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The Devouring of Hearts

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“Hm,” Pepper hums from where she’s tucked against Toni’s side, arm resting almost proprietorially across the back of the couch and fingertips just barely brushing the top of Toni’s shoulder.

Across from the room by the bar James and Happy square off for what has to be the third time in the last hour, this time over a tray of drinks.

It’s an unsubtle and very male sort of posturing that’s more than a bit hilarious all things considering.

It’s adorable really, the way Happy’s being so obviously and high-handedly overprotective.

As if Toni, or Pepper for that matter, have every required that kind of thing.

But, Toni supposes, it really is the thought that counts.

Happy, for all of his bluster and size, is the sweetest, the softest, of them all even if Toni knows that can still make him far more vicious than most if the situation calls for it.

He is one of hers after all, a cherished and equal part of her family, so him getting up in arms like this outside of a real emergency really is just a sign of how much Toni means to him.

Plus James seems more than a bit amused but overall willing to indulge Happy a bit in these bloodless sort of power plays.

It makes Toni fall just a bit more in love with him somehow.

Makes her want to dig her hooks just a bit deeper into him than she already has, to make herself that much harder to pry from beneath his skin.

Makes her want to swallow him bit by bit until he’s etched into every bit of her so deeply, so intrinsically, that no one will ever be able to cut him out of her.

And, considering just how deeply the two of them have already managed to entwine themselves in such a short amount of time, that’s actually saying rather a lot in Toni’s opinion.

It’s something Toni had never thought she’d have, had never thought she’d find, this kind of bone deep and hot blooded connection.

But, like she’d told Rhodey before, this, James, is very much a special case.

“Diamond for your thoughts, Pepper-pot?” Toni asks absently, eyes hooded as she scratches her claws gently across Rhodey’s scalp.  It’s an automatic gesture born out of long use between the two of them though, so the bulk of Toni’s attention is rather firmly riveted on the give and flex of James’ shoulders beneath the tight shirt he’s wearing.

Delicious.

“It’s ‘a penny for your thoughts’, Tones, a penny,” Rhodey pipes up from where he’s still sprawled across her lap like a particularly smug panther.  Splatter is stretched out across his chest in turn like a smug little feline mirror.

“Those are the brown ones right?”  Toni cuts a look down towards Rhodey.  “Kind of small?”

“Oh god yes they’re the brown ones,” Rhodey rolls his eyes so hard she’s surprised they don’t come rolling out of his skull.

Which could prove to be interesting in a number of ways.

She’d pop them back in of course, she loves Rhodey and his eyes too much not to, but that’s hardly the point.

“They still make those things?”  Toni asks, more than a bit skeptical.  “I thought those were an urban legend or antiques or something by now.  Pretty sure I’ve never actually seen one in person regardless.”

Ugh,” Rhodey groans lowly, hands coming up to cover his face.  “I don’t even know why I bother.”

Still tucked against Toni’s side Pepper bites off a fond laugh.

“Possibly fake forms of currency aside,” Toni waves Rhodey’s dramatics aside easily enough.  “What’s going through that beautifully devious mind of yours Pep?”

“Just that we’ve both got excellent taste in men and that I’m going to need to rip Happy’s clothes off sometime in the next fifteen to twenty minutes,” Pepper says easily, plush red lips unfurling in a wide, toothy smile.  “And also if Sergeant Barnes hurts you in a way you don’t ask for I’ll rip his spine out through his mouth. Slowly.”

“That’s what I said,” Rhodey says cheerfully, a fist raised up in Pepper’s direction.

Toni grins when Pepper automatically reaches out and bumps it. 

“But you’ll have to get in line cause I called murder dibs on anything Toni would leave of him.”  Rhodey keeps going then, fist still raised. “And also spine ripping dibs, so you might want to find a new technique while you’re at it, otherwise it’s plagiarism and that’s illegal.”

The fist bump transitions smoothly into Pepper raking her short but still cat sharp nails across the back of Rhodey’s hand.

Ow, I’m surrounded by goddamn vicious ass women,” Rhodey grouses as he jerks his fist back.  He inspects the shallow scratches for a second and then tilts his fist to let Splatter lick the blood from the back of his hand.  “Just for that you’re no longer welcome in the line to eventually murder Barnes. As a matter of fact, now I am the line.  You’ve lost your murder privileges altogether.”

“Now now,” Toni chides lightly, “play nice lovelies.  I love a good vengeance plan as much as the next girl but we all know that Smudge and JARVIS would beat both of you to the slaughter by proximity alone.  Still, that being said, please don’t restrict yourselves. Diversifying is almost always the best option and, thankfully, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of non-James focused murder to go around in the future.  And we all know I’m all in favor of a little homicide if the mood is right.”

“Did someone say homicide?” James asks as he makes his way back towards the couch, tray victoriously in hand and looking far too smug for the situation.

It’s a look Toni’s seen on his face before and she can’t wait to see that same expression once again in a more private and intimate setting.

He does look so very perfect when he’s staring up at her just like that from between her thighs and Toni has a number of other situations and positions she’d like to see it from.

Happy, his face drawn into a petulant scowl, ducks around him and practically throws himself down on the floor in front of where Toni and Pepper are sitting.

“In this family, darling,” Toni drawls lowly, “murder’s likely always a topic of conversation in some way, shape, or form.”

The absolutely smoldering look James sends in her direction makes Toni’s heart flutter and her stomach clench with a glorious rush of fresh heat.

“Okay you two,” Rhodey claps his hands together abruptly, “tone that shit down.  I don’t really feel like seeing more of your mating dance than I already have all up close and personal at the moment.  Or ever.”

Toni flicks the end of Rhodey’s nose lightly with her fingers while a split second smirk flits over James’ face.

“You know,” James says after a moment’s pause, that same thread of amusement still alive in his eyes, “I’m starting to see a bit of a pattern here.”

He nods towards the veritable knot of limbs that is the four of them, and Splatter, sitting entwined on the couch.

There is, of course, basically an ocean of free space past Rhodey’s legs and a number of free arm chairs and stools scattered about the room as well.

The fact that every inch of space around Toni is currently occupied is no coincidence.

“There’s a hierarchy,” Pepper tells him sweetly as she curls close to Toni’s side.  “We’ve known her longer.”

Rhodey just holds his no longer bleeding hand back up for another fist bump and all Toni can do is laugh.

~~~

Later, after the others have left, after Toni’s taken the time to officially introduce James to JARVIS and the bots and watched, delighted, as they tried to enthusiastically dismember him, James finally sprawls himself down onto the couch.

His hands are warm and wide when he grabs Toni by the hips and lifts her onto his lap with ease.

“I like your family,” he says against the hollow of her throat.  “They’d bathe in blood for you, красавица.  Like I would.  Like I have.”

“They could be your family now too, in time.” Toni tells him as she tilts her head back, hands buried in his hair.  “If you want.”

Oh,” James rasps, teeth sharp against her neck and hands shifting to slide up her thighs and underneath her skirt, “I want.  So much.”

“You’re mine to keep now, remember?” Toni gasps lightly, hands pressing him closer as his teeth bite deliciously deep.  “If you want it, take it.”

And he does.

~~~

After those rounds of official introductions, and once the obligatory posturing stage is mostly done and out of the way, Toni’s initial thought proves itself right with an almost astonishing speed.

This thing between the two of them, this seed of vicious love and aching, ravenous, want, truly is a thing worth nurturing.

Is something worth feeding with blood and heat, and bone and soul if necessary as it grows and blossoms.

Because James just … fits.

He slides further into place in the ebb and flow of life within the Tower, sinks into the whirling, dark chaos of Toni’s life, with an ease that both does and does not surprise her.

He steps forward to her side with a sort of deadly intent that makes her yearn in all the best ways.

And then he stays there, steadfast and sturdy, as immovable as a mountain and as deadly as the sea.

It all seems to come together, Toni can’t help but think at odd times, as if it was always meant to be.

Toni likes to think that maybe it was.

Like maybe this thing between them is something natural and perfect for all of its darker, hotter, shades of being.

Like maybe they were inevitable in some way.

Like the dark thing inside of her had called out to the dark thing inside of him.

Because being with James is like the taste of blood, thick and heavy and rich on the back of Toni’s tongue.

Is like the rush of sliding a blade in deep with that exquisite sort of precision that so few can achieve.

Is like the blush of awe that comes hand in hand with hearing the echoing howl of the wolf baying at a blood red moon.

It is like every dark, decadent, and lush indulgence Toni has ever glutted herself on over the years all rolled into one.

Toni is so very pleased that she gets to keep him.

That they get to keep each other.

And Toni doesn’t intend to let anything or anyone change that.

They are selfish creatures, the Starks and the Addamses both, and Toni has always been the pinnacle of both bloodlines poured into a single, unapologetically wicked, vessel.

What is hers, remains hers.

Woe unto any who would try to say otherwise.

~~~

“I told you they were in their death throes but,” Toni says late one evening when the moon is thick and full, “there’s still one more HYDRA base I haven’t taken care of.  It’s a sickly thing, made up of stragglers with no real power but I wanted to save it for something special.”

James goes still beneath her, the hand in her hair clenching sharply, but Toni doesn’t stop tracing her claws down the seam of James’ arm.

She can’t help but admire the way the slick black shine looks against the silver, or the way that the knots of scar tissue feel beneath her fingertips.

Toni leans forward and presses open mouthed, sharp toothed kisses across the seam of his arm.

James groans beneath her, hips bucking upwards sharply as blood blooms rich and spicy across her tongue.

As greedy for the taste of him as she always is, Toni makes sure not to waste a single drop before she pulls back just a bit.

He really does taste better than anything she’s ever had before in her life.

“Come hunting with me, James,” Toni practically purrs as his free hand traces down the length of her spine until he’s palming the swell of her ass in his palm.  “Let’s wreak a little havoc together.”

Yes,” James growls as he shifts, cock thick and heavy against her inner thigh before his hand presses her down in just the right way at just the right angle.

Toni moans, turns her attention back to the broad expanse of his chest, to the thick, heavy pounding of his heart.

Her teeth bite deep.

And then all that there is between and around them is ecstasy.

And blood.

~~~

“I’ve been a busy girl since we met on that rooftop,” Toni admits as she leads James towards the back corner of her workshop and the array of things that JARVIS had the bots lay out for them there.

“Exquisite,” James rumbles as he runs his hand across the line of the rifle Toni had specially modified with him in mind.  He brings their clasped hands up to press a kiss against her knuckles, lips trailing lightly up her arm towards the crook of her elbow.  “Just like you, красавица.”

Toni hums in response and pulls him in for a biting kiss.

Because it is true.

There’s more than a little bit of her own sort of sharp edged flair in the things she’s made for him.  Even more so than the things she used to make for SI to sale.

This gun in particular will be a true monster of a thing, unlike the powerful but woefully unrefined rifle James had once been prepared to shoot her with.

Honestly Toni’s still almost offended that HYDRA hadn’t sprung for something more extravagant for her assassination attempt.

Although anything less than an actual SI model weapon would still be considered unrefined to Toni so that leaves her in a rather unique position regarding this particular issue.

But, Toni supposes idly, they do get some points for sending James himself instead of some insignificant lackey that Toni would have fed to Smudge with zero hesitation.

Rhodey would no doubt be simultaneously amused and pissed about her being huffy over HYDRA’s choice of assassination techniques not being up to her standards.

He always has been more than a bit prickly over the oddest things despite all of their shared antics over the years.

“Flattery will get you everywhere,” Toni cuts a grin up at James.  “Including right into the new body armor I designed for you too.  Everything you’ll be wearing tonight will be something I made for you.”

A shiver rattles down James’ spine, something feral and hungry peeking out from behind blade sharp lines of his face.

“I’m a selfish creature at heart,” Toni tells him, reminds him, warns him.  “I wanted the chance to watch you work, up close and … personal again.”

“Show me,” James urges, that gloriously dark look that Toni so adores burning bright in his eyes.

And so she does.

~~~

James takes to every gift she’d presented to him with a delightfully dark sort of glee.

Between him and Toni in the armor their target never stands a chance.

Not that it would have against either of them on their own.

Separately, even focusing on the same goal, they’d had HYDRA burning and bleeding within months.

Now, working together as they are, Toni and James are something beyond nightmares.

So the base cracks like a rib cage, the remaining lower level HYDRA agents hemorrhaging out from all directions.

They’re the final pulses of HYDRA’s life blood, the last sickly head to be severed and cauterized.

All that’ll be left now are lone agents, individuals here and there that have escaped and gone into hiding.

For now.

Toni’s sure she’ll find them all eventually with JARVIS’ help, or at least the ones they’re not already tracking of course.

She’s also sure they’ll make excellent presents to James sometime in the future.

Date nights and holiday weekends and all that.

Oh JARVIS,” Toni breathes, blood rushing hot and heavy in her veins, some mix of rapture and obsession yawning to life inside of her.  “Isn’t he beautiful?”

Across from her, knives sheathed and guns holstered, James has adopted a more personal approach to his extermination.

Toni hadn’t been able to help but step out of the armor for a while and watch him work just like she’d told him.

“He does possess a certain sort of … artistry.”  JARVIS agrees easily enough.  “His ability to disarticulate others it particularly skilled.  Especially bare handed.”

“And the screaming,” Toni shivers as she tilts her parasol just so and deflects what looks like  hunks of liver, or possibly spleen, maybe even a bit of both, down and to the side.  Settled beside her Smudge cackles in delight and quickly snaps it up.

“I’m currently uploading all live footage to your digital diary and I have a few still shots that would make excellent background images.  Perhaps even a collage of some sort in the future.” JARVIS tells her. “Shall I also take the liberty of changing your settings and adding in a new ringtone Miss?” 

“Oh baby boy, you know just what I like,” Toni agrees, eyes riveted on the way James has put Rhodey and Pepper’s favorite threat into actual action.

She’s pretty sure that this might be what it feels like to swoon.

~~~

“Give it to me, красавица,” James rasps against the pale line of her throat sometime later.  “Give it to me.”

It’s both a demand and a plea.

Prayer and seduction.

Toni, legs wrapped around his waist, one hand buried in his hair and the claws of the other biting deep and true into the meat of his right shoulder, can’t help the delighted moan that rips its way out of her in that moment.

“Fall with me, красавица,” James half commands, half pleads again, his stubble slick with blood and sweat as he bites the words out against her skin.  “Toni.”

When she looks down at him, James’ expression is set in some tortured mixture of rapture and agony as he chants her name.

The intensity between them seems to be growing by the day and Toni has always been a creature of extremes as it is, as all Starks and Addams seem to be.

And this thing between her and her James?  This sharp toothed and voracious abyss that looms hungrily around the two of them?

Well it has always been something she’s been more than willing to embrace.

To pitch herself head first into with all of the glee she can muster.

So, pressed between James’ heat and the rough brick wall of a destroyed warehouse, her clothes in tatters with buttons missing and seams ripped, and the armor standing sentinel behind them, Toni does the only thing she can do in the moment.

James,” Toni gasps his name out as she throws her head back and falls.

‘Love’, Toni can’t help but think as pleasure wells up to overwhelm her senses, the feel of James’ teeth in her neck only driving her higher and higher.  ‘It truly is a madness most divine.’

~~~

Obsession really is, and always will be, the birthright of the Stark and Addams lines alike.

And oh what a glorious birthright it has turned out to be.

~~~

“There’s one last person you need to meet,” Toni tells James with almost uncharacteristic solemness.  “How do you feel about a quick trip?”

“I’d follow you anywhere, красавица,” James tells her.  “Right into Hell itself.”

That feral and sharp, burning thing that’s always lingered inside of him when he looks at her has only grown since that first night on the rooftop.

Toni thinks it might be one of the most beautiful things she’s ever seen.

“Hm,” Toni hums, pleased and possessive and unashamed of either.  “We’ll save Hell for some other day shall we? For now I was thinking about a quick jaunt back to Malibu.”

Because now that Toni has James with her, has him at her side and in her bed and entwined around her very soul, it’s only right that she take the time to introduce him to Edwin.

Meeting the parents is, after all, supposed to be a right of passage.

Or at least that’s what Rhodey’s always told her.

~~~

“Edwin,” Toni sighs the greeting from where she’s sprawled across the top of the tomb, gown spread out around her and hair spilling out around her like thick tendril of shadow.  “This is the one I told you about. My James.”

Standing above her, eyes as bright as blade shine and hot as fire, James watches her silently.

“James,” Toni reaches out a black taloned hand in his direction.

James takes it in his own instantly, bending down to press a biting trail of kisses from her wrist to her elbow in that way of his that has quickly become familiar.

“This,” Toni runs the claws of her free hand gently across the marble of the tomb, the grief is still sharp and cold in her bones but neither of those things have ever stopped her before, “is Edwin Jarvis, he was the Stark butler for many years but ... he was also my father.”

It’s the first time Toni’s ever admitted that out loud to anyone outside of her family and Yinsen.

Or, well, anyone that’s still alive.

She sees the recognition flare in James’ eyes, knows that he knows the name, has made the multiple connections and has likely already pieced together the majority of the story.

“Tell me?” James asks anyways.

It’s a request filled with more weight than seems possible.

And so Toni does.

She tells him about the sand and the heat and merciless scorch of the sun.

She tells him about the blood and bodies and how none of it had been enough to give back what was taken from her.

One day, Toni thinks with a certain sort of awe, she’ll tell him the rest of it too.

Will tell him about what had come before.

~~~

The moon rises full and bright and bloodstained above the mansion.

Hands entwined and bodies pressed close together, Toni and James glide their way around the balcony, uncaring of the sheer drop off only feet away from them.

Shadows and moonlight lap at their every step as they dance together to a song that only they can hear.

Trapped in the arctic glow of James’ eyes, seared by the heat of him, Toni feels as if she barely touches the ground.

~~~

The Tower welcomes them home as it always does.

Sprawled across the black leather and gold couch down in the workshop, Splatter on her lap and Mother stretched out behind her, Toni basks in the contentment she feels.

Across from her James is busy showing the bots a much more effective way to dismember a body.  All the while Smudge crouches at his side, practically vibrating in eagerness as he snaps up whatever bits and pieces of the former sleeper agent James throws his way.

James really is a natural when it comes to her kids.

Just another item to add to Toni’s ever expanding list of things to appreciate about him really.

“Make sure you save a few bits for Audrey II,” Toni reminds him, nodding towards the small potted plant sitting on one of her worktables.

Happy’s going to be absolutely delighted to know that his baby has finally spawned.

And once Toni’s nursed it a little bit she’s sure it’ll be the perfect anniversary present for him and Pepper.

~~~

But of course the tranquility never really lasts.

There is, after all, no rest for the wicked.

~~~

Toni’s bent back over James’ thighs, his flesh hand fisted in her hair and her teeth clamped down around the silver gleam of his metal thumb when JARVIS breaks the heavy atmosphere around them.

“Pardon the interruption but I’m afraid you have a set of visitors Miss,” JARVIS sounds honestly apologetic.  “I have them currently contained in the elevator.”

James practically snarls in irritation, a sentiment that Toni fully understands and shares.

“We’re busy, JARVIS darling, feel free to gas the compartment if they refuse to come back later.” Toni waves the interruption away as she brings her claws up to open up a shallow slice on the arch of her throat.

Above her James groans, the hand in her hair pulling her upwards even as his head dips down.

“I confess I did contemplate simply dropping the elevator car a few floors,” JARVIS admits.  “Nothing particularly fatal, just enough for a light maiming perhaps, but given that it’s Director Fury and Agent Coulson from SHIELD I reconsidered.  Plus the Director did say it was rather urgent.”

Despite her displeasure in being interrupted Toni can’t help the curl of interest that sparks to life inside of her.

She’d met Coulson once before and has, of course, read his entire file, but this is the first time Fury’s right hand man has sought her out since the gala.  He’s been far too busy to come near her ever since she’d warned Nick-at-Night about his little pest problem.

Having the two of them show up on her proverbial door step together is more than a bit odd.

Although perhaps Fury really did get the message she’d given Barton considering that he and Coulson have chosen to approach her head on with no attempts at subterfuge or underhandedness this time.

“I still don’t march to Fury’s fife,” Toni says as she brushes the supposed importance off for the moment.  “Tell them to either come back or to get comfortable because it’ll be at least an hour wait.”

Fury’s idea of important is, after all, far different than Toni’s own.

“Of course, Miss,” JARVIS agrees smoothly.

“Now,” Toni turns her full attention back to James then, “where were we?”

“I was about to make you scream,” James rasps, teeth sharp against the line of her jaw and cock thick and hot against the small of her back.

Oh please do,” Toni agrees eagerly.

And then he does.

~~~

Fury looks less than impressed and Coulson looks more than a bit bemused when JARVIS finally opens the elevator door two hours later.

It probably doesn’t help that the first thing they both see is Smudge, gold and ruby gorget style collar firmly in place, grinning at them from the other side of the doors.

“I owe Barton an apology,” Coulson says blandly, eyes latched firmly onto Smudge’s gleaming teeth and lolling tongue as his hand tightens around the tablet he’s holding.

Toni, strategically sprawled in one of her high backed, black leather and dark wood chairs, just runs the claws of her left hand through Splatter’s fur and smiles.

James is, of course, nowhere to be seen.

For the moment.

“There’s no apology on earth that can make up for having to deal with Stark,” Fury replies blandly as they both move further into the room.

Toni watches in amusement as Fury’s eye flicks between where she’s sitting and the way that Smudge’s head has turned almost all the way around so that he’s watching them over his shoulder.  All the while Fury balances what looks like a bakery box in one hand while the other hovers near his side and, undoubtedly, the gun that he has holstered there.

“Careful Nicky,” Toni chides as she drums the claws of her free hand against the arm of her chair, a deliberate and subtle sort of reminder.  “You don’t write, you don’t call, and now you’re being very rude.  And we’ve had conversations about that in the past haven’t we?  I’d hate to have to rehash them with you.”

“And I brought a gift that I’d hate to see go to waste,” Fury parries back as he finally moves far enough into the room to drop the bakery box on the large coffin shaped glass table in the middle of the room.  “Blood orange and dark chocolate, just like those ones I know you like.”

“Now Nick Knack,” Toni raises a hand up to rest her fingertips over her heart, “I’m afraid I’m already spoken for so gifts will get you nowhere.  Although I will admit that I expected a little more finesse from a proposition from you, and a bit more … atmosphere.”

Toni hears the low, rippling growl that seems to echo from the corners of the room.

And, judging by the way both Fury and Coulson stiffen and stare at first Smudge and then around the penthouse in ill disguised unease, she’s not the only one.

For his part Smudge just cackles and gets up to wander off towards the kitchen.

“Your frankly nightmare inducing possible romantic partners aside, the last time I tangled with something like you Stark I lost an eye,” Fury flicks a gesture up towards his eye-patch.  “Learned a lot of lessons that day, got no desire to repeat any of them. Plus I’ve spent more than ten minutes in a room alone with you.”

Rude,” Toni warns him once again, more than a bit amused.  “I am a delight.”

“You’re a lot of things Stark, delightful isn’t one of them as far as I can tell,” Fury cuts back and then barrels on before she can interrupt.  “But what you are is secure. And that’s what I’m looking for right now, a bit of security.”

“Well I can tell you that that trench coat of yours does wonderful things for your shoulders and that I’ve never seen a man pull off an eye-patch so well,” Toni tells him.  “Does that help?”

Stark,” Fury grits out only to cut himself off when Smudge ambles back into the room, four plates and dessert forks balanced in a small stack on top of his head.

“Be a dear and serve up those delightful bits of bribery before we get onto business won’t you?” Toni instructs as Smudge tilts his head forward and lets the small stack of dishware slide down his nose to rest on the table beside the bakery box.

Blank faced but more than a bit frayed around the edges Coulson steps forward and does just that at Fury’s gesture, flipping the box open and plating up four pastries.

He hands one to Fury who takes it with a barely suppressed snarl and then takes a step towards Toni only to still when Smudge steps between them again.

After a brief hesitation Coulson puts the plate and fork back down to balance on Smudge’s head and watches as Smudge carts it over to where Toni’s sitting.

The third plate Coulson takes for himself and Toni doesn’t miss the way both he and Fury warily eye the fourth plate that sits untouched on the table.

Everything’s silent for a few moments as they eat, the blood orange and dark chocolate confections thick and decadent.

Once they’re all finished, dirty plates and forks collected by Smudge and taken away, Fury finally speaks again.

“I’ve got a situation that goes beyond top secret at the moment,” Fury practically bites the words out.  “I need security wrapped around this so tightly there’s not even whispers of whispers escaping. Something I know for a fact HYDRA’s never touched even if it is pretty much ashes now and, god help us all, that means I’ve got to deal with you.”

“And now I’m flattered all over again,” Toni tells him as Smudge comes back and settles in the empty space between the three of them, a clear dividing line in the room.

An unnecessary sort of gesture but it seems as if Smudge has decided to emulate all of the other overprotective and dramatic men in her life at the moment.

Adorable.

“Everything we’ve compiled on the situation is on this secure tablet,” Coulson steps forward then and, to his credit, doesn’t even attempt to hand the tablet to her.  Instead he holds it out in Smudge’s direction and doesn’t even blink when it’s take from his hand by a cackling muzzle full of gleaming white teeth. “It’s heavily encrypted but I’m sure it’ll pose no problem for you.”

Toni takes the tablet from Smudge but makes no move to turn it on.

Again, her definition of urgent and Fury’s are vastly different.

“I need a response within the next forty-eight hours Stark,” Fury presses, already turning on his heel and striding towards the elevator.  Coulson, with a brief nod in Toni’s direction, follows along on his heels. “This reality's version of forty-eights hours too, not whatever your version of it is.”

“You really shouldn’t dine and dash,” Toni calls after the two of them even as JARVIS lets them into the elevator.

Toni has the satisfaction of watching their eyes widen as the elevator jolts sharply before the doors snap closed.

JARVIS won’t drop them too far.

Maybe.

James melts out of the shadows of the corner then, moving across the room to her chair.

He only pauses long enough to scoop her up out of the seat, turn to sit down himself, and then place her firmly on his lap.

Toni lets him move her even as she keeps a hold of the tablet with one hand.  Splatter transfers himself from Toni’s lap to the wide expanse of James’ shoulders with familiar ease.

“Shall we see just what our local pirate has brought us?”  Toni asks, secure enough in JARVIS’ skills to turn the tablet on without any worries.  Even if it is, by some chance, broadcasting some kind of signal JARVIS will squash it like the pest it is before it can even begin to do anything.

The encryption breaks beneath JARVIS and Toni’s combined touches with ridiculous ease and Toni wastes no time in pulling up the only file located on the entire device.

Pressed up against him as she is Toni feels it when, staring down over her shoulder at the photo that’s been attached to the file, James goes as still as a statue.

There’s a moment’s silence.

And then…

Stevie,” James breathes the name out against the shell of Toni’s ear.

“Well now,” Toni practically purrs as she taps one sharp black talon over the words Status: Recovered, “isn’t this interesting?”