Sometimes, Tony had nightmares where he didn't go. Where he flicked off the viewscreen and made a face at the fading image of Zemo's stupid turnip-bag head, and when Rampage said So are we going boss, he said no.
Because he couldn't stand Zemo, because he didn't like the way the League was going, because the armour needed upgrading, because he had a job planned, because he had a meeting with the Board. For any one of a dozen reasons which were more pressing than the mild curiosity that made him say Sure, why not.
He'd expected nothing more than a grand plan, maybe a new invention, and the usual rant from Zemo about his imminent victory and how they should all follow him to fascist glory. But the second he strode into the turbine hall that was League HQ this month, he knew this was different. There was near-silence, and several of the villains present looked... nervous.
Tony slowed to a stroll, as if he owned the place; if he recalled correctly, he did. He provided an awful lot of the resources the League of Supervillains used, simply because it gave him a measure of control over what was a near-uncontrollable loose association of criminals, outcasts, and the genuinely psychotic.
Even among this crowd, a six-foot-six battlesuit was enough to gain him space. If that weren't enough, Rampage's proven willingness to use her cherry-red and silver cannons in even the pettiest of quarrels would certainly do it.
Sure enough, the crowd ebbed away in front of them, and in the centre of the crowd was Captain America, chained on his knees, bleeding from a dozen minor wounds, one shoulder clearly dislocated.
He heard a gasp from Rampage over the comm, and felt his own breath catch sharply, but their faceplates, gold and silver, were impassive.
Well, shit. He'd never thought Zemo would actually catch the man. Pity wormed in as he took in Cap's dazed expression, the tears in his costume revealing bruises and abrasions scattered over his form. Cap wasn't such a bad guy, as meddling superheroes went, and no one should be in the hands of Baron Zemo.
They should never have let him join the League. When you started letting Nazis in, you'd cleared the moral event horizon, Tony knew that. He should've kicked up more of a fuss. He should have objected when they let Crossbones join, or even Daken; murderers and worse.
How had he ended up, here, about to watch Captain America die and applaud politely?
"Boss?" Rampage's voice came over the comm. "We can't."
Zemo had apparently been waiting for him, possibly some kind of League-founder-member thing. Or maybe he knew Tony couldn't stand him and wanted to rub his nose in his coup. He was ranting something about his victory, and Cap was swaying, as if even remaining on his knees was too much effort.
Cap's a superhero he told himself. He knew the risks. And he overrode the power to Rampage's repulsors, to her joints, and to her voicebox. He heard her outraged squeak as her armour became a prison.
"I'm not ready to die for a hopeless cause," he said for her ears only, even as his eyes tracked over the crowded hall. No one here would protest Cap's death; not all of them would be comfortable with it, but even if he could get a few objecting, they wouldn’t have the numbers. He could call the Avengers, maybe send an tip-off to War Machine’s private channel -
But no, if they came charging in, Zemo would put a bullet in Cap’s head before anyone could do anything, and if even Tony laid him out right now, Crossbones would step up to take control, and there was no way he could fight all of them.
He wished Venom were here; between Venom and Black Cat and him and Rampage, they might have been able to do something, and Venom would have insisted. He wouldn’t have stood for this. Of course, not being the kind of person who stood for this was exactly why he’d left when he had.
No, they'd have to wait it out, and then - abandon the League, certainly. Maybe he could fight it. Maybe he should just fold his hand and retire the Iron Man, overnight all his secret files to SHIELD.
He looked back at Zemo just in time to see him grab Captain America's cowl and rip it free, revealing -
"Jesus Christ," he said flatly, but the armour's voice drowned in the murmur of confusion and speculation. Zemo was staring down at Cap - Steve - clearly not recognising him.
New information meant a new plan, and there was no way he could watch this go down. Not a chance in hell, not even if it got him killed.
"That's Steven Stark," he called out, and eyes turned to him. "Stark Enterprises?"
"He owns Stark - " the Rhino began with a puzzled frown, and Tony cut him off.
"Married to the CEO. To Tony Stark."
"Your suit is of Stark manufacture," Zemo turned towards him and Tony nodded, strolling forward, each step an exercise in self-control. To look casual, to not cast more than an uninterested glance at Steve. There was blood matting his hair; did he have a head injury? He’d never been so glad for the perpetual poker face of the Iron Man.
"That’s right. If I'd known... well, too late now. But I should think what you'll do to him will cause enough hurt to Stark to satisfy me." Steve's shoulders slumped, and he looked up at Iron Man with despair in his eyes. His pupils were blown; he'd been drugged.
"He won't die quickly," Zemo assured him, and Tony's stomach swooped at the thought of all the terrible things that could happen to Steve. There wasn't a villain in this room who hadn't come off the worse from Captain America. Tony took a slow breath, and then tilted his head as if in incredulity.
"That's it?" he infused as much doubt into his cold metallic tones as he could, and Zemo seemed taken aback, chin coming up.
"You're just going to kill him?"
Zemo's masked face glared him down. "You're suggesting I let him live?"
"Of course not. But that's it, a slow death? That's the best you can do? No torturing his loved ones in front of him? No forcing them to torture him? No destroying the things he loves?" Tony spread his hands, and Zemo glanced down at Steve. Tony could see him weighing up instant pleasure against delayed gratification.
"This is simply an effort at your own revenge," he said at last, and Tony shrugged.
"Well, sure," he shrugged, nonchalant, shifting his weight onto one leg, casual, casual. "I'd like to see Stark get what's coming to him. Does that mean you have a better way to make Captain America suffer than watching you stick pins under his husband's fingernails? And knowing that it's his fault?"
Steve shuddered, and Tony saw him bite his lower lip. Zemo saw it too.
"You make sense," he said. "A demand for ransom, first, to maintain their hope. What shall we send, Iron Man? A finger? An ear?"
"Let his husband choose," Tony bit back a giggle that would rapidly become hysterical laughter. "Tell him you're going to cut a piece off for proof, ask him which he'd prefer. Tell him if he can't choose, you'll have to take a few."
Tony had the horrific feeling he was being approved of by a Nazi.
"Yes," Zemo kicked Steve in the hip, and he jerked but remained silent. Tony didn’t move, kept still as possible, he couldn’t give himself away. "You hear that, scum? All you love will suffer."
Steve moved with startling suddenness, lunging at Zemo, sending him staggering. Zemo’s hand slipped to his gun, and Tony bounded forward and punched Steve in the face, slamming him to the floor. Zemo levelled the gun; Tony put his hand in front of it.
"He’s trying to get himself killed. Don’t fall for it." He didn't look back, but could hear Zemo panting behind the fabric of his mask, rough animal sounds. He gently touched the barrel of the gun, nudged it away.
"No," the sound of metal sliding against leather as Zemo put up the gun. "No, you’re right. I can be patient for this; I have long been patient, and there will be no rushing now."
"He needs more chains," Tony said. "Chain him up somewhere, where he can’t hurt himself and can't goad anyone." He couldn't rescue Steve from under the gaze of sixty supervillains, he needed a little bit of space, but he couldn't push Zemo too hard.
"Daken - "
"Not Daken," Tony shot him a glare. "That little idiot can’t stop himself running people through."
"It’s a great feeling," Daken said brightly. "I’d like to hear the noises Captain America makes when - "
"Spare me your innuendo," Tony snapped.
"He’s gay, isn’t he?" Daken strolled forward, and gazed down at Steve, sprawled loose on the floor, wrenching feebly at his chains. "How interesting."
Tony bit his lip, hard, to prevent himself from saying anything that could give him away. If Daken laid one finger on Steve, just one -
"Well, it’ll be more interesting when his husband’s here to see it, won’t it?” he managed. “Get some self-control."
"We’ll lock him in the offices," Zemo gestured sharply towards the back of the building, yes, yes, perfect. "Daken, Spider-Woman, you’ll guard him. From outside."
He had to turn away, affecting disinterest, while Zemo gave his instructions; lookouts, perimeter guards, patrol the roof. The League seemed willing to take his orders for now, as capturing such a prize reshuffled the pecking order. For now, Zemo was in command.
Steve was dragged away, leaving smears of blood on the concrete floor, and Zemo began to brief the Vulture with a message. Iron Man made a casual remark about checking the news sites, which nobody paid any attention to, and walked away in the opposite direction, calling up the blueprints for the building in his HUD.
"Boss?" Rampage said pointedly, and Tony loosed the override. She hurried to his side. "What now?"
"You get out of here - "
"No - " she protested automatically, and Tony suppressed the urge to scream at her, she wanted to help - he should let her help. She loved Steve too, and he couldn't do this alone.
He looked at the blueprints for a long moment. They were going to have to go with direct.
"I need you to create a distraction," and she nodded to that. "Get out, then attack the base. At - " he checked the time. "Fifteen minutes? At eleven-oh-three, then. As much damage as you can do, fuck collateral, just don't kill any civilians. Burn down what you like and the grateful Tony Stark will cover what insurance doesn't. I'll take Steve,” another check of the blueprints, hoping some brilliant plan would present itself, but no. “Out the back."
"That's not safe, there's - "
"Nothing's safe," Tony swallowed the lump in his throat, tried not to think about it. "But we don't have time to come up with a better plan, there's sixty supervillains in there, all I can do is speed and hope for the best." And he'd be carrying Steve, all unarmoured and vulnerable, and one direct hit and Tony would probably be fine, but he'd have an armful of charred meat and be a widower.
"I'll meet you - "
"You'll go back to Stark Tower, and get ready to weather the storm, because I'm taking Steve straight to SHIELD."
Rampage was silent, thinking it through. The SHIELD helicarrier was surely the safest place for Captain America, and their medical facilities were top-notch. If Steve made it there still breathing, they could fix him up. Would fix him up, because he was almost as precious to them as he was to Tony.
Her helmet jerked once in agreement, and she peeled off towards the door. Tony had a hundred things to say to her; but she knew them all already.
"Okay then." Tony took a sharp left, into the bathroom, which would be suspicious if anyone thought it through, because Iron Man didn't need bathrooms. He turned all the taps on, locked himself in the rightmost cubicle, and very carefully tore a hole in the wall. Thank God for partition walls and cheap renovations. This had been a warehouse after it had been a power station, and various offices and storerooms had been built on carelessly. There was a narrow corridor here, dusty and forgotten, wrapping around the building to a warren of smaller rooms. These had been shut off long ago, full of broken desk chairs and old pallets and torn bubble-wrap, and Tony picked his way carefully up the metal steps to the upper level, holding his breath as they groaned under his jetboots.
Up here, there was a vent, and when he pulled out the grille it was just big enough to climb through. That put him in the upper floor of the offices, cheap temporary buildings on the interior of the hall that barely took the weight of his armour.
He crouched, rested one hand on the floor, and lowered his helmet; he heard nothing in the room below. Slowly back upright and he took delicate steps towards the door, because no one was supposed to be up here, and each footstep was a chance at giving him away. He tried to ignore the seconds ticking past as he crept into the next room, and set his helmet against the floor again.
This time, the sensors picked up the rough quick breaths of someone in pain.
The cheap carpet peeled up easily, but the floor was more difficult; the offices were modules, built onto the main structure, so they weren't too solid. He had to risk the crunching noises the floor made in his grip because he just didn't have the time to take it apart carefully. Steve was there, chained to a broken filing cabinet; his head was turned towards the noise, but he was blindfolded. Tony grabbed one of the support struts, and lowered himself through the hole. It buckled under his weight, and he had to drop the last two feet with a loud thud on to the carpeted floor.
Tony froze; Steve kicked the filing cabinet a couple of times. After a second, someone banged on the door.
"Quiet in there. You want us to come in?" Spider-Woman.
"I want to go in," Daken's voice, soft amusement. "I bet I can make him more co-operative."
Tony reminded himself that the little shit would not stay repulsored, and turned to Steve. And in the first piece of good luck he’d had today, Captain America’s shield was lying on the dusty desk. An indestructible piece of metal would come in very, very handy today.
He crouched down beside Steve, twisted and snapped the chains, wincing at the sound of metal grinding. He could hear Spider-Woman talking, sharp aggression in her voice, and Daken snapping back, but he tuned them out.
"Who's there?" Steve tugged at his remaining bonds. "Unchain me."
"Can't do that," he said shortly, and Steve hissed and made a decent effort at kicking him in the knees with his shackled feet. He bounced harmlessly off the armour, and his dislocated shoulder gave under him, tumbling him over with a choked noise of pain. Now that was exactly why there wasn't going to be unchaining yet.
Tony grabbed him up and reset the shoulder before he had time to focus; tears seeped from under the blindfold, but he bared his teeth and struggled.
"Stay still, now - "
"You - " Steve unleashed a string of words that proved to Tony's satisfaction he'd been in the army. He'd never heard that kind of venom in his sweet, gentle Steve's voice. At least he had enough caution to keep the noise down.
"I'm rescuing you," Tony interjected, gathering Steve up in his arms, and Steve continued to struggle.
"You set them on - "
"Stark'll be fine. He's been warned." Technically true. Tony checked the time. Another two minutes until the distraction; sweat was running down his back. He adjusted his grip, and picked up the gleaming shield, looping his gauntlets through the straps. Held just so, it would cover most of Steve’s torso. "I'm sure he'd rather run a little bit of risk than get you back missing bits." Or not at all, he didn't add, and clutched Steve a little tighter. Steve was going to be very lucky to get out of here alive, exposed and unarmoured in Tony's arms, even with the shield.
He backed and positioned himself under the hole he'd made; straight up would be safest, through the comparatively fragile roof, and maybe he'd bring the roof down so whoever was posted there would have more to worry about than taking shots.
Tony wished he'd pulled Steve back into bed that morning, that he'd muttered something more profound than love you, bye when Steve had leaned over the bed to kiss his cheek. Steve's tension was loosening, the shape of his mouth going from rage to doubt.
"You're sure - "
"They would've identified you soon enough. I was just providing a distraction. Going to get you to safety."
Steve turned the blindfold towards him.
"Why? What's in it for you?"
Tony was very likely going to die. There was an excellent chance Steve wouldn't make it out. If Tony survived, he was likely going to prison forever. He hefted Steve a little higher in his embrace.
"Give me a kiss." Steve flinched away.
"I'm married," he said in tones of such righteous indignation Tony chuckled, a sound that came out as metallic rasps.
"If you weren't, I'd ask for a blowjob," he lied, and Steve flushed pink around the blindfold. "One kiss. Come on." The faceplate slid back, and he put his lips at the corner of Steve's mouth, tasting blood. "Come on," he dropped his voice to a whisper, and Steve turned blindly towards him.
Slow and careful, tasting Steve's familiar warmth, exploring him as if he were new and strange. Steve kept his lips pressed together, but the armour's sensors registered Steve's pulse increasing, the flush of heat in his body, and he was caught between gratification and indignation. He settled on amusement, and pulled back gently. Steve turned his head to the side, and Tony studied his profile. He was gritting his teeth, but any guilt Tony might have felt was lost in the flood of regret; so much he'd never said to Steve, time he'd wasted...
The minute ticked over, and there was the crack-roar of a massive detonation.
Steve was unconscious by the time Zemo’s jets chased them over Manhattan; blood loss, lack of oxygen, G-forces; who knew? There were new burn marks on his thigh from a too-close call with a missile, and his nose was streaming blood. The armour had taken a hell of a lot of damage, too. Iron Man had been broadcasting on the top-secret SHIELD channel for the past five minutes, yelling for help, and sure enough, two planes rose to meet them, which wasn't anywhere near enough considering what was following them.
Tony's blood ran cold with panic, and he had time for a very vivid picture of just how he, Steve and two planes would be scattered all over Fifth Avenue. Then Ms Marvel and Captain Marvel swooped down from the clouds.
That was all right, then. He drove between the two women, who ignored him; the planes banked to escort him. The ladies Marvel were more than enough to handle a measly squadron of Zemo's fighter jets.
The SHIELD Helicarrier was parked some twenty thousand feet up, and had an odd shimmer to it; it deflected light around it, which screwed up radar and targeting systems and also prevented it casting a huge shadow over central New York. Tony had designed that system himself, and waited a whole three months before Iron Man 'stole' the tech.
The main bay door was open, and the jets steered pointedly in that direction; any other day Tony would have toyed with them, but Steve's body temperature was dropping and his pulse was thready, so he put on a little more speed. The main bay was the size of three football fields, but he homed in on the gurney and team of paramedics waiting for Steve's battered body to be laid on it, setting down as tenderly as he could and letting them unload Steve and shield from his arms.
He paid no attention to the half-circle of men and women carrying lethal-looking weapons who fanned out around them; at the last minute he remembered he couldn't show too much interest in Steve, and put the hand he'd started to extend towards him on his hip.
It wasn't like they'd let him go with Steve even if he revealed his identity, after all. He was so under arrest.
Colonel Nicholas Fury didn't so much as glance in Steve's direction as he was whisked past. His single eye was fixed on Iron Man, and the expression on his face was... complex. 'Baffled delight' was Tony's best estimate, which was reasonable for a man who'd inexplicably gone from being down his best superhero (and, rumour had it, personal friend) to being up by one extremely notorious and long-standing supervillain.
"Well, well, well." He paced forward, and Tony tried to assume a casual pose, which was quite difficult in a two hundred kilogram flying combat machine. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Hey, I'm a patriot," Tony shrugged. "I'm not going to let a Nazi kill Captain America."
"Sure you're not. You're going to swoop in like a hero and carry him off, right? What's your game, Iron Man? Rolling over on your buddies? Turning state's evidence?"
Tony considered Fury's glinting eye. Iron Man had spent quite a while being a major nuisance to Fury, not least because Fury was a major nuisance to Tony Stark. Every ridiculous demand Fury made from Stark Industries, every quibbled invoice, every annoyed telephone call to explain that the new jets were awful when run at 150% of their stated tolerances, Iron Man took gleeful revenge on whatever part of Fury's operations were most easily accessible.
There was very little chance of throwing himself on Fury's mercy.
"Pokemon. Gotta catch 'em all, you know how it is."
"Sure." Fury smiled. "Why don't you and me take a walk to my office and discuss this?"
"I'd love to, but I have a prior appointment." Fury continued to show his teeth, but it had stopped being a smile.
"Seems I phrased that as a question. Whoops. Iron Man, you're coming with me, and - "
Tony had saved a flashbang just for this; it was pretty puny in the vast cavern of the bay, but Fury and his immediate circle of minions should be briefly incapacitated. For certain definitions of incapacitated, anyway; he could hear Fury snarling orders as he made a bolt for the open sky. Boots rang on the deck, and bullets scattered the air around him, but the armour wasn't so damaged he was vulnerable to those.
He made it out into the open, and his armour blared a dozen warnings as targeting systems locked on to him. This close, his stealthing didn't do bupkis. The Helicarrier he could handle, though; he sent an override command and the weapons system began to reboot and debug itself; doors cycled closed, and for a moment Tony thought he was going to get out of the lion's den intact, with only a furious tirade from Colonel Fury to Tony Stark about his shitty systems -
Then he was abruptly reminded that there were two planes standing guard outside the bay, and his defense systems had already taken a lot of damage. The impact sent him tumbling wildly, gasping for breath; the armour absorbed most of the blast, but a missile to the back was nothing to be sneezed at. Systems flickered offline; his boots fired sporadically as he tried to gain height, and the next missile looked... weird.
EMP he realised, and then everything shut down and he was dropping in a titanium-steel coffin and wasn't that going to ruin someone's day when he fell through a roof? The bodycount on his death would probably be higher than his whole life.
Still, Steve was - probably safe, and Pepper would keep the company going, and Steve would be a very rich man and would get over finding out his dead husband had been a supervillain. At least he'd know Tony loved him, and had saved him.
Maybe he should've suggested to Pepper she and Steve should hook up...
That somewhat-depressing chain of thought was disrupted by a stunning impact, and he groaned, and then realised he was still alive and his bones did not appear to be broken. Welcome, but surprising. He craned his neck to see trailing banners of gold and red, and after a moment's concentration, a very fine black-clad ass.
"Ms Marvel," he acknowledged dizzily. "Uh, thank you?"
"Can't let you leave a crater in the middle of the street," she said briskly, weaving her way through skyscrapers before zooming out of the business district and off across the lower roofs.
"Aren't you going to read me my rights?" He tested the armour experimentally; systems were sluggishly flickering to life, but Ms Marvel. She'd squash him and his half-powered armour like a bug. She was smirking now.
"I haven’t been given any specific orders regarding you, Iron Man. You brought Cap back when we thought he was a goner; that gives you one free pass, as far as I'm concerned." They dived low, and then he was tumbled into a dumpster, and he lay on his back and blinked up at her as she hovered there, beautiful and militant as an angel with the sun lighting up her hair and gleaming on the lightning bolt. "You saved Cap's life. Maybe it's time to consider a career change."
"Won't you get in trouble for this?"
She snorted, and rose in a swoosh of crackling golden light, giving him another look at that spectacular rear view. Tony considered his luck for a few seconds, and then tested the armour's responses. Grind, cough, spark; about half the systems were still trying to figure out which way was up. There had to be some way around EMP, and one day he'd find it. He gave it up as a bad job, and hit the emergency signal. That worked just fine; he lay back among the bags of trash, and waited for Happy and the car.
He was feeling a lot happier about everything when he walked carefully into the lobby of Stark Tower. The lobby was filled with employees chattering to each other; the buzz subsided as he advanced slowly towards the elevators.
"Mr Stark!" Pepper dashed to his side, and pitched her voice to carry. "We've had a ransom demand for Mr Stark, and Colonel Fury of SHIELD has gotten in touch to say we should ignore it because he's already been rescued."
"Well, tell the kidnappers we'll pay anything - just in case - and tell Fury to give me back my husband unless they want a ransom too." Pepper nodded, and began tapping frantically at her smartphone; Tony looked around at the little clumps of employees, staring wide-eyed. "Has anyone else's spouse been kidnapped?"
"No?" Pepper gave him a harried glance.
"Then why aren't all these people doing the work I pay them to do?"
The crowd dispersed in short order, and Tony and Pepper retreated to his office.
"They're worried about Steve too," she told him, tucking her phone away. Steve was always the centre of an admiring crowd at company parties, which mildly annoyed Tony; surely, Steve should be hanging on his arm being decorative at those functions. Not that he'd ever call Steve a trophy husband - well, not unless he felt like being tickled until he begged for mercy, anyway. "You know how popular - he's going to be okay, right?"
"Sure," he said with a confidence he didn't quite feel. Fury would've said something if Steve were dying. Even the legendary Nick Fury wouldn't keep a guy from his husband's deathbed. He winced as he peeled off his jacket, and Pepper sucked in a breath at the revealed bloodstains.
"Okay, let's get this looked at."
Tony sat down at his desk, and stared at the photograph that sat next to the computer. He changed it most months; this month it was a paparazzi shot, Steve in his firefighter's uniform, blushing pink as Tony pressed his lips to his cheek. Tony was completely incapable of resisting him in his uniform.
How could Tony have known? Gorgeous, muscular, brave, occasional mysterious injuries and absences - but he was a firefighter. That was practically a superhero already, Tony couldn't have suspected.
Of course, the fact he hadn't noticed his husband was born in the nineteen-twenties was a serious failing on his part. No wonder he didn't know jack about the eighties. Homeschooled by the Amish! How had he not seen through that cover story? Pepper had told him it was an obvious fake, but Tony had been too besotted to listen.
Pepper laid out the extremely extensive medical kit, and helped him take his shirt off. Tony popped a couple of pain pills, and tried to plan through the haze. He kept on getting distracted by the fact he was married to Captain America.
"Going to have to fake an attack by Zemo's forces to explain the wounds," he said wearily. "Can't even use the Iron Man for it, or Fury will be suspicious..." His back stung as Pepper applied antiseptic.
"Sure you can. Iron Man can just be attacking us to try and get back in Zemo's good books." Pepper's hands paused. "Or Rampage could. Because Iron Man overrode her suit controls, and - "
"No, you're not going back to the League. It's too dangerous - "
"We could use an in there - " Pepper’s eyes were gleaming, no doubt at the thought of incredibly high-risk games.
"Pepper, we should've gotten out of there years ago. We're done with the League."
"All right,” she began taping gauze over the abrasions. “Are we going to fight it?”
"Not if we can help it. Which we probably can't; Zemo's been holding a grudge against Cap since World War II. I doubt he'll forgive me for thwarting him."
"And now Tony Stark's a target."
"And Steven Stark." Tony sighed, then hissed.
"Sorry, that one's deep." Pepper shook her head. "It might need stitches."
"Just tape it for now. After we've faked an attack, I can go to a doctor." Tony yawned. "Come in as Rampage, buzz the place, cause some minor damage. Let SHIELD and Zemo come up with their own explanations. Actually, where the hell’s Rhodey?”
“On Avengers business, which I’m guessing is a missing Captain America.”
“Works for me. Tell him,” Tony puzzled through the secret identities for a second. “Yeah, tell him to guard Steve, as we know Steve’s meant to be on the Helicarrier. I’d do that if I weren’t Iron Man and didn’t know…” he trailed off, and Pepper nodded.
“Steve’s Captain America.”
There was a pause while they both considered the sheer enormity of that. Tony was married to Captain America. He'd even met Captain America at official functions a couple of times. Very briefly; Cap had always been rushing to some person or place that meant he didn't have time to stop and talk to Tony Stark, which had been a secret disappointment to Tony but now made perfect sense.
“I told you he was hiding something.” Pepper gave him a smug look, the look of a PA whose suspicions had been vindicated.
“You thought he was hiding being some kind of murderous black widow, though, planning to suck me dry.”
Pepper had been hilarious when he'd started dating Steve; Tony had to admit he'd had his share of disasters in the past, and maybe Pepper had had a right to roll her eyes when he said this one's different, but still. She'd relentlessly checked into his background, determined to dig up any trace of dirt, and the lack of results had only convinced her more deeply that Steve Rogers was a fake.
If she'd met him earlier, she probably would have succumbed to Steve's charm; but Tony hadn't let them meet until they were safely engaged. He'd told Steve he was afraid Pepper would scare him off.
From this vantage point, he could see that maybe he'd been afraid Pepper was right; and he hadn't wanted to know the truth if it was anything other than the obvious. If Steve had been a cold-hearted gold-digger, or engaged in industrial espionage, or even getting close to burgle the joint, Tony would have happily closed his eyes and refused to believe in anything other than Steve's glorious smile. It was worth it.
“Well, it was the more likely option.” She shook her head. “Captain America. I once punched him off a building.”
“From now on, we are going to be a lot more careful when fighting Captain America, you hear?”
“Oh, come on. He was fine.” She patted the last piece of tape into place and stepped back. "Okay, that should hold you."
"Okay, great. Go get tooled up; take out the big picture window here, and then limit yourself to cosmetic damage please."
"You don't have to tell me; I know who;ll have to see about cleaning up the mess." She tucked the first aid kit away, and headed towards the elevator, her walk already taking on Rampage's arrogant strut.
On a whim, Tony turned on the projector and called up files from their wedding. He'd been insistent that they get a full professional video crew despite Steve's talk about precious memories and honestly Tony, it wasn't a performance.
Memory is fallible, had Tony told him severely. I want our marriage in full-colour surround sound, perfectly preserved, from multiple camera angles. No detail unrecorded. For some reason, Steve had gone all squishy and agreeable after that. He was a complete sap sometimes.
Most of the guests had been Tony's, an array of expensive dresses and bespoke suits filled by tedious corporate and political acquaintances. Fury had somehow elbowed his way into a front pew, with Dum-Dum Dugan apparently there as his date, and the two of them had dabbed ostentatiously at their eyes with big white handkerchiefs throughout the ceremony. Tony had assumed it was subtle mockery, but his new knowledge made it unnervingly possible they were genuinely crying at seeing Steve get married.
Steve's side had been an assortment of firefighters from all over the city - Steve did cover shifts for various firehouses, filling in for sickness or leave. There had also been a selection of acquaintances Steve had vaguely described as old friends from book clubs and things. All were very pretty and in excellent shape, and Tony had been jealously convinced they were all ex-boyfriend and girlfriends. But they were probably superheroes. Sam was there, of course, front and centre to gaze at Tony with stern disapproval.
He was pretty sure that was Ms Marvel there next to Sam, gorgeous and voluptuous in figure-hugging red; she had her arm around a dark-haired woman in drapey red chiffon, who was weeping into a handful of Kleenex. Tony vaguely remembered slow-dancing with them both at the same time at the reception, high as a kite on champagne bubbles and happiness, and then telling Steve they really, really, needed to be better friends with them.
Steve had fobbed him off with some story about them living in another state with elderly parents to care for. He should have been more suspicious of Steve's very few friends; no one so charming and sweet should have been so isolated. Pepper had darkly suggested it was a sign of sociopathy, but Tony had just gloried in having so much of Steve and so few people to share him with.
Captain America, of course, belonged to the nation if not the world.
The Tony on screen pounced as soon as I do passed Steve's lips, and for once Steve didn't blush at the public display; he locked his hands into Tony's hair and kissed back frantically. His cheeks flushed up at the whoops from the guests, but he didn't let go until Tony loosened his grip, which took several minutes.
The camera lingered on them, staring into each other's eyes, grinning goofy and sincere. Steve's lips were moving; Tony had written those words down after the ceremony. Nothing special, just words of love and devotion that had probably been said in that exact combination a million times, but they were special because Steve had said them. The scrap of paper was in the wedding album Steve had insisted on, tucked behind the big photo of them standing together in the garden.
The sharp whine of repulsors broke his reverie, and Tony ducked down behind the desk as the window exploded. He could brood later; there'd probably be a wait at the hospital.
It was two days before he got Steve back; Tony could have used another day to heal from his injuries, but it would look odd for him to be so blase about his missing husband. He had to throw a small tantrum at Fury and make legal threats before Steve was delivered to Stark Tower.
Delivered with no warning and to the tiny private launchpad at the highest level of Stark Tower, on top of Tony’s workshop. (As opposed to the boring old launchpad visitors parked their helicopters on, some thirty feet down on the main roof.) If Tony hadn’t had security on high alert, he might not have even noticed the approach. As it was, he had to run for the elevator like a maniac, leaving Pepper to sign off from his teleconference.
"What the hell," he greeted them as War Machine set Steve carefully on his feet. "What, Fury couldn’t spring for a helicopter? Has Steve just been hanging around waiting for someone to be going my way? For that matter, Mr Stop-Wandering-Off-Without-Your-Bodyguard, where have you been?"
"Guarding Steve," came War Machine’s growl. Tony was rather proud of that growl; unlike the Iron Man’s computerised clarity, or Ravage’s bell-like tones, War Machine sounded like he chewed up engines and spat bullets. If Clint Eastwood had a battlesuit, it would sound like War Machine. "I knew if I came back without him, you’d whine."
"You’re damn right," Tony swallowed, and looked at Steve, who was standing patiently, hands on his hips. "Hi."
"Hi yourself," Steve gave him a tiny smile. "Miss me?"
"You were kidnapped," Tony said. "By a Nazi," and horrifyingly, his voice wobbled. Steve’s faint amusement vanished instantly under Concerned Face, and he took two long steps forward and swept Tony into his arms. Any other day Tony would have told him to stop being such a damn romance novel hero, but somehow the words wouldn’t come today, so he pulled Steve down into a kiss instead.
A brief sweet time later, he heard the metallic thuds that were Rhodey trying to make a discreet exit, and broke away to roll his eyes.
"Stop trying to sneak, you."
"Get out of my way, then. I’ve been in this tin can for two days."
"Whatever," Tony tugged Steve towards the elevator. "Go do your decontam or whatever, I’ll talk to you later. You’re going to be bodyguarding Steve a lot more in future."
“Sure,” Rhodey muttered, and Steve squeezed his hand.
“It’s really not necessary,” he said, as the doors slid shut, and Tony glared at him.
“Nazi,” he said coldly, and escorted Steve to their bedroom. Steve stood patiently to be stripped and studied. Bruising and cuts, and if Tony hadn't seen him beaten and bleeding, he wouldn't have believed he'd suffered anything more than rough handling.
"Steve," Tony's voice stayed steady this time, as he traced his fingers over the yellow shadow of a bruise. "I've been so worried - " Steve made a soothing noise and pulled him close. Tony clung to him tightly, telling himself it was cover. He was just a worried husband upset by Steve's injuries. No supervillains here. "You should lie down," and Steve grinned at him. "Because you need to rest," Tony added sternly. Steve raised his eyebrows, but lay down obediently, and then shut his eyes under Tony's stern look. Tony just needed a few minutes to regain his composure.
Steve and Tony had met entirely by chance. A villainous attack had left Tony trapped in a burning office block; he'd been coughing and knotting together the sheets from the folding bed in his office when the window had shattered and Steve had appeared, a vision in soot and sweat and his big yellow firefighter's jacket. He'd scooped Tony up and carried him over his shoulder forty storeys down a ladder. After fifteen storeys of watching that glorious ass flex, Tony had recovered enough from breathing smoke to offer him a job. Steve had turned him down, and Tony spent another ten storeys coaxing; Steve made a counter-offer of dinner and a movie, and Tony had agreed with alacrity. How often did one get swept off one's feet by a genuine hero these days?
Tony had been drawing little hearts on his paperwork within a week. Steve was sweet and funny and good and Tony had proposed as soon as the laws passed. Steve had blinked those huge blue eyes and pulled the sheets up round his shoulders (because Tony had sensibly preceded his proposal with a reminder of just how good they were together) and asked if he was sure.
Yes Tony had said. I’ve never been surer of anything. And Steve had blushed and grinned and said yes, and wedded bliss barely began to describe Tony's happiness. He'd even considered giving up supervillainy, for a while, but domesticity, even with Steve, got a little samey; he'd been back in the armour within a few months.
And all that time, Steve had been Captain America. All those missed dates, when Tony had thought he'd been called to an emergency - well, it was true, wasn't it? And how many times had Tony been grateful, because it made Tony's double life easier, and he was sure that at least once they'd both had to cancel a date because they'd been fighting each other -
Steve opened an eye when he snickered.
"Are you laughing at me?" His arm sneaked around Tony's waist, and Tony cuddled close.
"No, I just... I'm so glad you're all right." He ran his hand down Steve's bare chest, and Steve smiled down at him.
"Mm, I'm fine."
"Is there... " Tony ran his fingers through Steve's hair, and tried to work out a hint. "Is there anything you want to tell me?" He watched pink creep up Steve's cheek as he tried and failed to look nonchalant.
"I. Well." Steve wriggled slightly in his grip, as if he were struggling to contain a secret.
"You can tell me anything."
"It's nothing really."
"Oh?" Tony tried to look accepting.
"Just, Iron Man made me kiss him before he rescued me." Bright red now, and Tony suppressed an exasperated sigh. Of course he fretted about one little kiss, rather than his double life.
"The man has good taste." Tony leaned over to plant a firm kiss on Steve's lip. "Too slow, though."
"You don't mind?"
"You're alive. I'd kiss him myself." He paused, and couldn't resist. "Did you like it?"
"Not - well - I might've if I wasn't married, and also bleeding - " he cut that off, and Tony assumed an expression of faint alarm. "I had a nosebleed," he said finally. "It totally broke the mood of being swept off my feet by a mysterious stranger."
"I bet," Tony kissed him again, swiping his tongue over Steve's lips and feeling them part for him. "You're going to need security, you know."
"SHIELD are taking care of it," he said at once. "Ms Marvel told me that capturing Zemo is a high priority, so they'll be monitoring me."
His blue eyes were innocent as he lied through his teeth, and Tony felt a twinge of annoyance.
"Ms Marvel, huh? She's a hottie. Is she really that stacked, or is it all Photoshop?"
Steve cupped the back of his neck, and then nipped the end of his nose.
"She's very beautiful, and very, um, shapely."
"You've been making time with all sorts."
"Still no one that can compete with you." Steve gave him a sappy smile, and Tony melted a little. Captain America, he reminded himself. Lying for a greater cause. National security, and so on.
"I wonder why Rampage attacked the building?" Tony wondered aloud. Would Steve tell him the SHIELD theories? He was blushing again. "You know something, don't you?"
"Well - Colonel Fury said - she might be working with Zemo." The blush deepened. Tony raised a sceptical eyebrow.
"Or... Iron Man might have sent her. To hurt you. Because he's, uh."
Tony stared for a minute, then burst out laughing. That was priceless, and all right, Iron Man's dignity... but being in a feud with himself over Steve was... well, it was cover. Steve pouted at him, a little.
"Not that you're not worth a bit of jealousy," he said hastily, and kissed the protruding lower lip. "But is it reasonable that he'd try and murder me? I mean, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that might upset you a bit."
"Just a bit," Steve pulled him closer. "It's a silly idea."
"I love you," Tony said abruptly, and Steve smiled. "I love you so much, Steve."
“Sweetheart, it’s all right. They wanted me for ransom; I was never in any real danger.” Tony was briefly deprived of breath by the sheer immensity of that lie, and Steve took advantage to kiss him. “I missed you,” he murmured, and Tony sighed and leaned into his warmth.
"I love you," he kissed Steve's soft pink mouth, his cheek, his throat. "I love you, I was scared for you, if anything happened to you - "
"Nothing is going to happen to me," Steve rolled them smoothly over and pinned Tony in the cage of his big, muscular arms. "I missed you; I'm sorry I was away so long, but they wouldn't let me leave."
Tony ran his hands down the line of Steve's spine, cupped his ass and pulled him down between Tony's thighs, hooked his heels over Steve's calves so they were locked together. He squeezed as tight as he could, and Steve whispered soft reassurance in his ear, cupped his face and took soft kisses from him.
This, this was always perfect, never lost any of its shine. Steve's body moving against his, sweetly responsive to Tony's hands and mouth, every sensation reflected in his face. He whimpered unashamedly when Tony slipped a dry finger inside him, moved in the slow careful rhythm Steve liked best.
"That's good," Tony murmured with certainty. "You want another?"
"No," Steve's back arched a little. "No, just, this." He shuddered, and his body tightened, and Tony worked him harder, until he lost the rhythm and just rubbed himself off against Tony's hip, frantic and greedy.
Tony was so close by the time Steve lost it he couldn't suppress a needy whine when his movements slackened; Steve chuckled, because he was a sadist, but then he wrapped his big strong hand around Tony's dick and fastened his mouth on Tony's and oh God yes -
Steve slid sideways afterwards, rested his weight on the mattress, and scrubbed the corner of the sheet over their bellies. He dropped a kiss on Tony's shoulder, and then his eyes drifted shut.
Tony probably had meetings; certainly had work to do. It could all wait. Nothing in the world was more important than being here, now.
He woke up in the dark to find Steve gone, and grabbed up his robe and scuttled out to search for him, irrational panic making his breath come faster. He let out a relieved gust of breath when he reached the stairs and spotted Steve on the lower level of the penthouse, staring disapprovingly into the fish tank.
Tony stumbled down the stairs and tucked himself under Steve's arm; Steve squeezed him, but didn't look away from the tank.
“Did you forget to clean them?”
“I – I may have briefly forgotten them while you were being held captive by SHIELD, yes!” Tony folded his arms defensively over his chest. When Steve had moved in, he’d brought a small fishtank containing one tiny, colourful fish. Tony’s attempts to curry favour by providing bigger, better, gaudier fish had actually worked very well; the downside was that Steve had strong views on responsibility and pet ownership. To summarise, the cleaning staff only touched the fishtank when Steve and Tony were on vacation. If they were home, they took turns cleaning the giant tank in the centre of the huge open-plan lower floor.
It was boring and smelly, but Steve seemed to consider it essential to the health of their relationship. Right now, he peered through the glass with an air of distress.
“Do they look like they’re gasping for oxygen?” he said seriously, and Tony sighed.
“Steve, it's been two days. I promise, I’ll clean it out tomorrow and they’ll be fine until then. Come have dinner.”
"Did you remember to take your medication while I was - "
"Yes, Steve!" Steve gave him sad-puppy eyes, and he sighed. "Pepper reminded me, okay? Didn't miss a dose."
Sometimes Steve acted like Tony was completely incapable of caring for himself. Tony had been managing his transplanted heart since before they'd even met, thank you.
He went to dress and text Pepper while Steve rang the pizza place; sure enough, she was still hard at work down in the office. She sent him a scolding text for not telling him Steve had returned, and by the time he'd read it, the doorbell was ringing.
"Steve!" he heard her squeak, and he stuck his head over the gallery to see her fling her arms around his neck. "Oh Steve, we were so worried. Don't you ever, ever, ever scare us like that again." She planted a noisy kiss on his cheek, and Steve patted her comfortingly.
"It's all right, Pep. Really. I wasn't even hurt."
"Except the nosebleed," Tony called down. And broken ribs, blood loss, the beating he'd taken, the burns he'd suffered… he met Pepper's eyes over Steve's shoulder, and could see her wrestling back the same scolding.
They sat on the big white rug in front of the wall of windows to eat pizza, and Pepper drank three glasses of wine and listed off the business engagements Tony had blown off in favour of fretting about Steve. Steve listened attentively, and gave Tony disapproving looks in all the right places.
After maple pecan ice cream - Steve's favourite - Tony escorted her to the door, and she leaned in close to whisper.
“Message from Zemo came through. It’s on your workstation.” Tony shot a panicked look over his shoulder at Steve, who was at the fishtank again. Did he have superhearing? "And are you all right?"
"What? Of course."
"Not going to do anything stupid?" Her pencilled brows rose in suspicion, and Tony huffed indignantly.
"Not going to start a fight, or get weird with him, or parade out your insecurities?"
"What?" That was totally unfair. Tony did not get weird, and he wasn't upset that Steve had been consistently and comprehensively lying to him for years and years. No bitterness at all that Steve didn't trust him enough to share with him.
Some of this must have shown in his face, because Pepper sighed.
"Don't screw this up, Tony."
"For God's sake, Pepper - "
"Break it up, you two." They both spun to see Steve watching them, looking amused. The opening notes of something with violins filled the air; of course, he'd been at the stereo that lived under the tank. At least he wasn't still obsessing about the fish. "Business talk can wait. Good night, Pepper."
"Yeah, night Pepper," and he stuck his tongue out as he shut the door on her. There was a thud, probably her heel hitting the door, but Tony ignored it and turned back towards Steve, who held out his hand in invitation.
Tony expected a hug, but Steve took his hand in a firm grip and then looped an arm around his waist. Lights down, soft music; Steve was in the mood for dancing. Tony sighed, and let his head thump down on Steve's shoulder.
"You're such a girl," and Steve laughed.
"No, you're the girl; I'm leading." He tugged gently at Tony's waist, and they started to move, Tony's feet falling into the familiar steps. He'd had enough dance classes drilled in that he could probably do it in his sleep, even backwards.
For all his complaints, he enjoyed this; Steve's heart beating solidly under his hand, Steve's warm, wine-scented breath on his cheek, the neon glitter of the city and the steady glow of the fishtank painting his face with pinks and blues, his eyes dark pools. Steve loved to dance, and Tony sometimes felt guilty he wasn't a pretty little woman Steve could pick up and toss around - oh, and Steve clearly came by his love for swing dancing honestly - but they did all right.
They drifted slowly round the pizza box and wine glasses, and in the clear space between glass and rug Steve spun him out and reeled him back in, so Steve was pressed up against his spine, arms wrapped round his waist, feet still moving in perfect time. Tony had always been impressed by Steve's unconscious grace; all perfectly explicable now, of course. He turned his head to survey Steve's profile, eyes half shut, mouth a soft dopey grin. He looked - well, like he always did when they were like this. Like a man very much in love.
Steve yawned, and looked adorably surprised by it; he was usually indefatigable. They must have been running him hard the last couple of days, probably trying to track down Zemo. Fury was undoubtedly hopping mad that a Nazi got the drop on him; it might even distract him from Iron Man for a while.
"You should go catch up on sleep," Tony turned in his arms, slid his hand up to cup Steve's neck, and he made a soft grumpy noise. "We can dance tomorrow."
"But this is nice," Steve pulled him closer, so they were just swaying in each other's arms.
"Very nice. And it'll be nice tomorrow, and the day after, and if you want I'll find a party to take you to and we'll dress up and dance to a band all evening, all right?"
"You spoil me."
"Nothing could spoil you." He lifted his head for a kiss, and then stepped firmly away. "You go sleep. I’ve got to get a little bit of work done,” and Steve looked very faintly disappointed. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I’ve been – I’ve been a mess the last two days, and – “
"It’s all right," Steve kissed his cheek. "Don’t stay up too late; I miss you when I wake up alone."
"Of course not," Tony said, with cavalier disregard for the truth. "You go get some rest."
He banged on the door to War Machine’s private room until Rhodey opened it, eyes barely open. He brightened a little when Tony waved a cup of coffee under his nose, and stepped back to let him enter, sealing the door behind him.
Tony dumped the box of leftover pizza on the side, and Rhodey snuffled something that might have been a thank you before engulfing a slice. Tony could almost see his IQ rising as caffeine and calories went to work on him.
Rhodey had been a godsend in Tony's life. At very possibly his lowest point - lost in the jungle, wearing the wreckage of the first Iron Man, his heart beating more and more erratically, Rhodey had appeared like a helicopter-borne angel. Come look me up if you get tired of the Air Force, Tony had told him when they were finally out of that hellhole. I've always got work for a pilot like you.
And when Fury was pressing Tony to give up his armour to the US Government - after all, if Iron Man had already stolen it, Tony Stark had a moral responsibility to give them the tools to fight it - Rhodey had appeared again, heralded by Pepper's irritated call of Boss, who did you offer a job to now?
So Rhodey got a job he hadn't expected, Fury got his War Machine, and Tony got to keep his secrets.
Rhodey had always been there for him in the crunch, and so it would be unfair for Tony to rag on him for things he couldn't help before he'd even had his coffee. With that in mind, Tony waited til coffee mug hit desk before going on the attack.
"Where the Hell were you when Steve was kidnapped by a Nazi?" he snapped. Rhodey gave him a doubtful look, and Tony glared harder. Sure, he was being an unreasonable dick, but Rhodey was an Avenger. There was no way Rhodey Avenged with Captain America and didn’t know he was Steven Stark. Rhodey knew. That had to be why he insisted on having a room he could lock against Tony, and his own private entrance to the Tower; Steve had to be using it. They were conspiring against him.
Did Steve know War Machine was Rhodey? Rhodey swore no one but Tony knew - although Tony hadn’t told him Pepper knew, so perhaps Rhodey was keeping things back. Maybe Steve and Rhodey laughed about Tony not knowing. Tony scowled, and kicked the cot again. Joke was on them; he was a supervillain right under their noses.
"I was with the Avengers,” Rhodey said. “Doing superhero work."
"Sure,” Tony’s scowl deepened. That was probably the truth, even, but how had the Avengers let Steve get captured? He was their pride and joy. “In future, we’re keeping a better watch on him. He needs a proper security detail; you can't bodyguard us and be an Avenger. Hell, you shouldn't even be trying to bodyguard more than one person." Although a real bodyguard would of course cramp Iron Man's style something dreadful. Hell, they were going to have an awful time with this now; Zemo would be coming after the Starks, he'd have to get more security.
“I’ll liaise with SHIELD,” Rhodey patted his shoulder, and Tony sighed. He couldn't even pretend to stay mad at Rhodey for long.
"Go home, Jim," he said tiredly. "Get some proper sleep."
The workshop was a design that looked haphazard enough to be an Escher drawing; it had numerous elevators, and multiple floors and mezzanines. Tony had designed it that way to hide three secret identities sneaking in and out of the Tower; apparently it stretched to four.
He trailed down the stairs to the main hall of his workshop, and worked on some specs for half an hour; a tricky problem from aerospace division, who were having trouble getting a wing balanced correctly. But he couldn't sink into it; the scribbled designs held no allure for him, the numbers looked stale and unappealing.
Fine. He'd watch Zemo's message, dismiss it, and then get back to work.
He glanced around to double check he was alone, and then called up the encrypted file Pepper had left him. Not a single surprise to be had, a monologue of barely throttled rage denouncing him as a traitor - a traitor to what, Tony wasn't sure - and then an abrupt command to meet him out over the bay at three am to talk.
Sure, right. Tony was going to waste time playing with Nazis, whatever. He deleted the file, and went back to work.
For ten minutes. Then he retrieved the message and watched it again, to convince himself that the man was deranged and there was no value to be found in meeting him.
Two hours and four viewings of the message later, he climbed into his armour, murmuring this is a bad idea to himself, as if acknowledging it would be enough to ward off the results. He took the other lift, the secret shuttle lift with just enough room for one suit of armour, up to War Machine’s launchpad. It was quiet and dim in the shadow of the elevator block and stairwell, just as he'd designed it. It made it hard to get a clear view of the launchpad from anywhere but directly above. He set his stealth modes to give a good impersonation of War Machine. It wouldn’t work if anyone actually looked, but to most analytical software he’d ping as War Machine, not Iron Man. That would get him clear of Stark Tower safely. The last thing he needed was for Iron Man to be spotted hanging around - although perhaps he could cover it up by leaving flowers for Steve. He suppressed a snigger at the thought of Steve's indignant blush, and launched.
Zemo was just where he said he’d be, perched in the cockpit of his weird walker monster robot thing, its feet spread into pontoons on the water. Tony cut his stealthing and swooped in to hover just above him, and resisted the urge to blow a raspberry. The cockpit cover lifted with glacial slowness - that had to be an affectation, no one would design machinery so slow by accident - and Zemo rose from his seat to confront him. Tony obligingly dropped so the flare from his jetboots glanced off the nose of his vehicle. No reason Zemo should shout their business over the bay.
"Why?" Zemo said in clipped furious tones. "You're a founder member of the League - you've been fighting for years - "
"Get this straight, Nazi boy," Tony interrupted. "We could not be more idealogically opposed. I can't stand you, I can't stand what you do, and I started a fucking clubhouse, not a venue for your twisted torture fantasies."
Sometimes he missed the old days. It had been so much easier; it had been fun. He'd thought of himself as a vigilante, then, and he wasn't quite sure when he'd embraced the label of villain. Maybe that had been when it started to go downhill.
"You don't have the stomach for it, is that right?" Zemo probably meant it to be cutting. Tony just snorted.
"For being a Nazi? No, and I'm quite happy with that. I'm a criminal. I'm a supervillain. You're a piece of trash."
"You're working for Fury, aren't you? You've been a spy all along, and now, when I am so close to victory - "
"I guess it's not paranoia if you're a Nazi, is it? Everyone really is - "
"It's too late, Iron Man. You can't stop me now. I'll kill you," Zemo was breathing hard. "You. Captain America. And I'll make you watch while I kill him."
“I don’t give a damn about Captain America.” A poor attempt at conviction; it wasn't like it made a difference, Zemo's hate for Captain America was already all-encompassing. “I just don’t want you to get your pathetic Nazi way.”
“I’ll kill – “
"Sure you will," Tony affected a glance at his non-existent watch. There were planes lurking overhead, up in the cloud cover, far enough away he could lose them easily by blowing out over the ocean and then curling round to enter the city by another route. Time consuming, but he wasn't in the mood for a firefight; Zemo was capable of the occasional nasty surprise. "Now was there anything else, or more standard villainous rants? Because at this stage in my career, I don't feel the need to listen to them any more."
The cockpit of Zemo's walker snapped shut with far more alacrity that it opened; Tony cut his repulsors, and fell into the water, where he dropped a charge before zooming off under the waves. When the shockwave hit, he rose out of the water long enough to see Zemo's walker flailing like an upended duck; childish, but what the hell.
Back home, and he'd have to start beefing up the security. He had Steve to protect, after all.
Tony stealthed as War Machine again to approach the Tower, sending Rhodey's passcodes to soothe the suspicious sensors that pinged him. He was going to have to stop doing this; it was too risky with the enhanced security that would no doubt follow Steve's unmasking to Zemo.
He settled on to the launchpad and stayed very still, using armour and tower sensors to do a full sweep of the area, turning everything skywards, straining for any blip or echo which meant there was an observer. Nothing, no sign of Nazis or jets or flying humans. He let out a long breath, and stepped towards the lift. Get out of the armour, crawl into bed with Steve, get some sleep. He flipped the helmet locks and peeled it off, shivering at the cold air on his sweat-damp scalp. Maybe he should wake Steve up for a little -
"War Machine?" and the lauchpad lights flicked on, revealing Captain America in full costume. "What are you - " his mouth dropped open as Tony crammed the helmet back on, too late.
"You're - " Cap bounded out full of righteous indignation, and Tony didn't even think before shooting off a repulsor blast, because somehow in his head he hadn't quite caught up with Cap equalling Steve.
"Sorry!" he said as Steve rolled and tumbled. "I didn't mean - " He ducked as the shield went past, and yelped as it ricocheted into the backs of his knees, hard enough he stumbled forward to meet Cap coming the other way. Off-balance even the armour didn't help against Captain America's formidable judo skills, and he went crashing into the elevator, where he slapped wildly at the panel of buttons. The doors whooshed closed and the floor dropped, and by the time he’d regained his feet, they were opening onto the top level of the penthouse. If he went straight out the window -
A blur of colour streamed past his faceplate, and just as his brain registered Cap’s shield!, said shield hit him solidly in the back of the head, and he staggered forward, into the formidable grip of his husband. He was flipped and thrown with ridiculous ease, managed to scramble to his feet, and then tripped into a glass side-table, spilling an ugly vase and a flower arrangement onto the polished floor. Steve bounded after him, and Tony rolled out of the way before his boots could hit the helmet - that could snap his neck, thanks very much - and took a swipe at Steve's knee, tumbling him sideways. Steve lunged again, and Tony tried for a grapple, rolling them over, and then the ground dropped away.
They tumbled down the stairs, and Tony let his weight slam the breath out of Steve at least three times, but when they hit bottom Steve extended the roll and then kicked him across the slippery floor into the stand of the fishtank, and followed it up by hurling a telephone directory, which cracked the glass and sent water spilling down onto Tony.
"Not the fish!" Tony flung out a hand as if he could somehow hold the tank together, and Steve gave him a mean smile and put a hand on the environmental control panel on the wall, and Steve had always said having the stereo system under the fishtank was a disaster waiting to happen -
Sparks fused and flared, and Tony's armour spasmed.
"I took the fish out to clean the tank," Steve's voice came from somewhere in the corner. "I wouldn't kill our fish because I'm not a villain."
Tony got the armour responding, and looked up just in time to see a metal spike driving down towards his shoulder. He rolled out of the way, and watched in horror as it drove several inches into the floor. He’d never liked that sculpture.
"That could have killed me!" he yelped, and Steve grunted as he yanked it free.
"Don't be a baby," and Tony turned the repulsors on him again. Steve was blasted straight through the glass doors that led to the balcony, and for a horrified-gleeful second Tony thought he was going to go over the edge; but he flipped in mid air and bounced off his hands on the rail to land crouched on the balcony.
"You know you're not supposed to take the fish out of the tank and change all the water!" he yelled, and Cap went still. "It upsets the bacterial balance! It was probably what killed the parrotfish!" He blasted the repulsors, but Cap somersaulted sideways and the shield flew out towards Tony. Dodging the ricochets was surprisingly complex; the damn thing bounced weird.
It clipped his shoulder, and almost overbalanced him; and then Steve’s feet hit his other shoulder, and he went spinning to the floor.
Steve straddled him, and his shield cracked the faceplate, and set the eyeholes off; Tony couldn't see, and the cameras were off-line, and when he flipped Steve over, he clawed the plate free. The helmet was still intact, at least, but he needed to see -
Steve punched him hard in the face, and Tony backhanded him across the jaw; the terrible strength of the armour was somehow not a match for Cap's wrestling talents, and Tony had always vaguely intended to learn a martial art, but he'd never gotten round to it. He skidded across the floor on his back, and managed to kick Steve solidly in the knee; Steve's broad hand spread over his face, fingers hooked under his jaw and the thumb pressed into the bridge of his nose - could Steve crush his skull, one handed?
He tried a repulsor blast to the chest, but Steve was holding on tight with his thighs. The pressure on Tony's face increased, a sharp spiking pain in his eyesocket, and Steve's face was set in lines of icy resolve, no sign of doubt or mercy. Tony shut his eyes, and then clamped a hand over Steve's ear. He could scramble Steve's brain with the repulsor, there'd be damage, it might even kill him at full force.
His jaw was grinding in its socket, he swore he could feel bone crumbling -
Who was Tony trying to fool? He'd never do it.
He dropped his hand, and went limp.
"You - " Steve's hand eased up, grimness draining into uncertainty.
"Go ahead," Tony said wearily. Never a question, when he applied thought instead of raw instinct. "Maybe you can."
"Tony, I - I don't - you started it!" Cupping his face, now, thumb smoothing over the tender place it had dug in, and Steve's expression crumbled into familiar scolding concern.
"I didn't mean to," Tony patted his thigh, hope leaping in his heart. Maybe it would be okay. "I just, you startled me, and I -"
"I startled you- " Steve's hand tightened on his jaw again, and then his mouth found Tony's, and mmm yes, that was nice. "You idiot," Steve muttered, and kissed him again. "I thought - oh, Tony, you idiot."
"Sorry, " he tried and Steve pulled back to glare.
"You come in here in that armour and take a shot at me - "
"Sweetheart, it was an accident." He grasped Steve's arm, and after a moment's scowling resistance Steve let himself be pulled down into a hug.
"How did you expect me to react?"
"I think you're attributing a level of thought and planning to my actions which really wasn't there, darling." Tony got a firm grip on him and then rolled them over; Steve tensed, then relaxed as Tony pressed their mouths together. The soft noise he made when Tony nipped his lower lip was a weird combination of aroused and annoyed.
"You're an idiot," his fingers stroked down Tony's cheek, which already felt stiff and hot. Steve packed quite a punch. "I could have hurt you. I did hurt you."
"It's nothing," Tony kissed him again, and again when he tried to speak. Talking could come later.
Steve's body felt strange through the armour; he could register all the little details of temperature and tremble, but he couldn't feel the warmth and there was no substitute for feeling Steve get hard under his hand. He scrambled off the gauntlets, and grabbed for Steve's belt.
"Aren't you hurt?" Steve arched to let Tony peel his skin-tight pants down and then kicked off his red boots. "You're, there's - " His words dissolved into a groan as Tony squeezed his cock.
"Fine, I'm fine," and Tony ached everywhere, and there were possibly cracked ribs and he was going to limp, but if Steve tried to stop Tony would put the repulsors back on again and they would throw down.
He scrambled down Steve's body, pushed the red and white leather out of the way, and then Steve's cock on his tongue, warm and hard and Steve making those urgent little noises, fingers scrabbling on the armour.
"Take - Tony, take that thing off - " Steve kicked him gently in the shoulder, and Tony grumbled a complaint, fumbling for catches without taking his mouth off of Steve.
Of course, once enough of the armour came off, Steve just pulled him up and snuggled them together, cock pressed to cock, and okay, Tony would blow him later. There was going to be a later, they loved each other, it would work out.
Tony shut his eyes and pressed closer, slid his hands up Steve's body to feel the muscles shift under sweat-damp skin. Then he opened an eye to take in the sight of Captain America all sweaty and dishevelled under him, eyes glazed with lust. Hoo boy, that was something. It was a step up from firefighter, even. And it was Captain America touching him with utter familiarity, petting him just the way he liked, those soft blue eyes focusing on him and then crinkling in a smile.
"I don't believe you," he stretched up for another kiss. "How could you…"
"Just stupid," Tony panted, and ducked his head into the blue-leather curve of Steve's shoulder. "I just, uh," his feet scrabbled against the polished floor, trying to press his body closer, and Steve groaned softly.
Too good, Steve's body working in time with his, one gloved hand firm at the back of his neck, the other at his hip, urging him faster, rougher.
The soft little catch of breath that meant Steve was close, and Tony nuzzled up his throat to find skin, to nip at the hinge of his jaw and taste sweat and leather and Steve as he spilled hot between them, grip tightening and holding Tony close as he pushed himself the last few thrusts to blissful fracture.
Steve let his head fall back to the floor, too far away to kiss, and Tony had to content himself with stroking what bare skin he could reach. The Cap costume was nice, and all, but it covered up a lot.
"Ow," Steve said at last, and pushed at his shoulders. "Get off."
"Just did," and Steve sighed and wriggled until he pushed himself to his knees and grinned down at the mess he'd made of Steve. Steve looked back at Tony, already blooming with a fine crop of bruises, with guilt written all over his face.
"You should lie down." Steve rolled to his feet and helped him up. The last few pieces of armour came off under Steve's firm hands, and then Steve hooked an arm under his knees and lifted him off his feet to carry him to the couch.
Tony should probably point out he wasn't actually a frail office-dwelling flower, but a bona fide hardwearing supervillain; still, it felt pleasant to be settled in with cushions and be fetched orange juice and have his bruises tutted over.
"You look worse than I do," Tony suppressed a twinge of guilt as he surveyed Steve's battered form. Steve gave a half-laugh, and peeled off the top half of his costume to reveal another impressive array of bruises. "Oops? You want some of these?" He offered the painkillers Steve had fetched, but he just shook his head.
"They don't affect me. It's fine." He arranged himself next to Tony, careful not to put weight on any of their tender parts. "I heal fast. Do you?"
"No, I just... just the armour. I'm just a normal guy."
"Sure you are." Steve kissed his brow. "So why..." he stopped, and made a face, clearly finding so why are you a supervillain too blunt for pillow talk.
"I built the armour when I was captured by terrorists." Tony yawned. "I had to wear the chest piece to survive, for a while – uh, I never had a heart deformity, it was a shrapnel injury." Steve spread his palm over the rough scar tissue, eyes wide with concern. "It's fine, though, since the transplant. Anyway, after I broke out they used some of the schematics to build some shitty knock-offs, and by the time I'd got that sorted out Iron Man was presumed to be a terrorist. It was pretty confusing there, for a while. I managed to convince Fury I'd been kidnapped and they'd forced me to outfit Iron Man. Which was almost true."
"But..." Steve's brow furrowed adorably. Tony stared down the couch at his toes. At least they weren't sore. The jet boots were pretty tough.
"Well, why not?" Tony shrugged petulantly. "I didn't really do crime. Not for a while. A bit of industrial espionage. Expose some of my rivals' bad practises. And I guess... I got a bit... superheroes made it seem like a game. And I met the other guys, and we formed a League, and it was... it was fun. At first." It had been fantastic and ridiculous, playing chase me round the sky with the Human Torch, or leaving cryptic messages for Dr Banner. He'd spent a lot less time worrying about things then; but then, there'd been far fewer casualties. The League were a bunch of idiot kids, and Tony included himself in that, but they'd always been reasonably careful of collateral damage and civilians.
"You became a supervillain for fun?" Steve looked scandalised. Maybe he'd expected Tony to be able to justify himself a little better. "You were working with Nazis."
"It... got less fun. At first it was, you know, me and the Black Cat and Venom and Madam Masque and a couple other guys... they're not bad people, at all. Just, well, criminals." He still missed Venom. Why the kid hadn't taken him up on the job offer was beyond Tony.
"But over the years... I don't know. Standards slipped. Whatever." Tony picked at a seam in a cushion. "You just get used to things. Zemo and me weren't buddies or anything. I've been thinking about quitting for a while."
"Well, the League." Steve's eyes narrowed, the judgemental gaze that always made Tony feel kind of inadequate and mulish. "Don't give me that."
"I can't - " Steve's face mushed up. "Tony, I can't - I'm Captain America. It's my job. It's more than that, I - "
"What happened to better or worse?" Straight for the cheap shot; this kind of thing was why Tony wasn't a superhero.
"I didn't say I'd divorce you," Steve snapped. "I'll come visit you in jail, shall I?"
"I can't - I can't keep this - " Steve shook his head. "Tony, I love you - "
"You love me so much you'll send me to Rikers where I'll probably get murdered?" Tony tried to get up, but Steve wrapped an arm around his waist. "Anyway, it doesn't matter if I stop villainy. I've done enough to put me away for decades. Federal custody, so don't expect any conjugal visits."
"Tony," Steve pulled him down into a kiss, and Tony luxuriated in the slow movement of their mouths together. How many more times would Steve kiss him?
It wasn't like you could just quit villainy. The Iron Man wasn't some fly-by-night, he had a whole operation, bases in several countries, Senators on the payroll. And there was Rampage; he'd gotten Pepper into this, how could he just pull down the shades and convince her it was over?
"Steve - " he began, and then yelped as the windows blew in in a cloud of razor fragments backed with fire. Steve swore viciously and flipped the couch over, pitching them both to the floor but providing several inches of deeply-padded cover.
"Who the fuck," Tony said breathlessly.
"Zemo." Steve's head bobbed up over the couch for a second, and down as machine gun fire tore at the walls. "Can't see him; minions."
"He couldn't have followed - " Tony's brain caught up. "Oh. He's here for you."
"This could get confusing." Steve frowned at Tony, not as if he were angry, but as if Tony were some puzzle to be considered; a distant and noncommittal look that made Tony's heart ache. No time for that now.
"The kitchen," Tony said, and they bolted across the floor, Steve pausing only to snatch up his shield.
Into the kitchen, through the walk-in refrigerator, and Tony pried at the shelves to swing them away from the wall. There was barely a wall in this place that didn’t have an secret emergency elevator; this one was on an entirely different system, and responded only to Tony, Pepper and Steve's retinal scans.
It carried them straight down to the underground garage, which wasn't so much secret as generally uninteresting unless you were a car thief. In that case, it was a tempting target bristling with high security.
"My car - " Steve dived towards the boring, ancient Pontiac he'd refused to give up, and Tony grabbed his wrist.
"That thing, are you mad? We'll take - "
"It's SHIELD issue - " Steve grabbed a bag from the trunk, a large bag with a familiar round shape to it, and Tony rolled his eyes. Of course, Tony would never snoop through a Pontiac.
Steve was just lucky he'd never gone through with his threats to have the car compacted.
"SHIELD, schmield. I just upgraded the Jaguar."
"The Pontiac - uh - it flies - "
"And it's probably full of tracers and bugs!" He watched Steve's mouth start to form only SHIELD ones, and then realise that was exactly who Tony was concerned about. "The Jag."
The Jag didn't fly (not that Tony couldn't have built a flying car, and not out of a Pontiac either) but it was the fastest, most manoeuvrable thing on the road. It had bulletproof plating and an undercarriage full of nasty tricks and also a suit of armour, which Tony intended to get to as soon as he wasn't busy driving hell-for-leather. He took the other exit, that had a hundred-foot tunnel that came up under a totally different building, and in the time it took them to clear that Steve had dug a fresh Captain America costume out of his bag and climbed into the back seat. Tony tried not to be too distracted by the flashes of skin in the rearview mirror. It wasn't like he hadn't seen it all before.
Steve had to squirm into his pants, they were so tight. Tony approved.
Where to go, where to go. For want of a better idea, Tony steered them towards the nearest bridge. Getting out of Manhattan sounded like a good start.
"SHIELD aren't after us." Steve popped upright, and pulled his cowl into place.
"They might change their minds after finding our torn costumes smeared with - "
"Tony!" Steve blushed.
"That'll give them a laugh in the lab," Tony continued gaily. "Captain America has torrid affair with Iron Man - "
"They don't know I'm Iron Man. They'll think you're cheating." He grinned at Steve's indignant face. "Did you tell Fury you made out with Iron Man?"
"I - they will not think that!"
"Then they'll figure it out." Tony sighed. Once someone seriously pursued the idea that Tony Stark was Iron Man - at least, once Nick Fury pursued the idea - all sorts of things would become apparent. “They'll - "
There was a boom from behind them. Tony glanced in the mirror, and did a doubletake at the fire and smoke streaming from the top of Stark Tower. Steve made a small noise of distress.
"Well." Tony scowled. "On the bright side, the DNA evidence should be destroyed. Oh God, our fish.”
“I took them down to the tank in the boardroom. They should be all right if the fire department gets there on time.” Steve pulled out his phone, and Tony slapped his hand down.
“I suppose your terrifying obsession with spotless fishtanks has paid off for once. No, don't call them, they'll already have been called. Take the wheel."
Steve scrambled into the front, and there was great awkwardness and Tony suppressed the urge to pinch him. Not the time.
The floor came up, and he wriggled into the golden underlayer and began layering the plates on, humming softly. Steve kept flicking glances at him, but his eyes were worried, not admiring. Which was annoying, because the armour was damn sexy, thank you.
"So that terrorist explosion when we met," Steve said suddenly.
"Electro, wasn't it?" Tony shrugged. "I can't even remember why." He tugged his boots on, and clipped them shut. All the details of that day had kind of faded into insignificance behind the vivid golden memory of Steve bursting into his life. "Uh, some kind of... we were working on some kind of electrical containment field?"
"Right," Steve said. "So it was supervillain infighting, huh?"
"Not really. He doesn't even know I'm Iron Man. Let me drive." He took the wheel back, awkwardly. He wasn't used to driving in armour. "I think SHIELD commissioned the containment field, actually, so I was kind of on the side of the angels in that fight." He glanced over at Steve's solemn face. "Worried about helping me in my supervillainous ways?"
"It's not a joke, Tony."
"It's hilarious, are you kidding - " he yanked hard on the wheel, and they tore down a side street.
"Tony, for God's sake, did you even indicate?" Tony grinned. Steve was totally a nagging wife when it came to Tony's driving.
"Falcon," he said shortly. "Needed to get us under cover."
"But - " Steve bit his lip. Tony gave him a suspicious look in the rearview mirror.
"Is Falcon Sam?"
"Is Pepper Rampage?" Steve glared back, and Tony returned his eyes to the road.
"Maybe we shouldn't discuss this."
"Maybe." There was a pause. "Where are we going?"
"Good question." He pulled over, parking them in the shadow of a building, and Steve gave him a doubtful look. "We need to do something about Zemo. He's after both of us - all four of us, now he knows your secret identity."
"I'm sorry," Steve ducked his head, and Tony punched him gently in the arm.
"Not your fault."
“It is. If I hadn’t been captured - “
“It is not in anyway your fault a Nazi took you prisoner.” Tony grabbed Steve’s hand in his. “Now, stop feeling sorry for yourself and come up with a plan.”
“Right.” Steve bit his lip. “Well, do you know where his secret base is?”
“But he - “
“It’s a league of supervillains, not glee club. We don’t bond.”
“Right. Then I guess we should try and lure him out.” Steve nibbled on his lip, the way he did when he was trying to decide on pizza toppings - how had Tony never noticed that Captain America had all his husband’s little quirks? “Right now, he probably thinks we’re dead.”
“Maybe,” Tony said thoughtfully, and drummed his fingers on the wheel. “Hey, how did Zemo capture you?”
“A tech leak, we think - we’re still trying to isolate the tap. Oh!” Steve’s eyes lit. “That’s good, yeah, I’ll call War Machine - “
“I’ll text him, and tell him to contact you on the insecure line.”
“You text with War Machine?” Okay, Steve didn't know War Machine was Rhodey, which made Tony feel slightly better. At least Rhodey wasn't sneaking around on him.
“Well, he is kind of my nemesis.”
“For taunting purposes. Hold the wheel.” He couldn’t dictate the message with Steve listening; instead he opened a panel in his vambrace and tapped at the small keyboard revealed. Rhodey. V. important you call Steve on the line with the leak. Do not mention me or this text at all. Rhodey would strangle him when he found out Tony had been Iron Man all these years. Still, he could worry about that later.
“I’ll tell him we’re hiding out at - do you have any secret bases?"
Tony lifted his faceplate to give Steve a better incredulous look. Did he have secret bases? Did Steve think he supervillained from his home office? Steve just stared back, and Tony decided it was no time to quibble.
“Don’t mention me right now. Just tell him you’re going to ground on Palisades Avenue, Riverdale.”
“What’s that?” A soft beep sounded, and Steve picked a sleek little card out of his pocket, and spoke into it.
“America,” he said, and Tony rolled his eyes. “Mm hm. Yeah, tell Fury I’m fine. I’m taking cover at Palisades Avenue; I’ll be in touch, okay?” He hung up. “Zemo’s going to realise that’s a set-up.”
“He doesn’t know I’m with you, though. Or rather, that Iron Man's with you.” Tony steered them into a parking lot. “Okay, Zemo's not likely to venture out in person; he likes his minions. We still have to find his location. So I have to call Rampage.”
Steve’s communicator went off; he glanced at it. “Fury,” he said. “I doubt he’s calling on the leaked line.”
“Don’t answer it,” Tony put the faceplate up, and gave him a pleading look; Steve visibly wavered. “Please? Let’s get Zemo sorted out first.”
After a long moment, Steve put the card away.
"How are we going to sort out Zemo, though?"
"Let's get his location," Tony put his hand on Steve's knee, and Steve looked down at it with a less-than-pleased expression. "Sweetheart, please. You're in danger. Let's do what we can right now, okay?"
A plan would present itself in due course. Tony called Pepper.
“Boss?” her voice filtered through, the Iron Man automatically converting her voice waves into Rampage. “What’s up?”
“Rampage,” he said firmly, just in case she felt like dropping some incriminating information. “Zemo blew up the penthouse.”
“Shit, I - “ Personal assistant warred with supervillain. “Fine. What’s our plan?”
“I… have teamed up with Captain America." The discordant jangle of her laughter broke out. “Shut up. He knows my secret identity.”
“Ouch,” Rampage said sympathetically. “He’s mad?”
“Not best pleased. Anyway. We’ve dropped a message to Zemo we’re going to Base Gamma - “
“We never go to Base Gamma.”
“Well, I would like you to fetch your backup armour, go to Base Gamma now, and be scared away by Nazis.”
“I would like to blow up some Nazis.”
“This is also acceptable to me. The important thing is that Zemo will be going there expecting a trap. Or his minions will be going there expecting a trap. I want you to prove interest and excitement for them. And also, I need them to take a tracker home.”
Rampage sucked her breath in through her teeth. It was exactly the same noise Pepper made when he asked her to reschedule urgent meetings. It was the same noise she’d made when he told her he had a date with the firefighter who rescued him from a burning building. It translated, roughly, as you make my life very difficult. What she actually said as always, was “Not a problem, boss.”
“A little too late in the game.” She hung up.
"So what do we do once we locate his base?" Steve was persistent. It was one of his more annoying qualities, Tony had always thought.
"It all depends," Tony hedged, but Steve kept on.
"Tell SHIELD? Or is that against the supervillain code?" Low blow.
"Can you just let it go?"
"Let it go?"
"Never mind. I don't know. Maybe. Maybe we can deal with it ourselves." Tony drummed his fingers on the wheel. "Can we - Rampage is going in. Let's just wait a bit."
They relocated to a parking lot not too far from Base Gamma in Riverdale, flicking between news channels. It sounded like the penthouse was a dead loss; and Steve and Tony were believed dead, too. Opinion was divided as to whether Iron Man or Baron Zemo were to blame.
"I am not a murderer," Tony muttered. "This is so unfair."
"You shouldn’t have had Rampage attack Stark Tower," Steve said absently. "Why did - "
"Muddying the waters, and an excuse for my injuries."
Breaking News said the radio, and they both leaned forward. Rampage had located her Nazis, and engaged in a carnival of destruction.
"Why does she have so many guns?" Steve muttered. “I’m surprised she can stand under all those cannons.”
"She likes guns. And she can’t, which is just one reason for an armoured exoskeleton." Tony’s gloved fingers tapped erratically on the wheel. He hated sending Pepper in alone; she was reckless to the point where even Tony raised his eyebrows, the flush of adrenaline always sending her self-preservation instincts scattering.
Latest reports are that Rampage has been knocked out of the sky; debris was seen falling, which suggests her armour was damaged by missiles, said the reporter calmly, and Tony flattened out his hands to stop from crushing anything in his very expensive car.
"She’ll be fine," he said.
"That was quick," Steve frowned. "Do they have some new way of neutralising armour? If so - "
"You’re right," Tony smacked himself in the helmet. "Oh, damn."
"I’m an idiot is what. Rampage thinks in straight lines." It was what made her so relentlessly and terrifyingly efficient, her ability to see the quickest way from A to B and carve a path through the intervening bullshit. "What’s the most powerful tracking device she has access to? That Zemo’s minions wouldn’t be able to resist taking home to him?"
Steve groaned. "The armour."
"I mean she’s right. Great plan. But." She’d have the armour locked down, of course, and no doubt she’d have taken a controlled dive rather than being shot down. So theoretically, they now had an ally inside Zemo's base, awaiting her moment to strike.
It was a good plan. Tony would have done it himself. But, like so many things Tony did, it wasn’t something he wanted Pepper doing.
"You shouldn’t have dragged her into this," Steve said in extremely judgemental tones. Clearly, they were giving up pretending that Pepper wasn’t his sidekick.
"I did not drag. Do you know how hard it is to keep it a secret that you’re a supervillain from your PA? I had her thinking I was War Machine for a while."
"I wondered that," Steve admitted. "I couldn’t picture you building armour like that and giving it away. But you’re too different."
"Yeah. And once she found out, nothing would do but a suit of her own. Under that sensible blouse and ruthlessly organised dayplanner beats the heart of a stampeding buffalo. And she’s a great pilot! A natural!" Steve continued to glare. "Oh, like getting a social worker into superheroing is somehow okay."
"Social workers are already heroes," Steve sounded prim. "And it was complicated. Nazis were involved. Speaking of which…"
"I’m monitoring," Tony checked again, ran back through the logs just in case he'd somehow managed to miss the ping of Rampage's locater. He double checked the settings. "There’s nothing."
"That’s bad, right?" Steve bit his lip, and Tony patted his knee.
"Not really. Assuming she went down on purpose and is conscious, she’ll send out a signal soon, so we can start to follow. She can’t emit steadily; it’ll be noticed far too soon. She can’t wait too long, for fear of getting out of range, but she’ll probably try and hold on until they interfere with the armour so they'll think - " he stopped. "Flying," he said shortly, and started the car.
"Still over the city, but if they’re in flight she’ll know to get another signal off soon." Unfortunately, the Helicarrier occupied much of the sky from here; the single ping he'd gotten seemed to be coming from that direction, which most likely meant Zemo had transport waiting much higher up. At least higher up wasn't likely to take her out of range; he'd be able to get a better idea from the next signal. Soon.
That did not appear to be the case. They circled for another half hour, until the first signs of dawn were beginning to show, and Tony was sweating in his climate-controlled armour.
The armour beeped, and Tony jumped. He checked the logs, and frowned. Still reading towards the Helicarrier, so presumably they were beyond the Helicarrier, perhaps using it for cover? No, not unless they knew exactly where Tony was and were keeping the Helicarrier between them. He needed another reading, he needed to triangulate, they were working in three dimensions now -
Almost a mile away, he got another ping from Pepper's locator. Same readings. His palms started to sweat.
A third reading, and he swung the car into a side road and pulled the keys.
"What? Tony?" Steve turned to look at him. "You haven't even parked."
"You want to tell me something, Steve?"
"What?" Wide blue eyes, irritated, and he'd swear Steve wasn't hiding a thing, except he'd have sworn that all of their marriage. It was hard to think of Steve as an accomplished liar, but…
"Any idea why the hell Rampage is on the Helicarrier?" Mouth dropped open, eyes widened even further, then brows drew together and lower lip was nibbled in. No trace of a blush. "You set us up?"
"No," Steve met his eyes squarely. "I want Zemo, Tony. That's my priority right now."
"So why's Rampage on the Helicarrier? You want to tell me some secrets about Fury?”
"Fury fought in World War II with me," Steve snapped. "He’s definitely not working with Nazis."
"Hmph." Tony gnawed on his lower lip. He didn't have a much choice other than trusting Steve right now. "Well, in that case, it would appear the Helicarrier, and SHIELD, are riddled with infiltrators."
"Which means we can't afford to contact SHIELD directly. We'll have to investigate ourselves."
"Right. Okay. So we have to go up, I suppose.” Back into the lion's den for the second time this week.
"You can't go up, as soon as you get on - "
"I can futz the security systems."
"You can hack the Helicarrier's security system?" Steve sounded somewhere between scandalised and impressed.
"I designed that system, Steve. Of course I left doors. But how are we going to get up there?"
"By car," Steve said smugly, and Tony glared.
"We are not - " but Steve was already doing something complicated with his communicator.
"Drive to the top of that car park - " he pointed. "The Pontiac will meet us there."
"I don’t know what’s worse; that I left the Jaguar in a public car park, or I’m in a Pontiac."
"You are such a baby."
"No, the Jaguar is a baby. A small, precious, innocent being that we have just abandoned to the tender mercies of the public at large." Tony forced his armoured hands to relax on the dashboard before he cracked it. He hadn't designed the flying cars, so they'd probably been farmed out to the lowest bidder and if he damaged a beige plastic fitting they'd go plummeting out of the sky.
Steve drove - flew - the thing with the same easy confidence he drove on the earth. He'd always disclaimed any interest in learning to pilot a plane, even when Tony had offered to teach him personally.
Halfway up, he spotted a familiar shape dropping towards them; he pointed it out, but Steve just nodded.
War Machine did a slow loop around the car, and then knocked on the driver’s window. Steve obligingly cracked it so they could yell to each other.
"Why are you driving Iron Man to the Helicarrier?"
"It’s quite a complicated story," Steve said.
“Who blew up the penthouse?”
“Pretty sure that was Nazis.”
“Not Iron Man?”
“Not Iron Man.”
War Machine pondered that for a few seconds; Tony watched him with morbid interest, wondering whether loyalty to Cap would outweigh his grudge against Iron Man. Rhodey had disliked Iron Man from the start on Tony's behalf, believing he'd stolen the Iron Man; but years of rivalry had made it all personal.
Rhodey was going to be so mad with him. Right now, though he acquiesced to Cap.
“Okay, Cap. Fury know you’re bringing him in?”
“I have reason to believe all the Helicarrier comm channels are compromised,” Steve said, and while there was no visible response, War Machine’s silence betrayed his shock. “Can you find an empty bay for us?”
“You’ll still be on camera,” War Machine warned, and Tony ducked his helmet to make eyeslit contact and waved his hand.
“I’ll take care of that,” he said breezily.
“I told you the Helicarrier systems were compromised,” Steve said dryly. “And not just by him.”
“This gets better and better.” War Machine fired his jets, and arced off towards the Helicarrier.
“He’s going to turn us in to Fury,” Tony predicted, and Steve gave him a shocked look.
“Of course he won’t. War Machine’s very reliable.”
“He hates me.”
“Well, he trusts me.”
And of course, there was no guarantee that Steve wouldn't turn him in; Tony would be astonished if the Avengers didn't have passphrases and emergency words. He ran the conversation through his mind; could 'complicated' be a codeword?
Had Pepper even been kidnapped by Nazis, or had SHIELD brought her in? He'd given their location to SHIELD himself, after all… Steve needn't be in on that. Perhaps Steve would be innocently shocked when they landed in a bay full of SHIELD agents. He should have cut his loses when the penthouse blew, ditched Steve and grabbed Pepper and made his escape to be a full-time villain.
He glanced at Steve's profile.
"You look cute in leather, you know," and Steve's cheeks went a faint pink.
No, he'd always had to try and keep Steve. He just had to hope he hadn't doomed himself and Pepper by doing it.
War Machine dived back out of the sky, and paced them the rest of the way. As promised, they landed in a small empty bay; Steve parked the Pontiac in a corner so neatly they both had to get out the passenger door.
"So what’s the plan, Cap?" Tony said, and Steve gave him an irritated look.
"Why is it only my plan when you run out of ideas?"
"What’s going on?" War Machine folded his arms over his barrel chest, and made a fair attempt at looming over Iron Man.
"We believe Zemo’s got agents here," Steve shrugged when he tilted his helmet incredulously. "Maybe even a base. We expected him to be present himself, but…"
"All seems quiet," War Machine agreed, and turned to look pointedly at Tony.
"He could be here," Tony said. "We have no idea what he looks like under his mask."
"Yeah. I don’t know." He looked back to Steve. "Maybe - "
Talk to Fury was not an option Tony wanted to hear.
"Let me use the Helicarrier cameras to try and find where they are," he proposed. Now he was on the Helicarrier himself, he could fit his own systems smoothly into the vessel’s - he’d never expected to be wandering the interior fully armoured, but he always liked to leave himself access. Screen after screen flicked past, and a subroutine checked up on the cameras, to make sure they were all showing what they should be showing.
His HUD blossomed in red, and for a horrified second he thought his intrusion been caught, but then he recognised the codes. Pepper had left a message for him in the Helicarrier's system.
A fast download of images, her armour had been recording, and he skipped straight to the end to see -
Zemo, face bagged up, coming towards the recumbent armour with some kind of handheld device which he touched to the armour's chest -
Tony breathed deep. EMP was always, always an armour weakness. Pepper was still inside the armour, though, and the air filters allowed for breathing. As long as they didn’t dump her in a pool, she’d be okay.
Until they figured out the armour locks, and pried her out.
Most of her systems would reboot quite soon. Unless they kept the EMP pulses coming, disrupting them whenever they tried…
“Zemo’s here,” was all he said aloud, and checked the timestamps. “He was here ten minutes ago, anyway. I’m trying to locate him.” Ten minutes since Pepper went dark; they couldn't have gotten into the armour in ten minutes, anyway.
“Who arrived in the last half-hour?” Steve turned to War Machine, who shrugged.
“Pretty quiet this time of night. The shift change would have come, I guess, if any were downside.”
“No good; Zemo can’t be on call as much as a normal agent would be. Who has access to the Helicarrier and can come and go as they please?”
“Fury, his main staff, the Avengers,” Rhodey said promptly. “Medical staff, maybe?”
Tony's scan finished, and flashed up the results.
"We've got anomalous camera reports on the third and fourth decks, rear right quadrant. They appear to be showing pre-recorded activity; whatever's really there isn't being picked up at all."
"Something is up, then," Steve said, and War Machine shrugged.
"According to him, sure."
Tony chose to ignore that.
"I can only access the security systems wirelessly; I want to get into the main computers," Tony said, and Cap shifted uneasily. "For God's sake, you have Nazis hacking your computers. You might as well let me have a look."
"I'll go find a terminal," War Machine said, and strode out.
"He's turning me in," Tony muttered. "Is this a trap, Cap?"
"It's not a trap."
"Come on, tell me the truth. Did you set me and Rampage up?"
"What?" Cap snapped, turning on him. "You have the nerve to talk about truth to me, after you - "
"Oh come on, it's not like you weren't - "
"That is different! You can't have imagined I would tolerate you being a supervillain - "
"Oh please, like it was fair to keep that secret from me, you painted a target on Tony Stark when you married him - "
Cap went white, and Tony stopped. That might have been a little too much blunt truth.
"Maybe you're right," Cap said finally. "Maybe I shouldn't have married you."
Ow, ow, ow.
There was a distant sound, and the deck trembled. War Machine reappeared in the doorway.
"Damn," he put a hand to his helmet. "Anyone know what that was?"
Screens whirled past Tony's vision, screen after screen, too many blank empty screens where he knew there was action, but there, on that screen, the sprinkler systems were running, zero in there, rewind, playback - and a spear of familiar blue energy lashed out and caught the heat detector that started the sprinklers. For a second, Tony couldn't speak with relief.
"Rampage," he finally managed. "Rampage has got her weapons running. Her comms are still down."
"Rampage is on the Helicarrier?" War Machine threw up his hands with a grind of metal on metal. "You trying to get this thing knocked out of the sky, Cap?"
"She was brought here by Zemo’s forces," Steve said curtly. "Believe me when I say it was not my plan to bring supervillains onto the Helicarrier." The look he cast at Iron Man had a distinct air of suspicion to it.
"Third deck," he said, instead of leaping to defend himself. "Nothing on the cameras, but the sprinklers have gone off. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire."
"And where there’s fire, there’s Rampage," War Machine shook his head. Rampage was always just slightly ahead of him in the arms race, which meant he fostered a deep resentment against her. "You sure she hasn’t just decided to take out SHIELD leadership?"
"Very, very unlikely," Tony said smoothly. Pepper might have a certain amount of built-up rage for Fury, but she knew which side the Stark Industries bread was buttered. As long as SHIELD kept funding her missile habit, Fury’s neck was safe.
War Machine folded his large gauntlet around Iron Man’s elbow. Steve moved to his other side.
"The prisoner gag? Will anyone fall for that?"
"Probably for long enough," and they hurried out.
They made it up to the fifth deck unmolested; most people seemed to have very urgent places to be, though they got quite a few startled glances. Whenever anyone looked too long, Steve would give them a crisp order in what Tony would have described as unmistakeable Cap tones if he hadn't been mistaking them for years. It was exactly the same as the Get off the laptop now, Tony voice he used at 3am.
On the fifth deck, there was a scene of impressive metal carnage, the ceiling torn straight through and several unconscious Nazis scattered over the floor. Tony stopped dead, and listened, and sure enough, he could hear Rampage's voice coming from above, a stream of uncreative profanity.
"Nazi motherfuckers, I’ll fuck you up til your Fuhrer feels it - " the voice got louder, and he could hear her footsteps ringing on the deck.
"Rampage, what the hell is going on?" he bellowed, and after a second her head appeared in the tear in the ceiling.
"Boss!" Joy in her voice. "You got my message? My wiring’s on the blink after the EMP. So when I got my systems back, I started shooting."
"Of course you did."
"I’ve lost Zemo, though. He’s around somewhere, and he’s still got the EMP - he touched it to the armour, last time, so I think he needs to get close. I'm going to try going up."
"Tell her to stop destroying things," War Machine crowded up at Tony's shoulder to glare up through the hole and Rampage snorted.
"Try not to blow out the hull," he said as a concession, and she sniggered. "We'll search down."
He listened to her footsteps retreating, and then turned to War Machine.
"Terminal?" he said.
They found an empty office, only slightly damp, and Tony settled cautiously in the desk chair as Steve logged in to the computer for him. That breached all the IT security guidelines in the world. Now he had a screen, though -
"Who are these?" Tony ran Pepper's video files, pointing out the agents surrounding her and Zemo. Steve reeled off a list of names, and Tony starting digging into the personnel database. Steve's user account had very nearly free rein in the system, and Tony could, given a few minutes, coax even more privileges from the computer.
"All high-rated agents," Steve said. "High clearances. Maybe - maybe they are working on Fury's orders?" He glanced at War Machine, who put up his hands.
"Nothing to do with me, Cap, although - "
Although Fury was perfectly capable of plotting without letting his Avengers in one it.
"Uh," Tony licked his lips. Could Fury have intercepted War Machine's call and gone to capture Rampage? Surely if he had, War Machine wouldn't be standing there sighing pointedly. He wouldn’t still be free. Fury would have had him arrested. The database resisted him; he typed frantically, commanding, querying, cajoling.
Something came together, a common factor, and Tony leaned in to look. "Who's Dr Feinhoff? Psychologist…"
"No idea," Steve craned his. "He's treated them all? That's not so weird. There's mandatory counselling for a lot of things."
"Yeah," sweat ran cold down Tony's back. There had to be something, something he could prove, right now it was only his and Rampage's word, and one video file. If there wasn't anything else, he and Pepper would end up blasting their way out of here, and Steve would tell Fury the truth, and then -
Then he wouldn't have anything left.
Tap tap tap. Comparing, correlating, there had to be answers, he just needed to know the questions.
"His counselling record shows an unusually high level of recurrence. Agents above level six who've seen him once are highly likely to see him again, at their own request - even if they have no previous record of inviting counselling."
"Has he counselled any of the Avengers?" Steve said, and Tony's fingers flew. He let out a relieved breath.
"He's applied to be on the Avengers counselling roster twice; not selected. It's possible he could have seen them as a fill-in - either of you?"
"I haven't seen Dr Feinhoff," War Machine said.
"No, I have a regular therapist. What about the comms techs?" Steve peered over his other shoulder.
"Uh - yeah. Yeah, he proposed and implemented a mandatory biannual session with the frontline communications staff - not counselling, but a seminar on how to deal with - anyway, they all rated it highly and several of them later saw him for private counselling sessions. All shift managers."
"You think he’s doing something to them?"
"The evidence is that they’ve captured and are fighting a supervillain, which I wouldn't call damning," War Machine added.
"War Machine, ask Fury how Rampage got aboard," Steve ordered.
"Sure, he’s got nothing better to do," War Machine strolled away to a corner.
"He’s going to turn me in," Tony whispered, and this time Steve didn’t contradict him. "I love you. Will you really visit me in jail?"
"Yeah," Steve gave him an unhappy look.
"How about in my offshore lair under a volcano?"
There was a long pause, and then Steve shook his head.
Perhaps he could kidnap Steve when he and Rampage busted out. Except that no doubt the Avengers were being rousted out of their beds and called to the Helicarrier, and while the armours were more than a match for mere human foes, as soon as the Scarlet Witch got her tights on, they were in serious trouble.
But if he could, he could carry Steve off to an offshore base, and Steve would soon get used to a few restrictions on his freedom, right? His hindbrain helpfully presented him with an image of Steve lounging nude on a stack of pillows, chained to a throne, and he choked it back. This was no time for the libido to vote.
"Fury says he has no idea," War Machine put his hands on his hips. "So you get a little longer, Iron Man. I told him I’m following up a lead."
"Well, Dr Feinhoff checked in to the Helicarrier half an hour ago, bringing his assistant." Tony tried to convey a triumphant smirk through his tone.
"Do the SHIELD psychs usually have their own assistants?" Steve asked, and War Machine shrugged.
"Get me a list of all Feinhoff’s patients," War Machine ordered. "Fury will need it."
"What are you going to tell him?" Tony tapped a few keys. "Sent it to your email."
"Now find Feinhoff," War Machine crowded up to watch the screen, like he had any idea what he was looking at.
"They need to take down Rampage," Tony dug around through the cameras, trying to pin down the one that had record Feinhoff's arrival. "If they can take her out, they can cover up their mess; she snuck on and then she caused all this. And Feinhoff can keep building up a Nazi base in SHIELD HQ." He flashed two pictures up on the screen; a tall man with a beard, and a shorter, slimmer man, nondescript. "Feinhoff and Clark."
"Clark?" Steve leaned in for a good long look.
"Best guess for Zemo right now. Part-time assistant to Feinhoff; and he’s got as high a level of clearance as Feinhoff, which is unusual. Can’t find them; somewhere in the areas where the cameras are gimmicked. No sign of him in Rampage’s videos, only Zemo in his mask."
Steve frowned, fingers drumming lightly on the desk.
"Can you get into the PA system from here?"
"Sure. You’ll have to speak into my mike." A few keystrokes, and Tony turned in his chair and hooked a hand around the back of Steve’s neck to pull him close. Steve’s eyes went wide and startled for a second, and then he spoke into the mouthslit of the helmet, close enough his breath stirred across Tony's lips.
"Zemo! This is Captain America. We’re on to your plan. You and Feinhoff aren’t as good as keeping secrets as you think." He drew a finger over his throat, and Tony cut the mike.
"Was that a good idea?"
"Yeah. Now they know they can’t conceal it; they’ll leave Rampage, and focus on trying to take control of the Helicarrier." He glanced at War Machine. "You want to update Fury?"
"He’s not a happy Colonel," War Machine shook his gleaming head and tapped the side of his helmet. Tony was glad he couldn't hear what was coming in on Rhodey's radio. "You know how he feels about running battles before dawn."
"I’m confident Fury will cope," Steve turned back to Tony. "Iron Man. If you were a supervillain with a secret base on the Helicarrier, where would your escape route be?"
"On my back," Tony said. "But if I had unarmoured people to evacuate…" he called up a map of the Helicarrier. "I’d take one of these bays down here, in the belly, that don’t get much use, and I’d put a stealth plane in there, possibly disguised as something SHIELD issue."
"Let’s go," Steve straightened. "War Machine - "
"If they’re heading towards the command deck - "
"We’re going to cut off their retreat." Steve strode towards the door. "Fury can absolutely handle a little insurrection. I’m not having Zemo get away. He blew up my home. He went after - after Tony."
"Hey, Tony’s got me and you to take care of him," War Machine followed. "He’ll be fine, you know that."
"Sure," Steve said. "Sure he will. War Machine, you take the left hand bays, Iron Man and I will go right. I'm sure either of you will make enough noise to attract the other's attention if a fight breaks out."
"Will do, Cap. See you on the other side." He strode out of the office, and Tony followed, Steve at his side, turning the opposite way down the passage. They took the stairs, unwilling to trust the elevators.
The belly of the helicarrier was full of cavernous bays; largely dark and silent in the pre-dawn. Steve’s bootheels on metal were quiet comparing to Iron Man lumbering at his side.
"You have a regular therapist?" Tony asked, for want of anything better to talk about.
"Of course I do. I've had a lot to adjust to, you know."
"I didn't know, no." Tony looked down at his feet. He'd always assumed the dreams that woke Steve in the night, that left him panicky and in a cold sweat, were related to firefighting. But Steve - Cap - had been in the War, had been frozen in ice, lost his whole world, faced down supervillains that would make a lesser man wet his pants. "So, uh, your nightmares - "
"Sorry," Steve said softly, not pretending to misunderstand. "I wanted to tell you."
"Did you? Really?"
"Yeah," Steve bent his path closer, so their shoulders touched. "So many times, I - after the dreams of being trapped in the ice, I - you make them better, you know. I used to have them all the time, but since you - hardly ever."
"Oh." That was - that was good to know.
"Tell me it wasn't all a lie," Steve breathed, and Tony's head shot up.
"What? What are you talking about?"
"How long have you known, Tony? Was it a set-up from the start?" His eyes were hard, accusing. Tony stared, mouth hanging open inside his helmet. Did Steve actually think -
"Since I saw you unmasked in Zemo's lair," he said numbly. "I swear to God, Steve, I promise you, I never knew."
"But you - I always wondered why you wanted me." He turned his head away, so Tony could only see the curve of his cheekbone and jaw.
"What?" was all Tony could bleat.
"Oh come on, Tony, you're a billionaire, you're a genius, gorgeous, a success at everything you've ever tried - why did you marry some guy who barely understands your business, let alone your science? Don't tell me it's because I rescued you; that's hardly enough to keep you interested." He looked back, and then away, but not before Tony spotted the dampness in his eyes.
"Steve," Tony began, and then stopped. "Are you out of your mind? You are the best human being I've ever met. I fell in love with you on our first date. Nothing in my whole life has ever been truer than the way I feel about you."
"Oh," Steve ducked his head. He didn't sound convinced.
"Steve!" Tony threw up his hands in frustration. Insecure was an entirely new side of Steve, and he didn't think he liked it. "I let you dip me on the dance floor at company parties. I go to board meetings because if I don't they phone you and you look disappointed in me. I clean out fishtanks. I willingly ride in a Pontiac! If that's not love, I'm sorry, but it's all I've got to give."
"Oh," Steve went pink, and his head turned enough Tony could see his mouth curving up in a smile. "You're such a drama queen, Tony."
Tony should probably have said something about real names and secret identities; but if anyone was listening, they'd presumably figured it out already. He opened his mouth for a comprehensive declaration of love and devotion instead, and of course War Machine picked that moment to get in touch.
"Zemo’s backing it up," he reported. "He’s headed towards the third bank of elevators. Meet you there."
“Right,” Tony slipped his arm around Steve’s waist and bounced into the air; enough clearance here to fly. Steve made a startled noise but didn’t struggle, and after a moment he slipped his arm over Tony's shoulders.
The elevator bank was roughly octagonal, doors opening in eight different directions; it was designed to make it difficult to anticipate an attack from above, because the Helicarrier was designed to be defensible to outside forces. War Machine circled round to the far side to watch those doors.
Tony could hear the echoes of gunfire coming down the shafts; the elevators would be in lockdown, of course, but that meant the shafts were empty.
The whine of metal on metal; something was coming down. Tony tried to edge his armoured form in front of Steve, who glared at him and hefted his shield pointedly.
"Tony," Steve breathed, very softly, and Tony looked sharply at him. War Machine was far enough he probably wouldn't pick it up; still, though, it was careless. Steve's eyes slid sideways towards him. "You know the volcano base?"
"I lied. I'll come to you anywhere you go."
The doors didn’t open; they simply blasted apart, and how the hell had Zemo gotten one of his scout walkers smuggled onto the Helicarrier? A question for later; right now, dodging concussive beams was the name of the game. He was briefly distracted by Steve casually backflipping between bullets, shield spiralling in completely the wrong direction but somehow returning to his hand.
The would always be more time to gawp at Steve, Tony reassured himself, and poured repulsor power into Zemo’s toy. The steel hull groaned under the pressure, and Tony had opened his mouth to say something cutting about Zemo’s engineering skill when a small tank hit him in the side, toppling him.
The small tank turned out to be one of War Machine’s missiles; it went off with a force that didn’t, quite, crack open the armour. Tony felt rather as if he’d taken a sledgehammer to the ribs, but the armour responded with reasonable smoothness, allowing him to roll out of the way of the next missile.
Did Rhodey think he'd betrayed them? That made no sense. Perhaps he was just trying to bring in Zemo and Iron Man, but surely he'd want Zemo secured first. Tony gained his feet, and cast a harried glance towards the scout walker; Steve was coping, but he was surely outmatched.
"War Machine?" Tony tried. He could always reveal his identity, surely Rhodey would back off then, but - a spray of machine gun fire, which did nothing, Rhodey couldn't expect bullets to do jack against his armour.
Unless he wasn't working at full mental capacity. Because he was brainwashed.
Maybe you shouldn't just ask people if they'd been brainwashed and then take their word for it, Tony decided as he batted a grenade back at War Machine's feet.
A moment’s internal struggle; he’d never used this advantage, too suspicious -
But while War Machine was fighting him, Steve was facing Zemo alone. He opened the frequency that the War Machine, and not Rhodey, would listen to.
“Override; two-seven-four-Alpha-eight-nine,” and Rhodey cursed as the armour’s weapons whirred down and back. He then threw himself bodily at Tony, and they rolled over and over with a sound like a car crash.
War Machine was heavier than Iron Man; his armour had more in the way of raw strength, too, as Tony preferred speed and agility. Tony wanted to be able to outrun him, after all, and it wasn’t like he expected to wrestle people in the suit. Except now he was, and he was awful at it. He tried to keep moving, keep struggling, but War Machine’s big hands were warping the armour under their grip, and the Iron Man was making grinding noises as the servos sought to respond to Tony’s increasingly frantic struggles.
Another explosion, and War Machine jerked, and then whipped his head round. Then he let go of Iron Man and launched himself away. Tony lifted his head just in time to see a blackened figure with glowing eyes hit the deck under War Machine’s weight, all Rampage’s showy colours burned away.
Worry about Pepper later; where was Steve? He wasn’t anywhere, he was gone - Tony looked around frantically, and turned up his sensors, trying to hear something over the sound of warring battlesuits. There, the sound of scraping metal, and he dashed into the launch bay just as the bay door fell open with the roar of wind, sending Steve skidding towards the empty sky.
Steve clung to the edge of the bay floor, with a grip that was superhuman; the wind was dragging at him. Zemo had one hand locked around a metal strut, which impeded him in drawing his gun - a real gun, not an EMP. He pointed it down at Steve, and Tony lunged, and knocked him off-balance.
Unfortunately, it turned out Zemo was holding his EMP device in the other hand; he let go of the strut and slammed it against the chestplate, sending an awful startling pain through Tony’s chest and, incidentally, shutting down the armour.
But the Iron Man wasn’t nearly as heavy as Rampage, and Tony was stronger than Pepper; so it had been worthwhile building the joints so that they would respond to movements within.
His muscles screamed with the effort; he was quite convinced both pectoral muscles were pulled if not torn; but with a grind of metal, he clasped his arms around Zemo, and took one long step forward over the edge of the launch bay, just enough so gravity could embrace them.
The water would be like concrete from here.
He tried a reboot, but the EMP was still pressed to his chest; Zemo hadn’t realised his best chance was for Tony to regain control of the armour. A sense of weird deja vu, knowing he was plummeting to his death but at least Steve was, as best he could manage, alive and safe -
Light, blazing light, and Tony shut his eyes to see searing after-images. He was floating in a sea of warm light that sent tingles through his body and made the armour hum softly; a religious man might have thought he was having a near-death experience, but Tony was a man of science.
He’d also seen the lightning crack down out of a clear blue sky.
“Take Iron Man,” Captain Marvel’s voice sounded, and he was tossed through the air like he weighed nothing. He cracked an eyelid, and saw something like a star rising towards the Helicarrier, Zemo dangling limply at its core.
He couldn’t work up the energy to force the helmet to turn; he waited until he was hefted up and round, and saw an unsurprising face.
"We've got to stop meeting like this," he croaked, and Ms Marvel rolled her eyes, and smiled just a bit. Through the dawn-lit halo of her hair, he could see the Falcon circling overhead, dangling a patriotic figure from one hand, and yup, now Tony looked, he had a striking resemblance to Sam Wilson.
"That was brave," Ms Marvel told him, and they plummeted. They flew just above the tops of the waves, and Tony tried to reboot his armour. The sky was remarkably full of heroes, darting about like it was some kind of aerial social event.
"So... now are you going to read me my rights?"
"You know, my girlfriend used to be a villain," Ms Marvel said conversationally. "She gave it up."
"No. She grew up, and realised it wasn't the right way. She's a superhero now."
Tony ran female superheroes through his head.
"Oh, the Scarlet Witch?" Hot, he didn't say. "Wasn't she an evil mutant? But she was just a kid."
"Mmhm. She and her brother came over, same time as Hawkeye - there were three ex-villains and Cap on the team then. I'm just saying. Sometimes you can make things better. And Cap's a soft touch for a redemption story, you know."
"Not if..." he mulled the idea over. "I mean, superheroes. Want to arrest me."
"Cap likes you, and most of us take a lead from him," she said briskly. "Me, I think he's crazy, but you saved his life and then captured Zemo, so maybe he's on to something. I'm not going to ask what you feel about Cap, because I'm pretty sure he's happily married, I'm just saying that if you like and admire him enough to turn over on the League you started, and almost die saving him - twice - maybe you've been playing on the wrong team."
The armour whirred rustily to life; Ms Marvel raised an eyebrow.
"I can drop you here?"
"Let it warm up first," Tony prevaricated. "What if I don't have what it takes to be a superhero?"
"You don't have to be a super-anything." Her voice was gentle. "Just... take off the armour. Stop committing crimes! If you're not doing anything wrong, most of us have bigger fish to fry than an ex-villain."
"Right." He tapped her shoulder, and she opened her arms as he fired the jetboots. They ended up standing nose to nose, just above the water. "Tell Cap... tell him thanks."
Anything else was not something he was going to pass through an intermediary. Tony Stark could send all the kisses and hug he wanted to his husband, but be damned if Iron Man was going to crush on a married man.
He ditched the armour at one of his safehouses and changed into a respectable suit. Then he got breakfast. No reason to face the day on an empty stomach, after all; he was going to have a lot to do.
Especially as he wasn't going to have Pepper to rely on. Maybe he could claim she'd been brainwashed? But Fury wouldn't be likely to fall for that. He'd think of something, or perhaps she would.
After his fourth cup of coffee, he realised any more delay would leave him with the caffeine jitters, which rarely helped. He caught a taxi to Stark Tower, and prepared to deal single-handed with a crisis.
The broad plaza was packed with fire engines and police; only two ambulances, with paramedics drinking coffee from Stark Enterprises mugs, so probably no one was hurt. A huge pillar of smoke was rising from the gutted remains of the penthouse, but it seemed to have been a surprisingly neat attack; the fish would be safe, thank goodness.
He pushed through the crowds towards the main entrance, craning his neck for anyone who seemed to be in charge. There was a squeal to his right, and to his massive astonishment, Pepper threw herself into his arms with a cry of Mr Stark.
"What the hell," he managed, and she gave a theatrical sniffle.
"Rhodey felt so bad when he snapped out of it, he let me escape," she said in an undertone, and dabbed at her eye with a tissue; she was already developing what looked to be a magnificent black eye, and he could see something like road rash on her throat under her silk scarf. "And as I was all grey and gunmetal, they didn’t recognise me when I left."
"Your luck," he muttered, and then raised his voice. "There, there, Ms Potts," he patted her on the back. "Everything's fine. Steve dragged me out of bed before dawn to go for a run, and then I went to breakfast. What happened here?"
"Some kind of terrorist attack," Pepper employed her tissue again, careful of her mascara. "They think it might be Baron Zemo again! I don't know why he hates you so much, Mr Stark."
"Shocking," he looked up at the smoking ruin. Should he ask about Steve?
"Where's Mr Stark?" Pepper beat him to the punch, and he gave her a rigid smile.
"I don't think he was planning to come back home," he said smoothly. "I'll try his phone."
Steve picked up.
"Darling!" Tony said. "Uh."
I'll come to you anywhere, he'd said, but did that mean Steve would keep his secret? Would Steve warn him before turning him in? Probably. He'd want to talk, at least. He'd have to. Surely.
"Are you... " he glanced around at the assorted crowd, who were paying him quite a lot of attention. "Are you all right?"
"We'll... I'll... " Pepper passed him a card. "Pepper's booked us a suite at the Plaza Athénée."
"Oh. Well, I'll see you later, then."
"You - " Tony choked off his crow of joy, and reminded himself there still might be arresting in his future. "All right. I’ll have some things to take care of here, I think. I love you. Stay safe."
"You too." A pause, and Tony knew he should hang up, but couldn't quite bear to. After a few seconds Steve said, soft, "I love you too, you know," before the connection cut.
He closed the phone, and looked at Pepper, who shrugged. Then she hooked her hand through his arm, and dragged him forward.
"So I was thinking, Zemo’s organisation is pretty much headless now. We should get in on that."
"I’m not running a Nazi operation," he muttered, and directed a confident smile at a photographer.
"God no. But they’re going to be flailing around making all sorts of silly mistakes, infighting, trying to grab up Zemo’s stuff - you can’t tell me he had a replacement waiting in the wings. We could find out an awful lot of dirt. Find out who their contacts are."
"And do what with it?"
"Either destroy them ourselves, or turn them into SHIELD. Duh."
There was a certain appeal to it. Burn down Zemo's organisation, and salt the earth; root out every last scrap of influence and control he had. And hey, maybe they'd get some currency with SHIELD. It could even be a path to redeeming Iron Man in Fury's eyes. Maybe.
“I’m not sure they want our help.”
“We’ll just have to convince them,” Pepper narrowed her eyes. “I’m about sick of Nazis. Do you know how much work cleaning all this up will be?”
“No. I pay you an extortionate salary specifically so I don’t have to know that kind of thing.”
“Let’s just say I will only be happy when Zemo’s operation has been reduced to smoking ashes.” She nodded her head sharply. “I’ve ordered myself a new laptop; and there should be one at your suite when you get there. I’ve had our off-site backups activated, so you should be able to access them remotely. Oh, and I ordered a new prescription for you, your meds should be at the hotel.”
“I suppose today’s a dead loss.”
“I’ve cancelled everything, and the staff have leave with pay; I’m looking into hiring lab and office space. We should know by the end of today if the rest of the building is still structurally sound, and then I’ll be able to plan better.”
“You’re a wizard, Pepper.”
“You, go home, and start making plans to deal with Zemo.” She gave him a firm push, and he realised they were at his limo, Happy holding the door open encouragingly. “That’s your whole job for today.”
That and not getting arrested, he thought, but he just nodded, and got in the limo.
Steve wandered into the suite at 6pm, looking perfectly at ease and perfectly delicious in tight blue jeans and white t-shirt. Tony sat up on the couch and set aside his laptop, and watched him pick over the remains of Tony's last room service call.
"You can order something," he said, and Steve nodded and ate a cherry tomato. Tony tapped his fingers impatiently on his knees. "Pepper arranged some new clothes, they're in our bedroom." Steve nodded again. Tony waited. He’d never thought of Steve’s collected poise as anything other than Steve, but now he could see the fighter’s balance, the efficiency in the way he moved, the way he scanned the room.
Steve walked past close enough to touch, turned on the television, and turned off the sound. The headlines that slid across the bottom of the screen dwelt extensively on Stark Tower, Baron Zemo, Rampage, and Iron Man. No one seemed sure just how Iron Man was involved.
“War Machine said I should tell… well, tell Iron Man sorry if I saw him again. Looks like Feinhoff got to him somehow.” He didn’t look away from the screen.
“I figured,” and there was another pause. "Did they catch him?"
"Feinhoff? Yeah. He didn't put up a fight. Not sure what they're going to charge him with; brainwashing's tricky to prove."
"Sure, sure. So, what about…" Tony waved a hand vaguely, and Steve turned to frown at him. "Does Fury know I'm Iron Man?"
"No," Steve ran a hand through his hair. "No one knows. I..." he turned back to the TV. "I told Fury I got in a fight with Iron Man... that he came to the apartment... and then we teamed up against Zemo."
"Well, that's all true." The reassuring tone didn't seem to help. Steve drooped. "What?"
"I can't," Steve put a hand to his face. "Tony, I... being Captain America... It’s more than just a job, I have to live - "
"I'm thinking it's time I gave up villainy," Tony blurted, and Steve went still. "I mean, I can't change the past, but - I'm thinking it was never really the kind of thing - "
"Tony - "
"And I have an awful lot - Iron Man could hand over some of his records. He did a lot of arranging for the League, in the early days. Financial backing, and - all sorts." He'd have to filter out anything that incriminated Tony Stark - and Venom's details, and Felicia's - but he had plenty of dirt on the real villains. "I’ve been looking - Pepper and I have been thinking, we’ve got ways we can attack Zemo’s power base. Just. Things could be different. Better."
"Tony," Steve dropped to his knees next to the couch. "You mean it?"
"Yeah, I - mmph." Tony slipped his arms around Steve's neck and held him tight as he was kissed ruthlessly. "You going to turn me in?" he asked a little breathlessly.
"No," Steve kissed him again. "No, not if - not if you give me half an excuse, oh Tony, thank you - "
"I should have quit years ago," Tony petted him. "I've just been stupid. I almost - " I almost let Captain America die, and the thought of how close he'd come to watching Steve die made his heart skip a painful beat. "I don't want to be a bad guy, Steve."
"You're not. I love you, Tony - I couldn't even - oh, thank you."
"Don’t thank me," Tony tugged him up onto the couch, pulled him close. "I’m just finally stopping being an idiot." Of course, the long years of idiocy had finally placed him in the position to save Steve’s life, so he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. Surely even Fury would trade ten years of determined supervillainy to keep Steve alive and well.
"Did you tell the others? The other heroes?"
"No. Sam knows." He shrugged at Tony's glare. "I didn't tell him. He said he'd only known me to be that stupid about one person in my whole life."
"He said you were trouble."
"Hey!" Tony glared harder. Steve just grinned.
"How are the fish?"
"Oh, fine. Pepper's had them moved down to the basement, they'll be perfectly safe there for a while. No," he gave Steve a stern look. "We can't have them in the hotel. I was thinking, though, when we rebuild, we should build in some tanks." Self-cleaning ones, if he could possibly manage it. If they didn't exist, he'd have to design some. "We can have a couple of different temperatures, get some new varieties of fish." He smiled, but Steve didn't looked as excited as Tony had expected.
"Hm," Steve looked down, and Tony studied his long pale lashes with misgivings. Steve loved getting new fish; snuggling up on the couch with the books to pick out a species, doing all the research into their needs, finding a breeder, going to visit and inspecting every fish, demanding Tony's input every step of the way. It was a long and tedious process and Tony loved it because Steve loved it.
"You don't want more fish?" He hoped he didn't sound as terrified as he felt. Had the fish been some sort of cover for Captain America stuff? Had all the pleased cooing whenever Tony produced a catalogue for some shiny-scaled novelty been a performance?
"Well, I certainly wouldn't say no to more fish," Steve traced idle designs on Tony's arm. "But, uh. I was thinking… I mean, I've been thinking for a while, but now seems like a good time - we've been married a while, and just, maybe we could get a puppy?"
"A puppy?" Tony echoed, floored.
"I think we're ready for the responsibility, you know?" He peered up through his lashes, looking - anxious.
Tony had assumed that when they got married, that was it; they were as committed as they were going to get. Apparently, he was wrong. He thought ruefully of chewed shoes, messed rugs, walks in the rain and the smell of wet dog; then he smiled.
"Oh yeah. Yeah, I think we are. Yes, a puppy sounds just great. You have any ideas?"
"No," Steve smiled at him, sweet and happy. "I want us to pick one out together."
That meant hours of books, and TV shows, and internet searching, while Steve worried about genetic defects and puppy farms and probably insisted on Tony donating a huge amount to animal charities to salve his guilt about not adopting every neurotic three-legged mutt in New York.
"It'll give you something to do other than villainy," Steve added with a touch of sternness, and Tony scowled.
"Hey! Saved your life, remember?"
"You did," another warm, sweet kiss. "I love you," another, "My hero."