NINE DAYS LATER
Steve paused, flush and deep inside Tony, t-shirt rumpled up under his armpits, jeans around his ankles, and he wondered again at how easily this man drove him to do things he'd never have imagined. Dragging back out, he hesitated and then drove back in; Tony arched up to meet him, hands holding on to the edge of the cool granite, his black tank gathered at his waist, cheek pressed along the smooth countertop. Sweating even in the air conditioning, Steve tightened his fingers, bruising with his strength as he bit down on his lip and enjoyed the tight clench of muscles that tried to hold him in as he pulled back then resisted his hard thrust forward. One cup of tea, that was all he'd come in the kitchen for, something to help him get to sleep while Tony was still in the lab; leaning forward, he shifted his stance and griped one hand in Tony's hair, tugging him up, making his back bow. Anyone could walk through the door; Steve should care, but he didn't.
"How in the hell do you do this to me?" With Tony's head yanked backwards, Steve could bend down and whisper in his ear just before he sank his teeth into the soft lobe and twisted. Tension coiled in his gut, and he knew he was getting close; he increased his thrusts, fast rhythm now matching the sound of their expelled breaths.
"You love it." Tony craned his head back and smirked, daring Steve with a glitter in his dark eyes.
"Fuck, Tony." He let Tony's head go, hauled him half off the breakfast bar. Wrapping an arm around Tony's hips, he circled Tony's cock, stroked it, then pumped hard, once, twice, and a third time. The dam broke and Steve strained forward, coming in a series of stutters that rocked them both as Tony groaned his own climax at the same time. Sliding a hand up the knobs of Tony's spine, he bent down and kissed the sweaty skin at the nape of Tony's neck. "You drive me crazy, damn it."
They separated; Steve removed the condom and tied it off, wrapping it in a paper towel to dispose of somewhere besides the communal area. Dressing quickly, he found the Clorox wipes and tossed the plastic holder to Tony to clean up the evidence, knowing he'd think about this next time he used one of the stools to eat breakfast, probably only a few hours away.
"Enjoying debauching you, Cap." Tony left his pants undone, grey briefs showing, and he trapped Steve between the sink and his body. "Always a pleasure to see you come undone. And a very nice break from work, if I do say so myself."
"What makes you think I'm not a hedonist already?" Steve leaned back when Tony leaned forward.
"I know you're not a damn virgin, but introducing you to new things ranks high on my to do list." Tony circled a hand around Steve's neck and stretched up to kiss him, a sweet, post-coital buss that was the only way Tony admitted he cared. Steve had come to realize that these moments were Tony's way of saying it without words; so far, Steve hadn't voiced his own feelings out loud, too unsure of the status of their relationship and knowing it was too soon for Tony to hear.
"Okay, who's always complaining about PDAs? In the kitchen no less." Clint wandered in, bumping past them to get two cups from the cabinet and a tin of tea. Scooping some Thai chai into strainers, he ran hot water from the red tap and sat them aside to steep. "Steve I expect, but you, Tony?"
There was a hint of laughter in Clint's teasing, and Steve took it good-naturedly. They'd fallen into an easy banter lately, more comfortable around each other since they talked on the roof; something about admitting things out loud made life seem less complicated. Tony eyed them both, not letting go of his hold on Steve.
"Someone want to clue me in here? You've both been so damn chummy since our little escapade," Tony complained; the man certainly hated being out-of-the-loop. That's what made having an ace up his sleeve so appealing to Steve, the expectation of Tony's reaction.
"Stargate." Steve said calmly and proceeded to dip his hand into the waistband of Tony's jeans, already hanging precariously off his hips. "I dreamed we were all members of SG-1."
"Really? That's great!" Tony's brain immediately jumped to filling in the blanks; Steve's hand slipped lower over the curve of Tony's ass. "You were Jack, of course. Let's see, I'd be Daniel? Nah, a humanities degree? Sam. Yeah, I'd be the smartass version of the genius physicist. Bruce could be Daniel and Thor T'ealc."
"You keep dreaming, Metal Head." Clint took the strainers out and cleaned up. "And what about me?"
"Oh, you're Jonas Quinn," Tony flashed a grin and stepped back from Steve, reaching around Clint for a mug for coffee, the whole reason he'd come up to the kitchen in the first place
"Sorry, Tony, but you only got one out of four." Letting go, Steve knew he'd held Tony as long as he could; keeping Tony Stark still was beyond any super solider serum or amount of patience. Like a hummingbird, he could hover only in small doses then he was off onto the next thought; that energy was the reason Tony was so damn successful.
"Which one did I get right?" When neither Steve nor Clint answered, he rubbed his hands together in glee. "Oh, ho, this is a game, is it? Yes …. Okay, there are four main characters and at least six ... no seven counting that pain Parker … and the others? Hmmm …. If we allow for permutations that include Gabriel … yeah, I can do this. Challenge accepted. But you have to tell me when I get one variable correct."
"Okay, but you can't do them one at a time; you have to give me the whole team and I'll validate which ones you have right," Steve sighed, pretending to acquiesce, but he didn't have much of a poker face so the edges of his lips curled up slightly. "You were Sam."
"Yes!" Tony pumped a fist and spun on his heel, his jeans barely hanging on his hip bones as he started to pace. "Let's start with Jack. Leader, smart ass, pretends to be dumber than he really is … Thor? Maybe, but Thor isn't …"
As Tony contemplated the possibilities, Clint leaned over to Steve, hand resting on the taller man's bicep. Fingertips trailed down Steve's arm, and Clint winked, knowing the action would incite Tony even more. "Keep me updated on the progress. Be sure to save the video and audio feed."
"… as I hate to admit it, Hawkguy over there might be the best fit for …" Tony stopped walking and talking, glaring a hole in Clint's back as he left the room, juggling the two mugs. "What the hell was that?"
"Clues, Tony. Clues," Clint shot back from the hallway.
"I really hate that he knows more than me," Tony groused. "And you? You're enjoying this way too much."
Steve just smiled.
Things had been tense the last few days; Bruce was wound tighter than a spring about the test results and Clint didn't see what the big fuss was all about. Problem was, Bruce spun out all the possibilities, focusing on the worst case scenarios; Clint played the odds too, running scenarios, making plans, but then there was nothing left to do but wait to see the direction events took. Scope the shot, be prepared for any eventuality, but sit quietly until the target came into sight.
And there was no road map for this new territory. Thank god they'd kept the situation quiet from the start; Bruce had wanted to test everyone, but Clint had talked him into starting on just the two of them with the argument that he was the only one who was really at risk. Hank had been slashed by a cutlass but aside from some bruises and red knuckles, Clint's gunshot wound and bites were the worst of the lot. No telling what SHIELD would do when they found out, and they had already agreed to keep parts of the results just between them – well, Tony and Carol would probably know. And Steve. And Natasha. Hell the whole team, but they'd try to keep it from going any further.
Clint wanted to make Bruce's favorite tea, the one he'd stashed in the cabinets for moments like these, as kind of a peace offering. He sat the full mugs down on the edge of the table, catching a glimpse of the screen; streaming data bunched and separated under Bruce's fingers, filling folders as he went. The way his brain worked never ceased to amaze Clint, how fast he could make sense of the foreign language; he always laughed when Clint said that out loud, reminding Clint how quickly he calculated vectors and the coefficient of wind drag before he shot, but it wasn't the same thing. Clint intuitively knew those things from the feel of the breeze on his arm to the layout of an alleyway; he didn't think about it, he just took the shot. Not that Clint wasn't smart - his skill was instinct born of intensive practice and natural ability. Bruce was education and knowledge and, well, math.
"Hey," Clint said softly, sliding the mug over. "Drink. If you're going to be up all night, you need some caffeine and sugar to make a go of it."
Bruce blinked, becoming aware of Clint. Smudges of black curved under his dazed eyes as he tried to focus. "What time is it?"
"Oh my god 2:47 fucking a.m." He pressed Bruce's hands around the warm mug. "Everyone is sleeping except for Cap and Tony; I just wandered in on the aftermath of some kitchen sex, I think."
"I got the results of Carol's first batch of tests," Bruce mumbled, gesturing absently at the screen. He was clearly running on empty, having insisted on broadening the data pool as soon as possible. "She doesn't have the low level of sex pollen compound, but she wasn't exposed in the alternate. Nothing else, so I need to wait on Tony and Steve's …" he ran out of steam and ground to a halt, just sitting on his stool, staring at the display.
"You need sleep." Clint's fingers gently tugged Bruce's face towards him. "Come to bed. There's nothing you can do like this."
Bruce's voice grew stronger and he shook his head, pushing away Clint's hand. "I need to run the metabolism comparison again and take the pollen into account. Hormone levels might account for the discrepancies."
"Bruce." Clint tried to get through to him. "It's not your fault."
"No!" Pushing back on the edge of the table, Bruce skidded his stool on the floor, standing up. Anger sparked in his eyes, but he kept his voice low as he spoke. "Damn it, Clint, this isn't something you can ignore or laugh off. You've got elevated levels of gamma radiation at the cellular level. Do you understand the implications of that? Right now, there may be no changes, but long term? Who the hell knows what I've done to you?"
"You said it yourself - there shouldn't have been any effects. A couple drops of blood wouldn't make any difference." Clint fell right back into the same argument. "You saved my life and I distinctly remember begging you to do it. So if it's anyone's fault, it's mine."
"I should have known. Hell, I did; I said it was a disease of the blood and I knew that I was changing you." Bruce countered.
"Vampirism, Bruce. You were talking about making me a vampire. It wasn't real. You couldn't have known." God, but Clint didn't want to do this again, this wasn't why he came down here. Watching Bruce's hands clench by his sides, Clint drew in a shaky breath and reined in his temper. "Shit. I don't want to fight about this."
"Neither do I." As fast as it came, the energy drained out of Bruce, and he collapsed back onto his stool.
Clint rested his hands on Bruce's knees and leaned down. "Come upstairs. Let's talk. Really talk."
"I need to …" Bruce started to protest, but let the words fade. "I'm overthinking this, aren't I? And you're the calm, accepting one. I think we've got our roles mixed up."
"Transference? Can I get a bit of that miracle metabolism if we're sharing traits now?" Clint tried to lighten the mood. "I can hear you, doc, all the worry and angst. Guess the jig is up. You were never that calm under the surface."
"Pretty good at pretending. I'm being an about ass," Bruce managed a small smile.
"Yeah, but a mighty fine ass it is, and, so happens, I'm an ass man, so that works out well, doesn't it?" The lightest of kisses and Clint pulled back. "We'll get through this."
Bruce ran his hand up Clint's chest and curled his fingers around his neck. "Together," he agreed.
"I meant what I said, doc. Whatever happens, this is not a curse." He wasn't sure how to say what he needed to; hell, he wasn't used to sharing at all. Natasha was easier to deal with than moments like these. "You know this is the longest I've even been with one person? Wasn't sure I was capable of anything over a couple months to be honest. And I sure as hell don't know about tomorrow or next year or ten years from now, but when I do let myself think about it, you're in the picture. A little greyer around the temples, maybe, but you."
"What exactly are you saying?" Bruce's face had lost the tension, stress lines softening as he gazed into Clint's blue-green eyes.
"Bruce Banner, will you go steady with me?"
A laugh exploded from Bruce and Clint joined in. "Steady? Wow. Want me to wear your pin and letter jacket too?"
"Laughing at my heartfelt declaration? I'm hurt!" Clint feigned outrage. "The Big Guy's a sucker for that kind of sappy stuff, and you know it."
"He's jumping for joy. But you know that don't you?"
He did; the Hulk was a kid at heart and the old-fashioned notion suited him just fine. "In Vegas, when you got so jealous about Steve, I told you I was committed to this relationship and I meant it."
"I sort of figured that out when you decided to become a vampire to spend eternity with me." Bruce's stroked his fingers over the nape of Clint's neck. "I love you too, by the way."
"Now, how about we go upstairs and you get some rest, hit this fresh tomorrow?" He bent to whisper in Bruce's ear, lips brushing along the curl of skin. "I might be talked into tossing the pillows on the floor and letting T'ealc hold me down and fuck me nice and slow."
"Let me save the data. I'll be right behind you."
"Behind me. Good one, doc."
"I'd love to have seen father's face when the satellite disappeared," Richard Fisk was gloating, kicking back in the hot tub in Vale, the cold weather not bothering him or the two naked women clinging to his sides. "You did well, Gabriel. Your payment had been wired. I'm looking forward to the next time."
With a snap, Gabe was out of there; he couldn't help but nudge the Jetstream so that low pressure would collide with the high parked over the middle of the United States, sending a good snowstorm the little shit's way. That brought a grin to Gabe's face as he thought about all the ways he'd take care of Richard when the time came; boy didn't know who he was messing with, and arrogant little pricks like that always got their comeuppance … when Gabe was around, anyway.
He stopped at Dylan's Candy Bar to refill the sweet supply and then dropped into Stark Tower just after the sun rose over Manhattan to see the progress there, engaging his cloaking device (okay, just staying out of sight, but an invisibility cloak sounded cooler). Tony was busy in his lab, various components of the satellite pulled apart and programming code running across the screen, caught in the minutiae of how, the details weighing him down. Steve was in the gym, working out like a good little soldier, brain still flooded with endorphins from an early morning wake up blow job; man almost had angel-like stamina. Hank and Carol were sipping steaming cups of coffee, oblivious to the bigger picture, half-asleep over their breakfasts, unknowing that just hours ago Steve and Tony had been in that very same spot. Gabe chuckled at that one; say what he would about the slow-on-the-uptake Avengers, but when it came to sex, they were way out in front of the pack. Thor was gone, probably back to Asgard; what fun that had been to watch the godling try to act his way out of a paper bag. Sometimes Gabe even amazed himself with the outcome of his little magics. Peter … he cast about and found the teen fast asleep in his bed at home, gangly limbs sprawled across a set of Star Wars sheets. The redhead was more difficult; every time he tried to eavesdrop the least bit, she would turn and stare at him as if she could pinpoint exactly where he was. Creepier than that chick in The Ring. And more deadly, so he did a flyby, catching her in mid-sunrise salutation pose before he winged away quickly. His last stop was Bruce and Clint, wrapped around each other in an exhausted pile, covers tossed off of their bodies. Geez, these two loved being naked. The bond between them glowed faintly, golden hues of the connection so different than the green veins that pulsed along Bruce's skin, the Hulk's presence visible to Gabriel's sight. The tiniest of lines traced out from Clint's neck and thigh, a violet color like orchids, faint but detectible. And woven into the green that raced through Bruce Banner was random chaotic shots of yellow, occasional flashes of a new element.
"Sorry, boys, time table's been moved up a bit. I'd say it's not going to hurt, but I'd be lying. It's going to hurt a lot." For one second, Gabe thought of the others – brothers and lovers and friends and teams – in their own worlds, the infinite permutations that existed so close to one another; all of them filled to the brim with such amazing diversity, and so many opportunities for fun, separated only by delicate membranes, each its own little bubble. Veils between universes that parted easily for Gabriel and held fast against all others were thinning under the onslaught, a constant barrage from something or someone desperate to get in. It was only a matter of time, Gabe knew, and someone had to be ready to stand up and fight. Might kill them, getting them ready, but without it, they were dead anyway.
With one last salute, he snapped his fingers and stepped out into the parking lot of the Bait-n-Tackle Motel in the middle of Bumfuck, nowhere, USA, in another universe. "Only the best for you, buckos," he muttered as he faded into the woodwork, not visible to human eyes; as the people walked past, unaware of his presence, Gabriel, archangel, messenger of the Lord, sometimes trickster, all times pain-in-the-ass, unwrapped a tootsie roll and popped it in his mouth, balling up the wrapper and making the three point shot into the garbage can.
This story is the beginning of a new series I'm calling "The Broken Blade." Next up, two stories that focus on threats from the past; first "Not all who wander," told from Bruce's POV and bringing General Ross back into the picture, plus those yellow flashes in the Big Guy's green world. Then "From the ashes," when ghosts from Clint's mercenary days force him to make some hard choices; there will be gamma signatures, and maybe, just maybe, one of those dreams the Tesseract showed him back in "It Takes Two." Along the way, changes are happening not only to Bruce and Clint but to the whole team. Richard Fisk, Loki, A.I.M., H.Y.D.R.A, the Tesseract … they're just the start of the Avengers' problems.