Tony gets it. He does. It's a very bad idea. He should know, he comes up with them all the time. He's just usually better at stopping himself.
Fury had made it clear, though. "Either help us find a way to shut down Iron Man, or get out of my office."
Tony should have said 'sure, fine,' and followed up on the legal threats. What he said instead was worse: "Sure, fine, whatever. Can I see him now?"
And then he spends the rest of the day kicking himself and meeting Captain America.
"They haven't let you out." Tony says, flatly, and for a moment his attention lets go of the Iron Man shaped problem. "You've seen a street, and then straight back to letting SHIELD poke at you."
"It's only been a few days," Steve (he'd insisted that he call him Steve) says. "I - don't mind it. I don't know if I - " He snaps his mouth shut, closing off, and clearly it was a bad idea to insult him as soon as he mentioned his father. That had changed the topic, though, so Tony was free to chase up this problem.
"You're going to need music, at least." Tony's mind is already racing ahead, turning over the idea of giving him something better than any mp3 players on the market, then thinking that he'd have to have some kind of sorting algorithm so he didn't wind up listening exclusively to the 60s or something. "I'll get you music. Fury can't fight that, he'd better not."
"I have some records," Steve says, and okay, good, he doesn't look closed off or hostile right now, it's back to the baffled curiosity Steve had greeted him with originally. Before the insult.
"No, no no. You've missed - " What kind of music would Captain America like? It doesn't matter. No one should live without a firm grounding in musical legends. He restarts the sentence. "You've missed the musical renaissance, I'm not going to even start listing bands, we'll be here all night. You stay put, I'll come back with something. Wait, no. Pick a decade."
Steve's staring at him. Tony lowers his hands, remembers vaguely that it's probably not polite to gesture violently with his hands while talking to Captain America about music. He doesn't really care, but Steve still hasn't answered his question.
"A decade. You know what that is, right? Twenties, thirties, forties - pick one you haven't been in and I'll start there."
"Sixties," Steve tells him after another pause, and Tony grins at him.
"Great, thanks!" And he's halfway out the room before he stops and looks back. And fails to think of something to say. Not goodbye, he'll be back as soon as he can force Fury to let him in. Nothing about how it was good to meet him, because - because.
It's getting awkward. He works his mouth. "See you around," he says, and off he goes. It's lame as hell, but he has other things to worry about now. Like the arms race he's just entered into with himself. And designing a way to introduce Steve to the music of the future without accidentally screwing it up somehow.
He realizes: It's a lot easier to think about Steve instead of Captain America. Steve is a guy he can insult and introduce music to. Steve isn't the guy his dad worked with. Searched for. Okay, he is, but Tony makes the firm line in his mind.
He has the sinking feeling he'll need it established in the future.
Supervillainy, Tony has decided, is his second-favorite hobby. There's nothing quite like wrecking a tank and zooming off to finish destroying a not-very-well defended military base. He's testing a new system of missile launchers and working on yet another thread of his Grand Plan of Villainy, which by now demands a grandiose title.
Okay, he doesn't really need to be blowing up this particular base, but he's worked it out. Hide a book in a library, hide targets in a cluster of targets.
He spirals out of the range of gunfire - useless against his armor, but he takes the opportunity to survey the damage. It's enough - the base is crippled, probably needs to be rebuilt entirely - and away he soars. Flying's the best part of the entire thing, and he lets himself get lost in the sheer thrill of it before refocusing.
Plans to make. He has to build Fury something that'll cripple him next time - but without enough oof to stop him. Something convincing, too. He turns the idea over in his head, thinking of gadgets and new tanks, then abandons that line of thought for the time being: something on the radar.
It's something new, which immediately causes him to change course, seeing if it'll follow him. There's nothing civilian in the area - he checked, and checks again - and from the size it's either a very small plane or another superhero that can fly.
"Jarvis, update the database if this is someone new," he says a minute later, when he's sure the blip is chasing him. "And let Pepper know I'll be late, but I promise to be back in time for the meeting at five."
"Sir," Jarvis acknowledges him, and Tony turns in the air, coming to a halt and waiting for whoever - whatever it is.
"Hold, villain!" calls the superhero(? Tony thinks it is, nothing else is that ridiculous, except for some specific villains,) and Tony mentally makes the shift. He's Iron Man, he can probably turn and flee, but whoever this is he needs to figure out how to take down. Superheroes are a dime a dozen, and they never die.
That hammer looks nasty, too, and he doesn't savor the idea of trying to soak those blows.
"Name?" He asks, arms folded over his chest.
"I am Thor!" and of course it is. Whatever else Thor starts to say Iron Man cuts off, trying a repulsor blast - Thor dodges, looks indignant at being interrupted, and then they're off.
Repulsor blasts, Iron Man soon discovers, only make Thor laugh. They might slow him down, might sting him - but wherever he came from, he's worthy of the name Thor. He was hit once with the hammer, and that hurt and it's more than a dent. Repairs, Iron Man thinks, are going to be hell.
He's learned something else, however: he's got the edge on Thor in speed. If the so-called thunder god can go past supersonic speeds, he's certainly not doing so now.
Quite frankly, Iron Man has no shame in running away. He fancies himself on being a smart supervillain, and he's got enough readings on Thor to give him an edge up on the hero next time, especially if he gets time to upgrade the armor.
In fact, being a smart supervillain is what makes him go over the battle while he's still over the Atlantic, and that - that saves his bacon. There are always moments in battle when opponents try to get smart and yank something off, or glue something on - he checks the dented area again, traces gloved fingers over the damaged metal, and that's how he finds the almost-too-small tracking device.
Which is - Tony's first thought is to immediately crush it. He almost does. He holds back, though, and resumes flying, changing his course slightly.
"Jarvis," he says, speakers muted, in case it's a bug, too. "Mind scanning the little device attached to my hip?"
Results scroll before his eyes, and Tony closes his eyes for a moment once it's all done. The long and short of the information is that he needs to sit and improve his sensors first, forget about withstanding those hammer blows. This is something he should have - he had been overconfident.
Fortunately it's not too late, and coming in low over New York City he has the perfect plan.
He knows where SHIELD has offices. He knows they'll probably scramble to shoot him down as soon as they spot him. It's risky, but - he grins to himself.
Fury will have kittens over this.
"Thank me later," Tony greets, passing over the latest in portable music technology. SHIELD-approved, even, and all he has to do in exchange for that approval is make Fury a tracker that Iron Man won't notice.
If Fury had wondered at how quickly he recognized the thing on his desk, he hadn't asked - Tony had a great excuse for that, though, an entire train of infallible logic. It was almost a shame Fury hadn't asked, in Tony's opinion.
But right now in front of him is Steve, looking at once baffled and thankful, and all Tony can think is adorable. Which isn't exactly the kind of thing he should be thinking about Captain America. Or Steve. Boundaries, he reminds himself.
He can see the hesitation a mile away, and fails at not looking expectant. "What is it?" Steve asks, and Tony promptly sets to showing him how it works: push this button to make it do this, put in headphones here, etcetera.
He gets the sense that Steve's only following half of what he's saying, but that's not a big deal, is it? The UI is intuitive. Best in the world. He tells Steve so.
"User interface," Tony says. "What you do to it to make it go. You know how to drive, right? It's like that - " And before he can go on with his analogies (which are also genius), Steve stops him.
"Thanks," he says. "You didn't have to - "
"Are you kidding? Of course I had to!"
"Thanks," Steve repeats.
"It's nothing," Tony says, even though it's not. "Is Fury gonna sic you on Iron Man, too?" It's a dumb, obvious question that's guaranteed to have an interesting answer.
"I can't talk about that," Steve says, carefully, and Tony punches his shoulder. (It's not like punching steel, he's glad to find out. And he's lucky Steve's not stupid, because he saw that twitch. It's a friendly gesture between guys, not an attack, geez.)
"Yes you can. You're Captain America, he's Iron Man, unless you're retiring - which you probably could do, I looked at how much back-pay they owe you - you're going to fight supervillains sooner or later. So tell me, yes or no: are you going to fight him?"
"Why are you asking?"
"Curiosity, personal interest, I'm designing the next tracker someone's going to try and glue onto him."
"Then - yes."
Tony gives a low whistle. He'd been expecting more attention from SHIELD, but so soon?
"Tony," Steve starts. "Why are you interested?"
A dozen excuses pop into his head, but what comes out is: "He's dangerous, and you're probably going to get killed."
Which implies that he cares, which implies - okay, he can skip worrying about knowing that Iron Man is dangerous, he's read the newspapers, just like everyone else - but more importantly he just expressed concern and he -
"You're not going to get a chance to listen to any twentieth century music and no one should die without having that chance," it's probably a good time to think about leaving.
"I'll be fine," Steve says, which is a complete and utter lie even if Tony pulls his punches later.
"Of course you will be, you're Captain America who's just as human as the next guy," Tony spins on his foot and leaves, knowing that something has just gone very, very wrong.
He has Jarvis give him everything he knows about Captain America's shield and armor, and reads that on the ride home.
Here's the deal: Tony is a genius. He's going to save the world and save everybody a lot of grief. He did all the calculations the night before his first act of villainy, and he's fixing the variables for all of them, checking the odds weekly; monthly on busy months.
Basing the numbers on how often the world needs saving, basing the numbers on how many heroes there are - every superhero that pops up inspires more villains. Put, say, the Fantastic Four in a quiet little town without a single record of villainy, and it's practically guaranteed that trouble will show up in short order.
With that in mind, how often are there truly planet-or-universe-threatening events? Look at the numbers: more and more frequently. The twentieth century is a magnet for mad gods, invading aliens and worse.
Which - plug in more numbers, here's the answer: it's over forty percent likely that there will be a universe ending threat that the current set of known heroes won't be able to handle. Tony hates that number, and he loves all numbers, they're the magic behind everything he builds that's more complicated than a wheel.
He can go further, pick apart that number and tell you what's most likely to cause the end of the world.
Tony, however, is a genius. He skips that step and looks for a way to even the odds. He's not a gambler; he feels safer if he can rig the tables.
The answer is simple, when he thinks it through: don't become a superhero. Don't let Iron Man become a good guy.
Reverse the equations: where villains appear, heroes show up and save the day. Where many villains appear, heroes band together to take care of the larger threat.
Where there's a team of heroes - there isn't a forty percent anymore. The event may still happen, but it doesn't have a prayer of succeeding.
He's worked it all out. Save the day. Be a villain. Be a good villain, one of those awful villain types that a lone superhero can't bring down alone. Inspire a team of heroes to appear.
Nick Fury is a godsend, and Tony won't disappoint him: he'll give him a reason to keep the fledgling Avengers around.
This, of course, leads to another long night with his armor, working on repairs, starting plans for a new alloy that can - should - withstand Thor's hammer, improving his sensors so he'll know if anything is glued to him. There's the ongoing work of trying to find a solution for his suit's weaknesses - EMP blasts, power issues, certain mutant powers - and okay, he doesn't spend only one long night down in the workshop.
He loses track of time altogether, and Pepper, bless her heart, only comes down to give him grief once. Even then she assures him that she'll handle things topside.
It's probably been three days since he's seen daylight, and he knows his body is giving out on him: he spent two hours sleeping on his desk despite the coffee and red bull in his system, and he's finally dragging himself upstairs because he's beginning to make basic errors, stupid mistakes. (There's a test he designed when he's not sure he's thinking straight, and sometimes he even takes it; uses it to prove to himself that he needs to sleep.)
Captain America is in his kitchen. Okay, he's not in uniform, it's just Steve in the most perfectly pressed clothes Tony has ever seen, but it's still a living patriotic symbol standing in front of the refrigerator. Tony pinches himself, decides it's a hallucination, and pours himself a cup of heated milk, because no one is around to see him.
"Tony," and there's genuine concern in that voice, and Tony finishes the cup of milk as fast as he can.
"I'm going to bed," he tells the ceiling. "Make sure Pepper doesn't appoint herself CEO while I'm out."
"Very good, sir," says Jarvis, and that's alright. Tony raises his glass to the hallucination and dumps it in the sink, already forgetting about it - his brain gets weird after too-long sessions, and it makes perfect sense why Captain America is in his kitchen.
"Tony," Steve repeats, and Tony almost makes it out the door before there's a big hand wrapped around his arm. Warm, his brain tells him, and he stops in his tracks.
"Hallucination," Tony says, utterly confused.
"I'm not a...Tony, what on earth happened to you?" Steve's brow is furrowed, and there's a concerned crease there, and Tony thinks somewhat giddily that he should smooth it out before it gets stuck.
"Long night," Tony says, waving a hand instead. "I fixed everything and made it better, you'll see," and he probably shouldn't say anything about specifics, and he is exhausted. He yawns, and it's probably a bad idea for Steve to keep holding his arm.
"You look terrible," and Tony laughs in his face.
"I'm going to bed," Tony says, because he's starting to fall towards Steve. He's crashing and Steve is in the way.
"Tony," Steve says again, and Tony's leaning against him, eyes closed, it's a nice shoulder, going, going, gone.
He wakes up in his bed, and for a long time he lies there, sorting through what was a dream and what wasn't, and then he just rolls over and out of bed. It's useless to try, not before coffee, and he forgets that, because it's impossible to think before coffee -
Captain America is still in his kitchen, sitting at the table and looking out of place. It's nice to know that wasn't a dream, and once he's three gulps into his coffee he might have a chance of figuring out why Steve's in his home.
"What day is it?" Tony asks, because that's something he should know. Probably. He sits down and drops his head to the table.
"It's Thursday," Steve says, and Jarvis follows up with the exact date and time. It's afternoon, which is alright.
"What happened to you?" Steve asks, still brightly concerned. "I was asked to come and pick up the tracker, and Ms. Potts told me that I might find you in the kitchen." There's an implied: and I waited, and when you showed up you looked like a train ran you over, and I'm worried. Tony catches himself in another yawn.
"I told you: long night." It's not enough of an answer, and he knows Steve's waiting for more. "I was working in my workshop. Remember that music player? I built that for you. It didn't take - " he does the calculations. "Three and a half days, but same principle."
"Straight," Tony tells him, and drinks his coffee. "I thought you were a hallucination when I got out, sorry. That happens sometimes. The hallucinations, I mean, not thinking that you're not real."
He watches that concerned crease appear in Steve's forehead again, and slowly puts down the cup. His hands are steady again, and he'll have Jarvis ban red bull from the workshop until a day or two has passed. It's the sugar, not the caffeine that screws his functions so badly, but when he's got it, anything that keeps him functioning is what he needs.
"That's not..." Steve begins, and it sounds like he's trying to pick out the right words. Tony almost lets him say it all without interruptions, but the coffee is working and he's recharged and he has an idea for the shoulder-mounted antipersonnel cannons, something that might give him a non-lethal option when using them...
"I'm not normal people, if you're that concerned take it up with Pepper." And he's halfway to his feet before Steve catches his arm, and it's not fair that he's muscle-y enough to keep him from the workshop if he really wanted to stop him.
"You're not going back to work." Steve says.
"Yes, I am." Tony says. "My hands aren't shaking anymore, and I've slept. I'm good to go."
"Sit down," Steve says, and Tony sits down. That, he realizes, is probably his Captain America voice. He'll have to keep an ear out for it, the next time he meets Captain America.
Steve lets go of his arm, says 'Stay put' in that same tone of voice, and much to Tony's surprise, he does. He watches as Steve walks across the kitchen and opens his refrigerator and begins to cook something.
Tony looks at the table, then gets up a few seconds later. He's not very good at staying put, even when he means to. If he doesn't get down the idea now he'll miss it, and that's always worse than - whatever Steve will do to him in a few moments, probably. He makes a break for the next room, finds a tablet, and is back in his seat by the time something is sizzling in the frying pan.
"I told you to stay put," Steve says, not turning around.
"I'm sitting, I'm sitting," Tony says, but he's already bent over the tablet, sketching and making notes, regretting that he doesn't have the actual launchers in front of him, or the 3D holographic models, but this is working. It's better than working from his phone, which is what he usually does when trapped somewhere with an idea.
(He's thought of simply writing down the ideas he gets, but a scrawled note of 'better sensors' or 'gold!!!' or 'don't use thrusters' is lacking context at best and would be incriminating at worst.)
Tony's getting somewhere when Steve brings the eggs over, and thinking about sonics and what he'd need to do to guard Iron Man against that - earplugs? - when Steve picks the tablet up and out of his hands.
"Steve," Tony says. He is calm. He is more awake than he's been in two days. "It's very nice of you to make me breakfast. I'll eat it in a moment. Give me back the tablet. Jarvis, save what's in progress to the usual folder and lock that tablet down."
"Sir," says Jarvis, and the tiny panicked knot in Tony's chest eases when the screen blanks. It's not like he had 'Weapons Development For Iron Man' emblazoned across the screen, but he doesn't want to begin to explain why he's working on modifying cannons. Stark Industries is supposed to be out of the privatized weapons sector, and while he could probably explain it away with a personal interest or making something for Fury - he'd better not have to use that last excuse, they'd never buy it - Tony takes a deep breath and stabs at his eggs.
"Classified," he tells Steve without looking at him, and eats his breakfast calmly and methodically. To Steve's credit, it's not bad. Even good.
The tablet stays firmly tucked under Steve's elbow until his plate is cleared, but when he holds his hand out, nothing happens. He waves his hand.
"Hello, that's mine, I need it back."
"That didn't look like a tracking device," Steve says, and Tony drops his hand, exasperated. He looks at him, and there's a serious set to the line of Steve's jaw, something that makes Tony want to simultaneously sit straight in his chair and squirm in it.
"You look like a teacher," he informs Steve. Then, "It wasn't a tracking device. That's done, and you can have it when I can have my tablet back."
"When was that done?"
"Ages ago. My tablet."
"What have you been busy with, then?"
Something begins to click in Tony's brain. Super-soldier. Super-senses. He can't remember if Steve has memetic memory or not, but maybe he did get a long enough look at the tablet, maybe he will need to say something, and he needs to make Steve leave now.
"Designing bigger and better sex toys. Satisfied?" Tony says, and that's worth it just for the blush and the crack in the Captain's serious face. He grins, and cheerfully asks, "Does the blush go all the way down?"
"Tony - "
He springs to his feet. "Come on downstairs, I'll show you."
"No, that's quite alright - "
Tony grabs at his arm, and tugs, grinning. "Steve, loosen up, this is the twenty-first century, you don't get to be a prude now."
"Tony," Steve says, and he holds out the tablet, which Tony snatches up with relieved glee. Whatever else he's about to say is halted by Jarvis speaking up.
"A message from Fury, sir. Do you want to hear it, or the summary?"
"Oh," Tony says, glancing at Steve. "I've kept you out past curfew. What's the summary?"
"Captain Rogers's presence is requested back at SHIELD, and he wants the tracker."
"I'll fetch it, you direct Captain Rogers to the front door," Tony says, and he heads down the stairs, dropping the tablet off at the workshop in exchange for the little plastic baggie he stored the tracker in. (He'd flipped a coin between storing it in one of those boxes that holds wedding rings or going for the cheap end of the scale and flimsy plastic baggie won that toss. Besides, it's not like he's sending him their best work: it's guaranteed to work in all respects except that Iron Man will know the second it's within a mile of him.)
Back up the stairs, across the house, and he meets Steve by the front door, holding out the little baggie.
It occurs to him, as Steve takes the tracker, that if he wanted to (maybe?) be anything more than a (possible) coworker with Steve, he's probably blown it all with this stunt. But it's not like he planned to be working when Steve showed up, or - okay, it was his fault for not being smarter with the tablet, but...
"Hey," he says. Steve pauses just outside the doorway, and it's suddenly awkward as hell.
Tony swallows, suddenly all too aware that the concerned crease is gone, and that Steve mostly looks serious, stern, annoyed, tired.
"It's been a long night," he says, finally. "Don't get killed."
Then he closes the door before he has to figure out what that expression means.
It turns out that Steve was the one to put him to bed, with Jarvis' help to put him in the right room. Tony taps the screen and speeds up the video, watches Steve sit, pace and even nap at one point outside his room, as if he were waiting for a surgery to finish.
Tony contemplates the reasons why the Captain would stick around, watching as Steve demonstrate that either he has perfect timing or he was listening through the door, as he leaves for the kitchen minutes before Tony makes his way out of bed, and then it's the same conversation, one Tony rewatches for a better look at Steve's face.
He gets halfway through before he tells Jarvis to cut the feed and gets back to work. He's being ridiculous, and there are more important things to work on.
Fury's expecting a chance to crack Iron Man, and Tony wants to see if he can withstand Thor any better, along with whatever else they're throwing at him.
He spins in his chair, digs through his desk for a dart, and throws it at the map he put on the wall the day he decided he wouldn't be a force for good. It's perfect for picking the random targets, and makes him feel properly evil before he goes to suit up, even if he doesn't always use the target he hits.
The suit's halfway on and everything's going fine when he thinks 'Don't get killed'.
It's fine, he tells himself as he flies out. It's fine, he can't kill Captain America that easily. And if he pulls punches, and if they notice, well - Iron Man is an American supervillain, it's fine if they figure that out.
The Avengers, Tony soon discovers, work well as a team, freshly formed or not.
One of his repulsors is damaged within the first thirty seconds of their attack (he hasn't entirely solved the Thor problem), and he immediately changes tactics from a head-on attack run to something involving a lot more retreating.
It's not entirely retreating, though: it's a chance for him to split them up, to run them ragged - he mutters something about an obstacle course as he laps the block for the eighth time, weaving around Hawkeye's arrows and obligingly getting closer to the ground so half the team isn't left out of the fun.
This is his element, this hit-and-run style of attack, and Tony's opinion of their teamwork and effectiveness plummets roughly around the same time he realizes that the only threat he's seriously concerned about is Thor, who is keeping up with him and might have flying capabilities that outmatch Iron Man's.
The tracker's attached, Thor tagged him with it ten minutes ago, and it's probably time for him to call it quits. Hulk's still after him, as is Thor, but he's certain it's occured to the others that he's barely fighting back, and that they need to try something else. When he looks, Hawkeye's taken up a perch and taking potshots at him when he passes, and both the Black Widow and Captain America are standing together, conferencing. He waves at Hawkeye as he passes, ducks Hulk's grab, and changes the field of battle barely moments after the Captain stands back, looking like he has a plan.
He'd like to think he deviated from pattern the moment they gave the signal to do - whatever they were going to do - but it's probably wishful thinking. He can't check, not when he's fired a missile back at the Hulk and sharply ascended, crashing into an office building that he selected ten minutes ago. It hadn't been fully evacuated then, and if it's not fully evacuated now, well, not his fault.
"Jarvis, floorplans," he says, scanning them as he blasts a large hole in the floor and goes down, shooting continuously: he's getting out of the building around the second floor, then heading for the first stop on his route home.
If they intercept him, great! If not, it's just another note to attach to the report-card he's drafting for Captain America's eyes only.
The buildings he came to destroy have been leveled or set on fire, so he's done here, and he shoots out of the second floor windows, and yells back a 'I expect better next time!' as he heads out of the city.
Thor doesn't follow him, which doesn't worry him. He'll find a way to test Thor's maximum speed later, and find a way to work around them, too.
Right now his concern is the tracker.
It's a long flight, over the Atlantic and back - he stopped to blow up an absolutely terrible restaurant in Paris, because revenge is sweet - and he writes the letter and report-card on the way back, dictating it to Jarvis and picking it up from an office printer located in a US Senator's campaign office.
Half the staff is terrified of him, and the other half takes pictures from their cameras and phones as he signs the letter, drops the tracker in the envelope, and turns to face them all.
"This is for Captain America's eyes only," he says, delighted to confirm that they are taking video of this, "And when the scary government agents show up to take it, make sure they hear that. Oh, and," He glances back at at the half-demolished building (he came in through the ceiling) and says to the cameras: "Anyone who votes for this sap will get a personal visit from me. Got that?"
It's unnecessarily showy, guaranteed to get him a spot on the news, and sets him up perfectly to cross some lines for his next outing.
He gives a little wave, hands the letter to the nearest intern, and is off to head home.
Tony updates his records at home while he listens to the news. Billions of dollars in property damage, number of buildings destroyed, people injured by his attacks, (none dead, none yet, he's been lucky and careless all at once) number of vehicles wrecked, countless other amusing numbers he has Jarvis track.
He's accepted that injuries are going to happen, and isn't sure how he'll handle it when someone does inevitably die, because he can't - can't dial things back.
That thought gets escorted out and he amuses himself by adding a new record: Number of Careers Destroyed: 1.
(If his hands shake, he doesn't notice. It's the adrenaline rush, it's the caffeine, he promises himself that he'll take up a stupid gimmicky activity like announcing where his attacks will land next.)
Two days later, when he's less likely to laugh in Fury's face over the tracker fiasco, or at least able to dial it down to a snicker, he visits Steve.
Steve is destroying a punching bag when Tony finds him, and Tony shoos away his escort so he can at least pretend he's not being watched while he watches the show.
Steve's tense, and Tony watches as he winds up for another punch, watches as the chains holding the bag up finally give out.
"How often - " Steve whirls, fists at the ready before he sees who it is, even then he doesn't entirely relax, "How often does this happen?" Tony asks, watching Steve unwind the bandages.
"I'm footing the bill," Steve says, looking sheepish. Like he's genuinely sorry that he's capable of breaking gym equipment. Tony doesn't get it.
He collects a water bottle, drains it and caps it, and Tony thinks of something to say that's not 'I saw you on the news' or 'I don't understand you' or 'Why did you sit outside my room for hours while I slept?'
"I gave you that music player," Tony says, watches as Steve towels off his sweat. "Heard anything you like yet?"
Steve nods, and it shouldn't be such a relief to know that he's actually using what Tony made for him. While he hasn't been able to listen to a lot - he's barely scratched the surface, but at least between the randomizer and Steve's tendency to start in the 'A's, Tony can conclude that he doesn't have completely terrible taste in music.
"But that's just a preliminary, I should make some playlists to really test that," Tony pauses, spotting that concerned look cross Steve's face. "What?"
"Is this going to lead to you working for that long again?" Steve asks, hesitating only briefly.
"If it takes me three days to figure out music playlists for you, something's wrong," Tony tells him airily. "Besides, that was an anomaly."
"It seemed like you were used to that."
"What did Pepper tell you?" Tony says, meeting his eyes. "That I do it all the time? Look, I know all the arguments, but sometimes I genuinely forget to stop, and the rest of the time it's better if I stay and work, because then I'll be useless at whatever you want me to do."
Steve's quiet, that concerned crease is still there, and Tony itches to grab his phone and find out exactly what Pepper told him.
"When I said it was an anomaly I meant the three days thing. Usually it's one or two days, even I can't go for that long without crashing."
"I'm not going to tell you how to live your life," Steve says, and Tony grits his teeth.
"Great, thanks, glad to know that Captain America won't dictate what I can and can't do." There's a sick feeling in his stomach, the burn of disappointment. Tony turns to go, then stops, and he's going to have to update his opinion of himself to suicidal genius. "I heard you have a penpal," he says. The video - videos - of Iron Man's message had gone national, and Tony had spent an hour going over them, delighted at the speculation from the news anchors.
He doesn't look, but imagines Steve trying to follow the conversation, almost expects him to ask for clarification.
"I'm thinking of writing him back."
"What?" Tony turns, genuinely surprised. The letter to Captain America had been something of an afterthought, a 'Welcome to the Twenty-First Century, Hope you're worthy of the title, I'll kill you last, Have some pointers on what not to do,' and the only serious part of the letter had been the postscript. A warning not to let SHIELD show him a white-washed history, and a suggestion that he try checking out New York City on foot and unescorted. (A slightly joking note of 'You can take care of yourself, right?')
"Why would you write him back?" Tony asks, and pauses again. "What did he write? Can I see?"
"Why are you so interested?"
"Have you seen the news?"
At Steve's blank look Tony sighs, throws his hands up, and heads for the door. "Get the letter and a coat and come on, we're getting out of here."
"And going where?"
"My place, don't look so panicked. Come on!"
"This isn't as fun if you're not impressed," Tony complains, muting the television.
"I've seen smaller ones." Probably SHIELD's fault, but then again Tony would have to be impressed if Steve had managed to avoid spotting a single TV for this long, and the last thing he wants to do is be impressed by SHIELD.
"Now can I read the letter?" Tony holds his hand out, expectantly, and reminds himself to look appropriately amused or shocked as he reads it - but Steve doesn't hand it over. "What now?"
"Why are you so interested in Iron Man, Tony?" Steve asks, point blank.
Tony has a dozen answers readied for this question, but he hadn't yet fitted one for Steve, and all of the answers die on his tongue as he meets Steve's eyes. He thinks: ohshit and nice blue eyes and I've been building robots since I was a child and he wants to know why I'm interested in - hey, I should say this out loud -
"I've been building robots since I was a kid and you want to know why I'm interested in the most advanced battle suit the world's ever seen. You're joking, right?"
"It's curiosity," Steve says.
"What else would it be?" Tony wants to kick himself for the almost daring tone, for putting himself into this too-dangerous situation.
"What were you really working on, Tony?"
"At which time?" Cagey-ness isn't the right track here, but he can't just blurt that he has the Iron Man suit in his workshop, or that he wrote the letter to Steve.
"Let's start with the tablet," Steve says, frowning. "Those weren't..." He's blushing, but Tony can't appreciate it as much as he wants to right now. "The things you said you were working on."
"How do you know?"
Tony's a genius, he has a flash of inspiration and he manages to look perfectly serious when he says it. "I'm trying to reverse-engineer Iron Man."
Steve looks stunned, and Tony hurries on, less to convince him to buy it as the truth and more to keep himself from looking like he's won the jackpot. (Acting lessons, he reminds himself. He needs to get some, why hasn't he thought of this sooner!)
"I didn't want you - or anyone to know until I was done. I want to see Fury's face when I show it to him," Tony pauses, relishing the sight, "And I want the protection when I tell him that he can't have it."
"Are you certain that's safe?" Steve asks, and Tony wonders if he can make a device that can read minds, but he is trying to stay focused here right now.
"Suicidal," he says cheerfully instead of getting another tablet. "I can show you what I've worked out so far. Want to?" He hops up, wondering if this time Steve will follow him down to the workshop, and wondering exactly how he's going to show Steve everything. (Wondering exactly how much he can get away with, and he knows he's playing a dangerous game.)
"Yes," Steve says, getting up.
Tony grins at him, and holds a hand out. "The letter first." Because dangerous game or not, he has priorities, and he wants to see if Fury wrote anything on it.
This time, Steve passes it over, and Tony eagerly opens it up, scanning over what he wrote and laughing at his favorite sections. He's glad to see that obscure bit of programming worked - his handwriting looks nothing like that of the letter writer's, and even less like something someone wrote while wearing reinforced gloves.
He barely hides his disappointment a second later: the report card isn't here. He restrains himself from asking, and looks at Steve, grinning.
"It's as ridiculous as it is perfect, and when you arrest this guy I want to meet him."
"You...approve of a villain." Steve says, and Tony pauses. Was that a mistake? How big a mistake?
"He's giving you advice and probably wrote the letter while cackling and twirling his mustache. I can't appreciate good villainy?"
Steve holds his hand out, and Tony sighs, reluctantly passing the letter and envelope back.
"Should I call you Dad or - " Tony sighs again at Steve's look, and waves his hand, turning for the workshop. "This way."
He should have worked out a way to communicate with Jarvis without speaking. Sign language, except he knows about none of it and the cameras wouldn't be angled right. And going 'Jarvis hide anything incriminating would be - well, incriminating.
There's another workshop that's not equipped with Iron Man-and-related equipment, but that doesn't support his claim of trying to reverse engineering anything.
"Steve?" He asks, voice low.
"What is it?"
"Does the blush go all the way down?" It's completely wrong, but he can't ask if Steve would visit him in jail. (Except he's not going to jail, except...)
He's not surprised when Steve stops following him, and he almost bolts forward, to - do what, tear the map from the wall? - but instead he turns.
"I'm not going to molest you," he says, and that was the wrong thing to say, too. "Steve, come on."
"Are you taking this seriously or not?" Steve asks, after a long (too long) pause.
"Just...come on." Tony says, and now the pauses are beginning to grate on him, because that sick feeling in the pit of his stomach has returned, and the nerves are beginning to get to him. He needs to focus, to think of what signs give away nerves and he needs to try to mask them, to work around them -
Oh, they're here. Tony stops at the foot of the stairs, and groans.
"Jarvis, I thought we had agreed to get that cleaned up before I came back down here." There's glass over the floor, from some less-than-perfect redesigns of the basic repulsors.
The basic problem with the repulsors is that they're perfect as they are in almost all respects: they balance his flight, they're excellent weapons, and whenever he tries to tinker with his winning design something falls out of balance. Which means that he'll have to live with tickling Thor with them instead of anything substantial.
"Careful where you step," he says, and hops his way over to the main desk, keying a few consoles to lock more sensitive files and rename others, welcoming the chance to subtly cover for himself.
When he glances at the map there aren't any darts in it, and while there are materials all over the place, and tools, he's relatively certain there's nothing horribly incriminating sitting around. Except for the armor, but that's in pieces, holed up in the contraption he whipped up for stylish dressing.
"Where should I start?" Tony asks, turning to look at Steve - who is still at the base of the stairs, still taking in the sight of the room. There's Dummy by the workbench, there's a pair of half-disassembled gloves (the aforementioned over-tweaked repulsor beams need to be restored before he even considers using them as spares, let alone main parts of the armor) and there are the screens and computers and - it looks like a room from the future, and Tony's proud of it.
Except for the (small!) pile of red bull cans under one of the desks, but he hasn't had time to design a better house-keeping robot what with the armor taking all of his time.
"Amazing," Steve says, finally taking a careful step into the room. "This is right out of Flash Gordon..."
"It is the future," Tony reminds him.
"The future doesn't look like this," Steve says, moving further into the room. "I feel like I should be in outer space."
"We can arrange that," Tony says, grinning, and at Steve's suddenly-alarmed look he laughs. "I said we can arrange it, not go there right now. This room can't fly, and even Iron Man can't leave the planet."
That seems to ground Steve, and while the look of fascinated awe doesn't entirely vanish, he nods to himself, and seems to become more serious as Tony watches. He's seen this expression before, in a more fitting context: it's his Captain America face, and Tony realizes he's slowly cataloguing expressions, attaching labels and furthering the differentiation between the hero and the man.
Given enough time, he thinks, he could build himself a whole new Captain America.
"What's this?" Steve asks, and Tony's next thought is pure panic, because Steve is one of those types who picks up things in labs without knowing if they'll blow up in his face - he crosses the space in two bounds and tugs the gauntlets out of Steve's hands, careful to keep the repulsors facing outwards.
"This," Tony says, "could put a hole in you, and I'm not very good at fixing human beings."
"But what is it?" Steve asks.
Tony fits the gauntlet over his hand, checks that there's nothing important behind him, and fires at the sole unbroken sheet of glass in the room. The kickback leaves him on the floor, and he's careful to point the gauntlet away from himself - and Steve, when he comes over and offers a hand to help him up.
"Unfinished," Tony tells him, taking the hand (warm, his brain supplies) and struggling to his feet. "That doesn't happen when Iron Man fires his repulsor blasts, lucky bastard."
"Tony," Steve says, sounding exasperated. "If you knew that would happen, why did you do it?"
"Practical demonstration?" Tony tries, and he promptly fails not to grin, still holding Steve's hand. (still warm, thank you brain, very helpful)
A minute later he's dragging out the prototype shoulder-mounted antipersonnel sonic cannons and explaining that while it's probably not what Iron Man has, it's still enough to get him a free ticket to Steve for a month, if he bargains with Fury in the right way.
Which leads to the worst question.
"Tony," Steve says, and Tony stops mid-explanation to look at him, hands still in mid-air, still in the process of drawing out what sonic blasts might look like if you could see sound. "Are you doing all this work so you can see me?"
The worst question.
How does he answer that?
There's a quiet cough from the ceiling, and Tony could kiss Jarvis right now. "Sir," Jarvis says, and Tony looks up with desperate relief. "It seems that Doctor Doom is attacking the city right now. Sir."
Tony looks at Steve, tries not to grin, and steps back. "Have fun?"
"You drove me here." Steve says, and oh. Right.
"No chance you have..."
"I didn't come here prepared for a supervillain to attack the city, Tony."
"Follow Jarvis out, I'll call Happy up. He'll get you back to SHIELD." Tony says, and shoos him off. No, he's not coming. Yes, he'll be fine. If Doom breaks in he has those malfunctioning gloves, remember? Have a nice day at work, dear!
Steve completely misses the reference, but it's with mounting giddiness that Tony sees him off, and he can't figure out why he's so happy until he's back down in the workshop.
"Sir?" Jarvis asks as Tony strips and gets into the bodysuit, preparing to don the armor.
"I'm going to steal his cape," Tony says. Completely rational. "I'm going to steal his cape, wreck his plans, and destroy half the city while gloating in Captain America's face - " He stops, stretches his neck, looking back at the workshop. "Clean it up this time, and finish before I get back. Got it?"
"Yes, sir," and if Jarvis sounds disapproving, Tony doesn't care.
He reaches the scene before Captain America does, much to his delight, and has a good long look at the robots Doctor Doom has sicced on the city. He circles the scene, and reassesses: robot, singular.
It's only fitting that the Avengers face a giant robotic spider, Tony thinks with a grin. There's Doctor Doom, flying above the city in some kind of spacecraft, and if he's out for a cape, that's where he needs to go.
Iron Man, bless the bastard, has repulsors that don't send him flying.
Doctor Doom isn't as good a genius as Tony is, so the repulsors carve an entrance into the ship, and probably disable something, or make a console explode into sparks for no reason. He's the kind of villain who would do that, program things for dramatic effect instead of use, and Tony laughs when he finds Doctor Doom: consoles are indeed throwing up sparks.
He'll give credit where credit is due, though: nothing is exploding and it seems to be working, just..sparking.
"Doctor Doom, I presume?" Tony asks, deciding why the hell not and playing the Bond to Doctor Doom's supervillain.
Von Doom turns in his chair, fingers laced together, sparks fizzing through the air, the entire scene suitably dramatic. Tony, to his surprise, kind of likes it.
"This is my city," Tony says, even though it's not. "Hands off."
"You can't claim an entire city," and Tony raises a hand, palm out. He doesn't know if repulsors will hurt Doom yet, but he'd like to find out.
"I'm a supervillain too," Tony points out, completely reasonably. "I can claim the moon if I want, and if no one stops me, it's mine. So. Hands off the city, and hands off my Avengers."
Tony completely expects an eyebrow to be up behind that metal mask, and doesn't hesitate now, not blasting Doom - he might burn the cape (which he still intends to steal) - but the main control panel, the one that Jarvis informed him of two minutes ago. (There are advantages to having an AI sidekick. They research floorplans for you, put together likely control systems for spacecraft, and if Tony's lucky, the workshop will be clean when he gets home.)
It's very, very satisfying to watch Doom curse and gesture and leap to fix his systems, and all that dramatic air is gone with Doom's self-assurance. Tony can't decide if there was a shield in place or if Doom was that arrogant (going to go on a 'we can rule together' tangent, perhaps?) but either way he's got him. Doom is toast.
"No, don't touch," Tony chides, flying forward and catching Doctor Doom, carrying him towards the exit. There's something else in store, all supervillains have three backup plans if things go wrong, and Tony's ready when tiny robotic spiders start pouring out of the walls.
The antipersonnel shoulder-mounted cannons target and fire, and Tony changes plans from sonic weapons to ways to hold more ammo, but twenty seconds and he's free of the spacecraft.
"See that?" Tony asks, coasting away from the now-exploding spacecraft, "That's my rubble to build on, and if you ask nicely I'll let you down at a non-lethal height."
He adjusts his grip, listens to Doom squirm and get around to telling him how good they would be together, and watches as the Avengers finally topple Doom's spider.
"Doctor Doom," he says, finally. "I'll make you a deal."
"The cape, and I'll let you down in the ocean."
It takes some finicking, and he even drops Doom for a moment, but eventually Tony gets the cape draped over an arm and he drops Doom a mile off the coast.
He's at risk from Thor, he knows it, but even so he flies back to make sure that they're really in control of the spider, and en route he ties the cape on.
"Jarvis?" Tony says, adjusting how it fits, circling the city. "Do you think a cape would work for Iron Man?"
"If I may be so bold, sir..."
"That's a no, isn't it."
"I really couldn't say, sir."
"I'm not keeping it. I just want pictures."
"Very good, sir."
"Don't let Pepper find the pictures."
"Very good, sir."
And even as he approaches where the Avengers were, he has the sinking sensation that his AI just got blackmail material handed to him.
All supervillains have at least three backup plans. Tony's seen two of them, and the third - the third is why Doctor Doom isn't entirely a laughing stock.
Even from the distance, Tony can see blood.
The spider's down, medics are on the scene, and from what Tony's managed to gather from hacking into SHIELD comms, Steve did something heroic and self-sacrificing and saved Hawkeye from an exploding miniature spider.
They had been done, cleaning up the damage, and then Captain America had yelled something about a grenade and - no one had seen where the tiny robot had come from.
The sinking sensation in Tony's stomach turns into dread, because the more and more he scans the giant spider, the more and more sure he is that it wasn't carrying any tiny spiders or exploding robots.
Occam's Razor, and it's why Iron Man speaks over the comms, voice modulators filtering out his helpless fury.
"Doctor Doom has been deposited a mile off the coast, and you'll want to scan the city in case I missed more of those moving grenades."
Because he did miss at least one. At least one.
"Tell Captain America I get to kill him, not one of Doctor Doom's toys." And he cuts the line, and makes a dash for home, before he does something he can't take back.
He drops the cape over a workbench and goes for a shower, frustrated and tired and worried.
(But he can't go pester Fury, he can't even ask about Steve, Tony Stark isn't supposed to know that Steve's been injured - )
The shower would be cold by the time he gets out of it, but he's rich and a genius and -
"Cancel everything for the rest of the day," Tony says later, in the kitchen, crouched to get a better look at his supplies. Enough beer to fuel a party, to kill a man twice over - good, he'll take it. "And don't let anyone in," he says, uncorking a priceless bottle of wine.
"Sir," Jarvis says, and Tony's not listening to the note of disapproval in his AI's voice.
The latch on the bar locks before he can find out if there's enough in there to kill a man.
Fire explodes through his senses, and Tony groans, feeling like he's been through an explosion. Jumped on a grenade, maybe, and then memory hits and that hurts worse than the hangover, and maybe if he lies still enough everything will go dark again.
There's more fire, except it's audible, and why isn't he dead yet, and he tries to communicate this to the rest of the world.
The floor's still nice and cold, so that's alright. Tony mmhms to himself, satisfied that he's on the floor, and before more pain blasts his senses, he wills himself to black out again - and this time it works.
Warm, he thinks, except it doesn't hurt this time. Tony blinks, surprised. Memory's coming back faster this time, and why isn't he on the floor? That's his bedroom ceiling up there.
"Why am I here?" Tony wonders, and winces - the hangover isn't entirely gone yet, and he's sore.
He waits for a long time, but nothing changes, and finally he sits up, risking the vertigo and pain for a chance to find out why he's - in pajamas? - and in bed. And doesn't feel entirely like he was used as Steve's punching bag.
Pepper's the only one who would bother getting him advil while he's drunk, and he'd told Jarvis not to let anyone in. This is confusing, and Tony climbs out of bed, driven to solve the mystery of his not-as-awful-as-it-should-be morning.
Tony stops in the doorway of the kitchen and stares at the back of Steve's head. Steve shouldn't be here, how long was he out, and damnit but Tony still can't express worry without some excuse for knowing that he was hurt.
Maybe it's another hallucination, he thinks, and leans against the doorframe.
"How long was I out?" Tony asks, and it doesn't matter who answers.
As Steve's turning in his seat, Jarvis comes through with an answer of a sort. "Captain Rogers let himself in, sir."
"I thought I said not to let anyone in," Tony remembers giving that order, somewhere in the morass of memories.
"You were unconscious," and Tony bets there's a whole lot Jarvis isn't saying, "Do you recall exception thirteen, sir?"
Oh. Oh, okay, that explains it. Tony ignores Steve's look (which is at once concerned, curious and worst of all - disappointed) and gets himself coffee. He's not going to thank Steve for probably saving his life, he's a responsible drinker, etcetera.
"Thanks," he says, and kicks himself. "What are you doing here?" He asks Steve, quickly, then blinks and points at the ceiling. "How long was I out?"
Jarvis gives him a date, and okay, not too bad. It's morning two days after Doctor Doom, and that still doesn't explain why Steve looks perfectly healthy and not at all like he jumped on an exploding robotic spider to save a teammate.
"Good morning," Steve says, and gets up to help Tony serve himself coffee. "Your hands are shaking."
"They do that," Tony says, squinting at his hands, and they are shaking. "Why are you here?"
"You weren't done showing me your workshop," Steve says, and okay, he's not making him coffee. Tony watches in confusion as Steve withdraws a jug of milk from the fridge, then rushes towards him.
"No, put that back, I am not a kid - "
"More caffeine wouldn't be good for you right now." Steve sounds serious, and Tony decides he needs coffee, because that wasn't his Captain America voice, and all of Steve's serious voices are his Captain America voices.
Maybe there's a Steve-flavored serious voice?
Steve turns to look at him, and Tony pauses. "Did I say that out loud?"
It doesn't stop Steve from using the microwave (how can he use the microwave, Tony never showed him how and SHIELD's useless at teaching Steve how to enjoy the future) but it does slow him down to ask: "What are you thinking about?"
"The sound of your voice, can I have coffee? This is getting out of hand."
"Tony," and he sounds like he's being very patient and is very amused, and Tony rubs his forehead. At least the hangover is slowly retreating, and he's barely got a headache now. His tongue - he's biting his tongue nearly constantly now, to be careful he doesn't actually say anything else out loud.
"Ow," Tony says, deciding that biting his tongue was a bad idea, watching as Steve looks through his shelves. "Snoop."
"I'm looking for honey, Tony."
"Jarvis, where do we keep honey?" Tony asks, and frowns. "Do we even have honey?"
"I've found it," Steve says, and before anything else can happen he's stirring it into warm milk and putting it into Tony's hands.
"This isn't coffee."
But he drinks it anyways.
"You really are All-American," he mutters halfway through the mug, but he can't deny that it's...well, it's good. And soothing. An almost acceptable alternative to the sweet sting of coffee. "Why are you here?" He asks.
"We were interrupted by Doctor Doom," Steve reminds him.
"I remember that," Tony says. "But why are you here? Did you hang out by my bedroom door again?"
"I was concerned, Tony," Steve says quietly. "You were..."
"Drunk?" Tony gives him a grin that's not as strong as it should be. "Very drunk, I remember that part."
"Unconscious," Steve says, and Tony looks away.
There's something else, some other detail that Tony's missing, and he worries at the stray thought like a kitten with a loose thread, and doesn't get it until he's finished his milk.
"I was dressed," he says, and tugs at the loose t-shirt and pajama pants he's in. "I am certain I was dressed and stayed that way."
Steve blushes, which is an excellent sign, and Tony loops an arm around his neck, sidling up close.
"See anything you liked?"
"Tony," Steve says, and why is the concerned crease back? Tony raises an eyebrow, still pressed up to his side, and waits for the rest of it. "Your chest - "
"Oh." Tony glances at his chest, where yup, the arc reactor is still glowing, visible through the fabric. "First time you've seen it, huh?"
"That's not normal, is it?"
"It's unique to me," Tony confirms with a grin. What are you doing his brain whispers at him, He doesn't need to know this.
"What is it?"
Tony steps back and away from Steve, tugging his shirt off so Steve can see it, ignoring his brain, watching as Steve blushes again. Stop nagging me and remember to make a ray that melts off armor he thinks back at his brain.
"Tony," Steve says.
"This," Tony drums fingers over the metal, "Is keeping me alive right now. There are metal fragments in my heart that would kill me if this ever turned off."
"Cool, isn't it?" Tony tries to grin again, and he's getting better at this acting thing. He pats the reactor, watches the blue glow reflect off his fingers, and abruptly gets his shirt back on.
Steve doesn't say anything this time, and Tony puts the cup down. His hands aren't shaking anymore, which means he can probably use the workshop fine, and that's a great idea. All he has to do is make Steve leave right now, otherwise he might get followed down there and he doesn't have an explanation for why Doctor Doom's green cape is draped over his desk.
"What would turn it off?" Steve asks, sounding concerned.
Tony glares at the ceiling, because Jarvis isn't paying attention and calling in emergencies when he clearly needs to.
"Jarvis, why don't we have Doctor Doom on speed dial?" He asks, then looks at Steve. "It won't turn off. It's an arc reactor, it'll power itself, stop looking like that."
"Doctor Doom's location is unknown at the present time, sir, after he was escorted out of the city by Iron Man," Jarvis says, like the faithful AI he is.
"Why would you want him on speed dial?" Steve asks, and Tony shakes his head.
There's a beat, where Steve looks expectant, and Tony realizes he should probably explain it.
"Why was Iron Man dealing with Doctor Doom?" He asks instead, reaching out to flick Steve's shoulder. "I thought you would be the one to protect New York."
"I'm part of a team."
"And Iron Man's on it?"
"We're still not sure what went on between those two," Steve says, and Tony can't resist a grin.
"Tell me this was filmed. Jarvis, tell me this is filmed. I need to catch up on this."
"There's nothing to see," Steve protests, and Tony shakes his head, almost bowled over by the extent of that lie.
"Iron Man was there," he points out. "If I'm going to reverse-engineer him, every bit of footage I can get it worth its weight in gold. Besides, I'd love a chance to see you in action."
"I've compiled footage, sir," Jarvis says over the speakers, and when the popcorn maker hums into action Tony knows that for all Jarvis' faults, he's still the perfect AI.
"Psychology of a supervillian," Tony says when it's all over. "I can't believe he stole the cape."
He mulls over that for a minute, then grabs Steve's knee and faces him. "You were bleeding out, and now you're not. How?"
"The medics were just as surprised as you are," Steve says, and Tony just doesn't get why Steve looks so embarrassed when he talks about how awesome he is. "The serum. I heal faster than...I should. And the armor was very well made."
Tony stares at Steve with his perfectly combed hair and concerned look and he isn't bleeding and it's the relief. The relief is why he closes the gap between them and kisses him.
Steve's eyes go wide, giving Tony a good look at how blue they are, and Tony grips at his shirt, wrinkling it, and he's making the best of this kiss before he's decked or something equally unpleasant.
He licks his lips when he's done (he wouldn't be done, except that he needs air, and that's something else he should invent) and carefully lets go of where he's fisted his hands into Steve's shirt.
"I'm glad you're alive," Tony tells him, and Steve still looks shocked, so that's probably his cue to get going.
Tony slides to a halt in the middle of the lab and stares at the workbench, confused. Where's the cape?
"Jarvis - "
"I took the liberty of moving the cape, sir," Jarvis informs him. "Captain Rogers is asking me for your location. Should I tell him?"
"Does he look like he's going to punch me?"
Tony scans the room for potential weapons, and promptly starts clearing it. Just in case. Except that there's far too much to clear, but at least he can keep blowtorches out of the area. "Tell him!"
"He's on his way," Jarvis murmurs, and Tony grunts, moving to the desk, trying to look casual.
"It'd be a bad idea to - "
"Yes, sir." Jarvis says, and then there's Steve coming down the stairs.
"Hi!" Tony says brightly in lieu of asking him something horribly inappropriate. Like if the blush goes all the way down (he has got to find that out) or if he's proportional or if the super-serum enhanced anything other than muscles or - "Steve, what are you doing?"
Steve has crossed the room and Tony can't tell if the look in his eyes is anger or something else.
Steve kisses him, and Tony thinks oh and I should kiss back now and it's still too long before his body catches up with his brain and kisses back.
"Steve," he manages once that's over, and he puts a hand on Steve's chest, flat to his chest, and grips at his shirt with his other hand. "You're - "
But Steve kisses him again, and Tony deepens it, slides his tongue into Steve's mouth, and automatically makes that motion that would fire repulsors if he were wearing them. He jerks his hand down, off Steve's chest, and grips his hip instead, because no.
Tony's shuffling his mental lists of the best kisses he's ever had, and with who, and then Steve moans and Tony's knees go weak, and he'd be embarrassed except Steve is clutching at his shoulders and still moaning, making soft needy sounds and Tony bets all of his cars and Jarvis that Steve's never done this before.
"Hey," he says, fitting a hand up Steve's shirt, feeling warm skin and tracing muscles. "Hey, first time?"
Steve's eyes open, and Tony grins at him, flushed and walking fingers down to Steve's belt.
"I need to know if I'm ruining you for life, and if how careful I should be," he informs Steve, cupping him through his pants.
He doesn't get a coherent answer, but he wasn't expecting one, and he undoes the belt, kissing Steve again.
Tony crows with delight, discovering that Steve is proportional, and he's going to assume that Steve's a virgin, so he'll make it good. (Not that he wouldn't make it good, but - one thing to go the extra mile, another thing to actually go on your knees for your partner, especially on this floor.)
"What are you doi- oh!"
Tony blinks innocently up at Steve, and traces his fingertip over Steve's tip again. "Like that? Of course you do, hang on," he slides his hand down, stroking - it hits him that he is stroking Captain America's cock and Tony has to remember that he can't grin and take Steve into his mouth at the same time, as otherwise there'll be teeth, and he's trying to make it good.
Tony hasn't sucked cock in - oh, since college, when he was experimenting, going through a phase, but fortunately it's just like riding a bicycle, only sexier.
He closes his eyes, and adjusts, listening to Steve try to tell him how good it is and he moves his tongue whenever he wants Steve to break off into rasping moans. It's easy to fit his hand over Steve's hip, and he steadies Steve's hips when he takes Steve just that much deeper, and his brain is off and running again, cataloguing how it tastes, determining if Steve's precome is sweeter or saltier and by how much percentage-wise and he beats his thumb against Steve's cock in a steady rhythm, one he doesn't want to identify because it might be too much like his original heartbeat.
Steve surprises him, suddenly landing a hand on his head and saying 'Tony, that's - I - ' okay, it takes a bit for something coherent to form, but when it does - 'You're the - ah! - first - ' and then Steve is coming down his throat, shouting, and Tony eases him through it, holding his hips with both hands now.
It's a way to hold Steve steady, and then it's a handhold so he can clamber to his feet, and then he's being pushed back into his desk as Steve leans into him heavily.
Steve mumbles something about reciprocation, and Tony laughs, taking his hand with the one that was on Steve's cock, and guides Steve down to the front of his own pants.
He fumbles for a belt, remembers he's wearing pajama pants, and pushes things down so Steve can fit his (big) hand over Tony, and there.
"Warm," Tony says intelligently.
Steve, bless his heart, figures out what he's supposed to do without help, because Tony grips at his arm for stability and there goes any focus he had.
There's still a portion of his mind that's paying attention, that's noting that the blush goes all the day down, nothing that Steve's gentle even when he's squeezing, that Steve looks concerned so Tony has to kiss him to make that stop, because he's doing fine, and oh -
He'd be embarrassed at how quickly he's lost and coming into Steve's hand, but it's Steve, and Steve wouldn't tell.
Won't tell, he corrects himself, breathing heavily into Steve's shoulder.
"Was it good?" Steve asks, because he's Steve, and Tony laughs into his neck, reaching down to take Steve's hand and trace his fingers.
"I'm not drunk, and this isn't a dream," Tony asks, gripping at Steve's hand. "Right?"
"Right," Steve says, and he sounds too amused for Tony to be comfortable with that. He nips at his chin.
"That was a serious question and I feel wounded that you would treat it as anything but."
"Tony," Steve says, and why is he hugging him now - "That was real. I liked it a lot. Thank you."
"Why are you hugging me?"
"Is that..." Tony can practically see the questions of 'has the future changed this much?' and so on, and he shakes his head, kissing Steve instead.
"I'm not usually..." Tony stops himself, because things are awkward enough already. "Shower. We need to shower." He moves to pull out of Steve's hold, but Steve doesn't let go, and he sighs, dropping his head to Steve's shoulder. One of those types. He should have known.
"Tony," Steve says, and Tony nns.
"Shower," he reminds him. "We are going to shower."
And damn it, but -
Dummy chooses that moment to decide to take care of fire-control.
The next few weeks are basically a long series of mistakes that Tony doesn't stop making, that Tony's not sure he wants to stop making, and Steve's bedhead is amazing so he winds up putting off trying to break things off before it's too late.
Steve hasn't officially moved in, but Tony's watched a steady stream of what few things Steve owns move into the bedroom next to his, and suddenly half the time he spends in the workshop is spent in a state of paranoia.
He's changed his mind about tracking devices: he's making one - a better one - and tagging Steve with it. (Get to work, get comfortable, have a heart-attack when it's not Dummy tapping his shoulder and holding out a cup of coffee.)
The worst part? About all of it?
No, it's not that he can't find where Jarvis moved Doom's cape to.
It's that Iron Man is overdue to commit an act of villainy, and every time Tony thinks he's got a free afternoon, Steve shows up or decides not to go out or something and he can't lock the workshop and pretend he's busy because Jarvis is on Steve's side.
It's awful, is what it is.
The minute Captain America has been called away to deal with - it doesn't matter, Tony's not sticking around to find out. He is getting out of the country.
When Iron Man's done terrorizing the Belgians and coasting across the Atlantic, a sudden thought strikes him: he spent half the time wanting to turn to Steve and point out something funny or interesting.
This has got to stop.
"Jarvis, set new course," Tony says, setting his jaw. "Where are the Avengers now?"
Jarvis relays the coordinates, and after a pause: "Sir?"
"What's the likelihood of Captain America's armor holding up against a repulsor blast?"
"Highly likely, sir," Jarvis says, and, "Sir?"
"We're behind schedule," Tony says, tone hard. "And they need a test. I'm going to give it to him."
He realizes, too late, that he meant to say them.
This is what is comes to: sonic weapons work perfectly against the Hulk, even prototypes. Hawkeye and the Black Widow can't fly, so Thor has to catch them, and Tony grabs the Captain's ankle as the plane explodes above them.
"Failing grade, Captain," he calls down, flying away from Thor as fast as he can without injuring Steve. He's going to buy himself time, and he's - he twists to make sure the Hulk isn't leaping after them, because the Hulk's unpredictable in the best of circumstances.
They're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and after half an hour of flying steadily Tony drops Captain America, catching him by the shoulders after a few heart-stopping minutes.
"Failing grade," he repeats. "Were all of you asleep at the wheel?"
"Where are you taking me?" That's definitely the Captain America voice, and for a moment Tony can't answer.
"We're not going anywhere," he says after a while. "I'm testing something before I finish your report card."
"What are you testing?"
Tony doesn't answer him, turning him in his hold, and holds one of his hands out, palm outstretched.
He fires, listens to Steve's yell, and watches the arm of Captain America's armor with more than a passing interest. It's exceeding expectations, and even better - so is Captain America: he's taking the full force of Iron Man's repulsor blasts and he's glaring now, and if it hurts he's not showing it.
"Impressive," Tony informs him, turning off the blast. "I'll have to send compliments to whoever made that armor."
Captain America punches him in the faceplate.
"Captain," Tony says, chiding. "Don't break your knuckles for nothing. If I drop you, no one will catch you."
Villain, he reminds himself. Supervillain. Genius supervillain.
"Why did you pull that stunt?" Captain America asks. "With the letter." He means: why did you include that line about the senator? because Tony has heard all of Steve's complaints about that by now.
"Would you vote for a corrupt senator?" Tony asks, because he's been waiting for this chance ever since Steve first complained about it. "He was taking bribes."
Villain, he reminds himself, but it's not exactly the most evil thing he could have done.
For a long moment he watches Steve's jaw work, and he waits for judgement.
"I've looked into you," Captain America says, and up go Tony's eyebrows. "You haven't killed anyone."
"Yet," Tony says, and hopes Steve doesn't notice the sudden tremor in the gloves.
"You've only targeted military targets, and - "
"Research labs, yes," Tony says.
"And the few exceptions wound up to be headquarters for organizations like the mafia or more governmental buildings," Steve presses on. "Why are you attacking us?"
"I told you - "
"You're not going to kill me, are you? You saved us when you removed Doctor Doom."
"That was between supervillains!"
"Supervillains don't send superheroes report cards and tips on how to improve unless they're insane, and I don't think you're insane."
Fuck, Tony thinks.
"What are you really trying to do?"
This, Tony thinks, would be a great time for Thor to show up. Or the Hulk. Or the Fantastic Four. Or for Jarvis to call about something. Something that'd give him an excuse to drop Steve without worrying that he'd break his neck on impact with the water.
"It's my secret evil plan," he says, and fuck but even with the modulator Iron Man sounds petty.
"It's not an evil plan at all, is it? Tony."
And Iron Man drops Captain America because fuck.
He recovers himself a moment later and catches Steve, but the damage has been done.
"How - "
"You're not very subtle," Steve says, and Tony twitches.
"But where did I mess up?!"
"I wasn't sure until you fought us today," Steve offers. "The sonic weapons."
"But you suspected." Tony's hysterical and the modulator is the only reason he's not more obvious about it.
"You're...very interested in Iron Man." Steve says. "I...had the idea when you read the letter. You skimmed it," and he looks sheepish again. "I wondered if you'd read it before."
Then the workshop, then everything else, and Tony retracts the faceplate because damnitall.
"...Want me to drop you off at home?" Tony offers, because what does he say.
"Central Park will be fine," Steve says, and Tony lowers the faceplate for a modicum of privacy.
Somewhere over California Steve speaks up again.
"Why were you trying...why were you a villain, Tony?"
Ah, Tony thinks. Something he can handle.
"You know how I kidnapped you? And flew rings around your team?"
"We were supposed to let you get away earlier, and I asked Thor not to follow me this time," and Tony stops, suitably impressed.
"Why aren't you a supervillain, Steve?"
"Because I'm good," and Tony's weirdly grateful Steve doesn't comment on whether Tony is or not.
"Right, well, impressions aside the Avengers still need work."
"We're lacking in aerial support," Steve murmurs, and it's only by luck that Tony hears that. "We're a new team," he says.
"I can't," Tony tells him. He's sharp, he gets it. "I'm a villain."
"You're rich enough to pay back the property damage and hospital bills," Steve says. "You've kept track of that, right?"
"I am not - "
"I spoke with Jarvis about it, and the Maria Stark Foundation has been making some unusual donations."
"Wha - Jarvis! Did you know about this!"
"You never asked, sir," he is surrounded by traitors.
"Fury wouldn't - "
"Iron Man in exchange for visitation rights," Steve says, and he's never heard Steve be smug before.
They're over Kansas when Steve speaks up again.
"You could join the Avengers, Tony."
Tony doesn't say anything.
They're over New York City when Steve shifts in his grip. "Tony?"
"What?" Tony's still thinking, still turning over the ramifications of changing his plan this much. There's a sticking point, after all.
"I want to see you."
Tony sighs quietly and turns the Captain in his grip, and up goes the faceplate.
"I can't just quit," Tony says, but Steve's kissing him and goodbye language.
"You can," Steve whispers, leaning in so their foreheads touch, even if he's probably bumping up against the helmet.
"More heroes means more villains and - " Tony stutters to a halt, stopping in the air as an idea strikes. He's a genius, evil or not.
"The world doesn't need to know I've changed sides, right?"
"Tony," Steve says, but he's thinking and that's good, so is Tony.
"We can face off weekly and I can happen to pitch in whenever any villains pop up, I kind of told Doctor Doom that New York City and the Avengers were mine so they'll just think I'm territorial and you can take repulsor blasts so we can stage fights and - "
"Would that work?"
"Let me talk to the team."
Which means yes, and Tony can't stop the grin because maybe this means it'll work after all.
"I," Tony says, "Am going to take you home and ravish you. Then we can further discuss me turning traitor to supervillainy. That's an evil thing to do, right?"
Steve, because Steve is a good man, just kisses him in lieu of a response.