind of square and old-fashioned, I thought that wasn't what modern women, modern people want."

"Clint's had a crush on you for years," Jan said.

Steve rubbed his face. "Tony said that, too."

"Because if you were interested, I'm just saying, Clint would be all over it and I wouldn't um, exactly mind," she said.

Steve felt like there maybe wasn't quite enough air in the room. "I wouldn't want to hurt you and Clint. Separately or together."

"You know we're not really together, right?"

"No, I didn't."

"It's not serious. I needed a rebound," she said. "Clint knows that."

"I've never been with a man," Steve said.

"If you aren't -- "

"No, well, I don't know…there's just never been any offers, I suppose. And in the forties, ye gods..."

"Yeah, I can totally see that. Well, okay, so. I'm going to go hide in mortified shame now, feel free to forget we ever had this discussion," Jan said, and turned to leave.

"Jan, wait," Steve said. For one, he couldn't let their talk end like this, and...well, he wasn't seeing anyone at the moment, and a man did get lonely. Jan was lovely, and Clint was a handsome man. Plus there was a lot of history there, and Steve couldn't deny he'd had fantasies about holding Clint down -- usually to shut him up, but...

"Do you think it would work?" he asked shyly. She turned around. "I can't exactly put you two in detention or something. Tony said if I couldn't punish you at least I could, you know. Have some fun."

"Seriously?" she asked, voice rising.

"If Clint agreed. If you wanted. I'd be, uh, willing," he said.

Jan's mouth snapped shut. She considered him for an uncomfortable length of time.

"Let me think about it," she said.

"Sure. Of course. You need to be -- "

"Oh, no, I'm positive, I'm more than positive," she replied. "I just need to work out how to spring it on Clint."

"Ah," Steve managed. "Okay. Well. You know where to find me, I guess."

"Don't mention this to him, would you?"

"I need to talk to him too. But we'll keep this part between us."

"Thank you." Jan came forward slowly, like he might startle and bolt, and leaned up to kiss him on the cheek. "I'll call you."

Then she was gone.

Steve exhaled, adjusted himself slightly, and decided he should probably go burn off some excess energy in the gym.


Part Two

anthimeria: Open book, says "sometimes you reach what's realest by making believe" (Books)

[personal profile] anthimeria 2013-12-16 03:40 am (UTC)(link)
Enjoying this as always, but thought I should point out that the link at the end doesn't go to Part Two, just back to Part One.