Some Things Aren't Funny
First off, a massive thank you to everyone over at the Beta Branch. You've been absolutely amazing and I really appreciate the support. Second, I'm sorry to everyone who's waiting for an update of my Founders story; I saw the Avengers movie and haven't been able to concentrate on anything else since. I promise I'll get back to it as soon as possible.
Please let me know what you think.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"Is that really a good idea?"
Tony didn't look up from the screen. "I'm a certified genius. All my ideas are good ones."
Clint snorted. "Including the plan to destroy the upgraded Hammer drones?"
"That was a perfectly good plan."
"Even the part where you drained your armour, went into cardiac arrest and Hulk levelled a city block to get you out of there?"
Tony waved a hand carelessly. "Details, details." He smirked as Clint and Natasha exchanged an exasperated look. "Besides, it's only a phone."
"That you're playing with while floating on a lilo in the middle of a swimming pool," said Steve wearily. "What happens if you drop it?"
Tony looked at him. "This phone is about two years ahead of everything else on the market. I developed it myself, and I'm fairly sure I could use it to hack into the Pentagon if I wanted to. Do you really think I didn't make it waterproof?" He stuck it under the water and pulled it out again. "See? No one died."
Steve glared at him for a moment before deciding it wasn't worth the effort. Natasha and Clint just exchanged another long-suffering look. Tony reflected that they'd been doing that a lot recently.
When he'd first suggested the Avengers stay in the newly rebuilt Stark Tower, he was thinking in purely practical terms. Bruce needed somewhere safe to stay, and Tony had not been willing to let one of the few people he could actually hold a technical conversation with disappear to who knows where. The scientist hadn't taken much persuading; the prospect of an actual bed each night, a fully equipped laboratory and someone who could probably stop him destroying everything if he did hulk out had been too much to resist, especially since some of the more wary SHIELD consultants had been muttering about contacting certain generals. Fury might have been able to keep them off his back, but he had a good idea that disagreeing with Tony Stark might be a different matter entirely. Fury had approved the suggestion, and Bruce had been safely ensconced in one of the tower's spare rooms the same day.
Things sort of spiralled from there. Clint and Natasha usually stayed at whichever SHIELD base was most convenient, but when Fury had pointed out the logic in having someone other than Tony Stark keeping an eye on Banner, they had been all too happy to move. Tony had made a token protest, but had had to agree that maybe the company would be nice. And it had been; Clint had eventually relaxed the frosty mask to reveal a surprisingly mischievous sense of humour, and he and Tony had really begun to hit it off. Natasha was another matter; she remained as detached as she had been when she worked for him, but he thought she was coming round to the situation. She had only threatened to drown him rather than decapitate him the last time he had annoyed her, and Clint had assured him that it was progress. Tony had, for once, kept his mouth shut at that. For some reason, she and Pepper got along perfectly well.
By that point, Tony was beginning to feel sorry Steve stuck at SHIELD all by himself, and he had moved in too. That had been interesting experience. It had become abundantly clear that the two of them were polar opposites in every conceivable way during the conflict, and living under the same roof had only proved it. Steve was a military man, he had a routine and he stuck to it. He got up early, worked out, ate regularly, helped out around the house and went to bed. In other words, everything Tony didn't do. Somehow, though, it worked. Sure, they argued, but it seemed that flying into another dimension with a nuclear missile and nearly dying was a pretty good way of settling certain disagreements. They certainly didn't agree on everything, or anything really, but they could stay in the room without killing each other. Most of the time.
Thor was the only one who didn't live full time at the mansion. Instead, he stayed in New Mexico with Jane Foster and Darcy, who Tony was very curious to meet and everyone else equally determined to keep him away from, and visited the team every other week or so. It worked out pretty well, even if Tony had had to ban Mjolnir from his workshop after a momentary irritation on Thor's part, which Tony still swore he had nothing to do with, resulted in him nearly frying Butterfingers. Thor had been suitably apologetic, and Tony had made a mental note not to tease Thor about certain Norse myths while in close proximity to delicate machinery.
Overall though, everything was going fairly well. They had saved the city a couple more times, the public loved them, a novel experience for Bruce, and Fury had finally decided that they didn't need a SHIELD overseer, or babysitter as Clint had put it. Tony thought that decision had more to do with the fact that he and Clint had made it their personal mission to test each and every operative Fury suggested to see if he was up for the job. They had agreed that they would not stand for having an idiot for Phil Coulson's successor. After six highly regarded agents had quit after less than a week on the job, Fury had told them they could handle their own damn mess. As long as they all, and by that they all knew he meant Steve and Natasha, turned in mission reports, he would leave them alone. It was a system that was working out quite nicely for all concerned.
On this particular occasion, Clint had taken one look at the clear summer sky and the swimming pool in Tony's back garden and declared that this was not a day for Tony to be locked up in his workshop, Steve to systematically demolish punch bags, or Natasha to do scary stuff that Tony was quite sure he didn't want to know about. He would have said something similar to Bruce, but the scientist had warned them in no uncertain terms that his experiments were at a crucial stage and he was not to be disturbed unless more than twenty percent of Manhattan was in imminent danger of disappearing, and while Clint might ignore Tony's warnings, he wasn't stupid enough to do the same to Bruce. Thor was also excused by virtue of the fact that he was in another realm entirely and Tony still hadn't been able to get hold of Jane's calculations for her new Bifrost replacement. He could have done it himself, but this was simpler, and he was having far too much fun systematically rewriting SHIELD's firewalls.
So here he was, lying on the lilo and alternating between explaining why the pool water tasted of chlorine to Steve and seeing exactly how far he could get into the Pentagon from his phone before someone noticed. Clint and Natasha were playing some version of underwater tag, but when the players were master assassins, the game tended to get more serious. Natasha had split lip and Clint was nursing what promised to be a fine black eye, but both seemed to be enjoying themselves. Steve had taken one look at them and opted to sit on the side.
"So the chlorine just makes sure the water stays clean."
"Pretty much." His eyes narrowed as he tapped furiously at the screen. "Oh, come on, how is that a secure server?"
Steve wisely chose to ignore him. "Can't you do anything to it? It tastes strange."
Tony paused. "Possibly. There are alternative treatments. Of course, they're all horribly inefficient and time consuming."
"Sounds perfect for you then," said Clint, simultaneously fending off Natasha and smirking at him.
"Says the person who still uses a bow and arrow," Tony retorted. His phone beeped and he looked down. "And now you made me hit something."
Natasha raised an eyebrow. "Getting slow in your old age?"
Tony glared at her. "Yeah, you realise I'm a grand total of five years older than you."
Her expression turned flinty. "How did you find that out?"
Tony grinned. "For an intelligence organisation, SHIELD's security really isn't that good."
Steve pinched the bridge of his nose. "I thought Fury told you not to do that."
"He did," Natasha snapped. She ignored Clint's attempts to distract her and was now looking at Tony the same way she'd looked at the Chitauri.
Tony swallowed. He might be reckless, but he wasn't stupid. "I promise not to do it again?"
Clint snorted. "Good one, Tony."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Steve sighed. He'd been doing that a lot lately too. "Tony, please stop hacking into important files. Natasha... Please don't kill Tony."
"I wouldn't kill him," she muttered. "Maim, maybe."
Tony grimaced, but shut off the phone and tossed it onto the side. "Remind me again why I agreed to this."
"Because we're awesome," Clint told him promptly.
Tony raised a sceptical eyebrow. "Yeah. That'll be it." He yawned and closed his eyes. "Try and keep it down, will you?"
He could almost feel Steve frowning at him. "Are you all right?"
Tony opened one eye. "Why wouldn't I be?"
"You're trying to sleep on a lilo in the middle of the day," said Steve patiently. "Most people don't do that."
"I'm not most people."
"Thankfully," Natasha murmured.
Tony elected to ignore her. "Anyway, zip it."
He closed his eyes again and settled down. Within moments, he felt his body relax as he began to doze off and he almost breathed a sigh of relief. For once, he hadn't been up by choice the previous night. Nightmares were all too common in their profession and it was practically impossible to get back to sleep afterwards. Especially that particular one. He had to suppress a shudder and quickly pushed past the reminder. Fortunately, hacking into SHIELD's personnel files was enough of a challenge to keep him from dwelling on those particular memories. The murmur of voices soon faded as he drifted off.
Clint scowled at the dozing billionaire. "Well, that's no fun."
Steve sighed. "Just let him be, Clint."
"But he's being so boring."
"And do you really think he'll be happy if you wake him up?"
"You know what happened last time," Natasha interrupted. "Leave him alone."
Unfortunately, an all too familar gleam had entered Clint's eyes at the mention of that particular incident. "I never did get him back for that."
Natasha held his gaze for a moment, then shrugged. "Don't come running to me when he sets the Hulk on you."
Clint grinned at her. "Fair enough. You in, Cap?"
Steve looked uncertainly at Tony. The older man looked like he could use the rest, but there was no stopping Clint in this mood. "Don't do anything too stupid."
"Come on, you know me better than that." He began to move very quietly to the billionaire's side until he could grip the edge of the lilo. Steve caught his intention and groaned.
"What? It won't hurt him."
Natasha frowned at him, but before she could say anything, the archer had tipped the inflatable upside down, sending Tony Stark into the water with a splash.
Tony's eyes snapped open as water crashed over him. He opened his mouth to cry out, and water gushed into his lungs. His body spasmed in a furious coughing fit as he tried to fight his way toward the surface, but something was pressing on the back of his head, and try as he might, he couldn't break free. Panic overtook him and he was suddenly back in the cave, the connections to a car battery sparking in his chest and harsh laughter in his ears. Desperately he lashed out, trying with all his might to get free, but his captors were too strong, they were holding him under and they weren't letting him up. More water flooded into his lungs as his mouth opened in a silent scream and he struck out again. He felt a brief surge of triumph as his elbow collided with something solid, and the pressure on his head disappeared, then there were strong hands on his arms and he was dragged out of the water, spluttering and choking for breath. People around him were shouting but he flinched away, he knew what came next, they would repeat the process until he could take it no longer, and struggling would only make it worse, but he'd be damned if he was going to give in without a fight.
But something was wrong. No one was holding him, hitting him, trying to drag him forward. There was sunshine on his face and he could smell roses, but there were no roses in the cave, and come to think of it, his captors had never yelled in English and they had certainly never let him get away with hitting one of them. His hands were up in front of his face, but no blows were landing, and now the voices were quiet and soothing and familiar…
Tony cracked one eyelid open and almost collapsed with relief. He wasn't in the cave, he wasn't even in Afghanistan, he was at home, he was safe, no one was going to try that again, he was safe. He was safe.
Then he realised he was shaking with terror, and he had thrown up without realising it, and that would have been fine, except three of his teammates, his friends, were staring at him, their expressions clearly betraying their horror. It slowly sank into his dazed brain that they had seen the whole thing. Steve's mouth was hanging open with astonishment as he looked at him, while Natasha's habitual icy mask had cracked to reveal eyes that actually conveyed concern, and Clint…
Clint stood stock still, heedless of the blood that ran from his nose. His face was ashen, and he was his eyes were filled with such guilt that Tony had to look away. His shaking was growing more violent; bad enough to have a flashback like that, but to have the others see… He clenched his eyes shut as hot shame flooded his body.
"Tony," Steve began, and Tony could hear the pity in his voice, and that was one thing he could not take right now. Grimly, he forced his shaking legs to support him as he pushed himself upright. Steve stepped forwards to help, but froze at the expression on his face. Without a word, Tony walked past them, into the house and the elevator, ignoring JARVIS' enquiries even as they grew increasingly concerned, until he could lock himself in his workshop and collapse against a wall and let the terror and anger and shame overwhelm him until he knew no more.