10 Parables of Rapport
Title: 10 Parables of Rapport
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man & The Avengers (MCU)
Genre: Drama, fluff, romance
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), DUM-E (Tony’s bot), Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor. (Mentioned characters: James “Bucky” Barnes, Phil Coulson, Jane Foster, J.A.R.V.I.S., Howard Stark, U (Tony’s bot).)
Pairings: Pepper/Tony, implied/off-screen Jane/Thor
Summary: Four tokens of friendship, three romantic gestures, two confessions of love – and one kiss Tony meant with all his heart.
Written for: My card on Love Bingo’s Round 3 (10 squares, see chapters and ‘About’ section for further information)
Warnings: Language, mourning of canonical deaths. Spoilers for Iron Man 3.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Shane Black, Joss Whedon, Louis Leterrier, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Feedback: Comments are a form of love.
About 10 Parables of Rapport: Each chapter responds to a different square on my card – and also illustrates Tony’s attempts to connect with the people around him.
Mostly, this story is filled with unapologetic fluff, but I know my lovely beta, among others, will be appreciative of this.
Chapters and statuses: Below you see the writing process of the story’s chapters. If there is no text after the chapter’s title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
1: Rhodey & Tony
2: Clint & Tony
3: Pepper & Tony
4: Steve & Tony
5: Thor & Tony
6: Happy& Tony
7: Bruce & Tony
8: Fury & Tony
9: Natasha & Tony
10: DUM-E & Tony
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Birthdays & Anniversaries”.
1: Rhodey & Tony
It was Rhodey’s day off – Tony had made sure of that. No plans, no distractions; no ‘two men in metal suits’, although that would have been fun, too. Just, not today.
Today was for Tony and Rhodey, without duties or obligations.
It was early when Tony drove to Rhodey’s place. Even though the other man got up every day like military clockwork, Tony knew there was no way Rhodey was already up. Sure, he could have called ahead to make sure, like a normal person, but it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if he did.
So, there was some anticipation in the air when Tony knocked on the door – Rhodey had keys to all of Tony’s places, but not the other way around, for some reason. Inside, Tony heard movement, then the deliberately heavy footsteps of a person who would rather not be disturbed. Then, without warning, the door was yanked open; Rhodey didn’t even bother with the peephole.
Rhodey scowled. “The fuck, Tony? Do you know what time it is?”
People might think Tony wasn’t an early riser, but that theory didn’t include not getting into bed in the first place. So, Tony may have made early visits to people ever since… ever since he met Rhodey, actually, because before him, Tony didn’t have anyone to visit.
“Rise and shine!” Tony greeted his oldest friend and moved to push himself inside.
Rhodey resolutely stood his ground, refusing him entrance. “It’s not even five in the morning.”
“It will be if you just keep standing there,” Tony argued. “Let me in, put on some clothes. I have plans.”
“I’m going back to bed,” Rhodey decided and yawned, starting to close the door.
Tony wedged his foot between it and the frame before Rhodey could block him. “Come on, Rhodes,” Tony started again. “This is a special day! You can’t deny me this!”
“Deny you what?” Rhodey grumbled back, opening the door again, regarding him darkly.
“Your presence.” Tony dropped the act, just a little. “Do you know what day it is?”
Rhodey frowned. “It’s not either of our birthdays.”
“It’s not a holiday of any kind.”
“Okay, so, I have no idea, the sun’s not even up, and you are being a cryptic little shit,” Rhodey finally snapped.
“This is the day we met. Or, well, to be precise, this is the anniversary of that morning when you dragged me from that bar into your dorm-room and I sort of never left.” Tony looked hopefully at the other man. “I want to celebrate that.”
“At five in the morning?”
“It’s not five yet, but sure, if you insist.”
Rhodey let out a long suffering sigh, then pulled the door open and turned, stretching and yawning as he retreated deeper into his home. Tony followed him, closing the door and dropping his jacket on a chair but continued to carry a cheap, simple plastic bag in his hand. Rhodey had disappeared into his bedroom and for a moment Tony wondered whether he had gone back to bed, but Rhodey soon emerged once more, pulling on a t-shirt clad in sweat pants instead of his underwear.
“Okay,” the older man finally said, heading to the kitchen. “So, you want to celebrate the anniversary of our friendship?”
“Yup,” Tony smiled and followed him, placed the plastic bag on the table and instantly started to look around for coffee. Rhodey beat him to it and threw some grounds into the coffee maker, switched it on, then sat down at the kitchen table while still looking half-asleep. His eyes briefly gazed at the plastic bag, then back at Tony.
“You’ve never wanted to celebrate the anniversary of our meeting before,” Rhodey said next.
Tony thought about it for a few seconds. “Okay, so, maybe not often, but… We’ve both been busy,” he offered. Rhodey raised one dark eyebrow at him and Tony guessed it was a poor excuse. Instead, he reached for the plastic bag. “I brought food.”
That always got Rhodey’s attention. All the time they had known each other, Rhodey had been either growing, a health nut, or working out hard for military school and becoming the best pilot he could be – and to look good in the armor, of course. Plus, it took some real muscle to move War Machine around, so it was good he was fit. Thus, Tony had known Rhodey’s morning grumpiness could be bribed with food.
First, he pulled out a box with two large bagels in it. Second came two cans of beer, and then a paper bag full of nice jam doughnuts with a cheery pink glazing. Rhodey immediately dug into one of the bagels, then grabbed a can of beer, giving it a serious look.
Tony shrugged. “Do you know how many stores are open at this hour?” he defended the poor food selection.
Rhodey shrugged and opened the can, taking a sip from it. “Better shit than we used to drink at MIT,” he noted.
Tony grinned. “You were at the wrong parties.”
“We were at the same parties,” Rhodey argued.
“Nuh-uh. I had way better things to drink,” Tony vehemently defended his opinion and pulled over his own bagel and beer. The coffee maker on the counter finished brewing and Rhodey took a giant bite of the bread, munching on it as he retrieved two cups from a cupboard and filled them, then brought them back to the table.
Rhodey’s eyes next located the paper bag of doughnuts and opened it, frowning at the contents. “Seriously, Tony?”
“They looked delicious,” Tony shrugged. “The others were… unappealing.”
Rhodey pulled out one of the treats, showing Tony the heart-shaped doughnut with glazing on top. Okay, so the glazing also had a heart drawn into it with what looked like thick, delicious chocolate. “These look like Valentine’s Day desserts.”
“I can eat them if you don’t want any,” Tony taunted and went to grab the treat from Rhodey, who quickly pulled it back out of Tony’s reach.
“I’m just sayin’,” Rhodey muttered and placed the doughnut next to his mostly-eaten bagel.
“I could have brought candles, too,” Tony mused. “The small ones you put on cakes.”
“Those are for birthdays,” Rhodey argued and sipped his coffee instead.
“Or for celebrations – which this is.”
“With bagels, beer and heart-shaped doughnuts?”
“I trusted you would have more beer lying around,” Tony confessed. “Or I can go by the store once they actually open. Or have something delivered.”
“As long as they don’t have candles – or hearts,” Rhodey said, although it didn’t sound like a ‘yes’ to any of Tony’s suggestions.
“You’re just cranky because you have no romance in your life,” Tony teased, polishing off his bagel and trying the coffee, which was hot and very strong.
“You don’t know that.”
“Oh, please,” Tony cocked an eyebrow. “How about I romanticize your life a little…?”
“We’re not getting hookers, Tony.”
“I wasn’t saying we should, or would. Are you suggesting that lil’ old me isn’t enough?”
Rhodey gave him a look like he needed more coffee – or more something – but finished his cup anyway, then reached for the rest of his beer. “You don’t have to try so hard, Tony,” he finally said.
“You’re wrecking the mood,” Tony accused him, but tried to settle down a little. He proceeded to empty his beer can, the drink less than pleasant in its warm state, but it would do. This was something they used to do. This was normal.
Rhodey just gave him a small smile. “Yeah? Maybe you should have gotten those candles after all…”
Tony tossed the now empty beer can at him, and Rhodey dared to laugh – then bit into the doughnut he had selected and looked completely happy with it, regardless of its appearance.
And, just like always, Tony felt like this was so much better than most of his dates had ever gone; just him and Rhodey, being who they were: the best of friends.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Saying goodbye”.
2: Clint & Tony
The sky was a steady gray layer of clouds – a good day for a graveyard visit. It didn’t smell like rain, but then, Tony was no expert at predicting the weather.
Clint Barton was walking ahead of him, sticking to the paths, navigating his way past rows and rows of headstones. Tony was fairly certain that if he had come alone, he might have had to bring a GPS along for the trip. Sure, he had been here before, and had found his way there and back, but the cemetery was large and filled with nothing but death.
Most people considered cemeteries peaceful and beautiful. Tony didn’t share that notion; he had buried too many whose time hadn’t come yet. There was nothing peaceful – or beautiful – about that.
Clint didn’t have a problem with any of that; he walked unhesitatingly, not looking this way or that. His face was just as blank as always, not betraying any discomfort he may have felt, and finally he chose a smaller path and took it all the way down to the headstone Tony knew well.
Tony trailed after the archer until he came to a stop beside him, leaving a few feet between them in case Clint felt like he was being crowded.
“You didn’t have to come,” Clint finally spoke up, eyes nailed on the headstone.
“I know, but I felt like it,” Tony told him.
Clint cast him a quick look. He probably saw a lot more than most people ever would. “Yeah? You felt like being twitchy?”
Tony opened his mouth to argue, then closed it. “I don’t like graveyards,” he confessed.
He hadn’t joined Clint because he didn’t want to come alone, or didn’t think the other man capable of it; he had joined Clint because the two of them didn’t talk enough, and they might as well have this thing in common. Tony didn’t make friends easily, but both of them were Avengers – and both of them had lost Phil Coulson.
“He would have appreciated that you come to visit,” Clint suddenly said and crouched down by the headstone, shifting a few of the flowers someone had laid out in front of it. The marble slab was unassuming and simple. Too simple. And yet, someone had engraved a circle in one corner, inside which were another few circles and a star. Clint’s fingers brushed against it. “I’m pretty sure Steve made this, some time during the second week.”
“Vandalism,” Tony snorted. “Didn’t think Cap had it in him.”
Clint smiled wryly, fingers tracing the letters – then he straightened up just as swiftly, the moment gone. “I always thought it would be easier, you know? Not being forced to say goodbye,” Clint mused.
“You think that until someone’s gone and you weren’t there,” Tony agreed. He resolutely didn’t think of his parents.
Clint nodded, face blank. It wasn’t his ‘resting face’, though, but something he had forced there, like a mask. “He had faith in you,” Clint mused after a bit. “After the incident with Stane – after Vanko and Hammer – he told me to believe.”
“Do I look like I don’t?” Clint challenged, looking at Tony, but something had changed in his eyes. They weren’t as dead. “You took a missile and flew it into a wormhole in the sky.” Tension curled inside Tony at the mention of those events. “I guess that was my clue,” Clint added and gave him a ghost of a smile.
“Wasn’t enough to save him,” Tony deflected, trying to think of something else, but thinking of Phil Coulson dying wasn’t any better than the fear gripping him in the darkness of space.
“We pulled through, for him,” Clint observed, looking at the headstone again.
“No,” Tony argued. “We pulled through because we had to. However, we’ll keep being a team because of him – because he believed, long before we did.”
Clint looked at Tony again. There was something akin to surprise on his face, then determination as he nodded. “Sounds like a plan.”
Tony let a grim, tense smile grow on his face. If they had to pick just one plan, that would be it.
Without Agent Phil Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D., there would be no Avengers; there would be no six people pushing and pulling at each other to master powers greater than any of them could ever match on their own.
Without Phil, there would have been no free world after Loki’s attack, save for ruined lives to avenge.
Still, it felt like a shitty trade-off that they had to say goodbye to Phil in order to be here, and Tony knew he and Clint agreed on that point.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Center square/free space image (heart-shaped pendant) and “I love you” (a freely chosen prompt).
3: Pepper & Tony
Tony hadn’t thought of the options before their trip to China. Frankly, he hadn’t even been certain whether he would live through the surgery, although the odds were better than ever: he had made sure death wasn’t a likely option; he was a damn genius with a will to live, after all, and a superhero. Dying on an operating table wasn’t in the plan.
Afterwards… after some of the best sleep he’d had since Afghanistan… he had a plan.
He cleaned up and made plans to meet Pepper in the evening; he took the vial of shrapnel and went to see the best jewelry designer in town; he got back in time for dinner and changed into a white suit before meeting Pepper in the sitting room of their hotel suite. She looked stunning, as always; relieved and disbelieving that the nightmare of the last few years was over.
That they both were here, together.
“I have something for you,” Tony said.
Pepper didn’t say anything, just slightly bit her lower lip, expectant. Tony slid his hand to his pocket and drew out the necklace, the edges smooth, the metal pieces no longer biting into his flesh, seeking to end his life. Pepper’s eyes followed his hands as he unfolded the chain and the heart-shaped pendant that hung at the end, the red stone catching the dim lights from the Hong Kong skyline.
“Turn around,” he said softly, and Pepper did, lifting her hair out of the way so that he could slide the chain around her neck and fasten it in place. It looked good on her, as he had known it would.
Pepper was still quiet as she turned, lips briefly curling into a smile. She faced him, touched the side of his face as they gazed at each other, and then simply rested her forehead against his.
They were alive and together. Neither of them was dying, from a pierced heart or overheating.
Tony eventually raised his head to press his lips to her brow. “I love you,” he murmured.
Pepper let out a small, broken sound. It wasn’t a sob, but clearly she hadn’t yet released the tension she had collected while Tony planned the surgery. One of her hands rose to hold onto his arm, tightly.
They stood like that for a long moment, in the silence of their room. Eventually, though, Pepper pulled back slightly, passing a small kiss onto his lips before looking down at the pendant, fingers tracing the chain, as if she knew where the true meaning of the gift lay. “What is it?” she asked; during the time they had been in each other’s lives, she had learned to know when a gift was more significant than it had the right to be.
“Shrapnel,” Tony replied, because sometimes he just lacked the finesse.
Pepper’s eyes shot up to his face, wide, shining, and then down again. Her fingers traced the chain with more focus. Tony watched her, to make sure she wasn’t repulsed by it. After all, the metal of the chain had been in his chest mere hours ago. It had been worked into something beautiful and lasting, though, and eventually she let go of it and stepped over to him again, winding her arms around his neck and shoulders. “Thank you,” she whispered.
Tony wasn’t certain whether she was thanking him for the necklace or for the fact that he was still alive. Either way, he smiled and held her back, mouthing three words against the skin of her neck, his lower lip touching the metal chain: ‘I love you’.
Pepper held him more tightly and the bite of her nails against the back of his neck tattooed her response into his skin more surely than any words ever could have.
to be continued…
Author’s note: In case anyone’s wondering, it is actually canon that the necklace Tony gave to Pepper at the end of IM3 was made of the shrapnel dug out of his chest. Or, that was the plan, at least. (Don’t know if they actually “used” that idea in the end.)
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “We Are Family”.
4: Steve & Tony
Steve and Tony were seated on a gentle slope of grass overlooking a baseball field in a park in Brooklyn. A case of beer sat by their feet and they were polishing off their portions of Chinese food and a bag from Taco Bell. They’d had hot dogs on the way to the park – or in Steve’s case, three – but the super-soldier’s metabolism kept his stomach growling and Tony had a good excuse to pig out on fast food, knowing that Steve would end up eating most of it anyway.
Out on the field a group of young men was playing. Some of them were just kids, really, probably from some after-school kids’ club. Most of them would never make it to MLB, for sure, but they clearly liked the game and Steve seemed to appreciate that.
Tony guessed the other man hadn’t probably been able to come out and play with the others kids in his youth, a time that was riddled with sickness. He briefly considered if the Avengers should start their own team, but between Steve and Thor’s powers and Bruce’s possible Hulk-out should he get beaned with the ball…
He cast a look at the man beside him. This was one of those rare times when Tony and Steve spent time together, and the first time they had done so out in public. They still argued most days, usually about the small stuff; it was too easy to get a rise out of the man who still lived in the forties sometimes, but Tony was starting to recognize that he and Steve needed to get along so that Cap and Iron Man could work seamlessly together.
This was a step in the right direction.
A group of joggers went past them. Usually, Tony would have checked them out, but he kept his baseball-cap-covered head down; being recognized wasn’t the kind of hassle he wanted to ruin this team bonding exercise.
“It was nice of you to ask me out,” Steve said suddenly, looking at him. “You know, for…” He gestured at the food and the beer.
Tony decided not to make a crack at Steve’s phrasing.
Steve, who was sometimes way smarter than he pretended to be, must have noticed that because his smile turned genuine.
“No problem,” Tony replied. “We should do this more often.” He got a surprised look in return for that statement, and Tony wondered if he were laying it on a little thick.
“Bruce said I was your…” Steve started and then halted.
“My what?” Tony prompted.
“Your childhood hero. Was that a joke?” Steve looked kind of hopeful, although he was masking it well.
Tony told himself this was really good, considering they hadn’t fought once during this outing. He might as well continue on that note. “Sure,” he admitted. “I mean, my dad knew Captain America; he looked for you, before I was born, and despite all the crap that that brought into our lives…” Mostly when Howard couldn’t find Steve’s body… “I dressed as you on most Halloweens. My outfit was always the best, the most authentic-looking,” he boasted.
Steve gave him one of those quirky smiles he wore every time they passed a kid in the street dressed in home-made Captain America attire, carrying some form of shield. “I bet you looked the part.”
“When I was little, I dreamt my father would find you and I would become your sidekick,” Tony admitted. He wasn’t even drunk, so it was a little embarrassing – and also the wrong thing to say, possibly, because Steve’s face darkened significantly.
The blond looked away, at the young men playing on the field. One of them hit the ball wide and Steve got up to catch it as it rolled in their direction; it was far away, probably closer to the field than their spot, but Steve did it anyway, tossing it back easily, nodding at the thanks shouted to him from the field.
Steve walked back as the game resumed.
Tony opened one of the beers, to give himself something to do. If awkward silence was going to rule the rest of their little picnic, he would rather be a little tipsy during it. Not that light beer was going to do much, but Steve had chosen the brand so that’s what they had.
“Bucky used to make a joke about that,” Steve suddenly spoke up. “That he became my sidekick after I had been his for years.” His jaw was tense. Maybe it would have been easier to pick a fight with him at this point, to let Steve get out all those nasty thoughts that were no doubt swirling in his head.
“Well,” Tony started slowly, not in the mood for a fight, “you’ve got five new sidekicks now. Get used to it.”
Steve gave him another look. He was clearly trying not to read too much into it, at Tony’s offered kindness. Like he expected them to fight in the next breath, like they so often did.
Tony offered him a beer instead, and Steve took it, opened it, and Tony reached out to clink bottles with him. “We’re family,” he noted. “Of sorts. And like family, we fight and squabble, but in the end… we have each other’s backs. Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Steve agreed, the tension disappearing from his face.
“I don’t really do sidekicks,” Tony confessed with a cringe a second later, despite his earlier claim. “Partners, though…”
“Partners it is,” Steve decided, looking content with the term, and drank half his beer in one go before resuming the decimation of what was left of their fast food lunch.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Love nest”.
5: Thor & Tony
The fact was that between Asgard, New York City and New Mexico, Thor was a busy man. Thor knew he had duties as one of the Avengers, and he took them very seriously. It seemed, though, that his heart was pulled in the direction of his girlfriend, Jane Foster, and finding time to spend at her side wasn’t always easy.
Tony knew how hard it was to maintain a relationship when one or both parties had jobs and obligations. He also knew how important it was to keep the love alive – while you had it; everything could be snatched from you in a heartbeat, and if you got lucky, you could find a way to fight your way back to them.
Sometimes, people didn’t get so lucky.
Thusly, it was his duty, as Thor’s fellow Avenger – or ‘shield brother’, as Thor was so fond of calling his fellow Avengers – to make sure that Thor got ample chances to keep his relationship in good condition. If anyone asked, Tony could always say that as long as Thor had ties to Earth – say, Jane Foster – he was likely to return and stay around; simply being one of the Avengers might not be enough incentive if matters in Asgard were of greater importance.
He invited Thor to take a flight with him about a week after he set out to put his plan into motion. Tony flew in his suit while Thor came right behind him, and they headed to the easternmost tip of Long Island before setting down.
“What is the matter, Iron Man?” Thor asked after they landed.
“Nothing’s the matter; just, you know, taking a look around.” Tony gave him a grin and Thor smiled because he didn’t know better. “Let’s go over here,” Tony gestured innocently and they soon approached a nearby property.
“Are we visiting?” Thor asked. He had been instructed about private property and that it was rude and illegal to trespass.
“I own the place,” Tony said dismissively, then ordered the armor to open and stepped out of it. “Come take a closer look.” He led the way to the door, opened it with a set of keys he had and stepped inside, knowing Thor would follow. The decoration was just right on the inside: wood finish all over like in a luxurious log cabin, a large hearth and furs – all of which gave the place a look Tony hoped Thor would appreciate. “There’s a large bathroom back there, tub and all, by the bedroom. Also, kitchen,” he gestured in the other direction. “And, the upper floor and balcony are fully outfitted for star gazing.”
“Star gazing?” Thor’s brow furrowed.
Tony looked at him and then tossed the keys to Thor, who caught them and looked down at the items with confusion. “I fondly called this Operation Love Nest. It’s for you and Jane. I know you get to spend too little time together, between Avengers business and… other stuff. The place is not ideal, but it’s closer to New York City than New Mexico and I’ve got some really kick ass tech for Jane to test. I expect full diagnostic and user reviews once she gets her hands on it all.”
Thor was still looking confused. “But, I have rooms in your Tower. With the Avengers.”
“And you’re still welcome to all of it,” Tony nodded. “Just, Jane hasn’t come to visit all that often, and I get the feeling she’ll like this better. You’ll only be a short flight away from the Big Apple when disaster strikes – or when S.H.I.E.L.D. calls – and she’ll get to do some work here – when she feels like it.”
Thor blinked, then a bright smile appeared on his face. “I thank you, friend Tony. I am in your debt.” He took a step forward, spreading his arms, and Tony took a tactical step to the side before he was pulled into a bone-shattering embrace; whenever Thor caught him unawares, he wasn’t certain he would survive the experience. It was funny because Tony never had such concerns when the Hulk gave him an impromptu squeeze.
“Just put it to good use, big guy,” Tony ordered.
Thor nodded eagerly and wandered off to take a better look at the place.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Feelings”.
6: Happy & Tony
Whenever people made a list of Tony’s friends, they immediately included Pepper Potts – also known as ‘Tony’s girlfriend’ – and James Rhodes – a ‘fellow superhero wearing Tony’s armor’. Then, of course, after significant pause and debate, people might also include the Avengers, but none of them ever recalled the name Harold Hogan.
Those who had personally been around Tony knew Happy as Tony’s bodyguard; even after he became Iron Man, Happy had been there with him, and although Tony was a little ungrateful at times… he never forget that.
That whole business with the Mandarin was a firm reminder that he needed to remember the people who were in his corner. Happy had always put Tony’s life and health before his own, even when he callously dismissed any such notions. Tony had been brash, treating Happy almost like a pet guard dog, kept around for company, conspiring, and occasional amusement. When Happy almost lost his life in a mess that Tony indirectly brought into his life…
Things didn’t change after that: Happy kept his position as Head of Security at Stark Industries; he returned to work as soon as he was able, and everyone let him because the man had almost died, dammit. But in the midst of everything, Tony felt like he had to remind both himself and Mr. Hogan that Happy was one of his few, close friends.
The thing about Tony and Happy was that even with fancy cars, casinos, and hot babes, none of that had been really necessary for them to have a good time. Sure, back in the day Tony hadn’t appreciated the simpler things, but now that most things in his life had changed, simply stealing Happy away from work and driving down to some off-the-map scenic overlook outside L.A. held its own allure.
“I should get back,” Happy started when Tony parked the car, which at this point was a lame protest.
“I miss you, Happy,” Tony confessed and looked over at the other man.
Not too long ago, they had gone through a similar exchange. This time, though, Happy didn’t make a statement about Tony’s ‘super-friends’ – nor did he continue his complaint about the fact that Tony had snatched him from SI in the middle of the work day under the pretense that there was something important they needed to do.
Happy nodded, finally, and slowly loosened his tie, then removed the badge from the lapel of his shirt and put it in his pocket. “I miss you, too,” he replied.
“I have a couple beers in the back,” Tony offered, like a token of truce, even though they weren’t at odds.
Happy looked at him, then smiled. “Yeah?”
Tony took that as a sign to get up and retrieve the bottles from the cooler. When he returned, Happy had gotten out of the car and was standing in front of it, leaning against the hood and looking at the scenery spreading out before them. Tony offered him an opened bottle and Happy took it wordlessly, taking a sip and sighing.
“What’s the occasion?” Happy asked finally.
“Other than the fact that I miss you?” Tony asked back with a small smile.
Happy hummed and nodded, then took another sip from his bottle. “We could have just gone out for a cup of coffee.”
“And then you would have run back to work,” Tony noted. “This is better. A lot like what we used to do.”
“This is nothing like what we used to do,” Happy laughed. “No half-naked chicks, you’re sober, no entourage.”
“You can be my entourage,” Tony offered.
Happy raised an eyebrow but went back to drinking for a bit. Tony followed his example, moving to sit on the hood of the car, feeling the heat from the engine beneath his body. Between that, the sun and the companionable silence, he was happy. It was as if at this moment, all those uneasy feelings about almost losing Happy eased a little, and he could enjoy being with him without the immediate backlash of nasty memories.
“I’m grateful,” Tony said, “for all those years you worked for me, covering my ass. I hope you know that.”
“Sure thing, boss,” Happy smiled.
“Not your boss anymore.”
“No, you’re not,” the other man agreed. “Which means this is weird, and possibly against regulations.” He frowned as he mulled that over.
“The hell it is,” Tony argued. “You’re not my body guard, but I’m still kind of your boss, seeing as you work for my company. I’ll dismiss all that, though, in favor of, you know…” He gestured at the two of them with his bottle.
Happy gave him another look. “Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked. “You’re not dying or anything?”
Tony laughed, then didn’t, because it really wasn’t funny. “No. I think I’m just getting old and pathetic, realizing I’ve taken for granted all the important people in my life. It’s funny how you don’t appreciate those things until you almost lose them.”
“Well, I’m not going anywhere,” Happy said with confidence, as if he hadn’t been lying in the ICU just a few short months ago. “You know,” he went on, “we could start sparring again. I might not be your bodyguard, but you still have some shit moves.”
Tony almost spat out a mouthful of beer. “Shit moves?!”
“You’re fighting next to some badass S.H.I.E.L.D. agents and Captain America,” Happy pointed out. “You need all the help you can get.”
He didn’t have the heart to tell Happy that Steve was already trying to give him lessons, and Natasha took regular pleasure in slamming him into the mat whenever Tony was weak and agreed to spar with her. “Sure thing,” he agreed, because sparring with Happy served another purpose entirely: it had a lot to do with friendly feelings rather than actual need to learn tricks that might one day save his life.
Tony was totally fine with that.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Smitten”.
7: Bruce & Tony
There were not many people in the world that Tony Stark actually noticed for their brilliance. Good looks, sure, but brains? That took a little bit more effort. However, it was more gratifying than staring down at a perfect pair of breasts or inching his fingers up a slender thigh.
Bruce Banner’s brain, for instance, almost had Tony blushing like a virgin boy on his first date, full of expectations that probably wouldn’t come true for another few years, but eager all the same. To put it mildly, it wasn’t something that happened every day.
He may have subtly fan-boyed during their first meeting. He had played it cool, though, throughout their search for the Tesseract and the little heart-to-heart talk about their respective issues, and he liked to think it had paid off when the Hulk actually saved his life when he came crashing back down from the wormhole. That was the only positive thought Tony had about the whole ordeal, and focusing on that fact sometimes helped to stave off the impending panic attack that followed the use of the word ‘wormhole’.
As subtle as Tony was about it, he couldn’t contain all his joy when Bruce agreed to take a look at the promised Candy Land, then stayed. Tony took advantage of that fact, whenever he could – whether it was a crappy therapeutic session or just them talking science.
Or doing science; that was another level of awesome that Tony rarely got to experience. For once in his life, he didn’t need the feel to drag his heels while working with another person. He didn’t need to simplify things, and even if there were terms that Bruce wasn’t familiar with, the other man caught on quickly when Tony explained things to him – without the need to use layman’s terms, even once.
Tony was just a little smitten with Dr. Bruce Banner.
Also, Tony may have been more than ‘just a little’ in love with Bruce’s brain, which was slightly embarrassing, but Tony could live with that. Even when he told Bruce just that – or rather, his brain:
“I love your cerebrum,” Tony sighed after a particularly good creative outburst. Nothing had been blown up nor had they really done any groundbreaking work, but they had disproved several scientific theses and dissertations, which was a favorite past-time of Tony’s when he was feeling cranky. Together with Bruce it felt like they were up to no good, like scheming school boys, but instead of pranks they focused on undermining a mutually disliked person’s life’s work – especially if that person happened to be an idiot in the first place, who was just begging to be proved wrong and taken down a notch.
Bruce gave him an amused look – one of many since the start of their relatively short friendship. “Thanks,” he murmured and put away some of the tools they had been using.
“I really do love it,” Tony insisted, although he knew better.
Bruce gave him an almost shy look over his shoulder. “Just my brain?”
“Don’t get greedy,” Tony grinned at him, but patted Bruce on the back as he passed the other man.
“It’s the best part, really,” Bruce seemed to suddenly agree with Tony’s opinion.
“I would argue, but we really don’t want Pepper to hear that conversation,” Tony noted.
Bruce let out a laugh that wasn’t actually nervous, or uncomfortable. The next time he passed by Tony, he curled his arm briefly around him, just a little, and it may or may not have been a half-aborted embrace.
Yeah, Tony was totally smitten with Bruce Banner, and not all of it had to do with his gorgeous brain – but the brain really, really helped.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Family ties”.
8: Fury & Tony
“Stark,” Fury called out. They were leaving the meeting and as usual, Tony had been among the first to get up. However, Nick Fury had followed them all into the hallway outside the chamber and Tony halted with a small sigh, letting the other Avengers pass him by and disappear.
“If I don’t like what you’re going to say, Nick, you’re off the Christmas card list,” he threatened. Not that he was sending cards, and it would have been a little late for that already, but Tony felt like pointing out that he wasn’t receptive towards more ‘official business’.
Fury just gave him a look and motioned for Tony to follow. They walked for a bit, then veered off to the right and entered a wide room with one wall constructed completely of windows. The scene was great, above the clouds, and Tony wondered what was going on.
“You know I knew your family rather well,” Fury started, and Tony stiffened.
So it was about that.
“Sure,” he noted.
“Clearly you don’t remember me,” Fury added.
“Dad didn’t hold most of his secret meetings around the house – at least when I was there, which was rare,” Tony retorted, already disliking the topic. “Why are we talking about this?”
Fury fixed him with a steady look. “Your parents have been dead for –”
“Twenty-two years today, I know,” Tony cut him off. “Why are we talking about this?”
Fury sighed. It wasn’t one of his ‘fucking shut up, Stark, or I swear I’ll toss you off this flying boat – not that it will help because you have a flying suit of armor, you bastard’ sighs, either; Tony was keenly familiar with that one. This one seemed more honest, like it was coming from the man behind the patch – if that made sense. Very few things in Tony’s life did, though, so he let it go.
Tony looked out the nearest window, then turned his body towards the door. “Did you have something else; I have to g–”
“Howard never told me to look after you. I’ve been wondering in recent years whether he just didn’t say it out loud but thought I would get the drift because we worked together,” Fury noted.
Tony blinked at him. “I already had babysitters,” he replied, although there hadn’t really been a question there.
“Sometimes the people you work with are more of a family to you than your real blood relatives,” Fury added. Tony wondered if this was going to end up being an inspirational speech of how he needed to bond with the team. “Howard would have been proud of the man you’ve become,” Fury finally concluded, which was so much worse than demands to make things work better with the other Avengers.
“I thought we already had this talk, when I was dying,” Tony said.
Fury gave him a long, patient look. He didn’t seem angry or even a little pissed off. It was one of those times when Tony almost imagined this man walking down their old family home’s hallway, perhaps without an eye-patch and with more hair on his head. He could imagine the baby-version of himself cooing in a corner and looking at that weird stranger with wide eyes because he didn’t know what a double-crossing liar he was.
“You were a few days old the first time I held you in my arms,” Fury told him, which was kind of creepy.
“I don’t remember that,” Tony noted pointlessly.
“I do,” Fury stressed the point he had already made. “Sometimes, I make myself forget. It’s easy to put people in the line of fire when they’re not family.”
“I thought you just made a point of your chosen family being more important,” Tony reminded him.
Fury gave him one of those half-smiles and walked over to the windows, hands clasped behind his back, his stance relaxed. However, his shoulders were anything but.
Tony followed him slowly, looking out to see if there was anything alarming floating towards them; right now he would have accepted an attack on the Helicarrier, to end this awkward moment. “So, what do we do now?” he asked. “Hug?” He didn’t know what else to do other than look at Fury – a man he despised and respected at the same time, for the very same reason; because Fury had the balls to do things that no one else could, to keep the world spinning.
Fury looked at him from the corner of his eye. “If you want,” he agreed, which wasn’t what Tony had expected. The other man seemed to be hesitating, then opened his mouth again: “I was there the day they buried your parents. You didn’t see me, but I saw you; a young man, surrounded by strangers, destined for something too great for him to carry on his shoulders.”
“I did just fine,” Tony snorted.
“Yeah,” Fury agreed – miraculously without a snort. “But you’re doing a lot better now,” he added.
Tony entertained the idea of hugging the man just to break the awkwardness and replace it with something even more horrible.
Instead, he considered all the things Fury had told him and supposed it wasn’t as much about Tony thinking of his dead parents as it was Fury mourning a friend and ally he had lost. “I’m sure Dad would be proud of what you’ve done with the place, so to speak.”
Fury didn’t say anything, but a small smile curved his lips as he kept staring at the clouds, and Tony supposed there was no harm in standing there with him for a moment longer.
After all, they were family – sort of.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “Walking on the beach”.
9: Natasha & Tony
They’d been on a mission in Maine. No huge showdown, just some recon and a quick hostile take-over of an enemy camp. Afterwards, the Avengers decided to stay for the night and relax. They booked rooms near Ogunquit Beach, in a quiet hotel. The night was pleasantly warm and when they sat together, eating supper, Tony spied Natasha looking at couples that wandered by every now and then.
It was sickeningly idyllic, with the ocean, the sand and the low-hanging sun. The sunset would have been even more spectacular on the West Coast, but sometimes you had to make do with what you had.
Knowing it had been a shitty mission for most of them, with a lot of frustration and holding back in order to make things click at the right moment, Tony knew they needed to wind down. Clint had already talked Steve and Thor into going to a nearby bar with him; between the three of them, it would probably be the most productive night the place had seen in the absence of a bigger crowd. Also, Steve and Thor always snacked long after the others were done eating, so Tony had a feeling that as long as food and drink kept coming, they would be staying at the bar instead of hitting the sack.
Bruce had said he would be heading back to his room, but he had that tell-tale itch about him that meant he would work until the early morning; the big guy hadn’t been needed during the mission, which made Bruce happy, but it didn’t mean he was any less stressed about the whole ordeal.
That left Tony and Natasha.
“Want to take a walk with me?” Tony asked the red-head, who quickly cast her eyes his way from tracking the people moving by the restaurant.
“Afraid you’ll get lost?” she asked, lips curling a little into a half-smile.
“Or mugged,” he shrugged, pretending to be the damsel in distress. He could handle himself, but it was always problematic when people recognized him in the street. He would rather not deal with that tonight.
“Okay,” she finally agreed and rose from the table. Tony paid the bill – he always did.
Tony and Natasha set off down along the beach. After a minute Natasha stopped and undid her sandals, picking them up and continuing barefoot. The beach was deserted in places, although from time to time they came across a couple or a group of people hanging around, having fun or… well, having a moment.
Natasha kept up with his pace easily. She was dressed in a simple dress that rippled a little in the wind, and she looked like any person you might meet in the street, blending in; someone who kept eyeing up the couples they passed.
Tony knew longing when he saw it, even if it was hidden and repressed; he didn’t think Natasha had a lot of chances to get casually acquainted with people, even for a night. She probably had a list of trust issues longer than Tony’s, and perhaps she had told herself she could go without.
Sometimes, though, the craving lingered. Tony saw it whenever Pepper needed closeness and he was happy to give it. He knew Natasha would be more difficult than that; he couldn’t just set her up with a date. Most likely she would beat the guy up for making the wrong move around her.
Tony had his own share of issues when it came to Agent Romanoff. Mostly, he tended to watch her hands for sharp, needle-like objects. It had gotten better over time because she had his back now, regardless of that small incident of violated trust.
He shouldn’t let that rule his life.
So, subtly, Tony reached out with his hand, palm open in the air between them. Natasha noticed the gesture at once, of course, staring down at the offered hand as if it were going to attack her. Tony didn’t say anything and kept walking. Natasha looked away – at the ocean and the sandy dunes covered with low grass – then finally slid her hand into his. The grip was uneasy at first, but Tony was the master of things like this, drawing her in and making her relax with a subtle change in the hold and a brief caress of the tips of his fingers along her skin.
They continued their walk in that fashion, hand in hand. Like this, they didn’t look unlike any of the other couples they passed, and eventually they turned around and back-tracked to the hotel. It was dark by then, the sounds of the ocean a constant noise. The wind had eased up a little.
When they got close enough, Natasha slipped her hand out of Tony’s. It was as if walking back into the light surrounding buildings and parking lots broke the illusion she had allowed herself to fall into for a moment.
However, the small, private smile she gave Tony spoke of her appreciation, and Tony returned it before heading off to his room.
to be continued…
Written for my card on Love Bingo’s Round 3. Square: “I Will Always Love You”.
10: DUM-E & Tony
After everything else was in order, Tony quietly locked himself into his temporary workshop at Stark Industries’ L.A. headquarters and got to work.
Piece by piece, wire by wire, he put back together the familiar mechanics. In the background, J.A.R.V.I.S. was running checks on the motherboards and the back-ups, prepping them for the final stages of assembly. It would have been heartbreaking to lose years’ worth of experiences and memories, but even if that had been the case, Tony still would have been sitting here on the floor of the room, in so many ways re-enacting the building process he had gone through while still at MIT.
Finally, a day later, he sipped his stale coffee and took a look at the sleek new form. Everything was in place. The fuel cells were loaded and ready. Tony blinked at the sight and tried not to taunt the demons into springing forth in his mind – to bring back the memory of the last time he had seen the machine in front of him, alive and screaming for help…
“Fire it up, J,” Tony ordered.
The AI didn’t respond but a program window opened on a screen to his left. Tony didn’t really track the progress: all he had eyes for was the currently lifeless form, and a small fear bloomed in the pit of his stomach. The data may have been damaged; he, as well as J.A.R.V.I.S., had checked it, but there was always a chance. Something small and insignificant could be missing, but he would know: it wouldn’t be the same.
“Uploads and synchronization complete, sir.”
Tony took a steadying breath and kept looking at the dark metal and the newly printed letters on the side of the mechanical arm. He hadn’t felt like this the first time, when his creation was the biggest buzz on campus for days. Back then, there hadn’t been personal stakes because he had known his creation would work and he would have all the time in the world to work out the possible kinks.
Those kinks had formed a personality.
That personality had poked at his temper on more than a hundred occasions, but now they were here and all Tony hoped for was another flailing movement that would infuriate him beyond belief.
The hand moved, suddenly, with a soft whir. The three claws snapped shut, then opened again. The arm turned, rising slightly, in his direction. A familiar sound met his ears, inquiring, questioning. The three camera-eyes bore holes into him with their intensity, Tony could swear it, and a lump formed in his throat.
“Have a good nap?” he asked, trying to swallow through the invisible grip around his throat.
Dummy cocked its head, let out another sound, and then rolled closer to him.
Tony’s resolve broke. He landed hard on one knee and reached out for the arm when it got close enough, pressing his face against it. His eyes burned, tears hot, relief washing through him. Dummy let out another noise but stayed still. Tony liked to think the bot was confused, but he knew better.
Eventually, he pulled back a little, looking directly at the three camera-eyes. The mechanical arm cocked to the side, like a head. Sometimes Tony didn’t know whether to call it an arm, a hand, or a head, but that was fine. All of it was fine – perfect, even. His fingers caressed the smooth surface, no longer dented and corroded by sea water.
“I will always love you,” he whispered to Dummy, then leaned in and pressed a kiss on the side of the mechanical head although he knew the gesture was completely lost on the bot. “Always,” he repeated, then let out a shaky breath and pulled back, shoving Dummy to the side gently. “Alright,” he cleared his throat, “time to get to work on your evil twin,” he noted, motioning at You’s mangled body.
Dummy looked towards it and chirped, then moved towards the tool rack.
“That’s what I thought,” Tony noted, not completely certain what he was referring to, but it didn’t matter. He ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. to make him a fresh batch of coffee and got back to work – Dummy constantly hovering by him, more often than not handing him the wrong tools but for once Tony didn’t mind.