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There is no 'I'...

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There is no ‘I’…

Chapter 1

Tony blinked as the nerve damage caused a white haze to steal his vision and flinched away from the electric buzzing near his ear.

“Don’t.” He fought to keep it a command rather than a plea, but was sure he failed when a low gloating chuckle preceded a response.

“Just hearing you beg is gonna make my month you know that Anthony?” Firm hands anchored his head in place, pressing Tony’s cheekbone so hard he feared they might snap. “Now hold still Baby, this will sting.”

Tony twisted and fought, pulling at the restraining hands, but it didn’t matter. Cold metal pressed to his temple and the buzzing became not just a sound but a vibration behind his blinded eyes. With slow, agonizing pulses the noise increased until he was only aware of it, the desperate strain of his wrists in cruel fingers and the pain that was just starting to make it presence known. Three points of fire beginning to bore their way towards his mind and Tony screamed out his helplessness and rage, hoping that the others would hear him. Hoping they’d be in time.

*****

24 Hours Earlier.

Iron Man circled the towing skyscraper, enjoying the aerial view of Manhattan on a clear day, knocking back the insects with repulsor shots and calculating the possibility of Thor accidentally frying his ass with lightning in the next thirty seconds.

“Unlikely, Sir. We have enhanced the armor with the Ukona weather array mesh. It should resist all electrical emissions…” JARVIS explained. Again.

“Yeah, yeah. But we never researched the difference between natural…” Tony ducked to avoid a wasp the size of a bus,” ...lightening and Mythical Norse God of Thunder Lightening. Take readings.” He still couldn’t get a view into the penthouse, but could imagine the battle going on inside. Romonoff would be felling guards like a petite red-haired woodsman without the plaid. Clint was supposed to stay in the lobby, but being Clint, he wouldn’t and the Captain…well, Tony wasn’t going to dwell on the attractions of Captain America while dodging lightening and whatever those eight legged green things were that looked like something fatal from Australia.

“Taking all possible scans and readings on the electricity generated by the hammer, Sir. May I suggest that this battle has taken longer than projected and that the team inside the Wallenguard Building is meeting greater than expected resistance?” There was just the slightest kernel of concern lacing the A.I’s voice. Tony suspected he had a crush on the Black Widow.

Grinning he boosted around to the north face of the seemingly normal building and hovered outside the fifty-ninth floor windows. “JARVIS, you can be as suggestive about the battle as you want.” And considering he’d been created by Tony Stark that was likely pretty damn suggestive. “Still can’t get past the funky windows?”

“No Sir. Satellite transmissions, infra-red all unable to…”

“Cool.” Tony fired twin repulsors at the gleaming surface and watched toughened class rain down on the dozen shocked women conducting an occult ritual within. The HUD showed Tony an unmoving form in the centre of a stylized star. At each of the nine points were bowls offering puffs of pale lilac smoke. The fresh air from the obliterated window cleaned up Tony’s view enough that he could see the central bundle was suspiciously human shaped. “Tell me they’re the ones doing the bug thing and I didn’t just interrupt a perfectly legal Wiccan get together.”

“You are safe from prosecution, Sir. The symbols carved into the marble and the unfortunate individual being used as a larval incubator would suggest you got the correct floor for ‘the bug thing’.”

The billowing red cape in the corner of his eye had Tony adjusting his hovering position for wind shear as Thor pulled up beside him. “The wasps are retreating.” The Viking reported. JARVIS concurred, pointing out the creatures’ direction of retreat and offering pursuit paths. Just as Tony contemplated firing on the witches or going after the wasps, the rest of the Avengers broke down the penthouse door. Tony really, really needed to keep track of the other, but time and again his gaze came back to the red, white and blue figure involved in a kind of violent dance with the blood drenched cult leader. For a ‘non-combative with supernatural powers’ the woman was doing remarkably well against the nigh unmatched hand-to-hand skill of Captain America. What Tony loathed to face in an Avengers training session was being demonstrably successful in the penthouse. Cap’s sharp kick and two punches in quick succession had her almost running backwards, broken bones averted only by the man’s need to subdue and what must be ‘magic’ protection.

“I didn’t think he’d hit a woman,” Tony commented. He could target the rest of the sect, but Fury had insisted this mission have no fatalities and that Iron Man hadn’t learned to pull his punches yet. Hence the wasp dodging. “You know, too much the gentleman.”

Thor watched for another few seconds. “Our Captain is sworn to destroy evil; I do not think the gender of his enemy will deter him from his mission.”

Given that the cult leader had just raked Cap’s face with some razor sharp nails and Tony was pretty sure that was human entrails around her wrist, he was inclined to agree. “Don’t let Romanoff hear you say ‘softer’ or you’ll lose some teeth. God or not.”

The battle continued. Thor’s grip on his hammer tightening as their companions began to gain the upper hand.

“Ouch.” Because yeah, shield to knees would hurt like a bitch. Blood stained mouth wide, robes askew the cult leader threw one last curse at Captain America and stumbled towards the shattered windows.

Tony wondered if he and Thor looked like a very ugly synchronized diving team as they hurtled to stop the death plunge going on before them. Latching onto an ankle, Iron Man pulled into a wide arc so he wouldn’t break any of her bones with whiplash and turned to see the rest of the cultists follow their leader out the fortieth story window.

“Oh fuck me.” Tony cursed.

*****

Tony had allowed the Avengers Initiative six months, one year at the outside, before he became mind-numbingly bored with the whole idea. This was before SHEILD had allocated considerable sums and political favors to Stark Industries for Tony’s ‘consultations’, some of these included tech upgrade requests, bleeding edge software development and Fury’s request for “a flying aircraft carrier, if it’s not too much trouble”. Near drowning in schematics and designs, Fury had then introduced him to the other superheroes and the increasing level of hotness each displayed.

Then there were the giant bugs.

Several hours after the cleanup at the Midtown office building, Tony nodded his thanks to Jarvis and pressed the iced drink to his forehead. Edwin Jarvis was a much a part of the Stark mansion in New York as the priceless antiques he so loved to collect. Tony considered them Jarvis’ property and despite objections had allocated a small fortune to the man to increase, maintain and curate the collection. Much like Pepper and her modern art thing, but with turned legs.

“Can I get you something to eat Master Anthony?” Jarvis the man was far more deferential than JARVIS the AI and Tony was almost glad he hadn’t been able to reproduce the voice perfectly. Running away to the other side of the country, he hadn’t the heart to steal the man from his home, so an artificial copy had been the answer. Tony was used to making his own friends…literally.

But whenever the Avengers were in New York, which was a lot, they stayed at the mansion under Jarvis’ dignified eye.

“Thank you, no.” Years of ingrained respect and love for the man gave Tony manners all but Rhodey were astonished to hear. “I want to go back to L.A.” He groused to Natasha. “There are no suicide cults in Malibu, only suicide blondes.”

Agent Romonoff didn’t look up from the tablet she was typing her report onto. “You’re going back next week for the shareholder meeting you’ve been avoiding while we go to Paris.”

He glanced to Pepper for confirmation, realized Pepper was still in L.A. running Stark Industries, and dropped his forehead to his beautiful French polished dining table.

Tony didn’t look up as Fury and Cap came in for the mission debrief, he’d seen the deep gouges running along a perfect cheekbone as Iron Man ferried the cultists to the SHIELD team on the street. Captain America had shot him one frosty baby blue glare then returned to his discussion with the NYPD.

If he was going to get his ass reamed by Steve Rogers, he’d rather it be in a thousand count cotton sheet way than a ‘you messed up, fella’ way.

“Well done people.” Smooth voice, New York native crossed with years in Europe. “I think we can call this one a success despite…”

“Despite genius over there blowing out a window so the crazy chicks could kill themselves.” Clint Barton wasn’t a fan of Tony. The feeling was mutual. Tony suspected both of them being shot down by Natasha within a week probably had something to do with it…as well as twin man-crushes on Cap.

“We caught them all.” Tony pointed out, lifting his head to look at the archer.

It really wasn’t fair on his libido that all the superheroes in the Avengers were blistering hot guys and one deadly red-head. He’d been having enough trouble keeping his hands off Rhodey and Pepper.

God, he really needed to get laid.

“Iron Man was attempting to discover if your part of the mission was going according to plan.” Thor spoke concisely, arms crossed over his chest. “We were blind and deaf to the strength of the enemy you faced. Iron Man’s action distracted the ceremony just enough to allow you to enter the sanctum.”

Tony saw the surprised looks on Clint and Natasha’s faces and caught the twitch of a smile from Cap.

“What he said.” Tony pointed at Thor.

 Chapter 2

One of the best things about Bruce Banner was that he liked Tony’s music. Or really, as Tony suspected, instead of ‘liked’ insert ‘didn’t notice’, but either way they could work together under the rough voice of Trent Reznor without complaint.

“I can make you angry.” Tony offered from his back as he wrenched at a seized bolt under the 1967 Firebird. The physicist made no comment. “Seriously, I can be incredibly irritating. If you could see under the eye patch there would be a twitch of canyon proportions whenever I talk to Fury.”

Spraying oil onto the bolt, Tony tried to loosen it again. He’d give it one more try then dig around for a pneumatic torque wrench; as long as one of the SHEILD technicians that half-lived here now hadn’t lost it.

“I piss you off, you go steroid green and help…me…turn…this…bitch!” Still wouldn’t budge.

“If I get angry, it’ll toss these cars through the windows and pound you into tiny engineer shaped pieces.” Bruce was distracted by the simulations he had JARVIS working on. “Then Pepper would frown and I’m not man enough to deal with that.”

“Oh c’mon.” Tony wheedled. “Last chance,” he hissed at the bolt. Bracing himself on his heels, Tony lifted his hips off the ground, putting his full body weight onto the socket wrench. After two seconds a small shudder, then nothing. Tony slumped down. He’d be digging through boxes for an hour now.

“Where’s a super hero when you need one?” He asked the cosmos.

“Tony?” There was a note of wry amusement in Captain America’s voice.

Tony looked in despair at the underside of the muffler and indulged in a brief thirteen year old girl moment. Vintage would be a flattering term for the jeans he was wearing, boots unlaced, sweaty t-shirt, grease and oil smeared on his bare arms and yeah...nothing in his hair but finger trails. Some slick billionaire he turned out to be.

“Yeah, Cap?” He asked in a slightly strained voice before he gave himself a mental shake.

“Can you come out from under there, please?” No matter how polite Jarvis had taught Tony to be, it would never rival the courtesy of a boy born in a bygone era.

Scooting out on his ass, Tony took in Cap’s crouched figure, balanced easily on his toes, elbows on knees and fingers laced. His attire, just slightly more casual than the flag, army t-shirt and khaki pants reminded Tony that he’d have to take the man shopping sometime. Military surplus was fine in the short term, but the man would be devastating in some well cut jeans, let alone Armani.

Ruthlessly dragging his gaze away from the fabric stretched taut across Steve’s groin, Tony followed the direction of the blue eyes towards his red, fully restored 1938 SS Jaguar. His baby.

“You can take her for a spin if you like.” Tony offered.

Bruce made a strangled chocking sound.

Cap looked back with a narrow, assessing gaze. “Thank you, I will. Right now Tony, would you please buy me a hot dog?”

Tony blinked and looked out the garage windows towards the mansion. “Sure, ahh Jarvis will…”

“Edwin is busy making dinner for everyone. You might consider hiring him some extra help given there are so many of us staying here now.” It must just have been a natural gift. Surely no other human could possibly deliver what was, in essence, a mild reprimand and make it sound like an honest suggestion with no blame attached.

“Sure,” Tony repeated. “I’ll get Mrs. Arbogast to bring some more people in. You really want a hot dog?”

Cap tilted his head curiously. “Unless they don’t sell them in the park anymore? They do at the train station and at the…”

“Oh no, they still do.” Tony was sure they did, he’d just never bought one before.

“Then Tony, please buy me a real hot dog from a stand. Outside.” The slightest tone of command had entered the even voice.

Tony calculated the time it would take to shower, change clothes, make his hair awesome and find some money. He reassessed based on the determined look on the Captain’s face and came up with a clean t-shirt and no grease as his best possible option.

“Give me five minutes to clean up.” He was going to have to hit Bruce up for cash.

*****

A walk in the park for Tony Stark wasn’t the same as it was for everyone else. Happy was with Pepper, so Tony now had Oakley and two other burly security guards, suspected SHEILD agents, trailing the requisite eight steps behind him. Captain America was also at his side, watching Tony pay for five hotdogs, two with onion, three without, thus the SHEILD guys were acting like blushing fan boys, more likely to taser their own asses than any would-be assassins.

Oakley did have Tony’s briefcase though so the risk was minimal.

“I think we could use more women.” Steve said as he neatly tossed his balled-up paper napkin in a trash can fifteen feet away.

Tony grinned. “Just about everything could use more women, but I guess you mean the team?”

Cap pushed his hands into the pockets of his army issue khaki pants. “Not only just for our public image, but for a better work dynamic. We need more abilities that aren’t just power or hand-to-hand combat focused, a scout for example, would be ideal. If Nick can find a dame with…dammit…I mean a lady with those skills we’d be a lot more balanced.”

Grin widening at Steve’s verbal faux pas, Tony nodded. “Definitely more superhero girls if you can find them. And don’t worry too much about calling women ‘dames’, you they’ll forgive.” Because six foot of honest to god decency could work wonders with some members of the fairer sex.

“Nick has files on several lady heroes. One is a Lieutenant Rambeau from New Orleans, she can ‘convert her body to energy’,” Tony was a little surprised that Steve used air quotes given that he’d been born in the early half of the twentieth century. “Whatever that means. She’s young, but I think we should have a conversation with her.”

“Good idea.” Tony agreed, finishing his own food.

“So you can come to New Orleans?” Steve asked, eyes on a small robin angrily chirping at a raven near it’s nest.

It took Tony a moment to make the conversational connection. “Me? Oh no Captain. The recruiting thing is definitely not my strong suit. You know about the mess I made with Bruce after talking to that General? No.” Tony would be adamant in the face of Steve’s desire. He would.

The larger bird retreated from the furious aggression of a creature one third its size. Cap smiled then spun on his heel to walk backwards in front on Tony, all easy grace and perfect co-ordination.

“Iron Man is the most famous Avenger.” Tony snorted disbelievingly, not after the digital recording of Captain America’s recovery had leaked onto YouTube he wasn’t. “You are. People knew you before you became a superhero and you live in this century.” Steve face had a hopeful, almost pleading look. “I’ll stick my foot in my mouth and she’ll never agree. Please?”

God help him. No wonder young men and women had offered their lives for their country with Steve Rogers looking at them like that. He could almost convince Tony he meant every word he’d just uttered.

“Take Natasha and Coulson.” Tony countered. “They won me over.”

Steve’s face said the many ways in which he didn’t believe that sentence. “We’ll need star power, we need Tony Stark.”

Tony was already working on keeping his ego in check most days. Now he had Captain America telling him he was a star. Next would be Nick Fury buying him a beer.

Or maybe not.

Stopping, Tony crossed his arms over his chest and thought about it. He was sure Pepper and the ridiculously efficient PA they shared could organize the trip, maybe with a Stark Industries cover reason to be in Louisiana.

“Okay. But if she’s too overwhelmed by my awesome, don’t say I didn’t warn you.” It was a joke but the Lieutenant could still refuse because of any number of reasons. Some of which might have to do with Tony.

Cap’s smile put the early afternoon sun to shame. “I doubt she’ll say no because of you.”

That made Tony chuckle. “You just don’t know me well enough.”

“I know.” Tony was one hundred percent certain Steve’s voice hadn’t meant that to have the flirty edge it bore. He was smiling back, ready for some twenty-first century innuendo when Steve slapped a hand to his neck like he’d been mosquito stung.

“Take cover!” Cap shouted, spinning on his heel. “Oakley, sniper in the…tress to the south. Get…your men…to…move…” His voice started to drift as he stumbled.

Tony lurched forward to catch Steve as he fell, the bigger man’s weight pulling him to his knees in the warm, fresh-smelling grass. Gunfire broke out over them from Tony’s bodyguards towards the sniper Steve spotted.

“Oakley, the case!” He yelled, checking Cap’s throat for a wound and finding a tiny metallic sliver. Tony snatched the dart from Steve’s neck and looked desperately towards his bodyguards. Oakley was down, maybe dead, Tony’s briefcase still cuffed to his wrist ten feet away.

“Don’t even.” The muzzle of a gun pressing into the back of his neck had Tony relax the spring he’d been about to attempt. His guards were all crumpled piles of suit around him and Captain America was unconscious in his arms.

 “You guys fail at being ninjas you know. Like fifty people are recording this on their cell phones as we speak…” Tony stopped talking as the gun moved over his shoulder to point at Steve. His wanted to put his hand over Cap’s face protectively, like the flesh and bone could stop a bullet at this range.

“Get up.” Tony took one lingering look at the man in his lap, saw the briefest flicker of an eyelid and thanked heaven for the super soldier serum and the metabolism it had granted Steve. Gently laying the blond head in the grass, Tony didn’t resist as his wrists were cable-tied behind his back and he was pushed roughly into an unmarked van.

Steve would wake up soon, probably with a monster headache, but at least he’d wake up.

 


Chapter 3

The fail-ninjas walked Tony into the office of a small warehouse and sat him down on a spindly chair.

“Just for giggles, you guys should know that the last people to kidnap me ended up really dead.” Tony thought it best to work on the psychological warfare from the get go. “Explosions, flames, bullets everywhere. You get where I’m coming from? So maybe…”

“Not going to work Tony, my boy, my friend.” Justin Hammer’s unmistakable burr filled the ply-wood box of an office.

Tony blinked and stared. Closed his eyes tight. Looked again. Sandy hair, expensive glasses, bad cologne. Nope, not a hallucination.

“Hammer?” Tony couldn’t smother the utter astonishment in his voice. “You…what? Hired people to kidnap me? Are you out of your low-rent, mundane, never-had-an-original-idea mind?”

Hammer sauntered over from the door and crouched directly in front of Tony, resting his elbows on his captive’s knees. “No Anthony, no I’m not. But…I have discovered something very important about myself. Would you like to know what that is?”

“Really, really no.”

“Yeah you do. It’s easy to have a personal epiphany while sitting in a federal prison for nine months. So many days waiting for lawyers to argue and bribe me out of there. So many plans to make, revenge to plot, inventions to design.” Hammer was idly tracing a hole in the denim over Tony’s thigh.

“Justin you need help. Let me tell you what, I’ll call some people, put out feelers. There’s has to be someone out there with the stomach look at your pathetic, derivative ideas.” Tony forced out the slur to hide a cringe.

“Ha! I knew you’d say something like that, something bitchy and rude about my talent, but that’s fine Tony baby.” A sudden lunge had Justin right up in Tony’s face, noses touching, and fingernails digging into his knees with a bloodless grip. “Because my plan is happening right here, right now. I’ve got my new friends,” expansive gesture at the lurking guards, “the best money can buy. Plus, I’ve got Tony Stark tied up in front of me with his goddamn metal suit back in its box somewhere. Am I right?”

None of the guards answered. They didn’t need to.

“So my plan, my nine month epiphany is this…” Tony’s breath hissed out as Justin leaned to one side to whisper in his ear. “I’m going to screw you in every possible way known to man, Baby.” His gut clenched in nausea, Tony tried not to shrink away. Much. “Firstly were going to play with this.”

Leaning back Justin held in his hand a small device, slightly larger than a blue-tooth mike with complex wiring and three small silver points along one face.

“You’ll love this Tony. “ All at once the creepy, glazed look was gone and Justin the salesman was back. “As soon as I was released I went through everything that psycho Vanko was working on, and you’ll never guess what he managed to hack into.” Tony felt cold dread begin at the base of his spine. The device looked…no fucking way…no way. “Stark Industries firewalls are some of the best in the world, but then again…so was Vanko.” Justin caressed the small piece of tech. “You designed this Anthony so be proud.  It’s gonna make us both legends. If you survive of course.”

“Justin…it’s a goddamn theory you fucking lunatic!” Tony snarled, gaze never leaving the black thing in Hammer’s hand.

“Biotech research and Ivan Vanko say otherwise Honeybunch and here’s proof. Completely self-contained, individual biological cybernetics. Converting a man into a machine for the armed services.” Hammer posed with a noble tilt to his chin.

Tony gritted his teeth. “It’s impossible, impractical and a fucking speculation I toyed with to freak out the generals…” A cold hand covered his mouth as Hammer once again leaned over him.

“No…it’s real and it’s here. The only thing missing…’ A lazy finger slipped from Tony’s chin down to the collar of his t-shirt, “…is an independent power supply.”

Deciding that that was way more than enough, Tony kicked up hard into Justin’s groin and twisted the chair onto its side. Scrambling quickly to his feet, he got about a dozen steps before one of the guards tackled him. Pulling hard on the cable-ties around his wrists, Tony tried to react as Steve had taught him, kicking again and again. Swearing the guard took a hard hit to the gut before he managed to force Tony onto his back and sat on his legs. Another knelt at his head and held it still.

“I really want to kill you for that Tony my friend,” Hammer gasped as he sank to his knees at his prisoner’s shoulder. “But I won’t. You’ll feel my full appreciation for that kick later on when the surgery is over…I promise.”

Tony really didn’t give a damn about Justin’s creepy threats of retribution because there was a huge fucking needle coming towards his eyes and god, no, no, no…

“Just a little paralytic to relax the optic nerve,” Justin explained as he tossed the needle aside, licking away a drop of blood from Tony’s temple. “…and now, we get to the fun part.”

The last thing Tony saw before his vision went white was Justin Hammer activating the device then a small electric buzz reached his ears.

Just after that, the pain started.

*****

Waking face down and blind in the back of a moving vehicle was low even on Tony’s extensive list of fascinating places to regain consciousness. He reached up to where his left temple felt heavy and numb. The ties on his wrists were gone.

There was something stuck to his face. Tony tried to wedge a fingernail underneath the warm smooth shape.

“He’s awake Boss.” One of the guards, somewhere to his right.

“Don’t let him pull it out!” Hammer’s voice was no longer confident, pulled into a higher octave with tension and worry. “Who were the soldiers Tony? They weren’t feds, I know fed’s when I see them thanks to you.”

Dropping his hand, Tony cleared a throat raw from screaming. “To be fair, I didn’t make you hire a wanted terrorist Hammer…”

“Shut the fuck up!” The van lurched wildly to the right, causing Tony to roll into someone’s knees. He pressed his hands down so he wouldn’t break his face and grinned a bloody smile into the hard metal floor.

He smelled ozone.

“You’re not the only one who made new friends.” Because they were here, they’d found him.

The van stopped violently, everyone within hurled towards the cab.

“…lightening…god fuck…lightening right in front of us.” The driver’s yells were punctuated by a repetitive thumping down near Tony’s feet.

“Reverse! Reverse!” From one of the men with a knee in Tony’s back. The yells became a cacophony of panic.

“He’s been chasing us for the last mile on foot!”

“…keep going…” that was Hammer sounding scared at last, Tony was pleased to note.

“...we don’t have any front tires…

“…he’s here. Holy shit, holy shit…”

The scream of metal being wrenched apart filled the van and then gunfire exploded over Tony’s head.

“Now that’s not gonna work,” Tony muttered as the ricochets caused one of the men around him to slump down.

Several seconds passed with only the slow ticking of the engine reaching Tony’s ears.

“If he’s dead…” Captain America should not sound as if he were a breath away from cold-blooded murder.

“Not dead,” Tony rasped, pushing at the guard whose hand still held him to the floor. Sitting up he crawled towards the direction from where Cap’s voice had come. “Just get me out of this goddamn van.”

A sharp intake of breath and then a warm arm around his shoulders, a gloved hand at his hip to lift him out. Cap smelled of polishing wax and light cologne.

“What is that on your face?” Cap asked, voice still not completely under the usual precision control. There was concern and anger leeching through with each bitten off word.

“A really modern hickey,” Tony joked before his knees went out from under him. Steve’s arm slipped to his waist and Tony could feel the shift in the man’s weight as he…

“Pick me up like a princess and I will magnetize your scale-mail, I swear to god I will.” Cap froze for a second before a reluctant chuckle brushed Tony’s ear.

“Tony!” Natasha sounded just as brutally calm as usual when two small, strong hands grabbed his face and turned it from side to side. “Clint’s tracking Hammer, he and Thor will bring him in. Huh. You’ve been blinded?”

Tony reached out with the hand not occupied on Cap’s excellent shoulders and caught a deceptively slender arm.

“It’s temporary, unless Hammer missed the nerve, which wouldn’t surprise me at all.” Tony did not even want to imagine what he looked like, new hardware, blood and all. “Natasha, call Pepper. I need all our research on the ICC tech from the Vancouver meetings last year.”

Natasha’s arm slid from his grasp to be replaced by her hand. “Her jet lands in twenty minutes.”

“What’s ICC?” Cap asked. Tony could hear booted feet crowding around him, muffled orders back at the van. SHIELD was here.

“There’s an ambulance.” Natasha said.

“Fuck that.” Tony replied. As long as Steve didn’t mind Tony hanging on him like a limpet, he’d be fine.

Cap jostled him around so they were face to face. In the back of Tony’s mind, the part that wasn’t dealing with returning sensation in his temple, shock, anger and dislocation, he was mourning the loss of that up close view.

“What. Is. ICC. Tony?” It was an order.

Tony wasn’t on of Fury’s ‘Toy Soldiers’ so he said nothing.

Natasha was. “Independent Cybernetic Conversion.”

He could practically see the small furrow of confusion between Steve’s eye brows.

“I don’t think it was done in your day Cap, but essentially Hammer made me a cyborg.”
 

Chapter 4

“Instead of a big black blur, I can see a big white blur,” Tony quoted as he listened to the chaos of the lab around him. After not listening to Fury shout at him over the phone for ten minutes, he’d threatened his way back to the mansion and the huge ball room set aside for Bruce to outfit as he chose. A SHIELD doctor had met them as Tony staggered in under Cap’s arm. The guy had said ‘I have no idea’ a lot, taped up Tony’s sprained wrist and left.

He was pretty sure Pepper wasn’t going to injure him with the new tablet he’d designed for her, but she’d had that funny wobble in her voice that made him feel guilty even though nothing had been his fault -- this time. The casters on the chair Cap was sitting in beside Tony made tiny mouse-like squeaks every time the man shifted. The edge of the shield pressed against Tony’s thigh from where Cap had set it down when they first arrived. From the low thumps he could discern, Tony suspected Steve had folded his arms on the white star and was occasionally drumming his fingers in uncharacteristic impatience. Tony couldn’t see any of that of course, but he had become a lover of his hearing in the last three hours.

Tony certainly appreciated the company.

He also suspected that Agent Phil Coulson may well decide that being the Avengers co-ordinator was more trouble than it was worth. The briefing between he and Romonoff had been a study in the complete lack of nuance a person could have in their voice. Tony counted Natasha at eleven words, Coulson at six. He didn’t think he could be that concise if he tried.

According to Coulson, Justin Hammer hadn’t been working all on his lonesome. Even with his personal fortune, the man wouldn’t have been able to access the funds needed for the ICC tech without some serious backing. Fury thought it was North Korea, Coulson suspected Russia, maybe one of Vanko’s connections. Hammer had just smiled his slithering executive smile and demanded a lawyer.

Coulson’s response had been, “Yeah, good luck with that.”

“It’s not active,” Bruce was now telling the SHEILD agent. “The tech has infiltrated his entire system, centering around the arc reactor where it’s taking power. Now it’s established, it’s gone dormant.”

“And?” Coulson sounded like he was prepared to put a bullet in Tony’s skull at the slightest incentive.

“And nothing…” Tony could guess at the physicist’s shrug. “This hasn’t ever been done before. There are no protocols or tactics. It’s not my field; I don’t even know how to turn it on.”

As he listened to the ongoing discussion, multiple voices rising and falling in conversation, Tony rubbed his fingers over his forehead and tried to remember every damn inch of those schematics. At maximum the ICC had been a theory, a possibility wrapped in a idea and mentioned flippantly to a two star General at a top brass get together in Washington.

The General’s eyes had shone with something akin to lust at the schematics Tony had offered. That is until, Tony told him it was ridiculous and would cost the annual gross revenue of Canada just to make one. Typical that only people as batshit crazy as Vanko and Hammer would find the fucking thing, let alone finance its creation.

Gentle fingers on his knee startled Tony from his thoughts.

“I’ll be just outside.” Cap murmured into Tony’s ear. Oh, like he’d be able to think rationally for the next hour after Steve just sent about a million shivers down his spine with those four words.

The gurney shifted as a person sat beside Tony and strong fingers cupped the back of his skull to bring the tech closer to a light.

“Oh hell, Tony.”

“Rhodey,” It wasn’t a fucking sob…it wasn’t. Just that holding his shit together in front of Steve and Coulson was one thing. This was Rhodey and he’d never been impressed by Tony’s cool. Dragging in a deep breath, he took control of the ache in his throat. “You know, I’m sick of having things stuck in me without even dinner first.”

Rhodey didn’t even chuckle, too busy with looking over the abomination attached to his friend’s face. Tony could just see the solid man shaped blur against the lighter walls of the ballroom. At least his sight was coming back, if slowly.

“It’s clean.” A sigh of relief left Tony at the confidence in Jim Rhodes’ voice. “The casing is StarkTech, and from what I can see of the wires and welds it’s exactly like those blueprints Pepper found. It’s clean.”

When Rhodey released Tony’s head, he tentatively reached up and fingered the device. “There’s a feeling in the back of my neck, like a bird battering at a window. I think it’s the executable file, pinging me that it’s ready.”

“What’ll it do?” Warm, steady voice to match the hands.

“Probably nothing.” Tony hoped like hell he was right. “This tech was designed to incorporate weapons into a human body. Like fusing a gun to your femur, or a scope onto your forehead. This is the system that melds the two with nanoware and a bioloc virus. Hammer didn’t get time to finish the installation so it should be harmless.

“Harmless?” Rhodey sounded hugely skeptical. “I hope so. Hammer didn’t count on the other Avengers getting you back so quickly, he was probably planning to implant the weapons as soon as you were stable, but SHEILD found the building first.”

“Took them long enough.” Tony bitched as he squinted; the room was starting to resolve itself into shapes of differing size and depth.

A small disapproving sound from Rhodey. “No-one had any idea where they’d taken you Tony. It wasn’t until Romonoff realized that Hammer had been sighted back in New York that they started checking his properties here.”

“I know. I’m just pissed I was the one being rescued rather than getting to be the big damn hero.” Tony waved a hand in dismissal, then waved it again as it looked like a smoky cloud in the left of his vision. “I’m thinking I should see what the hell this does before it gets too far in. Right now surgery is almost impossible, but there’s a chance.”

“We need about a year’s worth of scans to make sure it’s not killing you…” Rhodey began.

“No, we have to test this thing in my brain to see what he did….”

They were talking over each other as usual, but then both men fell silent as one of the monitors started a high pitched whine.

“That better just need new batteries,” Tony felt two distinct pulses in his forehead and that weird bird-at-the-window feeling went silent. “It’s active! Rhodey…get out…”

Tony’s blurred vision became black again as a solid cocoon enclosed first his face, then his arms. A small spark, like a static shock pinged at the back of his mind, but Tony was too concerned with the way his arm was moving without benefit of a direct order from his brain, to pay it much heed.

An explosion nearby but Tony was standing against the concussive force. Now, there was yelling and the sound of things, many lab-like things, becoming slag.

There was repulsor fire from Tony. It wasn't possible.

He was in the armor and shooting up Bruce’s lab. If there had been anything that could make this day worse, after the kidnapping, blinding and assault thing…then going crazy and wiping out the mansion would do it. Small points of fire at his shoulders, sides and along his spine. Like spiders dancing on his nerve endings, Tony could feel his body changing to meet the technology encasing his skin.

It hurt, a lot.

The tiny shock hit him again. Tony ignored it again, wrenching his arm down to his side and listening to the yelling going on ahead of him.

“Now would be the time for guns over here!” Because yeah, Iron Man killing an innocent person? Tony was pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to live with that guilt on top of all the rest. “Shooting me! Shooting me is the plan people!”

A large electrical jolt hit him moments after a third tiny shock. The Widow’s Bite. “Too late!” He yelled, “Try something bigger. Get Thor.” The rest of his armor had formed around his legs and torso, merging one by one with each contact point. He was completely encased in a devastating weapon, one that was completely out of his control.

A great heave had the left repulsor aimed off-target before it fired towards the shouting.

“Okay, that’s enough.” Well Tony, not like you didn’t get eighteen months of life you didn’t deserve anyway. With what little control he had of the left gauntlet, he raised it until the weapon within was aimed directly into the arc reactor. “Tell Pepper…”

“No!” Captain America’s shield did hurt like a motherfucker, even through the armor on his elbow. “Don’t you dare.”

Another tiny shock, combined with damage done by Cap and for a split second Tony had control. He reached for that small burst of energy and hoped like hell he wasn’t imagining things.

A backdoor opened.

“Sir!”

“JARVIS, system maintenance override now!” Tony felt the system shudder as the AI battled whatever the fuck virus Vanko had installed.

Iron Man stopped moving.

“Maintenance subroutine running, Sir. Shutting down all armour systems and initiating sleep mode.”

“JARVIS, you win the internet.” As the armor fell over with Tony still inside, he grimaced at the sound of cautiously approaching footsteps.

“My code is far superior in design, Sir. Once I had access, it was a simple matter to contain the intruder.”

“Don’t delete it yet.” Tony inhaled sharply at a sudden brightness as the face plate was lifted away. Steve looked like he was leaning over a swimming pool with Tony underneath the water.

“…the hell?” That smooth, deep voice really shouldn’t have to go through all the things Tony was currently making it express.

“Tell me I didn’t kill Rhodey.” Because convincing JARVIS to free up one of the repulsors for Tony to use on himself would be a bitch.

“You didn’t kill Rhodey.” Tony’s own eyes stung with the strain of looking for details.

“Okay, right here and now you listen.” He wished he could grab Steve’s uniform to make his point clear. “Remember this… override two, zero, zero, eight, why, eye, ehn, ess, eye, ehn…okay? Should I repeat it?”

“No, I got it.” From the funnel vision the helmet gave him, Steve looked confident and worried at the same time. “That will shut you down?”

“Yeah.” Tony didn’t mention that the shock of the armor dropping so suddenly could damage the arc reactor. But then again, if Cap thought he needed to be put down, Tony would take the risk.

Rhodey’s face suddenly shared space with Steve’s in Tony’s line of sight. “Nothing to incorporate into you huh?”

“How the fuck did it get in here?” He asked.

“Blasted through the window from the garage. Banner says it used a magnetic field and…” Rhodey trailed off as another set of footsteps approached.

“Why does it always have to be about you Stark?”

 

Tony couldn’t stop the smirk that spread over his features. “Hey Fury, busy day?”

*****

Tony wiped away the condensation on his bathroom mirror and finally worked up the courage to look.

It crouched like a shiny black beetle on his temple, one single delicate antenna nestled in strands of Tony’s wet hair. 

He’d been unwilling to touch it while Rhodey and Jarvis had been running tests. So many tests. Finally Fury had decided Tony could be released from the armor and allowed to clean up. 

He could pick out each different section, like the carapace of a futuristic robot beetle.

The arc reactor glowed with its clean white energy. Tony had wanted to save himself with the new element, but Hammer had made the final decision. It didn’t matter that he'd made himself a new, pretty heart, the wicked monster on his face made its purpose clear.

An angry beetle that wanted him to kill his friends.

He turned to look over his shoulder at his back. By contrast the contact nodes on his skin were almost attractive. Like funky tattoos that only the most eccentric of billionaires would buy, the blue detail lines with their faintly glowing gold spheres were at least symmetrical. A small, broken sigh escaped Tony as he met his own gaze.

“No more suntans in Majorca for you.” He whispered with a small smile.

*****

Tony watched from the roof as the Avengers left for Paris in at SHIELD helicopter. The sight of War Machine standing just behind Cap shot a sharp pang of jealousy through Tony.

“So completely unfair.” He complained to Pepper as he headed back inside to Bruce’s wreck of a lab.

His super-efficient CEO’s heels clicked neatly on the marble floor. “Oh, I don’t know. You should be on the meet and greet in Paris, nothing says we’re here to help like a repulsor blast through the French President.”

“Granted, that would look bad.” Tony pushed open the doors and wandered over to one of the monitors. “But we’ve run every scan possible on me and the armor. The remote operating system is fried, JARVIS laid on a massive bitch-slap so it’s not going to take over again.” He watched the code as it scrolled relentlessly across the screens around them.

“You don’t know that,” Pepper countered as she zipped through information on her tablet.

“Yes, I do. I invented this thing, Hammer just fucked around with it a little.” Everything was clear, no sign of the malignant code in any of the armor systems. A tentative wireless hook-up with Jarvis to the tech in Tony had also revealed a clean slate waiting for new instructions. “I’m gonna turn it on again.”

“I’m leaving.” Pepper turned on her heel.

“Tony.” Bruce’s suppressing tone was almost enough to divert him from his goal. Almost.

“C’mon. I’m wearing my sexy new bondage device, let’s do this.” Tony fingered the black stainless steel collar he was currently encircling his neck. Coulson had nearly strangled him with it after one too many SHEILD and their sex toys jokes when he’d been shown the thing. It wasn’t Tony’s fault that SHEILD liked imprisoning people with electro-shock collars and nipple clamps.

Okay, maybe not nipple clamps. But Fury had almost cracked a smile while the younger SHEILD agent’s long-suffering expression upgraded to highly exasperated. The collar pinched like a bitch too.

Bruce’s unflappable gaze was frankly unconvinced, yet…” The helmet only, no gauntlets until Thor’s back to taser you if you go dark side.”

“Deal.” Tony grinned, picking up his helmet and bringing Jarvis online.

Chapter 5

The Avengers were back. Paris photo ops done, politicians impressed, scaring the living crap out of any local bad guys achieved. Cap was looking particularly gorgeous as they landed in the back gardens, shield hooked over his shoulders and eyes smiling.

“Well, look at you.” He gestured to Tony’s armor clad self.

Tony grinned behind the face plate and raised his arm. It was a testament to Steve’s confidence in him that while Clint and Natasha visibly flinched, he simply watched Iron Man blast a crash-test dummy across the lawn and into a fish pond.

“I’m good to go Captain,” Tony couldn’t keep his enthusiasm from Iron Man’s speakers. “Sick to death of board meetings, patent negotiations and MRI’s but more than ready to come out and play.”

Cap’s expression turned reluctant. “Sorry Tony, that’s Nick’s decision not mine.”

Tony snorted. “Funnily enough, he said the same thing. Except in reverse. So not actually the same thing but…”

“Really?” Steve frowned, moving closer now that Tony seemed less likely to obliterate inanimate objects in his vicinity. “My understanding was he would oversee team member active status while I, um, Tony?”

“Hmmm?” Tony followed three different scans on the HUD.

“Could you come down here? It’s strange to speak to your feet, especially when they could burn my face off.”

 “Sorry.” Tony hadn’t realized he’d risen into the air. “This is so much easier with the ICC contact nodes. The armor was never ‘heavy’ or anything but now it’s like a second skin. Millisecond response time, intuitive task function. To be honest,” Iron Man landed easily. “I think JARVIS is a little jealous.”

Cap’s smile returned, albeit not as bright as before. “Only you could think your machine friend is jealous of your relationship with your armor.”

The red and gold plating wasn’t designed to convey a shrug, but Tony gave it his best shot. “He’s still the most complex AI ever invented, but the ICC…I didn’t think it would work as well as this.”

“I’ll talk to Nick. Could you take off the helmet?” Cap asked. “I like to look at you when I’m talking to you.”

Tony turned that sentence over in his brain for a few long, pleasurable seconds. Reaching up, he unlocked the catches that held the helmet in place; cool afternoon air caught in his hair and ruffled it. Blue eyes zeroed in on the black primary hub still adorning Tony’s left temple.

“It’s still there.” Captain America was not impressed.

Tony ignored the vaguely sick feeling in his gut and forced himself to admire the completely neutral tone of Steve’s voice. Pity about the eyes.

“Yeah, surgical removal deemed too risky at the moment.” Proud of his cool ‘don’t give a shit’ voice, Tony turned back to the garage. Obviously Cap wouldn’t enjoy looking at his face for conversations now.

Almost noiseless footsteps followed him. “Does it hurt you?” Concern now, which Tony appreciated, but it couldn’t erase the glimmer of disgust he’d seen.

“Not even a little.” Removing the gauntlets, Tony dropped them carelessly onto his workbench and said, “JARVIS? Assess all data from repulsor testing and compile a report for Coulson and Fury please.”

“Certainly Sir.”

A low thump behind him as Steve put his shield down. “So, I was thinking of New Orleans this Friday…”

“Not the best idea.” And yes, that was a little harsh, but Tony wasn’t really up to playing recruiter at the moment. “This,” Tony tapped his finger against the hub, “isn’t public knowledge yet.”

Pepper and Tony’s new PA Mrs. Arbogast were still wrangling over the wording of the press release.

Given that they were just dancing around this idea of being friends, Tony could be forgiven for thinking Steve wasn’t particularly intuitive about emotions. He knew Captain America was noble, clever, honest, incredibly cute, polite and an all round fucking wonderful human being. Adding strong intuition and empathy to that combination just wouldn’t be fair.

Occasionally Tony was wrong.

“I hate that thing on your face because it was done without your permission.” Steve’s words stopped Tony cold on the assembly platform. He didn’t look up. “I’m worried because, even with all your tests, it could still do something horrible to you or with you.”

Tony dared one quick glance. “I won’t, I promise.”

“You can’t know that,” Steve stood, arms crossed across the star on his broad chest. “It reminds me that Hammer took you from us and forced that thing into you. I want to tear it out and crush it into a million pieces.” Seeing Tony’s frantic expression, Steve smiled grimly. “I won’t, I promise.”

His vow right back at him. Tony loosened up his tense shoulders. “JARVIS, if you please?”

“Of course Sir.” Unusually concise, the AI removed the rest of the Iron Man armor from Tony.

Stepping down, Tony was glad he’d worn the black bodysuit under the armor for the testing process. Picking up a tablet, he offered it to Cap as he walked over.

“All the details and results of the tests are in there. You okay with this hardware now?”

Taking the tablet, Steve glanced at the test on the screen. “Getting there, it’s very strange.”

“I can’t even imagine.” He really couldn’t. To be seventy years behind the current technology would break his brain. “I can tell you more about how it works over dinner?”

Steve’s head came up with a jerk, eyes bright. “Absolutely. You have somewhere in mind?”

Tony had meant up at the mansion with the team, but realizing he’d just asked Steve out and been accepted, he thought furiously. “Sure do. Wear something nice and we’ll leave at seven?”

“See you then.” Lifting his shield in his spare hand, Cap strode briskly out the door.

“Crap.” Tony cursed. “How the hell did I manage that?”

“It’s a wonder to me as well, Sir.”

*****

Richard Delven was about as unimpressed by Tony as it was possible to be. Saving the world, obliterating terrorism and revolutionizing the computer industry was nothing to the man who Tony guessed was just shy of eight feet tall and built like Thor’s big brother. He’d suspect a super power or demi-godhood but for the SHEILD file proclaiming his new bodyguard one hundred percent ordinary human. Just very tall, with a glare that would rival a super model on the chiseled black features.

“Did I actually impregnate your sister or do you just loathe me on principle?” Tony asked while he waited for Steve in the foyer.

“I don’t have a sister Mr. Stark.” Delven answered in a smooth, uninterested baritone.

Tony was mildly nervous tonight for two reasons. One, he’d landed a date with Steve and was either going to mess up tragically or start making some headway towards seeing that perfect body sans clothes. Two, Delven had Tony’s suitcase armor cuffed to his wrist. Oakley had been carrying Tony’s case.

“You’re wearing Kevlar aren’t you?” Tony questioned as he heard footsteps on the stairs.

“Amongst other things, Mr. Stark.” Forcing his eyes away from any suspicious bulges on the other man, Tony looked over to where Steve had just stepped onto the marble tiles.

Almost swallowing his tongue, Tony wondered what it was about men born near the start of the twentieth century that they could all walk into a room like Cary Grant. The sports coat and dress pants even looked like they had been cut by a thirties tailor.

“Nice clothes.” Tony offered the massive understatement.

“Thank you.” Steve smiled. “Virginia organized them for me.”

Tony frowned in confusion.

“Pepper,” Natasha reminded him, stepping down behind Steve. “Now that the panic is over, your car is here. Make sure you’ve got your phones.”

Suspecting that Natasha had a mission plan already lodged for this dinner, Tony waved his new cell under her nose. “What panic?”

“Nothing.” Steve caught Tony’s elbow, nodded a compatriot smile to Delven and guided him out the door.

*****

The Alietres maitre-de hadn’t battered an eyelid at the sunglasses not quite hiding the tech on Tony’s face. She’d simply led them to an exclusive private nook, taken their orders and left. Waiters never had a chance to work at Tony Stark’s table; he’d been served by owners themselves rather than risk the staff making him unhappy.

Odd really, he wasn’t that hard to please.

“I read your file just after we found you.” Tony thought it best to be up-front from the start. “You won a few art prizes before you joined up?”

A light pink stained Steve’s cheeks. “A few.”

Tony raised an eyebrow. “You’ve saved, like, a thousand lives, faced down Hitler, received the thanks of a grateful nation, had about fifty marriage proposals and your art prizes embarrass you?”

Steve chuckled before taking a sip of his wine. “Those other things were after I changed. The art is just me.”

Seeing the truth of that, Tony was intrigued. “You wanted to be an artist?”

“No, I wanted to be a soldier.” Steve nodded his thanks to the maitre de as she placed his salad before him. “I make my art because it’s part of me, it isn’t a choice.”

“Really?” No wonder Steve called Pepper ‘Virginia’ they’d likely been discussing Picasso for hours or something.

Steve gave Tony an assessing look. “If you hadn’t been born Tony Stark, what would you be?”

He didn’t even really need to think about it. “A mechanic.”

Steve nodded encouragingly. “Because you like working on cars.”

“Well, probably a designer for Oracle or someone really. But when it’s all said and done, I’m a mechanic.” Tony knew his degrees would argue that, but it was fundamentally true.

“And I’m a painter.” Steve smiled. “Nice to meet you Tony the Mechanic.”

Tony laughed. “Pleasure’s all mine.”

“So,” Steve ventured with a cautious tone, tugging a little at his earlobe. “I looked over the results you gave me…”

“Work talk,” Tony cut him off. “Is forbidden over dinner, it’s a twenty-first century thing.”

“Okay.” An amused glint entered baby blue eyes. “What shall we talk about then?”

Tony swirled the ice in his very well behaved lime and soda. It rarely took much effort to get the people he wanted into bed. Mostly all Tony had to do was choose, but then, he’d never really tried with someone he actually liked before.

Steve Rogers was already falling into that very same boat. Tony liked him too much.

“Well, tell me what’s so great about Pepper’s modern art collection.” But he was Tony Stark and faced with the perfect package that was Steve, he couldn’t help himself.

 

Chapter 6

“Order of the Insectoid, with a capital ‘I’.” Hawkeye offered as he carefully sorted his arrows. “Emphasize the ‘sect’.”

“They’re not organized.” Widow corrected, eyeing the situation with a professional calm that Tony would pay money to duplicate.

“Crazy Bug Witches.” Tony had JARVIS taking about a thousand concurrent readings. “It’s catchy, like a band name.”

“Okay people, this is the plan.” Captain America walked back to the team from where he and Thor had landed.

The plan better be a pretty good one, because right now Tony couldn’t see exactly how they were going to manage this disaster. The ‘Crazy Bug Witches’ (Tony was sticking with that till they voted otherwise) had managed to summon dozens of huge spiders and set them on the Brooklyn Bridge. According to SHEILD there were two hundred and twelve civilians caught fast within the massive web that now shrouded the entire structure. It was like looking at an enormous white cotton candy with the occasional disturbing black shape moving within. Spider web was incredibly strong in relation to its thinness. It was also really, really sticky.

“Thor will take Hawkeye to burn a path to the center using combustible missiles while we work our way in releasing as many people as possible.” Cap looked like he would rather be the one flying in with a flame thrower, but they couldn’t risk burning the webs until all the civilians were out. “Reports say there is at least a dozen spiders the size of cars, but one as big as a bus. That’s the main target Hawkeye. If you can find her, you and Thor are okay to kill if subdual is impossible. But remember…” this to Thor, “…no electricity near the metal bridge.”

“Because that would be bad.” Hawkeye concurred with a smirk.

“Sir, scans indicate the tensile strength of the web is insufficient to resist the power of the armor or Captain America’s augmented musculature.” JARVIS reported.

“JARVIS says we can break it.” Iron Man informed Cap.

“I’ll follow and bring the civilians out back along the path you make.” Widow offered.

“You mean you can’t just climb the webs?” Tony asked, grinning behind the faceplate.

As the rest of the Avengers turned to look at her, Natasha rolled her eyes.

“It’s a code name you idiot.” Black Widow calmly walked to the web gummed asphalt as Thor lifted a snickering Hawkeye high into the air.

The difficulty in traversing the web laid more in clearing a large enough tunnel rather than breaking the actual strands themselves. Tony was pleased to note that Iron Man was stronger than Captain America, human perfection or not. However, he was no-where near as agile as the leather clad man easily ducking through the criss-cross maze. It took less than a moment for Iron Man to brush away a dozen of the thick rope-like strands, it took longer to pull off all the resulting broken pieces and cross lines that then caught on his arms and legs as he moved.

“Are you statically charged?” Widow asked from behind as they approached the first cocooned car.

“No.” Tony tore away yet another bunch of strands. “I just don’t have super dodge powers like you two.”

Cap stopped at the hood of a large SUV held vertically off the ground by several massive web cables. Inside the half obscured window, a man was trying to get the Avengers’ attention. This situation was more Iron Man’s speed.

“Cap? I can bring the car down and get them out. Why don’t you clear the way to the next one.” Tony suggested, carefully picking his way forward.

“Good idea.” Cap nodded. “Widow, stay here till they’re free. We’ll make a production line to get them out.”

It worked perfectly for the first five cars they came across. Iron Man pulling cars down and wrenching off doors so Widow could lead relived New Yorkers back to a SHEILD base at the end of the bridge. Over the comm. Hawkeye reported mixed success with burning a tunnel into the centre of the webs. They were making progress, just very slowly.

“I just hope the spiders aren’t eating someone while we slog through this mess.” Cap worried as Tony caught up to him at a motorcyclist webbed a little too close to the edge of the bridge for anyone’s liking.

Iron Man reached up and caught the front wheel, setting his feet before pulling the bike down to street level.

Captain America tugged off the tight clinging strands till the woman could move enough to take off her helmet. “You’ll be fine Ma’am.” He reassured her, flinching slightly as she hugged him in thanks.

“This way please.” Tony noticed the kernel of amusement in Widow’s normally expressionless voice.

“Thank you so much…” The rider continued to Cap as she was escorted down the path they had cleared through the web.

“I’m surprised she’s okay.” Tony looked through the white knotted mess to the next vehicle JARVIS pin-pointed. “She had no protection, but was bound up like the cars for later.”

“We have no idea exactly what the cult did to the spiders,” Cap determinedly started pulling at the next bundle of webbing. “They might not be acting like their smaller counterparts.”

“Hmmm…” Tony wasn’t sure he agreed. The wasps in Midtown had seemed normal…just huge.

“Sir, there is a creature…”

Thinking that over, Tony almost missed JARVIS’ warning, but he managed to turn just in time to catch the full impact of a spider the size of an elephant. Iron Man went down under eight point-tipped legs and more than usual amount of arachnid aggression.

“They’re on PCP or something.” Tony gritted out, catching one hook before it gouged a hole in his face plate. He wasn’t particularly worried he’d be hurt by the monster. Iron Man could take a tank round to the chest with only scratched paint to show for it, but the amount of webbing being spun around him was going to be hell to remove.

The creature shuddered and gave a high pitched squeal that had JARVIS dialing down the volume on his microphones.

“Try again,” he suggested, bracing himself for the noise as Captain America’s shield impacted against the spider’s body.

“Iron Man, my shield’s doing damage, but it isn’t giving up.” Cap advised.

“Okay then.” It was likely a bad idea, but Tony gave up on dodging mandibles and offered the spider a double repulsor blast to the abdomen.

It was only a bad idea in that he was attached to a now dead spider suspended forty feet off the ground.

“Crap.” Tony muttered as he pulled ineffectively at the strands stuck fast around Iron Man’s arms.

“Can you use your boots to fly up an out?” Cap asked over the comm.

“JARVIS? What do you think?” Tony watched the HUD making calculations and setting course trajectories.

“There is a sixty-eight point nine percent chance you could exit the web by using the boot repulsors, Sir. But, there is a small risk of colliding with one of the captured civilian vehicles and an even greater risk of becoming even more entangled in the web.”

“Fantastic.” The odds were pretty good, but Tony really didn’t want to be trapped deeper in the web for the others to rescue when they had the chance. “I’ll try, but there’s a chance it’ll get worse not better,” he reported.

“I’ll use my shield to break the webs near your arms then you can tear away the rest and drop down.” Cap offered.

“Nah,” Tony snorted. “If I’m stuck then your shield will be caught like a moth. I’ll try the fly-out option.”

“It won’t get stuck.” Was that actually a tone of offense in Captain America’s voice?

“Yes, it will.” Tony had JARVIS plot a course.

“No, it won’t.” Cap was adamant.

“Fifty bucks says is will.” Tony tugged once again at the webs securing his arms and threw a glare at the dead spider hanging just to his left.

“No,” the offense was gone to be replaced by calculation. “The shield doesn’t get stuck; you’ll come to the Neue Galerie to see the Klimt exhibition with me.”

Well. That was an easy bet to take because Tony could always…

“No getting Virginia to substitute for you either.” Captain America was apparently a telepath as well.

“Fine,” Tony conceded. “But if it does get stuck you come to Detroit with me in January for NAIAS.”

“What’s that?” He heard Cap ask Widow sotto voce.

“North American International Auto Show,” she replied.

“A car show?” Cap confirmed with Tony.

“It’s like a candy shop.” Tony stopped struggling. “You’ll have to hold my credit cards though. I get a bit dreamy and buy too much.”

 “It’s a deal.” This time it was smug satisfaction in the other man’s tone.

Tony realized why when a red, white and blue disc severed the strands around his left arm and spun lazily back to its wielder.

“So,” Tony began as he started tearing away web with his newly freed arm. “How’re Hawkeye and Thor doing?”

*****

Not very well, as they found out two cars later. Widow had just returned from escorting a family out of the web when Hawkeye’s swearing reached them over the comm.

“We need back-up people.” He yelled as the high pitched calls of angry spiders came through from the background.

Curling a gentle arm around Widow and a more solid one around Captain America, Iron Man flew them directly back along the way they had come and high into the air over the bridge.

“There.” Cap spotted the tunnel forged by Hawkeye’s arrows, blackened web still smoldering at the edges.

“Status?” Their leader asked as Tony hovered over the hole.

“SpiderBus is kinda angry at us for rescuing her lunch,” Hawkeye was panting now, “and I set fire to Thor’s cloak.”

“What?” Widow yelled as Tony carefully lowered them so they didn’t brush against embers or the web itself.

“Say when.” Iron Man could see the battle now, Hawkeye’s arrows peppering a monstrous dark form as Thor stood toe-to-toe with the behemoth.

“I fucked up,” Hawkeye cursed. “He’s burned on the shoulders and back, but not too badly. Where are you guys?”

“Here.” Captain America said as Iron Man dropped him from fifty feet in the air directly onto the great spider’s back.

“Now.” Widow followed suit at thirty-five feet, landing beside an overwhelmed Hawkeye with guns blazing.

Iron Man finally settled next to Thor, JARVIS scanning the soot stained god for major injuries.

“Having fun?” He asked while alternating repulsor blasts with the impacts of Mjolnir on the great spider.

“Oh yes.” Concise in battle as always but with a large smile in place. Tony took a leaf from that book and bit his tongue while attacking both the big black funnel web trying to eat Cap as well as keep her elephant-sized daughters from killing the rest of them.

Weather he had learned spider anatomy or was just that awesome, Tony could only guess, as between one second and the next the great spider shuddered and died under Cap’s assault. She twisted and twitched for several seconds, pulling the webs around her into further disarray. Emerging covered in red and black gore, Captain America fixed his shield back into place and looked for the next target.

The spider’s companions then went a little crazy and doubled their efforts to eat Hawkeye.

Repulsors aimed, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America rejoined the battle.

 


Chapter 7

Captain America had a not unreasonable desire to make sure the Avengers team was battle ready. Due to each individual being formidable in their own right, they tended to work to their own strengths in combat, leading to more than one error. Case in point, Clint and Thor’s minor fuck up with the spiders meant that Tony was playing chicken with Cap’s shield on his back lawn instead of designing new armor in the garage.

Two teams, Tony and Clint versus Natasha and Thor with Cap running interference on both sides trying to shake everyone up a little. Bruce recording the session for later review had Tony acting up for the camera. While no-one was trying to cause hurt, Tony could kill Natasha with frightening ease after all; they were doing their damndest to bring the other side down. Unfortunately Thor took one too many concussion hits from Hawkeye and brought lightening down on the whole garden. Tony, being a show off, decided to fly a slalom course through the electrical forest rather than take cover like everyone else.

He got one sharp, devastating jolt. For two point four seconds JARVIS was offline and Iron Man was tumbling towards the mansion out of control. As soon as he had power Tony frantically tried to stabilize his momentum with boot and hand repulsors. It wasn’t working.

He was going to hit Bruce. Hard.

It happened between one breath and the next. One moment the HUD was there, red frames skittering alarmingly across his vision and then cool air rushed over Tony’s skin. His hair blew into his eyes for a split second before he crashed hard into the turned shoulder of his teammate.

Sitting up gingerly, Tony heard the other Avengers running across the lawn towards them. “Hey Handsome.” He smiled down at the man he was straddling in nothing but tight boxer-briefs.

Bruce rolled his eyes and fingered a small cut on the bridge of his nose. “Her name’s Betty and she's way prettier than you. Get off me!”

Chuckling Tony had just began to comply when Captain America’s hand on his shoulder stopped him.

“Don’t move, you both could have nasty injuries after that collision.”

“I’m fine.” Tony protested, but allowed Natasha to guide him to a sitting position that wasn’t on Bruce and check him over for anything worse than bruises.

“I’m not.” Bruce muttered as Steve felt gently along his arms and legs. “You’re heavier than you look.”

“Seriously?” Tony pulled away from Natasha to look back at Bruce with concern.

“No, I’m fine. I just don’t appreciate being your catcher’s mitt.” Cap sat back with a nod and allowed Bruce to shakily come to his feet.

“Oh come!” Tony argued. “I instinctively dropped the armor before I hit you. No Iron Man torpedoes against innocent civilians. How is this not good?”

Steve took a deep breath. “What on earth happened to your armor?” He asked with slightly less intensity, now that tony and Bruce were upright.

“It dismantled into seventeen components…” Tony explained, trying not to treat Cap like an imbecile.

“Oh really Genius?” Clint snared Tony’s arm in an almost painful grip and tugged him around Cap. “Where is it then?” The view back along Iron Man’s course was clear of any red and gold body shaped pieces.

Tony frowned.

“From where I was yelling and running it looked like the armor just melted into you.” Clint explained.

“Huh.” Looking closely at the contact node on his forearm, Tony saw it gleamed a brilliant shade of gold.

“The thing on your face is different.” Strong fingers caught the back of Tony’s head, turning his face to Steve. The anger was gone, now only worry caused the tight mouth and furrowed brow. “It’s red and gold, like the armor. Tony, what happened?”

“I don’t know.” Tony took the hit to his pride and answered truthfully. He would love to come up with a way of wiping out that worry but, surprisingly, he didn’t think he was capable of lying to Steve. The ICC was an experiment in progress, they’d thought it had run its course but obviously that wasn’t the case.

Bruce offered Tony his jacket and pointed towards the garage. “C’mon, let’s go run some tests.”

It was an indication of Tony’s state of mind that he followed Bruce without a word of protest, gaze on his arm, mind churning with possibilities.

****


“Sir, the MRI results indicate you have approximately 25 pounds of a metallic substance located within your skeleton. How the marrow remains and why you aren’t deceased is still a mystery.”

While JARVIS rarely sounded worried, there was occasionally a faint trace of concern in the perfectly modulated voice. Like now.

“Weird.” Bruce offered with arms folded as he looked at the results of Tony’s scan.

“Says you.” Tony studied the node on back of his wrist. He pushed a fingernail onto the small golden disk, pressing harder when he felt no sensation. Smooth and flawless, the node was seamlessly blended into his skin, with no discernible edge or ridge. They had supposed that the nodes were connected to the armor, allowing it to bond completely with Tony’s nervous system, improving reaction time tenfold. “The man who quadruples his mass and changes the melanin content of his skin has no business calling anyone else weird.”

Smiling ruefully, Bruce tapped the screen to change the medical scan view of Tony’s form. “Your armor was broken down to component elements, compressed and then absorbed through the nodes into your skeleton. It must have responded to your desire to have it disappear before impact. Thanks by the way.”

“For the lack of broken Bruce or the lap dance?” Tony smirked, trying to push the node and the skin around it up onto his hand.

“Don’t do that,” Bruce tapped Tony’s fingers with a pen. “You’ll irritate the skin. The nodes have created small tubular conduits to your bones, if you damage them we’ll never get the armor out again. Catching you wasn’t that much fun by the way.” A gesture at the tiny plaster on Bruce’s nose.

“Hmmm. The question is can we get it back out?” Tony asked because the Mark VI was his finest creation yet and the plans for the Mark VII weren’t even finished. He’d been too busy helping save the New York from the Cult of the Bug.

“It would seem that you must simply will it to be so, Sir.” JARVIS chimed in thoughtfully. “The ICC system was designed to incorporate weapons into a human being. It would serve no purpose to lodge the armor in your skeleton without the means of retrieving it.”

Tony looked to the desk where JARVIS’ voice issued from the speakers. “That is an excellent point. I’m going to retool this garage as a summer home for you I promise.”

“Thank you Sir, I’ll be sure to have my eBay details altered accordingly.”

Shrugging off Bruce’s jacket, Tony stared for long seconds at the nodes on his hands. “I got nothing.”

“It’s your armor,” Bruce pointed out. “Maybe you need to be under threat to bring it out?”

“Okay,” Tony pulled the jacket back on. “Let’s see how many hands I get.”

Brow furrowed in confusion Bruce followed him back to the mansion.

*****

“Who wants to punch me?” Tony asked the team as they loitered around the dining room waiting for dinner.

He didn’t know if he should be flattered that Thor reached out to catch Clint’s shoulder or not. Steve’s eyes narrowed as he glanced at Tony’s still mostly naked form. “You can’t get it out?”

“Not just by wishing. Bruce thinks I need to be under threat,” a careless wave at the doctor behind him. “So someone gets to punch me.”

“No-one here will seriously hurt you,” Natasha spoke as she carefully lifted ridiculously healthy food onto her plate. “If you have to be genuinely under attack, it’ll need to be on the next mission.”

“I genuinely want to punch him.” Clint promised hopefully.

Tony ignored him. “Let me know when the next call comes in or we could just go have a picnic in the park again,” he grinned at Steve.

Baby blue eyes went from concerned to furious in under a second.

“Not funny Tony.” Steve snarled as he spun on his heel and walked out of the room.

Awkward was a massive understatement for the silence that followed his exit.

“Idiot.” Natasha said under her breath.

“I’m gonna get dressed.” Tony told them before making his way to his suite.

While hardly Tony’s worst verbal faux pas, it was likely the most self-destructive when attempting to forge a friendship with someone. He hadn’t even bothered to consider Steve’s feelings on his kidnapping, so lost in the ICC and the changes wrought on his body. Knowing the kind of man Captain America seemed to be, he would blame himself for Tony being taken that day. And Tony had just made a joke about it.

“Idiot.” He agreed, dressing in the beautiful Liana Lee suit Pepper had ordered for the awards ceremony he was supposed to attend that night. They’d started letting him out again now that Hammer was even deeper behind bars than before and the ICC seemed under control.

Well, he was free until someone told Fury about today’s little event.

He found Steve in the gym half an hour later, methodically killing a punching bag with only the lightest sheen of sweat to indicate his effort.

“So,” Tony began, trying not to ogle too openly at the bare torso and low slung sweat pants. “How sorry do I have to be exactly? I mean, are we talking an apology and a trip to that gallery you were telling me about or do I have to fly us to the Uffizi for cocktails?”

Steve didn’t respond, taped knuckles continuing to pound a perfect repetition of blows on the slick red vinyl.

He was Tony Stark; he wasn’t familiar with being ignored. Tony toyed with the idea of walking out but then swallowed a sudden ball of real worry. Cap ignoring him was rude.

He’d thought the man incapable of being rude to anyone.

“Uffizi it is then.” He’d get Mrs. Arbogast to line up the jet.

The punching halted abruptly. Steve caught the bag and rested his forehead against it, eyes closed.

“You hate art.” His voice wasn’t exactly friendly, but at least he was acknowledging Tony’s existence.

“Not true,” Tony countered, daring a few feet closer. “I don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean it makes me angry or anything. I own heaps. You like it, I like you and I’m sorry I said that about the park. So we’ll go.”

The blue eyes were still closed but a small smile curled Cap’s lips. Tony relaxed a fraction.

“You can get us into the Uffizi Gallery?” Steve asked, intrigued.

Tony snorted. “I can get us in anywhere. We’d have to go in the evening when all the tourists aren’t queuing up outside. There’re only so many autographs I can sign after all.”

“No.” Steve disagreed, causing Tony’s stomach to drop and an internal monologue to begin cursing his arrogance. “I’d like to queue up like everyone else. It’s part of the experience.”

“…okay?” Tony couldn’t really agree that waiting in line for three hours with tired tourists was needed to appreciate the art inside, but if Steve was letting himself be flown to Florence with Tony then he’d stand in the damn queue all day if he had to.

“It’ll have to be next week, Nick needs me for….” Steve turned from the bag, words trailing off into nothing as he looked over at Tony. Tony saw the blue gaze take in the perfect hair, expensive shoes and the thousands of dollars of suit encasing his figure in between.

If Tony had been capable of blushing anymore, the heat in that blue gaze would have triggered one.

He smiled. “I have an awards ceremony tonight. You like the suit?”

Steve seemed to catch himself, wrenching his eyes back up to Tony’s. “Yes.”

“Good,” Tony turned and walked to the door, acutely aware of the likelihood of the other man’s gaze dropping again. “I’ll bring it to Florence.”


Chapter 8

The charity auction was uneventful. Tony smiled, sipped soda water, avoided questions about his facial art and bought Jarvis the pretty little eighteenth-century end table that he’d seen the man looking at online. The real fun began a week later in Ecuador when he conducted a surprise visit of a Stark Industries factory to answer some nasty questions about working conditions.

The factory had passed international standards…just. Tony wasn’t in the business of skimming a pass mark, his corporation had some of the best trade practices in the world and the conditions would be superlative by the end of the month. Or else. Turning away from a somewhat heated discussion with his South American head of operations, Tony called Pepper to tell her he’d handled it and was then shot four times in the back.

In the chaos the shots caused, Tony genuinely thought someone else had been the target. He’d located Delven through the HUD as his bodyguard tackled the gunwoman to the floor; his other guards took up flanking positions around Tony, while his executives made for cover under the table or sat stunned in their chairs. It wasn’t until he got a clear view of the woman, a board member, and the HUD gave him her name and employment history that Tony became aware he was wearing Iron Man.

“Genuinely under threat.” He observed, looking at the repulsor gauntlets. They seemed the same as always, no indication that the elements had been stored in his bones for the last nine days. “Very cool.”

“Mr. Stark?” Delven was only vaguely flustered by the attempted murder of his charge. Considering the bullets would likely have killed him, placed center mass like all the military in the world are taught, Tony figured the man might be happy his client was a superhero after all.

“I’m fine,” Tony assured him, because Delven without his stoic expression was beginning to freak him out. “Did that look sci-fi enough for you?”

“Strange as all hell, Mr. Stark. Like you were sweating metal,” Delven replaced the sunglasses that had been knocked asquew buy his exertions. “But I work for SHEILD, I’ve seen crazier than that.”

“Can’t wait.” Tony said.

*****

When nearly fifty individuals with personal body armor and guns enough to rival War Machine attacked the United Nations complex, the Avengers weren’t the first call that was made. Apparently, domestic terrorism was still under the purview of the U.S. Government and thus not part of their superhero responsibilities.

“So, we’re just going to watch people die on CNN?” Clint demanded harshly. His staring match with Coulson had gone from brief to uncomfortably long several seconds ago. Bruce simply sat watching the mansion’s massive LCD screen, hands still, expression calculating.

“The local authorities are managing the situation.” Coulson replied, not even remotely phased by Clint’s intensity.

Tony had just returned from an engineering consult in Egypt and wasn’t in the mood to fuck around.

“I’m going.” He slipped off his jacket because, even for Tony, it was hard to lose a $17,000 suit every time he pulled out the armor.

“No, you’re not.” Coulson didn’t break eye-contact with Hawkeye.

Tony laughed. “You know you can’t stop me.” Tie and shoes hit the Versace sofa. “This is the sort of bullshit I was all over long before Fury gave me the recruitment speech.”

“You’re an Avenger now,” Coulson obviously deemed Tony’s striptease a more worrisome thing than getting one over on Clint. “SHEILD’s mandate is to intervene only in situations…”

“So, I quit.” Because six months was a good run for Tony. He’d never committed to any club for that long before.

“Declined.” Cap said as he and Natasha came into the room, a StarkTech tablet in the other agent’s hands.

“They’re using non-standard electromagnetic weapons, likely sourced from China.” Natasha passed the device to Coulson. “The LEOs won’t be able to stop that kind of firepower. People will die.”

Natasha’s face gave no inclination of care one way or another. Coulson scanned the tablet while Cap slowly raised an eyebrow at Tony’s half-dressed state.

“Very well. You are cleared to go.” The senior agent allowed.

“Still quitting.” Tony declared as he surrounded himself with Iron Man.

“No you’re not.” Captain America put on his game face and led the Avengers into the field.

*****

The United Nations was a sprawling complex currently being evacuated by super-efficient security staff. They were a little distracted by the armed gunmen and women currently taking over several of their buildings, but no one was panicking yet.

“I don’t like this.” Rhodey always sounded different via War Machine’s comm. channel. Calm and measured like they weren’t trudging the Secretariat room by room looking for terrorists and civilians, hopefully not in the same place. Tony knew Col. Rhodes’ eerie Zen was like Cap’s command voice, but it still sounded weird. He had to stop making friends with all these military types.

“That’s because search and rescue isn’t part of your ‘badass’ persona right?” Tony was five floors down from the roof, looking through offices while the other Avengers were scattered in various hot spots. Rhodey had been ordered in after a fierce shouting match between the military and the UN security force.

“I mean, this seems like we’re dealing with clone troopers or something. Where did they get all those armaments?” He heard the background noise as War Machine slammed open a door, petrifying a few cowering diplomats before shepherding them to an exit.

“You know as well as I do…” Tony stopped as Hawkeye and Thor’s line went live with gunfire and swearing.

“Where are they Jarvis?” Tony called up schematics of every building, every room.


“Second floor General Assembly, Sir.”

Tony moved across to a window.

“We’ve found a bomb.” Captain America reported. “Eighth floor Secretariat stairwell.”

“It’s enough to destroy most of the block.” Widow agreed, accent slipping faintly into Russian with her tension. “Iron Man?”

“I’m coming,” Tony said, backtracking towards the stairwell.

“It’s Stark Industries.” There wasn’t even a trace of emotion in Natasha’s voice now.

Tony swallowed. “Just don’t touch it.” 

The Iron Man blasted through the stairwell door.


*****

His gauntlets and helmet on the floor, Tony used Natasha’s multi-tool to strip wires and turn minute screws.

“Widow, get to Hawkeye’s position to help with those gunmen.” Cap ordered lifting away the last of the cement wall he’d just smashed into pieces to give Tony full access to the monster in the air duct.

“Yessir.” Natasha took the steps three at a time.

“Nimble little minx isn’t she?” Tony carefully dismantled the casing around the mini-bomb that was supposed to kill him while he defused the device that was supposed to kill thousands.

Cap carefully took hold of the plastic explosive Tony passed him. “I know she’d cause extensive bruises if you say that in range of her hearing.”

“They have hostages.” Thor reported voice heavy with disgust at such cowardly tactics.

Tony looked into worried azure eyes. “Go. I’ve got this.”

Steve’s fingers curled on his shield. “Are you sure?”

“That I can defuse one of my own fucking bombs? Yes Captain, I am.” Steve didn’t deserve the sharp edge of Tony’s tongue, but stressed didn’t even begin to cover what he was feeling at that moment.

“Don’t blow yourself up.” With that Cap was gone, sprinting down stairs with inhuman speed. Tony looked back at the mass murder in his hands.

“Alright bitch, let’s do this.
 


Chapter 9

Tony didn’t kill himself with the bomb, but he managed a few nasty injuries anyway. Just prior to defusing the main device a third hidden fail safe tripped sending Iron Man careening backwards down eight floors. Given two vital components of his armor were lying on the floor, Tony was actually lucky to survive. There were burns on his hands and forearms, nine stitches in his scalp and a nausea inducing concussion that rivaled the most degrading of Tony’s hangovers. He hadn’t even tried to meet Steve’s highly irritated expression when the soldier had climbed into the ambulance, merely let the ice pack pressed to his forehead drip steadily onto the floor.

Using the boot repulsors in a confined space was a something he’d have to practice.

Later, sitting on the kitchen island Tony watched Jarvis apply raw aloe sap to the burns on his wrist. It was 6am and he still hadn’t slept. They’d returned to the mansion after being released by the EMTs but the ringing in Tony’s ears and adrenaline rush had left him too wired to relax. Adamantly refusing a bed at the hospital, Tony had stood under a hot shower and attempted to remove several epidermal layers before being snared by Jarvis, clothed in boxers and forced to have his bandages redressed in the kitchen.

Cap had come in ten minutes earlier, equally clean and medicated, poured a cup of coffee and installed himself in a chair at Tony’s side. At the moment the coffee cup was likely pressing a red ring into Steve’s forehead as he silently slumped, aftershock affecting even a war veteran of several years.

Tony chanced a caress, his gauzed fingers dancing lightly through damp golden hair.

“Good.” Jarvis neatly folded the towel on which he’d spread the aid kit, before cleaning up the bandage packaging. “If that’s all Master Anthony, I shall attend to Doctor Banner and the disaster in the red ballroom.”

“Of course, Jarvis.” Tony acknowledged. As the butler passed him to leave, Tony reached out and drew Jarvis into a quick embrace. The perfect posture relented briefly and Tony was granted a short, warm, hug.

“Get some rest lad, I’ll see to lunch in a few hours.” The hand was gentle between Tony’s shoulder-blades.

“Okay.” Tony rubbed his tired eyes on Jarvis’ shoulder and let the older man go. Picking at the gauze, he sighed quietly.

“Tony…” Steve began.

“If you tell me it’s not my fault I’m going to hit you repeatedly with this antiseptic bottle.” Tony threatened.

A small furrow occurred below the cup imprint that could only be described as cute. “I wasn’t actually, but given how defensive that statement was, maybe you could try opening up to someone about your guilt…”

“No.” Staring at the refrigerator was soothing.

“During the war, America didn’t have doctors to help us understand what we were going through like they do now.” Steve kept speaking despite Tony’s lack of response. “Natasha says there’s someone at SHEILD….”

“Again, no.”

“I have.” That brought Tony’s head around in surprise. Cap looked up showing Tony troubled blue eyes. “These gifts I have, I could take a life so very easily. I’ve wanted to.”

Tony thought for long seconds before he spoke. “I’ve killed a lot of people, both with my weapons and with Iron Man.”

“I know.” So very calm, not even a hint of judgment.

“Me, doing the team thing,” Tony waved a hand vaguely at the upper floors of the mansion where Clint, Thor, Natasha and Bruce were unwinding in their own way. “It’s not really working out, is it?”

“We’ll make it work.” Steve promised; eyes on his cooling coffee. “We need you.”

It was on the tip of Tony’s tongue to repeat the flip answer he’d given Coulson last year, but he caught himself just in time. Even though they’d only known each other for a few months, Tony didn’t want to flirt too heavily or he’d likely send the man running. They were only just recently friends and despite Tony’s libido, no chance in hell of being more than that if he didn’t behave himself. But these last few weeks, from that ‘buy me a hot dog’ not-date in the park and all the shit afterwards, maybe he had a chance after all.

Steve mightn’t be interested in Tony as more than a friend, but he seemed determined to be that much at least. Tony was used to people getting pissed at him, even knew more than a few who wanted to kill him. This whole part of a team where people covered each other’s backs and wanted to help? That level of affection was putting Tony way out of his comfort zone.

“I’ll think about it.” For five seconds then say ‘fuck no’, but he’d give Steve that much.

Of course Cap had spent those same few months getting to know Tony too. “If not a professional then someone else. Maybe James?”

It took Tony several long seconds to realize who Cap was talking about. “Rhodey? God no. He’d tell me to man up and…”

“Would he really?” Steve asked, eyes once again seeing all Tony’s bullshit excuses and ignoring them completely. “He’s a soldier, he’s seen combat, he’s had to kill and he’s your friend.”

He looked away from that perfect, handsome face and through the window saw the lights come on in the garage.

“Maybe Rhodey. “ He could literally feel Steve’s pleased smile. “I said maybe you pusher. No chance of sleeping now, I’m gonna see how badly I fucked up my armor.”

Sliding off the island, Tony bumped his hip against one khaki shoulder and went in search of clothes.

*****

It took Tony less than a week to repair the damage. Although the explosion had been brutal to his skin, the armor itself had emerged with relatively minor damage. Nevertheless the entire suit needed to be checked over, small repairs made and the finish re-done before Tony would even think about re-absorbing it.

JARVIS took on a distinctly fussy tone, pointing out all the minor scratches and dents that probably could pass, but he still wouldn’t boot up the armor assembly until everything was perfect.


“The original suit absorbed by the ICC software was flawless, Sir. We have no parameters to determine if even the slightest discrepancy between armor conditions will have an impact. I would not recommend allowing even minimally damaged plating to be stored in your bones at this time.”

JARVIS was adamant.

“Bitch, bitch, bitch.” Tony teased as he buffered the last weld out of the shin plate.

“He’s right.” Steve agreed from where he was buried head-first in the SS Jaguar’s engine block.

Tony glanced up and was momentarily paralyzed by the upturned excellence of Cap’s denim clad ass. He was going to buy Pepper some ridiculously expensive shoes in thanks for overhauling Steve’s ‘YES I’M IN THE ARMY’ wardrobe. Those jeans were very, very distracting.

“Don’t forget to invite me to the wedding you two are having,” Tony sniped, because yeah, a nice ass didn’t mean he needed another mother-hen. “It’ll be tough to be best man twice, but I’ll do my best.”

A heaving sigh from the Jag.


“Why I would be honored, Sir. The Captain is a fine catch.”

Tony sometimes forgot he designed JARVIS’ sense of humor too.

“Rewriting your code,” he muttered under his breath. “Are we done then? Can I do this or do we need another fifteen million sims to make sure I don’t spontaneously combust?”


“Everything is operating within acceptable parameters, Sir.”

“Hallelujah.”

Cap turned from the vintage car, wiping clean hands on an equally clean rag. Tony’s eyes narrowed as he kicked off his boots and took his place on the armor assembly platform.

“What exactly are you doing in my car?” He asked as JARVIS commanded the robotic arms to turn him into Iron Man.

Steve shrugged. “Nothing really.” He tossed the rag onto a work bench. “I don’t really know all that much about cars.”

The helmet locked into place around Tony’s stunned expression. “Are you shitting me…?” But he was cut off as the HUD came online and JARVIS began running simulations.

Always with the simulations.

“Three days you’ve been poking around my garage.” Tony was actually feeling angry now. “I don’t need another fucking babysitter.” He imagined his voice had the harsh mechanical edge it got when fed through Iron Man’s speakers.

“I know that.” Steve was unfazed. Watching Tony put the armor through the motions before returning to the platform.

“Then why hang around?” Jarvis gave him the all clear. Tony took a deep breath and forced himself to relax.

‘Let’s do this,’ he thought.

Just like before, there was no pain, only the vague sense of something pushing at his shoulders and sides. Then his center of balance was all screwy and Tony was catching himself on a nearby assembly arm rather than fall to the ground.

“Guess,” Steve answered.


“You have successfully absorbed the armor through the nodes into your skeletal structure, Sir.”

JARVIS reported.

As if the lack of Iron Man around Tony could mean anything else.


“You are now 25 pounds heavier.”

Tony hadn’t looked away from Steve. “Give a girl a complex why don’t you Jarvis?”


“Your girlish figure has remained the same as always, Sir. I merely…”

“See you for training tomorrow.” Cap said before heading towards the door.

“Oh fantastic. I’ll be early.” The sarcasm was met with a casual wave and a closed door.

JARVIS was unusually silent.

“Shut up.” Tony snarled before pulling the armor back out.

Chapter 10

Two weeks and a megalomaniac in Indonesia later, Tony still hadn’t decided if he was going to quit the Avengers. Romonoff must have had a conversation with Coulson because she and Tony had removed several terrorist cells through the Middle East with no argument whatsoever from her superiors. He figured it was a concession to Tony’s mood after he almost indirectly destroyed the UN, but he wasn’t going to bother to ask. He’d built Iron Man to fix the mistakes he’d made with Stark Industries, the Avengers were all about threats that none of them could handle alone.

They could manage just fine without him. Particularly if Fury could get Rhodey on board as a full time member. Then they’d have Iron Man’s flight and defenses with about ten times the damage per second.

Only thing was, Tony really loved being one of the good guys.

Back in the New York mansion after a couple of days in LA doing business, Tony was joined by Thor on the garden stairs while he watched Hawkeye’s target practice and inhaled some coffee. After forty-five shots the man hadn’t missed one bull’s eye.

“You’d think he’d get bored.” Tony observed as Thor leaned his back against an ornamental urn, long legs sprawling down the wide marble stairs.

“It is only through repetition and practice that a warrior can maintain the highest level of his skills.” Thor pronounced with a hint of sanction in his tone.

Tony shot him an amused glance. “I thought you Viking gods were all about the feasting and the mead?”

“Only after the battle is won,” but there was matching humor in the god’s voice now. “Then we are all about the mead.”

“I knew you weren’t as holier than thou as you pretend to be Big Man. We should try some of my mead in the cellar sometime?” Tony asked as Clint’s arrows obliterated another target.

“Perhaps when next we have emerged victorious from a conflict, we shall celebrate as a team?” Thor didn’t take his eyes off Clint as the archer received a call on the communication bud in his ear.

Tony couldn’t ever be described as naïve in any way. “Yeah, sure. As a team,” he agreed.

“There’s an army of giants ants raiding people’s picnics in Central Park.” Clint told them as he walked over, running quick fingers over the arrows in his quiver.

Tony blinked. “Let me guess, they’re not running away with sandwiches?”

“No.” Clint’s smiled in anticipation.

*****

“You know,” Tony blasted one of the larger warrior ants and took aim at one of its thousand-odd siblings.. “I’ve read a paper by this guy who thinks he can identify the level of sound ants talk to each other on.” Another insect with a toughened exoskeleton went flying. “I thought he was on crack.”

Cap’s shield whirled under Tony’s feet. “That would be helpful right now, don’t you think?” The Avenger’s ear bud communications were sketchy at best with the magic auras all over the place.

“Hearing what the ants are saying? Um…unless they’re telling each other where the secret location of their queen is, then no.” Tony was starting the get a rhythm going with the repulsors. Kind of like old school space invaders, but without the retro-techno music score.

“Ugh.” Cap’s grunt of pain had Tony turning in time to see an ant catapulted across the park to fell several of its comrades. “They’re flanking us.” Cap reported, taking up a back-to-back position with Hawkeye.

“Cheeky little fuckers.” Tony blasted three away from Widow and tried to use his boot repulsors to drive others off two huddled civilians.

“Thor?” The blond Viking was out in the center of the insectoid army, swinging Mjolnir like a baseball bat and having way too much fun in Tony’s opinion.

“I cannot bring down a storm here Captain.” More ants became bowling balls of doom to their own kind. “There are too many bystanders still in the battle zone that may be harmed.”

“Sir…” Tony’s AI began.

“Great minds Jarvis. Cap? We don’t need lightening; these ants are acting just like animals without higher intelligence. So…” Tony was momentarily interrupted by the impact of an ant bringing him to the ground. Oh shit. He’d forgotten that some ants have wings.

“Iron Man? Status?” Cap grunted through another man vs. insect wrestling match.

“Fine. Get off my face, Adam.” Tony blasted it halfway back to the mansion. He got to his feet. “As I was saying…”

“Who’s Adam?” Cap actually spoke that to Tony’s faceplate, a slight pause in the ant’s momentum giving them a minute to regroup.

Tony grinned. “Be glad you missed the eighties, Cap.”

“I liked Duran Duran,” Black Widow offered with a wry smile, adrenalin rendering her flushed and gorgeous.

“You’re Russian. Your musical taste doesn’t count.” Tony teased.

Cap took a quick surveying look at his team, except for Thor, whose joy in battle had resulted in singing and thus the temporary paralysis of the ant horde.

“Thor makes it rain,” Tony offered his plan. “No lightening, just big fat raindrops, they’re ants…”

“They’ll retreat underground during a rainstorm.” Cap finished the thought setting off in Thor’s direction.

“Unless they’re mind controlled by the sorcerer.” Clint countered pessimistically. “Then we have to fight them in the rain.”

Tony rolled his eyes behind the faceplate. “Better idea, Hawkeye. Let’s hear it?” Rising into the air, he had JARVIS run a scan to identify the possible entries to the ant lair.

Hawkeye renewed his insect target practice. “Get the people clear so the lightening can fry the lot of them.”

Tony gave that a seconds thought. “Fair enough.”

“Do both.” Cap ordered, currently keeping a circle clear around Thor while the Norse God summoned the rain. “Help the civilians, but be ready to follow if the ants retreat.”

“Yessir.” Iron Man pinpointed the non-combatants and made for the ones farthest from the Avengers.

*****

“Admitting I was right isn’t going to make you less of a man Hawkeye.” Tony told the purple leather back as they trudged down tunnels that didn’t exist beneath the park.

The archer barely paused in his determined pursuit of their foe. “You had no idea if they were controlled or not, you just guessed.”

Tony shrugged inside the armor. “My guess was right.”

“Cut the chatter fellas, we’re there.” Cap moved silently back from a ledge just ahead of them. Tony was bringing up the rear of the group because Iron Man was many things, but quiet wasn’t one of them.

Looking out into the huge natural cavern, Tony didn’t need to switch to infra-red as he’d expected. The ant queen was lying on a mound of sand bathed in the light of thirteen halogen lamps. Three human women sat around her, each holding a large earthen bowl in their laps. Even from a distance, Tony could detect the blood staining the women’s mouths, clothes and pooling in the sand beneath them.

“I hate magic.” Tony whispered.

“I concur, Sir.” JARVIS agreed.

“Send them back! Now!” Tony’s external microphones picked up the harsh, exhausted voice. He reached forward to tap Cap on the shoulder, but was forestalled by the man’s sudden tension.

A grey-faced teenage boy in skinny jeans was pushed by one of the witches to his knees in front of the enormous ant queen. The woman who’d spoken lifted a red-stained machete.

“Oh, to the hells no.” Clint swore viciously.

“Iron Man.” Captain America leaned back in a perfect discus lunge.

“I’ve got him.” Tony said as he shot over their heads and down into the cavern.

It was a race between Cap’s shield and Iron Man, but Tony gave his stomach over to acceleration and pushed his shoulder under the machete strike just as it would have taken the boy’s head. The youth was screaming in terror as Tony lifted him away from the Grand High Murdering Psychobitch, but he clung to Tony’s shoulders with desperate, grateful hands.

Back at the exit, Tony set the kid down and took note of the shield back in Captain America’s grasp, several witches with arrows in their wrists and ankles and a spider among the ants.

Oh and Thor was singing again.

“Thank you, thank you man. Jesus fuck, fuck.” The teenager scrubbed his hands over his face and looked to Iron Man with crazed eyes. “They were killing everyone, one by one, just taking us. Fuck! They killed the driver, cut bits off him and fed them to that queen thing. Jesus.”

Tony agreed with the sentiment, but he didn’t have time to give the boy comfort. Thor was hammering the queen, but the coven were regrouping and starting to overwhelm Clint and Natasha with the ant colony.

“Central Park is that way. Find the cops or guys that look like Special Forces, tell them we’re down here.” Tony didn’t wait to see if the guy complied, he only just managed to kill the ant on Hawkeye’s back before it took a bite out of his shoulder.

Long bloody minutes passed as the Avengers waded through the shifting morass of insects. Iron Man played bait for the witches, taking their weird magical force bolts on his armor and retaliating in spades with repulsor blasts. Thor had churned up a sand storm around the queen, high insect shrieks coming from within. Occupied with the coven Tony couldn’t protect his team-mates, he had to rely on the trio to cover each other’s backs while he and Thor tried to break the battle wide open.

“The colony should flee in fear or simply fall into disarray if the queen dies.” JARVIS offered.

“That is the plan.” Tony gritted out, ignoring red lights on the HUD, listening desperately to Widow and Hawkeye yelling moves to each other over the here-again, gone-again comms.

Wham! Iron Man went into an uncontrolled back-spin for four long seconds, before he could right himself. Shaking off the vertigo Tony focused on the battle only to be swamped again by the combined magical rage of three very power witches.

“Systems at criti…”

“I know.” Tony growled, switching over to the Avengers’ comm-line. “Cap? This isn’t working.”

“Iron Man, keep the cultists focused on you as long as possible. Thor, distract her, I’m coming in from the south side.” Steve sounded breathless, but calm in the face of countless enemies. Tony dodged another volley, taking a quick scan of the sand mound. Cap’s plan was good. The queen, near incoherent with rage and pain was pursuing the blond giant with the electricity that stung and smoked along her carapace. Captain America was moving with that uncanny co-ordination through the chaotic churn of the ant colony, stealing closer out of the queen’s sight. One perfect strike from the honed edge of the red, white and blue shield would take her out and end the battle.

“System failure in ten…”

But it wouldn’t happen if Tony retreated. There were three witches at least out there; without him as a bright red target, they would focus that magic towards Thor and Cap. Steve was better than good, he could likely duck the magical missiles that peppered Tony, all Cap needed was one good throw.

Tony flew a strafing pass over the witches' heads. They turned to follow him, tiny blue bolts scattered across the armor like hail.

Thor dropped to one knee, Mjolnir readied as if for another strike.

“System failure in three….two…

Cap beheaded the queen in one neat strike as Iron Man plummeted to the ground, warm sand rising in a cloud around him.

A great sigh echoed through the colony and then the ants began to flee.

From the small crater he’d made, Tony blinked up at the ceiling and wondered if he could bring the armor back online. Scared ants started running over him, hundreds of legs skidding off gold-titanium, knocking into his feet and hands as he lay like an abandoned doll.

Long minutes later the scrambling horde was gone and Tony looked up to a great view of Hawkeye’s ass. The archer was standing over him, deflecting the last of the terrified creatures with carefully placed arrows.

“Thanks,” Tony absorbed the armor in relative safety. Next was trying to assess if he could draw it back out without spraining his spine.

“That was a great plan there Tony, suicide dive for the win yeah?” Clint snarked.

“Bite me,” Iron Man smiled as the helmet fitted neatly into place and the HUD came online. Cool. “Where’re the others?”

“Thor’s subduing the cult leaders.” Hawkeye’s normally cocky voice went soft with concern. “I can’t see Widow.”

Tony grabbed an armful of archer and lifted into the air, quickly spotting the fallen black-clad figure and Captain America steadily performing first aid.

“Natasha!” The cry was simultaneous. Then Clint was dropping to the ground, moving to help while Tony rocketed up the tunnel to find medical help.

He found it in the form of Agent Coulson, a SHEILD team and several paramedics tentatively moving down the tunnel.


Chapter 11

If Clint solicitously offered Natasha another fruit cocktail she was going to blind him with it. Tony decided the exquisitely deadly woman might even be capable of maiming a man with an hors d’oeuvre if the rest of the team didn’t stop hovering quite so worriedly over her couch-bound figure. They were lucky, in a way, that Natasha’s punctured lung had been the only critical injury.

Thirty-six hours later and the Avengers were finally back in the mansion. Washed, rested and bandaged, Nick Fury had given them all an almost-smile before returning to his usual glare. Thor had contrived with Jarvis to arrange a small party in order to celebrate Natasha’s not death and the saving of twenty-three civilians hijacked from an interstate bus four days prior to the attack on Central Park.

Tony smiled down at the untouched beer in his hand, listening as Thor tried to intervene on Clint’s behalf with Natasha while Bruce explained deoxyribonucleic acid to Cap. Pepper walked into the room talking to Coulson, something about a press conference in three days and needing flight schedules. Jarvis silently handed them both drinks and plates of food before moving over to rescue the canapé being crushed in Natasha’s delicate fingers.

Steve was frowning at Bruce in concentration. It wasn’t the science that was giving him trouble, but the modern terms of reference the doctor was using. Likely, the nuclear physicist, like several of the most brilliant people in their fields, was having trouble looking at an idea from the outside. It was a credit to Cap that he was absorbing half the thoughts Bruce was enthusiastically talking about. Tony only understood about one word in three on his best days.

It was the small frown that did it. Those two little creases somehow pushed Tony over an emotional hurdle, allowing him a glimpse into something that might have been peace. Seeing these people, seeing his friends so alive, so ready to help when needed was like a shiny little epiphany the color of the arc reactor. Tony felt a tension in his chest unknot. Strands of hurt unraveling, slipping away like watered silk, leaving him with an open, empty space aching to be filled. Taking a deep, lung expanding breath, Tony drew in the belonging and affection in the room and smiled.

It felt like giving up or giving in. A battle Tony hadn’t even known he was fighting was ending with that smile. He let go and allowed himself an indulgence of feeling he’d barely known since well before Afghanistan. He didn’t just like Cap and it wasn’t just the usual lust that had driven him to every other lover he’d even had. This was different and Tony was only just now able to recognize what he felt for the man.

God, he was in love with Steve.

The man so perfectly made in his soul he endured having his body remade to match. A low-key sense of humor mingled with passionate intensity in combat. Tony knew he wasn’t the first and most definitely not the last person to fall in love with Captain America. But the idea of reciprocation didn’t really factor in to this revelation. The broken thing in his chest was capable of love like this. Tony knew that his attempt to redeem himself in his own eyes had started when he’d looked at what he had wrought in Afghanistan. Pepper with her little glass box and her deep abiding friendship had started Tony on a road that ended here.

He loved Steve Rogers.

And it was all in his smile.

Cap glanced in his direction at that precise moment, fingers raised to scratch idly at his shoulder, mouth open to ask Bruce a question.

Tony didn’t bother to hide his expression. It was too late anyway, Steve had frozen with a stunned look the moment their eyes met and without a word to Bruce broke away from the corner and crossed the room. A small kernel of panic turned in Tony’s stomach at the intent look on Cap’s face. There was no answering smile, no inquiring eyebrow or rolled eyes, just a dozen steps and Tony’s view of the room blocked by broad shoulders and hair that glinted golden in the light.

A little desperately, Tony steadied his stance and raised his own brows flirtatiously. “So, if you’re free on Friday…”

The rest of Tony’s question was cut off as Steve pushed one hand into Tony’s hair; the other fisted in his four thousand dollar shirt and pulled him into a kiss. The sound of Tony’s beer bottle thumping to the floor was the only noise in the paralyzing silence of the room.

Hands free, Tony caught at the back of Steve’s neck and waist for balance as he was almost lifted off his feet. Steve’s mouth tasted like beer, his tongue curling and pressing against Tony’s while he pulled them close enough to almost occupy the same space. It was wicked and delicious with Tony hanging on for dear life and praying to any god that would listen that Steve meant this and hadn’t simply lost his mind.

He was released for a split second to catch some air, then as his surprisingly dominant Captain bent back to the task of obliterating Tony’s brain he dimly heard Clint say, “Banner, what do you mean you had no idea? Even I knew and my gay-dar was declared broken years ago.”

“Shut up, Clint.” Natasha said, her voice filled with unmistakable glee. “Tony, for god’s sake! Get a room.”

Tony would have pointed out that he was hardly the one making the decisions in this embrace, but since he was being kissed and pawed by Captain America he was actually incapable of thought, let alone speech.

Steve pulled back fractionally, one hand between Tony’s shoulder blades, the other indisputably on his ass.

“Goodnight,” he said, their mouths millimeters apart, before walking Tony backwards into the hallway. A momentary pause at the kitchen door for an astonished Tony to see Jarvis happily hand-wave them on and then he was stumbling slightly into the master bedroom.

“Did you just get Jarvis’ permission to…” Tony managed to begin.

“Sure did.” Steve confirmed kicking the door closed.
 

Epilogue.

Tony smiled his very best not-really-but-trying-to-be-humble smile at the Senator and nodded his way out of the crowd slowly dispersing across Central Park. More medals to give to Jarvis for the glass case being installed in the mansion. The thanks of a grateful nation that was awesome and flattering but nothing when compared to the seventeen funerals he’d attended in the last two weeks.

The memorial garden was almost empty now, delicate posies of flowers cuddled against the clear, stone plaques. Immature roses with hopeful blooms would become a brilliant cascade in a few years, shading the small garden and the memories placed within. On the north side of the area the earth was still bare, the final border hedging in place for the ceremony but only just.

Adjusting his sunglasses, Tony dropped his jacket onto a stone bench and wandered out of the garden into the main park; locating a family of picnickers under an oak tree.

“Can I give you five dollars for that bottle of water?” He asked, glad he now carried some cash for the occasional small purchase of hot dogs and the like.

“What? Five dollars? Are you…? Oh man Tony Stark!” The guy took on a pole-axed expression that meant Tony was going to be signing something very soon.

“Sure you can honey, here.” The woman set down a squirming baby onto the blanket and tossed Tony one of the bottles from a cooler. “Don’t even think about it.” She waved off Tony’s money. “Least we can do to say thanks, you know?”

Tony smiled his own thanks and mentally promised to send Thor over later with Mjolnir just to make her husband’s brain explode from fannish joy.

Back in the memorial garden, Tony headed towards to the north border. Twisting the cap off the bottle, he offered the water to Cap as he crouched over a small seedling. The great shield was sitting just so to protect the tiny plant from the blazing midday sun, Steve’s hair glowing and getting lighter as Tony watched.

“Thank you.” Steve emptied half the bottle onto the determined little green shoot, waiting as the dry earth swallowed the fluid before offering the rest.

 “Could you actually be anymore saintly?” He asked with affection. “I mean, savior of innocents and small children all well and good, but plants as well? It was probably a last minute addition by the designer to fill an empty spot. Are the Avengers going into eco-management now?”

Cap tilted his head to the side thoughtfully. “We should, but I think we’re a bit busy for that don’t you?”

“Some of us are,” Tony countered. “Some of us just punch bad guys and lay around drawing obscene pictures all day.”

“Like you hate being my model.” Steve chuckled before standing up, a living flag with a pleading smile. “Do you think you could maybe put something together so that…”

Tony looked to the bright blue heavens. “Yes, I’ll make a sunshade for your little flower Cap.”

“Thanks Sweetheart.” And then Steve was descending on him, all big hands and dangerous lips and they couldn’t make out in the memorial garden except they were. After a minute Tony broke away. “You have a couple of Generals and Senators wanting to shake your hand.”

“I know. I’ll be back soon, it’s just…” Steve looked at the seventeen neatly arranged plaques.

“We’ll be faster next time.” Tony promised, because he was working on a new notification system with JARVIS that could scan any incoming 911 calls.

“We will.” Steve agreed before guiding Tony back towards the throng awaiting them.

 

The end.