"The Billionaire Boys Club" 'verse - Part the third

The verse is now solidly in AU territory, but no one's surprised I'm sure.

Strong Independent White Boys (who don't need no sophistication)

He's not really awake, merely hovering on that edge in between where everything is cozy and marvellous and he will not leave it for anything less than life or death situations, so help him god. Seriously, there are sleep cuddles. From Bruce. There is no end to the ways he can use that kind of blackmail, also, it really is as comfortable as romance novel drivel will have you believe.

Their schedules haven't magically aligned just because they went public with their epic romance so quality alone time is scarce. Tony has needs, okay? Since no one but Bruce is eligible to fill those needs (okay, there was one time he entertained the thought of cheating on Batman but in his defense, he was drunk at the time) there is a lot of frustrated pining and a truly staggering amount of phone sex. This, admittedly, has its plus sides—the Bat-voice? Yeah—but is not proper sex.

The situation is dire, okay? He won't go so far as to say he will wither and die without the healing powers of Bruce's dick but, again, he's not willing to risk it. No one can therefore be in doubt why he is not fucking amused, god damn it, when a helicopter shows up outside his fucking window bearing fucking reporters armed with fucking megaphones. It's the rare and elusive 'naked time' and that is sacred.

"What's it like to sleep with Iron Man!" one of the vultures screams.

Bruce growls something and sleep-throws a pillow at the window. Right after that his eyes fly open and he sits up so violently the momentum propels Tony out of bed—sans sheet—and all he can think is fuck, fuck ow, fuck, arc reactor, fuck. His hand flies to his chest and he makes sure he lands with his back to the window while he tries to figure out which way is up.

The roar from the bastards outside his window after this glimpse of his ass is deafening even without the megaphone.

"Mr Stark! Mr Wayne! A comment for your adoring public!"

"Who's on top?"

"God damn it! JARVIS! Blinds!" Tony barks. The windows are blacked out immediately which solves one problem, but he can still hear them jeering out there and Bruce is getting up and his hip stings in a very unpleasant way. He is seriously pissed off right now.

Bruce pulls him to his feet with the mightiest of scowls on his face and hey, guess what? The morning just got worse because now? He is so not getting any. Bruce drags him out of the bedroom which kind of seals it.

"Well, that was unpleasant," he mutters.

Bruce glares at him like it's all his fault, and, yeah, okay this one is maybe a little bit his fault. He throws himself onto the sofa and settles in for a pout.

"Would it be a violation of any Gotham law to put up anti-aircraft weaponry? Because I am seriously considering one last foray into warmongering," Tony whines.

He gets a lip-twitch. All is not lost, hurrah and hallelujah. Bruce submits to a hug and listens to Tony's detailed plans for solar-powered lasers and heat-seeking missiles. Tony keeps going because the longer he talks the more Bruce seems to relax. Go figure, the way to the Bat's heart is violence—who would have ever guessed? He's gotten as far as incorporating experimental requests he's had from SHIELD and Asgardian artifacts before Bruce unbends enough to chuckle and kiss the top of his head.

"You own Gotham," Tony says brightly, "Get me some permits."

He gets a kiss instead, which, hey, all part of the plan. Bruce wraps himself around Tony because he is smart and understands the notion of sharing body heat for the great noble cause of preserving erections.

"I'll see what I can do about those permits."

Tony decides to show his appreciation for that beautiful display of altruism with careful application of lips and tongue. Bruce doesn't complain.

He's staring down at the detritus on his workbench with a critical eye. There is junk everywhere. Not even his robots escaped the blast radius of Nuclear Missile Pepper On A Mission. It has all the signs—she took his query, involved an army of specialists, weeded out the pretenders and incompetents, then returned victorious with their blood under her nails and the satisfied air of one who knows her will shall be done for reasons other than her employer's bank account.

She's looking at him expectantly and he realises he's not said anything for a while now. He can spot the beginnings of frustration in the way she's standing and knows that if he doesn't make an attempt at a decision she will take over and proceed without him, which would be defeating the purpose. She's hardly believed he'd wanted to be involved at all—never mind that it was his idea to begin with—and clearly she doesn't trust him to see this through.

Right. He might as well, really. It's not like he's in doubt, he's just a teensy bit overwhelmed.

"Yes to the blue, no to the poop. Honestly, what are they thinking? It looks like poop. I am not even joking."

"It's ochre and does not, in fact, resemble poop. It's a very popular shade right now in interior design."

"Oh my god, I am decorating an office, not desecrating a toilet. Please, tell me you can find me someone competent in an entire city of passingly sentient people. I realise the city is Gotham, but honestly."

She's definitely irritated now. Those poor interior designers.

"Did you ask him for his opinion? He might prefer the ochre."

He waves away her suggestion because, please, she's not even trying now.

"It's my bat. I know what he likes and that's black, black, and black. Sadly, I'm not building a crypt but rather decorating—trying to decorate an office for his personal use so he can put some stone age tech in there and therefore stop scoffing at my toys. Show me the blue again?"

The doors whoosh and in walks Rhodey, oddly, in his suit. He eyes the clutter and hesitantly nudges a mood board with a metal-encased foot. "What's this? Tony? Are you looking at swatches? Tell me the world isn't coming to an end. Is there pollen involved?"

"Funny, very funny. What can I do for you Rhodey?"

"You can take a look at the jamming gun on my left shoulder—nearly lost my head because of it—but later. Why are you looking at swatches? Wait, no!" He pauses and takes a hurried step back with a hand over his mouth. "Tony Stark, are you pregnant?"

"What?"

"How could you? I thought you'd learned about the sanctity of life!"

"What?"

"Do you have any idea how dangerous it is for the little life inside you to fly the Iron Man suit? And god, Tony, I saw you with alcohol in your hands only days ago!"

"I repeat—what?"

"Does the baby-daddy know about this? I don't think Bruce would like you flying around in your condition."

That is it. So Rhodey's wearing the most advanced weapons technology on the planet, Tony doesn't even care, he will cut a bitch if this doesn't stop right the fuck now. "Out, get out! I will reprogram the War Machine to dance the cancan every time you fire a gun do not test me Rhodey, out!"

James' shit eating grin widens to incorporate even more teeth while he backs away slowly. "Don't get too worked up now, I hear that's bad for expecting mothers!"

He exhales reciting prime numbers under his breath. He says a silent apology to Bruce's ass as well because the balance needs to be restored and that has consequences.

Pepper clears her throat so he looks up at her.

"Yes to the blue, no to the poop, Pep. Make it so."

"Yes, Tony." She starts collecting all the crap off his workbench into one big folder and he really wants to punch something, or crush some beer cans on his forehead or something.

"Tony?"

Maybe he could take Thor up on that offer of hunting wild boar. Of course first he'll have to slap together some kind of harpoon, or even a crossbow.

"Hm?"

Motion detection? No, of course not, useless, useless. Heat seeking. Calibrate for size of course.

"Folic acid is very important. I will contact a dietician for a properly balanced meal plan."

No, wait, that would end up spearing Thor. Perhaps he should just stick to sedative instead of pointy? Wait.

"Traitor," he hisses at her. "Get. Out."

She smiles impishly. Of course she does, she's ginger.

"Yes, Mr Stark."

The difference between him and Wayne is that the general consensus at Stark Industries is that Tony taking up with Bruce is the best thing he's done since ever. The gay thing isn't even a blip on the radar as far as the board is concerned. Tony Stark is in a relationship with the owner of Wayne Enterprises, they probably wouldn't have cared if said owner was a hermaphrodite transvestite with T-rex arms and a squint. The fact that Bruce is attractive and even personable is just icing on top of their big capitalistic cake.

Of course there's also how he's only sort of kind of CEO. Sure, Pepper quit the actual position—she still does most of the work associated with it while at the same time running his life. The two go hand in hand though so it's not much of a surprise. All he asked is that she consult him on things he actually may give a shit about, which she does. This arrangement means he gets credit for her brilliance and she has a scapegoat for unpopular decisions. This is fine with Tony, he's quite used to blame and disdain so it all works out smoothly. Maybe that's why he's so unprepared for being cast as the Big Gay Hero of America.

It's nice at first, sure. People cheer for him and he gets a bunch of fan mail from repressed queers who put him up there with Gaga and Ian McKellen. His past vices are dissected and he's declared a misunderstood victim of modern masculinity with, oh yes, a heart of gold. Bruce points out this is a perfect example of the stupidity in today's media but Tony thinks he can work the angle. It's a lot better than warmongering manwhore with more money than sense and only the barest shade of morality, which as Bruce points out is far more accurate.

Bruce—and man, does he love this—had to roll out some of that brain he keeps behind closed doors and do a lot of fast talking and even some threatening, which, hey, Gotham (not that he's judging or anything), to placate everyone on his end of the deal. He's told Tony in no uncertain terms that the only reason they're getting away with this is their combined worth.

This is unequivocally true, if not the only reason. It kind of makes Tony hard that both their companies are scared to death of the two of them joining hands and starting up a new company together should they be given any reason to do so. For one, they would take all the best of both with them if they went and everyone knows it.

There's no question about it, they would decimate everyone except maybe Luthor (this is all Bruce, Tony knows Luthor wouldn't stand a chance against a united front). SI knows it, WE knows it, and they know Tony and Bruce know it. They show it in their own ways—Stark Industries by being nice to Tony, Wayne Enterprises by being difficult to Bruce (and maybe a little baffled).

Speaking of Bruce, as he so often does, he hates being a media darling. Oh, he's not necessarily bad at it. He just doesn't like it. It doesn't help him that he smiles and waves when they catch him but spends the majority of his time running and hiding.

After a while, Tony can't blame him. He damn well copies him.

"You have to give them something," Pepper tells them. "It's only going to get worse if you don't."

This is how they end up on a New York talk show.

Bruce turns to Tony with a stern look on his face. "Do not, under any circumstances, propose to me."

"Well there goes my master plan," he says rolling his eyes for effect.

"You planned to get rejected on television? As far as bids for sympathy go, it's not the worst idea. Where's Pepper?"

"Stalking celebrities." Tony ruffles the already artfully messed hair on Bruce's head because he knows pinching his cheeks would get him smacked. "It's cute how you still pretend you can refuse me anything."

"Try me," Bruce grins.

Tony snorts at him. "You're the Spock to my Kirk, honeybee. It's Kantian transcendent next-level shit. Soul bonding and all that jazz."

"Who writes your lines?" Bruce murmurs.

"Say, how do you feel about blue?"

"What?"

Tony doesn't elaborate because at that moment the hostess runs past them, patting him on the back as she goes and the audience goes wild.

"Hello everybody!" she shouts cheerfully. "So this friend of mine has recently fallen head over heels in love—yeah, beautiful right?—and baby let me tell you the man is fine as in capital F - extra long I - N - drawn out E—fine!"

Bruce, bless him, glares like it's a vicious, vicious lie and Tony's the one who came up with it.

"Friend?" he growls.

Oh, right. That actually makes sense.

"I met her once for all of five minutes, and Pepper was chaperoning," Tony makes up on the spot. It's probably true anyway.

"Now I know what you're thinking: why are you telling us this Tyra? Hell, I'm not going to keep you in suspense—Tony, honey, come on out here!"

Tony slides his glasses on and tries to run a quick hand through his hair but Bruce slaps it away. He wants to pout but he's kissed before he can.

"Knock them dead," Bruce whispers in his ear.

Glasses on, outfit impeccable, grin in place, Tony struts out onto the set to AC/DC's Bad Boy Boogie. He raises his hands in victory signs and the audience goes wild. Tyra is up and running at him and he's ready—of course he is, a beautiful woman throwing herself at him? He's got a Master's in dealing with that.

She has her arm around him and gestures exuberantly. "Everybody—Tony Stark!"

He laughs and sits where he's told. "Calm down you crazy kids! You're acting like it's the second coming—wait, what am I saying—please, continue."

Tyra grabs his arm with her acrylic-clawed hand and they huddle together like conspirators. He laughs it off but damn, the woman has got a mean grip.

"So, Tony, how have you been? There have been some mad changes going on in your life, haven't there? And barely a peep out of you or your boy Wayne. You'd better spill boyfriend because I have to admit, I'm a little sad you didn't call."

"It wouldn't have been fair, beautiful, and you know I'm all about fair," he tells her, winking at the audience.

"Fair? Who gives a hoot about fair? One of the biggest players in the game puts himself on the bench and you expect me to care about fair? Give, give, give!"

"Give what?" he teases, for which he gets smacked on the arm. Oh, she's good. It might actually be believable they're friends.

"Gossip, I am talking about gossip! You can't expect to hook up with Bruce Wayne and not give us any details."

Usually these things are scripted. The guest hands over a list of acceptable questions from which the host does not deviate, which gives those less blessed in mental capacity the chance to prepare some artificial wit. Now, considering Tony has built artificial intelligence that can outwit some of the greatest minds of today, one can probably guess how he feels about this.

This episode of the Tyra show is not scripted, despite Pepper's best efforts, so he's ready for anything. To be honest, he's hoping she asks him something inappropriate just so he can cackle malevolently and say 'mine, all mine'.

Tony leans back and looks satisfied with himself—it's not a stretch.

"I did good, didn't I?"

She goggles at him. "Bruce. Wayne. Nobody saw that one coming—did we boys and girls?"

He laughs again, letting the crowd cheer him to a high. "Yeah, you don't have to tell me that, I'm still surprised. It's mind-blowing and wonderful all at once. There I was, being bored to death in Gotham, when in walks Bruce Wayne and, you know how they talk about love at first sight? Yeah, it wasn't that." He leans in closer to her and beckons her closer to him. Once she's sufficiently close, he mock-whispers, "It was greed."

She pretends to be shocked and the crowd follows. "What are you talking about, you crazy thing?"

"Have you seen him? No, really, have you? How could I not want to have that?"

"But then you got to know him," she says all sagely.

He nods in agreement. "But then I got to know him. And I wanted to own him." He pauses to let them ooh and aah and hiss. "I just didn't count on the Wayne factor."

"I'm sure we'd all like to know what the "Wayne factor" is before you talk yourself into a corner."

He shrugs. "He owned me first. I should have known, really. You don't go head to head with Wayne when it comes to takeovers."

Tyra moans and throws her head back. "Romance is dead."

"Is not! I'm very romantic," he protests. "I'm a hundred doves and trucks of flowers kind of guy. As long as you don't expect me to write you sonnets we can get along just fine." He shuffles a little, averting his eyes. "Me and Bee, we didn't have a conventional start. Look, we all know I'm not known for my moral fibre, but I'd like to think that I've found my groove, you know? This better half business isn't all talk. He really is a better man than me, and I embrace that."

Tyra goes all serious there. "Moral fibre—you're a superhero for crying out loud! Speaking of which—Iron Man. That's gotta be a thing. How does Bruce deal with your other identity?"

Mustn't laugh. He must not laugh. No one would understand what is so funny.

"Well," he says, trying his utmost not to giggle like an idiot, "why don't you ask him?"

Tyra nearly jumps out of her skin when announcing Bruce which is funny as shit when Tony pictures the resigned face of his lover backstage. Still, they agreed to do this so out Bruce walks, stunning as usual, with a cheerful smile. His backing music is Zeppelin, which isn't very Bruce but is in keeping with the theme here. He looks a little bashful because of it and of course they eat it up.

"Bruce Wayne everybody!"

He waves a little and takes a seat next to Tony, who scoots closer immediately. United front, it's all about the united front.

"Before you ask me anything, let me clear something up for you all: Tony Stark is the biggest liar in the world," Bruce says firmly. "Underneath all of this"– he gestures at all of Tony –"is a gooey centre." He takes Tony's hand and interlaces their fingers. "It's one of the reasons I love him so much."

Tony looks at him and the sincerity is just dripping out of every pore. He is impressed.

"Don't you go spoiling my reputation now honeybee," he says lightly, trying to salvage some of the situation.

Bruce smiles at him and it's the grin of a great big wolf which no one sees but him because of course Bruce is the good one.

"Darling, it was just a matter of time anyway."

He knows what this is. Payback, clean and simple.

Tyra is wiping away imaginary tears. God damn it.

"You guys. You guys, it's just too beautiful," she enthuses. Bruce, the fucker, nods very seriously.

"The bond we share is special. Tony put it in words for me earlier and I was just so moved by what he said." Bruce turns to Tony and near-simpers at him. "What was it again, darling? Oh, yes. Kantian transcendent next-level shit, I believe you said. Unquantifiable and not of this world." He turns the adoration up a notch and Tony has no idea how he's doing any of this. "Tony is much smarter than I am and we all know that, but sometimes I am still stunned at the things he comes up with."

"Baby, you inspire me to new heights every day," Tony tells him, bringing their hands to his lips and placing a light kiss on Bruce's fingers.

He will not fucking lose a popularity contest. He is Iron Man, for Christ's sake.

...

Bruce wins on every level which means Tony comes off as a sap. He is now officially one of the good guys, which, okay, no. He's not in Doom's league, but he'd like to think he's at least a little ambiguous.

Tony retaliates by very publicly buying Bruce the Victoria's Secret 70's Fantasy Bra (as worn by Tyra) and having it shipped to him at WE in a big pink box with a yellow bow. The clever part is the bow—it's covered in stylised Vs that look a little, but not quite, like bats.

Unfortunately Bruce takes his cue from that and responds by sending him a box of cherries delivered by a female model wearing the Red Hot Fantasy set, riding a cherry red chopper. This is evil beyond Tony's ability to parse. It would serve the bastard right if he bent her right over that chopper. Sadly, he's not that stupid. He sulks instead.

Pepper can't stop laughing when seeing the colour red for the next two weeks. This may not sound too bad unless you know that the fetish bat arranged cherry-flavoured deserts to be sent to him daily for lunch.

...

JARVIS makes him a list of interesting vids every morning and during the day, he watches some and laughs a lot. He doesn't often bother to watch live broadcasts, but when Bruce actually consents to a solo interview, he can't help himself.

"Hello, and welcome to Veruka's corner, Gotham's premier source of all celebrity news and exciting developments! With us here today is the one and only Bruce Wayne to talk about his crazy affair with the infamous Tony Stark!"

Bruce is trying, but Tony can tell he's edging right up against annoyed. He's dressed up in his business attire this time. Tony appreciates the view.

Veruka is a bottle blond with saline implants that push her tits up to her chin. He dislikes her immediately, but she's some kind of society guru there in Gotham which explains why Bruce is suffering her invasive touching and silicone smile.

"So, Brucie, tell me, does the truth live up to the legend?"

Tony cocks his head to the side and blinks. He cocks it to the other side and closes one eye. No way did she just ask that. No way did she just ask Bruce Wayne that.

"I'm not sure I follow," Bruce tells her, his eyes narrowed a little.

Veruka rolls her eyes dramatically, pursing her tarty lips. "Oh come on Bruce, you have to know the Stark legend. The man's seen more action than Tiger Woods, there has to be a reason for that. I'm just wondering if that translates well when it's about playing for the other team, eh?"

Bruce tries to smile at her but it's more of a grimace. "I think that's a little private, don't you?"

"Oh come on, Bruce! The two of you are public domain!" He glares at her a little and she relents. "Fine, fine, if you won't talk about that, how about the question that's on every one's mind?"

Bruce cocks his head to the side (and there's that neck bit Tony likes so much). "Oh?"

"Wayne is gay for Tony Stark! How did that happen?" she cries. "Last I saw you, you had a girl on each arm and a spare in case one of them grew tired."

Oh shit, Bruce looks ready to blow.

Pulling up the interface on the coffee table he does some creative hacking into the studio networks in order to make his opinion on this farce known. It's rather sad that it takes him longer to decide just what he wants to do than to actually get into their pathetic system.

In the end he settles for having all their speakers blast 'Born This Way' at deafening volume and watches them panic. Bruce doesn't panic. Bruce smiles ruefully and looks seconds away from a face-palm. He look straight into the camera and raises an eyebrow.

"Tony."

Busted.

He whips out his phone and sends Bruce a text.

In my defense, she's being a bitch. -TS

Bruce almost smiles when he reads it and yeah, he's a little proud of that.

"Ah, we seem to be having some technical difficulties …?" Veruka tells her public. Ha, she has no idea. Bruce ignores her—he's texting.

Don't make me buy you a pink mustang. -BW

Oh, Bruce. You shouldn't be giving people ideas.

"Veruka? I'm so sorry, but I have a meeting I can't put off. You'll notice we've run out of time as it is," Bruce tells the heifer sweetly. He smiles and waves at the studio audience, which cheers for him.

"You go, girl!" screams one of the twinks in the audience. "Fuck this bitch anyhow!"

Bruce kind of smolders at him. "I think you'll find you're wrong about the gender. But no, of course you won't. I'm taken."

Tony is out of the room and into the suit in record time.

One day Fury will learn that calling him and ordering them to get his ass into his red metal bucket and show up 'now, now, fucking now' is not the best way to ask for assistance no matter how screwed the Avengers are because Tony has some pride left, thanks. Okay, so he does do it but only so he can sneak into Fury's office later and fill it with red buckets. He sends Pepper a quick text on his way there telling her to get her hands on at least fifty of the things, preferably dirty ones.

He's already hacked his way into the Avengers battle com-channel and boy, they sound fucked. Good thing he's here again, to save the day.

"Hawkeye, to your left! No! Duck!" Rogers shouts, followed closely by explosions and all that good stuff. Somewhere in the distance, the Hulk roars.

"I love the sound of carnage in the morning!" Tony sing-songs.

"To—Iron Man? What?"

He's grinning from ear to ear. "Hey there, Cap. Fury thought breakfast would be boring without me, so! Look East and hang tight, ducklings. Daddy's coming."

Thor laughs, loud and boisterous. "Best be hurrying, my friend, I am disinclined to leave any for you."

"Why did I ever decide you're my favourite?" he whines.

"Enough with the chatter!" Captain America reprimands them.

He can't help himself. "Fine, gees, spoilsport. Way to crush our budding romance." He shuts up just before Rogers is liable to start growling and kicks his speed up a notch.

He sees the Apocalypse, happening smack-dab in the middle of Queens. What the ever-loving fuck? He's not one to judge, but if you have an army—which this clearly is—why take it to Queens? He pushes the thought to the side for later analyses and focuses on what he's seeing.

He wishes he hadn't.

Droves of man-shaped sleek black death glints in the sunlight.

"JARVIS," he snaps, but the readouts start popping up without him having to finish his demand.

Robotic and unmanned. Not suits. Not suits, thank you baby Jesus.

"Hey, Thor. Let's play a game," he says, his voice dangerously close to Batman's low growl. "It's called 'I bet you can't blow up as many of these bitches as I can'. Loser buys the winner shots all night."

Captain America is chastising them again but Thor makes a noise that sounds like sex and throws Mjolnir up in the air so he can crack his knuckles.

"Amend the wording to 'crush', and you have yourself a deal," he nearly purrs.

Tony laughs and holy fuck what is happening to him. "Do you one better deity—let's make it 'destroy'."

"Deal," Thor says, launching himself hammer-first at the biggest cluster of robots.

Tony doesn't think. He aims and fires.

He's tired and sweating despite the suit's climate control. Queens is in ruins—well, more ruins than usual. Robot parts and superhero blood litters the streets along with a generous amount of debris. Some of it is being used as a Hulk-sized chair. He figures he might as well, seeing as he's a joiner today.

He's barely scrambled onto his own piece of building when Thor lands next to it. Now there's a pile of unfair if he's ever seen one. The Asgardian looks nothing like a battle-weary soldier. No, he's windswept and radiating satisfaction like one who's just been on a light jog around the park. Bastard.

Tony opens his faceplate and spits out some blood. Yeah, he's the height of charm, he is. If only his new-found fanbase could see him now.

"It has been a while, my friend," Thor says (not shouts—this is an important distinction to make when speaking of Thor and conversational volume).

"You know me big guy—busy, busy, busy."

Thor frowns. He doesn't argue for which Tony is stupidly grateful.

"You have been missed. Will you be returning with us?"

Tony mimes checking his watch and shakes his head. "No can do, I have a conference call in... right about now. Give everyone my love, wish I could have been there, et cetera." He lets the faceplate fall shut and boots up the thrusters. He needs not to be here, right now.

"Anthony," Thor calls out, so he turns to him. "My greetings and best wishes to your beloved. He seems a good man."

Tony nods, thankfully not required to speak over the roar of the thrusters, and takes off.

He's just in time, too—Steve was right behind that piece of road to the left of Thor and clearly heading their way.

...

The Stark New York mansion is his least favourite house of all he's ever been in, let alone owned. It reeks of Howard Stark and although Tony is sorta kinda making peace with his father's ghost just in case that entire Christmas past thing is a possibility, he still doesn't feel like he fits in it. It also is not nearly as impressive as the rebuilt Wayne ancestral home, damn it.

He'd have liked to tear the bitch down and replace it with something ridiculous, like a petting zoo or an ice-cream shop, but it's his house no matter how far he ran and that was not going to change.

The house has six floors of which three are below ground level. He was free to do pretty much anything with the underground floors so he builds some laboratories and workshops, impregnable rooms to stash dangerous toys in, and, sadly, something of a mini-hospital as he really doesn't need to add the injured feeble superhero angle to his already substantial reputation—and SHIELD medics are assholes.

Of course the first order of business was updating the embarrassing system running the place to something more JARVIS and unleashing Pepper on the interior of the top three floors. The rest took a little more cloak and dagger, but in the end it turned into a Tony Stark house instead of the house Tony Stark grew up in.

Recently he's also added a workout room and honestly, he can't wait for Bruce to show him every corner of it. It's just such a shame it will result in injuries instead of orgasms but Tony knows that if he plays his cards right he can turn that 'instead of' into 'as well as'.

That's something he's been doing a lot, actually. Not the bit where he likes it when Bruce beats him up, but the bit where he's creating niches in his life for Bruce to slot into. The freak out has passed with little fanfare—Pepper was there to hold his hand throughout his realisation that he is now, essentially, married to Batman—and he's cheerfully resigned to his lot.

It could have been worse. It was worse, before he went ass over tit at the sight of Bruce Wayne.

"It was a circus from start to finish. I mean, sure, it always is when superheroes are involved but usually there's less rainbow paraphernalia involved. So what have you been up to then?"

Bruce chuckles on the other end of the line and Tony closes his eyes, just floating on the sound of it. They haven't seen each other face to face for a week now—far too much happening on opposite ends of the world for that to be possible. At least they have this.

"Mainly Wayne Enterprises related meetings, lunches and suchlike. You remember how I told you it would be a disaster?"

Tony snorts so he doesn't snicker. "Yeah, but have there been rainbow flags in your life? I think I'm still ahead here."

"I'll take your flags and raise you a parade," Bruce tells him dryly.

He sits up suddenly, excited. "Tell me there was video coverage. I'm injured and I can't see my boyfriend. I deserve a consolation present!"

"You deserve a kick in the ass. You were being reckless for no apparent reason."

Tony thinks back to flying with Thor while Captain America screamed at him through the communicator. Clint's arrows were coming slower and slower, Natasha was crouching in pain, and no one could reason with the Hulk any more. Thor was laughing so he was too. The X-men were supposedly on their way but who was going to wait for that with an army of robots flooding the streets?

"Worth it," he says.

Bruce is silent for a while.

"Yeah," he finally says, "I know."

"So." He clears his throat in lieu of thinking of something to say.

"Are you all right?" Bruce asks him because he's a bastard and he knows Tony far too well.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I'm all right. New York isn't exactly Malibu but when have I let that stop me?"

"Tony," Bruce says in that voice, the one that calls bullshit.

He sighs and settles back against his pillow. There's no use in bothering to lie. He picked himself a smart one and now he's suffering for it.

"I'm offended and Fury's a dick, but in other news the world is round and revolves around the sun."

Tony listens to Bruce typing something on an old-school keyboard and smiles. There's a pleased sounding hum and the typing stops.

"Give me two days."

He finally inhales air that doesn't hurt his lungs.

"Okay. Two days."

"Incoming call from Nick Fury, sir."

"Tell him I'm not in, JARVIS. My head's going nova and Bruce should be arriving within the hour. SHIELD can do without me," he grumps.

"I regret to inform you he is aware you are lying and threatened to have you fetched in handcuffs should you feel inclined to ignore him further," JARVIS tells him regretfully, insofar an AI can be regretful.

"But of course he put me under surveillance, the fucker." He gestures tiredly, he just wants to get it over with so he can take a shower or a nap or both before Bruce shows up. He finally has a day off so of course Fury wants to ruin it. It's karmic shit, he knows it is.

"You can stop glaring at me," he tells the Fury on screen. "I'm too tired to remember what I did wrong this time so you'll just have to scold me with full details."

"There was an Avengers meeting today," Fury bites out.

He rolls his eyes at this. You'd think this was the first time they played that game. "How thrilling. Tell me why I should care."

Fury doesn't bristle. He doesn't need to, does he? He always looks a shade away from homicidal as it is. "The meeting, Stark, was about you. Hence me bothering to call you there."

Tony stands up and makes his way towards the kitchen, the screen following him along the walls. Instead of a short consultation he spent all day correcting the stupidest mistakes being made right in his own company. He's had Pepper fire three engineers and a chemist. He's turning into a businessman andoh god he is tired and he wants coffee more than he wants air.

"Nope, no guilt yet. Try harder," he says.

"As a member of SHIELD-"

"Consultant, please," Tony corrects him.

"You worthless cretin!"

"Bored," Tony shoots back, unimpressed. He's heard worse than that from his friends. Fury's losing his touch.

Then, Fury goes in for the kill. "Your father-" he starts all sad and serious and Tony is not having it.

"Hey, now," he interrupts defensively. "No need to get personal. I was out doing my job. You know, running my multi-billion dollar company, which I also use to make a fuckton of your operation's toys—they operation I am onlya consultant for."

Fury tries to talk but it's a gesture's work to mute him.

"I was an Avenger. I remember that, there was this thing with godly family feuds and many millions in property damages, which, if you'll remember, I helped pay for. What I also remember is that I am no longer an Avenger." He pretends to think. "What was it again? Unstable, unreliable, uncompromising, looked at too many people sideways to be excused. In conclusion—fired." He stops there to give Fury the pleasure of his full attention before continuing. He knows he's showing off but he's been waiting to do this and damn everything, he's going to enjoy it.

"You used me, Fury. Don't think I don't understand because I understand, I do. I'm a businessman and we know all about supply and demand. I'll still help where I can because I mostly believe in what you're doing, but please, don't try to order me around again. We both know I react poorly to authority."

He takes Fury off mute. He may as well not have bothered, he's getting the silent treatment. What the fuck ever, he still hasn't got his coffee.

They say an addiction is never defeated, only replaced. As substances go, coffee isn't the worst he could have chosen. At least it isn't that horrible tea Bruce has flown in from Somewhere, Asia, which he pretends to like because it's supposedly super healthy and good for one's liver and kidneys and Bruce is a champion manipulator. The things he does for love, Christ.

"Stark."

"You're still here? I thought you'd hung up in disgust," he says nonchalantly.

He barely understands what follows because Fury says it through clenched teeth but he does get it. He can tell by the way his heart starts a rock band in his chest.

"There's been a vote by Captain Rogers' request. Congratulations, you're an Avenger."