Taking the Moment – 2/2 – desertpoet

Title: Taking the Moment
Author: desertpoet
Fandom: MCU, NCIS
Genre: Crossover, First Time, Romance, Slash
Relationship(s): Tony DiNozzo/Tony Stark
Content Rating: R
Warnings: Hate Crimes/Hate Speech, Canon Major Character Illness, Character Bashing of Pepper Potts and Nick Fury, Explicit sex, References to Past Canon Violence
Author Notes: I borrowed a line of dialogue directly from Iron Man 2. Also, Maggie Matthews is an original character belonging to Jilly James and used with permission. Thank you to Claire Watson for alpha reading and Shallan for beta. This story is much better for all their help and any remaining mistakes are my own. Special thanks to IDreamofAvalon for all my amazing art and for giving the story a final read through.
Beta: Shallan
Word Count: 54,000
Summary: Tony asks a question gets an unexpected answer and decides to make some much needed changes to his life.
Artist: IDreamofAvalon



Chapter 6

The next week went by mostly without incident. Tony asked Pepper to join him at the ceremony, and he was surprised and pleased when she agreed right away. She didn’t even roll her eyes or make any faces at the mention of the Vanko incident. Her reaction made Tony feel hopeful.

Dom had called to let him know he’d gotten the job and would be moving to New York in a couple of months. They were going to celebrate when they met up in D.C. It was exciting to think that he and Dom would be living in the same city permanently. The idea of New York felt right. A new start was just what he needed.

He and Pepper had chosen a place for the new building, and construction had already started, but in the meantime, moving the operations to New York would take time and resources.

Tony’s thoughts were interrupted by Jarvis’s voice, “Sir, I believe I have located Dr. Banner.

His head shot up, “Where is he?”

“In Bangkok, Thailand.” Without having to be asked, Jarvis showed him the location on the computer screen. Tony studied the area around the small apartment Banner had chosen. It was a cramped and crowded area. Tony assumed Banner chose it in hope of blending in better.

“Has SHIELD approached him yet?” Tony wished he could have found Banner first. He doubted that SHIELD had Banner’s best interest at heart. It was far more likely they wanted to exploit his abilities as the Hulk. He wasn’t sure if he could convince Banner to let him help, but he wanted to try.

The other man had been on his own and on the run for a long time. Earning his trust wouldn’t be easy. There was also the government to worry about. Tony was going to have to find some way to get them off Banner’s back. He was looking into General Ross carefully. The project that had turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk wasn’t the only project the man had in the works, but he was pretty well protected at least for the moment.

“From what I’ve been able to gather, SHIELD is not interested in approaching Dr. Banner at this time. A small team has been ordered to keep watch over him and report back directly to Fury.”

Well, that was a stroke of luck. “Good, we’ll let SHIELD do the work for us and find a way to get to him undetected. I’m going to offer to help him hide or return to the U.S. if that’s what he wants.”

Tony knew that he was being watched as well, but did that really matter? SHIELD wasn’t helping Ross anymore, and they couldn’t keep Tony from approaching Bruce. Oh, they could try, but Tony wouldn’t allow it. Besides, he didn’t think Fury would want to tip his hand just yet.

It took another hour for Jarvis to confirm Banner’s current location. He’d rented an apartment, so apparently, he planned to stay in Bangkok for at least a few days. Hopefully, this meant Tony would have time to get to him before he moved on.

Taking the suit would be much faster than flying on the private jet, but if he wanted to stay under the radar, he knew he shouldn’t use it. Tony sighed. He had Jarvis call Happy and asked him to have the plane ready to leave in a couple of hours. He also instructed Jarvis to set up a meeting at the SI satellite office on his schedule just in case. Then Tony went to pack. He had high hopes this trip would lead to good things in the future.

***

It was a long flight, and Tony decided to wait until the next morning to contact Dr. Banner. He didn’t bother to hide his approach, though. He smirked to himself as he walked up the stairs to the small apartment that Banner was renting; he imagined Fury was getting a panicked call right at that moment.

He knocked on the door, and much to his surprise, it opened right away. Tony had honestly expected to be ignored completely or shouted at through the door. Instead, Banner stared at him in shock for a moment and then tried closed the door.

Tony stuck his foot in the way to keep it open. “Hold on, please, Dr. Banner. I have something I want to discuss with you. I promise it will be worth your while.” He looked at the other man. Banner was pale, and he looked exhausted.

“I don’t think so. Please go away.” Bruce tried to close the door despite Tony’s foot being in the way. “Please move your foot.”

“Hey, wait, please. I’m Tony Stark. I need to talk to you about a certain experiment you participated in at Culver University. I promise you’ll want to hear what I have to say.”

Banner snorted. “First, I know who you are, which is incredibly weird all on its own. Second, I don’t think that’s a good idea. If you know who I am, then you know I’m hiding from some extremely dangerous people. You really don’t want to get involved. I’d leave now if I were you.”

“Please, just hear me out. I want to help you.” Tony didn’t try to touch Banner, but he did step a little closer.

Banner sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Making me angry is a bad idea just to give you fair warning.”

Tony shrugged and help up his hands in a placating gesture. “I might be annoying, but somehow I don’t think I’m annoying enough to bring out your alter ego. I promise, after you hear me out, if you don’t like what I have to say, I’ll go.”

Bruce looked at him for a long moment, then stepped back, opened the door wide, and motioned him inside. “I want it known I’m only doing this because I want to know how you know who I am and to be rid of you as quickly as possible.”

“Fair enough,” Tony said with a shrug. “You’d be surprised how often I’ve heard that.”

Once the door was closed and locked, Banner turned to look at Tony. “I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He looked exhausted. Bruce Banner was worn down by his situation, and that was probably working to Tony’s advantage. He did feel a little bad about it, but he also knew it was essential to get Banner to listen to him.

“Sorry I haven’t really had time to get furniture. We can sit at the kitchen counter.”

Tony walked in and looked around. It was a small studio apartment. The front door opened onto a living space with almost no furniture. There was a mattress on the floor in one corner, and a yoga mat rolled up in another. A small laptop sat on a counter that separated the main space from a small kitchen. Tony noted everything was spotlessly clean.

“That’s fine, I love what you’ve done with the place.”

Banner snorted. “Can I offer you a drink? I have green or herbal tea.”

Tony hid a grimace. He sat at the counter, setting his briefcase down next to him. “I’m not sure.”

“Green tea has some caffeine. But it’s an acquired taste.” He shrugged. “I can offer you some water instead.”

Tony supposed that was better than nothing. He’d never actually tasted green tea. Besides, it was obvious Banner expected him to say no, and Tony liked defying expectations. “Alright. Bring on the green tea.”

Bruce set about making tea with efficient movements. He used leaves rather than bags like Tony was expecting. The task was obviously familiar. As he worked, he talked to Tony.

“To what do I owe the honor of Tony Stark on my doorstep? I never imagined you had any idea who I was or that I’d meet you in person. Especially in my current situation. I admit I’m pretty taken aback.”

“Actually, I’ve read a couple of the papers you published, and it turns out we attended an engineering symposium at the same time about six years ago. But we didn’t get to meet, unfortunately.” Tony genuinely regretted the fact. He had been much more of a partier then, but he still would have found Banner and his intellect intriguing. Maybe Tony would have been able to change things for him if he’d been paying attention.

Banner looked thoughtful; but then he nodded. “That’s right. I remember you were there. I saw you from afar a couple of times. You were surrounded by a rather large group of admirers both times as I recall.”

“Yeah, that happens a lot I’m afraid. Anyway, I’m here to make you an offer you can’t refuse,” Tony said with a smile.

Banner didn’t look up and he shook his head. “I highly doubt that. I can’t imagine what we have to talk about. You really shouldn’t be here.”

“Look, I know your situation is precarious, and I just want to help you. I hate what happened to you on every level. You need help, not to be treated like a criminal.”

Banner nodded. “How did you find me anyway? Not to mention, know so much about me.”

Tony shrugged. “I have my ways.”

Banner glared at him. “If you want me to trust you, then this is going to have to go both ways. Clearly, you have access to highly classified files. How do I know you weren’t sent here to flush me out?”

Tony laughed. “Flush you out? Really. It’s not my style, I promise.”

Banner’s glare intensified. “Get out.”

Tony held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay. I don’t mean to poke fun at you. You have a point. The truth is, I have a spy in SHIELD. They have detailed files on you. I looked into your situation, and I realized I could help. If you chose to reveal to SHIELD what I just told you, it could get me in big trouble.”

He went pale. “They know where I am?”

“They do but don’t worry. They have no intention of arresting you at the moment. I’m not worried about Fury for now. He won’t want us getting to know each other, but I think he doesn’t want you in Ross’s clutches any more than you do. He can’t use you if you’re in some dark hole, or dead.”

Bruce did not look reassured in the least. “You’ll have to explain that to me sometime. SHIELD has been hunting me alongside Ross.”

“Yeah, but I guess saving Harlem has won you some points.”

“I didn’t save Harlem, I destroyed it.” Banner said, raising his voice. He looked away from Tony.

“No, you stopped Abomination and Ross from destroying it. It isn’t your fault you were being chased. You were fighting for your life, but you still managed to be a hero.”

Banner looked gob-smacked for a moment. “You really believe that.” He peered at Tony intently.

“I do, and SHIELD agrees with me. None of this is your fault, Dr. Banner.”

Banner looked away. “You’re crazy, you know that. Most people would say I’m a monster and that I should be put down.” The cup Banner was holding fell to the floor and shattered. Banner closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t think you’re a monster. I watched you in Harlem…you were angry, yes, but not completely out of control. I think you did your best not to hurt innocent bystanders,” Tony said.

Banner gave him a wan smile as he stood and grabbed a broom from a small closet. He began sweeping up the shards. “You know most people, including me, refer to the big guy as another person, but you don’t. I find that disconcerting.” Tony tried not to let his emotions show. Still, he was pleased that Banner was going to talk to him about his problems and his alter ego.

Tony shrugged. “He’s clearly a part of you.” Banner flinched and Tony wonder if he’d made a mistake.

Banner finished cleaning up the mess then got another cup form the cabinet. He finished preparing the tea and brought two cups over to the counter.

Tony observed Banner. He didn’t seem angry. “Look, I know you have no reason to trust me, but you have to trust someone, right? And you can’t do a lot worse than a billionaire, philanthropist, genius. I brought you something to help you see that I have your best interests in mind.”

He stood and picked up his briefcase and set it on the counter. He pulled out two thick files. “Here’s SHIELD’s files on both you and me. Though I have to warn you mine isn’t very flattering and I disagree with several of their conclusions. Read it, and then you’ll know as much about me as I do about you.”

Dr. Banner took the files, but he stared at Tony. “I admit. I don’t like that you’ve read my file, but you’re really willing to let me read yours?”

“Absolutely.” Tony motioned toward the files. “You can read them now. I’ll wait.”

He opened Tony’s file and flipped through it. “Okay, let’s say I believe you. What is it exactly that you want to know?” He placed the files carefully on the counter in front of him.

“Anything you’re willing to tell me. I want to help you, but I need more information. For instance, do you have control over your alter ego? Are you able to stop the shifts or slow them down?”

Banner looked down at his hands. “Sometimes, but after a certain point, I lose control,” he said brusquely.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I know these questions are difficult, but I promise I’m not prying just for my own curiosity. You said most people talk about the Hulk like he’s different. But you turn into him. Do you consider him a different person?” Tony asked.

Bruce took a sip of his tea, and Tony, remembering his, followed suit. It wasn’t bad. It tasted sort of grassy but in a pleasant way. “This is good.”

“I’m glad you like it. It’s good for you. Lots of antioxidants.”

Tony nodded but didn’t say anything else. He’d learned sometimes it was best to wait people out. Banner sipped his tea a few more times.

Just when Tony didn’t think he was going to answer, he spoke. “He is separate from me in a lot of ways. Sometimes I can hear his thoughts inside my mind.”

“So, he has separate feelings and thoughts from you?” Tony hadn’t been expecting that.

“Yes, but he’s pretty simple. His thoughts and emotions are primitive. You know, I have no idea why I’m telling you all this. For all, I know you want to lock me up and experiment on me.”

Tony shrugged. “I think maybe you’ve needed someone to talk to for a while. Or maybe you find me trustworthy.”

Bruce chuckled. “I’m not sure about that.”

“Believe me, I’ve been held captive. I have no desire to do that to you or anyone else. General Thaddeus Ross lied to you and tricked you into experimenting on yourself. Then he treated you like an animal rather than trying to help you. I find that infuriating. I also find the serum experiments reprehensible, and I want to put a stop to them. I plan to go after Thaddeus Ross and take him down. It’s what the asshole deserves, and it would be a lot easier with help.”

Banner nodded. “Okay. I agree he deserves to go to prison, but how does that help me. I’m fairly sure the government won’t stop hunting me just because Ross is in prison, though I doubt that will happen. I’ll still be a fugitive.”

Tony nodded. “I can help with that, too. Look, we’re both brilliant scientists. I think I can help you learn to control the Hulk. Help you lead a normal life.”

Banner grimaced. “I don’t want this to be my life. I want to get rid of the big guy, not learn to live with him.”

“Well, if that’s what you want, I can help with that, too. If we can prove you aren’t dangerous, then the government will have no reason to come after you.”

“I don’t think that will matter to them. Ross wants to study me or my corpse. I don’t really think he cares which,” Banner said bitterly. He stood and paced around in front of Tony. “I appreciate you wanted to help, but I don’t think it will work.”

“We have some leverage we can use. What was done to you has to be illegal. If all else fails, I’m willing to put my money and celebrity behind you.”

Banner shook his head. “I see. I still don’t get why you care so much.”

“I told you why. At least give it some thought. I can also help you contain the big guy if that will help. Give you a place to go when you change so you don’t hurt anyone.”

“That is very tempting,” Bruce admitted quietly. “Still, in order for you to help me, I’d have to let you study me. Take samples of my blood, and so on. No offense, but I don’t know you well enough for that.”

“Fair enough.” Tony didn’t blame the man for being distrustful. It was a shame they couldn’t get to know one another. Tony was sure he could earn his trust given time.

“Look, I’m going to be moving to New York. If I can make it safe for you to come to New York, would you be willing? I can give you access to your own lab, and you can do your own research until you get to know me.”

Banner’s mouth fell open for a second before he snapped it shut. “Do you really think you can do that?”

“I do, but it might take some time. Also, I’m not ready to move to New York just yet. It’ll be a few months at least before you can come back. It will give you some time to think about what I said.”

Banner nodded. “Alright. I’ll give it some thought.”

“Good. I’d like us to keep in touch in the meantime. I have a phone for you. It has my own special encryption on it, and I promise it’s untraceable. You can use it safely. Just be careful. If you call anyone but me, the other end of the call might not be secure.” Tony pulled the brand-new Stark phone out of his pocket and handed it to Banner. “It’s preprogrammed with my number. If you need anything, call me.”

Banner took the phone. “Thank you, Mr. Stark.”

“Please call me Tony.”

“Then I guess you should call me Bruce.”

Tony left a few minutes later feeling quite satisfied. The meeting had gone much better than he’d expected. Bruce didn’t trust easily, which was understandable, but he desperately needed the help. Help that didn’t come from a shady spy organization. Tony really hoped that Bruce would accept help from him rather than trying to manage on his own. Giving Bruce time to think might backfire, but Tony didn’t think it would. Bruce was an intelligent man and working with Tony had a lot of advantages.

Hopefully, Bruce would see that.

***

The day after he returned from visiting Bruce, Tony wasn’t at all surprised when Jarvis informed him that Nick Fury was attempting to override him again. Would the man never learn?

“And people say I’m crazy.” Tony threw down his fork and stood. “Is he even remotely close to succeeding?”

“No, Sir. Your security measures are holding as well as you expected.”

“Good. Fury must have had his minions come up with something he was sure would work.” Tony sat down again and took a bite out of his omelet. “You know what, don’t let him break-in. If he wants to talk to me, he can ring the bell, like a civilized person.”

“Yes, Sir.” Jarvis sounded amused. “I think Fury will realize that his attempts will fail rather quickly.”

“I hope they let me finish my breakfast first.” Tony looked toward the nearest camera and smiled.

“You can always make him wait until you’re done,” Jarvis pointed out, and Tony chuckled.

“Good point.”

It was fifteen more minutes before the doorbell finally rang. Tony was just finishing his cup of coffee. “Let Fury and Agent in. Direct them into the living room. I need to get dressed.”

He took his time getting dressed. He was almost done when Jarvis spoke. “Sir, someone is still attempting to override my programming. I believe they are seeking to disable me.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. Still. He would have thought Fury would have given up by now. Maybe Nicky didn’t want Jarvis listening in on what he had to say. It was an interesting thought.

“J let him think he’s succeeded and record everything we say. I think I’m about to have an interesting conversation. Give it another minute to make it seem believable and then go dark until I say otherwise.”

“Yes, Sir. The recording has begun.”

“Good, let’s do this.”

When he entered the living room, Coulson was sitting on the sofa looking as calm and unflappable as he ever did. Fury looked, well, furious as he stood by the window. He turned and glared as Tony entered. Coulson smiled blandly when he saw Tony. Tony gave both men his best publicity smile.

“Well, gentleman, what a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you this fine day?”

“Was it really necessary to keep us waiting, Stark?” Fury barked.

“Given that you overrode my A.I. and almost broke into my home again after I made it clear I wanted nothing more to do with SHIELD, yeah it really was. You’re lucky I let you in at all. So, what do you want?”

“I understand you took a little trip yesterday to visit Dr. Bruce Banner. You could be charged with aiding and abetting a fugitive you realize?”

“Really? Then since it appears you are aware of his location, and yet haven’t turned him. I think that could be considered ‘aiding and abetting a fugitive.’ Then you would be guilty of the same crime. And how did you know I visited him? Are you having him watched, or me?” Tony held up a hand. “Oh wait, don’t tell me. It’s both of us. Am I right?”

“That is not the point,” Fury said. “Dr. Banner is a dangerous man, and it’s in your own best interest to stay away from him.”

“Really, and why is that? He seems like a perfectly reasonable person to me.” Tony walked over to his piano and sat down, beginning to play Jingle Bells just to annoy Fury.

“We’re trying to help you, Mr. Stark,” Coulson chimed in. Tony could feel Agent standing just behind him.

Tony sighed and turned his body to look at them. “I think you’re trying to help yourselves. If Dr. Banner is so dangerous, then why haven’t you arrested him? Why hasn’t he been turned over to the government, or disappeared into some dark hole somewhere? I think it’s because you need him right where he is.”

Fury shook his head. “Why do you have to be so stubborn? I’m not interested in what you think, and I’m not obligated to explain myself. Just stay away from Banner,” Fury gritted out.

Tony stood up. “I don’t take orders from you. Are you afraid I’ll interfere with your plans? You want him scared and alone and grateful for any help you give him. Grateful enough to do whatever you want. Well, I’m not going to let that happen.” Tony stood to face Fury head-on.

“Banner is a brilliant scientist who’s had horrific things done to him. I’m going to help him any way I can.”

Agent stepped closer so that he was standing between Tony and Fury. “I understand why you want to help him but getting involved in this won’t end well. Please believe me.”

Tony sighed. He liked Agent. He thought Coulson was a good man if a bit of a blind follower when it came to Fury. Still, Tony knew he had to make it clear he wouldn’t be manipulated. He was sure he knew what this was about.

He moved away from Agent. “I like being touched even less than I like being handed things Tell me something. If Dr. Banner is so dangerous then why are you protecting him?”

Fury didn’t respond. He just glared at Tony as if trying to will him into submission. The thought made Tony chuckle.

“I fail to see what you find amusing,” Fury said.

“I think we both know the reason you don’t want me helping him is that you think you’re going to need your little superhero team, and you want to make sure that the Hulk is a part of it. The last thing you want is Bruce and me joining forces. We’ll be harder to control that way.”

“How do you know about the Hulk?” Fury demanded.

Tony grinned, and Fury’s jaw clenched. “Please. You did your best to erase all the evidence, but nothing is ever really erased from the internet. People are still talking about Harlem and sharing videos. I have proof of what happened in Harlem.”

“Then you know how dangerous he really is.”

“What I know is that he saved Harlem from another metahuman. Who, I’m guessing, was another government experiment?” He purposefully kept General Ross’s name out of it. He didn’t want Fury to realize he had far more information than he should.

“If you care about Dr. Banner, then you want what’s best for him. If the Army finds him, he’ll be tortured and dissected before being thrown in prison, if he survives. If people find out about him, they’ll want him killed. They’ll only see Hulk as an angry monster to be destroyed. You’re right. At the moment I’m keeping him off the Army’s radar, but that could change.”

Wow, Fury was a bastard, but Tony fought a grin. He could definitely use this against Fury if he needed too. It was always good to have leverage, and this was just what he had been hoping for when he let Fury in. “Is that a threat?’ Tony asked.

“Take it as you like, but if you want Banner to stay safe, then you’ll stay away from him.”

Tony sighed. “You know what? I’ve heard enough. Get out of my house and don’t come back.” He pointed toward the door.

Fury shook his head. “I’ll never understand how you got a reputation for being charming. I’ll go, but first I want to know that we understand each other.”

“Oh yeah, I understand. I don’t think there’s anything more to say.”

Fury nodded, but he was smiling. “Let me know when you reconsider my offer. It’s still open whenever you’re ready to take it.”

Tony snorted. “I won’t be your consultant, and I won’t join your little superhero team either. Something tells me Dr. Banner is equally uninterested.” That wasn’t true, of course. If the world needed saving from some kind of threat, Tony planned to be there, but he wouldn’t agree to work for Fury.

“Can’t you see we want the same thing? To protect the planet.” Fury said. He was stiff as a board as he glared.

Tony nodded. He moved a little closer to Fury. “I do believe you mean that. I think you have the best of intentions; I just don’t happen to agree with your methods. I don’t think a spy agency should have the kind of power you do already, let alone have a team of superheroes at your beck and call.”

Fury nodded and gave Tony a long look. “I can see we aren’t going to agree Stark. I’ll leave you alone now. Remember, stay away from Dr. Banner.”

Tony watched them go more relieved than anything. He hated that Fury thought he had the right to just waltz into his home whenever he felt like it.

“Did you get all that, J?”

“Yes, Sir, both video and audio. Fury behaved as you predicted he would.”

“Of course, he did. That man is used to bullying people into giving him what he wants. Bullies tend to be predictable that way.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll remember that.”

“I want you to run a diagnostic of your systems and make sure SHIELD didn’t do any damage.”

“Right away, Sir.”

“Excellent.” Tony walked down the stairs to his lab.

That had been interesting. Fury had confirmed Tony’s suspicions that he had plans of his own for Bruce. Tony didn’t trust Fury not to use Bruce and then throw him away if it suited Fury. Tony wasn’t going to let that happen. He was going to have to move up his plan to help Bruce. He’d promised the other man more time to think about his offer, but Fury’s appearance changed things. Tony really should have anticipated it, but he’d thought Fury would bide his time for a while longer before making a move.

He decided to give Bruce a couple more days and then contact him if he still hadn’t heard anything.

“Sir, may I make a request?”

Tony arched a brow. “Of course, Jarvis. What is it?”

“If it’s alright with you, I’d like permission to initiate conversations with Dom. When he was here, he indicated a willingness to speak to me if I so desired. After giving it some thought, I decided that I’d like to speak with him. If you do not object, of course.”

Tony blinked for a moment in surprise. He’d given Jarvis access to the internet and a phone line so that Jarvis could make calls for him, but it had never occurred to him that Jarvis would want to talk to someone other than him. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it. Did Jarvis want a friend? If so, he had no doubt Dom would make a good friend; he’d already proven he would treat Jarvis like an equal.

“Of course, you can, if Dom says it’s alright. You can call or text him whichever method you find more comfortable.” He smiled up at the closest camera.

“Thank you, Sir.”

Tony texted Dom to make sure it was okay, though he was almost certain he knew what the answer would be.

Tony: Jarvis would like to speak with you sometime if you’re open to it.

The response was immediate.

Dom: Of course. I’d enjoy it. Have him text me his number, and we’ll set up a time to talk.

Tony: I’ll let him know.

Dom: Great. Can’t talk now. Call you later tonight?

Tony: Okay, ttyl.”

Tony grinned to himself. He’d known Dom wouldn’t let either of them down. His heart skipped a little beat at the thought, and he realized he was looking forward to talking to Dom again soon. It couldn’t happen soon enough as far as Tony was concerned. Seeing him in person would be even better. Yeah, Tony knew he was already in deep trouble when it came to one Dom DiNozzo. If only he knew how Dom felt about him.

***

In the end, it turned out Tony didn’t have to wait long to hear from Bruce. Three days after Fury’s visit, Bruce called him on the secure phone. It was a good thing he’d put a lot of thought into his plan.

Bruce’s face filled the screen above his work area. He looked tired and worn, but he smiled at Tony.

“Are you sure this is secure, Tony?”

“It’s nice to see you, too, and yes, I’m sure. I created the encryption algorithms myself. It’s the most secure phone in existence.”

Bruce arched an eyebrow, and this time, his smile reached his eyes. “In existence, really. Well, then I won’t worry.”

“You’ve given some thought to my offer of help?”

Bruce sighed. “I know I should say no, but I’m tired of hiding, of running. I want to go back to living my life even if it will never be quite the same.”

Tony nodded. “That’s understandable. I’m glad you’re going to let me help. I have a plan to help you that I think will work. I have two options, actually.”

Bruce waved his hand. “Okay, let’s hear it.”

“Well, I still think going public isn’t a bad idea. I’m sure we could show people that you aren’t dangerous and that you deserve to have a normal life. A lot of people would be outraged, and rightfully so, about what was done to you and the way you’ve been treated by our government.”

“I’m really not comfortable with that idea.”

“I understand, but I think it’s worth exploring as a backup plan. The plan I have hinges on your willingness to go public if necessary, so I need to know you’re okay with it. We should at least get ready in case we have to use it.”

Bruce leaned forward. “Okay, tell me why. What’s this idea of yours?”

“We need a way to get Ross off your back. He’s heavily connected and a decorated three-star general. I don’t have the power to get him to back off on my own. So right now, SHIELD is helping to keep you hidden. You should know I got a visit from Fury the day after we had our chat.”

Bruce looked alarmed. “What? What did he want?”

Tony held up a hand. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to worry you. He came by to threaten both of us. He insinuated that if I tried to help you, he would give your location to General Ross.”

“I need to get out of here,” Bruce said, standing up. His eyes were wide with panic.

“Hold on, hold on. I really don’t think that’s necessary. If I thought you were in immediate danger, I would have contacted you right away.”

“What makes you think so?” Bruce tilted his head.

“You read the file I gave you?”

Bruce nodded and sat back down. “Yes, it was disturbing, to say the least. I don’t want to be used as a weapon.”

“Yeah, I get that. Neither do I, believe me. But that’s how we know Fury’s bluffing. He has plans for both of us, and those plans don’t include you being captured or killed by Ross.”

“They also don’t include us getting along, so how do we know he won’t retaliate?” Bruce fidgeted and looked down.

Tony gave Bruce his best reassuring smile. “It’s possible he might which is why I think I have a way to get you away from Ross and Fury. You’ll be in control of your own life.”

“Yeah, what’s that?”

“The Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General Gabriel Ruiz, is the liaison for Stark Industries. We have a friendly relationship. I can go to him and show him all the evidence I’ve gathered and suggest that it might be a good idea to clear the Hulk’s name and make sure General Ross can’t come after you or hurt anyone else again.”

“You’re going to do what exactly? Talk to a high ranking general and do what, threaten to blackmail him in hopes that he’ll help you save a monster and ruin the reputation of one of his own? Somehow I don’t think it will go well at all.” Bruce ran his hand wearily over his face. “I think maybe this was a huge mistake. I should just take my chances on my own.”

Tony shrugged. “You make it sound worse than it is. You saved Harlem from Abomination; a problem Ross created. And, as I’ve said before, none of what Ross did to you was your fault. Ross has way too much power, and some powerful people have been covering for him. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have enemies as well. I think there are those in the government who will be happy to have an excuse to finally take the wind out of his sails. I have a plan; you just need to trust me.”

Bruce stared at him for a long moment staying silent.

Tony sighed. “Look, I know you still don’t totally trust me, but do you have any other options? Good options, I mean.”

“No, I guess not.” Bruce hunched his shoulders.

“Let me try. Really, this is riskier for me right now than you. You have my word. I will not tell them where you are. You’ll be no worse off if this goes south.”

Bruce nodded. “I guess I don’t have a lot of choices right now. I’ve managed to keep the big guy under wraps since Harlem, so at least that’s something.”

“Have you thought about trying to get to know the big guy better? I’ve watched footage of what happened in Harlem several times, and I really don’t think that your other half is mindlessly violent or out of control. From what I could see, he was trying to protect you, and the other people around him, by taking out Ross and Abomination. Maybe if you tried to communicate with him, you might be able to help both of you.”

Bruce sighed. “I think he’s too dangerous to experiment with, but I appreciate that you want to help me. I think he acts on pure emotion and instinct. I don’t think he can be reasoned with.”

Tony nodded and let the matter drop. He really didn’t think that was the case, and he’d love the chance to talk to the Hulk, but Bruce had to be comfortable with the idea first. If he could prove his theory that the Hulk could be reasoned with, it would go a long way toward proving Bruce and the Hulk could be trusted around people.

“I would be willing to volunteer to be a guinea pig and interact with your other half. I could wear one of my suits and be safe. I bet the Hulk would like me.”

“I doubt that,” Bruce said with a snort. “I don’t think you’ll find him very friendly.”

“Alright, but please give it some thought. There’s one last thing I want to talk to you about. If you’d like, I can move you to a safe location. I own a lot of properties, some in remote areas. I have the best security in the world, and you’d be safe. SHIELD would eventually find you, but even if Fury challenges me, I can keep you safe.”

“Alright, but only if you tell me really why you’re doing this. I know what you said before, but there has to be another reason. You’re going to a great deal of trouble for a stranger. Is it because you want to study the Hulk?”

Tony burst out laughing. “God no, I swear. I think he’s awesome, and I’d like to get to know both of you, but I don’t think anyone should recreate Captain America. He was one of a kind for a reason.”

Bruce didn’t respond, watching Tony in that serious way he had.

“Look, everything else I said was true. But what I didn’t tell you is I see a lot of me in you. And I know what it’s like to have someone who was supposed to care about you put you in danger and try to kill you. I know Ross was a mentor, and he was supposed to be your father-in-law. I am intimately familiar with that kind of betrayal.”

Bruce watched him for another few seconds then nodded. “I’m sorry to hear that and thank you. I will accept your help, including finding a better place to hide while you work your Stark magic on my behalf.”

Tony clapped his hands together. “Excellent! I’ll get started right away.” He was planning on creating a place that could hold the Hulk in hopes that it would make Bruce feel better. Tony figured he could build a special room wherever Bruce decided to settle. It would hopefully make Bruce feel more comfortable.

Dum-E came rolling over with coffee, and Bruce’s eyes widened. “Is that a robot?” he asked, clearly intrigued. “When did you build him?”

“When I was fifteen,” Tony said. Bruce fired back with another question, and Tony grinned and leaned back, ready for an intriguing conversation. He knew that he and Bruce would get along well.

Chapter 7

Tony spent the week before he went to D.C. deciding what he was going to do to help Bruce and gathering all the information he could on Thaddeus Ross. The man was a decorated soldier, but he had several black ops in his past. He had been obsessed with recreating the serum for a long time and Banner wasn’t his first test subject. There had been three others that SHIELD knew of, and they had all died.

Tony reflected that if he hadn’t made a deal for the suit already it would have been a perfect bargaining chip, but he knew he’d done the right thing. He couldn’t leave Rhodey hanging in the wind. As it was, he knew Rhodey’s bosses were thrilled with the deal they’d made, and Rhodey had some of their excitement extend to him.

He would find some other way. There were other things he could offer, and if all else failed, he could always go public, though for Bruce’s sake, he’d rather not. The last thing Bruce needed right now was attention from the media.

In the meantime, he thought he’d come up with a better plan. He was simply going to convince the government to help Bruce. He’d put in a call to General Ruiz, but Gabriel was a busy man and Tony knew he might not hear back for a few more days. Hopefully, Gabriel would get back to him soon as they could get the ball rolling.

To that end, He knew Gabriel wouldn’t like what Tony had to say, but hopefully they could come to an agreement. Tony knew he’d have to consider what he was going to say carefully. It was a delicate situation, and he liked Gabriel. He was hoping not to damage their relationship permanently unless he had no choice.

Finally, it was time to head to D.C. He was going in a day early to spend some time with Dom. Pepper would be flying in the next day. He’d texted Dom a couple of times, but he hadn’t gotten a response until last night. Dom would meet him at the airport, and he’d even offered to make Tony dinner.

They were late leaving the airport in L.A., and it left Tony wishing he’d taken the suit, but Dom was waiting for him as promised when he landed. Tony walked out of the airport to where Dom was waiting by his car, a large SUV. Dom stepped forward, and Tony was only slightly surprised and pleased when he pulled Tony into a quick hug. Tony couldn’t help but enjoy the physical contact. Dom held onto him a little longer than usual, but Tony definitely wasn’t complaining. Dom pulled away, and Tony found himself staring at Dom’s lips. He really wanted to kiss him, but it didn’t feel like the right time.

Dom left his hand on Tony’s bicep as he spoke. “Hey man, I’m so glad you made it.”

“Me too. Sorry I kept you waiting.”

“It wasn’t a problem; I took the day off.” He smiled and their eyes met and held for a long second before Dom looked away.

Dom took his bags from him and threw them into the back. He motioned for Tony to get in on the passenger side.

“It’s good to see you,” Tony said.

“It’s good to see you, too. I’m glad you came early so we could hang out. So, is there anything you want to do today? Do you want to do the tourist thing? Though if we did, you’d probably get mobbed pretty much right away.”

“That’s true. It’s not a good idea.” Tony felt a stab of regret. Tony had no real need to see any of the monuments but visiting the space museum at the Smithsonian might have been fun. Tony hadn’t been in years, but he’d always enjoyed it.

Dom shrugged. “That’s okay. I do have another idea I think you might like it.”

“Oh, do tell.” Tony grinned.

Dom glanced at him and returned the smile as he merged into traffic. “Well, I know how important your mom’s foundation is to you. You know how over the last three years the foundation has been funding community centers in several cities?”

Tony nodded. “Yes, and I’ve created a couple of shelters for homeless LGBT kids, too. The first one opened up in L.A., and we’ll be opening another in New York.” Tony was proud of the work that the foundation did. Besides the community centers and homeless shelters, the foundation also did work with schools supplying computers and books. Tony was hoping to expand their work even more in the future.

“Right. The foundation does amazing work. Anyway, I volunteer at one of the local community centers funded by the foundation. I usually teach a music class and coach basketball on the weekends. I thought it might be fun for you to meet some of the kids in person. See the work we do.”

Tony felt a rush of excitement. He got reports from the foundation, but he’d never been to one of the centers in person. His presence would draw a lot of unwanted attention. “Really? I’d like that if you don’t think it’ll be too much trouble. I can’t guarantee the press won’t show up if word gets out, which it most likely will.”

Dom shook his head. “Don’t worry. I thought about that. I’m bringing you in the back door, and I know the staff and the kids in my class. If I ask them not to post any pictures until after we’ve left, they’ll do it. But you’ll probably still have to take lots of selfies.”

Tony grinned. “I definitely don’t mind. Sounds awesome, let’s go.” He suddenly couldn’t wait to see the community center for himself. His mother had always cared about children. He knew she would be proud of the work the foundation was doing.

“Cool. The class doesn’t start for a couple of hours. We have time to stop at my place and drop off your stuff.”

Tony blinked in surprise. “Your place? I booked a room at the Marriot.”

Dom flushed slightly. “Oh, okay, we can go there. I thought you’d stay with me, but I should have asked.”

It hadn’t occurred to Tony, but he immediately liked the idea. Spending the night at Dom’s was appealing, and if they got closer all the better. He really wanted to see if their subtle flirting was going anywhere. Maybe he’d even work up the nerve to kiss Dom.

There was a chance he’d have another nightmare, but they didn’t happen all that often anymore. He was willing to take the the risk.

“Actually, if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay at your place. If the offer is still open.”

“Of course, it is,” Dom grinned at him.

Once they had dropped off Tony’s stuff, they headed for the community center. As promised, Dom led him in through the back door.  Then they walked through a small kitchen, past a couple of classrooms, and a large gym. The community center was larger than Tony had expected.

Dom led him to a small office. “I’m going to take you to meet Maggie. She runs the center. I told her you were coming, and she’s excited to thank you in person.”

“I’m happy to meet her, too,” Tony said with a nod. The people who worked for the centers did a lot of good work. They were the ones that really made things run smoothly.

Dom squeezed his shoulder, and Tony felt the heat of his hand through his shirt. Dom stayed close to him as he knocked on the door. The door opened a moment later, and a lovely older woman with short white hair stood smiling at them. “Come in, gentlemen. You’re a little early. I like that.”

They followed her inside, and Dom made the introduction. Tony liked Maggie Matthews instantly. She had a kind smile that reached her eyes and a calm demeanor that immediately put him at ease.

She motioned them to two chairs in front of her desk. “Mr. Stark, I’m so glad you could visit us today. The kids will be so excited to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine, really, and please call me Tony.”

“Of course, Tony. Can I offer you some coffee, water or hot chocolate? We keep a small selection of snacks and drinks for the kids.”

“No, thank you, I’m fine. I’m looking forward to seeing the work you do here.”

Maggie stood. “In that case, we can talk while I give you the nickel tour, and then you can head with Dom to his class.”

Tony and Dom followed her out of the room. “Sounds good, but I don’t want to get in the way.”

“You won’t be, I promise. Also, you don’t need to worry about the press. I asked the kids to give me their phones when they came in today. If you’re open to a few pictures later, I’ll take some.”

Tony was grateful for her thoughtfulness. “Absolutely. If the kids are interested.”

Maggie grinned. “Oh, they will be. Trust me.”

Maggie led them on a tour and Tony was impressed with what he saw. The center was warm and inviting, and the kids were clearly enjoying themselves. He watched from the doorway as a group of girls and boys playing a game of pickup basketball. Inevitably one of the kids noticed him and called out, and the game stopped for a few minutes. Tony chatted with the kids, and he was surprised how much he enjoyed himself. After a few minutes, he was able to extract himself with a promise to come back and play a game with them.

There was also a small computer room, and Tony peaked inside. Several kids were sitting at computers while others were working at a few tables in one corner.

“We give computer classes, and the kids can do school research here. We also help the older kids with college and job applications,” Maggie explained.

Tony noted the tables and chairs looked a little worn just like the basketballs had. He’d have to see what he could do about that.

“That’s great. How are the computers working?”

“We got them brand new from the foundation three years ago. They get a lot of use, but they’re still working well.”

Tony nodded, but he made a mental note to check them out. Three years was a long time for computers, and with all the use they got Tony expected they probably needed to be replaced already.

Finally, Maggie left them at the entrance of a small multipurpose room, bidding them goodbye.

Tony thanked her for the tour. “Let me know if there’s anything you really need before we go, Maggie. You do amazing work here.”

She beamed at him. “Thank you, Tony. If you’re serious, I have a list.”

“You bet I am.”

Maggie nodded, gave him a gentle smile, and returned to her office.

Dom motioned around the room. “This room is the music room and the theater, and when we can get someone to teach, it’s a dance studio, too.” He looked up at a clock on one wall. “The kids will be here in fifteen minutes. Let’s get set up.”

Dom led him over to a large closet where they pulled out several guitars and some chairs. Tony arranged them in a circle. “You’re teaching guitar.”

Dom nodded. “Yeah, they don’t have a piano, and we only have five guitars. They were donated from a music store that was going out of business, and while we got some other instruments. I’m not qualified to teach anyone to play them. So, I have to keep the classes small. I run two different sessions a week. All my kids are great, though. There are three boys and two girls right now.”

Tony could hear the affection and pride in Dom’s voice. “You enjoy teaching them.” It wasn’t really a question.

“Yeah, I do. I’ll really miss this place when I move to New York.”

“I bet they’ll miss you too. If you need me to, I can help find someone to keep teaching the classes.”

“Thanks, but I’ve got someone from my office taking over. I appreciate it, though.” Dom leaned closer, and their shoulders brushed together. Tony could feel Dom’s body heat.

“Sure. Let me know if there’s anything you think the center needs.”

“I will. Do you feel up to playing a song with me? I bet the kids would enjoy that.”

Tony shrugged. “I might be a little rusty. I play the piano more often, but sure, I’ll give it a try.”

They finished setting up  and a few minutes later, a group of five kids entered the room. They looked to be between thirteen and sixteen or so. They were chatting and laughing together, and they greeted Dom happily. They all froze when they saw Tony.

“I see you all know who this is.” Dom went on to explain why Tony was there. Then he introduced all the kids. The kids crowded around Tony, all talking at once. Before Tony could feel too overwhelmed, Dom called them all to order and started running through their lesson for the day.

Tony had a great time that afternoon. He’d never had much contact with kids, but he was surprised how much he enjoyed their company. He also enjoyed watching Dom teach the kids. He was really good with them and he was as animated as they were.

The most talkative of the students was a girl named Katie. She had rainbow-colored hair and a nose ring. She asked insightful questions and took the lessons very seriously. Tony liked her immediately.

He noticed a boy named Andre was having trouble with the chord he was learning, and he accepted Tony’s help. He was on the small side, but his smile lit up his face. Tony hadn’t played guitar in over a year, but he was relieved to find he wasn’t all that rusty.

Andre started to get frustrated, and Tony put his hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry. You’ll get it.”

Andre nodded. “Will you show me again?”

Tony strummed out the beginning chords for him.

He stuck out his tongue in concentration, and Tony hid a smile. Andre played the notes again, and this time, it sounded exactly right. He looked up with a grin. “I did it!”

“You did,” Tony agreed. “Awesome job!” The young man lit up, and Tony felt a rush of pride. He was enjoying this whole teaching a lot more than he thought he would.

The lesson flew by. toward the end of class, Dom announced they would play a song, and the kids cheered. Dom looked over at him; they hadn’t discussed the song they’d play. “Follow me,” Dom said and started to play a slowed-down version of It’s My Life by Bon Jovi. Tony laughed and joined in. Then on impulse he began to sing along.

Tony lost himself in the song. It had been a long time since he’d played with someone else, but he and Dom blended easily. When the song was finished, Tony turned to grin at Dom only to find Dom staring at him.

“You still have a beautiful voice,” Dom said softly enough that only Tony heard him.

His heart sped up. “Thank you,” he said. They stared at each other for a long moment before Dom looked away. He visibly collected himself and ended the class.

Maggie took a ton of pictures of Tony and the kids, and he took some time to talk to some of the other kids at the center. Before he left, Maggie thanked them again and then handed Tony a list. “These are some of the things we need most urgently.”

Tony put it in his pocket. “I’ll see what I can do.” Much to his surprise, Maggie leaned up and kissed his cheek. Tony felt his cheeks grow a little warm, but he smiled brightly.

“You’re a good boy. I’m sure your mother would have been proud.” Tony was honestly speechless. Something which rarely happened. Even worse, he knew he was blushing. No one had ever said that to him. He finally managed to get out a thank you.

“We’ll be in touch,” he promised. “You do great work here.”

Maggie patted his shoulder. “Thank you, dear.” As they left, Tony reflected on the fact that this was the most fun he’d had in a long time.

As they walked out back to the car, Tony grabbed Dom’s hand to stop him. Dom turned to look at him. “What? You okay?”

“I’m great. Thank you. This was amazing. It means so much to me to see this.”

Dom squeezed his fingers “You’re welcome.” Dom touched Tony’s cheek. “This place means a lot to me, too.”

Tony threw caution to the wind and pulled Dom closer. He put one hand against Dom’s neck, leaned forward slowly giving Dom time to pull away before he finally brushed his lips against Dom’s gently. Dom’s lips were warm and soft, and Tony felt desire coiling in his stomach.

Dom pulled back first, and their eyes met.

“I’ve wanted to do that for a while,” Tony admitted.

“I’m really glad you did,” Dom said softly. “Let’s go. But I want you to hold this thought.”

Dom took his hand and led him to the car.

***

A few hours later, Tony and Dom were sitting on the sofa in his apartment watching Galaxy Quest. They were seated pressed close together, but so far, there had been no more intimate contact. Tony could be patient, though, at least for a while.

As the final credits rolled, Dom looked over at him. “Still one of the best sci-fi movies ever.”

“Yeah. I’m glad we decided to watch it. I haven’t seen it in years. This has been a good day. Thank you for suggesting I come early. I haven’t been this relaxed in a long time.” He picked up his wine glass from the side table and drained the last of it. Dom leaned back too, and his hand slid to Tony’s knee. Tony covered Dom’s hand with his own.

“I’m glad you’re having a good time. I get the feeling you don’t relax much.”

“That’s true. Finding someone I can trust to take over as CEO has been taking up a lot of my time. I also had to meet with the board. I make it a policy never to do that, but they threatened to take me to court. I gave in even though since I’m the majority shareholder, there isn’t much else they can do. ”

Dom sat up and turned to look at him “Why are they unhappy? The company is doing great right?”

Tony sighed. “Yeah, but they didn’t like that I fired Pepper. Mind you, they were none too happy when I hired her, so it was kind of surprising.”

“That’s a pain. Did you manage to calm them down?”

“Yes, I did. I pointed out that SI is making the biggest profit it has in years. Mostly because of my new designs for the tech division. I also promised to hire a new CEO as soon as possible.”

Dom nodded. “I thought Pepper had someone in mind for the job.”

“She did, and he seems competent, but I’m not sure he’s the right choice. I’m looking into other options. In the meantime, I’m having to handle the things I can’t delegate myself.”

“I’m sure you’re good at it.” Dom sounded so sure. It gave Tony a warm feeling. He’d forgotten what it was like to have all of Dom’s attention on him. He had a way of making Tony feel like everything he said was important. He imagined it was one of the qualities that made him a good FBI agent.

“Yes, and I even enjoy some of it, but I prefer to be in my lab. I’ll be happy when I can hand over the day to day again.”

Dom nodded. “You hungry? It’s getting late, and I should probably get dinner started.”

“I am actually. Is there anything I can do to help?”

They got off the sofa. Before Dom could go anywhere Tony stepped forward and pressed his body close, kissing Dom’s neck. “I’m hoping I’m going to need all my energy later.”

Dom grinned and brushed another kiss against his lips before stepping back and walking down the hall into the large kitchen. Tony walked over and looked out the kitchen window. It had a beautiful view of the small garden below.

“You can start cutting up the vegetables for the salad. There’s a bowl in that cabinet over there.” Dom pointed to one of the cabinets against one wall. “I made the pasta earlier today, so this won’t take long.”

“This is a great apartment.” Tony walked over to the counter where Dom was laying out some vegetables. He took the knife from the block and got to work.

“Thanks. The rent is kind of expensive, but when I left NCIS, I wanted a change, you know? My aunt left me a small trust fund, and I had some savings, so I got this place. It’s bigger than my old place, and it’s a great neighborhood.”

“Sometimes a change is the best thing you can do for yourself,” Tony agreed, thinking about all the changes he’d made recently.

“Yeah, it is. Going to work for the FBI was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

“What are we having?” Tony asked.

Dom turned to look at him. “I’m making your favorite or at least it used to be.”

Tony didn’t even have to think about it. “Spaghetti Alla Carbonara?”

“Yep. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to make so it won’t be long.”

Tony’s stomach rumbled. “I’ve dreamed about this more than once. I’ve had a lot of other versions, but yours is still the best I’ve ever had. Even in Italy. How big do you want the peppers, slices or cubes?”

Dom lowered the heat on the stove and came over to stand behind Tony. He covered the knife with his own hand and helped Tony chop. “Like this.” He pressed his whole body up against Tony’s. Tony felt a surge of lust, and he could feel Dom’s interest too. Dom kissed the back of his neck. “You got it?”

“Yeah,” Tony said, his voice hoarse.

“Good,” Dom stepped back over to the stove much to Tony’s disappointment.

“I’m glad you like my pasta. It’s an old DiNozzo family recipe.”

Tony focused on his task. “Your grandmothers, I remember. You had started working on learning to cook the recipes a couple of years before we met.”

Dom nodded. “Yeah, I found it relaxing. I also wanted to impress my dad. Not that it ever worked.”

Tony scoffed. “That man has never appreciated you. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.”

Dom laughed, but it sounded fake. “I guess. I haven’t spoken to him in almost a year.”

“Good riddance,” Tony muttered. He had never liked Anthony Senior. The man was mean and dismissive and had always treated Dom like shit. One of the reasons Dom had jumped at the chance to use his middle name was to distance himself from his father. That it pissed Senior off was just a bonus.

He finished cutting up the vegetables and put a salad together.

Dom didn’t respond. Instead, he kept working, and soon, the smell of cooking garlic filled the room. “Can you get the pasta from the fridge?” he asked. “It’s in a container on the second shelf.”

Tony found the pasta easily and placed it on the counter next to the stove. “Sorry if I overstepped,” he said quietly.

Dom sighed deeply and looked over at him. “No, it’s okay. You’ve met him, and not just the charming version. You know first-hand what an asshole he can be. I mean, you’re entitled to your opinion, and you aren’t wrong about him. It’s still not easy for me to hear, though. He’s let me down so many times that finally I decided to walk away.”

Tony nodded. He’d heard stories, like the time Senior had threatened to disown Tony when he was twelve. He’d never called or written when they had been at school either. “He hasn’t tried to contact you since?”

Dom shrugged and turned back to cooking. “He’s called a couple of times, and he showed up once, but only because he needed something. He also stole all the money from the trust fund my mother left me. He said he needed it. I’m still waiting for him to pay me back.”

It was on the tip of Tony tongue to ask if Dom had thought of taking his father to court over the money, but he didn’t. He thought he understood at least a little of why Dom didn’t do it. Senior was still his father after all. Suing him was a big step, even if they weren’t talking now.

“I’m sorry,” he said instead.

“Thanks,” Dom said. Tony reached out and squeezed his shoulder then leaned back against the counter and watched as Dom finished fixing their dinner.

Tony sniffed the air appreciatively. “It smells amazing. I can’t wait.”

Dom grinned. “Come here.” He twirled some pasta onto a fork and held it up to Tony’s lips. “Have a taste.” Tony leaned forward and took the bite of pasta. The flavor exploded onto his tongue. It was even better than he remembered. He couldn’t help but moan softly. He looked up to find Dom watching him with a soft smile.

“Good?”

Tony nodded. “Very.”

Dom leaned toward him. “I’m glad you like it,” he said softly, and then he leaned forward and brushed his lips gently against Tony’s.

Dom started to step back, but Tony leaned forward and kissed him again. Dom responded, immediately pulling Tony closer and deepening the kiss. Dom’s lips were soft, and when Tony parted his lips, Dom slipped his tongue inside. Tony leaned into Dom and put his arms around Dom’s waist. Dom eased back, and they both took a moment to breathe. Then Dom chuckled softly.

“What?” Tony asked.

“Nothing.” Dom cupped Tony’s cheek. “I’ve imagined this pretty much since the first time we saw each other again, but the reality is much better.”

“I’ve been thinking about it, too,” Tony admitted. “At first, I didn’t know what to do with it. I was never attracted to you before.”

Dom laughed. “Me either. But seeing you again was like being punched in the gut.”

Tony leaned forward and kissed Dom’s neck. “I’m glad we agree,” Tony said between kisses. Desire raced through him. He felt his cock straining his jeans. He moved his hands to Dom’s ass and squeezed gently, pulling their hips together. He could feel Dom’s hard cock pressing against him. He pressed his hands against Dom’s cock through the denim, and Dom groaned.

“Forget dinner. Show me the bedroom,” Tony told him. He rubbed his hands over Dom’s cock before pulling his away. Dom nodded and stepped back, quickly turning off all the burners on the stove before leading him into the bedroom and Tony eagerly followed.

Once inside, Dom grabbed Tony and pulled him close, kissing him passionately. Tony returned the kiss with equal fervor and reached down to rub his palm over Dom’s erection again. He felt Dom shiver, and he moaned against Tony’s lips.

“If you keep doing that, I won’t last long. Dom gasped out.

“That’s okay. We have all night.”

Dom grinned. “I plan to make good use of it,” he murmured in Tony’s ear.

“You are gorgeous,” he told Dom softly in return.

“Ditto.” Dom’s eyes were dark with need and Tony shivered as Dom’s gaze raked over him. His eyes landed on the arc reactor, but he didn’t say anything.

“I know it’s not that nice to look at,” Tony said. Pepper had never liked to touch the reactor.

Dom reached toward it but stopped.

Tony took a deep breath. “Go ahead.”

Dom laid his palm against it. Tony waited for a wave of panic to hit him, but it didn’t. He took a deep breath relieved. Their eyes met and held but neither of them spoke for a long moment.

Then Dom said, “I think the arc reactor is amazing. It’s keeping you alive. I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

Tony’s heart fluttered. He didn’t have the words to describe how Dom made him feel. Instead he kissed Dom again. He hoped the kiss communicated how he felt.

Dom broke the kiss, but he rested his forehead on Tony’s.  “I want you to fuck me,” Dom said and then kiss Tony’s throat biting gone gently before pulling back. “Are you good with that?”

Tony groaned and his cock jerked in response to Dom’s words. “Hell yes.”

Then Dom pulled Tony’s shirt off, and then gently tugged on Tony’s nipple. Tony let out a groan. Once they were both naked Dom’s eyes moved over Tony’s body. Tony could see the appreciation in Dom’s eyes.

“How do you want to do this?”

“On my back. I want to see you.” Pleasure danced up Tony’s spine, and his heart began hammering up in anticipation. He took a deep breath to calm himself.

Tony nodded and he helped Dom get settled in a comfortable position with a pillow under his ass. “Lube?” he asked

“In the drawer on the left inside. The condoms are in there, too.”

Tony stepped over, grabbed both, then got back on the bed. He quickly rolled on the condom. Dom reached out and stroked him a couple of times before Tony stopped him.

Dom chuckled and started playing with his own cock instead. Tony stopped for a moment to watch Dom pleasuring himself. He knew he wanted to watch Dom get himself off for some time.

Tony spread lube onto his fingers and inserted one finger into Dom’s hole gently. He paused for a second and let Dom get used to it.

“I’m okay. Keep going,” Dom urged him.

Tony took him at his word and inserted a second finger. He thrust in and out gently, stretching Dom out slowly. He enjoyed the feeling of his fingers slipping in and out. He worked Dom open, enjoying the sounds of pleasure he made.

When Tony was ready he slowly slid t his cock inside Dom’s hole. He inched in and then stopped when Dom gasped softly.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, it’s just been a while. Keep going. I’m good.”

“I’ll go slow.” Tony pushed in a few inches further and held still again, letting Dom adjust. It was harder to hold still this time. He could feel the tight heat of Dom’s body around his cock, and shocks of pleasure were running up his spine.

Dom looked up at him. “Come on, you can move.” Instead of waiting, he pulled Tony forward taking his cock the rest of the way in.

The sensation of his cock sinking into Dom’s ass made Tony groan with pleasure. The tight heat felt incredible.

Dom gasped as he moved again. “That’s good. You were taking too long.”

Tony laughed and swatted Tony’s ass playfully. “I was trying to be considerate.”

Dom grinned. “Well, you were taking too long. Now fuck me. I’m not doing all the work here.”

“Yes, Sir.” He liked Dom’s bossy side. He ran his hand down Dom’s chest. He thrust in as far as he could in one rapid movement and then out again more slowly. He angled his hips searching until Dom gasped and shuddered slightly, and Tony knew that he’d hit Dom’s prostate. He kept that angle hitting it each time he thrust in. The pleasure was building in his spine with each thrust.

“Oh god. So good. Don’t stop.” Dom gasped out He reached down and began stroking his own cock rapidly. His eyes were closed in pleasure and as Tony watched unable to look away Dom came with a cry on Tony’s chest. It was a gorgeous sight.

He leaned down and kissed Dom, and Dom responded enthusiastically. Tony pulled back. “I’m going to come.” His voice sounded ragged to his own hears.

Dom raked his nails down Tony’s back, scraping the skin. “Do it. I want to feel it.”

Tony’s orgasm started to build, and he knew he was close. He started thrusting faster. A moment later, pleasure burst over him, and he came deep inside Dom. He tried to hold himself up but Dom gently pulled him close and Tony eased himself done over Dom and they lay together catching their breath.

Afterward, they curled up against each other. Tony had been a little surprised when Dom had pulled him into his arms and held him close, but he wasn’t complaining. The sex had been fantastic. Not that he’d expected anything less. Being emotionally invested really did make it better. He felt sated and more content than he had in years.

“I’m grateful for you too,” Tony said softly. He closed his eyes and let the warmth of Dom’s body lull him to sleep.

***

Tony was lying on the floor, gasping for breath while Stane laughed and pointed at him. “Please help me,” Tony begged him. “I need my arc reactor. I’m dying. Please don’t do this.” He heard Dom calling his name, and someone shook his shoulder.

He woke up with a cry from his nightmare and grabbed at his chest. His arc reactor was gone! He knew he was dying. Then he heard Dom speaking softly to him, and he realized where he was.

“Hey, Tony, it’s okay you’re safe. It was just a dream.” Dom’s voice was soft, and he put arm was around Tony’s shoulder. Tony found it reassuring, but he pulled away. He was covered in sweat and more than a little embarrassed. Why couldn’t the nightmares leave him alone? He’d been hoping this wouldn’t happen. Even before he’d gotten sick, he’d been reluctant to bring someone home for this reason.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you. You can go back to sleep, and I’ll head to the guest room.”

He started to leave the bed, but Tony put a hand on his arm to stop him. “It’s okay, you had a nightmare. It happens. There’s no need to be embarrassed. You don’t have to leave.”

Tony sighed and lay back down. “Okay. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again, though.” The nightmares didn’t usually happen more than once a night, but then Tony often didn’t give them a chance to. Usually, he’d stay up the rest of the night working.

“That’s okay, some nightmares aren’t going to scare me away. Do you want to talk about it?”

Tony’s gut instinct was to say no, but he looked at Dom’s earnest concerned expression, and he remembered all the talks they’d had as kids. Maybe it would be good to tell someone, and he trusted Dom not to judge him.

“Sometimes, I have nightmares about Afghanistan, but more often I have nightmares about Obadiah Stane.”

Dom nodded. “He attacked you and Pepper Potts. You killed him in self-defense. It was all over the news.”

“Yes, but what almost no one knows is that he tried to kill me more than once. He paralyzed me using abandoned Stark tech, tech I developed, then ripped out my arc reactor and left me for dead.”

Dom gasped and put his arm around Tony. “That asshole. If we weren’t already dead, I’d kill him.”

Tony leaned into the embrace for a moment. “Dum-E saved me. I had an old arc reactor, and thanks to him, I was able to get it into my chest before the metal shards around my heart killed me.”

Dom took a deep breath “Thank god for Dum-E. I’m going to do something special for him. What kinds of things does he like?”

Tony blinked. “I’m not sure he really has any likes. He likes working with me and making smoothies and coffee. He also likes to spray me with the fire extinguisher.”

Dom laughed. “That’s an interesting combination. I’ll think of something. So, you have pretty regular nightmares about what that asshole did?”

“Yeah, not every night, but often enough.”

Dom let go and leaned back so that he was looking at Tony. “I think that’s totally normal. You know we can talk about it anytime, but have you thought about talking to a professional?”

“Not really. I don’t like the idea of a shrink getting in my head.”

Dom raised an eyebrow at him. “There’s nothing wrong with talking through your problems. I’ve been to a therapist, and I’m better for it. I recommend it to anyone.”

“Really? Why did you need to see a therapist?”

Dom grimaced. “There are lots of reasons. A colleague and friend was killed right in front of me. I got the pneumonic plague and almost died. There were other things, too. My job is dangerous, and we both know my childhood wasn’t the best. Things built up, and I finally had to admit I needed help. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Tony started in surprise. “The pneumonic plague? Jesus! How did that happen?”

Dom explained, and Tony shook his head. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there.” He leaned in and put his arm around Dom. “I’m so glad you’re still here.”

Dom grinned. “I feel the same way about you, so don’t worry about it. Sorry I didn’t tell you sooner. I understand what it’s like to be sick enough you think you’re going to die. I just didn’t want to take away from your story.”

Tony was touched. He wouldn’t have minded Dom talking about it before, but it was a sweet thought.

Dom continued, “Will you at least think about therapy? Talking about things might help you sleep. Why live with nightmares if you don’t have to?”

Tony sighed. He really wanted to say no, but Dom did have a point. Tony knew his nightmares weren’t a problem and that his current method of dealing with them wasn’t really working. He just hated the idea of telling some stranger about his problems. He preferred to deal with things on his own. Which is not working out great, a voice in his mind whispered sounding a lot like Dom.

“Alright. I’ll think about it. If you did it, then it can’t be so bad, right?”

“That’s all I ask. In the meantime, I’m here if you want to talk.”

“Thanks, Dom, I might take you up on that.”

Dom smiled. “Are you hungry? We never had dinner.”

Tony appreciated the subject change. “Yes, absolutely. I’m still looking forward to a home-cooked meal. Not that I minded our detour at all.”

“Good. I’ll go reheat the pasta.” Dom leaned forward and brushed a kiss against Tony’s lips before he rose, put on a robe, and left the room. Tony watched him go. The night had taken an unexpected turn. Tony didn’t know where this was going, but he was sure he liked it.

Several minutes later, Tony was propped up against the headboard and eating reheated pasta. “This is amazing, even reheated.”

Dom grinned. “I’m glad you liked it. Here, I brought you a bottle of water.”

“Thanks,” Tony took the water and opened it, taking a sip.

Dom nodded and leaned back against the headboard next to him, their shoulder’s touching. They finished their food, and Dom took their plates and set them on the nightstand.

“That was even better than I remembered, thank you.”

“I’m glad you liked it.”

“I could get used to having you cook for me.”

Dom raised an eyebrow. “Oh yeah, and what would you do for me in return?”

Tony grinned. “I’d let you drive whichever one of my cars you want.”

Dom tilted his head as if in thought. “That’s tempting, but I’m not sure it’s enough.”

“Well then, maybe I can provide some other forms of incentive.”

“Really, what did you have in mind?”

Tony shifted into Dom’s lap and ground down. Dom gasped and brought his hands up to Tony’s hips.

“Hmm, I like the way you think,” Dom murmured.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement.”

Dom leaned forward and kissed Tony, and they didn’t talk again for a long while.

Chapter 8

The award ceremony itself went just like Tony expected. That is to say, it was epically dull. They got one of the Senators from New York to give him the award. It was a shame they couldn’t have gotten Senator Asshole to do it. Tony still really wanted to take him down a peg. Still, it was great to see the huge smile on Rhodey’s face and to have Dom and Pepper cheering from the front row.

Then they all went out to lunch. It was a bit awkward at first, but they all did their best to keep the conversation going. Tony and Dom were sitting next to each other, and Dom kept his hand on Tony’s knee for most of the meal.

Pepper was being her usually nosy and overprotective self. She kept asking Dom personal questions all throughout the meal. Dom bore it well, in fact, he put up with it a lot better than Tony would have if their positions were reversed. Rhodey didn’t say much. He just watched their interactions with amusement.

Tony noticed that Pepper watched both Tony and Dom carefully. Still she was polite to Dom, and Tony was glad for it. To her credit Pepper had been trying since the last time they talked. She hadn’t made any nasty comments in Tony’s presence.

While they ate, Dom and Rhodey chatted about sports and made plans to go to a game together some day.

“Have you spent much time in New York?” Rhodey asked as he took a bite of his Rueben.

“Not in years. I grew up on Long Island, but I left for college and aside from a few trips for work I haven’t been back.”

“The city is constantly changing. I can put out a few good places to eat if you want.”

Dom picked up his burger. “I’d really like that thanks. I’m looking forward to getting to know the city again.”

“I guess it’s a good thing Tony is moving there too. he can show you around and it’ll be easier for you to see one another.” Rhodey’s tone was teasing.

“I think it’s a good thing,” Dom said and he squeezed Tony’s knee.

“So do I,” Tony said. He stole one of Dom’s fries. He gave Tony a look, but allowed it. He handed Tony the pickle and Tony took a big bite. Tony offered Dom on of his wings in return.

Rhodey chuckled. “Now I know he likes you. Tony never shares his food with anyone,”

“No, I just don’t share my food with you. You tend to eat it all.”

“I do not,” Rhodey said loudly. People turned to look and Rhodey flushed a little making Tony chuckle.

Tony looked at Dom. “He’s lying. He absolutely does. So make sure to guard your food carefully.”

Dom laughed while Rhodey protested again more quietly.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Dom said. Tony leaned toward Dom letting their shoulders brushed as he grinned. This felt good…right. He found he wanted to spend all the time with Dom he could.

Pepper didn’t say anything, but she was frowning at all of them. Tony stifled a sigh. He knew Pepper would want to talk to him later. Maybe he should have told her Dom was more than just a friend but everything had changed so quickly. he hadn’t had time. Still, Tony hadn’t meant to blindside her.

Tony was glad that Rhodey and Dom were getting along well, and he hoped the two of them would become friends. Tony relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the meal. Dom told some funny stories about their time in school together, and he had everyone laughing, even Pepper.

Afterward, Dom drove them back to the plane. As they walked toward it, he took Tony’s hand in his, and laced their fingers together. Tony was really beginning to crave the casual affection Dom showed him. It wasn’t something he was used to in relationships. He supposed he wasn’t used to relationships period. He hoped that he and Dom were on the same page.

Once they reached the plane, Dom gave Tony a passionate kiss before letting him go.

“Let me know that you got home safe.”

Tony’s heart was hammering in his chest. “I will.”

They kissed again, and then with a little wave; Tony turned to his companions. Pepper was staring at him her lips slightly parted. Then she flushed and looked away.  Rhodey was grinning and shaking his head at them.

“Get used to it,” Tony said and Rhodey and Dom laughed.

“I don’t think I can,” Rhodey said seriously. But then he grinned. “I’m glad the two of you found each other I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time Tony.”

“Oh, we’re touched,” Tony put his hand over his chest. “Why don’t you guys wait for me on the plane. I’ll be there in a minute.”

Rhodey offered Pepper his arm and they walked up the steps to the plain.

Tony turned back to Dom. He took one of Dom’s hands in his own.

“So, we didn’t really have time to talk about what happened last night. I’m okay if this was a one-time thing.” Tony’s heart sped up. “Though it was really great, and I’d like to do it again.”

“I’d like that,” Dom agreed with a nod. “I had a great time, too. I never imagined this would happen when you first got in touch, but I’m glad it did. I’d like to see you again. It’ll be a couple of months before we’re in the same city for an extended period. Why don’t we take things one day at a time and see what happens?”

“Sounds good to me.” Tony felt like he had butterflies in his stomach. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like this. He knew he was already half in love with Dom, but he didn’t want to ruin thins by moving too fast. Tony was determined to do this right.

“Maybe it’s too soon to say this but I really like where this is going. Next time we get together I’d like to take you out.”

“As far as I’m concerned It’s not too soon and I’d love to go out. I’m really glad we’re on the same page,” Dom said with a grin.

“Hey, Tony, let’s go. Some of us have places to be you know!” Rhodey called out from the plane’s doorway.

“I guess I have to go.” Tony regretted that. He suddenly wished he’s planned to stay longer. “I’ll let you know when I get home.”

“Please do.” Dom lifted his hand and kissed it then he leaned forward and gave Tony a quick kiss on the lips. “Have a safe trip.”

Once the plane was in the air, Pepper came over and sat down next to Tony. “I am sorry for how I’ve treated you Tony. You and Dom seem really happy.”

Tony looked at her surprised. “We are.  So far things are going really well.”

Pepper sighed. “So, it’s serious between you?”

“We’re taking it slow, but we’re heading that way I think.”

Pepper looked down at her hands. “I didn’t think you knew how to date.”

“Ouch. Well, I took you out on a date, didn’t I?”

Pepper glared at him. “It was a work event that you turned into a date. I’m not sure it counts. You left me and then you didn’t even call me afterward.”

Tony turned to look at her, really look, and he thought he saw hurt on her face. “Look, I’m sorry I never asked you out again. I really didn’t mean to hurt you or lead you on. I can be thoughtless sometimes, but I’m working on it. Things have changed for me. The truth is part of me was never sure dating you was a good idea for a lot of reasons, and I think that instinct was right.”

Pepper flinched but she met his gaze. “Why? I know you’re attracted to me. Now that I’m not working for you anymore, we could give it a try.”

Tony sighed but he covered her hand with his. “No, Pepper, I’m sorry. It just wouldn’t work. I don’t think you can accept me for who I really am. I hope we can be friends, but that’s all we’ll ever be. I really think it’s the best thing for us both.”

“Okay, Tony. I’m not even sure why I brought it up. It’s obvious you care about Dom and I can see the two of you are good together. I won’t deny I had my hopes up, but I’m realizing I really don’t like who I am when I’m around you. I understand, and I’ll do my best to accept the way things are. From now on I’ll do my best to stop antagonizing you. I think you’re right and this situation isn’t good for either of us.” She moved her hand out of his grasp.

“I’m sorry, too. I never wanted to hurt your feelings either It wasn’t my intention to lead you on in any way. But I’m really happy with the way things have worked out for me.”

She smiled sadly but nodded. “I really do know, Tony. I’m going to do my best to stop saying hurtful things to you and jumping to conclusions. I’ve started looking for another job and I have a few interviews coming up. I think a change of scenery might do me good.”

“That sounds like a good idea. I’m happy for you. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”

“You too, Tony. Dom really seems to care for you. I hope you’re happy. I really mean that.”

Tony nodded and he returned Pepper’s hug. When Pepper walked away from him, but Tony felt that this time things might really change for the better between them.

***

The next two weeks were relatively quiet. Not for the first time, Tony reflected that he really needed to get a new assistant. He had a lot of balls in the air, and it would be useful to have someone else to help. His search for Steve Rogers wasn’t going well, but at least Fury wasn’t having any luck either.

Not that an assistant could help him with getting Bruce moved from right under SHIELD’s nose. But there was a lot for Tony to manage on his own. Jarvis had been filling the role admirably, but there were things he just couldn’t do. Pepper was also helping him, but within the next month, she would be gone. He couldn’t expect his new CEO to help him the way Pepper had, even after she’d taken over the daily running of SI.

At least he had finally found his new CEO. Her name was Kayla Johnson, she was in her forties, and she had worked at Apple for a few years before starting her own company. The company had eventually folded, but Tony could tell it hadn’t been Johnson’s fault. She’d had a run of bad luck, and hadn’t been able to recover, but she was smart and innovative. The interview had gone exceptionally well, and they had clicked right away. Tony thought she was just what the company needed. Better yet, she was ready to jump in right away. It was a huge relief.

He hadn’t had much luck creating a way for the bots to communicate on their own. Updated the bots old code had proved to be even more difficult than he’d thought. But Tony wasn’t giving up. He would figure it out.

Tony’s phone beeped with an incoming text.

Dom: Can we do a live chat? I have a few minutes if you’re not busy.

Tony: Yeah, go ahead and call.

The phone next to him rang the opening cords of Back in Black filling the air. Tony grinned to himself and answered the call from his computer. His heart skipped a beat as Dom’s face filled the screen. Things between them were just getting started but Tony suspected he was already in way over his head. He was surprised by how much he missed Dom since D.C. He also found himself thinking of Dom a great deal. It had been a long time since Tony had been so absorbed with a lover.

“Hey, you,” Dom said. “Is this a good time?”

“Yeah, absolutely.”

“I hadn’t heard from you in a while, so I thought I’d check-in.”

“Sorry, I’ve been busy with some work stuff.” Tony wanted to tell Dom about Bruce and what was going on, but he wasn’t sure that he should. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust Dom, but he wanted to keep Dom off both SHIELD’s and Ross’s radar. Besides which he wasn’t entirely sure Dom would approve of his plan to threaten the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and, by extension, the Joint Chiefs.

“That’s okay, I understand. I’ve been busy myself, working. I have one more week here in D.C., and then I’m making the move to New York.”

“How’s that going?”

Dom shrugged. “My boss recommended me for the position, but he’s still sorry to lose me. It’s going to be a big change. I’ve lived in D.C. for a long time, but I’m excited.”

“I’m glad. Do you need any help? Finding a place to stay maybe?”

Dom shook his head. “No, I found a place, but since you brought it up, I do have a favor to ask.”

“Shoot,” Tony said. He was pretty sure he’d do whatever Dom asked if it was in his power, and there wasn’t much that wasn’t. Maybe it should worry him, but it didn’t.

“I know you’re busy, but I was wondering if you want to help me move? You can meet some of my friends, and we can spend some time together afterward. I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” Tony admitted. Being in different cities had been harder than he had anticipated. He didn’t want to lose this thing they were building between them before it even got off the ground.

“I’d like that. I don’t think anyone has ever asked me to help them move before, not even Rhodey. I can use my suit to fly all your stuff up to a window for you.” Tony actually did like the idea. And he was glad Dom wanted to introduce him to his friends.

Dom laughed. “I don’t think we need to go that far. So, next Saturday works for you?”

“Yes, it does.” Then Tony remembered something he wanted to talk to Dom about, and his stomach twisted.

“I know we agreed to take this slow, but we need to talk about the fame thing.”

Dom arched a brow “Fame thing?”

“Yeah. I can’t hide from it, and the more time you spend with me the more the paparazzi is going to notice you, too. I know that kind of attention isn’t easy for someone in law enforcement.”

Dom smiled. “It’s okay. In my new position, it doesn’t matter if people know me. It’s not like I’ll be doing undercover work. It’s good of you to be concerned, though. I know the paparazzi might be a pain, but I’m sure I can handle it.”

“Good.” Tony let out a relieved breath. “I didn’t want you to be blindsided. It’s been an issue in the past. Usually, though, a woman wanted to date me because I was famous, and they didn’t really care about me, but I’d hate for it to scare you away.”

“I can’t promise, but I really don’t think it will be a problem.”

“Okay, I’m glad. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Me, too.”

“Are you having fun talking to Jarvis?”

“I am. He’s a lot of fun and hilarious. I wasn’t expecting his dry humor, but I like it. He’s really great, Tony.”

“I enjoy our conversations as well, Dom,” Jarvis chimed in.

Tony started. “Sorry we’re talking about you like you aren’t here, J.”

“I do not mind, Sir. I can block out your conversation if you wish it.”

“No, that’s not necessary,” Tony said with a chuckle.

Tony turned back to Dom. “He is amazing. I’m glad you two get along. He’s enjoying talking to you too. He’s never had a friend before. I never really thought he’d want or need one, but I’m glad it’s going well.” It was an excellent test of Jarvis’s socialization skills, and Jarvis was surpassing Tony’s expectations.

One he’d realized Jarvis was truly sentient and sapient, he’d been worried about the balance between keeping Jarvis safe and not hindering his development. Until now, no one else had been interested in interacting with Jarvis, and Tony was so proud of how far Jarvis had come.

“I’ve been introducing Jarvis to jazz music, actually.”

“Really? You’ve been holding out on me, J. Are you enjoying it?”

Jarvis had access to a full music library, but Tony wasn’t sure how much he really appreciated it.

“It has been a fulfilling experience, Sir. Dom is a patient instructor. I am quite fond of Blues, although I also enjoy some classical music as well.”

“Really? That’s awesome. I’d love to listen to some of your favorites.”

“Of course, sir. I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but General Ruiz is on the phone for you.”

Finally. “I’m sorry Dom, I have to take this. It’s the Air Force liaison to SI.”

“I understand. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Text me the address and the other details. I’ll be there will bells on.”

Dom grinned at him and then hung up the call.

***

Tony arrived early at Stark Industries. Gabriel had agreed to meet him readily enough. Tony had offered to come to him, but Ruiz had declined. He always liked to meet Tony either in his home or his office at SI. So, Tony had scheduled this meeting there. He figured a somewhat public meeting space was the better choice for the conversation they were about to have.

He was nervous about this meeting. It could go wrong quickly, but Gabriel was a fair and opened minded man so Tony thought he would listen at least.

General Gabriel Ruiz was a good-looking Latino man in his early fifties He wore his uniform well, still had dark hair with only a little silver showing, and warm brown eyes. He greeted Tony with a bright smile. He’d been the SI liaison since he’d taken his current position, and Tony genuinely liked him and thought Gabriel was fond of him in return. He’d even been invited over to the general’s house for dinner a couple of times.

He was a formidable man, but quick with a smile, and he handled Tony’s personality quirks quite well. Tony knew he could be a bit much to take sometimes, but Gabriel was unflappable.

Gabriel came into the room along with an aide. He smiled at Tony brightly and gave him a manly pat on the arm in greeting as they shook hands.

Tony nodded at the airman that was currently Gabriel’s aide, and he nodded back.

“Let’s sit down,” Tony said. “Would you like some coffee?” he offered. There was a carafe sitting in the middle of the table, along with some pastries. “I got that Kona you liked so much last time.”

Gabriel grinned. “You know I can’t resist your coffee.”

“I know.” Tony poured them both a cup. He waited until they both got comfortable before speaking. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

Gabriel nodded. He was watching Tony carefully. “I was surprised by your call. Whatever you need to talk about sounds serious. Is everything alright?”

“There is a problem, yes, and I’d like to talk to you about it.” Tony glanced toward the airman, who was standing by the door. “In private.”

Gabriel nodded. “Of course.” He nodded at the airman who saluted and quietly left the room. “I’m always here to help you. I assume this is about the contract we signed for the suit? I realize that the Air Force is in violation of it. I’m not sure how Justin Hammer got a look at the suit, though. I swear it wasn’t us.”

Tony nodded. “I know you aren’t to blame, and I think we both know this was Stern’s doing. I’m sorry you weren’t at the meeting.”

“Senator Stern insisted on being the one to attend the negotiations. I’m glad you were able to arrive at a mutually beneficial arrangement. I understand SI will be suing for breach of contract, and while officially I’m supposed to object, but between us? Good for you. You gave the Air Force that suit in good faith, and you were betrayed. I’ll understand if you want Colonel Rhodes suit back.”

Tony took a sip of his coffee. “No, he can keep it. I trust you both with it. As long as he continues to be the only one allowed to pilot it.”

Gabriel smiled widely. “Thank you, Tony, that’s generous of you. On a personal note, War Machine is an extremely valuable member of my team. Our success rate is the highest it’s ever been, and our casualty rate has dropped to almost zero. On behalf of my team, I’d like to thank you for letting us have one of your suits.”

Tony smiled. “You’re welcome. Seeing what Hammer did to my suit was traumatizing. Seriously it was an outrage. I had to make sure it never happens again.”

Gabriel laughed. “You’ll be happy to know we won’t be doing business with Hammer Industries again.” He poured himself a second cup.

“I’m glad to hear it.” He paused for a moment. He was committed to his course of action, but he needed to tread carefully. He also needed to keep the upper hand.

“So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?” Gabriel prompted. he took a drink.

Tony leaned forward and clasped his hands in from of him. “I need to talk to you about the incident in Harlem between Abomination and the Hulk.”

Gabriel arched a brow, clearly surprised. “I don’t know why we’d need to discuss that. It’s a classified matter. I promise you it’s being taken care of.”

“Is it really though? I understand you’re reluctant to discuss it, but as you know the safety of America is if great concern to me. I know a great deal more about this incident than the average citizen, and I have some concerns.”

Gabriel was frowning hard now. He set his mug down. “What kinds of concerns?”

Tony drained his coffee cup before speaking, “I want to talk about Bruce Banner and how he became the Hulk.”

Gabriel opened his mouth, but Tony held up a hand. “Let me explain please.”

“Alright,” Gabriel leaned back in his chair. “I admit, I’m intrigued.”

“This conversation isn’t going to be easy, I’m afraid.”

“What do you mean?” Gabriel asked with a frown.

Tony picked up the remote he had next to him, and a still of the Hulk and Abomination fighting in Harlem appeared on the screen. “I know that Bruce Banner was working in a top-secret project involving gamma radiation. He was trying to recreate the serum that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America.” Tony pushed another button and a copy of a top-secret memo detailing the information showed on the screen.”

“How did you get that?” Gabriel demanded. “That’s classified information.” He half rose from his chair.

“Sit down, please. Let’s just say I have my sources, and I know they have our country’s best interest in mind. Anyway, Banner was developing a theory, but unbeknownst to him, Thaddeus Ross decided he didn’t want to wait for the normal scientific process to take its course. He was impatient, so he decided to use Bruce, his daughter’s fiancé, more or less as a guinea pig.”

Gabriel sat forward. “Who told you that? Your source?”

Tony nodded. He wasn’t going to tell Gabriel he’d heard that from Bruce himself. There was no point in endangering Bruce’s safety. Besides, a few classified documents were bad enough in Gabriel’s eyes. Still, he would look even less kindly on Tony harboring someone considered a “dangerous fugitive.”

“Well, it’s a lie. Banner decided to experiment on himself with disastrous results,” Gabriel said.

“Yes, that’s what Ross reported, but it isn’t true. Ross convinced Banner to expose himself to the gamma radiation. Even if it were true, however, that doesn’t mean Dr. Banner deserves to be hunted down like an animal. He’s a human being and a U.S. citizen.”

Gabriel leaned forward. “Dr. Banner is a dangerous threat. We simply want to contain him.”

“Really? Are you sure about that?” Tony brought up the video from Harlem. He let it play for several seconds. “Look at all the firepower General Ross brought with him. It looks to me like they are shooting to kill the Hulk. It also looks to me like the Hulk is defending himself against a threat and not mindlessly killing.”

Gabriel shook his head. “Tony, he killed several members of Ross’s team that night.”

Tony held up one finger. “First, how do you know it was the Hulk and not Abomination? It’s clear from this video that Abomination went on a rampage.” Tony fast-forwarded the video a bit. “Look at this…” They both watched as the Hulk avoided the mother holding a baby to her chest. As well as many people who were running around him. “He isn’t attacking any of these innocent people. Why not? Meanwhile, Ross’s men appear to be firing indiscriminately. They don’t seem to have much concern for innocent civilians.”

Gabriel’s jaw was clenched tight. “It was a difficult situation. I’m sure Ross was doing what he thought was best. Where did you get this footage? It’s much clearer than any other that I’ve seen.”

Someone at SHIELD had filmed the whole thing. “Like I said, I have my sources. Second, there’s something else I’d like to point out”. Tony fast-forwarded until he got to the part where the Hulk was strangling Abomination. Betty Ross speaks to him, and though the video can’t pick up her words, the Hulk clearly responds to her by letting Abomination go.”

“He clearly responds to her,” Tony repeated. “She is Banner’s fiancé, and the Hulk recognizes her on some level. He doesn’t seem like a mindless monster to me.”

“I see your point. Though that isn’t what I’ve been told. But I’m afraid I still don’t understand the point of this conversation. While I respect your contributions to the security of this country this matter has nothing to do with you.”

“I think it does. I believe the treatment of such a unique American citizen should be of interest to all of us. I think it could be argued that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are victims here and not the criminals Ross claims they are.

“The government might have tried to keep this quiet, and you might have tried to encourage the mainstream media to move on quickly from this incident, but we both know it hasn’t really worked. And the internet never forgets.

“The destruction of a large part of Harlem by a metahuman wasn’t just going to be swept under the rug. Especially since the government hasn’t given much of an explanation. There are still lots of people talking about this online.

“I think people would be interested to hear Dr. Banner’s story. Not to mention that Ross went ahead and experimented on another American and turned him into the being that everyone is calling Abomination. How do we know that Ross hasn’t experimented on others? In any case, the American people deserve answers.”

Gabriel was glaring daggers at him. He stood and walked to the window his back to Tony. “And you’re going to provide people those answers?” he asked calmly. “You do realize that releasing this information would cause chaos? Do you care about that? Not to mention you’d be committing an illegal act against the United States.”

Tony sighed. “I have more faith in people than you do, obviously. While the information might cause some problems initially, I think people can handle the truth. However, I do value the relationship that SI, and by extension, I have with you and the rest of the government. I don’t want to put that in jeopardy, but I will if you force me to.”

“No one is forcing you to do anything.” Gabriel’s fists were clenched, but he came back and sat down across from Tony. “Why are you doing this?”

Tony took a sip of his coffee before answering. He didn’t want to get into his more personal feelings, but Gabriel deserved an answer. “I think the Hulk is an individual all his own despite sharing his body and perhaps even memories with Dr. Banner. I think he deserves to be treated with all the respect a sentient and sapient life form deserves. Not to mention, Banner deserves a hell of a lot better from his government than he’s gotten so far. He doesn’t deserve to be treated like an animal.”

Gabriel’s face was rigid. “What is it you want from us exactly, Mr. Stark?”

Tony internally winced at the use of his last name, not to mention the tone, but he kept his face blank. “I want you to help Dr. Banner and the Hulk. I want you to make Ross back off and I want Bruce to be allowed to live his life free and clear. I also want you to make it clear that the Hulk was not responsible for what happened in Harlem.”

Gabriel glared at him but he didn’t say anything.

Tony took a deep breath and finished his list if demands. “I want you to make it clear that he was there to help stop the real threat, Abomination. and finally I want you to make sure Ross can never hurt anyone again.”

Gabriel snorted. “How exactly do you think I can make any of that happen?”

Tony leaned back in his chair. “I don’t think it will be that difficult to be honest. I think it’s Ross who presents the real threat to this country and to the world. Bruce Banner manages to control the Hulk quite well. It’s only when he is threatened by General Ross and his people that Bruce loses control. The Hulk’s main priority is to keep Bruce safe.

“We both know that Harlem could have been a lot worse than it was. The Hulk stopped Abomination. Yes, there was a lot of damage. Still, if Ross hadn’t been experimenting with gamma radiation, if he hadn’t been obsessed with capturing the Hulk, then that damage never would have happened. Ross is clearly a loose cannon.

“I think he’s a pretty big problem for the Joint Chiefs. I don’t know what he knows that is keeping him in his current position, but I think if you present this to your superiors, they will be happy to have a reason to clip Ross’s wings. While you’re at it, maybe you can take down the person who has been protecting him as well. After all, his crimes have been pretty heinous.”

Gabriel blew out a breath. “I have to say I never would have expected this of you. I think I understand why you want to help Dr. Banner, but I can tell you I don’t take kindly to being blackmailed, and neither will the Joint Chiefs.”

Tony nodded. “I understand that, but I don’t think of this as blackmail. Ross is dangerous, he has to be stopped, and this is your chance to prevent further illegal experimentation. How many more people are going to be hurt in his single-minded quest, not only to kill the Hulk but to create super soldiers for his own little private army?

“I think what he did to Abomination is proof of that. I’ll be keeping the information I’ve gathered, but you have my word I won’t use it as long as my conditions are met. Please make sure the Joint Chiefs are aware of that.”

Gabriel nodded. “I’ll take your requests to them, but I can tell you now they aren’t going to be happy. Don’t be surprised if you see fewer offers for government contracts. What guarantee do we even have that we can trust you?”

Tony shrugged. “SI has always taken its dealings with the government very seriously. I’d like to think I’ve proven my word can be trusted. But as it happens, I do have something to offer. While I won’t make weapons for you anymore, I would be willing to design better body armor for the Army or help you design a better jet for the other services.

“I’ve also started plans for a new navigation system for your jets that I could adapt for use in Navy ships. I am more than willing to work with the government on these projects if there is interest. Talk to the Joint Chiefs or the President. Whatever you need to do and get back to me.”

Gabriel crossed his arms. “Extortion and bribery. This has turned out to be quite the meeting.”

“Come on. Tell me the truth…Ross is a pain in the ass, and you’d love to see the back of him.” Tony grinned widely.

Gabriel ran his hand over his face. “I’ll admit he is a problem, and I won’t be sorry to see him go, but I wish you hadn’t involved yourself in this. There could be unforeseen consequences.”

Tony smiled genuinely. “I appreciate your concern, but I’m not too worried about being arrested or disappeared. I think the fact that no one wants this information to get out will prevent the first, and I’m too famous for the second.”

Gabriel scoffed. “I hope you’re right.” He looked down at his coffee cup. “Do you have anything stronger?”

“Of course,” Tony walked over to the small bar in the corner and poured two fingers of whiskey for Gabriel and a smaller amount for himself.

“I have your favorite.” He handed Gabriel his glass and then took a sip of his own.

Gabriel drained his glass in one long swallow. “Thank you.”

“Another?” Tony asked.

Gabriel shook his head. “No, I have to head back to D.C. tonight. Don’t expect to hear from me right away. I think all this is going to warrant a lot of discussion. Can I have a copy of the evidence you’d compiled?”

“Of course, I’ve prepped it for you already.” Tony reached into the briefcase and pulled out a thumb drive and handed it over. “It goes without saying that I have my own copies of all this, and I will use them if I have to. Particularly if anything happens to me or Dr. Banner.”

Gabriel held up a hand. “Yeah, I get that. For the record, while I’m not happy with you, I do understand why you’re doing it. I know your heart is in the right place. We’ve known each other for a long time, and I think you’ve made a lot of positive changes in your life. I’m proud of you even if you are a pain in my ass a lot of the time.”

Tony put his hand over his heart. “Ah, I feel so loved,” he said mockingly. But inside, he was pleased. He genuinely hadn’t been expecting this from Gabriel.

Gabriel just smiled at him. “I see you still can’t take a compliment, though.”

“In all seriousness, I hope I didn’t completely ruin my relationship with you. We’ve always gotten along well. I couldn’t ask for a better liaison.”

“Thank you, Tony. I enjoy working with you, too.”

“I also hope there won’t be any consequences for Rhodey. He has no idea about any of this.”

“Don’t worry. I wouldn’t let any of the shit come down on him no matter what, but no one is going to mess with War Machine. They wouldn’t want to give you a reason to take the suit away.”

He stood, and Tony followed suit. “This was incredibly unexpected, but you’re never boring. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have an answer for you. I hope Banner appreciates what you’re doing for him.”

“I hope he does, but honestly I’d do it anyway.”

Gabriel nodded and squeezed his shoulder. “That doesn’t surprise me.”

Tony walked Gabriel out. Then he went back to the office and gathered his things. That meeting had gone better than Tony had expected, though it had been stressful. Tony was good at reading people, and he was as confident as he could be that Gabriel would present the information. All they could do now was wait for a response.

Chapter 9

Tony got out of the car that had picked him up at the airport and looked up at Dom’s new place. It was a small-town house, built in the 1800s, that had been fully renovated. He started up the stairs, but even before he reached the door, it opened. Dom must have been watching for him. They met on the doorstep, their eyes met, and they shared a smile. Dom cupped his cheek before leaning in for a kiss. It was only a quick brush of the lips, but Tony felt his pulse quicken nonetheless, and a jolt of desire rushed through him.

He realized then just how much he had missed Dom. It had been a long time since a lover had affected him this strongly. He supposed their history and his long-standing trust of Dom had something to do with it.

“I know we haven’t been reacquainted for that long, but I missed you, and I missed this.” Dom leaned in for another kiss. Tony responded eagerly.

“You read my mind,” Tony said when he could speak again. This was happening fast, but it felt right. Still, he didn’t want to scare Dom away by moving too quickly.

“Are you two going to stand out there kissing all day?” a voice said from inside the doorway. Tony and Dom both jumped a little and turned slightly to be able to look through the door. Dom put his hand on the small of Tony’s back, and he leaned into the touch before he even thought about it.

“No one asked your opinion, Probie. You didn’t have to stand there watching us.”

‘Probie’ laughed as he approached the doorway. “Trust me, I wasn’t. I just wanted to know where you want me to put your nice china.”

“Ah, the cabinet in the living room is fine. But first, let me introduce you. Special Agent Tim McGee meet Tony Stark.”

They shook hands. “Tim and I used to work together at NCIS. Once upon a time, he was my team’s probie when I worked for Major Case.”

Tony listened with interest. Dom hadn’t mentioned much about his previous job. Tony found he wanted to know everything about Dom he could.

“It’s really nice to meet you. I can’t believe I’m meeting Tony Stark. It’s a real pleasure.” Prob–Tim grinned at him widely. “I’d love to hear more about how the Iron Man suit works.”

“Yeah, Tim is a real computer nerd, watch out or he’ll talk your ears off, Dom said with a chuckle.

Tim flushed a little. “I’m sorry, my excitement can get away from me,” he said. Even his ears had gone red. It was kind of cute.

Tony waved his words away. “It’s fine, I can try to answer some of your questions. Though there is some proprietary tech I can’t talk about.”

Dom clapped Tim on the back. “I was just kidding, Probie. I’m sure you and Tony have lots to talk about.” He turned to Tony. “Tim is a good friend and one of the best agents I’ve ever worked with. Let’s go inside.”

Tony followed the other two men inside. He was surprised to see boxes piled all over the place. “I was expecting to have to carry boxes, not that I’m complaining.”

Dom shrugged. “Nah, I was just kidding. I hired someone to do all the packing, but I do like to do the unpacking myself so you can help open boxes and figure out where to put all my shit.”

Tony nodded. “Alright, sounds good. Is it going to be just the three of us?”

“Yeah, my other friend Martin was going to join us, but he got called into work. He works for the FBI in the Missing Persons Unit. I’m sorry you won’t get to meet him.”

It felt good that Dom was introducing him to the important people in his life. Tony clapped his hands together. “Well then, let’s get started. Point me toward the first box.”

The three of them worked well together for a couple of hours, and Tony got a chance to get to know Tim a little better.

“So, Tim, you still work for NCIS.?”

“Yeah, in San Diego. I left D.C. around the same time Tony, Dom I mean, left NCIS for the FBI.”

“Didn’t want to work without Dom?” Tony was kidding, but to his surprise, Tim frowned.

“No, I didn’t, at least not at NCIS. There was a difficult situation with a coworker, and by the time it was resolved neither of us felt we could stay.” Tim looked down at the box he was unpacking intently.

Tony really wanted to ask for more details, but it was apparent Tim didn’t want to talk about it.

‘Well, I’m glad you’re both in a better place now. So, what did you want to ask me about my suit?”

Tim’s eyes lit up and he let loose a barrage of questions much to Tony’s amusement.

They were able to get several rooms unpacked including Dom’s bedroom. Once they were done making the bed. Dom pulled Tony close.

“I’m looking forward to trying out the new bed tonight,” he said kissing Tony.

Tony returned the kiss, and as he went to pull away, Dom pulled him closer and deepened the kiss. Tony gasped, and Dom took advantage sliding his tongue into Tony’s mouth. His heart was pounding in his ears as he leaned into Dom. They kissed slowly for several minutes before Dom finally pulled away. Tony was breathing hard, and his cock was interested. He sternly told himself to calm down, but damn it was hard to resist Dom.

“God, we keep getting carried away. But Tim is in the next room, so we have to stop.”

Tony nodded and made himself pull away. “Yeah, but hold that thought for later, okay?”

“Absolutely. I can’t wait.”

Tim left after dinner, and Tony found himself sitting close to Dom on the sofa watching an old basketball game on ESPN classic. Tony didn’t care that much about it, but Dom had always loved basketball, and Tony had enjoyed watching him play. They were both drinking iced tea.

“I enjoyed meeting Tim today.”

Dom turned to look at him. “I’m glad. I thought you two would get along. I hope he didn’t ask too many questions.”

“No, not at all. I enjoyed his enthusiasm, and he asked some really insightful questions.”

“I’m glad. Tim’s a great guy, and we’ve been through a lot together. He’s the only person I see from my time at NCIS these days. Well, I occasionally talk with Ducky, the NCIS medical examiner, but we don’t manage to see each other that often. He’s a cool guy though. You’d like him.”

That was a great opening if Tony had ever heard one. “Tim mentioned something had happened, and it sounded serious. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

Dom turned so that he was facing Tony. “But you’re curious?” Dom couldn’t be too upset about it since he was smiling at Tony.

“Well, turnabout is fair play.”

“I don’t mind telling you what happened. I can’t go into too much detail, but one of my coworkers, Ziva David, was a Mossad agent on loan to NCIS. Looking back, it was pretty weird that she was even assigned to my team, but we had recently suffered the loss of a teammate. My boss seemed to like her, so I didn’t say anything. I came to regret that.” Dom looked down at his hands.

“You were close to this teammate?”

“Yeah, I was. Kate could be a pain in the ass, but she was family. Losing her was tough on all of us.”

Tony set down his drink and touched Dom’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for your loss.

Dom nodded. “Thanks. I miss her.”

“Keep going. What happened?”

Dom took a sip of tea before answering.  “It turned out she was working with a fellow spy, and I found out when I went to confront her at her apartment.

“I found this other spy instead. It turns out they were lovers. He attacked me, and I was forced to kill him in self-defense. She was furious with me. Instead of backing me up, both my boss and the Director of NCIS dragged me to Israel so I could be interrogated by the head of Mossad, like some criminal.”

Tony felt a rush of anger. “That’s utter bullshit. Why on earth did your director allow that?”

“I’m still not sure. I think it had something to do with David and the director’s relationship.” He took another drink before setting the glass back down.

“David?” Tony said. “Was he related to this Ziva?”

“Yes, she was his daughter.”

Tony whistled softly. “The director of Mossad sent his own daughter to spy on our government?’”

“Yep.”

“I’m guessing he didn’t like that you broke his little girl’s cover or that you killed his other agent.”

“Understatement. Anyway, eventually David let me go home. Ziva was fired and arrested, and then returned to Israel. She isn’t allowed to reenter the U.S. I didn’t think it was enough, but at least she suffered some consequences. The problem is that some of my co-workers and my boss disagreed, and they blamed me for what happened.

“My boss didn’t seem to have any problem with me being dragged to Israel, but he was pissed she was gone. Our relationship wasn’t the same after that. I realized I needed to leave. I had several standing jobs-offers, and I decided on the FBI.”

Dom was one of the best and most loyal people he knew. Tony didn’t think much of anyone who didn’t appreciate him properly. He took Dom’s hand in his own. “I’m sorry that happened to you. You deserved better. I’m glad you walked away.”

“Truthfully, I should have walked away sooner, but I thought we were a family. I didn’t want to let them go, lose them. Especially Gibbs, he was important to me.”

“Important to you?” Tony asked.

“I was in love with him, and for a while, I thought he might care about me as well, but he made it pretty clear that wasn’t the case.” Dom said with a wince.

“I’m sorry. I have to say I don’t think very much of this man turning you away. He was an idiot.”

Dom grinned and leaned forward and gave Tony a quick kiss. “Thank you. That’s nice to hear. I didn’t think you were so romantic.”

Tony returned the smile. “You seem to bring it out in me.”

“Can I ask you something?” Dom asked.

Tony accepted the change in subject, though he was pleased Dom had decided to confide in him. “Of course. Anything.”

“Is it weird that this…” he motioned between them, “doesn’t feel weird at all? I mean we’re old friends, and I can honestly say I wasn’t attracted to you at school. No offense.”

Tony shrugged. “None taken. I know you didn’t see me that way. And besides, we were both too busy having crushes on James Mathis.”

Dom’s eyes widened. “James Mathis. Oh, my God. I hadn’t thought of him in years. Yes, he was hot. If I thought he was even remotely interested, I would have hit on him so fast his head would  have spun.”

“I know.” Jim had been the hottest guy at the Academy. Tony was certain he and Dom weren’t the only ones who had noticed him. At first, he’d been reluctant to discuss his bisexuality with Dom, but Dom had brought up the fact that he liked guys first and had made Tony feel comfortable. It had meant a lot at the time. His parents had been open-minded about such things, but Tony had always known other people could be prejudiced dicks.

Dom broke into his thoughts. “Anyway,  like I mentioned before when we decided to start hanging out again, this is the last thing I was expecting. Then I saw you, and the sight of you hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Tony grinned. “It was a little more gradual for me, but I feel the same way. I was worried I was moving too fast for you. I didn’t want to scare you off.”

Dom leaned back and pulled Tony closer. He leaned against Dom’s side, but they could still see one another. “You don’t need to worry about that. I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t been this comfortable with someone in a long time,” he added.

Dom wrapped his arm around Tony’s waist. “Me either. I know we said we’d take this slow, but…” Dom hesitated.

“But?’ Tony prompted.

“I was supposed to have a date last weekend. Martin set me up with a friend of his.”

“Oh, really?” Tony felt a stab of jealousy even as he reminded himself that Tony could date others if he wanted. They weren’t exclusive, not yet anyway.

“Yeah, he’s a good guy, but I canceled because I realized that he wasn’t the one I wanted to go out with. I found I was missing you instead. I want to see more of you. And only you. I guess I’m asking if you feel the same way?”

“I do.” Tony laughed softly.

“What?’ Dom cupped his cheek. “What’s so funny?”

“I’ve spent my entire life avoiding relationships. I mean, like the plague. Then Afghanistan happened, and Stane tried to kill me. I tried to pretend I was fine, but I think that’s when I realized I needed to make changes to my life, even if I didn’t want to admit it even to myself. Despite what almost happened between me and Pepper. I didn’t think I was ready for an adult relationship, and then you walked back into my life and changed my mind. I’m really glad you’re here.”

Dom grinned. “Me too.”

Tony decided he was done talking for now. He’d never been one for discussing his feelings, and he’d had enough for the time being. It was plenty to know that he and Dom were on the same page. “I think that our new relationship status deserves a celebration.”

“Oh yeah? What exactly did you have in mind?” Dom asked with a chuckle, but he was already reaching for Tony.

“I think I’m done holding that thought from earlier.” He pushed Dom down onto the sofa and eased himself on top, rubbing their cocks together through their clothes. Dom wasn’t hard yet, but Tony was sure that would change quickly.

Dom gasped softly then pulled Tony close for a kiss. He ran his hands along Tony’s back and grabbed his ass as if trying to pull him even closer. As they kissed, Tony made sure to keep up the friction between them. It wasn’t long before they were both hard in their jeans.

Dom eased back, gasping for breath. “Wait, I want to touch you.”

Tony wasn’t going to say no to that. He moved enough that Dom could do what he wanted. Soon, Dom had Tony’s jeans open, half off his hips and was jerking him off slowly. Pleasure raced up Tony’s spine.

“I want to touch you too,” Tony told him.

“Later, this is for you so keep your hands to yourself for now.”

Tony moaned at the order and fought the urge to close his eyes. He wanted to watch Dom jerk him off. Suddenly, Dom ran his hand for root to tip, increasing the pace, and Tony knew he was getting close. Dom rubbed his thumb over the tip of his cock.

“So good,” Tony gasped. “Don’t stop.”

“I won’t,” Dom promised. Tony couldn’t help but move as the pleasure built and suddenly, he came, the pressure exploding over him

He lay back against the sofa cushions. “That was great. Give me a minute to catch my breath, and I’ll return the favor.”

Dom smiled, “Don’t worry, we got all night.”

Yeah, they did, and if Tony had his way, they’d have much longer than that.

***

The next morning Tony woke up pleasantly sore and very content. He and Dom had taken full advantage of their time together. He smiled to himself as he realized he hadn’t had a single nightmare the night before. He’d been worried he’d wake Dom again.

He turned and realized that Dom wasn’t in bed with him. Tony was considering getting out of bed when the door opened, and Dom entered carrying a tray.

They grinned at each other.

“Hey, I was just about to come find you,” Tony said.

“I made us breakfast,” Dom replied. He lay the tray on Tony’s lap. There were two plates of eggs, bacon, and hash browns, and two coffees.”

Tony inhaled deeply. “It all smells amazing.”

Dom got settled back in the bed, and they ate in companionable silence for a while.

“I noticed you slept well. I’m glad you didn’t have any nightmares.”

Tony leered playfully. “You wore me out.”

Dom smiled, but his eyes were serious. “Have you given any more thought to talking to a therapist.”

“I’m still thinking about it, but I do have a couple of people picked out. I’m not sure if I’m ready, but I’m not saying no either.”

Dom nodded. “It’s your choice. I’m not going to push. I just want you to be as happy and healthy as possible.”

“I know you do.” Tony covered Dom’s hand with his own. With his other hand he finished the last of his hash browns. “This was delicious, thanks.”

Dom nodded. “Welcome. I’m glad you liked it. What do you want to do today?”

Tony shrugged. “Whatever you want, but I was wondering if you wanted to check out the construction site with me. I’m told they are ahead of schedule.”

“I’d like that,” Dom said as he finished his coffee. “It won’t be done for about a year, right?”

“Yeah, but I plan to spend as much time here as I can. We have a satellite office in New York already. But I want to keep a close eye on things. It’s going to be the new headquarters for SI as well as the first completely energy-efficient building in the world. If I can make this work, imagine what it will mean for the planet long term.”

“It’s going to be amazing. I’m going to help save the planet.”

“You are. I’m really proud of you.”

Tony felt a rush of pleasure. “For the first time in a long time I’m looking forward to the future. Plus Long-distance sucks. i can’t wait until we don’t have to deal with it anymore.”

Dom nodded. “Yeah it really does.”

Tony grinned, and he realized he hadn’t felt this happy in a long time. Then he remembered, “I forgot I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?

“Yeah, I’ll get it,” Tony started to move the tray, but Dom put a hand on his shoulder.

“It can wait until you’re done eating. It’s getting cold.”

Tony finished his breakfast and then jumped out of bed, suddenly eager to see Dom’s reaction to his gift.

He found the gift in the guest room where he had left his bag. It was wrapped in the paper he had printed especially with the bots’ pictures on it. He thought Dom would get a kick out of it. When Tony reentered the bedroom, Dom was waiting for him. He was lying back against the headboard in just his sweatpants. Tony got distracted for a second watching him. He really was beautiful.

Tony walked over and sat on the bed next to Dom. “Here, I hope you like it.”

Dom smiled and took the box. “I didn’t get you anything.”

“It doesn’t matter. This isn’t for a special occasion or anything. I just thought you’d like it. I also think it will be useful.”

“Okay. Love the paper,” Dom said, and he took his time removing the wrapping paper and revealed the item inside. He looked up at Tony in surprise. “A Stark Phone?” He took a closer look at the box. “Wow, this is the latest model. No one has these yet.”

Tony grinned. “It won’t be released for three more months.”

Dom was already opening the box. “This is great, and I’m not going to say no, but you know you don’t have to give me things, right?”

“I know. That’s part of the reason I want to.” The truth was if Dom let him, he’d give him much more than a new Stark Phone. He appreciated that Dom didn’t want him around for his money, but he liked making the people he cared about happy.

“Go ahead and turn it on,” Tony said.

Dom looked at him. “There’s more?”

Tony nodded and waited while Dom set up his phone.

“I can’t believe you haven’t been using a Stark Phone. I’m hurt, Dom. Please tell me you aren’t using a Hammer Tech phone. I think I’d have to reevaluate this whole situation.”

Dom snorted. “Oh please. I wouldn’t touch one of his with a ten-foot pole. I have an Android phone.”

“Well that’s better I guess.”

“Okay, I’m all done.”

“Good, let me see your phone for a minute.”

Tony took the phone and logged into his private server. He downloaded an app he’d created especially for Dom and handed it back with a flourish.

Dom grinned at him as he took the phone. He leaned forward and kissed Tony.

“Thanks.” He looked down at the phone, and then his head came back up, and Dom looked at him his eyes wide. “What’s this?” he asked.

Tony leaned forward. “You can click on it or just say his name.”

“Seriously?” Dom was grinning delightedly now.

“Yep. Go on.” He motioned toward the phone.

“Jarvis?” Dom asked.

“Good morning, Dom. How can I help you today?” Jarvis’s voice came over the phone’s speaker.

“It’s good to hear your voice, buddy. I don’t need anything right now, but maybe we can play a game of chess later.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” Dom put the phone down next to him on the bed. “This is amazing but unexpected. Why give me access to Jarvis?”

“I thought this would be more expedient than the calling you’ve been doing. You can talk to him whenever you want, and if you need me, Jarvis can get in touch with me. Or, if you need help, he can contact emergency services in a second.”

“This is amazing, thank you. I’m honored you’d give me constant access to Jarvis.”

“You’re the only one who has access to him besides me. I’m grateful to you. My kid has never had a friend besides me before. It’s been wonderful to see the way he’s opened up to you and embraced your friendship. I don’t want him to lose that.”

“That won’t ever happen if I have anything to say about it. I remember when you were just thinking about him. He’s amazing, and I enjoy being his friend.”

“I know I can trust you with him, and that means a lot to me.”

“Your trust means a lot to me too.” Dom leaned forward and gave him a playful smile. “So if you’re going to be in town more where will you be staying?”

“I figure I can stay with you when I’m in the city.”

“Ah, I see, I think I can get used to that.”

“Good. I plan to make sure you do, and once we’re all set up in the new place. We hope to return the favor.”

“You do, huh?” Dom cupped his cheek.

“Yeah, Jarvis and the bots miss you when you’re not around.”

“Just them?” Dom asked, leaning closer.

“Okay, I guess I miss you too.” Tony put his arm around Dom’s waist.

Dom grinned. “I miss you too. ”

“Good. Until the move is complete, I’m going to make sure I see you as often as I can.”

Dom smiled. “I’ll hold you to that.”

“Please do.”

Dom pushed Tony down on to the bed and Tony went willingly. As Dom started kissing his throat, it occurred to Tony that being in Dom’s arms was quickly becoming one of his favorite places to be.

***

Two weeks later, Tony was sitting across a desk from Gabriel once again. This time they were seated in Gabriel’s home office in Washington D.C. Tony had gotten a call a couple of days earlier asking for him to meet Gabriel here. Tony wasn’t sure if the setting was a good sign or not, but at least they didn’t seem to be arresting him and demanding he tell them where Bruce was.

Gabriel had led Tony into his study. The room was more like a library than an office. Books lined all the walls, and there was a fireplace in one corner. The room was masculine and comfortable; it suited Gabriel well. There was a pot of coffee sitting on the desk. After they sat down Gabriel poured them both a cup. Pleasantries over, he got down to business.

“Tony, I don’t mind telling you the last three weeks have been absolutely no fun for me. You created quite the kerfuffle amongst the Joint Chiefs. The Secretary of Defense wanted to throw you in a cell until you told us where Dr. Banner is hiding. Apparently, SHIELD has lost track of him. His last known location was Bangkok. I don’t suppose you know where he is?”

Tony shook his head. “No, I don’t, but I can get a message to him if need be. Will I have good or bad news for him when I do?”

Gabriel sighed. “Yes and no. The President has agreed to your requests with the understanding that you will provide all that you offered us. In return, Dr. Banner will be free to live his life, and we will make sure that the Hulk is exonerated in the public eye.”

“What about General Ross?” Tony asked.

“That’s a little more complicated,” Gabriel said with a grimace.

Tony wasn’t really surprised to hear that; he knew there must be a reason Ross was allowed to act without any consequences. “In what way?”

“The situation is complicated, as you know. General Ross has caused problems for the Joint Chiefs and the President, but he is also a decorated officer, and he has a lot of friends in high places. He was acting under orders even if he did step beyond them and experiment on human beings. No one wants that to get out, so we offered General Ross an honorable discharge and early retirement.”

Tony snorted. “I bet he wasn’t happy about that.”

“No, he wasn’t, but it was made clear to him he doesn’t have a choice. He won’t be able to come after anyone very soon. Dr. Banner and his alter ego will be safe from him.”

Tony thought Ross should go to prison, but he knew this was the best offer they would get. “Good. I’m relieved to hear it. What about Bruce, what kind of deal does he get?”

“The President and the Joint Chiefs are still not entirely convinced that he won’t be a danger to civilians. Can the doctor offer any other guarantees that he can control the Hulk?”

“Once Ross is no longer attacking him, then the Hulk should stay quiet. The Hulk comes out when Bruce is in danger. If Bruce is safe, then he will stay in control.”

“Alright, some of the data Ross compiled verifies that claim.”

Tony leaned forward. “What data? Ross hardly had time to study the Hulk.” Unless, of course, Ross had experimented on others after Bruce. After all, he’d managed to create Abomination fairly easily. It was possible.

“That’s classified. We are prepared to offer Dr. Banner his freedom. He is free to go where he wants and do what he wants, with the understanding that if Hulk does go on another rampage, then we will have to try and stop him if it looks like he’s endangering civilians. However, non-lethal force will be used unless there is no other choice.”

Tony nodded. “Alright, I’ll have to talk to Bruce, but I think he’ll agree. He’s not any fonder of the Hulk than you are. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone.”

“Good.” Gabriel pushed a couple of folders toward Tony. “I have papers for both of you to sign. This would have been easier if Dr. Banner had been present, but I’m sure you’ll make sure he gets them.” Gabriel’s tone was dry.

“I can, but it will take at least a day before I can get to him in person. I’ll make sure to get back to you as soon as I can.” Given how fast he could fly in the suit, he didn’t think he was giving anything away about Bruce’s location.

“Yes, see that you do. Everyone is anxious to get this matter settled.”

Tony nodded. “I understand, and I’m grateful for everything you’ve done.”

Gabriel met his eyes. “As for you, there was some debate about whether there should be consequences for your actions. But as you pointed out, we can’t exactly arrest you or drop you in a dark hole without anyone noticing, there is still information out on the Internet, and again no one wants to bring attention to any of this. So, the President has agreed not to pursue any sort of charges against you.

“We are contracting your services for the new navigation system, the new airplane designs, and the Secretary of Defense is interested in that new body armor you talked about. I have all the paperwork. There’s a separate contract with the Army, of course.” Gabriel laid out another file in front of Tony.

Tony didn’t let his satisfaction show. He picked them up without opening any of them. “Sounds good. I’ll need to have my lawyer look over it.”

“I assumed as much, but again please don’t take too long.”

“I won’t,” Tony promised.

Gabriel stood, and they shook hands.

Gabriel smiled at him. “Will you stay for lunch? Louisa and the kids would love to see you.”

“I’d love to.” Tony felt a rush of relief. He’d been worried that what he’d done had ruined his relationship with Gabriel for good. It was good to know that they were still on friendly terms.

***

Tony left Gabriel’s office and used his suit to fly, not to his home in Malibu, but to Long Island. He arrived at his family home and landed on the lawn. He had no staff at the mansion, so no one was waiting for him as he reached the back patio. He found Bruce sitting by the pool reading a book.

Bruce looked over at him as he walked up. “Well, what did he say?” He put his book on the table beside him.

Tony grinned. “I have some very good news.” He went on to explain what the President and Joint Chiefs had decided. When Bruce heard that Ross had been forcibly retired, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“I’m free,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, you are. You don’t have to look over your shoulder anymore.” He reached out and patted Bruce on the shoulder.

“Thank you, Tony. This is more than I ever could have hoped for.”

Tony looked at Bruce’s relieved face, and he knew that he’d done the right thing. Truthfully, helping Bruce had helped Tony too. It felt great to know he’d been able to make a difference in Bruce’s life. No wonder his mother had always believed in helping others.

“It was my pleasure. Gabriel did stipulate if the Hulk goes on a rampage, the military will try to stop you. To protect civilians.”

Bruce nodded. “Believe it or not, that’s actually comforting. I’ve never wanted the big guy to hurt anyone. I’m all for stopping him if it’s necessary.”

“I know. You realize the Hulk is a part of you, right? I know I’ve brought it up before, but I think it’s worth saying again.”

Bruce clenched his fists. “I know you believe that, but I prefer to think of the big guy as being entirely separate from me. But I’ve been giving thought to finding better control and to that end I think I’ve found someone who was able to help me. Now that all this is settled, I’m going to be going away for a while.”

“Where are you going?” Tony felt a surge of disappointment. He had been hoping Bruce would stick around.

“I’m going to Nepal. I’ve heard that there might be someone there who can help me find a balance with the other guy.”

Tony thought about that for a moment. “Monks doing lots of meditation?’ he asked

Bruce smiled gently. “Something like that. Anyway, I’m hopeful it will make a difference.”

Tony nodded. “I hope it does. So how long will you be gone?”

“I’m not sure, several months at least.”

“Well, when you come back, I want you to know you’re always welcome at my place. Once the Stark Tower is built, you can have your own personal floor and a lab. The offer will always be open to you.”

“Thank you, Tony. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve such kindness from you.”

“You didn’t have to do anything. We’re a lot alike, you and me. I saw a fellow scientist suffering, and I wanted to help. I’m delighted I was able to.”

Bruce reached out and took Tony’s hand. “You’ll never know how much this meant to me. You’ve given me my life back. Maybe someday I’ll take you up on your offer.”

“Anytime, and you can stay here as long as you like in the meantime.” He handed Bruce the folder. “Look over this agreement and then sign it and give it back to me. I can send a lawyer over tomorrow to go over it with you if you like.”

Bruce shook his head. “No, I think I can handle it. In fact, if you wait, I’ll look over them right now.”

Once Bruce had the signed papers, Tony flew back into the sky. He probably should go back to Malibu, but Tony acknowledged that there was only one place he wanted to be.

“Jarvis? Call Dom.”

“Yes, Sir.” The sound of ringing surrounded him, and Dom’s picture popped up on his display.

When Dom answered, the sound of his voice made Tony smile. “Hey, you, I thought you were busy this afternoon?”

“I was, but I’m free now, and I’m unexpectedly on Long Island. I was wondering if I could see you later?”

“Well, I have to work for the next few hours, but you know I’m always happy to see you.”

“Good, I’ll meet you at your place when you get off work.”

“Excellent, I’ll see you in a few hours. Are you flying around in that tin can of yours?”

Tony heaved an exaggerated sigh. “I really wish you wouldn’t insist on calling my suits such terrible names. It’s a sophisticated piece of technology, and I picked out the colors myself.”

Dom laughed. “Alright. It’s stunning. You have good taste. Better?”

“It’ll do.” He blew Dom a kiss. He couldn’t keep his happy smile off his face.

Dom laughed. “Be careful, please. I want you in one piece.”

“Yes, Sir. I’ll be careful. I’ll be waiting for you at home.” Tony froze as he’d realized what he’d said. When had he started thinking of Dom’s place as his home? Or maybe it was Dom himself that was home for Tony. Being with him mattered far more than the physical location.

“Yeah, I’ll see you at home,” Dom replied. “Let’s eat in.”

Tony felt a rush of warmth, and before he could stop himself the words, he’d wanted to say for a while escaped him without permission. “I love you, Dom. I know this is fast, but I do. I can’t imagine my life without you now.”

Tony held his breath and waited for Dom’s response.

Dom sighed, and Tony felt as if his heart stopped. “Only you would do this over the phone. While you’re flying. While I’m at work and I can’t leave. I love you too, Tony. Of course I do. When I get home, I’ll show you how much.”

His heart started beating rapidly and he sighed in relief. For a moment, Tony could only stare at Dom’s picture. Then he found his voice.  “I will definitely look forward to that.” Tony grinned like an idiot as they said a final goodbyes and hung up,

Dom’s words still running through his mind, Tony smiled to himself. Dom loved him. The knowledge thrilled him. When he’d been dying, he had never imagined this was where he’d end up, but he wouldn’t change anything. He’d taken charge of his life and changed it for the better. Tony had found happiness and stability and love, none of which he had ever expected to have. With a smile, Tony turned and flew toward the man he loved.



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desertpoet

I discovered fanfic way back in 2007, but I only started writing it five years ago. I mostly write romance and slash, but I enjoy reading all kinds of stories. Coming Home is my first novel-length story. You can find my work on ao3 and Wild Hare under the same name.

30 Comments:

  1. Fun and exciting story.

  2. I think what I like most was the Tony was more present in his own life, and was more discerning about those around him.

    Lovely story, I very much enjoyed reading it. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Oh thanks for putting your finger on a major factor. You’re right, he’s not just reacting and being battered between others manipulations. He’s really active in assessing and making choices. It looks good on him. :). I’m also picturing Jarvis quietly tucking the love declarations into their own little file.

  3. Very enjoyable read, thanks for the entertainment 🙂

  4. What a lovely story! Thank you for sharing it! 🙂

  5. Hey there, this was great! Everything felt real, all the relationships and interactions. I loved how you treated Tony and Pepper, getting things said but maintaining the core relationship. I always love when Jarvis gets to have other friends as well. Nice job!

  6. Loved this! Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you for sharing this delightful story with us. It was fun and a joy to read.

  8. Reaper of Ghost Gum Pie

    Nice. Thank you

  9. Awesome story

  10. That was so great!

  11. Nice story! Writing a story with two Tony’s as the main characters must have been quite tricky. It was quite interesting to see the ripple of changes that occured due to your initial deviation. 🙂

  12. Yay! Wonderful story! I love a take charge and kick ass Tony! It was great!

  13. That was lovely!

    Thanks for writing and posting!

  14. Great Story. Thank you for sharing

  15. Great story! I loved seeing a more mature yet still himself version of Tony and Dom was a perfect companion for him. The relationship growing with them was lovely and made things even better. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Good story, thanks for sharing it with us

  17. I loved this. Thank you for sharing it

  18. Great story! Thanks for sharing.

  19. I love what you did with this. The changes you made felt natural and worked beautifully. Of course, I am always a fan of Tony DiNozzo in anything, but I think he works very well when combined with Stark. I enjoyed this story a great deal. Thank you very much for sharing.

  20. Recklesswanton

    I really enjoyed this! I do love a Tony who protects himself. And Dom works as an excellent foil for him – it’s fast becoming one of my fav pairings! Thank you for posting this. 🙂

  21. Daneru Melodie

    I loved Tony not being held hostage in his own home and being threatened with a taser. Recognizing and walking away from Fury’s manipulations was superb. I liked Tony help to eliminate Ross sooner than canon and giving Bruce a chance.

    And of course, a good sub plot with Tony Dinozzo is an added bonus. Thank you for sharing.

  22. You know I love it, but I’ll say it again, I love it!!! The more I read this story the more I feel that this is the way things should have been. You did such a great job!

  23. Lovely story, gorgeous romance, thank you.

  24. I enjoyed the way Tony was able to help Bruce and prevent all the problems he had later in cannon. It’s great to see them both free of SHIELD from the beginning. Thanks for the fun read!

  25. That was great! Thank you!

  26. That was lovely. Thanks.

  27. It’s fascinating to see the difference that Tony deciding to tell his friends the truth made.
    He seems more in control of his life and is in a better place to start a relationship.

  28. Lovely story! Thanks for sharing!

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