Title: Past Ghosts
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers (MCU)
Genre: Angst, drama
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: Bruce Banner (Hulk), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), Phil Coulson, Nick Fury, J.A.R.V.I.S., Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Thor.
Summary: After being possessed by dark magic and attacking his teammates, Steve has to come to terms with his actions, no matter how unwilling a participant he may have been. Tony does his best to help him through it while the two of them attempt to turn years of pining into a working relationship.
Complete. Sequel to “Phantom”.
Warnings: Past mind-control, language, implied & mild M/M sexual content.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, 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.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
About Past Ghosts: After finishing “Phantom” I felt like there was more to the aftermath of the story that needed exploring: How did Steve really feel about the things he did while possessed? How did things work out between Steve and Tony? (Below are some answers to those questions.)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
A hand tightens around his throat, the pressure unyielding. If he fought it hard enough, it would be forced to release him…
Fighting is not necessary: he is where he wants to be, the target within his reach as he climbs up the form encased in metal.
“What are you doing? You’re going to get us both killed!”
The voice is distorted but familiar.
His fingers pry into the metal where the seams lie hidden; he knows where the armor is the weakest.
Wind whips past them as they fall, and briefly he sees the familiar face and a sense of tranquility takes over him before they hit the trees below –
Steve woke up with a shaky breath, sitting up reflexively to show himself that he could move; that this was real and that he was in control. He was no longer falling…
“Steve?” Tony’s sleepy voice drawled from beside him and Steve heard the other man turn towards him. “Another dream?”
Steve nodded. In the darkness the gesture was mostly lost although Tony’s shift had pulled the sheets down, bathing the space between them in a gentle blue light from the arc reactor.
When they had started sleeping together, Tony had offered to cover up the light if it disturbed Steve’s rest. Steve had been appropriately aghast at Tony thinking he needed to do that in the first place. He still felt a little strange when Tony kept coming to bed wearing a tank top on most nights; for some reason he had always expected that Tony slept naked between his expensive sheets.
Tony shuffled closer, making a small motion with his hand that signaled for J.A.R.V.I.S. to turn the lights on low, adding a golden glow to the room. As he so often did, Tony sat up beside Steve, resting his face on Steve’s bare bicep, breathing into his skin. Sometimes they talked, but most of the time Tony didn’t offer any hollow consolations.
“I’m saying this once, and only once: it wasn’t you.” Tony had told him that the first time Steve had a flashback, and Tony, true to his word, had not repeated the words. Steve didn’t need him to, on most days.
That didn’t mean he believed them.
“Where were you?” Tony finally asked when Steve kept resolutely staring at the foot of the bed, knees drawn up, arms loosely hugging his legs, body tense and unable to relax. Going back to sleep was the last thing he wanted now and Tony knew that from experience so he didn’t suggest it; instead he tried to get Steve to unwind by unburdening his mind, in the hopes that they could get on with their day.
“Massachusetts,” Steve replied. “Just before I ripped off your faceplate and we fell.”
Tony huffed, the exhale warm against the skin of Steve’s arm. He knew Tony was tempted to repeat himself, this one time – to tell Steve it hadn’t been him – but the man kept quiet. Not that silence with Tony ever lasted a particularly long time without some kind of action taking place, and soon enough Tony moved his head away from Steve’s bicep – only to kiss his cheek. “Come on,” Tony murmured, and whatever he was suggesting had nothing to do with the dream.
A distraction, then.
Steve allowed himself to lie back as Tony’s hand settled on his chest, pressing him down, and welcomed the warmth of his lover’s body as Tony moved closer to him. Tony’s lips settled against his, and Steve tried to focus on kissing him, to put all his focus on that simple act.
The flashbacks troubled him, though; he didn’t remember what had taken place in between his possession in the Brazilian rainforest and the banishment of the spirit later in New York City. There were small flashes, emotions more than actual memories, giving him a rough idea of what had transpired when he had not been himself. The others – his team and their allies at S.H.I.E.L.D. – had been rather unwilling to divulge any real information, and the more Steve saw in his dreams, the more he understood why.
He had hurt people.
“Hey, Steve,” Tony breathed against his skin.
Steve blinked, realizing his hands were fisted in Tony’s hair – clutching too tight for his liking – and he had dragged the other man’s head too high for Tony to keep kissing him. He blinked again, trying to sort out his thoughts. “I should get up,” he said, relaxing his fingers, knowing how much Tony loathed it when Steve pulled back after accidentally hurting him. He kept his fingers in Tony’s hair and massaged his scalp to get rid of the stinging ache he must have accidentally put there.
“Stay,” Tony replied. “Stop thinking about the stupid dream.” The dreams weren’t stupid but Steve knew they frustrated his lover to no end – mostly because Tony had his fair share of bad nights and if he hadn’t found a way to deal with his own night terrors, how could he help Steve?
Steve wished he could tell Tony how much just being here with him helped, every single day.
In an attempt to show his gratitude he used the loose hold he still had while cradling Tony’s skull, drawing the other man down into a slow kiss. Tony hummed with approval and settled against Steve’s body, half on top of him for better access. Steve felt the arc reactor digging into his ribs a little but he knew it would never hurt him as much as it hurt Tony, day and night – especially with the ribs Steve had injured and which were still healing, not to mention his clavicle.
‘Happy thoughts’, Steve chanted to himself. Tony wasn’t fragile and he wouldn’t break if Steve touched him. The injuries pained him less than they had weeks ago, when they were fresh and Steve’s guilt was just starting to surface.
His kisses were getting distracted, no matter his attempts to focus, and Tony eventually leaned back, giving Steve a look he knew too well. “Am I ever going to get you to just let go and not think?” he mused.
Steve’s upper lip twitched a little but he didn’t smile. “I thought you were an expert when it came to a brain that won’t shut down.”
“My brain does worthwhile things; yours is just driving you crazy.”
“Right…” Tony gave a skeptical snort. “How about a distraction?” he offered next.
“Does the distraction include you?” Steve asked
“It’s worth a shot.”
They both knew it was more than that when Tony moved down his body and pushed the sheets out of the way. He kissed Steve’s upper thigh, facial hair dragging against his sleep-sensitive skin, then moved inwards and Steve found it much easier to relax for a few, sweet moments when his attention was almost completely fixated on Tony’s mouth and the things it was doing to him.
- - -
“Morning, Cap,” Natasha greeted as Steve showed up at the communal kitchen.
“Morning, Natasha,” Steve replied in turn, selecting a glass from the cupboard and then going to the fridge to get a jug of milk.
“So, rough night or a pleasant morning?” Natasha asked after Steve had poured himself a glass and was looking for breakfast ingredients.
“Both, I suppose,” he confessed, not at all surprised she would notice; it wasn’t a secret he had nightmares. It also wasn’t a secret that he and Tony were sexually active.
She chuckled and sipped her morning tea while Steve worked towards filling his growling stomach. Natasha liked her morning tea-routine on days when she had nothing to do. Steve wasn’t sure if it came from some habit in her past or if it was something she had cultivated after moving into the Avengers Tower. Either way, the other Avengers knew not to distract her from it unless she indicated it was okay to do so, and Steve preferred to get his breakfast made because he was starving – which meant eating random bits of this and that in between getting the oatmeal and sandwiches ready.
“Is Tony coming down for breakfast?” Natasha asked at length, almost done with her tea.
“I don’t think so,” Steve replied, biting into his sandwich, eyes fixed on the view of the city skyline through the wide windows as he chewed.
Natasha didn’t state whether she cared if Tony joined them or not; chances were it was her version of small talk – or a subtle way to sneak bits and pieces of information from Steve.
“How’s your back?” Steve asked before he took another bite, stirring the oatmeal as he chewed.
“Almost back to normal,” she replied easily. Steve knew she hated the pain she still experienced with the more physically demanding moves. He had tried avoiding the gym when she was there, but just as often the signs were present after she had just finished her work-out, and unless Steve truly started avoiding Natasha’s presence, he was going to have to bear witness to the injury he had caused her.
“Good,” Steve murmured, stilling his hand and letting go of the spoon, grabbing onto the sandwich again. He heard Natasha placing her tea mug on the table a bit harder than was necessary and anticipated what would come out of her mouth next; unlike Tony, the others kept telling him, over and over, that he wasn’t responsible for his actions during the possession.
“It wasn’t you,” Natasha said, as predicted. “It’s okay to move on.”
Steve looked up at her sharply. “Really?” he challenged. Captain America has never lied, does not lie and never will lie, was the common conception. Steve, of course, knew better.
“Yes,” Natasha met his challenge full on, locking their gazes. “Tell me you don’t flinch every time Tony tenses when his ribs and shoulder pain him.”
That thought certainly made Steve tense. He should have known Natasha was never above playing dirty.
Bruce chose that moment to step into the kitchen, halting just inside the doorway and giving them a look. “Perhaps I should come back later,” he mused, fidgeting a little.
Steve hated putting the man on edge, wanting Bruce to feel at home here, so he folded by grabbing the sandwich plate and the bowl of oatmeal. “I was just leaving,” he said and took his breakfast to the upper floor which was almost exclusively his – with a magnificent view of the surrounding city. Tony had let it slip some days ago that he had chosen the floor because of the view, knowing that Steve liked to draw.
Settling down in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, Steve proceeded to finish his breakfast in an almost suffocating silence.
- - -
When Steve went to the gym later that day, Clint was there at the shooting range. Steve hesitated at the door – not unlike what Bruce had done when he entered the kitchen earlier – but before he could back out of the large room the archer’s voice rang out:
“If you keep hovering at the door like that someone might assume you think my aim’s off.”
Steve squared his shoulders and walked in the rest of the way. “That’s not what I’m trying to imply.”
Clint just nodded, drew another arrow and held it in place for a second before releasing it. The motions looked easy and effortless, like he wasn’t really pushing himself, but Steve knew that when you were in a fight and you just had to keep firing…
“I heard you had words with Natasha,” Clint went on as Steve wrapped his hands with tape.
“She said I didn’t miss anything but I had J.A.R.V.I.S. play it back to me anyway,” Clint added, grunted a bit as he held the next arrow several seconds longer, then sent it flying across the room and embedding it right beside the last ten arrows without hitting any of the others.
Steve just hummed, to signal that he was listening. He had nothing to add, though.
Clint, clearly, didn’t feel the same. “I know it weighs on you like a ton of bricks and that you feel guilty, but it’s just like she said: you need to move on.”
Steve looked up at his teammate who had turned away from his target in favor of looking at him. Instinctively Steve checked his eyes because he kept expecting to find them bloodshot…
Clint narrowed his eyes. “We’re fine, Cap. Get used to it.”
“I could have killed you,” Steve argued.
“But you didn’t!” Clint snapped. “You beat the crap out of half your team while not even completely in control of yourself – or not at all in control, whatever. Point is, all of us are still here and you got that poltergeist out of you. Hell, you even got yourself a boyfriend as a result of that mess, which isn’t half bad.”
“That wasn’t how I wanted Tony and I to…” he didn’t finish and angrily kept wrapping his hands so that he could take some of his frustration out on a punching bag.
“But you and Tony are happy, right?” Clint checked.
“Then what’s the problem? Would you two rather have gone on pining after each other for the next decade?”
The answer was a resounding ‘no’ but Steve didn’t bother to voice it. Being in a relationship with Tony, finally, was the single good thing to come out of getting possessed by some ancient alien spirit that sent him on a violent rampage while searching for its – or his – beloved. Had it not been for his budding feelings for Tony, things might have ended up a lot worse, with or without Thor’s eventual intervention.
Clint sighed and went to remove the arrows from the target board, muttering something about super-stubbornness.
Steve stepped up to a punching bag and started delivering punches, which easily drowned out Clint’s voice – as well as his eventual exit from the gym.
Steve’s focus moved between thoughts of precision and put your body into it, which was a comfortable zone to be in. He felt the strain on his body but drifted through it as if it were trivial and could wait. The serum had given him endurance and that was why his mind eventually had time to start going to a different, darker place – one that for once wasn’t filled with gunfire and the smell of a damp forest somewhere on European soil…
The forest in his mind was denser, hotter and humid, mingling with shouts and a precise strike of his shield –
Hands settled on his waist and Steve swung around before he could think, too wrapped up in the violent tide that kept trickling in, one vague image at a time.
Tony yelped, leaning back so fast he fell down to the floor, barely avoiding Steve’s fist.
Steve froze, in fear and realization that he could have knocked Tony out and possibly given him a serious concussion if not outright killed him – which provoked anger at the other man’s foolish idea to creep up on him while he was working out. “Don’t sneak up on me,” he snapped, not moving to help Tony up because he was afraid the helpful touch would morph into something else – something dangerous and beyond his control.
“Usually that would be impossible,” Tony snapped back, took a breath and sat up. “You’ve been at this for three hours straight; I think it’s time to take a break.”
“I can still go on,” Steve told him, not turning towards the swaying bag but aware of its continued presence at his back.
“I’m sure,” Tony rolled his eyes and finally stood up. “If you really need to get something out of your system, let me put on the suit and we can go a few rounds.”
Steve tensed so quickly it hurt, every fiber of his being aghast at the idea. “No.”
“Why not?” Tony cocked an eyebrow. “You think I can’t take it?”
“I can’t.” There were too many flashes of the armor – too many brief glimpses at how he had tried to hurt it, not even acknowledging the fact that Tony was the one encased in the metal.
Tony looked at him steadily for a few more seconds then sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose – a quirk he must have adopted from Bruce. “While I’m not thrilled to insinuate that you should try to get over that – especially when most days we’re supposed to fight together, not against each other – you need to get out of that headspace. You’re not going to try and kill me if we spar! You’re the one in control –”
“Am I?” Steve asked.
“Yes!” Tony shouted. “The Crone fixed you. The spirit’s gone for good and while your brain is unhelpfully trying to fill the blanks for you, it doesn’t mean you’ll go berserk again.” He stopped to breathe for a bit, shifted his weight, eyes never leaving Steve’s face. “Besides,” Tony went on, releasing most of the pressure with a satisfyingly long exhale, “we now know what makes you tick: I’ll just have to show my handsome face and you’ll calm down.”
Steve knew it was a joke – a half a joke, anyway – but it was in horribly bad taste considering Steve’s insecurities and guilt. He stepped away from Tony, brushing past the now-still punching bag, placing it between them like a barrier. “That’s not funny.”
“It kind of is if you don’t take into account how long it took for us to figure out the rather obvious pattern,” Tony told him, but he didn’t sound like he thought it was particularly amusing either. Considering how much destruction there had been that Tony had to pay for, not to mention his own injuries, it hadn’t been a pleasant time for Tony.
Steve laid out his palms against the punching bag, gripping it tight. He stared at it so as not to be compelled to look at Tony – then felt Tony’s fingers slide over his, gentle and cool against his heated skin.
“You need a shower, food, and maybe some rest,” Tony told him.
“And what do you need?” Steve threw back at him, still staring at the bag because that was easier. After being trapped inside his own body, Steve hadn’t thought he would ever want to look at blank surfaces again, but it was strange how calming they were.
“I need you to be okay,” Tony replied, voice a bit muffled which meant he may have laid his forehead against the opposite side of the bag. “I need you to be happy – preferably because I made you that way, but that is debatable.” He paused for a moment, his fingers tightening fractionally on top of Steve’s hands. “Things were good right after we woke up,” Tony confessed, voice nearing a whisper, forcing Steve to pay attention if he wanted to listen to him. “Before the flashbacks started, everything was ridiculously perfect. I knew it could not last, but I don’t think we deserve this, either.”
Steve jerked his hands away from Tony’s – only to shove the punching bag to the side and step over to the other man, receiving a wary look from Tony – as if he didn’t know whether he was about to get punched in the face in the next second. Steve slid his arms around Tony instead, pulling him to his sweaty chest. Tony didn’t protest, sliding his own arms around Steve and holding onto him tight – or, as tightly as he could, considering his shoulder and ribs were still on the path to full recovery. That left Steve squeezing him in strategic places that would not hurt – his hips and the area between the healthy shoulder and the middle of his back – mindful of the arc reactor.
“You make me happy,” Steve said and felt Tony exhale in something that could be called relief. “If it weren’t for you… I would probably have gone crazy in these past few weeks.” The fingers of Tony’s left hand curled at the back of his shirt, drawing it tight across Steve’s stomach. “I love you,” he added, speaking the words into Tony’s hair as he bowed his head to feel just a little closer to him.
- - -
The incidents at the São Paulo and Miami airports never became newsworthy – which meant Steve Rogers had officially become part of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s shady cover-up agenda.
“It’s better that way, trust me,” Bruce reassured Steve as he browsed the internet for any signs of awareness from the general public. So far his searches had not shown any results, and he felt that the more specific his search terms became, the less he found – as if someone were censoring the World Wide Web as Steve dug through it. A few websites had actually been promising, government conspiracies being their primary focus, but any indications towards blog posts about ‘Captain America Impostor Attacks Airport Security’ ended either at missing entries or random errors.
“People died,” Steve noted, trying to think up alternative search terms. “Someone, somewhere, should have noticed that.”
“Would you rather people knew the truth?” Bruce prodded, sipping from his cup of tea as he stared through the faint rise of steam at Steve.
“No,” he admitted. “People need to believe in Captain America – should he be worth it.”
“He is,” Bruce stated. “You are.”
Steve didn’t bother answering. The two were not mutually exclusive – nor were they the same, necessarily. Steve had made mistakes…
“Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. spoke up suddenly although the AI’s polite tone didn’t feel like an interruption. “Agent Coulson is on the line for you.”
Steve glanced up towards the ceiling, wondering which ‘line’ J.A.R.V.I.S. meant – then a video window popped up on the screen of the laptop he was using and Agent Phil Coulson’s familiar face appeared on it.
“Captain,” the man greeted, ever so pleasantly. “How are you?”
“I am well, Agent,” Steve replied.
“I do wonder…” Coulson started, looking uncertain for a second, then soldiered on: “You have been doing web searches. In the last half an hour our people have logged fifty-three flagged keywords and phrases connected to your… misadventure after the events in Brazil. Honestly, I did not know there were that many possible search terms for what happened during those three weeks – and frankly, our people are feeling a little overwhelmed working to block the content your searches are bringing up.”
“Meaning?” Steve arched an eyebrow – making Coulson shift in obvious discomfort.
Coulson took a breath, mastering his expression for the time being. “There are certain people who are attracted to that kind of knowledge and your actions are making the situation much harder to control.”
“You’re asking me to stop poking around,” Steve figured.
“Yes. It would be extremely helpful.”
Another small icon popped up on the screen.
“As much as I’m normally against that kind of stuff, I have to agree with Agent on this,” Tony’s voice joined their conversation.
“Are you monitoring my calls?” Steve frowned – at the same time as Coulson did on his end.
“I’m monitoring your computer activities, honey, and frankly, I’ve been tempted to shut you down for the last twenty minutes.”
“What stopped you?” Coulson asked.
“A project; got busy, sidetracked even, and… Steve, just stop, okay? As much as it irks you that you were forced to take part in this kind of nastiness – and were involved in people dying and getting hurt – poking at the sleeping bear isn’t going to change a thing. S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to keep handling the situation and I’m sleeping with one eye open.”
“To be clear, I am monitoring any activity concerning the time span you were possessed, Captain Rogers,” J.A.R.V.I.S. chimed in. “Mr. Stark is yet to master the ability to sleep with his eyes open – even one of them – and I see no point in that endeavor even if he should succeed.”
“Mute,” Tony snapped from his end. “The point is –”
“S.H.I.E.L.D.’s got it covered,” Coulson cut him off. “We don’t need you poking at our firewalls, Mr. Stark.”
“The poking part is a distraction from the fact that I’m already in your system, but I’m glad you noticed,” Tony shot right back.
Steve left them to their argument for a bit, trying another search in the browser window he had open.
“Don’t,” Bruce told him from the side. “They’re both right. Plus, I know how hard it is to live with the things you’ve done, whether or not people speculate. I cannot undo the destruction the other guy has wrought in the past, nor can you help those you hurt. You must trust they’re being looked after by other people.”
“Is that how you sleep at night, doctor?” Steve asked him.
“I don’t sleep very well,” Bruce admitted.
That wasn’t exactly a comforting statement.
“Someone needs to keep an eye on your super secret operation,” Tony was saying.
“While I won’t agree or disagree, Director Fury is asking you to mind your own business and to remember you’re still on ‘consultant’ status – which can be revoked at any given time.”
“Yeah? Unless you’ve found someone to replace me, I won’t hold my breath in dread,” Tony snorted. “Especially when there is no one who could replace me. I could, however, be convinced to take over for Fury if he feels inadequate –”
Whether or not it was J.A.R.V.I.S. who cut the call, Steve didn’t know, but both voices suddenly disappeared – as did his search window. He decided to leave it for now although he didn’t like how the matter was being handled.
Not that he had a better option to offer.
- - -
Lightning flashes, too bright in the confined space, the following crack of thunder shaking the floor, the walls – the people within the hallway.
The shield is firmly on his arm, the electrostatic discharge rebounding off the vibranium. He hears a scream, a shout, and moves in to attack.
He thinks he can hear Tony, somewhere in the midst of it…
Steve’s eyes snapped open, searching the darkness. Tony’s familiar smell filled his nostrils an instant later and he focused on it, allowing it to soothe him. Oil, metal, coconut…
Once he felt centered enough, Steve rose and carefully slid off the bed, placing the sheets properly atop the other man’s body before leaving the bedroom. He had all he would need for a workout stored in a locker at the gym, so Steve wandered down the hallways and stairs dressed in nothing but his underwear. The carpeting and bare floors created a texture contrast beneath his feet, reminding him that he was awake and that this was reality.
“Steven,” a voice called out, making Steve freeze mid-step. He turned his head, already wondering how to explain his state of undress, but it was only Thor and Thor rarely fixated on such things. As he did so often, the Asgardian merely offered him a friendly smile, walking closer. He, too, looked like he had been in bed until just a little while ago, dressed in a robe he had brought with him from Asgard. In his hand sat a large jug of ready-made cocoa.
“You’re up late,” Steve commented.
“I did not feel the need to sleep tonight,” Thor confessed. “I have instead made myself familiar with the culture of Midgard, with the help of Tony’s artificial servant.” It was incredible to hear him use the word ‘artificial’, but Steve supposed most people felt the same when he said it. “Are you unable to find rest as well?” Thor asked then.
Steve nodded, supposing it was obvious. “I am going to the gym, see if that helps.”
“Aye, training is often the way to tranquility. Perhaps I shall join you.”
“Sure.” Steve didn’t need the company but he didn’t feel as edgy around Thor as he did with the others: with the Asgardian, he didn’t have to pull his punches or be concerned about hurting him. He had heard he’d taken Thor down while possessed but it had only been temporary and Thor hadn’t come out of it carrying injuries. That knowledge made it easier to get dressed in clothes fit for sparring and just go at it until there was nothing else in Steve’s mind but the next direction to go to evade Thor’s blows and find a way to take him down before Steve was taken down instead.
His mind didn’t get lost like it often did while working on the punching bag – nor was he constantly winning because Thor had been a warrior for most of his life and even with his size, he was still fast and could take Steve off his feet and to the floor in two seconds flat. The challenge was to keep that from happening and that was where Steve’s agility came in, whether he jumped to the side or vaulted himself over Thor’s body to keep the other from grabbing him and slamming him down: once Thor had him pinned, Steve’s chances of escape became limited, and he wondered why it had been so hard for the others to restrain him when he had been possessed.
They were both panting eventually, stopping to get themselves drinks. They checked a fridge in the locker room then had some of Thor’s chocolate drink.
“Not bad,” Steve sighed, body aching and worn out for the time being.
“I had hoped you would not remember the time you spent under the control of the cursed spirit,” Thor mused. “To be unable to control your own actions is a grave situation for anyone – but you must see it was not you who attacked us.”
“Yet it was because of my personal feelings that I kept coming after Tony,” Steve reminded him.
“Aye, but in that emotion lay our salvation, for you had a direction and a purpose – instead of taking your desperate fury out on any who would have stood in your way.”
Steve supposed that when put that way, it was indeed better that his actions had been somewhat contained.
Thor laid a hand on his shoulder. “Your guilt will pass in time – enough for you to live with it, anyway. There are things that I have done which I regret, and it is rare to forget such misdeeds – especially if your heart is pure and valiant.”
Steve allowed himself a small smile then got up to shower. After he was clean and dry he stepped back out, finding that Thor was gone. Deciding he could still catch a few hours of sleep before Tony woke up, Steve headed back to their shared floor, entering the bedroom as quietly as he could.
Tony had turned around while he was gone, a small frown on his face although he was still resting. Steve noticed he was lying on his injured shoulder, which had to pain him – and which would eventually wake him up.
Sliding back between the sheets, Steve positioned his own body behind Tony’s. For a while it looked like Tony might stir yet he did not, continuing to slumber after adjusting his position slightly, unconsciously accepting Steve’s offered support.
Settling his head on the pillow, Tony’s scent once again heavy in his nose, Steve closed his eyes and felt like he might, for once, dream without fear of nightmares.
- - -
Each time they visited S.H.I.E.L.D. – a Helicarrier or a base – Steve felt the eyes of the S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel on him. There was a different tone to their reactions these days although no one else admitted they could see it.
During WWII, Steve had gotten his fair share of admiration from his fellow soldiers. After the ice, he had grown used to the subtle respect the S.H.I.E.L.D. agents graced him with, even when they weren’t required to; they could have treated him as the old war relic that he was.
Now, however, he sensed a faint undertone of distrust and wariness and he wondered how long it would take before they forgot how out of control he had been recently. If they forgot.
“Stop looking like that,” Tony ordered with a glance over his shoulder as they left the hangar area.
“Like what?” Steve asked, following behind him.
“Like you have something to apologize for.”
“I put over a dozen men and women in the infirmary; I think I should apologize for that.”
“And I know you have. Repeatedly.”
He had. Steve could not apologize to the airport people he had hurt – or do anything for the families of those he had killed – but S.H.I.E.L.D. agents were accessible to him and he had made a point, after waking up and realizing what he had done, to see that they knew he regretted his actions – whether they had been his own or not.
“They don’t blame you,” Tony went on, moving along the hallway and forcing other people to dodge out of his path. “Whatever you imagine they feel –”
“I know what I’m seeing,” Steve cut him off, speeding up his next few steps to catch up with the shorter man and yank him to a halt by his arm. Several S.H.I.E.L.D. workers looked at them then away, continuing on with their errands. Tony stilled and turned to look at him, opening his mouth to say something, but Steve tightened his hold to signal he wasn’t done talking. “I can see the tension go up every time I enter the room; the way people look at me, then away, but keep glancing towards me when they think I can’t tell.”
“That’s what they’ve always done,” Tony argued.
“It’s not the same.”
“You trust me to lead you into battle. You follow my instincts. Why can’t you trust me in this?” Steve demanded and that shut Tony up. Things had been good between them although they still sometimes had heated words. At least now they could make up – and Steve rather enjoyed the concept of make-up sex; he never got Tony to apologize as enthusiastically as when they were in the middle of a heated moment.
“Captain, Mr. Stark.”
Fury’s voice caught their attention easily from across the hall and Tony pursed his lips as he looked over at the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. “On our way, Nick. If you can hold on another minute or two –”
“We’re ready,” Steve decided, letting go of Tony’s arm with a parting caress and leading the way to the small conference room. Tony followed, not protesting out loud, and Fury came in last, closing the door.
“Take a seat, gentlemen,” Fury said as he settled on the far side of the desk while Steve and Tony sat side by side on the other. “Mr. Stark, thank you for finally handing in your report on the latest incident,” he added, looking squarely at Tony.
Steve looked at his lover as well. “You didn’t hand in your report until now?” he asked, frowning.
Tony shrugged, leaning back in his chair. “I’ve been busy. Also, I don’t enjoy typing up reports.”
“That’s funny, seeing as the wording suggests your AI must have been involved in ‘typing up’ your report in the first place,” Fury snorted.
Tony grinned. “J.A.R.V.I.S. does make for a perfect secretary.” He dropped the smile a moment later. “Is that why we’re here? Because my report was late?”
“Personally, I was surprised you even bothered to hand it in,” Fury stated, leaning back in his chair and crossing his fingers over his stomach. “We’re here because I want to make sure the Avengers are still… how shall I put this… a cohesive fighting force.”
“I don’t believe my possession changed the team’s dynamic in the slightest,” Steve volunteered.
“It’s not your possession that concerns me – or the beating you gave your team,” Fury declared then looked pointedly at Tony and back at Steve. “It’s your personal involvement.”
Steve’s jaw tensed along with the rest of his body. “I believe I speak for all the Avengers when I say that they weren’t surprised.”
“That doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect the balance of the team,” Fury argued. “Expected or not – accepted or not – the question may be raised whether Stark’s getting special treatment.”
“Are you jealous?” Tony asked, voice sharper than it had been before. “If not then I don’t see why we’re here right now.”
“You know why –”
“No, I don’t,” Tony cut Fury off, leaning forward. “This is Steve Rogers we’re talking about; the guy Dr. Erskine chose especially for the super soldier program. Even if he wanted to, Steve wouldn’t put his lover before the rest of the team. He would tell me to fly another nuke into a space portal if that’s what it would take to win.”
Steve stiffened. “I wouldn’t ask you to do that, much less tell you,” he argued.
“Okay, maybe not – and I might even refuse – but that’s not the point,” Tony said, turning to look at him. “We may have something special now, but when the time comes and the hard choices must be made, I trust you not to make the wrong call based on a selfish desire to keep me safe.”
Steve didn’t want to think of such a scenario. He had a responsibility and an obligation as the leader of the Avengers, for sure, but if he had to choose… He prayed he would never have to make that call.
Tony nodded, taking Steve’s silence as an agreement and looked at Fury instead. “Any other questions?”
Fury shook his head once, looking decidedly unhappy. Tony stood up without being told to and Steve copied him, following him out of the room.
“Well, this was a trip not worth taking,” Tony huffed as they began walking back towards the hangar.
“I’m fairly certain Fury expected the talk to last a bit longer than it did,” Steve offered his opinion.
“How exactly did he think the talk would go?” Tony exclaimed, stopping briefly to look at Steve – then continued marching forward with anger in his step. “I mean, we were superheroes first. Does he think our priorities shift around just like that?”
“Maybe they should,” Steve wondered out loud.
“Perhaps, but I know the man you are – and I trust you to do the right thing,” he added, slowing down a bit, looking at Steve once they were side by side. They were alone in the hallway for the time being, no other person in sight. Tony looked up at him almost hopefully and Steve hoped that he found what he was looking for.
For his part, Steve found Tony’s conviction soothing if not a little disturbing, seeing as they were still debating whether Steve could send Tony straight into the line of fire when it became necessary. To ask him to lie down on the wire…
Unable to think of such an eventuality right now, Steve caved before the urgent need to protect Tony and cupped his face in his hands, startling Tony slightly, then took a small step to bring them closer. “I love you,” Steve whispered. “Don’t forget that, either.”
“I won’t,” Tony promised then tilted his head in invitation and Steve leaned in to kiss him, deeply. He didn’t stop when he heard a few people walk past them, deciding that there were a lot of things S.H.I.E.L.D. personnel were going to have to get used to, from occasional possession by ancient black magic to two superheroes embracing and kissing for no other reason than that they were both there, alive and together.
A slightly choked cough interrupted them, eventually, and Steve moved his eyes to find Agent Coulson standing next to them. He smiled at the man, knowing how awkward he was probably feeling. Tony’s glare was far less welcoming although he did lean against Steve’s body casually, as if that was just as natural as kissing him after a meeting with Fury.
“I, uh, have a few possible missions for you to look over, Captain,” Coulson finally spoke up and offered Steve a small flash drive. “When you have the time and the inclination.”
“Of course,” Steve nodded, thankful that he was being asked to join a S.H.I.E.L.D. mission. It showed that despite the air of distrust, they were giving him a chance to prove himself – and Steve had never wasted such an effort.
“Am I invited to crash that party?” Tony asked, trying to pluck the flash drive from Steve’s grip but failing.
“Unfortunately those missions rely on a level of secrecy,” Coulson replied, denying Tony permission – without sounding apologetic at all. “Your armor lacks the necessary finesse.”
Tony snorted. “You haven’t seen my new stealth suit, Agent.”
“It’s great,” Steve nodded in agreement. “Although it wasn’t working very well the last time you tested it,” he added in Tony’s direction.
“It’s called a ‘work in progress’ for a reason!” Tony huffed. “Besides, if you weren’t such an emotional mess all the time, demanding my attention, I would have completed it by now.” It was clear Tony didn’t mean it like that and Steve wrapped an arm around him and kissed his temple – knowing how Tony disliked it when they were in public because in his opinion it made him look weak.
“I’m so sorry, honey,” Steve teased with an unnecessarily sweet voice – then saw Coulson flush, just a little. Tony must have noticed it as well because he didn’t come back with a snarky comment, instead pouting a little and allowing Coulson to excuse himself with as much grace as possible.
“Poor thing,” Tony guffawed when they turned towards the hangar and resumed walking. “I half-expected Agent to try and suffocate himself with his own tie to get away from the situation.”
“Do you think we made him uncomfortable?” Steve asked because he didn’t want that. He liked Phil Coulson and had no hard feelings for him.
“He probably spent part of his teenage years – and possibly his adult years, too – jerking off to the idea of hearing you talk like that. Or, you know, some version of that,” Tony guessed. “He adores you,” he added more seriously. “He has so much respect for who you are and I think he’s happy that you’re happy. Also a little jealous because maybe he hadn’t dared to wish you would swing this way.”
“It’s all about finding the right partner,” Steve repeated an old piece of wisdom he used to live by.
When Tony’s fingers curled around his, to hold his hand, Steve embraced the one good thing that being possessed had given him.