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05 November 2012 @ 09:55 pm
Marvel_bang - Ball and Chain - part 2/5  
Title: Ball and Chain (of Fools)
This is part 2 of 5
marvel_bang Masterpost HERE



Steve is returning late from volunteering at a nearby animal shelter, humming an old tune under his breath, when the elevator dings open and leaves him beyond speechless. The tower is in shambles.

There are empty bottles of beer and hard liquor littering every flat surface, including every step of the stairway leading to Steve’s bedroom door. The living room table is flipped over. There’s smoke coming from the kitchen. Thor is wrestling with the Hulk – not Bruce Banner – and smashing through the surviving furniture. Tony’s suit is flying around on its own with no one inside while Clint tries to shoot modified rubber bands at it. Natasha is trying to keep Tony from sliding his hands under her shirt as they make out on the stairs next to a half empty bottle of rum. Phil steps out of the kitchen with burnt Poptarts and Thor calls ‘temporary battle withdrawal’ so he can eat them without the Hulk pummeling him.

This, Steve decides, is definitely all Tony’s doing. How he even persuaded Phil to join in on this debauchery is beyond his knowledge, but it needs to stop before they burn down the entirety of the Avengers tower.

Where is Pepper when Steve needs someone to keep Tony on a leash?

The elevator dings behind Steve, and the small gasp from the person behind him is the biggest relief for all the wrong reasons. (Steve couldn’t imagine having to wrangle up the wild bunch of so-called humans he lives with on his own.) Pepper taps Steve on the shoulder, clipboard in her other hand.

“Did you just get back?”

“Yeah.” Steve feels almost bad for having left.

“Tony?”

“I’m guessing. But I don’t want to assu—”

“It’s Tony’s doing. I know his style.” She grumbles, eyeing the mess with disbelief.

Steve nods, serious. “Can you take care of him?”

“Where is he—Oh. Of course,” Pepper says, gritting her teeth.

“I’m sorry,” Steve offers, touching her hand softly. He’d been so wrapped up in the mess he forgot who Tony was with. Pepper smiles at him, but her eyes tell him not to get involved in her affairs.

“He’s always been interested in Natasha, even when she was my assistant. I should have seen it coming.” She straightens up, clipboard pressed tightly to her chest. “But I’m still his goddamn CEO, and he is destroying the Avengers headquarters. Time to get to work, Steve.” She forces a smile.

Steve tips his head, and rushes into the kitchen before the fire alarm goes off because of the smoke.

The toaster is balancing dangerously close to a sink full of water, clogged by who knows what. He’s not dealing with that, nope; there could be a large number of things floating in there that Steve doesn’t want to think about. He unplugs the toaster, wraps the wire, and tucks it away in a cupboard.

When Steve steps out of the kitchen, Bruce is now naked and no longer green, sitting with Thor on a half-couch. At some point they found time between fighting, eating burnt food and being drunk, to slice the sofa perfectly down the middle. Steve will never quite understand this new world he’s found himself in. They’re leaning against each other, looking drowsy – seemingly coming down from their sugar rush – so Steve moves on to more pressing matters.

“Jarvis, stop the Iron Man suit, please,” Steve instructs sternly.

“Are you certain you wouldn’t like me to open a window and allow it to fly out instead?” Jarvis replies.

Steve sighs. “Yes, I’m sure.”

The suit falls straight down from the center of the room, and Steve has to catch it before it lands on Phil – who’s passed out in front of the halved sofa. Steve rests it underneath the overturned table, which he places back on its legs, and picks up Phil afterward. He carries him to his room and tucks him in, shutting the light on the way out.

Natasha is rubbing her face when Steve returns, a handprint across her cheek – Pepper’s logically – with Tony nowhere to be found. Pepper must have managed to drag him away and up to the penthouse so they could deal with their issues privately.

Clint trips over a beer bottle on the way to where Natasha is seated on a step, but she steadies him with an arm on his hip. He then shoots a specialty rubber band at Thor’s head, but Thor does little more than grunt, pulling clothing-free Bruce closer to his chest.

They’ll be fine for a bit longer, Steve decides.

Steve collects all the empty, and unfortunately not-so-empty, bottles around the floor in a garbage bag, and leaves it in the kitchen. As soon as Steve steps out of the kitchen, a rumbling sound startles him and ends his internal rant of why do I associate with these people again? Oh yeah, to save the world.

Natasha is gone, and Clint is slumped against the bannister, snoring silently, a band between his thumb and index. Thor is carrying Bruce away like a prized maiden, and Steve realizes that the rumbling sound came from Bruce when Thor smacks his ass (again) to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep. Clint wakes up just in time to see the two men pass near him, reaching out to pinch the naked skin but failing.

Everything else seems to be in order, so Steve dashes up the steps, takes the increasingly saucy archer by the arm, and carries him down to his bedroom.

---

Originally intending to drop Clint off like he did with Phil, Steve is hit with a sudden intriguing thought: he’s never been in Clint’s bedroom, and he may not get a chance to again (since it’s usually locked and empty).

Steve puts Clint atop his blanket, and takes in the surroundings while Clint settles in.

It’s inordinately clean, even for Steve who was complimented in the army for his tidy room. There’s not a single speck of dust, there’s nothing out of place in the shelves, the clothing in his closet is almost colour coordinated, and his weapons are all safely hidden behind a glass door requiring a pin to gain access. It’s shockingly organized, almost as though no-one lives here. And, all things considered, Steve really doesn’t think Clint ever stays in his bedroom.

“Do you want me to take out some things for you to sleep in?”

Clint grunts in response, and it vaguely sounds like ‘yeah’.

There’s a wooden dresser next to Clint’s closet, and Steve slides open the first drawer to find….arrows? Usually the top drawer is for socks and underwear, but okay. The next drawer has socks and underwear – still in their packaging – so Steve knows he’s getting closer. Bending and pulling the bottom drawer out, Steve isn’t aware of the silent assassin’s movements until Clint’s reaching out to touch Steve’s ass.

“Whoa.” Steve pushes Clint back with one arm, holding a t-shirt and pants in the other. “I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink.”

“You’re the one showing off your goods like a tease and not letting anyone touch.” Clint chuckles, his gaze raking down Steve’s torso and stopping at his crotch. “Except maybe Natasha.”

“My eyes are up here, Clint,” Steve says firmly, but still blushing.

“I always wondered how you fit into that suit. The old one was already tight, but this new one is pretty much painted on.” Clint sways on his feet, so Steve holds him by his shoulder. “How do you get in it?”

“Do I have to answer?” Steve utters, lips curling at one side. Clint may be a lot of things, but he’s also amusing.

“We can play the question game if you want it to be fair,” Clint slurs. “I just need to sit down first.”

Steve helps Clint back over to the bed, and puts the change of clothes on his lap. “I use a lot of powder.”

Clint barks out a laugh that makes Steve’s shoulders jump. “I wasn’t serious about that, but thanks for answering. Your turn.”

“Why do you spend so much time high up?” Steve rubs his knees nervously. He didn’t mean to end up sitting on Clint’s bed, let alone be in his room for so long.

“So I can see everything.” Clint closes an eye, scrunching up his nose like he’s tasted something bitter. “Don’t ever trust Thor to make you a mixed drink by the way.”  He clicks his tongue. “Okay, my turn. Have you ever done it with a man?”

Steve frowns; does everything have to be about sex with Clint? “No. And before you ask, yes Phil was the first man I kissed.” He crosses his arms. “How often do you sleep on the roof?”

Sighing, Clint rubs his head. “I don’t like your questions, Cap.” He turns to look at the wall. “Maybe four or five times per week.”

“You’re going to get sick from it one day. You should take better care of yours--”

“Yeah, yeah. Okay. Would you have sex with a man?” Clint raises a brow, crossing his arms to mirror Steve.

“Why are your questions always about that? Are you trying to hint at something?” Steve’s brow creases.

“You need to answer before you can ask a question, Cap.”

“Fine. Yes, if I liked the person I would.” Steve looks down at his feet on the floor, wondering how he can still feel so small despite the strength the serum has granted him.  “Are you trying to say that I’m in denial about being gay?”

Clint laughs, throwing his head back. “Oh, man. You old time guys were really oblivious.” Clint bumps Steve’s shoulder with his own. “No, Cap, I’m not trying to make you realize you’re in the closet. I’m trying to make you see that I want to get in your pants that are way too tight to be fair.”

Steve sucks in a breath when Clint’s hand finds his crotch and squeezes. “Oh,” Steve croaks, the word coming out ten octaves too high. “But you’re not gay, are you?”

Rolling his eyes, Clint leans in close. “I’m the straightest one in this tower, Cap. I just like to touch pretty things. Now, are you going to let me or do I have to answer 21 more questions?”

“Can’t we…do both?” Steve murmurs coyly in reply. It’s the best smartass answer he can come up with while a hand is stroking him through his pants.

“Sure,” Clint whispers in Steve’s ear. “But all of this stays between us. Okay?”

Steve bites his lip, nodding. “You have my word.” And how Steve ended up in a situation like this again, he’ll never know.

“Good, ‘cause the whole house doesn’t need to know about Captain America topping me.” He grumbles in frustration. “I probably should have deactivated Jarvis in this room, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“Fuck, I’m too drunk for this.”

“Then we can just--”

“No way! You’re in my bed, you’re hot, and I can feel your dick getting hard in my hand. Three great things at once. Jarvis, shut off temporarily.”

“I was so looking forward to telling Tony all the details, but as you wish,” is Jarvis’s witty retort.

“He’s way too human for his own good,” Clint snaps.

---

Nothing is really happening. Not in the sense of let’s pretend it didn’t happen, but in the actual not occurring kind of way.

Clint is too tired, too drunk, seeing double and groping air when he can’t find the real Steve. Steve tries to help by giving him directions, but most of the time Clint is yawning too loud to hear them. Eventually, Clint is naked, and so is Steve – no thanks to the sleepy archer – but his eyes keep closing when Steve tries to ask what he has to do next. How could Steve do it by himself? He hardly even knows what he’s doing with women yet.

Steve feels bad after one of Clint’s many jaw-breaking yawns, and decides to give sleazy Clint a present: a blowjob. (Or is it called fellating someone? Steve will never be good with all the sex terms.) Maybe that could kick Clint’s body back into sobriety.

Clint’s stretched out on his back, Steve seated between his spread legs, rubbing up and down the surprisingly soft, bare thighs. Clint grunts, cracking an eye open long enough to see Steve’s nerves getting the best of him.

“Are you actually gonna do what I think you are?” he says, voice deep with long-needed sleep. “’Cause if you are, I would like to say this before I pass out: I fuckin’ love you.”

Flushing as easily as ever, Steve just nods in response, bending down, and breathing hot against the stiffening erection. Clint’s hips jerk at that, automatically searching for the source of pleasure. Steve looks up at Clint; he’s stretching out, his arms folded behind his head smugly. He’s definitely aware of what he’s doing.

A lick to start is what Steve does, Clint showing his approval in the form of a hungry growl. It’s a nice sound. It’s sexy and just loud enough for Steve to enjoy. Steve licks again, this time peering into Clint’s hazy eyes for his reaction. Clint reaches behind himself, grabbing at the headboard of his bed, thrusting his hips closer to Steve’s tongue.

“Keep going, Cap.” He rumbles out, eyes screwing shut when Steve obliges, tongue swirling over the head of Clint’s length with purpose.

“Like that?” Steve asks, lapping his tongue across the slit at the top, something bitter covering his taste buds.

Clint gasps, the muscles in his chest, arms, shoulders flexing all in tandem, so perfectly tense and defined that Steve has to do it again, so he can sear the image into his mind and draw it later. Clint’s toes curl when Steve decides to add some pressure with his tongue, curling it into the slit, and continuing to watch in case he does something wrong.

If Steve can’t be the best, he’s going to avoid being the worst at least.

Rubbing the inside of Clint’s thighs with his thumbs, Steve starts to get courageous – at least according to his standards – and takes the head of Clint’s erection between his lips, sucking just enough to feel for a response. Hands soar from the headboard to Steve’s hair in a second, tugging and tangling in blond strands, hips shooting up to push through the warm heat of Steve’s mouth.

Well, that’s one way of saying you like something.

Steve pulls back to lick his lips, stealing the taste of salt and bitterness. Not a bad combination. Clint’s lids are drooping – he’s clearly fighting to stay conscious at this point – and Steve really wants him to have this before he passes out, so he gets to work.

He sucks, and swallows as much of Clint as he can, choking on it at one point, but that only seems to make Clint’s experience better, his thighs spreading wider to accommodate Steve’s large frame. Steve grips the base of Clint’s length, rubbing up and down while swallowing a bit less than previously. His throat’s burning from that last attempt.

Clint’s body is covered in a sheen of sweat when Steve gingerly touches his sac. It interested him because the rest of Clint is so hairy, and down there everything is as bare as a newborn baby. Perhaps he planned to seduce Steve and wanted it to look appealing – which it is.

In fact, Steve is so distracted by wanting to remember how thick Clint’s shaft is, how swollen the head is, how much slick is dripping from the top and onto his tongue, and how his balls are recoiling and tightening that Clint’s orgasm takes him by surprise.

Shouting his one-word praise of Captain, Clint sputters white across Steve’s lips, over his chin and down the hand still gripping the base of Clint’s cock. As much as Steve intended to keep it all a secret, the whole house probably knows what’s going on now. So much for a little discretion.

Steve tastes the bit of come on his lips, but it’s a bit too foreign for his liking. He looks up to ask Clint for a tissue, but he’s already passed out, his shoulders hunched and his mouth wide open.

Sneaking out like an adulterer, which isn’t what he’d hoped for himself, Steve rushes down the hall and up the stairs to his room before one of his drunken (and possibly still conscious) roommates catch him looking unraveled in the worst kind of way.

Steve is in front of his door when Natasha says, “I see he finally got to you. How was it?”

He rushes into his bedroom, pretending he didn’t hear a thing.

~*~*~

Luckily for Steve – and unluckily for everyone else – the house is filled with people who have hangovers, and they can’t remember exactly what happened the day before. Clint is included in the group of people who kind-of-sort-of-almost-remember-something-but-not-quite. Luckily for Steve, again, Clint had turned off Jarvis in his room before…well, before Steve did that thing to him. There’d be no security footage for Clint to watch.

Steve is on an armchair, enjoying a fresh cup of coffee, internally laughing at the bewildered looks on both Thor and Bruce’s faces; they very clearly can’t remember what happened the night before. Steve finds it fascinating that the Hulk can’t get drunk, but once Bruce changes back, all the alcohol seems to attack his smaller body.

Clint is walking around, pacing actually, a dish of French toast in his palm, and wearing black sunglasses that could block out the sun at close range. Natasha is standing with her back against the wall, watching Clint pace, a knowing grin on her lips when she glances over at Steve.

Steve’s eyes widen, and she shakes her head ever so slightly, putting a finger up to her lips. Seems his secret is still safe for a while.

Phil shuffles up the stairs, ignores everyone while holding his head, makes a strong, black coffee, and goes back down to his floor.

“I see everyone is drinking coffee this morning. Shall I make another pot?” Jarvis offers. And if Steve didn’t know any better, he’d think the AI was trying to piss everyone off with his gleeful tone. Then again, he was made by Tony…

Tony doesn’t make an appearance, but from the lack of screaming and items being thrown, Steve predicts they’ve already settled on a decision. No-one goes up to ask if everything’s all right, not wanting to disturb in case they’re still arguing or angry. Natasha seems somewhat guilt-ridden when she goes down to the gym, so Clint follows her. Steve puts on a silent film, and Thor and Bruce watch it with him, needing some of the peaceful atmosphere.

The penthouse elevator dings, and all three men stop breathing at the same time.

“Pepper, come on,” Tony begs. “I was drunk. I didn’t know what I was doing. I need you, Pep.”

“No, you need a CEO,” Pepper snaps. “We’ve been through this. You don’t love me, and I haven’t been in love with you for a while. I’ve been trying, but this is it Tony. This is where we end.”

Tony grabs her suitcase, at the top of the stairs, not letting her go any further.  “You can’t go. I don’t function without you. The company will crumble, and the Avengers here will be on the street begging for money like homeless people. Is that what you want?”

Pepper shoots him a glare.

“Okay, I’m sorry. I’ll be serious.” Tony lets go of her suitcase. “Just, will you reconsider? At least stay in the tower with us. You don’t have to talk to me if you don’t want to.”

She seems contemplative at that. She looks down at the three heads staring straight through the television, trying to make themselves invisible to the current situation. They may still need protection from Tony yet.

“Fine. I’m staying in the room next to Steve’s. But you better not send me anything. And especially not strawberries, Tony!”

~*~*~

Most of the Avengers avoid Pepper, especially Tony and Natasha who seem to avoid the very air surrounding her. Steve, on the other hand, never knows what’s good for him. And, he feels partly to blame for letting her find out the way she did. He could have taken Pepper aside or broken up Tony and Natasha before she saw. Steve’s never experienced what Pepper has – catching your partner in the act with someone else – but he can sympathize all the same.

It’s while returning from a nightly jog that he hears Pepper sniffling in her room. When he knocks softly to see if she’s all right, she shouts Get away from my door, Tony before she even knows who it is, and it eviscerates what little courage Steve had built up.

He manages to squeak out, “Sorry. I’ll be next door if you need me, Pepper.”

Pepper grumbles when something heavy falls and rolls across the carpet. “Steve? No, it’s okay. You can come in.”

So he does. And boy does he wish he hadn’t.

Pepper is seated crossed-legged on her bed in a pinstripe skirt and white blouse, a new bottle of tequila in her hand and a half-empty one lying on her carpeted floor. She smiles when Steve shuts the door behind himself, leaning against it.

“Have a seat, Cap. Sorry, I mean Steve. I can call you Steve, right? Sorry, rambling.” Pepper snorts, twisting the bottle of tequila open and taking a long gulp.

Steve looks around, noticing there aren’t any chairs. He’s about to sit on the floor when she taps the bed twice, so he sits next to her, facing the door where he came from (wishing he hadn’t come in while she’s drunk). Does everyone in the tower use alcohol to deal with their problems?

Pepper nudges him with the bottle, and he turns to look at her. She’s smiling, but it doesn’t quite make it to her eyes. Steve gives her one in return, taking a small swig from the tequila; it’s not like he can even get drunk anymore.

“How are you doing, Pepper?” Steve hands her back the bottle, trying to keep his concerned look reined in. A lot of people seem to think it means he pities them rather than what it’s meant to be: worry.

“I’ve been better. Glad that I’m not alone anymore, though.”

Pepper’s smile does reach her eyes this time, and it makes some of the tension ease out of Steve’s shoulders. It’s always easier to help someone when they allow you to. She takes a longer gulp of tequila and seals the bottle.

“You’re sweaty. Been jogging again?”

“Oh, sorry,” Steve replies, looking down at his t-shirt sticking to his chest.

He tries to stand to avoid ruining her clean bedding, but she stops him with a hand on his shoulder.

“It’s okay, Steve. I was just making small talk. Sit back down,” Pepper explains, reopening the bottle and chuckling softly around the next gulp of alcohol. She tips the bottle towards Steve, her arm brushing against his slightly. Her skin is surprisingly cool.

“So…” Steve grasps for something to talk about, but all they really have in common is Tony. He really needs to find out more about Pepper.

Pepper huffs, bumping Steve gently. “Let’s not talk about him, okay? People pay him enough attention as it is.”

She uncrosses her legs and hangs them off the bed, curling her painted toenails in the carpet. Steve finds himself focusing on them; the crimson nail polish is such a bright, charming colour.

“You like my feet?” Pepper snorts, tilting her head back with a longer drink of tequila. “I don’t like them that much, that’s why I paint my nails.”

“They’re nice feet. I’m sure they work swell, too,” Steve says, smiling.

Pepper laughs at that, loud and fulfilling for both of them. “I like you, Steve.”

Steve chuckles, looking down at his pants to hide his never-ending blush from her. “I like you, too.”

Finally putting the cap back on, Steve looks over at Pepper, gripping his pants when he sees the way she’s watching him. She tilts her head, dragging her eyes from Steve’s face down to his chest where he feels sweat cooling and making his skin feel chilled, down to his jogging pants that he’s holding onto for dear life.

“You shouldn’t be so nervous. Me and him are already broken up,” she murmurs, eyes trailing back up. “He got to test out his crush, shouldn’t I get to try out mine?”

Steve’s brows raise, his mouth drier than desert sand. “W-what?”

“For someone so attractive, you sure have a hard time thinking anyone would like you.”

Pepper cuts off Steve’s next words with a tongue in his mouth, her hands wrapping around his shoulders, climbing onto his lap with a bit less finesse than she would have sober. Steve lets her tongue curl against his, his hands on her hips to keep her from falling over, red hair tickling his cheeks when she turns her face to lick further inside his mouth. She moans when Steve finally responds to her advances, a strong hand stroking up and down her back slowly.

“Pepper—”

“Mmm. Not now, Steve. Wanna—”

Sucking on Steve’s tongue, Pepper makes him moan heartily. Steve’s already feeling himself harden in his pants. This is going down a road he’s been on a few times now, but he knows what this is really about.

“Wait, Pepper—”

“Why!? Why can’t I have a piece of my cake, too? You know he would love to get in your pants the way I’m about to. He would just make sure he’s drunk when it happens so that he couldn’t be blamed for it the next day.”

Steve blinks, pulling back to let the words seep in. Tony’s actually the one who has a crush on him? Or did they both have a crush on him?

“I said we weren’t going to talk about Tony, didn’t I? Broke my own promise.” Pepper reaches for the bottle of tequila, but Steve takes it away, moving her out of his lap at the same time.

“We need to talk about you, Pepper,” Steve says, his brow creasing. “I’m worried. You’re usually a strong, level-headed woman.”

Pepper sighs, nodding. “You’re right.” She laughs, a tinge of irony to it. “I guess this is how Tony feels whenever I bring him back down to earth.”

Steve chuckles softly. “Probably.”

“There I go talking about Tony again.”

Steve rubs her arm, pulling her to lean against his side. “It’s okay to miss him, you know. I’m sure he misses you even more. Just don’t do anything because you think it will hurt him. That’ll only hurt you in the end.”

Pepper frowns, putting her head under his chin, curling her arms around his broad chest. “Why are you so good with people?” She yawns. “I wasn’t lying about having a crush on you, Steve.”

Steve feels her arms squeezing him, needing to be closer than they are, but not attaining that perfect level. “I’m sorry, Pepper,” he whispers, knowing he’s not the one she wants to be holding right now.

“Thanks, Cap,” she mutters, rubbing her forehead against Steve’s chest, drifting off to sleep moments later.

Steve tucks her in, takes all the bottles away, and shuts the lights before wishing her sweet dreams in a quiet whisper.

~*~*~

 

Needing a change of scenery – he’s always in his room, being harassed by Tony, in the gym or in the common room – and wanting to find out a bit more about the soft-spoken Dr. Banner, Steve follows him to his lab one day – with permission of course.

Bruce is mixing a strange purple liquid with a clear one in a test tube, and that is the full extent of Steve’s understanding. He lost track of which chemical was which, and has what reaction to what, ten minutes ago. When Bruce looks up from measuring each liquid, he laughs. He combs his fingers through his hair when the tube is securely placed over a flickering blue flame.

“Sorry, sometimes I forget that not everyone is a scientist.” If he were Tony that would be condescending, but knowing Bruce, and how much of a humanitarian he is, Steve can tell he’s being genuine.

“Don’t worry, Dr. Banner,” Steve replies. “I was never very good at chemistry.”

“Bruce,” Bruce says, leaning an arm on his desk. “Just because I have a Ph.D. doesn’t mean I want to be reminded of the years I lost earning it.” He smirks.

Steve finds himself grinning in turn. The doctor – Bruce – is a funny man; he’s really witty, and not in a put-everyone-down kind of way either.

A timer goes off and Bruce looks down at his, now red, concoction swirling in the tube. Steve frowns at the experiment, not sure if observers are meant to watch so closely, and if he’s distracting Bruce by being in his personal lab.

“Should I go? I mean—”

“No, no. Actually, I think it’s safer for everyone if you stay here.” He continues with an almost deathly serious tone. “If I start to change, there’s a trap door Tony built for me that’s strong enough to keep the Hulk – or whatever else I may turn into – contained.” He points to a switch on the desk. “Just press this and the place under where I’m standing now will slide open. Okay?”

Steve swallows, but nods once. “I understand.”

“Okay.”

Bruce takes the tube away from the fire, pouring it into a small container surrounded by ice. Once he’s satisfied that the liquid is chilled enough, he takes a syringe and draws some of it inside. He looks around the lab, and points next to where Steve, frozen with fear, is standing. (The Hulk really isn’t a creature Steve ever, ever feels prepared to face.)

“Hand me that rubber strip, please.”

“Sure.” Steve subconsciously moves away again once Bruce has what he needed.

“That scared already? We should really spend more time together, Steve.”

Steve sighs. “Yeah.”

“Don’t worry. Tony’s not good at much, but I guarantee this trap door will work.” He smiles, as he injects the liquid into his arm.

“What is this supposed to do again?”

Bruce winces when it reaches his blood stream. “Make the other guy easier to handle, more human.”

“I see.” Steve is already bracing himself, and he feels bad about it because Bruce looks like he’s in serious pain. “Are you okay? Bruce?”

Bruce falls forward, leaning his elbows on the table, shouting, and Steve is struck with two choices: he can either wait a bit longer and try to help Bruce or he can press the button, assuming that Hulk is trying to break free. Either way, Steve is risking something, and the odds seem to be against him.

“Bruce? Bruce, are you all right? What should I do?”

“Something’s wrong…” Bruce grits out, gripping the table so tight his knuckles whiten.

“Do I have to press the button?” Steve asks, but Bruce screams in agony, falling to the floor.

Steve rushes around to his side, forgetting about Hulk, his safety and the Avengers’ as well. He kneels down beside Bruce. He’s curled in on himself, shaking like a leaf, and Steve really is at a loss for what to do next. This is an unexpected result for both of them. What is he supposed to do if Bruce is dying?

Bruce whimpers, his eyes opening slowly. He uncurls himself, sitting up best he can. Steve keeps a hand on his back, holding him upright. “Are you okay? What happened?”

“I don’t think it worked.” Bruce holds his head, his body swaying to one side. “I feel dizzy, and…the anger is gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean gone?” Steve says, incredulous.

Bruce looks up at Steve, eyes wide. “I can’t feel the Hulk anywhere. Maybe he’s been subdued. Maybe I expelled him. I’m not sure.” He looks broken up over the confusion, more than Steve ever expected he would, considering the beast had made Bruce suicidal at one point.

“Can you stand? Should I get Tony?”

“No, it’s okay. I’m okay,” Bruce reassures Steve. He tries to stand but his legs are shaky and he falls against Steve. “Okay, maybe I need help standing.”

“I should call Tony,” Steve says, authoritative tone back.

“Please don’t. We both know he’s still upset about Pepper. This would just worry him more,” Bruce pleads. “Besides, this was just a small dose. Maybe the effects are only temporary. I just need to wait until it’s out of my system.”

Steve frowns, sighing. “Fine. But if I see you getting worse, Tony is going to have to get involved.”

“Fair enough.” Bruce nods. “Help me up now?”

---

Once out of the lab, the tower is surprisingly quiet. Bruce has an arm around Steve’s waist, and he squeezes to get his attention.

“Where’s everyone? Did a fire alarm go off or something while we were down there?”

Steve thinks about it for a moment, but Jarvis answers instead.

“The other Avengers have all gone on personal errands and the like. Would you like me to request their return?


Steve chuckles softly, shaking his head. “No, that’s fine. Thanks.” Bruce startles when something crashes in a room nearby, but Steve has an idea of who it is.

“Thor, however, is in his bedroom if you wish to speak with him,” Jarvis adds helpfully.

“I think he’s been avoiding me recently,” Bruce whispers to Steve.

A flashback of Thor smacking Bruce’s ass comes to mind. Yeah, Steve would be feeling pretty pathetic if he acted like that, too. Thor is a respectable god, most of the time, but it seems alcohol can bring out the worst in practically anyone.

“Maybe he’s just trying to figure out a way to approach you. You’re not the easiest guy to be friends with.” There, Steve’s said it, and it’s come out all wrong. “I mean – that’s not what I meant – ”

“I’m always hiding. I know what you mean, Steve.” Bruce smiles wryly, looking down. “I’m just worried that one day a switch inside me will turn on, and I won’t be able to stop the Hulk from coming out. I want to control it, keep you all away from the risk.”

Steve never thought Bruce was just as afraid of Hulk as he is. The only ones in the tower who seem completely unafraid of a sudden transformation is Thor, because he can handle Hulk, and Tony, because he’s batshit crazy. (And possibly has a death wish, but Steve needs to further investigate that.)

“Well you could use this chance to do something positive,” Steve utters while helping Bruce over to the living room couch. “You said that it blocks your changing, right? So you don’t have to worry about hurting anyone. And it’s better if you stay around while you’re still recovering.”

One side of Bruce’s mouth lifts, a knowing look in his eyes. “Aren’t you afraid of the big guy? I mean I don’t blame you, but you don’t usually suggest I stay in the common areas.”

“You’re not usually dizzy and falling over either,” Steve retorts. He can’t let Bruce feel unwelcome when, in fact, Steve has been spending much of his time considering how to overcome his fear. The perfect opportunity has just presented itself.

“That is true.” Bruce smiles, crossing his hands on his lap. “So deep down I guess you’re a mother hen.”

Steve shrugs a shoulder, taking a seat next to Bruce. “I just want to make sure you’re going to be okay.”

“I’ll be fine, Steve.” Bruce pats Steve’s knee gently. “After some rest.”

“Should I have brought you to your room?”

Bruce tips his head, considering if he’d rather watch TV or take a nap. “No, I’m good. There’s a movie I’ve been wanting to watch. Are you free?”

“To watch it with you?” Steve smiles. “I have to keep an eye on you, anyway.”

“That’s right. I almost forgot.” Bruce grins, reaching for the remote. “I hope you have your thinking cap on. I heard Inception is a challenging film to understand.”

“Always do.” Steve stretches out his legs. “Should I make us popcorn or something? Do you need something to drink?”

Bruce laughs, tucking his glasses in his pocket. “No thanks, mom. Just get comfortable. I’m not going to explode or anything.”

---

“So…what did we just watch?” Steve says at the end of the film. “Was it all a dream the entire time? Or did he wake up and have a happy ending? I’m lost.”

Bruce laughs louder than Steve’s ever heard him, and takes offense at knowing it’s because of his confusion. He frowns and Bruce puts an arm around his shoulder.

“Don’t get upset, Steve. I’m laughing because I got lost somewhere around the third level of dreams. You did better than me.” Bruce glances at his watch. “Hungry? I could make us some supper.”

“Are you all right to stand now? I can help if you like, though I’m not very good at cooking.”

“An assistant doesn’t need to do much, so sure you can help.”

Bruce gets up slowly, humming contentedly when he realizes that the world isn’t spinning out of control anymore. That’s definitely a plus, even if he still can’t feel the green guy under his skin anymore.

---

After considering how much to make, they decided three portions – Thor’s being the largest, evidently – would be enough since they didn’t know when the team would be returning. They sometimes leave on solo missions for days at a time.

Steve chops the carrots, peels the potatoes, and passes Bruce the seasonings for their homemade stew, but the rest is all in the scientist-turned-chef’s care. He looks just as much a scientist when measuring chicken broth as he did measuring gene-modifying solutions back in the lab.

When it’s done, Steve makes them each a plate and Bruce sets the table. And then they eat, comfortable enough with each other and with how the day went to stay in congenial silence. Thor, on the other hand, is never as quiet as them. Or maybe just never quiet, full-stop.

“Which of you has prepared this feast tonight?” His voice booms as he sniffs inside the pot.

Bruce grins. “It was all Steve over here, Thor.”

Steve chokes on the potato he’s chewing. He shakes his head, flailing his arms when Thor offers to dislodge the food by means of pounding his back.

“But I’ve seen many Midgardians doing the same to their children, why do you refuse me the honour Steven?”

Bruce laughs, not looking up at Steve for fear of being scolded like the rebellious child he’s being. “It was actually me, Thor. And help yourself, the rest is for you.”

Thor’s face lights up, all crinkled skin around his eyes and laugh lines around his mouth. “Are you certain it is all right? I did not mean to impose on your time together.”

Before Steve can stand and place a mat down for Thor, a heavy hand lands on his shoulder. “Bannerson is a fine choice, Steven. May the rest of your meal be pleasant and fulfilling!”

Steve doesn’t realize he’s gaping until Bruce leans over and pushes his jaw up for him. Taking the pot and a large spoon, Thor leaves the kitchen and returns to his room after giving Bruce a polite nod. They really need to talk about what happened when they were drunk, Steve thinks.

“Apparently you’re courting me,” Bruce states, laughing into his bowl. “I thought maybe the one cooking would be, but I guess I was wrong.”

Steve’s eyebrows shoot to outer space. Is there something he missed? “Are you – are we – is this – ”

“I’m just bugging you, Steve. Don’t worry. Breathe or you might be the one who turns green one day.” Bruce laughs when Steve’s face is burning with embarrassment. “Or red. It seems to suit you better.”

Steve shakes his head. “For someone who doesn’t talk a lot, you sure have some surprising things to say when you do.”

“Thanks?” Bruce chuckles, leaning back in his chair. “So what are we doin—”

“Eye of Hawk, Lady Widow and Philippe! You are looking well. I take it your personal errands have been completed without difficulty. Where is Starkson?”

“Guess the team’s back,” Steve mutters as he leaves the table to put his bowl in the dishwasher. “We should probably clean up before –”

“Hey! What gives, guys?” Clint says, crossing his arms. “We leave on a teeny, tiny mission and you two are already going domestic on us?”

Bruce looks over at Steve, who refuses to show them how flushed his face is, pretending to wash his hands in the sink.

Natasha shoves Clint out of the doorway, stepping into the kitchen. “And you didn’t bother leaving any for us. That’s cold, Steve.”

A shudder runs down Steve’s spine at the accusation, making Clint and Natasha laugh at their forever innocent leader. It’s hard enough to face Natasha when she’s alone, but with Clint at her side they’re like an unstoppable force. He sighs. The evening was going so well, too.

Bruce stands, bumping Steve’s shoulder with his own before putting his utensils with Steve’s.

“We didn’t know when you’d be coming back. Right, Steve?”

Steve looks over at Bruce; Bruce’s eyes show nothing but compassion, something about him almost painfully similar to Bucky. Why do the Avengers remind him of so many people from his past? Steve nods, looking over his shoulder at the terrible two.

“Sometimes you leave for a week without so much as a note,” Steve explains. “We didn’t want this to go to waste.”

Natasha rolls her eyes. “Way to ruin our fun, Captain.”

Clint snorts. “Seriously, you had to get all stern on us and stop the roll we were on.”

Steve’s brow creases. Natasha shoves Clint again, calling out as she leaves, “We’re just teasing you, Captain. It’s so fun to see you blush.” Clint waves as he follows her out, discussing their take-out options as he goes.

Bruce pats Steve’s shoulder before saying, “I’ll be in my room if you need me.”

Steve watches Bruce saunter out, dragging his feet slightly, and Steve can’t help but worry about leaving him alone. Phil creeps into the kitchen for a snack, but rushes back out when he notices Steve’s by himself.

“Wait—” Steve calls after Phil.

It’s going to be a long, restless night.

---

Steve falls asleep in Bruce’s room during the night, and wakes up with a crick in his neck. When he leaves to shower and make some breakfast, Clint is at the top of the stairs, narrowing his eyes like something disturbing just happened.

“You’re really doing the dirty with him? Him?! Of all the people in the tower, you pick the one who could literally rip you apart?” Clint laughs, but it’s dry, harsh. He sounds somehow…jealous.

“We didn’t do anything, I was looking after him. He wasn’t feeling well yesterday. I just happened to fall asleep.” Steve sighs when Clint raises an eyebrow in disbelief. “I’m serious, Clint. Ask Jarvis if you don’t believe me.”

“He is correct, sir. I can pull up the video and audio recording from last night if you need further proof,” Jarvis chimes in.

“Okay, fine.” Clint flicks a rubber band that Steve dodges easily. “But I’m watching you, Cap. We can’t have you becoming all sleazy like Stark. It’s bad enough he’s always around you. Your our American poster boy, no-one will support us if they think we’re all like bad boy Tony upstairs.”

“I’m sure that’s why this is bothering you,” Steve mutters.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Steve answers quickly. “I’m going to take a shower now.”

“And wash away the evidence,” Clint murmurs, shaking his head.

“Hmm?”

“Nothing at all, Cap. See you later.”



--Part 3