Universe: Iron Man MCU Pre-Avengers
Theme: Action, Drama, Romance
Even though it was the middle of the night in Manhattan the S.H.I.E.L.D. building was buzzing as though it were midday. When the team from Massachusetts returned chaos had met them. However much improved this chaos was in comparison to what had happened on the hill in Massachusetts, it was stressful nonetheless. Coulson had wanted an immediate debriefing after their arrival but it had been short lived given the urgency of the situation. There was much work to be done and no one considered going home that night, not even Tony who often objected to working this late for anyone but himself.
Coffee became a permanent fixture in nearly every room and even Thor enjoyed a few cups of it as he regaled them with stories of his very first cup after he’d arrived in Midgard. Despite the air of tension throughout the building everyone seemed rather good humored. While it seemed as though the attempt to stop the creature from crossing over had been a colossal failure that night, it hadn’t been a total loss. Useful information had been gathered and they had created less devastation than at any of the other event sites thus far.
Blood had been shed and wounds of course had to be dealt with. Most of the crew had been too stubborn to draw attention to it but Natasha had suffered a very obvious concussion when she’d knocked her head. In true Black Widow style she continued working in spite of it but Hawkeye promised to keep an eye on her just in case after she had refused to go home. Thor had help from Mickey and Jinx to get cleaned up but had also insisted he would keep working. Mitchell had refused to allow anyone to touch her and had cleaned herself up. No one argued.
Scarlett had been working nonstop alongside Bruce to try and properly recalculate what needed to change in their prototype in order for it to properly work. As three in the morning rolled around there was still much they hadn’t figured out. With the computers having gone haywire through the whole ordeal it wasn’t like they’d had any readings to go off of, only what they could recall and guess.
Tony had been back and forth between the groups, helping where he could. His brilliance was in high demand but as the night wore on his mind grew weary. After all, even geniuses reached their breaking point. Usually he could spend days awake when he focused on something of this magnitude but the hangover from that morning was still fresh in his memory. Alcohol was not being kind to him. If he felt like crap, then surely he knew Scarlett had to be feeling just as terrible. Sure, she hadn’t gotten drunk but only a few nights ago she’d been stabbed in the damn shoulder and as far as he knew, that hadn’t been healing the way she’d hoped. How could it when she kept attacking demons?
While Tony had no intentions of actually apologizing to anyone, he certainly didn’t want to distance himself from Scarlett any further. Even though they were fighting and things had seemingly been on a downward spiral since then, he still cared about her. Maybe if he spoke to her and said what was on his mind he could focus a bit better on the task at hand. That was much easier said than done, of course. Tony’s mind was brilliant, yes, he would happily admit that, but it was also rebellious. No matter how much he insisted this wasn’t an issue to be addressed now it kept popping into the forefront of his mind. There was no chance of him focusing until he got it out of the way.
So, while he was walking back toward the situation room to speak with Phil Coulson he happened to see Scarlett walking out of Bruce’s laboratory with an arm full of papers and decided to seize opportunity. Now was as good a time as any and she was looking particularly exhausted and distracted. She hadn’t even noticed Tony was there and walked right past him! Talk about a blow to his ego.
“Scarlett?” Tony followed her and she stopped abruptly and turned her attention to him at once. She really hadn’t noticed he was there. What did that mean? Was she not looking for him? Had he become insignificant and so quickly at that? Where were these fears even coming from? It wasn’t like Tony to care so much about one person’s opinion of him and yet here he was. Maybe he was over thinking it. In fact, he was almost definitely over thinking it. He needed sleep. And food. And a massage. Among other things.
“Hey, everything alright?” Scarlett held the files close to her chest and looked him over. Tony didn’t seem okay and she was worried but what could she do about it right now? There were more important things to deal with than their relationship drama. She didn’t need it in her head when she was focusing on portals and demons. He didn’t either. Clearly, he didn’t seem to agree with that line of thought. Despite how similar they were in some ways they were also very different.
“You didn’t even notice me.”
“I was sort of in my own world.” Scarlett tapped the files she held and saw that Tony looked wounded. “What is this? You’re acting like an insecure teenager. Cut the crap, Tony. I really was just thinking.”
“Ouch.” Tony pouted and then wondered if that was true. Of course, Scarlett hadn’t meant to overlook him! She’d just been engrossed in her own thoughts. Not everyone was as hyper aware as Tony was all the time and even then there were days where Tony looked past what was right in front of him.
“Do you need coffee? I know it’s crappy S.H.I.E.L.D. coffee but the caffeine helps.” Scarlett nodded down the hall, hoping that he’d walk with her at the very least. Coulson would have to wait, he wanted to have coffee with Scarlett.
“It can’t hurt.” Tony walked with Scarlett down the hall and for a moment they walked in silence. The small cafeteria was empty for the time being. Not many people had stopped to grab a bite to eat or enjoy their drinks. When they did, they took it with them on the fly. There was too much going on in the building and people didn’t have time to stay still. It was eerily quiet.
“Any luck with Coulson?” Scarlett prepared a cup of coffee for him, not for herself, just like she had done that morning when he’d woken up with the hangover of the century.
“I was just on my way to see him actually. Widow and Hawkeye kept me busy for a little while. They’re in over their heads, you should go check on them.”
“Let them stay busy. Natasha shouldn’t be here in the first place. But she’d say the same about me so I can’t argue.” Scarlett nodded knowingly and brought Tony his cup of coffee, resting it in front of him on one of the nearby tables. He didn’t sit down where she’d left the cup but instead turned his attention back to where she was again browsing through the papers in her arms.
“You’re not going to have one with me?”
“I’m practically made of coffee at this point.” She joked, but had considered making another cup. Overdosing on caffeine was something she was hoping to avoid but the exhaustion that was already a problem for the two geniuses was compounding. The added physical stress of the battles they’d been a part of was not making it any easier to stay functioning properly. Scarlett knew the side effects that came with not sleeping and even after eighteen hours they were debilitating. Soon, the two of them would be completely useless. Maybe it was time to bring this up to Coulson. They could sleep in shifts while the others worked. Even an hour or two of rest would prevent their brains from shutting down periodically for brief seconds. Those shut downs were not healthy.
“You need sleep.” Tony sat down in the chair and winced, feeling the wound on his side ache. He’d nearly forgotten about it since he’d been so damn busy. When the time had come to clean up he’d completely avoided being taken care of. He didn’t enjoy strangers touching him, at least not in that sort of way. Wound cleaning had always been a sore spot for Tony. Scarlett had practically had to chase him down half the time to make sure he was taken care of.
“Yeah, sure I do.” Scarlett scoffed and then sat down in the chair across from Tony. “Are you alright? You’re acting really weird.”
“You haven’t been sleeping… for weeks now.” Tony skirted the question. Scarlett had a knack for avoiding subjects that made her uncomfortable by simply ignoring them. He’d fallen for it time and time again but today was not going to be one of those times or at least he hoped. “You need to rest.”
“You’re right. I do.” Scarlett nodded her head. It was the first time they’d actually spoken about the lack of sleep which was probably a giant oversight for them both. She’d focused on taking care of Tony and keeping him company instead of harping on the problems in question. When she’d tried to ask him what was wrong, to be fair, he wouldn’t tell her so it wasn’t like she hadn’t tried. Eventually it’d become a weird dance of manipulation and avoidance until finally they’d blown up at each other. He leaned against the table and took a sip of his coffee, made just the way he liked it. Still, the cup was too bitter, nowhere near comparable to the beans that he’d had imported from Brazil at home. Maybe he’d import some to S.H.I.E.L.D. too so that the next time they had to pull an all-nighter the coffee wouldn’t taste like crap.
“I am? Really?”
“You haven’t been sleeping either though. I wish I knew why.”
“Hey, don’t make this about me.” Tony turned toward her and made a face that clearly told her he was in pain. Avoiding eye contact, Tony wasn’t at all surprised when Scarlett moved to the chair on the other side of him and pulled his jacket aside forcefully. Blood seeped through his shirt where he’d been harmed by the shadow version of her hours ago. Much to his surprise, she didn’t scold him, she didn’t say a damn thing about it. Instead she got up and walked across the room and began digging through cabinets.
Tony watched her thoughtfully and then couldn’t help but smile when she pulled a first aid kit from a lower cabinet and brought it over to the table. She sat next to him on the floor and pushed his chair away from the table with her foot, much to his surprise. Sometimes he forgot that his Scarlett was considerably strong.
“I don’t sleep because you don’t sleep, so this actually is about you. I thought you liked when everything was about you.” Scarlett looked up at him, but didn’t seem upset by this fact. It was as though she was just explaining away her sleeplessness by blaming it on him but that wasn’t at all the case. Tony knew that there were a number of reasons why she wasn’t sleeping and while one of them had to be that she wanted to take care of Tony, there was something deeper to it than that. She’d been having nightmares long before he’d been crippled by insomnia. “Jacket off.”
“But I’m chilly.”
“Don’t make me force it off.”
“I’d really love to see that. Why would I avoid that?” Tony smirked but then winced as she touched at the area around the wound. Without another word he pulled off the leather jacket and let it rest on the back of his chair.
“Scarlett, you are taking all the steam out of public sex.”
“I know, I’m not the sex bomb you thought I was. Now would you take off your damn shirt?”
“Only because you asked so very nicely.”
“Sure I did.” Scarlett chuckled under her breath and waited for Tony to take off his shirt with a smile.
“Why couldn’t I just hold it up?” Tony peered at the wound on his side.
“You could have, this is a much better view. More fun for me, really.”
“Oh, you dirty girl.” Tony chuckled, purposely flexing but then pouted when he felt the pain pulse through his side. “Your other half is not nearly as sexy. Just throwing that out there.”
“My other half wanted to murder us both so I agree.” Scarlett scoffed. It bothered her that there was someone out there who looked so much like her, but what could she really do about it? This other version of her existed in another universe. She likely had her own story, with her own life. How many other versions of her were out there, really? Living their lives without knowing the others existed? How many multiples were there? Were there other versions of Tony? The very thought made her head spin. All she could focus on was the here and the now. The wound Tony had sustained in the fight, that was real and she could focus on it.
“Your other half is a bitch. Am I allowed to say that?”
“Always. I give you permission to call my doppelgangers whatever you like.” Scarlett smiled softly and then began to clean up the area around the wound. Tony inhaled sharply and attempted not to squirm away from the cold cloth against his skin. Silence met the two of them and Tony found himself watching her simple movements. There were a thousand jokes he could come up with about her there on the floor in front of him but none of them seemed good enough to share. There were too many things on his mind. She should have been mad at him. Wasn’t she? Didn’t she say that she was? It didn’t seem like she was mad.
They hadn’t gotten to talk all that much and he hadn’t apologized. What was she doing? Last night he’d nearly cheated on her and it was all over the papers and the next morning she’d made him coffee. Then he’d acted like a territorial jackass when she’d been interacting with another agent and instead of yelling she was cleaning up his wounds. He wanted her to fight him, he wanted her to be mad. Maybe she wasn’t ready to fight yet. Maybe she’d given up. Either way, not knowing was driving Tony crazy. The sound of his thoughts was far too much to bear.
“I miss you.” Tony spoke before he’d realized it. It was true. He missed her. He missed fighting, he’d missed playing, talking endlessly, working together. The list went on and on but Scarlett merely continued to clean up his wound and it stung like a bitch. He cursed under his breath at the pain but then smiled in memory of something else. “That first time we were together you were cleaning up my wounds like this.” It was true. One of Tony’s favorite and least favorite memories. They’d finally given into the passion between them while Scarlett was taking care of the wounds he’d sustained in battle. The next morning Tony had woken up to find that Scarlett had hacked into Jarvis and had taken a good number of his files, then had stolen his car. She’d met him that morning with coffee too. He’d referred to it recently as the incident and didn’t like to draw attention to the fact that a woman had given him a dose of his own medicine.
“I’m right here, why do you miss me?” Scarlett carefully closed the wound to the best of her abilities before wrapping a bandage tightly around it to hopefully get the bleeding to stop and begin the healing process.
“I’m lonely. Ever since we fought it hasn’t been the same.”
“Tony, I love you.” Scarlett sighed, putting the first aid kit back together. Cocking an eyebrow, Tony seemed somewhat skeptical of this fact. The word hadn’t lost meaning, not since they’d first started saying it. Of course, it became routine to say it every day but it wasn’t any easier for them. Tony took these words for what they actually meant. Scarlett hadn’t thrown the term around loosely, he knew that much about her and hell, he’d practically ruined their potential relationship out of fear of saying it so he knew how much it meant to him. “One fight, even as big a fight as it was, isn’t going to change that.” Scarlett washed her hands in the sink after she’d put the first aid kit away. She was going to take every precaution she could to prevent further infection. Her shoulder was a damn mess. She needed real help with it, but who had the time for that sort of thing? Once this situation with the universes, demons, and portals was done with she’d find someone to take care of it. There was a brief pause in her mind as she considered how absurd that sounded.
Tony exhaled with relief. Why had he doubted that she would still love him in the first place? Relationships like this one were still alien to him, more than the actual aliens they’d been dealing with. Sure, Tony had girlfriends in the past but they were never like this. This meant something. This was real. If he lost it, he didn’t think he could go back to being the person he was and that scared the hell out of him. Among other things, Tony had realized that person was long gone the night before. He’d grown and changed, not because Scarlett had asked him to, but because he wanted to.
“You’re an idiot.” Scarlett turned away from the sink and folded her arms over her chest. “You’re an idiot and I’m really pissed off at you. I’m not going to forget that. We need to talk about it. Hell, we need to fight about it.” Tony was somehow relieved to hear all of that. He was beginning to think she hadn’t cared at all. Here he was letting it eat him alive that he’d done a number of terrible things to her in a short period of time and she wasn’t responding at all. She wasn’t even acting angry with him. “But we have things to do. I’m still going to be here after all is said and done. I know you will be too. I’m not going to scream and fight and wind up in some closet with you at S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters, not today. We have time for that later.”
“You’re right.” Tony could at least admit that. He wanted that fight, he wanted it more than anything.
“I am, for more reasons than you know.” Scarlett stepped toward him and couldn’t help but grin. “Trust me, I have far more to say about what happened than what has been said thus far. But there’s a time and a place for this and it’s not now; not here.”
“You’re absolutely right.”
“Buttering me up is not going to help you.”
“I’m being genuine, if you believe that.” Tony pulled his shirt back on over his head and readjusted it. With the wound clean he felt ten times more energized than before… or maybe it was the coffee. Who knew? “I was beginning to think you weren’t upset about it.”
“You have no idea. I’m livid.” Scarlett shook her head. “I will tell you this right now. I am not dealing with the blowback of your media bullshit. You can figure that out on your own. I’m not going to answer questions about whether or not you slept with so and so…”
“I didn’t sleep with anyone! Some chick molested me while I was drunk.” Tony argued.
“What did I just say?” She stepped away from him and ran her fingers through her hair. “We’re not having this fight here! And I wasn’t saying you slept with anyone and if I have to string all those words together one more time I’m not going to be so nice.”
“And here I was worried you weren’t upset...”
“Look, the media part of this is your problem, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not going to defend you. If anyone asks me I’m going to tell them you’re an idiot and an asshole.”
“Well then maybe I should handle the media… Asshole I can deal with, but idiot’s a new one.” Tony held up his hands defensively and walked toward her.
“Don’t pretend it was your idea. I’m telling you that the media is your problem to deal with.” She narrowed her eyes at him but couldn’t help but feel relieved that he agreed. Tony was grateful that she didn’t pull away when he wrapped his arms around her.
“I want to fight about this so badly, you have no idea.”
“If you try to fight me on this right now you’re going to wind up subdued on the floor.”
“Subdued in a sexy way?”
“Not at all.”
“Well, then I should get to work, shouldn’t I?” Tony laughed but not before stealing a kiss. Scarlett purposely turned away to avoid his lips and looked away from him. “Oh, you minx…”
“Go get to work.” Scarlett nudged his shoulder but then kissed his cheek and wiggled out of his arms. His face was scruffy and it tickled.
“Fine…” Tony planted a wet kiss on her cheek in return which she wrinkled her nose in response to.
“God, you need to shave.”
“I know! I know.” Tony laughed and then reluctantly started out of the room, feeling much more confident than when he’d entered. When they weren’t upset with each other he would have to tell her how amazingly she handled this situation. He most certainly hadn’t handled it as gracefully.
“You forgot your jacket.” Scarlett walked over to the table and grabbed it for him. Before Tony could respond a third voice echoed through the doorway.
“Am I interrupting?” Steve walked toward them down the hallway. Tony took his jacket from Scarlett and slipped it back over his arms.
“I was just on my way out.” Tony nodded down the hall. “I’ve got to talk to Coulson then I promised Dr. Banner I’d help him with the remainder of the tests he wanted to run. He’s got Thor and Mitchell down there with whatever voodoo it is they do. We’re trying to see what we can do with their…whatever it is to counteract that thing that’s crossing over.” There was more denial about the existence of magic in that sentence than any of them was willing to admit.
“I promised Mitch I’d keep tabs on the others but I’m going to check on Natasha and Clint before I head that way.” Scarlett nodded but stopped when Steve looked gave her a serious look.
“Before you go, can I have a word?” Steve had hoped that he could keep her there alone and hadn’t anticipated Tony being with her. With any luck he would go on his way and he could talk to Scarlett without him. Things never went well when Tony was a part of the conversation, and he doubted there would be any leeway when he was talking to the man’s girlfriend.
“Of course. I’ll catch up with you, Tony.” Scarlett gently patted Tony’s shoulder. He gave her a knowing look, offering to stay with her if she needed him and she shook her head no.
“Don’t keep her long, Rogers. We need her.” Tony disappeared down the hall, a considerable skip to his step at least in comparison to the slumped walk he’d had before he’d spoken to Scarlett. Maybe now with the air cleared, at least a little bit, between them they could really focus and get things done.
“You must really love him to put up with all the nonsense he puts you through.” Steve didn’t understand it, not for a second. He wouldn’t make any attempts to.
“I do.” Scarlett nodded and leaned against the door frame. “You may not see it but we’re kindred spirits. We’re both the same level of screwed up. Real romantic, right?” She laughed and Steve looked more confused than ever. Dating had certainly gotten weird in the time he was encased in ice at the bottom of the ocean. “In spite of the drama he brings with him I can’t help but love him. He loves me despite my many shortcomings too. We’re a real mess, I suggest you don’t try to think about it very hard.”
“I don’t get it. I don’t want to.” Steve shook his head but like Scarlett had suggested, he wasn’t going to think about it very hard. Her relationship with someone he didn’t like was going to have to be separate from his professional relationship with the woman herself. “We have a ton of work to do before this next anomaly takes place… that’s if you still want to be my partner. Coulson wanted to see us, I think. He thinks that Dr. Banner’s machine bought us some time.”
“The problem was never me, Rogers, if you recall.” Scarlett had actually enjoyed working with Steve that night. He’d had her back and she’d, in turn, had his. “How’s the…” She nodded toward his side and he looked down at himself in confusion.
“Oh, right.” He’d nearly forgotten that he’d been injured and considering that the wound was already healed and scarred over there had been good reason for that. “It’s fine. All better now.”
“Sure could use some of that magical healing of yours.” Scarlett rotated her shoulder, hoping that he would take it as the joke that it was.
“I’d share if I could.” The maker of the super soldier serum that had made Steve the man he was had taken its secrets to his grave. There had never been a replica of the serum that had the same effects. Steve had been the perfect super soldier and while there were many copy cats and many other attempts none had been close to the original. “So, how about it? Still partners?”
“I thought we didn’t have a choice?” Scarlett laughed, but she wasn’t going to give Steve a hard time. This version of him was far improved to the one that had belittled her the day before. Why were all the men she knew so damn moody?
“There’s some fieldwork that we’re going to have to do. I don’t know all the details yet but they’re putting together a team to head out as soon as the daylight hours hit. Agent Pierce, Agent Bennett, and Agent Romanoff are the spread so far. I was hoping that you would be willing to head up that team with me. Bennett will be our eyes and ears, Pierce our tech, and Romanoff our backup. I wanted her to stay behind after her concussion but…”
“Natasha’s not the type to lie around and take it easy. It’s better to let her work, trust me.” Scarlett knew from experience just how Natasha operated. “If she wants to be our backup then let her be. When we’re out there it likely won’t be necessary anyway.”
“I’ve been meaning to ask how on earth you two know each other.” Steve smiled a little bit.
“You were too busy treating me like one of your soldiers to get to the good stories, Rogers.”
“About that…” Steve held up a hand and then patted himself down. What on earth was he doing? Scarlett watched him with amusement. Finally he reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out the small pendant from the night before. The evil eye glistened underneath the lights of the S.H.I.E.L.D. hallway. “I wanted to give this back to you.”
“Oh, really?” Scarlett had nearly forgotten about the incident the night before. She’d made such a big deal about the stupid good luck charm but hadn’t really meant any of it. It was the point she’d been making that had mattered. Steve had lost his mind and had assumed that just because she was dating Tony Stark, she must behave like a woman who was dating Tony Stark. With that opinion in his mind she hadn’t stood a chance as his partner. Any respect she’d gained when they’d first met had been forgotten by the preconceived opinion he’d had of her before they’d even met. Tony had some explaining to do when it came to Steve Rogers. Scarlett was partially afraid of what Tony would tell her. Surely he’d just been trying to drive Steve a little nuts or make him uncomfortable, but still.
“I jumped to conclusions about… many things yesterday.” Steve couldn’t even begin listing the things he’d thought. In fact, just thinking about those things made him blush and the entire concept made his head spin. “I know this is a good luck charm of some kind that Miss Bennett gave to you.”
“Yeah, she seems to think I’m cursed or something. I mean, she’s probably right but still, the nerve of saying it out loud. People these days and their lack of tact…” Scarlett clicked her tongue in disapproval.
“I want you to have it back. I don’t know what was wrong with me. I let Stark get in my head.”
“That is the last thing you should let Tony do. It’s his favorite place to screw with people.” Scarlett found this all very humorous.
“I knew that. You see, I knew that and I still behaved like a jerk anyway and it’s just not like me!” Steve smiled, relieved that Scarlett didn’t seem to be holding any of his prior actions against him. “I wanted to say I’m sorry for the way I behaved.”
“Could you by any chance tell Tony how to pronounce that word? It’s a real tough one for him…” Scarlett chuckled but then cleared her throat seriously. “It’s alright. You needed a kick in the ass to get it together. Happens to the best of us… even super soldiers. I’m not going to make the mistake of thinking you’re Captain Perfect. You’re still human.”
“I am.” Steve felt a huge weight lift off of his shoulders. He’d carried these thoughts around with him all day. It was why he’d gone out to that class earlier! Painting made him feel better, it helped remind him that he was human and capable of error. The only way to deal with mistakes was to make up for them. The best he could do was apologize and try to learn from them and that was exactly what he’d planned to. Unfortunately the craziness of the day had prevented him from doing that until now.
“So, we’re good?” Scarlett nodded.
“We’re good.” Steve held out the good luck charm to her still. “Will you take it back? Even though I don’t think you’ll need it.”
“Oh, really? You’re full of good tips tonight. Can you fill Jinx in on that? She keeps looking at me like I’m about to burst into flames.”
“Even if you do have bad luck, Miss Damien, it won’t matter.”
“Why is that, Rogers?”
“Because I’ll protect you just like you protected me tonight.” Steve nodded. It wasn’t that he thought Scarlett needed protecting, even though he’d come from an earlier time he’d had nothing but the utmost respect for women. “You’re my partner and you’re good at what you do. I was wrong to think that you were any less capable simply because of what Stark said about you. Even if half of what he said is true, you have more than proven yourself to me.”
“I’m really hoping that less than half of what he said to you is true.” Scarlett was apparently full of wisdom tonight. She’d cleared the air with Tony, now she was clearing the air with Steve. It was the most social productivity she’d ever done at three in the morning or probably ever. Social interactions had never been Scarlett’s forte (at least when she wasn’t trying to manipulate someone) but it seemed that the key was to fake it until she made it and she was making it… or something. She wasn’t sure what she was doing, but this was certainly an improvement on the way that things had been.
“It’s none of my business.” Steve nodded. Scarlett took back the good luck charm. She’d had no intentions of keeping it because of what it represented when Jinx had hidden them in her pockets the night before but now she would hold onto this one. It was an apology from Captain America and how many people got those? Scarlett had never been sentimental but maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing to be after all.
“Let’s go see what Coulson wants us to do.” Scarlett nodded her head and with that the two forgot about the past and moved forward down the hall toward the next part of their mission.