9:47

"And Tony used the D word? Out loud?" Pepper sipped her martini, eyes locked on the man in question as he made his circuit around the room, a tall slinky blonde on his arm.

"Mostly to needle Clint, I'm sure, but yes, in front of both Steve and Thor." Natasha kept her watch on Clint, who was leaning against the bar, chatting up a petite brunette. The two SHIELD agents had worked hard at maintaining a level of anonymity despite the popularity of the Avengers; Pepper had helped, keeping the Natalie Rushman cover alive and creating a Clark Burton as one of Tony's bodyguards. Clint had actually taken to wearing a mask easily once he saw the really cool sunglass style that Tony created; Natasha didn't like anything limiting her vision, and she was so good at being invisible that Coulson had let it slide. So, they were not the center of attention at these types of parties; even the most worthy charity fundraiser was work for Steve and Tony, and they gathered a crowd wherever they went. Thor, if he was in town, seriously loved the adoration, used to the idolatry of a god; Bruce very graciously bowed out because of the stress level. Once, to raise donations for a pediatric wing of the hospital, the Hulk put in an appearance with the kids; he played with them and the PR had been invaluable. But that was the limits of the green guy's patience.

"And Steve pretended you two didn't know already." Pepper let a tiny grin cross her face as Natasha's calm never wavered. "He doesn't have the best poker face, you know," Pepper added, nodding the blonde man's way; he was cutting quick glances towards them, his eyes all too often falling on the beautiful spy.

"Isn't that Malory McFadden, the swimsuit model, with Tony?" Natasha casually looked towards Tony. Deflect and obscure an old tactic that usually worked.

"They met in D. C. last month," Pepper explained. The model was hanging off Tony's arm, acting as if he was the most interesting of all men. The idea of having decoy dates didn't go over well with any of them, especially Tony, but the media hounded the team enough without making their dating … and sexual … preferences known. Tony's bi-sexuality was well-documented, but Clint's low profile was the argument that got Tony to agree. The body guard story made staying close together easy, but if there was touching and, heaven forbid, kissing, then media bloodhounds would be digging through Clark Burton's background with a fine tooth comb. There were still plenty of opportunities for them to be out and about in each other's company without starting rumors. Keep 'em guessing, that was the idea.

"Does Tony know about her long running affair with a very conservative, very pro-family Senator? I'm sure her name linked to his will help to deflect the scandal once the wife files for divorce next week." A tit-for-tat, Natasha pushed back; she was good at this, and Pepper knew it. "All she'll need are pictures of her leaving Tony's all mussed up, and she's set to argue she's gracing Iron Man's bed not Mr. Two-faced Family Man."

"Oh, really?" Pepper's eyes flashed, and she sat her drink down. "Well, I'll just go let her know her services are no longer needed. I will not have her messing with Tony."

"You still love him," Natasha said, surprised.

"He's happier right now with Clint than I've seen him in a long time," Pepper said. "I'll always love him; I'm just not in love with him anymore. You understand the difference; you love Clint, but you're in love with …" She trailed off with a grin.

"Semantics," Natasha argued at Pepper's back as she waded into the crowd of men in tuxedos and women in cocktail dresses. Somehow, Pepper knew everything; she'd make an excellent spy if she wasn't CEO of a Fortune 500 hundred company. Of course, that might be the same thing, really. Steve raised his eyebrow as Pepper left, and Natasha gave him the tiniest of shrugs; she'd fill him in later after the mama bear went to work saving her cub.

7:52

"Melinda, darling, I'm surprised to see you here," Pepper smoothly insinuated herself between Tony and the model on his arm. "I was sure Marco Grob would have found you by now."

"Marco?" Malory's perfectly penciled in eyebrows rose, and her eyes practically glowed at the mention of the famous photographer's name. "He's here and looking for me?"

"I just saw him in the solarium, but I think he's leaving soon." Pepper barely finished her sentence before Malory peeled herself off of Tony and began pushing her way towards the door without even a goodbye. "Oh, good, I hope she finds him."

"You are an evil woman," Tony laughed. "My drink is empty. To the bar for a refill and an explanation." He steered Pepper with a light hand on her back; cameras went up and snapped pictures of the two of them, heads together. Malory McFadden was already forgotten; tomorrow's headlines would speculate about Pepperoni getting back together. Mission accomplished.

6:31

They stopped next to Clint, Pepper between the two of them. "And what was that about?" Tony asked after he shook his empty glass, and the bartender jumped to make a fresh drink for both of them.

"I do believe that Pepper discovered Miss Implants was sleeping with a politician and planning on using you as her life preserver when the story breaks next week." Clint turned and leaned back on his elbows. "Of course, those triple Ds probably float, so …."

"Jealousy is Jolly Green's game, Robbie boy." Tony picked up the full glass that was placed before him. "Nice to know you care though."

"Oh, I don't care. If you're into plastic, I know a really good store that sells some … interesting little toys," Clint shot back.

"Boys. I'm still here. The cute pre-cuddle bickering can wait." She delicately sipped her fresh martini. "From now on, one us of vets your dates, Tony. Last thing we need is to be linked to another scandal. Not with the funding issues coming up before congress and the mutant registry act on the horizon."

"Yes, ma'am," Tony gave her a mock salute. "I'll add background checks to the list along with no public dancing, vertical or horizontal, with Clark Kent over there."

"Tony," Pepper warned.

"Don't worry. I don't dance," Clint said to forestall the argument.

"Oh, you've done it now. He's going to have to make you." Shaking her head, Pepper stepped away from the bar. "Not here, Tony. You've got to stay for at least another 30 minutes before you cut out." She let that be her last salvo and headed towards Steve who looked like he needed saving from a particularly aggressive silver haired grandmother with a fake fox fur around her neck.

5:22

Tony turned his attention to Clint, eyeing the silver fitted suit and thin black tie, lingering on the way the pants hugged Clint's crotch.

"Not going to happen, Tony, so wander off and do your smoozing thing so we can get out of here."

He could tell Clint meant it, but the gauntlet had been thrown down and Tony wasn't one to let a challenge go by. Besides, he was bored out of his mind and tweaking Clint was much more appealing.

"Okay. I'm going to get some fresh air. The perfume level in here is getting toxic. Don't worry, just going out to the dark isolated garage on my own … oh, wait, you're my bodyguard. Guess you have to come too." He sauntered away, not bothering to see if Clint was following; his progress was molasses slow as was constantly stopped, glad handed, slapped on the back, asked for money indirectly, and asked for money flat out. Ignoring most of them, except the gorgeous redhead with the City Councilman whose phone number he entered into his cell, he pushed through the exit door behind an h'orderves table loaded with those fancy little bites that made him long for a good cheeseburger and remember he was hungry. The door clacked open behind him; he kept going, following Jarvis' directions to a blind spot in the video surveillance, a couple of turns to an interior corner.

1:49

"People saw us leave, Tony," Clint sounded exasperated; good, that meant Tony's plan was working. He could make Clint to do the craziest things to get him to shut up.

"Dance with me, and I'll have Happy bring the car up here so we can be seen leaving in just a few minutes. Then I'm the bad guy for skipping out." Tony wiggled his eyebrows. "One little dance, and we're back at the Tower watching Game of Thrones."

"There's no music," Clint huffed. Tony pulled out his phone, and a man started singing about crying a river. "Michael Buble? Really?"

Tony swayed side to side and held out his arms. "If you don't, I'll make a scene."

1:02

"Damn it, Tony." He was cracking, Tony could see it, and so he waited.

0:32

Finally, he stepped up and put his hands on Tony's waist; Tony looped his hands around Clint's shoulders and reeled him in closer, catching his mouth in a kiss.

0:24

"Dancing. Nothing else," Clint protested, pulling back.

"You were standing." Tony followed him and kissed him again.

0:15

"You are an 11-year-old boy," Clint groused, but he leaned in, pushing Tony's back against the concrete wall. This kiss was dirty, and they were both panting by the time Clint broke off.

0:08

"Next I expect a note: do you like me, yes or no?" Clint shook his head. "You're never going to grow up."

0:04

"Nah, I know you like me," Tony said in a sing-song voice, making Clint laugh. "I really think you're …"

0:00

.

.

.

+2:57

Grit clogged his tear ducts and coated his eyelashes, sealing his lids shut. Something wet and sticky covered his left cheek, and a heavy weight held down his right arm. Dust filtered into this throat and he gasped, the sound loud to his ears. He tried to kick his feet, but they hit an obstacle just a few inches above. Jerking his fingers, he moved his left hand and managed to slam his elbow into something hard; he swore but kept inching it out until he could rub his eyes and open them.

The dim blue light of the arc reactor bounced of the concrete slab that hovered above him, balanced on other chunks of debris, the space tight, no more than twelve inches away from his face. His hand came away with dark splotches; he could barely turn his head, knocking a rain of white particles onto the floor. His heartbeat accelerated and he sucked in shallow breaths, the panic starting in his stomach and rolling up to his throat, choking off the dirty air. Jerking, he tried to free his arm, thrashing his legs, the need to escape constricting his chest, driving all thoughts away but the desire to get out. A grinding sound and a voice filtered through Tony's rattled brain.

"Tony, stop." Clint said. "It's okay, we're going to be okay. Hey, can you hear me?"

+7:02

Dragging in a breath, Tony couldn't stop the dread that swamped his vision. He pounded now, with hands and feet, pressing up with all his strength. The stone rocked again and some sparks flew from near his head, electrical line catching on rebar. Concrete grated and the slab tilted, sliding off to Tony's left, sending a ripple effect as other pieces shifted. A sharp cry of pain, and Tony stilled.

+9:28

"Clint?" He'd made enough room to sit up partway and turn, freeing his other arm. Clint was on his left side, turned towards Tony; his face was white, his mouth drawn tight. Bent at the knee, his left leg was pinned, a metal pipe that looked like an electrical conduit buried in his flesh. Splatters of dark blood spread out around it. "Oh god, did I do that?" He could feel the panic rising again; he'd hurt Clint, he'd hurt Clint, what good was he?

"Tony! Focus on me. Not your fault, but moving makes it worse, so I need you to take a couple deep breaths. Can you do that?" It was Clint's calm question that cut through the fear; three inhales and exhales, and he felt the stress leeching away, leaving a different kind of anxiety, worry about Clint burrowing into his chest.

+12:42

"What the hell happened?" Tony asked; he'd freed his body enough to pull his legs up and turn to face Clint. "Explosion of some sort?"

"Bomb, most likely. Had to be damn big or more than one to take down the whole garage structure. I figure we dropped at least two floors, maybe three. The fact we were in that corner protected us from the main blast." Clint grimaced in pain.

"Here, wait, I think I have …" Tony dug through his pockets, cataloguing various new bruises and aches that weren't there before. He could do this, just breath and concentrate. Clint needed him. "Yes! Got some vicodin from the last time I got banged up in a fight." He wrestled the top open and handed over two of the big white pills, dropping them in Clint's palm. Wasting no time, Clint tossed them dry into his mouth and swallowed.

"That was two days ago if I remember," Clint coughed as they went down; he squeezed his eyes shut and then opened them again. "Okay. Any reception down here?"

Why hadn't he thought of that? He was useless, absolutely pathetic. He was the technie god, damn it. Tony dragged his phone out of his pocket; a crack ran across the screen and there was not so much as a flicker of power. With an angry grunt, he flung it off into a dark corner, frustrated.

"Check mine, breast pocket." Right. Clint's phone. Scooting closer, he fished it out; it was on, but there were no bars available. At least the light of the screen let him see Clint's face; he ran the phone down like a flashlight and took a good look at the wound. It was bad. Really bad.

"Jarvis!" He put the glowing phone in Clint's hand and reached to tap the comm in his ear; it wasn't there. "Fuck. Lost the link. What fucking good am I?"

"You're awake and able to move. That's good. Look, Jarvis knew where we were, right? So we just have to wait it out until they get here. You can keep my mind off of it." Clint coughed again and groaned as he involuntarily moved.

"Hey, you sure you're okay?" He covered one of Clint's hands with his own. "You're cold."

"Had worse. There was this one time in Seville. Gut wound. Hurt like hell and had my intestines hanging out. Nat called me a wimp; she closed me up with crazy glue to get me back to the drop point." Clint smiled, but there were tight lines around his eyes. The blood around the wound was growing into a puddle, slowly, drop by drop.

"Stark Industries by-product – cyanoacrylate, liquid stitches. Don't think it would work here though." He went with a joke – a poor one at that; it was the only thing he had at the moment.

"Somehow you have a hand in everything, Tony," Clint laughed, and Tony worried as his voice grew thin then steadied again. "You're like Chekov; a little old lady from Leningrad invented scotch."

+17:28

Vibrations built quickly to a dull roar, and the sound of settling rock and stone was their warning before everything started to shift. Throwing his body over Clint's, Tony had a front row seat to the pain that slashed across Clint's face as the metal pressed deeper into his leg. A tiny trickle of blood ran from Clint's mouth where he bit his lip to keep from screaming, his eyes scrunched tight. His hand buried deep into Tony's side, fingers biting in as he struggled.

"Fuck," he exhaled when the debris finally stopped moving. "Fuck, fuck, fuck. Good thing you moved."

Tony glanced back to where he'd been laying; one of the slabs had crashed down right where his arm had been. Using the cellphone's light, he found he could almost sit up now, and he looked at the fresh rivulets of blood running down Clint's thigh. He didn't like it, not one bit. Tony might not be a doctor but he knew a major artery ran through the thigh, and a hunk of metal puncturing it couldn't be good. They might not have time to wait. Pushing up, he aimed the phone behind Clint. A triangle of space showed in the darkness.

"Good news. There's something back there, maybe a way out." Tony looked back to Clint. "If I can get you free we can …"

"No can do. Pull that and I might bleed out even faster." Clint shook his head and Tony knew that look, the one he got when he was determined to keep up with Steve or Thor even though he was hurt. There was no arguing with Clint when his stupidly heroic instinct kicked in. "I know you can make it. Get to the others."

"Let me see if I can get a signal." Tony caught the phone out of Clint's hand and started to crawl over Clint.

"Ouch, watch that," Clint joked, but his heart wasn't in it. His breathing was shallow, and his fists clenched as Tony wriggled over him.

"You don't usually complain about my cock in your face, dude," Tony said lightly as he eased his knees past Clint's shoulder; his left one brushed and Clint drew in a sharp breath as his body rocked.

"Well, the atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired," Clint choked out, hurt racking his voice. "And pain doesn't turn me on."

"Aw, come on, you don't want me to tie you up? I know you've got some nice looking handcuffs you're dying to try out." He turned back to look at Clint's face, brushing some dust out of Clint's dark hair. "Hang in there – remember you still owe me a dance, and now I'm thinking a little tie me up, tie me down fun."

"Won't be dancing for a while." Clint tilted his head back to look at Tony. "Go on. I'll be here when you get back."

The kiss was quick and intense; only a moment, but brimming with emotion.

"You are not getting out of that dance," Tony said as a parting shot. Clint snorted in response.

Tony crawled on his hands and knees to the opening; reaching his arm in as far as he could, he checked the phone. No bars. He started to shimmy in further when the rumble returned and the concrete shook around him. Rubble loosened and slid into new positions. Tony scrabbled, ripping his jacket on a sharp bit of metal in his haste to get out of the way. Dust rained down, and sparks flew from exposed wires.

+24:18

Clint fought through the red hot haze of agony in his leg. When he focused, there was darkness then slowly, filtering into the edges of his vision, faint light through dozens of lines and cracks in the rubble. A piece of a support beam hung above his head, precariously balanced on another pile of chunks, ready to tumble down with the next tremor.

"Tony?" Clint called, twisting at his waist to look behind him; the pain lanced up his spine and he gritted his teeth. "Tony!"

"Still here," came the reply from the much smaller crevice. "A hole opened up. I think I can get through. Engage your cloak of stubbornness and hang on."

When he looked up again, he knew he had to move; the next shake could end with a smashed skull, and he liked his head on his shoulders, thank you very much. He started breathing –four counts in, slow four counts out – slowing down his racing heart and head, preparing himself. Looking at it logically, he needed to roll to his right, closer to where Tony had disappeared, under a large rectangular wall section that was propped at an angle, as secure as any could be. But to do that, he'd need to … with lightning quick move, he grabbed the end of the jagged piece of metal and rolled to his back, shimmying from there with shoulders and butt until the waves of pain like razor sharp knives slicing up his body were too much. Black crept into his vision as he wavered near unconsciousness; he fought it back, staying awake in case he needed to move again. Reaching down, he felt fresh blood flowing out of the wound; he was in real trouble.

A sound caught his attention, a little mewl; from out of a tiny hole, a kitten crawled, fur covered with grey dust and matted with ashes, dragging its back leg at an odd angle. It made a beeline for Clint; tiny claws sank into his skin as the cat climbed up onto his chest, meowing with every bump of the injured leg. The little stings were small in comparison to his own hurts, but he concentrated on each one, feeling the weight of the animal with each paw planted. Black nose pointed his way, one blue eye, one gold, as big ears cocked and examined him.

"Nice to meet you," Clint spoke. The kitten rumbled, circled three times and settled down with its eyes glowing in the dark, staring at Clint, leg splayed out. Warmth started to sink into him, the undersized body resonating with a purr; it was comforting in a way Clint needed, as the throb of his own wound started to fade, leaving him floating away on the vicodin and blood loss. Even as he closed his eyes, he brought his hand up to curl around the little kitten to protect it.

+42:59

"Clint!"

He blinked, foggy brained, disconnected. A blue light, a hand on his face.

"Come on, come back to me."

"Tony," he slurred.

"Yeah, it's me. They're on their way. I've got Jarvis working on a scan of the …."

A purr and tiny claws shifted. Clint looked down; the kitten was stretching.

"Stay with me. It won't be long. Hulk's doing the heavy lifting."

"Cold."

"I'm here."

Heat along his side, an arm across his waist, Tony's breath across his neck.

"Leave you alone for five minutes, and you find a new friend." A hiss and Tony cursed. "I hate cats."

Small head burrowed into Clint's palm, and he managed a chuckle.

+1:07:29

"Hulk carry."

Big green hands cradled him and he felt very little pain; the medication the doctors gave him was working. The world spun as he was lifted up and then he was on a gurney, sheet beneath him.

"Hulk like kitty. Kitty like Hulk."

+1:12:38

"Just let the damn thing go with him."

Natasha, smudges on her face, hair messed up.

"Leave it to you to find a stray in a disaster zone."

He smiled at her. Tony squeezed his hand, and the weight settled back onto his chest.

+7:27:12

On silk sheets, elevated by pillows, Clint woke in Tony's bed, the lights of Manhattan spread out beyond the open windows, illuminating the room. A dull ache pounded in his thigh; tugging back the sheets he saw the clean, sterile bandage wrapped tightly. Band-Aid on the back of his right hand – IV line – and another in the bend of his elbow – blood transfusion – both of which itched slightly. Despite being in and out, he remembered the doctor talking to him about how close he'd come to bleeding to death, and Tony arguing with everyone about every single detail.

"Oh good, you're awake." Bruce looked up from his seat, the glow of his tablet illuminating his face and reflecting off his glasses. "How are you feeling?"

"Not dead," Clint answered honestly. "Damn happy about that."

"It was closer than we'd like. Nicked an artery; only thing that kept you going as long as you did was the heat of the metal cauterized it almost closed." He stretched his arms, rolling out kinks in his neck. Jarvis, hearing their conversation, turned up the lights.

"What happened? Bomb? Any idea who?"

"Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, a lot of it. Damn powerful. Three different bombs about two floors below the level you were on." Bruce's voice was sober as he talked about the situation. "A group calling themselves the Syrian Liberation Front are claiming responsibility; the wife of the current Crown Prince of Syria and the Foreign Ambassador were having a formal state dinner in the hotel. That room was the epicenter."

"God," Clint rubbed his forehead; after all the monsters and villains they'd faced, it still boggled his mind to think that humans could do such things to each other. "Casualties?"

"Search and rescue is ongoing; we know the wife survived. She'd stepped out to go put her 7-year-old daughter to sleep up in one of the penthouse suites when the explosion happened. So far, 21 bodies have been recovered from the immediate area, but so many more may be trapped like you were. The ballroom was jostled but mostly intact; the injuries were primarily due to falling material and broken glass. Steve and Pepper organized the first response; Natasha went after you two."

Clint tentatively shifted up on his arms and slid his butt back, elevating himself with some of the many pillows Tony liked to have around him. Thankfully, he felt only sharp twinges that faded quickly, courtesy of the anesthesia still in his system from the microsurgery to clean and seal the wound.

"Merp," the kitten protested from where it was snuggled against Clint's side, long black silky fur lost in the dark sheets; just splatters of white on his paws and tail stood out - even the bandage on its hind leg was black.

"Sorry," Clint apologized. "Didn't see you there." Absently, he scratched the kitten's head; it tilted until Clint's fingers worked a spot just below its left ear and began to purr, tail thumping in pleasure.

"She made quite an impression," Bruce laughed as he stood up. "Yowled non-stop when the EMTs tried to move her away, so she got to ride in the ambulance and stay with you the whole time. I hear the Other Guy is very fond of the little scamp. She got a name?"

"A girl? That suits her," Clint said. "Nix. Her name is Nix. As in Phoenix. Didn't even know she was black and white, she was so covered with ash and grime."

"Well, she is NOT supposed to be on my bed, so you can just toss her off." Tony walked into the room, and Clint realized Bruce must have sent him a message as soon as he woke up. The cat stopped purring and looked directly at Tony, her tail bushing out. When Clint stopped scratching, she bumped his hand imperiously with her head and twisted her body until his fingers were under her chin. Clint took the hint. "Damn thing scratched me when I tried to move her," Tony bitched.

"She likes me," Bruce offered; he winked at Clint. "Maybe if you were nice to her?"

"Yeah, yeah, nice, right." Tony sat down on the edge of the big bed. "Don't you have some project or other to work on? Cosmic radiation? Nuclear medicine? Big purple pair of pants?" Despite his words, Tony was smiling and Bruce didn't seem to mind.

"I'll let the others know you're okay," he said to Clint.

Tony scrunched up his face in distaste. "Great. That means we've got only minutes before we're descended upon by the furry feline fan club. They all like the little monster."

Nix hissed in Tony's general direction, got up, stretched, deigned to give him a nasty glare, and then crossed the bed to hop down, skittering a little.

"See? She can understand me! Mutant cat. That's what she is." Tony called after her. "No scratching the leather sofa. I mean it. I'll take away your catnip."

"You bought her catnip?" Clint didn't miss that little fact. Tony was a softie, underneath all the bluster; if he didn't want Nix there, the cat would be gone.

"Oh, god, he bought enough cat stuff for ten cats," Bruce offered. "Seven types of food, designer matching food and water bowl. An automatic litter box cleaner. Two scratching posts and a ton of toys. The third bedroom is all her stuff now. I bet he's already working on a better litter box robot."

"You. Pants. Cosmic rays. Something." Tony ordered; Bruce only grinned.

"Get some sleep," Bruce told Clint. "I'll make sure the others don't stay long. You need rest to heal. And no physical exertion or you'll rip the stitches." He stared at Tony when he said the last part for a few seconds before he left.

"You." Tony rounded on Clint, pointing a finger at his chest. "You are making a habit of this almost dying thing. I've about had enough of it. You can stop now."

"Pot, Kettle, Tony." Clint shot back; the combination of pain meds and anesthesia was making his brain a little fuzzy, and he could feel fatigue stealing back in. "Part of the job description."

"Yeah." He seemed to deflate a little, and for a second Clint saw just how tired Tony was, the dark circles under his eyes and the shadows haunting his face. "I lost it back there when you needed me."

"No. You came through for me. Although I do have to say I kind of regret not getting to have 'oh, the world is ending, we might die any second' sex in a collapsing building. Haven't checked that one off on the sex bucket list yet." Joking was their best form of communication; they were rarely ever serious, and then not for long. Venturing into that territory was dangerous, and Clint was too wiped out to go there. He gripped Tony's t-shirt and pulled him over. "Too bad I'm pumped full of chemicals right now and couldn't get it up even if my brain wanted to or we'd go for the 'break the doctor's rules and have sex' box."

"I think we already did that one?" Tony's grin was back, the self-satisfied one. "On the couch after you stupidly risked your life on the roof of the museum?"

"Excuse me? That was you on the roof, I.T. boy," Clint argued. "And the doctor didn't specifically say not to have my way with you." When Tony opened his mouth to continue the debate, Clint dragged him down by his collar and kissed him, the fear of the past hours fueling his need as he explored, his tongue tangling with Tony's. Pressing back in the pillows, Tony followed Clint down, holding himself up on his arms as Clint's hand carded through his hair.

"Sir, Captain Rogers, Agents Romanoff and Coulson, along with Ms. Potts are exiting the elevator," Jarvis supplied. Reluctantly, they separated and exchanged a heated glance before the others came through the doorway. Natasha held Nix in her arms, stroking her long, silky fur.

"Oh god, they've formed an alliance!" Tony rolled his eyes. "I'm lost, aren't I?"

"Game over," Natasha declared.

Clint smiled indulgently and settled into the soft pillows, his eyes already sagging.

+Day 6 09:32:27

"Jesus, Tony." Clint tried to arch his back, but Tony's hands on his waist held him as Tony sank down onto Clint's cock, taking the hard length inside and clenching around him. "You're killing me here."

"No moving or you'll pop the stitches," Tony groaned and moved his hips in a figure eight, making Clint's eyes roll back in his head. He was just about to explode; Tony's plan of seduction had been systematic and thorough. Silk ropes around each wrist and ankle, nothing too tight or pulling, just enough to keep him immobile, flat on his back, his wounded leg propped up with a pillow under his knee. Slow and deliberate, first with his hands and then his mouth until Clint was primed and ready, Tony had worked Clint into a state of frenzy, talking the whole time, words getting filthier with every lick and wet pull.

"How the hell …" Clint moaned and tried to thrust up, but Tony seated himself all the way down and kept Clint's hips on the bed "… am I supposed to stay still …" He rolled his wrists, wrapping the rope around his hands, using it as leverage push up against Tony's weight "… when you are doing that?"

"Doing what? Riding you hard? Fucking you senseless?" Tony rose up and slid back down. "You owe me a dance, Robbie Boy. Let's dance."

"Can't move, don't dance." Held down, out of control … it was heady and erotic, and Clint was going to make an idiot out of himself all too soon, probably scream Tony's name and build that ego further. Damn it, but the man was good. "Not going to last …"

"That's the plan," Tony bent forward, changing the angle, sucking in divots of skin along Clint's neck as he sped up, rocking back and forth, bodies slamming together. "Going to make you come for me, Katniss, like you've never before. Make you beg me to do it again, to fuck you again, keep you naked and tied up for me to play with."

"Ah, god, I …" Clint rolled over the edge, closing his eyes as the intense spike of pleasure overwhelmed him, and yes, damn it, he screamed Tony's name, the clench of muscles milking every last drop from Clint. "Fuck," Clint breathed when he sank back down into his body. "Let my hands go, let me touch you," he begged.

"Not going to happen." As he spoke, Tony pulled off of Clint's now sensitive cock. "Makes my dick ache just to think about the possibilities, you tied up, me free to do what I want." Tony moved up the bed, shifting until he was kneeling in between Clint's outspread arms, feet against the headboard, hands sliding down Clint's chest and back up; tilting his head, Clint licked the pre-come off the end of Tony's engorged cock, parted his lips and swallowed it down as Tony leaned forward. Hands circled his biceps, Tony's tight grip keeping Clint still and then Tony was fucking his mouth, deep and fast.

"Fucking hell, Clint, damn it. Look at you, taking it all and wanting more." Clint sucked hard; Tony cursed and spasmed, tension uncoiling as he came down Clint's throat. The long buildup had gotten to him as well.

"Remind me next time that my knees aren't as good as they used to be," Tony said, falling over on the bed beside Clint, his legs over one of Clint's arms and his head resting on Clint's good leg. "40s are NOT the new 30s, trust me."

"Tell me about it," Clint agreed; he flinched a little as Nix jumped on the bed and rubbed her fur along his side, tickling him. With a twist, he freed first one hand and then the other, petting the kitten in hopes of stalling her from climbing on his naked chest. "And remind me to teach you to tie better knots."

Fresh out of her bandages, Nix bunched her legs and lightly bounced over Clint to land squarely on Tony's chest.

"Hey!" Tony protested. Nix turned and slapped her tail across Tony's face as she got down into the small amount of space between the two of them, settling in, her tail swishing along Tony's chin. "I swear I'm going to kill her."

"Soon as the doctors clear it, I can take her back to my room with me." Clint sat up and untied his feet. He was watching for the slightest reaction, and he saw a flash of something in Tony's eyes, an emotion he quickly covered up with his usual cockiness. "You've got to be getting tired of me; I read while on the toilet and leave my dirty underwear wherever it drops. I'm a bed hog, and I've been drinking your whiskey and ordering food on your tab. Not the best house guest."

There was a moment of silence, and Clint worried he's said the wrong thing; truth was, he didn't want to risk this relationship by moving too fast. Staying in Tony's suite was a temporary thing after all. Tony had simply installed him here after the surgery, but then that was his usual modus operandi. Nike had nothing on Tony Stark; just do it had been his motto for years.

"You've been drinking my whiskey and eating my food for months anyway, and I have a cleaning service. The toilet thing? There are four bathrooms in here. Hobble to one and stack up magazines to your heart's content. And there's no way you can hog this monster bed. I had to have extensions made to get the ropes to the middle. Bruce helped with that by the way; the tensile strength was his idea." Tony gave a long and loud sigh. "You just want to get out of the Supernatural marathon you started yesterday because we're close to the episodes that make you cry."

"Oh, no, you're the one who sobs every time we watch 'Swan Song.' You have a thing for the Impala, admit it." Clint eased over on his side.

"And you won't make it through 'Abandon All Hope' without breaking down and telling me how great Ellen is," Tony shot back; he pushed Nix's tail out of his face, only to get it slapped back on the next swish. "Only way I'll believe it is if you see it out."

"Fine. I'll stay until we're done with Supernatural." Clint knew that would be days considering Tony's schedule, putting off the inevitable discussion, but avoidance worked for him.

"Then Game of Thrones. We agreed to mainline up to the Red Wedding." Tony was pushing it, like he always did. Clint knew better than to expect any straightforward answers from the man and, honestly, he liked it that way. "And what's that other one? The one with the vampires and copious amounts of sex?"

"You are incorrigible, you know." Clint rolled his eyes, Tony wiggled his eyebrows, and Nix yawned, completely unimpressed by the whole conversation.

EPILOGUE

+17 days 10:47:19

The club was small and intimate, tiny round tables and rows of dark booths that crowded around the walls. An old speakeasy, seventeen steps led down from the street to the single door, the neon sign proclaiming The Blue Cellar. A mahogany bar gleamed from constant care and attention, a fine selection of top shelf whiskeys on display. Tony sipped his very old scotch and listened to the most amazing jazz saxophone player, backed by a small band, the music weaving emotions as old as time – love and loss and joy and grief. His thigh bumped against Clint's under the table, and he rubbed back and forth in time to the beat, the friction starting a slow burn matched by the alcohol in his stomach. The whole club was filled with people they knew, so he was free to touch as much as he liked; Natasha and Pepper were drinking dirty martinis, Fury and Coulson and Hill shared a bottle of red wine, the non-drinkers - Steve and Bruce and Happy – had their soda and tea, and Thor and Jane and Darcy were laughing over a bottle of tequila. It was, he thought, the closest he'd been to content … and maybe even happy … in the longest time, so much so that he didn't notice the song had changed until Clint was standing and holding out his hand, the sax wailing familiar notes, the words playing in his head.

Life's a wonderful thing as long as I hold the string. I'd be a crazy so-and-so to ever let you go.

"Shall we?"

"I thought you didn't."

"Yeah, well, I'm checking off a lot of boxes lately."

Tony caught Clint around the waist and swung them out onto the small dance floor with a series of steps that ended with him dipping Clint low and planting a very involved kiss on his lips. The room broke out in applause and wolf whistles. Tony didn't care; he swept Clint back up and kept dancing.