8 July 2012
Tony paced around his hotel room, worried about the situation back in New York. He was due downstairs for dinner in an hour, but he wasn’t feeling remotely social.
“Jarvis, how’s Dom?” Since Tony had been read in on the investigation, Dom had okayed Jarvis to keep Tony updated if he asked. When he’d checked an hour ago, Dom and most of his team were asleep at their desks since it was barely dawn in New York.
“Dominic is in the field with Sentinel Edgerton, following up on a tip.”
Tony blew out a breath, pressing his hand over his arc reactor, as if that could stop the way his heart was hammering. “J, have the jet on standby, and please call Richard.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Hello, Tony,” Richard Turner’s smooth tenor came over the line.
“I need to bow out of dinner and tomorrow’s meetings. I urgently feel that I need to be home.”
“Feel?” Richard pressed.
“Yeah.” He rubbed his chest just under the arc reactor. “Dom’s working a case that I don’t feel good about. I know it’s dumb, and he’s a complete badass, but I feel like I need to be closer to home.”
“You should never discount that sort of feeling, Tony. Your connection to Dom might be telling you something. So, by all means, head home. I’ll smooth things over with the others.”
Tony wanted to ask what he meant about a connection, but he didn’t feel like he had time for chitchat. He’d rather just take the suit and be home in about an hour and a half, but part of his preliminary agreement with the Security Council was that he wouldn’t use the suit to cross international boundaries except in an emergency. Also, he’d agreed to file a report with them every time he felt the situation “merited” emergency use of the suit across international lines. Unfortunately, his bad feeling didn’t rise to the level of an emergency.
Tony’s jet was always monitored by Jarvis and kept fueled, so it was simply a matter of getting a departure window, waiting for his pilot, and clearing customs, which was done from the jet while he was waiting for his runway time. In total, he had to wait less than an hour once he reached the airport.
Once he was in the air, he unbuckled his seatbelt and started to pace.
“Should I tell Dominic that you’re en route, Sir?”
“No, don’t distract him unless he needs to know for some reason. What’s going on now?”
“He’s at the Baxter Building, meeting with Dr. Banner and Dr. Richards. Dr. Banner is attempting the same gamma radiation scans that he used to find Loki’s scepter.”
“Is that working?”
“They’ve found some traces, but the amounts they’re looking for are so negligible, they all feel this is the proverbial longshot. However, Dominic has suggested that U and Dum-E be moved into one of the high security rooms in the building’s substructure.”
Tony rubbed his hand over his face. Those rooms could withstand the building coming down on them. It made him feel things he didn’t want to think too much about that, with everything going on, Dom was thinking about U and Dum-E’s safety.
“Yeah, that’s good. Get them to dock first and initiate a full back-up. Do your own back-up too.”
“Of course, Sir.”
“Also, since it’s a Sunday, I want the building empty and locked down except for the comings and goings of Dom, Bruce, and Betty. Call it maintenance on the arc reactor or whatever. I don’t care how, just get the building empty.”
An hour later, Jarvis reported that the building had been successfully evacuated without raising any alarms or suspicions, though Pepper had apparently been asking some pointed questions. Also, the kids were locked down in the secret substructure well below the parking levels. There was no reason to think whatever was going on would affect Stark Tower, but Tony wasn’t taking any chances.
It was a further hour after that when Jarvis said, “Sir, the nuclear robots have been released at various points in the city.”
“Dammit! Get the suit ready, and tell the pilot I’m taking off. He should stop in Los Angeles unless he hears otherwise. The airports in New York might wind up closed.” Tony had a hatch built into the back of the plane where he could safely depressurize and fly the suit out. “Report our situation to Richard Turner and let him know I consider radioactive robots in New York an imminent threat.” He yanked off his tie.
“Yes, Sir. Director Fury is on the line.”
“Motherfucker!” Tony threw his suit jacket to the side. “As soon as I’m in the suit, put him through.” He sealed the rear door then activated his sensor bracelets, waiting as the suit formed around him. The HUD came up, and he did a quick check through all systems before opening the rear door and flying out of the plane.
“You ready to get off the bench, Stark?” Fury said, sounding almost pleased.
Tony adjusted his trajectory. “Being benched sounds like you weren’t willing to have me on your first string, Nick. Oh wait! You weren’t. Iron Man, yes, Tony Stark, no. That’s how it went, right?”
There was a silence. “That was a miscalculation.”
“Everything you’ve done with me has been a miscalculation. All you ever needed to do was shoot straight, but you had to try to manipulate me.”
“Whatever happened in the past, the world now needs the Avengers. These damn bots tromping all over Manhattan prove it.”
Tony had a suspicion that this whole mess might prove why Nicky’s super-secret boy band actually wasn’t needed. At least, not attached to SHIELD, who didn’t play nicely with others. “I happen to know the threat alert went out with specifics about how all agencies should respond to the threat if it should happen. Let’s see if SHIELD can follow instructions, shall we? And before you ask, of course I’m on the way.”
The connection went dead then Jarvis said, “I am managing group comms, Sir. You are being patched in now.”
“Who all is on?”
“Sentinel Rossi, Sentinel and Guide Edgerton, Dr. Richards’ team, Dr. Ross, Dr. Banner, Sentinel Thompson, Guide Monahan, Guide Sandburg, and Sentinel Ellison. Sentinels Edgerton and Rossi are also on comms with the FBI. You are now connected.”
“So you guys started the party while I was gone, huh?”
“We’re rude like that,” Dom replied.
“I’m en route. ETA fifty minutes.”
“Yeah, okay. It’ll be good to have you here. Jarvis, Jim and Scott are mobilizing the sentinels. We need to get eyes on one of these bots to see if we can figure out where the reactor is so we know what to avoid. Have you figured out a method to their madness?”
“My current estimate is that they are all converging on the Baxter Building.”
“Dammit! We’re moving to intercept,” Dom said.
“I’m deploying sentinels to all eight known groups of bots,” Ellison said.
“Are we surprised that Victor is sending his bots here? Can we call them Doom Bots?” Johnny Storm said. “Anyone? Bueller?”
“Knock it off,” Sue Storm said sharply. “Focus.”
Jarvis continued, “They’re ignoring civilians unless they get in the way. Reports indicate that two have died so far. Police officers and other first responders have adhered to the threat alert and are focused on keeping people off the streets and are not opening fire. They’ve closed all roads leading into Manhattan. There appear to be ten bots in each group. One bot was hit by a car and is still crawling along.”
“Containment breach?” Tony asked.
“I’m not detecting spikes in radiation, but better to cordon off the area around it, evacuate, and leave it alone until we know it’s not about to rupture,” Bruce offered.
Tony hated being so far away when all he could do was listen to the team coordinate.
A few minutes later, Dom said, “I’ve finally got eyes on. Jesus. I can’t tell where the reactor is.”
“Why?” Tony asked urgently.
“The whole torso is giving off elevated heat signatures. We thought we’d be able to see where the— hold on. I’m hearing…fluid?”
“They’re using some sort of liquid to cool everything down. It could be actual coolant, but that’s not even important,” Tony said sharply. “It doesn’t matter where the reactor is because everything in that housing could be radioactive once the fuel pellets break down. We can’t afford to rupture the torso at all.”
“Wow, that sucks,” Johnny said breathlessly.
“That means knees and arms, kids.” Dom was obviously commanding everyone’s attention. “I haven’t seen armament first hand, but reports are that it’s coming from the gauntlets. If we cut off the knees and then the arms, they can’t move. Then let hazmat sort ‘em out.”
“That’s crazy,” Johnny said.
“Johnny!” Sue said. “Stay on task.”
“I have no task. I’m pretty much useless here.”
“He can’t burn their arms off?” Kyle asked.
“No,” Dom interjected. “We know there are high-yield explosives in the gauntlets somewhere, and heat is bad both for the nuclear reactors and for setting off whatever munitions they might be loaded with. Sentinels are moving in with swords. We can do the heavy lifting on this one. Dr. Richards, if you’d kindly help with rounding them up. Dr. Storm, shields would be helpful. Jarvis, I need an evac for Dr. Ross.”
“Dom!” Betty protested.
“We’re not arguing about this. Obviously, I’d have never set up there if I knew it was the target. Green Bean is our backup plan, and he’s not going to be able to stay on task if you’re in danger. And you very well could be if you stay in the building. Eighty robots converging on that building is not what I’d call safe.”
“Yeah, all right.”
“Do I even want to know what the backup plan is?” Tony asked.
“Here’s hoping we won’t need it, but I have film of our training session. As soon as the sentinels assigned to my location are here, Ian and I are going to come up behind this group of bots and see how effective arm and leg removal are. Jim and his team are coming from the north, Scott and team from the south. We have five other teams Jarvis and Penelope are coordinating comms for.
“McGuire,” Dom said clearly to someone on FBI comms, “you catch that? FBI is on crowd control and evac only.” There was a pause. “Helicopters on standby would be good.”
Tony asked, “How are you removing arms and legs?”
“Swords, of course,” Dom said dryly.
“Right.” Tony was really going to need to see footage. Sentinels had a thing for close-range weapons, which was why most sentinels had a host of bladed weapons and a great many had swords as well. He wanted reassurance that they were all in radiation suits, but he knew the kind of suit they would need in the event of a containment breach wouldn’t allow them to fight effectively.
The next fifteen minutes sounded like utter chaos to Tony. He could hear screeching metal and what he was sure was gunfire. There were even a few explosions.
“Please tell me a bot didn’t just explode,” he asked, worried.
“No, they’re launching explosive rounds at the sentinels,” Kyle said. “The sentinels are able to anticipate it and duck because sentinel reflexes are much faster than these damn bots, but they just took out an Apple Store.”
“You’ve got to hit them at the knee servo or above,” Dom said breathlessly. “Below and they crawl too effectively.” There was a loud clang and the sound of tearing metal. “All right, we got six. The other four left us fighting these six and pressed on. We’ve got to catch up.”
“Sentinel Rossi,” Jarvis said sharply, “SHIELD has deployed the Avengers near the Baxter Building to wait for the bots’ arrival.”
“Please reinforce the mandate that they are not to shoot at them!” Dom said urgently.
Suddenly, there was a loud, piercing wail followed by shouts and screams.
“Sir, high frequency emitters and strobes have started activating from all street lights on the paths. Olfactory shock grenades are detonating.”
Tony wanted to ask about Dom but he set his personal interest aside. “We can’t do anything about the grenades. What about the lights and the emitters? If we have to, shut the power down to Manhattan.”
“That may be part of the plan,” Bruce said urgently.
“How?” Tony demanded.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think we can afford to follow a script like cutting the power. This is too well coordinated.”
“Jarvis, can you just cut the lights? Are the emitters and the lights together?”
“I’ve found a street light upgrade project that was approved three years ago. There are twelve identified paths where the street lights in Manhattan would be modernized.”
“Twelve?” Bruce repeated.
“Should we be looking for more bots?” Sue Storm asked.
Tony quickly interjected, “We have to assume Von Doom co-opted this project to set his little bobby traps because no one would look twice at city workers doing pre-approved work. He paid someone off to use something convenient. Look into there being more bots, but let’s not assume there are more. We need to focus on getting those lights and emitters shut down. Bots are secondary for the moment because we need the sentinels functional first.”
“I’m in the power grid,” Penelope Edgerton broke in. “The design of this grid is crazy. It’s all or nothing, but we can take the lights down individually. It allows them to do repairs. I’m not fast enough to get them all. Jarvis?”
“I’m here,” Jarvis said. “I need forty-five seconds.”
“Damn, look at you go.” She whistled lowly. “The strobes and frequency emitters are tied together and should be coming down one at a time. I’ll be switching to private channel to talk Ian through getting back in control.”
“Jarvis, what’s going on with Doom’s bots?”
“They’re continuing to their destination. The populace seems to be panicking at seeing so many sentinels in distress. Local law enforcement is maintaining control for the time being and helping sentinels off the street.”
“Sentinel Rossi is non-responsive. I do not have a visual of his last known location.” Jarvis actually sounded stressed.
“Are his comms working?”
“Yes. Guide Agent McGuire is attempting to talk to him over the FBI channel.”
Tony didn’t know if he was being jealous or stupidly territorial or what, but he went with his gut. “Override their comms and put me on with him. Private channel.”
“Tony,” Dom immediately gasped. “There are you are. I was trying to find your heartbeat. I think I got lost.” Dom sounded dazed.
“You can hear my heart through the comms?”
“Yeah. Then nothing.”
“They cut you over to the FBI comms when you stopped responding.”
“Don’t go away.”
“I won’t, I promise.”
“Everything is so loud,” Dom said softly, his voice sounding pained.
“The sound was cut off, Dom. I can’t hear it over comms anymore. It’s just echoes. Dial it down for me, okay?”
“If I do, I won’t be able to hear you. I need to hear you.”
“Don’t give me that shit, Rossi, I know you can pick a single sound and shut it down. You keep my voice and my heartbeat and you turn the rest off, you got me? Just shut it down and regroup.”
“Yeah.” There was the sound of labored breathing. “God, it stinks, Tony.”
“I know it does. Just listen to my voice and my heart.” He swallowed heavily, astonished that Dom was listening for his heartbeat over their communication radios. The sound of muffled gagging reached him. “I’ll sympathy vomit, Rossi, and that’d be bad in the suit.”
“You have nothing to apologize for.” The background noises were alarming, with bangs and screaming, but it was muffled and distant. “Are you safe right now?”
“Yeah. Cops are covering me, but the bots moved on—people are just freaked out. I gotta get my head together.” He blew out a breath.
“Did you take your sword to some bots like a badass?”
“Cutting legs and arms left and right. Sentinel swords are supposed to be adamantium alloy.”
“Difficult alloy to work with.”
“Yeah. And mine is getting nicks.” Dom sounded personally offended.
“I’ll make you a better sword,” Tony promised.
“You make all the cool stuff, Stark.”
“Damn right I do. You sound like you’re breathing a little easier.”
“I had the plague once. I told you that, right?”
“Yeah. That must have been rough.”
“Mm. Strong smells that gag me remind me of feeling like I was suffocating in that isolation unit. Not sure why. It really throws me.” Dom sounded clearer than he had even a few seconds ago. “So both cases are the same thing.” There was the distinct sound of movement.
“You on your feet again?”
“Yep. I’m leveling out.”
“Sir,” Jarvis broke in on their line, “the Center is sending reinforcements. They feel with the sensory overwhelm most of the sentinels are dealing with that lower-level sentinels are the best choice. They have the same strength advantages, but less chance of sensory collapse now that the sound and strobe lights are dealt with.”
“Good plan, Jarvis,” Dom answered. “Officer,” Dom said to someone on scene, “I need you to coordinate getting any sentinels who are not back on their feet within five minutes into that building. Then contact the Manhattan Center and tell them where you are. They’ll send guides to evac them back for medical care. Do not let them be picked up to be sent to a mundane hospital.”
“Yes, sir,” was the muffled response. “You have my word I’ll keep them safe.”
“Good man.” Dom coughed a few times. “You good to go, Ian?”
“Jarvis, sitrep then get us back on group comms.”
“All sentinel teams reported the same issues. Sentinel Ellison and Sentinel Thompson are improving at almost the same rate as you and Sentinel Edgerton. No one else has recovered yet. I’ve relayed the instructions you just gave to officers at every location and fed the coordinates of the wounded sentinels to the Center. I’ve been feeding updates to the rest of the team, but no one has altered the plan. SHIELD has not engaged with any bots as the bots’ progress is slow as they continue their trek toward the Baxter Building.”
“But why?” Dom said.
“I can’t believe these two cases converged,” Ellison said as the larger team was conferenced in. He sounded hoarse.
“We’re missing something obvious,” Dom said sounding tired and frustrated.
“Dom, take the time to work it out,” Tony prompted. “You know both cases. What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” Dom insisted.
“Give me your gut reaction, Sentinel,” Tony said sharply.
“This is all a distraction! We’re chasing bots, who could have been let off closer to the Baxter if that was their real goal, but they’re taking this long path where we chase them around right into sensory traps that have made most of Manhattan a nightmare. It all feels like a game to keep us busy.”
“So that you don’t see what?” Tony pushed.
“What he’s really after. The test run was a kidnapping—he tried to keep something hidden from us. So he’s going to try to keep something hidden again.”
“And what does Victor Von Doom want?” Banner asked.
“Oh fuck,” Richards breathed. “He’s after Sue.”
“And where is Sue now?” Dom asked urgently.
Bruce answered, “She’s down on the street with the SHIELD team, her brother, and Mr. Grimm, making sure SHIELD doesn’t do something crazy like open fire. She was on comms with just her team because she also needed to be on SHIELD’s frequency. But she’s not answering Richards. Neither is Johnny. Grimm reported that she said she and Johnny were headed to help the nearest sentinel team. He and Richards are looking for them now.”
“Tony, how far out are you?” Dom asked.
“Ten more minutes.”
“I don’t now how to find her in this mess. Von Doom was obviously waiting for her to come down to street level with everyone distracted. But we’ve got damn bots everywhere that have already killed people. I can only deal with what’s in front of me, and Richards was part of our primary plan for rounding up the bots once they got closer. I gotta work the bot problem.”
“I’ll find Sue. Just go kick some Doom Bot ass.”
“I…I need to be able to hear you, so leave your channel open.
“Can you block out me working a separate action?”
“Yeah. Mute me if you need to.”
“I won’t. The channel will stay open.” Tony took a steadying breath. “Be careful.”
“Jarvis, if your multitasking gets challenged, let me know.”
“It won’t, Sir. I’ll be able to coordinate for the team and still provide any assistance you require.”
“Block my comms to anyone but Dom.”
“Anyone but you recording?”
“No. I’ve encrypted the channel. No one can eavesdrop on this line.”
“I’ll be coming in hot, but I’d like some idea where I’m headed. I don’t care what you have to hack, get thermal imaging over New York for the last hour.”
The miles flew by while Jarvis worked and Tony listened to what the rest of the team were going through. He winced when the sentinels caught up with the bots again. The sound of swords hacking away at metal was shudder-worthy. And the occasional sound of energy weapons or explosion was more than a little alarming. Jarvis put a last-known status for Dom up on the HUD so Tony wouldn’t have to ask how or where he was. Dom was faring well in the battles. Ellison was also doing fine. Thompson and Edgerton were both struggling with sensory spikes but were continuing on and kicking robot ass.
He was barely two minutes from New York when the sentinels and the bots all made it to the Baxter Building. The sounds of engagement got louder, including Dom doing some epic telling off when someone used the wrong weapon.
“Sir, I have thermal imaging for the time when Dr. Storm-Richards went missing. They’ve found Mr. Storm unconscious in an alley that matches up with areas I’ve highlighted on the satellite images.”
“Take over piloting while I assess these.”
“Goddammit, Rogers!” Dom’s voice came in at a yell. “Do not use your shield on those bots!” An epically loud clang of metal on metal nearly rattled Tony’s composure. “Back off! And now my sword is broken on your dumb shield. Someone get me another fucking sword!”
“Incoming, Rossi,” Kyle said sharply.
The reply of someone not on comms was too muffled to make out.
“No!” Dom yelled, obviously angry. “I don’t care if there was a civilian in harm’s way. Arms and legs only! We’ve been perfectly clear about that. You don’t risk killing hundreds or thousands to save one person!” There was another pause. “Oh, stuff your morals, you star-spangled asshole!”
Tony nearly choked.
“Did you SHIELD-iots really not explain nuclear fallout to this guy before you put him in the field? Un-fucking-believable. Stay on task, Rogers!”
“Oh, hell,” Tony breathed, rapidly coming to conclusion about the images he was seeing on his HUD. “Dom, I think Von Doom brought her back into the Baxter building.”
“I’m confident about my channel to you, Tony, but not so sure about anything else. He’s been one step ahead of us the whole way. You got this? I’ve still got a bunch of—whoa! That was close. I’ve got bots to deal with.”
“We’ll handle it. Jarvis, put me on with Richards.”
“Busy. Yeah, aren’t we all. I’m coming to your location. I’ve got an idea, but I need to talk to you in person.”
“Would you just not be in charge for five seconds? I’m about to land on your damn head, and it’s not like you’re making any damn progress on your own!”
Richards blew out a breath. “Ben and I are waiting.”
“Well, heads up.” A second later, Tony landed with a bang right in front of them. “Jarvis, cut all their comms. Keep only my channel to Dom open.” He raised the face plate, and glared at Richards and Grimm. “I think Doom took her back into the Baxter.”
“Based on what?”
“Thermal imaging. I can go through the ins and outs about how I drew my conclusions, or you can get on board with helping me and we can deal with him now, then I can get my fair share of the bot destruction party. But I’ll be more confident in my estimation if you can answer me this…based on your space shenanigans that gave you all your abilities, would a containment breach on any of those bots be dangerous for you?”
“No, probably not,” Richards admitted.
“So he can stay close and be at no risk?”
Richards looked skeptical, but nodded.
“You’re going to trust him?” Grimm asked.
“I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, he’s smarter than I am.”
Tony promised himself he’d gloat about that later. “If I’m right about where she is, I’m so holding that over your head. Now, based on what I saw on the satellite images, it looked like there was thermal activity leading right up to the side of the building, but there’s nothing on the plans for an entrance there.”
“There’s a secret door behind—” Richards broke off when Tony caught his arm and held him still, causing the limb to stretch in a way that sort of freaked Tony out. Richards’ abilities were appalling in Tony’s estimation.
“Let’s not go in the obvious way, okay? He’s going to have traps and a plan. He’s making sure we’re all running around chasing our tails and once the bot battle is done, we’ll all be elsewhere looking for her and doing containment, and he’ll probably exfil her from a fucking helicopter right on your damn roof. So let’s let him think he’s won and walk in the front door to go back to your lab to try to figure out where he went.”
“But we’ll really be going to where she’s being held.”
“Best to assume he’s watching. Do you have a guess where she is?”
“There are a couple empty apartments on the first couple floors, plus we evacuated the building,” Grimm answered.
“You’ve got a couple minutes to make your best guess.”
Grimm asked, “Will the sentinels be able to sniff her out?”
“Maybe, but I kind of doubt it. We have four on their feet right now and the incoming sentinels aren’t strong from a sensory perspective. Doom had a very good test he already ran that proves they can’t smell their way around this garbage.”
“One of those OSGs went off right near our front door,” Grimm complained, rubbing his rocky-looking nose.
“Which was a clue, I guess.” Richards rubbed his hand over his face. “Let’s go.”
“I’m going to fly in ahead of you. It’s suspicious if we’re together.” He didn’t give them a chance to argue, he just lowered his faceplate and took off, heading right for where the sounds of fighting could be heard.
He had just a fraction of a second to appreciate the awesomeness that was Dom with a sword, hacking a Doom Bot at the knees and watching it fall.
Tony landed just outside the front doors of the building, behind where several SHIELD agents were. The agents were, for some reason, funneling bots down the alley to the side of the building.
“About damn time you showed up, Stark!” Romanoff called out.
He ignored her, using his precision, narrow-beam lasers to take five bots out at the knees. When two of the bots immediately tried to roll over and lift their arm to fire, Dom was there hacking the arms off.
Tony noticed very few impacts to the Baxter building, while other buildings were nearly in shambles. And wasn’t that another big fucking clue?
He headed to deal with the bots the SHIELD boys were letting into that alley. He could at least incapacitate them while he waited for Richards and Grimm to catch up.
He stopped in his tracks the minute he entered the alley. “Okay, someone really needed to warn me about this.”
“That was plan B!” Dom said over the comms.
“I’m going to cherish this moment for the rest of my life.”
“Tin man!” Hulk rumbled from where he was sitting in the middle of the alley, very carefully plucking up bots—while somehow ignoring anything they fired at him—and happily ripping their arms and legs off. Then he tossed the limbs willy-nilly before neatly stacking the squirming torsos. He had about twenty.
“Nice collection, Green Bean.”
“Funny man teach!” Hulk shot him a toothy grin.
“Did he now? Did he teach you the difference between the good bots and bad bots?”
“Good bots like To-nee. Bad bots have hot bellies. No smash.”
“Very nice. I guess you don’t need my help.”
“More bots for Hulk.”
“Coming right up!” He spotted Richards and Grimm running down the road, but he had plenty of time to redirect a few more bots Hulk’s direction.
Johnny Storm staggered out from the lobby just as the others joined caught up. He was obviously shaking off a head injury, but he seemed okay. “They got Sue,” he said urgently.
“We know,” Richards said then looked to Tony. “We got this. Help them finish up. There can’t be more than fifteen or twenty left.”
“Just call if you need me.” Tony waded into what was left of the battle, though he could easily see that swords were preferred over anything anyone else was using. Rogers was pretty effective at getting the arms off with the shield, but not the knees.
Most of the SHIELD agents had gotten with the program and were putting themselves in harm’s way to get the bots into the alley for Hulk.
Barton’s efforts seemed to be limited to precision aim to get arrows into the servos at the joints to stop them from functioning. It was hit or mess whether it worked. Romanoff was helping where she could, but she wasn’t strong enough to go up against the bots directly and her preferred weapons were all a no-go.
Tony had to be careful how he used his lasers—no one could be standing on the other side—but he took several down at the knees quickly, letting Thompson and Ellison come in behind him to deal with the arms.
Suddenly, the sentinel reinforcements arrived. All fresh to fight, and all carrying big-ass swords. The remaining bots began dropping like flies.
He worked his way to the far side of the building, opposite of where the alley was, and spotted a civilian huddled across the street against a brick wall. The young man was damn lucky he was in one piece considering how many chunks of that wall were missing.
Rogers spotted the young man and called out, making tracks to protect him. It caught the “attention” of one of the last bots, which followed Rogers.
“Rogers!” Dom called, skidding into view in front of Rogers at a forty-five-degree angle from the bot. “Watch your six!”
The bot was nearer to Tony but he wasn’t close enough to do anything but fire a laser, which would put Rogers in harm’s way.
Dom was reacting and moving faster than Rogers, sword raised.
For Tony it was as if time slowed to a crawl as Rogers, apparently acting on instinct, raised his shield to strike the bot—right in the chest.
“No!” Dom yelled, running at full speed, shoulder checking the bot right to the ground and taking Rogers’s shield instead.
Tony stared in horror as Dom went down, a scream of pain reverberating through his headset. “Dom,” he gasped, feeling like his own chest was being ripped out. He wasn’t even aware of moving, but he suddenly next to Dom, shoving Rogers away.
“I didn’t mean— He was—”
Edgerton was there, dealing with the bot, telling Rogers to get back into the fight. Then Edgerton was down on his knees next to Dom, who was staring fixedly at the sky.
“He’s wearing body armor, Stark, and it would have mitigated some of that blow. He’s shutting down his sense of touch so he can deal.” Edgerton was feeling along Dom’s side. “We need to get him to the Center. Blair, we need you now! Dom’s seriously injured.”
“On our way,” Blair said quickly. “There are four left. The SHIELD agents and the new sentinels are going to be able to mop this up. We need to get all of us back to the Center.”
Blair came running around the corner, Ellison hot on his heels, hovering over Blair’s shoulder, looking for threats as Blair dropped to his knees next to Dom.
He put hand on either side of Dom’s face, eyes closed. “Dom, you gotta work with me, man. Don’t fight it.”
“It’s instinct, Blair,” Ellison reminded.
“I know.” Blair looked up at Tony then he shook his head. “We need to get going.”
The quinjet the SHIELD agents had been in suddenly landed about twenty feet away. The rear hatch opened and Barton came running out with a backboard. “Let’s go. I’ll take you all to the Center then come back here to mop up and get my team.”
Blair and Jim exchanged a look but nodded and took the board. Ellison and Edgerton got Dom on the board and into the jet.
“Sir,” Jarvis said softly, “exit the suit and go with Dom. I’ll remain here in control of the armor until all the threats are contained.”
Tony didn’t even question further. He exited the suit and followed the sentinels and guides into the quinjet. The armor closed up and Jarvis moved it away.
Hulk came bounding around the corner running full tilt at them, abruptly shrinking and turning back into Banner and following Tony onto the jet. “I heard. I told Hulk we had to go with,” Bruce panted, looking exhausted as he slumped down in a seat, wearing nothing but stretchy pants.
“We ready?” Barton called.
“Just a couple more seconds,” Edgerton called, watching out the back.
Tony sat on a bench. They had Dom on the floor of the jet, Blair still kneeling next to him, obviously concentrating, brow furrowed.
“I’m here!” a woman’s voice called out. “I’m here! We can go.”
Tony glanced up and realized it was Penelope Edgerton as she fell into her sentinel’s arms. The jet immediately started taking off. “Dial it down, honey,” she said softly, “it’s over.”
Kyle was whispering to Scott; Jim was shoulder to shoulder with Blair.
“Oh, what the hell,” Blair exclaimed. “Tony, get down here. Kneel by his head an encourage him to let me help.”
Tony was doing as ordered even as he protested. “I’m not— I shouldn’t—” He framed Dom’s face with his hands, so eager to touch his lover but afraid of hurting him.
“He’s listening to your heartbeat right now, Tony, so figure out whatever you’re worried about later. Right now, I need you to get him to relax and let me help.”
Tony put his face right next to Dom’s, letting his breath ghost over Dom’s face. “Hey, babe. I don’t know what Blair’s trying to do, but I think you really need to let him.”
“He’s trying to empathically cut him off from the pain,” Kyle supplied, looking exhausted and dirty.
“I remember you doing that for me after the battle.” Tony looked back at Dom, stroking his thumbs over Dom’s cheekbones. “You gotta let Blair help, Dom. I remember how much of a relief that was.”
“It’s working,” Blair murmured.
A hand closed over Tony’s wrist and he realized it was Dom, who was blinking steadily and staring at Tony.
“Hey,” Tony whispered, his smile feeling wobbly. “I don’t care what kind of body armor you’re wearing, you can’t take vibranium to the chest and not need to let Blair do his thing.”
Dom blinked a few times. “SHIELD never taught him anything,” he whispered.
“Rogers?” Tony tried to follow the thread.
“Left him ignorant. Fury is an asshole.”
“Yeah, he is. I’ll take care of it, I promise.”
Dom’s hand tightened. “Stay with me?”
“Dom,” Blair whispered, “keep touch dialed low, but not off, okay? You’ve got smell dialed too far down already. I don’t want you going into sensory collapse.”
“Make sure I can smell Tony,” Dom mumbled, eyes sliding shut.
“We’ll be landing at the Center in two minutes,” Barton called back.
Blair blew out a breath, pulling his hands away. “He won’t feel much for a little while. There are several displaced fractures, but, miraculously, no intrusion into the lung or spleen.”
Tony felt his breath catch. “He’s going to be in pain for a long time.”
“Not necessarily. Shamans can accelerate healing dramatically in a sentinel—if the sentinel doesn’t fight the psionic energy. Which Dom always does. Before today that is. So, if you bully him through it, we might be able to have him out of medical in a week.”
“Yeah, of course.” Tony didn’t know how he could help or even why he was able to, but he didn’t care as long as Dom got the help he needed. “I’m all in.”
Tony rubbed his hands over his face. “Let me see if I understand this. He needs surgery but anesthesia can be dangerous for sentinels in certain circumstances?”
Blair nodded. “Yes. I’m assuming he had at least taste and most of scent dialed off. Throwing drugs in the mix can dramatically increase the risks of sensory collapse.”
“Which can be fatal.” Tony felt everything in him freeze at the even the thought.
“Yes.” Blair gave Tony a sympathetic look. “My preference would be to use psionic energy to block his touch receptors and do the surgery without any anesthesia or sedation.”
“You can do that?”
“A few high-level guides can do it to that degree, yes. I can do it for longer than most because my connection with the psionic plane is…profound. It would give them time to get everything back together properly. The number of broken ribs, well, without our ability to use psionic energy to manage how much can be felt, the healing process would be so excruciating that a sentinel could zone on the pain and wind up in a coma.”
“So do the psionic block then.” It seemed like a no-brainer.
“It’s not easy with Dom. A bonded sentinel is used to the psionic touch of a guide—their guide, obviously, but it helps prepare them for work with any guide. They get the energy through the bond all the time, so it’s easy for us to work with almost any bonded sentinel in this situation. But it’s hit or miss with unbonded ones because they’ve never adjusted and therefore, they instinctively push it away. We think it’s part of some sort of survival adaptation. Sentinels can completely block psionic energy used against them which probably served some useful purpose as some point. I can’t deny there have been cases of guides using their gifts in a way that’s not exactly ethical.
“In any case, other than psionic buffering, which is more around him than in him, Dom has never allowed psionic energy to be used on him until you encouraged him to let me help. That’s how much he trusts you.”
“But I’m not a guide.”
Blair shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. He trusts you as if you were his guide. That’s how profound his connection to you has to be for him to have let you talk him through that on the jet. And that’s what we’d like to keep doing. If he can stay receptive and let me work, I can numb his touch receptors so that he can have the surgery without anesthesia—because we don’t want to heal the ribs while they’re displaced.”
Tony nodded to indicate that he understood—it was more overwhelming than difficult to comprehend, which Blair had to know.
“Once the doctor has things lined up, I can knock out quite a lot of the healing in about an hour. Easily two weeks of bone repair can be done in that time. By the time he’s feeling anything again, he’ll be able to manage with sensory adjustments, and I can do another healing session in a day or so.”
“So you need me to persuade him to let you do this?”
“Not exactly,” Blair hedged. “He wants to do it, but his instincts are in the way. He’s going to need to focus on you the way he did on the jet in order to get through his. Which means you need to be present the whole time. And you’ll have to stay with him for at least a week.”
Tony blinked. “While I’m not eager to see my lover undergoing surgery, of course I’ll be here.”
“Are you sure?” Blair had his head cocked to the side, like he was trying to puzzle something out.
“Why wouldn’t I be sure?”
Blair blew out a breath. “Brutally honest here, Tony, but this is guide territory. You may not be a guide now, but you’re sure functioning like one where Dom is concerned. And he’s reacting to you like one. You both have been really clear that that’s not what you want.”
Tony didn’t have the time or inclination to pick all that apart. They were standing in a corridor with only the illusion of privacy while the sentinels were waiting for them. “But we’re not talking about some hypothetical sentinel match in a computer. We’re talking about my lover. I’m not going to label what’s going on here—certainly not now. If I can do something to help, I will.”
“Okay. I assume you’re not squeamish?”
“First thing we have to do is get everyone clean. There’s a big shower all eight of us are about to get into. The rest are probably there.”
“Whoa, what? He needs surgery and you’re going to bathe first?”
“Considering that his wounds are not immediately life threatening, getting as much of the smell off of him as possible is the only choice. We don’t need avoidable sensory spikes when he’s having surgery.”
“And the communal part?”
“We have several large showers in this wing of the Center that are sort of like decontamination showers. We have dozens of sentinels here now with sensory issues due to the OSGs and more will be incoming. No one can leave this part of the Center until as much of the smell is gone as possible.”
“Okay, then. Group shower it is.”
Tony hadn’t been in a communal shower since boarding school. Well, there was that one thing in Amsterdam about fifteen years ago, but he made sure not to let his thoughts go there with a bunch of sentinels around.
– – – –
Group showers were weird, though it really was treated a lot like a very thorough decontamination shower, but chatting with Dom while the man was having his ribs put back together was weird on a whole other level. They didn’t want do anything with pins or plates, so the surgeon was lining things up, Blair was doing enough healing for preliminary bone fusion, and then they’d move to the next rib.
Tony carded his fingers through Dom’s damp hair and watched Blair—what he could see of Blair around the drape anyway. He imagined he could almost see a glow about Blair as he worked to take Dom’s ribs through those initial stages of healing.
Dom caught Tony’s hand and brought his face, sniffing at his wrist.
“You’re always sniffing me, Rossi.”
“You smell better than anything, Stark.” Dom looked a little out of it. Blair had explained it had to do with brain chemicals that were pumped out in response to pain that suddenly weren’t needed, leaving a mildly euphoric feeling. Plus, Tony figured Dom had to be exhausted, which could certainly account for him being spacey.
“What do I smell like? Metal and grease?” Tony asked with a grin, stroking the side of Dom’s face.
“No…” Dom seemed to be taking the question seriously. “A bit of ozone, and there’s hints of something that’s like coconut but not exactly. I’ve never smelled anything like it.”
“Ah.” Figured a sentinel would smell that. “That’s the badassium. It tastes like coconut, too.”
Blair gave an amused snort, but didn’t look up from his work.
“Mostly you smell like honeysuckle.”
Tony coughed. “I do what now?”
“Don’t knock it, Stark, it’s a nice smell.”
“Thought you didn’t like florals,” Tony countered, feeling oddly flustered.
“Not strong ones. Roses, lavender…” Dom’s face scrunched up.
“Don’t think about it,” Blair said sharply. “If you cause a sensory flashback, Rossi, I’ll kick your ass!”
“Tell me more about my awesome smell,” Tony said to distract Dom. “I haven’t been around honeysuckle since I was a kid.”
“Your essential scent has nothing to do with what you’re around. That’s coffee and, yes, sometimes metal and grease, but you smell like honeysuckle, ozone, fresh air, and apparently the other scent is badassium.”
“So I smell good,” Tony teased.
“You smell perfect.”
“You’re getting sappy, Duchess.”
Dom shot him a fully sappy grin then he frowned. “Did they get Sue?”
“Yeah, J sent me a text between the shower and surgery prep. She’s fine. Everyone’s fine. The State Department are getting involved in what to do about you know who.” Tony was careful about names because as far as he knew, the medical staff wasn’t read in on the particulars, though the bot attack was hardly secret since it was on every news outlet. “Lots of government agencies getting involved.”
“Yeah, cause what we really needed was for a bunch of government agencies with samples of those reactors to analyze.”
“Well…” Tony went back to running his fingers through Dom’s hair. “Seems like Colonel Eyepatch stepped in and took all but one. Richards has the last one. So at least the number of groups with access is contained.”
Dom huffed. “I’m really irritated with him.”
“But I also recognize he’s doing what he thinks is right.”
“I hate people who stomp all over others with their conviction that they know best.”
“Mm hm.” Tony considered what he wanted to say. “I was already on the jet on the way back when he called me. Asked me if I was ready to get off the bench.”
Dom’s eyebrows shot up. “And just who it that’s supposed to have benched you?”
Tony laughed, leaning in and dropping a kiss on Dom’s mouth. “I said basically the same thing. He keeps trying the tactic that they’re willing to let me in their little club.”
“Ha! There’s no club without you.”
“Yeah, I’m starting to see that,” Tony said softly, though he didn’t want to get into the self-esteem issues that had made him such an easy target for Fury’s manipulations.
“No talking or laughing for the next couple minutes, Sentinel Rossi,” the surgeon murmured. “Try to keep your breathing slow and steady.”
“Tony, have him mirror your breathing,” Blair suggested. “He’ll do it naturally. Slow and even and not too deep for a couple minutes.”
Tony settled in to be Dom’s breathing pacer. He let his forehead rest against Dom’s temple, his breath ghosting over Dom’s face, and rubbed his thumb over Dom’s cheekbone. Dom’s hand was still curled around Tony’s forearm, and he didn’t seem inclined to let go.
– – – –
“You should probably hit the bathroom, Tony,” Blair said as they entered the isolation room. “Once he’s asleep, I have a hunch he’ll only stay under as long you’re in physical contact.”
“Yeah,” Dom agreed, making a face as Jim and Scott helped get him settled on the bed. Blair had said there was probably the equivalent of a week of healing in those ribs so far—less than he’d wanted, but his own fatigue was catching up. He’d also said he couldn’t do much about bruising, so that would have to fade on its own. And Dom’s chest was blooming with the most horrifyingly impressive bruises Tony had ever seen. Every time he saw them, he found it shocking that Dom wasn’t more seriously injured. And if hadn’t been wearing body armor, he would have probably died. The surgeon had said he had a few small lacerations on his lung and spleen, but it could have been so much worse.
Tony had lots of questions about many things, but took the advice and headed for the bathroom. The room they were in was enormous. It was more like an isolation ward with six queen-sized beds. Only three were going to be in use. Apparently, Jim, Blair, Kyle, and Scott would be in iso with Dom and Tony. He’d been told after the surgery that this would be happening, but he hadn’t had a chance to ask why yet.
As he was washing up, he stopped and stared at himself in the mirror, feeling oddly off-center. The first time they’d spent time in iso together, Tony had felt like Dom’s lover, just staying with him while he was out of commission. At least, that’s what he’d told himself. But this time felt different. Everything felt different. And he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
But he also knew now wasn’t the time to wrestle with his demons, so he headed back out to be with Dom. Tony settled onto the bed on his back. Dom curled up on his good side and slung an arm over Tony’s waist, his head resting on the pillow, his face pressed to Tony’s shoulder.
He carded his fingers through Dom’s hair. “Why is your hair so damn soft?”
“Shut up, Stark,” Dom groused, rubbing his cheek against Tony’s skin.
“Go to sleep, Rossi,” Tony ordered with a grin.
Tony felt Dom completely relax, so he nodded to Blair, who touched Dom’s forehead and closed his eyes in concentration.
“He should sleep for at least a few hours. We’ll all get some rest and then I can do some more healing.”
Tony glanced around the room. “Not that the group sleepover thing isn’t cool and all, but why are we all pitching our blanket forts in the same room?”
“Well,” Blair rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little uncertain, “This room exists because sometimes we have members of the same pride needing isolation for the same reason at the same time, and there’s an inclination to stay together with their alpha.”
“But that doesn’t really apply to us, so what’s up?”
“Realistically, no, it doesn’t apply, but it does seem to apply at an instinctive level right now. I don’t know why, but Jim and Scott both feel it very keenly, which is weird since they’re both alpha sentinels. Kyle and I are not getting it quite so intensely, but, um, yeah.”
“Uh…” Tony had no idea what to say.
“I’ll need to meditate about it later. It could be that with the nature of the threat and that we’ve all been working so closely together that a sort of mini, temporary pride formed. Besides,” Blair shrugged, “it’ll make it easier for Kyle and I to help with Dom.”
“And Ian wasn’t affected by this?”
“Actually, I think he was, but he’s the most recently bonded of all of us. He came online fairly late in life comparatively. It takes years for a bonded sentinel who becomes an alpha to relax their territorial nature. Ian does really well, considering that his job takes him all over, but when he needs isolation, his territorial imperative becomes very difficult to work around. And he’s already in a strange city, away from home…”
“So he just ignores it? And that works?”
“Urban sentinels have to ignore their instincts all the time,” Jim offered from where he was sprawled in a chair, looking exhausted. He and Scott both were covered in bruises and minor injuries. “We could ignore this, but since Kyle and Blair are going to be needed for helping with pain, and Blair for healing, it feels better to surrender gracefully.”
“Isolation is more effective and shorter when we’re not fighting our instincts on something,” Scott said. He was almost mirroring Jim’s posture, sprawled out in an armchair. “I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that we’re out of here a good three days before Edgerton.” Scott was shorter than Jim by four inches but had about the same amount of muscle, giving the illusion that he was the more heavily muscled of the two.
“So the plan is to just sleep it out?” Tony asked.
“Well, I don’t know about you,” Scott said, “but I’m exhausted. I’m just letting my brain stop going like a damn hamster on a wheel before I pry myself out of this chair and sleep for a bloody month.”
“Okay, well, while you’re dehamstering, I’ve been on pins and needles about something.”
“What’s that?” Kyle asked as he emerged from the bathroom and flopped down on his sentinel’s lap. Scott immediately buried his nose against Kyle’s neck.
“How in the world did you get Green Bean to so carefully remove the arms and legs of those damn bots?”
Everyone chuckled, but it was Kyle who responded. “I can take that one. I was there for a lot of it. The idea of training was actually the brainstorm of Penelope and Jarvis.”
“I guess that’s why there’s footage?” Tony asked, feeling almost uncomfortably proud of how Jarvis had performed in this whole situation. He was so careful about who had access to Jarvis, so he’d never seen Jarvis stretch his figurative wings.
“I got involved with it because Betty suggested that with her presence and because the big guy seems to like guides, having us there would be a calming influence. Anyway, the first step was having Bruce carefully rip the legs and arms off little robot doll things while trying to internally explain what he was doing to Hulk.”
Tony’s mouth fell open. “No way.”
“Oh yeah. Rossi shows up with this big box full of these cheap bot dolls and a few of those Iron Man dolls. You know, to make sure Hulk understood the difference between the two.”
“I’ll be sure to thank him appropriately for his foresight.”
Blair snorted but seemed content to stay cuddled up with Jim.
“So Bruce sits there ripping little dolls to pieces as a training exercise?” Tony could just imagine Bruce’s epic bitch face over that.
“Right. Then Bruce lets the big guy out and we have some bigger versions for him to play with. We must have gone through a thousand of those damn dolls.” Kyle sighed. “I had my assistant going all over, buying dolls that we destroyed. Dom had a bunch express delivered from New Jersey and even Connecticut. We heavily tipped delivery drivers coming in from all over.”
Scott grinned. “Bet the companies who make those ugly things are confused about the boom in sales.”
Tony couldn’t help but laugh. “This all happened in Hulk’s rumpus room? There has to be full on security footage for me to watch. I need all of it. I can play it on repeat while I work.”
“Not at the Tower, no. It was suggested, and Dom was going to reach out to you to see if it was okay, but then Richards said they had several good containment rooms at the Baxter, and it’d be easier to coordinate from there anyway, which Dom seemed more comfortable with. There is footage of the whole thing though.”
Tony frowned, not sure why Dom wouldn’t have been comfortable doing it at the Tower.
“Tony,” Kyle said gently, “Dom is very careful about your privacy. He wasn’t going to invite people into your home without clearing it with you first.”
“Oh. Yeah, of course.” Tony played off like that was obvious, but people actually respecting his privacy was sort of a rarity. But in this circumstance, he would have certainly understood everyone working out of the Tower. He would have encouraged it.
“I think he knew you’d be fine with the sentinel and guide contingent—though he’d have still run it by you—but he mentioned you two had barely ever mentioned the Fantastic Four and your friendly rivalry with Richards isn’t exactly a secret. It worked out for the best that we handled it all from the Baxter Building.”
“It was a good choice. Richards knows what he’s doing. Just, you know, not as much as me.” He grinned at the laughter. “So, back to burning curiosity, Bruce and then Hulk spend hours, uh— what would you call that? De-limbing?”
Jim laughed outright. “Let’s definitely call it de-limbing.”
“Amputating?” Blair offered. “At the risk of not mangling English.”
“No,” Tony said slowly. “I think amputation implies something very different than what I saw in that alley. And, truly, a new cherished memory. Especially the careful stacking of those torsos. It was almost creepy the way the joint servos, if they were intact, were still trying to move and causing them to squirm in their little stacks.”
Blair covered his face with his hands. “Oh my god. I did not get to see that. I wasn’t near the alley when he finally got going.”
“I hope Richards has external security cameras. But why the alley?”
“We didn’t want him to get caught up in the battle,” Scott answered, “so it was agreed that he’d be isolated as much as possible—an alley or side street or something—and we’d funnel the bots to him. And we just had to have Bruce come out the side door once it was clear this was all going to go down at the Baxter. We warned Hulk that they might shoot at him and that he couldn’t react. He seemed to understand the concept that crushing the bots could hurt Betty. And then he said the puny dolls could never hurt Hulk.” Scott obviously found the whole memory amusing.
“Of course, we’d have preferred to not have to call on someone so potentially unpredictable,” Kyle interjected, “but once sentinels started dropping like flies from the shock grenades, we didn’t have much choice but to go to Plan B. Because SHIELD had no workable plan for those bots. And we had to repeatedly stop Rogers from bashing them in the chest. Well, like three times, but once should have been more than enough. We shouldn’t have had to do it at all.” Kyle’s expression conveyed just what he thought of SHIELD at the moment.
Tony sighed. “SHIELD is very invested in keeping him ignorant. I guess they’re being rewarded for that mindset in that he’s being easily controlled or something.”
“Yes,” Jim agreed, “But it was potentially to the detriment of not only every sentinel and guide in the city but to the whole tribe. And I can’t let that slide.”
“Meaning that the Sentinel & Guide Council is going to officially sanction SHIELD. And they will be considered verboten until there’s been a thorough review of their handling of this situation.”
“Whoa,” Tony breathed. “That means no sentinel/guide pairs can officially work for them.”
“They’d all be on administrative leave, yes,” Blair confirmed. “Until the review is done at least. But many aspects of recent events have made this step a long time in coming. Not that there are many sentinels and guides working for SHIELD. Spy agencies have a hard time keeping sentinels and bonded pairs because the ethics are too murky. Still, there are a few pairs and more than a few unbonded guides. Fury has learned enough over the years to isolate the sentinels from the uglier aspects of SHIELD and to keep their orders on the up-and-up.”
“But it’s bad news on an international level for any government agency to be sanctioned,” Kyle added. “It’s going to bring a heap of scrutiny down on Fury’s head. Someone is telling the president that SHIELD should be allowed to function as is, and Fury isn’t the voice in his ear—he doesn’t have that much pull. An official sanction will force the president to take a hard look at the situation.”
“I can’t say Fury doesn’t deserve it.” Tony’s mind was spinning, trying to figure out the possible fallout of Nicky being very publicly given a slap on the wrist.
“Well,” Jim huffed, getting to his feet and ignoring Blair’s indignant squawk at being picked up, “that’s it for me. I need some sleep. This day has been total bullshit.”
“Word,” Scott grumbled. “But I’m too tired to move.”
“Come on, old man,” Kyle teased, hauling his sentinel out of the chair.
Tony let his fingers drift over Dom’s warm skin, feeling tired, but his mind was too busy to really let him sleep just yet. He kept thinking about Blair saying that Tony was functioning as Dom’s guide, that Dom clearly accepted him that way. Trusted him more than guides he’d known and worked with for years.
He could be honest enough with himself to admit that he’d felt a possessive sort of satisfaction at the time, but he’d stomped on the feeling ruthlessly. He was so used to telling himself he didn’t want to be a guide that it was reflexive to push away that feeling changing.
Dom’s breath ghosted over his skin, and Tony closed his eyes, letting the thoughts fade away—for now. He put aside all the questions and what-ifs and reveled in Dom being alive.
12 July 2012
Tony tried not to laugh at the sour expression on Dom’s face as he went through a healing session with Blair. The closer Dom got to healed, the more it was apparent how much he disliked whatever he felt when the psionic energy was flowing through him.
“I want out of this room and to go back to the Tower,” Dom grumbled as Blair finished.
Blair removed his hands from Dom’s side with a sigh. “All of you sentinels with your epic cabin fever. Bunch of big babies.”
“You’re terrible,” Dom complained. “Clearly Jim likes mean guides.”
“Damn right,” Jim said without even looking up from the book he was reading. “The meaner the better.”
Blair rolled his eyes. “How does that feel?”
Dom carefully twisted and flexed. “Feels good.” Tony made himself not look too closely because he really wanted to climb Dom like a tree but they’d been in this room with four others for four days. After the first day, there’d been phone calls and tablets, keeping all of them busy dealing with the aftermath and doing their work, but always from within this room while the sentinels leveled out and everyone rested. Plus there was way more meditating than Tony was comfortable with. And while he needed time to think, he did better at that when he was working and not surrounded by empaths and emotion sniffers.
Edgerton was sticking it out on his own, though Scott had been right that he wasn’t leveling out as quickly as the rest. He’d be fine though. All the sentinels seemed fine most of the time, but Blair and Kyle did some sensory tests just using dial adjustments to determine how they were really doing.
“Dial touch up a bit and let me know how high you can get before it’s painful. Not unbearable. Just painful,” Blair instructed.
Dom kept moving slowly as he was clearly concentrating. Even after four days, Dom’s chest was still a riot of color. The bruising was too deep to be fading yet. Blair had taken care of the damage that caused pain, but the bruises would be slowly fading for weeks. “It only twinges when I’m at slightly above normal touch levels. I can dial it up a couple of notches before those twinges become seriously painful.”
“I’ll take ‘twinge’ with a grain of salt since I know how you sentinels understate pain. But that’s definitely the last one, then. We got through that faster than I thought we would. Figured it would take a full week to do all the healing.” He looked around at the whole group. “I think everyone is on an even enough keel that we can dispense with full-time isolation, but I don’t think the sentinels are ready to be away from the Center yet. Smells in the real world could cause spikes—especially since smell is what put you here—so better to stay with the confines of the Center’s air filtration and sleep in our standard rooms for the time being. That also allows Kyle, Scott, Jim, and me to handle the S&G matters that we couldn’t while in here.”
Tony hopped up off the bed. “Well, I’m game!”
Dom laughed. “You thought I was the one eager to be out of this room, but it was really him.” He jerked his thumb at Tony.
“Damn right,” Tony agreed.
Blair smiled. “You’ll be in one of the step-down iso rooms on the second floor. The deep isolation rooms in the sub-basement aren’t necessary since you’ve already gotten through the worst of the sensory spikes.” He shot Dom a look.
“I know.” Dom sighed. “Be careful before actually opening the window.”
“Oh, there’s a story there,” Tony said with a grin.
“One I’ll tell you later. I might need inducement.”
Tony shot him a wink. Inducement he would happily provide.
Kyle was busily stuffing things in his duffle bag. “The stuff from Jarvis was delivered. It’s in the outer room.”
Tony frowned. “Stuff from Jarvis?”
“I asked him to send a couple things over for you,” Dom answered.
“Oh? Do tell.”
“Get your stuff together, Stark, and you can find out.”
Tony was curious, but that was only part of the impetus for his speed in getting his stuff rounded up and thrown in a bag. He was desperate for some time alone with Dom.
They parted ways with everyone outside of the medical wing. Tony noted that Jim and Scott seemed somewhat reluctant, but Dom didn’t. It was barely noticeable, but he doubted anyone missed the hesitations. No one commented on it.
Kali shimmered into view as soon as they were in the room upstairs.
“Where has she been?” Tony petted her, enjoying her pleased chuffs.
“She only pops up around others when I call her, and I rarely do that.”
Tony paused in his scratching. “She’s popped up around me a lot without you calling.”
“Yeah, I know. You’re the exception. No one here in New York has seen her other than you, Jarvis, and the kids. Only a few people in DC got a look at her after I came online.” Dom moved close and stroked behind Kali’s ears. “I figure she’s got a reason for keeping a low profile. I try to respect it.”
Tony frowned, unable to keep from pushing. “You showed her to me before we ever even started dating.”
“Yep.” Dom moved into the room. “Come on. I’ll show you around the room. These step-down rooms have less monitoring and a few features the others don’t.”
Tony decided to let the deflection go and followed Dom through the room, watching as Kali sprawled out on the king-sized bed.
The room was sensory controlled in the way the other iso rooms he’d been in were, but it felt less oppressively so. There were automatic light-blocking shades over the windows, but they could be pulled up with the press of a button so sentinels who could handle light could get plenty of the natural sort.
“More sound gets through, though it probably isn’t obvious,” Dom said from where he was leaning against the wall.
“You’re looking around like you’re evaluating the differences.”
“Stop being a mind reader.”
Dom grinned then his expression became more serious and he moved closer. “Well, I’m not a mind reader about everything.” He settled his hands on Tony’s hips.
“And where have your psychic powers failed you?” He wound his arms around Dom’s shoulders.
“How are you? I didn’t want to ask with others around.”
Tony frowned. “How am I? Other than relieved that terminal boredom can’t actually be terminal, I’m fine.”
“Okay?” Tony echoed. “What were you worried about?”
“I didn’t know if any of the surgery…stuff would be an issue.”
Ah. “I’m fine, Dom. I get the parallels, but it wasn’t what I was thinking about at the time, and it wasn’t bothering me.” Maybe it should have been, but perhaps the EMDR had been more effective than Tony had even realized. It could be that being able to talk to Dom through the whole surgery had made the parallels not even an issue. Or possibly that he was just so worried about his lover that nothing else entered his mind. But whatever the reason, he wasn’t avoiding the truth or anything because he truly felt fine.
“You’ve been really in your head the last few days.” Dom’s eyes were filled with concern.
“Just been thinking. How to handle things with Pepper, Fury, the board, the Avengers Initiative…” He shrugged. “Stuff.” More than a little, he’d been thinking about Dom and the whole nature of the sentinel and guide thing, but he wasn’t ready for that conversation quite yet. “So, what’s the window story?”
“Just me being an idiot.” Dom smiled ruefully, obviously letting Tony get away with the redirect, which he usually did. He rarely pushed when Tony said he didn’t want to talk about something, and it was always insightful when he did push. “Smell is the sense most likely to give me issues—always has been. I’ve only needed isolation a handful of times in my life, but I’d needed some one spring because of aural sensitivity after I’d had to endure sonic emitters for something like two hours. But one spiking sense can cause the others to go haywire if you’re not paying attention.”
“So you blithely opened a window in a room like this?”
“I knew logically knew about the domino effect if one sense is overstimulated for too long, but I’d never experienced it. Not really. So, I had it in my head that the issue was my ears, and I decided I needed fresh air and opened the window.” He grinned wryly. “The wildflowers in Central Park were in bloom and the Center was downwind that day. Got it right in the face and everything went wonky. It was embarrassing.”
“Tell me the right response? Should I be sympathetic or laugh at you. Because, honestly, inside I’m laughing.”
Dom rolled his eyes. “Laugh it up, Stark.”
Tony grinned and pulled away, heading back into the outer room. “Now, what’s with the boxes?”
“Figure we’ve got a few more days here, so I asked Jarvis to send over something so you could…do you.”
Curious, Tony tore into one of the boxes. It was one of his modular projection tables, designed specifically to travel with him so he could work. Tony was very visual and designed best being able to work in three dimensions. Working on a tablet just wasn’t as good.
He ran his fingertips over the glossy surface, astonished at how well Dom knew him in such a short period of time and just how accepting of Tony he was. “Thank you,” he whispered.
Dom moved closer. “Want help getting set up?”
“Yeah. Seems I need to design a sentinel a much better sword. Someone broke his.” As they worked, Tony thought back on the unusual vibes from Jim and Scott. “You know they treat you like you’re their alpha, right?”
Dom was still for a few seconds then he shrugged. “I see it, but I don’t really understand it.”
“Do they feel like your pride?”
“Yeah, but most sentinels and guides do, so it’s not like that’s new. I’m used to not paying attention to it.”
“Is that an insightful ‘huh’ or a bewildered one?”
“More just thinking things through.” They got the table set up and Tony seriously started specs for a sword, something that could maybe be stored in a gauntlet of some kind. That’d be cool, plus space saving.
Dom watched for a couple of minutes then said, “Can you add a flamethrower?”
Tony laughed. “Do you really want a flame thrower? Or is this a design challenge?”
“Every sentinel wants a flame thrower,” Dom said, tone serious, but his lips were twitching.
Tony saved his current work and started something new. Then they began adding to it and adding to it. Within an hour, they were laughing their asses off and had something truly epic that looked nothing like a sword.
“I like the mini-RPG addition,” Tony said, tapping his finger on his chin.
“Can you really make it that small?”
“I can do anything.”
“Yeah, you can,” Dom agreed, sounding serious. Tony glanced over and found Dom’s expression to be difficult to interpret.
Tony felt like they were right at the edge of something—and they had been for a while. “I do think the salad tongs are over the top.”
Dom grinned. “Yeah, but you never know when you need something with a bit of reach that you can use like pincers.”
“Does that really come up all that often?”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.”
“So you don’t need a better sword, you need better salad tongs?”
Dom suddenly caught Tony around the waist and pulled him in close. “You’re so hot when you’re in engineer mode.” Then he claimed Tony’s mouth, licking inside, and Tony flicked his designs away before trying to climb his sentinel. Dom had just pressed him down onto the bed when the soft tones of the room phone went off.
Tony groaned, wishing they’d put themselves into do-not-disturb mode. “We are never getting time alone, never mind getting laid. That’s right, sex is a thing of the past.”
“It most definitely is not,” Dom said, tone grouchy as he rolled over and grabbed the phone. “Rossi.” There was a long silence, but Dom’s face shifted through almost the entire range of muscle movements that could be read as irritated. Sighing, he looked to Tony. “Fury is here. With Rogers.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” He sat upright, feeling tension coil in his shoulders.
“I guess he got word of the sanction and he’s trying to do some damage control. Jim and Blair are going to talk to them, but they’re giving us the option to be involved if we want.”
“I don’t but I also really do.” Sighing, he got to his feet. “What about Romanoff?”
Dom shook his head. “She’d never be allowed in even if he were stupid enough to bring her. Any sentinel who has been around Romanoff doesn’t tolerate her well. She reeks of deception. People are too on edge here, especially now, for them to take the risk on someone we instinctively don’t trust.”
“Well, then, let’s go talk to the Asshole-in-Chief, and then we haul ass back up here for some serious fucking.”
“Serious, un-serious…I don’t even care as long as we get to fuck soon.”
“From your lips…”
They had to go down to the public area of the Center, which Tony understood. There was no way they’d let Fury into any restricted section. Fury wouldn’t even be able to go to Kyle and Scott’s offices because they were in the part of the building the mundane public couldn’t access.
Kyle and Scott were waiting along with Jim and Blair. “We’re here as mutual punching deterrent,” Scott offered. “I keep Jim from punching Fury, he keeps me from punching Rogers. Win/win.”
“Or lose/lose,” Tony muttered. “All depends on your point of view. And mine is that I’m sad about punching deterrents.”
Scott laughed, something he did rarely that Tony had ever seen, and preceded everyone into the room. Dom waved Tony ahead, catching Jim by the arm and holding him back for a quick, whispered conversation.
Inside the room, Barton was propping up the wall while Rogers was sitting next to Fury. Rogers was on his feet almost right away, eyes raking over Dom as he entered the room last. “Are you— How are you all right?”
“There are a few things that can influence a sentinel’s healing. If you’re wondering if you actually caved my chest in, you did. Eight broken ribs—five of them were displaced fractures. The X-ray is a thing to behold. I’m thinking of having it framed.” Dom sprawled out in the chair next to Tony.
“You will not,” Tony whispered to Dom. “That’s not a memento I’m remotely interested in.”
Dom reached out and took Tony’s hand.
Scott stood opposite Fury, ignoring Rogers as he leaned down and braced his hands on the table. “Let’s be clear about something. Out in the public, sentinels aren’t going to say anything about the scent maskers you wear religiously, but walking into our space, asking for a meeting, covered in that crap is a declaration that you’ve come here to lie to us. You get this one pass, Fury. You ever enter another Center with those damn things on, you’ll be tossed out on your ass. Am I clear?”
“I hear you,” Fury said neutrally.
“That’s not agreement,” Tony muttered. “Just acknowledgment that your ears function.”
Rogers shot him a dirty look.
Tony felt his temper just snap. “Don’t give me the stink eye, Rogers. You’re the one who caved in my lover’s chest because you couldn’t follow simple instructions. You could have killed him!” Tony stood up, kicking his chair back, and Dom rose with him, standing at his shoulder. “And the thing is, I don’t even blame you for the reason you might think. I don’t blame you for your ignorance, I blame you for being happy with it. I blame the fuck out of you for that.”
“Tony,” Rogers began, holding his hands up in a no-harm gesture.
“Don’t use my name like we’re friends. We’re not. I offered you resources and the help you needed to educate yourself and get acclimated to the modern world, but you listened to the little spider on your shoulder and turned me down flat. You decided you’d rather go play spies, a role you are not remotely qualified for, and wallow in being uninformed. I don’t fault you for being manipulated because I know how fucking good at it Fury and his sidekicks are. I don’t fault you for needing some kind of purpose when you were probably lost and floundering. But I don’t even know how to wrap my head around your obvious willingness to be so uninformed. So don’t act like fighting one battle together means anything.”
“That’s enough, Stark,” Fury said sharply
“Shut. Up,” Tony snarled. “I blame you for Dom getting hurt. I blame you for the fact that we could have had a fucking dirty bomb go off in Manhattan because you were invested in keeping Steve Rogers ignorant of the modern world. And why is that, Nick? Why is it so important that Steve Rogers fumble around in the dark like a child? What is it that you don’t want him to know? Or is it that you know that he’s much too rigidly moral to ever fall in line with what SHIELD has become?”
Rogers’ brow was furrowed as he looked between Fury and Tony.
“Enough!” Fury barked. “We did not come here for this. And if you want to point the fingers about bringing risks out on the battlefield, you are the ones who put the Hulk on the streets with all those walking timebombs!”
“Green Bean took down at least thirty of those damn bots without even getting close to rupturing one of those reactors. Rogers nearly did it repeatedly, and he would have ruptured one if Dom hadn’t taken the hit, so don’t act like we were the ones who were careless! It was a risk, yes, but we had no choices, Fury. It’s not like you were prepared for eighty fucking nuclear robots!”
Fury glared. “Steve asked to come with me so he could see how Sentinel Rossi fared, but he understands the more vital issue that bonded sentinel/guide pairs are going to be pulled from SHIELD, and that the unbonded guides are encouraged to not work for us. It could be catastrophic to our operations for the Sentinel & Guide Council to go through with their actions. That’s a matter for them,” he pointed to Jim and Blair. “I don’t owe you an explanation, Stark.”
Tony sighed and rubbed his hands over his face. “I don’t get you, Fury. I’ve tolerated a lot of bullshit from SHIELD because I believe you think you’re doing the right thing. And maybe you have a noble purpose or something, but I’m not okay with the way you do it. You wield information—and disinformation—like a weapon, and I’m just done.” Dom’s hand settled on the back of his neck, giving a comforting squeeze.
“Here’s my offer,” Blair said, leaning forward and taking control of the conversation, “the sanction will stand, but the Council will lift the taboo on your organization if you cut Rogers loose.”
Fury’s look was filled with venom. “You have no right—”
“I agree,” Rogers said quickly. When everyone looked at him, he added, “I accept your terms.”
“We’ll talk about this later,” Fury said firmly.
“There’s nothing to discuss. Stark is right, I’m not ready for this, and you impressed upon me how much SHIELD needs the sentinel/guide pairs it has. This solves both problems.”
“Our proposal, Steve,” Blair said softly, “is that you go to England for a few months. There are some people there who are trustworthy and can help you along your path to finding your way in the modern world. You’ll be able to live your life as you see fit, we’re just offering resources.
“In a year or so, the Council would ask that you submit to an interview to see how you’re acclimating. If things go well, you could rejoin SHIELD at that time—or pick a new path. If you need more time, you’ll have it. We don’t want you to think we view you as an enemy. The world owes you time to adapt, and we’re happy to help with that if you’re agreeable. However, we’re not comfortable with you being used as a weapon when you don’t know much about who is behind you or who you’re being pointed at.”
Rogers nodded. “That’s fair. I can go to England—it’d be good to get away.”
Tony had a suspicion that England meant the Turners would be taking charge of getting Rogers pointed in the right direction. He hadn’t been part of the discussion about these arrangements, and he really didn’t care. He just didn’t want Rogers around him or Dom.
Blair smiled. “And you don’t have such a high profile there.”
Jim had been focused on Fury the whole time, but he took the reins of the discussion. “That’s the deal. Rogers is out of SHIELD in response to the sanction. On paper, it will be an incident-related sanction rather than an agency-level one. However, Richard Turner is still going to advise the president that you are on thin ice as far as the Council is concerned.” Jim had mentioned that the Council could decide to sanction the U.S. at a country level for failing to rein in SHIELD, which had put thousands of sentinels and guides at risk during the Chitauri invasion and during the recent battle with the Doom bots. A sanction for a country worked a little differently than others in that it kicked off an investigation by the U.N. No sitting president wanted that kind of shit.
Fury got to his feet. “You haven’t given me a lot of choice here, and Rogers seems to be on board. I’ll be sure to remember how cooperative everyone has been.”
“Don’t,” Jim said sharply, getting to his feet as well. The temperature in the room felt like it plummeted, and Tony realized he’d never seen Jim pissed off until that moment. “Don’t even think of acting like the victim. We respect the role SHIELD plays in our world, and we’re willing to work with you, but you are not the wronged party. And your games will not work here. You’ve learned a lot of tricks, I’ll give you that. You know how to throw off your emotional tone, you wear scent maskers—always trying to be a spy. But here’s a wake-up call for you, Fury. It doesn’t always work.
“You think Blair can’t read you like a fucking book? You’re wrong. You think I can’t smell past your scent maskers? Wrong again. You’ll pull it off with many, I’ll give you that, but you can’t get past us, and it’s insulting that you even tried. I’m the fucking Alpha Prime of the whole damn continent, the strongest bonded sentinel in the world, who the fuck do you think you’re dealing with? Sentinels and guides should be your allies in trying to protect the world, but you put us in opposition by always coming across like you’re lying.”
Blair rested his hand on Jim’s back, and Jim visibly reined himself in before adding, “We’ll stand by our deal—Rogers has twenty-four hours to report back here and we’ll get him in touch with his contact in England. But now I’m pissed about your little victim routine and veiled threat, so I’m going to reveal something I know that you’ve tried so desperately to hide because I’m not rewarding your deceit for a second longer. Phil Coulson is alive.”
“What?” Barton said dangerously, pushing off from the wall. “That’s not possible. I’ve seen the damn recording.” He sounded so gutted, it made Tony ache inside. He barely even knew Barton, but the man’s grief was a sudden, tangible presence in the room.
Jim kept looking at Fury. “You were in contact with him in the last forty-eight hours, actually.” He tapped the side of his nose. “I’ve met Coulson. You can’t hide from me, Nick, no matter how much you shower or how many scent maskers you wear.”
Fury sat heavily back in his chair. Barton looked like he was about to rupture, but Rogers just looked confused.
Tony had had enough of SHIELD’s drama, so he grabbed Dom by the arm. He didn’t even have to say anything, Dom walked out with him.
As soon as they were away from the conference room, he asked, “Did you set that up?”
“Yeah. Told Jim to find the opportune moment. Jim has met Phil, but briefly, and not enough to recognize his scent amongst all the other things. But I could smell faint hints of Phil in the lobby, and I know Fury carries that more strongly on some days than others. It still smells off, though.”
“Two reasons. First, Fury wants to keep it secret for whatever reason and I’m so over his secrets. Second, Barton still smells like grief. He did us a solid by using the quinjet to move me, and I get to poke at Fury in the process.”
Tony couldn’t disagree with any of that. “I can’t say I’m not curious how he kept Coulson alive and why.”
“I have a hunch you’re more likely to get that answer out of Barton some day. Or maybe Coulson himself.”
“Maybe.” Letting Barton stew in grief and not getting him the help he needed was a dumb move on Fury’s part. Who knew what kind of toxic emotional cocktail that could cause? “Why do you think Steve agreed to the deal so…easily?” That was throwing off Tony’s perceptions of the man.
“I think he’s clueing in to how he’s been manipulated and used. It could be that he’d already been trying to find his way out, I don’t know for sure. But he definitely smelled relieved when the offer was made. I think England made it even more attractive. I get the sense that he just wants to get away from all this.”
“Huh.” He shook his head. “I could have helped him.”
“SHIELD stacked the deck against both of you, but he was foolish to taking some briefing packets as gospel, especially when his first-hand experiences with you contradicted them.”
“I just don’t get why. Fury made a complete mess of everything.”
Dom halted in the middle of the deserted corridor on the second floor, pulling Tony to a stop. “You’re the lynchpin in his plans, in his little group. He did everything in his power to make you want to be a part of it, and then he tried to ensure he’d retain control by putting all the other pieces firmly in his camp. Then you have to come on board.”
“You really believe this was all about me? That the way he manipulated him was to get me on board?”
“I think he’d want to retain control of Rogers no matter what but, yes, I do think all these machinations are about you.”
Tony huffed. “That’s depressingly, distressingly flattering.”
Dom laughed. Full-bodied, eyes brimming with amusement, and utterly beautiful. Tony snagged him around the wrist and started dragging down the hallway to their room.
When they were back inside, Tony kicked the door shut and put them in do-not-disturb mode. The best part about lower-level isolation rooms was no cameras. He fisted his hand in Dom’s T-shirt and began walking him backward. “We were rudely interrupted earlier.”
“Something on your mind?” Dom grabbed the hem of his T-shirt and tugged it off before going after Tony’s. “Let’s shower. I don’t want to smell SHIELD on you.”
Tony was okay with that. Really okay with it—he had a particular fondness for Dom in the shower and all wet. He grabbed the lube from his bag then shucked his clothes and followed Dom into the bathroom.
The minute they were in the large stall, Tony slid a hand around the back of Dom’s neck, pulling him into a hot, frenzied kiss. He broke the kiss, nipping at Dom’s jaw. “Let’s get clean.”
Washing was inefficient from a cleaning perspective, but great from a touching one. He avoided Dom’s bruises, but Dom caught his hand and pressed it over the worst of it. “They don’t hurt.”
“I hear the words, and my brain knows it, but it looks…” he pressed a kiss to Dom’s chest. “I hate that you got hurt.”
Dom leaned down and kissing Tony gently. “I’m fine.”
Tony fisted his hand in Dom’s hair, keeping the kiss going, eventually resuming their half-hearted attempts at getting clean. Tony was fully worked up by the time he finished washing his hair.
He was only a few seconds ahead of Dom, and he watched the lather slowly drifting down Dom’s spine before his lover stepped under the spray to rinse the shampoo away. Tony shuddered and pressed Dom against the warm tiles, trailing his hands over the strong back. He nipped at Dom’s shoulder blade as he groped his ass. “God, you’ve got a great butt.”
Dom arched into his touch. “Feels like it’s been forever.” Since they’d had sex the first time, they hadn’t gone two days without each other. The last couple of weeks had been excruciating.
Tony nudged Dom’s feet apart, sliding his fingers along the inside of ass cheeks, earning a shudder. “It’s been sixteen days, Dom.”
“Yeah,” Dom whispered. “I’ve missed you.”
Tony grabbed the lube, slicking up his fingers and sliding two inside the tight hole. “That too much?”
Dom shook his head, relaxing into the shower tiles even as he pressed his ass against Tony. “It’s good. Don’t hold back.” Dom was always impatient about being fucked and didn’t care for much prep.
Tony pulled his fingers out then slicked up his cock. “You ready?”
“You gonna make me ask?”
Tony bit at Dom’s shoulder. “That’s not asking.” He pushed inside in one long thrust, just how he knew Dom liked it.
Dom moaned, resting his forehead against the tiles as he pressed his ass back. “You can do better than that.”
Tony gave a hard thrust, relishing the gasp it earned him. Then he slowed down, keeping the motion long and slow.
“Uh huh.” He palmed Dom’s ass cheeks, opening him more, thrusting deeper.
“Come on, Tony! Fuck me.” Dom always wanted to be fucked hard and fast, but Tony needed something else today.
“I am.” He pressed a kiss to the back of Dom’s neck. “Just give in to it, babe. I’ll be here for you.”
Dom’s hands curled into fists where they’d been resting on the wall. “Tony…”
“You’re mine, right?” Tony wasn’t even sure what he was going for here, but he needed something.
Dom was still for a long beat then the tension just drained away—his hands relaxed and shoulders dropped. “Yeah,” Tony barely heard over the sound of the shower. “I’m yours, Tony. Always.”
It was like being punched. Tony’s hands tightened on Dom’s hips, and he began thrusting faster, harder. He slid his hand around, stroking over Dom’s cock. The single touch had his lover shuddering and coming.
Words were on the tip of his tongue, but his orgasm swept through him, robbing him of thought.
“Don’t move,” Dom whispered. “Stay in me.”
He wrapped his arms around Dom’s waist, keeping them close together as he pressed his forehead against the back of Dom’s neck. Breathing heavily, he tried to get control of all the things he was feeling.