The aroma of coffee coaxed his eyes opened, leaving behind a topsy-turvy dream where Jack O'Neill was drinking with Tony while he and Bruce sang a karaoke duet of "You Don't Send Me Flowers." Light streamed over the couch, reflecting off the tile floor, far too bright for so earlier in the morning … no strike that, it was probably later, given the sun's position … but he still blinked a few times before the room came into focus. Brown curls tickled his nose, a heavy weight warming his chest where Bruce slept, sprawled on his stomach. The thin pillow under Clint's head didn't make the arm of the white sectional any softer; his neck ached from the angle, but the slow even breathing of the man tangled on top of him was worth it. One hand was on Bruce's back, his other hanging down on the floor; he gently tucked the lock of hair that had fallen in his face behind Bruce's ear. Stirring, Bruce eased his lids open as he exhaled and then tilted up to look at Clint.
"Hey," he murmured, sleepy-voiced.
"Hey," Clint traced the side of Bruce's face and brushed a kiss on his forehead. "Good morning."
There was only so much stretching either man could do on the narrow cushions, but Bruce pushed his weight up onto his arms, face hovering above Clint's then dropping in for a lazy kiss.
"You can't be comfortable like that," he said when their lips parted.
"You'd be surprised," Clint's fingers closed around Bruce's neck and pulled him back for another slow exploration of mouths.
A cough sounded, loud enough to catch their attention. Wide awake with a cup of coffee in his hand, Steve sat on the other side of the couch, his feet propped up on the ottoman; Tony was stretched on his back, legs askew, his head comfortably lying on Steve's lap. Clint didn't stop stroking Bruce's jaw, but they broke off the kiss, smiling at each other.
"Oh, season six. Not the same without Daniel." Squinting, Clint turned his head to see the large TV over the fireplace.
"It's a very good show. Kept me quite entertained," Steve offered; his hand was resting lightly on the arc reactor in Tony's chest, Clint noticed. For his part, Tony was snoring softly. "I am entirely entranced by the notion of Jack and Sam finding their way to each other."
"You and everyone else," Clint chuckled.
"Did you sleep at all?" Bruce asked Steve as he sat up, untangling his legs from Clint who immediately missed the warmth, but the cups of coffee that appeared in front of them made up for it, sort of. He swung his body upright, rolling his head to work the crick out of his neck as he reached for the dark brew; the smell began clearing the fog as he inhaled, and the first hit of caffeinated liquid rolling down his throat finished waking him up. A platter of very tempting pastries was placed on the large upholstered ottoman that served as a table.
"Fresh from Jean Philippe this morning," Robert said, placing plates and napkins down as well.
"Oh, lord, I'm going to have to take up running or some shit if I keep eating like this," Clint complained as he took a cinnamon roll dripping with icing as his first choice. "Hanging out with the two metabolism busters here, I forget about that whole 'exercise to burn calories' thing. Damn." The last was a followed by what could only be called a moan as he bit into the exquisite treat.
Bruce picked up an almond crescent and tasted; he rumbled his approval, sounding suspiciously like the Big Guy as he finished it off in just a few bites, immediately picking up a chocolate croissant. Steve went for a warm tart; as he reached over, Tony grumbled and rolled onto his side, his eyes nothing more than slits as he surveyed the activity.
"Why the hell can't a guy get some sleep around here?" He curled his knees up and let his eyes drift closed, but they opened again as Robert topped off the cups. He perused the platter. "And you're always eating. Is that brioche strawberry or raspberry?"
"Strawberry rhubarb with a touch of cinnamon," Robert answered, putting it on a plate and sitting it near Tony, accompanied by a steaming cup.
With a dramatic groan, Tony pushed himself up, making a production out of stretching and generally trying to be the center of attention; everyone ignored him. Clint thought about seconds, but he really did have to watch it; working out was something he did because he had to, not because he particularly enjoyed it, and he was going to have to ramp things up now that he wasn't on SHIELD rotation anymore. No one would be watching or noting his condition training; he would have to do it himself. But, darn it, that cheese Danish was calling his name. Ah, hell, he'd been meaning to add some new disciplines anyway; he scooped it up before Steve went for his second. Biting his lip to keep from smiling when Bruce started on a third, he knew Bruce caught the aborted look; the man started to stop, and then just shrugged good-naturedly as he ate the cranberry scone.
"As much as I have enjoyed this little getaway," Bruce began, noting with irony the fact that their vacation had been anything but, "I'd like to be in the lab working on the FabMet data. There's a lot to be done there."
Clint could see Bruce's mind shifting into scientist mode, the numbers running through his eyes as he began to spin theories and posit possible outcomes. To be honest, he was surprised Bruce had held out this long; after yesterday's debriefing, he'd fully expected Bruce to suggest they head straight for the jet to Stark Tower. Not that he was complaining at all – damn good sex was always welcome – but he knew how Bruce ticked. Give him a problem and he had to solve it; present the Big Guy with a helicopter and he had to take it down. There were definitely similarities there, he thought; he made sure Bruce was watching before he licked his fingers of the sticky icing.
"The whole thing still bothers me." Steve put his cup on the end table. "They had plenty of time to wipe those computers. Why leave us the data? It's almost like they wanted us to have it."
"Are you back on that hobby horse? Sometimes the obvious is the answer," Tony argued back, rubbing his temples with one hand while holding onto his coffee like a lifeline. Morning after headache, clearly, from mixing medication and alcohol. "Wanna-be power ranger was on her own; H.Y.D.R.A. only stepped in to clean up the mess after she failed. Even they thought knew she was a nut job. Who knew they actually had hiring standards?"
"It's never that easy, Tony; H.Y.D.R.A. always has plans within plans. I want to investigate further. There are too many unanswered questions."
Clint watched the by-play as he finished his coffee; looked like the age-old romantic conundrum was finally answered. Sex didn't relieve the tension between the two; they were still as much at odds as they were before. Of course, angry sex or make-up sex might help. He'd better take a wait-and-see approach.
"Whatever. Go off on your own little crusade, and let us get back to solving the problem. Bruce and I are going back today. You want to stay and play house with Clint, that's fine by me." Tony could be a real bastard when he wanted to be, damn nonchalant tone that was anything but, and when he was hung over, he was even worse; Steve should know that, and he'd better learn to deal with it or this thing wouldn't last. Instead of interrupting, Clint put his hand on Bruce's thigh, an unspoken agreement to stay out of it flashing between them.
"Hell, Tony, that's an asinine thing to suggest." Steve's body was tense now, sitting upright and leaning into Tony's space. "There's nothing wrong with exploring all the possibilities. Just because I think differently than you doesn't mean I'm sniffing around after someone else. But that's not what this is about, is it? Are you really that insecure?"
"Jesus, Steve, one damn blow job, and you think I care if you fuck as many showgirls as you want?" Even Tony had the grace to flinch at that one, but he couldn't stop his own mouth in time to keep from blurting it out.
"Tony." Steve was blushing now, casting a sidelong glance at Clint & Bruce, who kept their faces carefully neutral.
"Look, you can do what you want. You're an overgrown man. I don't care." Which, of course, meant that Tony did care and was pushing Steve away for god only knew what reasons. Fucked up psyche – that was the phrase Tony had used.
"For a genius, you are so stupid sometimes," Steve said, and he caught Tony's head with his hands, pulling him into a searing kiss, head tilting, mouth open, tongue fully involved. For a second, Tony hesitated, eyes wide in surprise, and then he was kissing Steve back, his hands lacing behind Steve's neck to bring him even closer.
Clint looked at Bruce, brows all the way up at the top of his forehead, eyes sparkling with mischief; pressing his lips closed, he said nothing despite all of the quips bubbling on the tip of his tongue.
"Shut up, Barton," Tony growled, not bothering to turn his way.
"Hey, I didn't say a word." Clint protested.
"Yeah. You smirk really loud."
The private comm link buzzed; he knew who it was even before he answered it. Damn bastard couldn't wait five minutes before calling to gloat over the supposed failures of the operation. He should just let it go, refuse to pick up, but avoidance had never worked, and he was done with that, the running and hiding, pretending none of this existed, that he had a happy little family who loved him and wanted only the best for him.
"Fisk." That was the only thing he ever called the man; other names had to be earned, and the son-of-a-bitch had burned those bridges long ago.
"What clusterfuck kind of outfit are you running out there?" Wilson Fisk's voice was almost as big as his body, booming too loud over the secure channel, his fat face filling the screen, anger making his eyes into tiny black points. "I hear the others are on their way back to New York and fucking Captain America is staying there to investigate. What's wrong with you, boy? How hard is it to kill a fucking archer for god's sake? And Stark? I saw the pictures. He should never have made it out of that party alive. Any number of ways to nuke his ass while he was riding some showgirl. Can't you do anything right?"
"You never could see the end game, could you?" Calm and even, he didn't want to dignify the tirade with a response, but he knew Fisk would keep going until he was shut down. "The point wasn't to kill them, but to gather information. Hard to do that when they're dead."
"But those damn bug things didn't last long enough. Nothing about how to make super soldiers or more Hulks. And now they can make their own bugs!" Fisk's bald head began to turn red, blood pressure rising. "Seriously. We lost men out there. For nothing. For no fucking good reason."
"I repeat; the point of the exercise was to learn about their strengths and weaknesses. We know how to get to the human members of the team. The operation was invaluable for future infiltrations." Tapping his foot, he knew he was done here. Nothing he would do or say was going to change the course of this conversation. Fisk had already declared the last few days a failure and he was, in his mind at least, always right.
"They'll have your head for this, you know, and I'm almost glad. Can't imagine how my genes gave birth to such a fuck-up for a son ... "
He cut the feed, wishing he had a phone to slam down in his father's ear, just for the perverse joy of it. Deep breath and he calmed himself before he placed the next call, the important one. Wilson Fisk didn't matter in this little game of chess. No, this was purely to prove competence, how he was destined for greater things.
"It's done?" As usual, there was no video from the other end, just a computer manipulated voice, cold and mechanical.
"As you directed. Stark, Rogers and Banner are infected. The test run with Barton went better than expected; reaction time was greatly accelerated, much more than projections indicated. This bodes well for when the nannites are rebooted; without help readily at hand, the outcome will be quick and effective," he reported.
"And the new factor, Dr. Pym?"
"Ah, yes, quite interesting. I have already dispatched a watcher for the good doctor, although Stark has taken steps to integrate Pym into the Avenger fold. We should have access to his research soon."
"These Pym particles could be particularly useful. I expect a full report by tomorrow." There was no arguing with the statement. It would be done; failure to follow a direct order was not an option.
"Captain Rogers is still here, but there is nothing for him to find that they don't already have." That wasn't completely unexpected; Rogers and Barton both had shown the ability to make logical leaps and rely more on intuition. That could be a problem in the future.
"Good. Perhaps we ought to let Rogers find something to fuel his paranoia. I believe your father has connections there in town, does he not? We may need him to take the fall eventually." The voice gave a harsh laugh. "Any problem if the Avengers turn their attention to him?"
"None at all, sir," he said, not letting any of the joy he felt at the thought of his father's dead and mangled body show on his face. "I'll see about that immediately."
"Oh, and Richard," the voice said. "Do be sure and make Captain Rogers comfortable while he's there. I imagine he's mooning over Stark's absence already."
"Of course, sir," he said. "I live to serve H.Y.D.R.A."
"I'll make sure your things are moved into your new room, sir." Robert held out a keycard to Steve as he prepared to leave the suite. "As your new suite is also on the concierge level, I'll still be here if you need anything. A car is waiting downstairs; it's a rental you are welcome to use as long as you need. Please let me know if I can make dinner arrangements for you."
Steve stopped at the door, taking the room key from the butler. "Royal marines? What made you leave and become a butler of all things?" A complete background check was par for the course with Tony; he had to know everything about anyone who'd be in their room and in close proximity. The hotel had been glad to help with any information they required.
"Untimely accident. And, surprisingly, this job is sometimes just as demanding."
"Oh, that's not so surprising. You forget I know Tony Stark." Steve laughed as he left the room, heading out to catch up with Stilwell and the other SHIELD agents still at the sight of yesterday's battle.
Richard Fisk, son of the Kingpin, head of the Las Vegas branch of H.Y.D.R.A., watched the blonde get in the elevator; for the first time, he was making progress towards his goal – the destruction of his father's empire. And if he had to take out the Avengers to do it, well, he was more than willing to destroy them himself.
FOOTNOTE: so, when I started this story, it was going to be fluffy smutty fun and take place in 24 hours. I didn't make the 24 hour mark ... more like 42 ... but I did get lots of fluff and fun and smut in. And somewhere, in the last few chapters, I realized the plot had turned and that this was just the beginning of a whole series of stories. Things are starting to come together ... the Avengers are being assembled. Can it be long before the villains make their own alliances?