- Explicit Sex
- Alternate Universe
- Established Relationship
– – – –
19 June 2012
“Good morning, Sir, it is now 6:30 AM. The temperature is sixty-three degrees.”
Tony blinked blearily at the propulsion design he’d been working on for the last couple days. It took him a moment to realize why Jarvis was giving him a status report on the time. Dom had slept in the lab last night.
Shaking off his fog, Tony glanced around to find Dom sprawled out on the new sofa Tony’d had brought in just to accommodate Dom’s longer frame. He’d learned that his lover could fall asleep almost anywhere and in any position provided he trusted his environment. He’d spent one night with Tony in the lab getting used to the sounds and rhythm of it and then never had a problem sleeping while Tony worked.
Even though Dom could sleep just about anywhere, Tony wanted him to be comfortable so he’d immediately gotten a luxurious and much longer sofa. It didn’t hurt that there was plenty of them to make out on it.
Tony found it endearing and touching in ways he doubted he’d ever discuss that Dom just wanted to be around Tony sometimes—to such a degree that he’d read or work, leaving Tony to his devices, and then conk out on the couch. Tony had been obsessed with this project and hadn’t slept since he started on it. Dom had finally shown up last night with pizza and a stack of his own paperwork to do, not pushing Tony for anything other than being nearby. There was no recrimination for not breaking away from work. No demands to pay attention. Just…company.
Closing his work, Tony slipped off the lab stool and crossed to kneel by the couch, touching Dom’s arm lightly.
“Time izzit?” Dom mumbled, snaking an arm around Tony’s waist and pulling him to sprawl on top of Dom’s body.
Tony let himself be nuzzled and sniffed by the handsy sentinel. “Six-thirty. Time for good little federal agents to get in the shower and go to work.”
Dom kept his face buried in Tony’s throat. “I’ve never been very good.”
“Oh, I think you’re very good.”
“You just admire my mad blow job skills.”
There was no doubt about that. Tony had honestly never had a better or more attentive lover. Everyone should sleep with a sentinel at least once in their life. Just not Tony’s sentinel. Tony had totally called dibs on this one. “I certainly do admire your talents, that’s true. But I also know that you don’t actually want to be late.”
“Adulting sucks.” Dom’s hands drifted down to palm Tony’s ass. “How goes the design?”
“I’ve got a good start. I think I’m past the obsessing phase.”
“You want to grab dinner tonight?” Dom murmured against his jaw.
“I want to get laid, but I could be persuaded to go to dinner first.
Dom chuckled, the breath across his throat making Tony shiver. “You can always have that.” He pressed a kiss to Tony’s collarbone. “The last wave of SI people are moving back into the tower today, right?”
“Yeah.” Tony sighed. “Pepper is coming in with the last group.” While reconstruction on the heavily damaged buildings would be ongoing for months, the road repairs had been completed and the broken windows and other minor issues around Stark Tower had been repaired, allowing him to resume business operations.
Dom craned his head back so he could meet Tony’s gaze. “There are micro fluctuations in your voice that sound…anxious. And your scent pile says the same.”
“Sometimes, sentinels are a pain in the ass,” Tony groused. How amazing they were in bed more than made up for the lack of privacy. He sighed and climbed off his lover, letting himself be moved until they were sitting side-by-side on the couch. “I just don’t want to fall into shitty patterns with Pep again. We’re better off as friends, of that I have no doubt, but no one can twist you up like an ex.” He shrugged.
Dom watched him closely for several long moments. “You know I’m just a phone call away if you ever need me, right?”
Tony grinned. “Are you saying you’re willing to brave the Pepper Dragon for little ole me?”
Dom’s expression was serious as he said, “I’d brave anything for you, Tony.”
Feeling flustered, Tony squeezed Dom’s knee as he got to his feet. “Fortunately, all you need to brave is the shower.” U rolled away from her charging stand. “And U’s morning hug.” He laughed at U draping her claw over Dom’s shoulder. “I’m sure Jarvis has already ordered breakfast.”
“Thanks, J,” Dom replied as he gave U a final pat before heading out of the lab.
Tony stared after him belatedly realizing he was missing a kid. “Where’s Dum-E?”
“He is on the residential floor, Sir. I believe he’s checking for fire hazards.”
“Oh my god.”
– – – –
“Sir, Miss Potts is inspecting the security logs for the last several weeks.”
Tony froze, setting down the soldering iron he’d been using. “Particular reason why?”
“I believe she’s looking for Dominic’s comings and goings.”
“Uh. At the risk of being repetitive, any particular reason why?”
“I am uncertain and did not inquire. Would you like me to?”
“No.” Tony pushed back from the table. “I’ll handle it.” He wasn’t scheduled to see her until later in the day, but if she had time to be combing through security logs, she had time to talk to him.
Downstairs, he bypassed her admin and opened the door, tapping on it belatedly. “Welcome back,” he said neutrally.
“Tony.” She sat back in her chair, and her smile was welcoming if a bit strained. “I didn’t think we were scheduled until this afternoon.”
“Well, you know me and schedules.” He entered her office, kicking the door shut behind him, then sprawled out in one of the guest chairs. “Jarvis said you were interested in the security logs.”
Her lips pursed in what he easily recognized as irritation. “Yes. I saw a sentinel leaving the building this morning. I asked the security guard why he was here and who he was here to see, and he said he was on the access list for the executive elevator. Additionally, that he was here often, and, beyond that, he didn’t know anything. So I was curious.”
Tony wasn’t sure what was going on. “Why didn’t you just ask Jarvis? And how did you know he was a sentinel?”
Pepper arched a brow. “In the wake of the invasion, he was on the news more than once. He hasn’t got quite the profile of the so-called Avengers, but he was part of a team that helped defend the city. He’s made statements on behalf of the FBI several times. I’m sure most people in the country recognize him by this point.” She sighed. “What are you doing, Tony?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you really involved with a sentinel?” She gestured to the computer. “He’s frequently here overnight, he sometimes leaves with you around mealtimes… Is this how you rebound? With someone unobtainable.”
Tony had to fight down a well of irritation. “You left me, Pepper, so you lost the right to pry into what I do with my personal life.”
“We agreed to try to be friends, and friends worry about one another. They worry when they see people they care about getting invested in someone they can’t have! Also, I didn’t leave you. I said I couldn’t deal with you being Iron Man. You’re the one who chose the suit over me.”
“Hey!” he snapped. “You knew what I was when you got involved with me. Don’t turn this around as being my fault because you changed your mind. And let’s be clear that that’s exactly what happened. Either you realized you couldn’t deal with me the way I am or you entered the relationship expecting to change me, and neither of those things is my fault.”
He got to his feet, not giving her time to reply. “I was fine with the no-fault breakup, but do not try to act like you’re a victim of my selfishness. You, more than anyone, knew what you were getting when you started on this path, so let’s not pretend like it’s a mystery why I refused to change to meet your demands. I loved you and never tried to change you. I only ever asked for the same damn thing.
“Also, my new relationship is no one’s business. And since I’m a little angry right now, and I don’t want to say something I’ll regret, we’ll have to conclude this conversation some other time.”
He turned on his heel and left, not wanting to talk any further.
– – – –
“Sir, I have Colonel Rhodes on the line.”
Tony dropped his head on the table. “What fresh hell is this?” He’d wound down from his argument with Pepper three hours ago, but he was suspicious by nature, so Rhodey calling him shortly after he’d had it out with Pep made him wary. He’d cancelled his afternoon appointment with her, not up to dealing with another conversation so soon.
“Shall I tell him you’re not available, Sir?”
“No, put him through.” He’d only seen Rhodey once since the invasion, and he’d relished their time together. He’d even endured the epic chewing out for flying a nuke into space because he could tell Rhodey was actually proud of him but was yelling at him out of pure fear.
The display flickered and Rhodey’s face filled ted the screen. “Honey Bear,” Tony greeted, his smile feeling forced. “Considering the timing, just tell me up front if you’re calling because of something Pepper said.”
“I am,” Rhodey admitted. “She was really upset.”
“Yeah, well, so was I. We mutually agreed to call it quits. She doesn’t get to rewrite history and make it out to be my fault.” And maybe at one time Tony would have shouldered the blame. He hadn’t even realized he was changing, he just…had. Dom’s unconditional acceptance had affected Tony in ways he hadn’t even realized.
“It wasn’t easy on her…seeing you fly into that portal. It wasn’t easy on any of us, Tones.”
Tony sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. “I get that, okay? I don’t know how I’d deal with it if it had been you, but I know I wouldn’t have handled it by telling you that we could only keep our friendship if you left the Air Force.”
Rhodey made a face, one Tony knew meant Rhodey saw his point. “It’s a little different when you’re in a relationship with someone.”
“Come on, Rhodey, do you for a second think she got into this relationship not thinking she’d be able to change me? And maybe I’m just really seeing that now, but it wasn’t just Iron Man. It was do more, be better, clean up your act, be nicer to the board, stop goofing off, meet with the board more, crank out designs faster. I was never good enough. Never.”
Rhodey looked pained. “Tony—”
“And I tried, I really did, but asking me to give up being Iron Man, to stop the thing that matters most to me, was going too far.”
Rhodey made a placating gesture. “Okay, Tones. I hear you. And I hadn’t considered it from your point of view. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not trying to demonize her, okay? But her acting like I did something awful to her is historical revisionism, and I’m not playing that game. Also, we can be friends if she figures out how to separate her bad feelings about our relationship from where we are now, but I’m definitely not okay with her sticking her nose in my love life nor am I going to accept her running to you about it. Because that’s what this is about, right?”
Rhodey made a face. “She said she thinks you’re involved Sentinel Dominic Rossi.”
“I am,” Tony snapped. “Have been for over a month. It’s not a rebound and it’s not casual. Anything else?”
“Jesus, Tony! A sentinel? They don’t do permanent relationships with mundanes, you know that.”
Tony’s expression felt tight. “Is that all?”
“I’m just worried about you. I don’t want to you see you get your heart broken.”
“So if I say we’re just fooling around, everyone will lay off?”
“No, but I’m just curious if everyone would butt out of my private life if I told that lie.”
Rhodey shrugged. “Well, I’ve heard sentinels are a great lay.”
The laughter was a shocking release of tension. “You asshole. And, yes, it’s unreal.”
“Really?” Rhodey looked morbidly curious.
“They don’t miss a thing. He found all my known hotspots and new ones I couldn’t have imagined. So, yes, the sex is amazing.”
Rhodey’s expression became more serious. “But it’s more than that.”
“Look, it’s not like we’ve exchanged rings or anything. We like each other, we’re happy together. Can’t that be enough?”
“With a sentinel? Do you really need to ask why we might be worried?”
“You know I’m a latent guide, right. Have you forgotten that?”
“Tone.” Rhodey sighed. “Odds are you aren’t coming online at your age. You know that, so don’t play dumb. Also, you never wanted to be a guide. In college, you said if you were unfortunate enough to come online, that you wouldn’t even register. That you weren’t going to make your whole life be about a sentinel’s senses.”
“I know what I said. And I still don’t want to be like some auxiliary aspect of a sentinel’s sensory control, okay? But it doesn’t change the fact that me being latent makes us more…compatible.”
“Okay, but just don’t get serious, all right?”
“It’s barely been five weeks. Can we not freak out about this?”
“He’s going to find a guide some day, and then what?”
“You know what? This conversation is done. Feel free to call when warning me away from Dom isn’t part of your agenda.”
“End call, Jarvis.”
The line went dead.
Tony buried his face in his hands, feeling frustrated at everyone poking at his insecurity. He knew he’d fallen hard for Dom—harder than he’d admit to anyone—and he did worry about what would happen when Dom met a compatible guide. That anxiety was there, bubbling in the background all the time. But he kept a lid on it so he could enjoy what he had for as long as he could have it. And the last thing he needed was well-meaning people poking at it and making it harder to ignore.
Letting his hands fall to his lap, Tony looked up to find U right in front of him. The monitor on the wall read: Dad angry?
“No, I’m not angry, baby girl. I’m just frustrated because my friends have a bad habit of not listening to me. I’ll be fine.” He blew out a breath. “What’s up, Jarvis?”
“Dominic has indicated on more than one occasion that he’s comfortable not having a bond with a guide. Perhaps it would be wise to listen to him over others who have not been privy to the evolution of your relationship?”
Tony smiled faintly. “That’s good advice, J. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Sir.”
– – – –
Tony slid into the backseat of the car.
“Where to?” Happy asked immediately.
“The Center.” When he’d cancelled his appointment with Pepper, he’d called the Center to see if Kyle had any openings, and he had, so Tony had snapped that up. He needed to talk to Kyle and Scott about the upcoming meeting with the head of the U.N. Security Council, but getting another session with Kyle in would be a good thing.
“Seems like the clean-up and security coordination should be almost done,” Happy remarked casually as he merged into traffic. Ostensibly, Tony came to the Center to coordinate between the Department of Damage Control and the S&G Center, so no one knew why he was really there, which was PTSD treatment and trying to fuck over SHIELD as many ways as possible. The media had lost interest in his mundane efforts regarding security and repair of the city after only a week, so no one paid his comings and goings at the Center any mind at this point.
“I’m working on some ongoing projects with the Center. How to better coordinate in the event of a future disaster, how to integrate the sentinels and guides into our defensive strategy, that kind of thing.”
“SHIELD wouldn’t handle that?”
Tony snorted. “Do you want the people who shot a nuke at us in charge of what happens if there should be another alien invasion?”
“Point.” Happy hesitated, and Tony could tell he had something on his mind.
“Spit it out, Hap.”
“This guy you’ve been seeing…”
“Oh, not you too! Can’t anyone just be happy for me?”
“We worry,” Happy replied defensively. “He’s a sentinel.”
“I’m an actual grown-up, you know, no matter what anyone might think.”
“I know that, Boss! We just don’t want to see you hurt.”
“How about we all go back to letting Tony look out for his own love life, okay? I’m gonna lose it the next time anyone prods at this. And really, how did you even find out?”
Happy was quiet and obviously uncomfortable.
“Hap?” Tony said more forcefully.
“Pepper said you’d gotten into a rebound relationship that could only end in heartbreak, and she asked me to look into the guy. She just doesn’t want you falling into a spiral because your relationship is over.”
“Oh my god.” Tony rubbed his hands over his face, trying to find some patience. “Enough, okay? I’ll talk to Pepper again, but this is my last polite butt-the-fuck-out to all my well-meaning friends.”
Happy obviously wasn’t happy, but he let it go, and Tony was grateful for the damn silence that lasted until they reached the Center. He hesitated as he got out of the car. “Since the cat is completely out of the bag, instead of making up an excuse, I’ll just say that you don’t need to wait. I’m meeting Dom here after my meetings, and he’ll get me back to the tower.”
Happy huffed but nodded.
Tony headed into the building and scrawled his signature on the sign-in log.
“Director Monahan is available early, Dr. Stark. You can head up to his office whenever you’re ready.” The Center staff were fucking religious about calling him Dr. Stark. And, for the most part, no one at the Center even blinked at his presence. While he did get the occasional fanboy or girl, it was a small minority because most of the sentinels and guides had other things to focus on. It was refreshing.
After his conversations with Blair, Kyle, and Dom, he’d checked into the various methods the Center had of dealing with trauma, and had been drawn to trying EMDR, which Kyle and several others in the Manhattan Center were certified to perform for latent or online guides. Tony was more accepting of it because it was technique for reprocessing memories rather than just conventional talk therapy. Even though he’d read through the science of it, he’d still been skeptical until he’d actually done it.
The first few days after a session were anything but better, but then it suddenly was better. Less nightmares, no flashbacks. The memories he worked on were blunted and faded the way they were supposed to be rather than sharp and vibrant.
While there was still some talk element involved, it was more about directing the treatment and focusing on the right things than talking about his daddy issues or delving deep on anything. It certainly didn’t require Tony to delve into the discomfort of self reflection.
It also helped that he’d grown to trust Kyle over the short period of time he’d know the other man. And while the work was personal, it wasn’t so intimate and revealing that it made Tony uncomfortable to work with Kyle in other ways.
He knocked on the door to Kyle’s office, heading in as soon as he heard the guide’s voice bid him enter. Scott was hovering behind Kyle, leaning over and looking at something.
They both frowned when Tony entered. Scott gave a sniff, frown deepening.
“You feel really irritated,” Kyle said immediately.
“You smell it too,” Scott added.
“You guys are the worst,” Tony complained. “What happened to the no reading me thing?”
“I’m not actually reading you,” Kyle said, leaning back in his chair. “You’re practically projecting irritation.”
“I can’t help what I smell,” Scott said as he leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest.
Tony huffed and flopped in the chair.
“Everything okay?” Kyle pressed.
“Fine. I’m trying to get these meetings set up to figure out how to get our superhero boy band under the auspices of the U.N., and that’s just all kinds of annoying. I need to go to Japan next week, so part of our meeting needs to be about filling you guys in and making sure I’ve got all my proverbial ducks in a row.” He sighed. “And it doesn’t help that with everything else going on that all my friends are sticking their nose in my choices about who I date.”
“We’re not trying to pry into your personal life, Tony. And you know we’ll help in any way we can when it comes to getting the planetary defense group sorted out.”
He waved his hand, not meaning it the way Kyle took it. “I don’t mean you guys. I’m talking about Pep, Rhodey, Happy… Each of them warning me away from Dom. So if you guys are feeling disapproving, you might as well say something now, let everyone get it out of their system now today. Because I’m going to lose my cool the next time this happens.”
“Hell no.” Scott shook his head. “Even if I were inclined to give you relationship advice—which I’m not—I sure the hell am not getting up in Dom’s business.”
Tony blinked. “Uh. Okay.”
Kyle frowned. “I assume your friends are bugging you about being involved with a sentinel? Warning you that it’s a short-term prospect and not to get attached?”
“It’s like you’re psychic or something,” Tony said deadpan.
Kyle smiled, but it seemed oddly sad. “I’d normally be giving you the same speech, to be honest. Just because I wouldn’t want you to get too caught up in what can only be a short-term affair. But this is different—I honestly don’t know what to expect, so I can’t really take it on myself to advise you. The Council gave up trying to make Dom be anything but Dom a long time ago.”
Tony sat up straighter. “Is there something I should know?”
Kyle and Scott exchanged a look but didn’t say anything.
“Are you not telling me something? Oh, god, he’s not dying or something is he?” Tony felt sick to his stomach at the thought that something might be wrong with Dom.
“No!” Kyle said sharply. “It’s just… There’s this thing that most sentinels and a few guides are aware of that maybe you should know about…”
“Ky,” Scott said in a warning tone.
“Come on, Scott. Considering what what’s going on, not to mention the Avengers thing, I feel it’s in the spirit of Dom’s instructions to volunteer the info.”
“Consider me asking about Sentinel Rossi,” Tony interjected, making his request plain in case that eased some burden of conscience.
Thompson moved away from the wall, pacing in a way that reminded Tony of a big, predatory cat. “Rossi is a bit…unusual as sentinels go.”
“How so, and why does it matter?”
“We think it’s why SHIELD has always been so interested in him, and it might be relevant to your personal ties…” Scott sounded uncomfortable.
“Let’s start a little more foundational and not speculate,” Monahan said. “In a room full of sentinels, they can feel who the strongest sentinel is. How is something we don’t quite understand, but it’s not just a matter of opinion. They will all, without exception, point out the same person as the ‘strongest.’ That feeling usually correlates to who has the strongest senses.”
“Okay. I mean, I guess that make sense that the strongest sentinel would have the most acute senses. Though how they can just know is weird.” Tony wondered how that even worked. “It certainly implies there’s more than sensory strength at work.”
“Exactly. We test sentinels on three senses: sight, hearing, and smell. We haven’t devised tests that are granular enough for the other two senses. Basically, anyone at a level five or above tops out our ability to measure taste and touch. But the other three, well, the more time passes, the more refined our tests have become.
“And bonded sentinels can learn to piggyback their senses by leveraging psionic energy through their bond, which makes their sensory aptitude even more impressive. In any case, when it comes to the three senses, the Council keeps a confidential report of who the strongest sentinels are based strictly on the test results.
“Jim Ellison is in the top spot for smell and hearing while he’s number two for sight. I actually think he’s probably actually number one by a significant margin, but he’s most likely to zone on visual stimulus because his sight is so sensitive, so he probably hasn’t tested as well as he could.”
“Number two is nothing to sneeze at,” Tony remarked.
Scott added, “The point is that our testing methodology has consistently proved out the instinctive response of other sentinels, which is that Jim Ellison is the strongest sentinel living today.”
Tony had no idea where this was going. “And I assume that’s why he’s the Sentinel Prime of North America.”
“Yes.” Monahan made a frustrated noise. “You have to understand that there’s a lot that goes into determining the rating for a sentinel or guide, but how we pick our primes is more about instinct than it is about ratings—but people might mistakenly think it’s just about a number on a page. And the Primes are vital.”
“Alpha sentinels are extremely territorial,” Scott interjected, “and inclined toward an instinctive hierarchy. It’s important that a given territory have a clear leader. It looks like a governance structure we formed on purpose but, in reality, we formed our structure around a sentinel’s hard-wired imperative.”
Tony was rapidly putting pieces together, but the picture still wasn’t clear.
Kyle added, “The strongest bonded sentinel leads the pride unless they’re deemed unfit, which is a whole other story. But the point is that it’s baked into a sentinel’s brain who the strongest sentinel is, and therefore the leader of the Pride, and it’s not about arbitrary bureaucracy.”
“I get it,” Tony said. “And even though I didn’t explicitly know some of that, it all flows with what I did know. But I don’t get what you’re trying to tell me with all that information. What does it have to do with Dom.”
Kyle drummed his fingers on the desk. “If I were to show you the list of the top two hundred sentinels, tested for any of the three skills, they’d all be bonded sentinels.”
“Top thousand,” Thompson added.
“Yeah, probably,” Monahan conceded. “So, if we exclude tests that require sensory piggybacking, it’s interesting that Dom has always tested in the top twenty—he’s the only unbonded sentinel to have a sensory rank that anyone even cares about. An unbonded sentinel is one of the strongest sentinels on Earth. And that’s not even factoring in how he’s the least territorial sentinel I’ve ever met. He has almost no territorial imperative at all that we’ve seen.”
Tony blinked a few times. “How?”
“We don’t know. But, the other factor is that even though he hasn’t surpassed Ellison on the tests, even though he’s not in that number one spot on our paperwork, any sentinel that meets him will tell you he’s the strongest sentinel in the room.”
“Uh…” Tony rubbed the back of his neck, working through that. “You’re saying that other sentinels feel like Dom should be the Prime of… something?”
“Sort of?” Monahan made a so-so gesture. “Sentinels don’t react to him like he’s a Prime even though they feel he’s the strongest, which feels to everyone who meets him like an inherent contradiction. In any case, the point of all this is that we were pretty sure our systems were compromised at one point a few years ago. We subsequently did a big security upgrade, but it was after that breach, and after a possibly unfortunate conversation that was probably spied on, that SHIELD started trying to recruit him.”
“Why was the conversation unfortunate?” Tony made mental note to extend an offer of security enhancements to Jim and Blair.
“I was discussing Dom with Jim and Blair one day and speculating about what would happen if Dom were bonded. Where would he fall in the Pride structures and things like that. And Blair joked and said, ‘What? Do we need an Earth Prime?’ And we all laughed and moved on. Now, that seems less like a joke. It actually feels resonant. Prescient even.”
Tony felt a little queasy. What would any of that mean for Dom? Or for their relationship.
“The point, Tony, is that while I might normally try to warn you about getting too attached to a sentinel, Dom has never, to my knowledge, craved a guide the way most sentinels do. He’s an anomaly in a lot of ways, and I think maybe the best advice I could give you would be to take it as it comes. To listen to Dom and your own instincts over any advice someone might offer.”
Tony nodded, agreeing easily enough, but he couldn’t help wondering what it all meant.
– – – –