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Recalibration

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“How will your friends have time for me, when they’re so busy fighting you?”

Like many of the regrettable things that have happened in Tony's life, the scene played out in slow-motion, almost as if so he could later relive every second of it in clear detail (did Loki have powers like that? slowing down time? it would be just like him to have them and use them for the sheer purpose of gloating, the bastard). The scotch burned down his throat as the actual God of Chaos what even is his life stalked towards him and alarm klaxons rang in his mind, but he wouldn't be Tony Stark if he had any self-preservation instincts, he was allergic to those—

But sometimes he did wish he listened to them more often—

Loki touched the sceptre to his chest, a centimetre above the arc reactor, a centimetre above where it would’ve been harmless and Tony would’ve brushed it off with a crude joke. Instead, there was a sharp needlepoint on his sternum, and cold, blue tendrils clutching at his heart, the same electric blue as his pupils.

It felt like being submerged in water—muffled, dull, he could just fall asleep—

Then a different memory of water surfaced, a metal drum and the dim lighting of a cave, wires crawling out of his chest, stagnant water filling his lungs past the point when he thought he’d black out, hands on the back of his neck, just that sensation, except it was his entire body screaming for air—

As quick as it began, it all stopped, and he heard a voice like a purr, distant and all-encompassing all at once. He nodded, and suddenly he was stepping back, arms outstretched and the Mark VII closing around him, joints whirring, locks clicking into place, this was armor, his armor, safe and close and familiar.

*

"Mr Stark?"

The first time Steve met Tony Stark, he was afraid he'd suddenly started seeing ghosts.

It had been 48 hours since he woke up to a brand new world—loud and full of lights, Times Square had always been flashy but nothing like this, he remembered thinking wildly—and the fact that he was nearly seventy years into the future had yet to completely sink in.

Aside from the obvious, everything was just a bit…off. The SHIELD issue clothes they’d given him felt small and slightly uncomfortable, and he couldn’t help feeling a bit underdressed wearing just a shirt and trousers. The phone they’d given him (they told him the tiny piece of glass and plastic was a phone, what) felt unnecessarily fragile in his large hands. It was supposed to be the future, but everything just felt like cacophony and noise.

It was like the first few days right after he’d been injected with the serum, a stranger in his own skin.

They had told him his apartment in Brooklyn had been preserved, kept untouched, and the first thing he asked after he had calmed down was whether he could visit. Director Fury was hesitant to let him out into the world so soon after waking up, but he’d agreed, and sent Steve down to Brooklyn in a black towncar with ten agents as escort the very next day. His old place, as they explained on the way, had become a sort of pilgrimage spot for those who wished to pay their respects to the good Captain. Mostly old men, veterans from the war, or the grandchildren who grew up hearing stories of Steve’s bravery and daring.

Seeing the small shrine of letters and photos, an old wreath of flowers, set up to the side of the building’s front steps made him feel more like a relic than any of SHIELD’s cutting edge technologies ever did.

The apartment was surprisingly clean, though a bit dusty, and the place was obviously unlived in, with that definite air of absence and neglect. They were honest when they said that they’d left his things untouched. The arrangement of the furniture, his old radio, even the drawer where he kept his art supplies, though the paper had yellowed and the eraser crumbled when he picked it up—everything looked the same as when he’d last seen it, before he’d left for the USO tour to Europe, and he blinked. He touched a hand to his face and was surprised to see it come away damp with tears. He didn’t know how long he’d been crying, didn’t notice when he started to. This was his homecoming from the war, wasn't it? His first time back, he came back and they had won—

He gripped the back of a chair to steady himself, a dull hollowness gnawing at the centre of his chest. This was all he had to come back to, then? A country that had left him behind, and a handful of ghosts.

So when he had composed himself, and had taken the car back to SHIELD HQ, he had to shake his head to make sure none of those ghosts had followed him from the apartment.

The illusion lasted only a second. Tony was older than Howard had been when Steve flew the Skull’s plane into the Atlantic, and wasn't that a weird thought? This Stark had more lines on his face, and Howard was present in the way he held himself, that easy, confident grace that Steve could never emulate, before or after the serum.

His eyes, however, were different, far more expressive and with lashes like a dame’s.

He must've gotten his eyes from his mother, and Steve was suddenly saddened by that new thought, that he never got to meet his friend's wife.

"Captain," Tony said.

The rest of the meeting did not go as well.

*

"I did advise you to keep your old armor on. What use are you without it, Anthony Stark?" (That question's been asked before, many times.)

Loki took the drink out of Tony's hand as the Iron Man continued to assemble around him. He walked to the sofa, sat himself on the leather, and knocked the rest of the drink back in one go. The man might be insufferable, even taking into account that he was human, but he had to admit that Stark had good taste in alcohol. And he built such lovely toys.

"Is this not simpler indeed," Loki said, at first mostly to himself, and then, "and especially since you are infinitely more bearable in this manner. It's a shame to have lost Agent Barton. I could've started a collection, wouldn't you say?"

Not that he was expecting an answer. The armor finished assembly, though he kept the visor up for just a bit longer, taking in the blank expression of his newest tool. Subservience was a much better look on the man than his careless arrogance, and it was even more of a shame that it would soon be hidden behind the impassive faceplate of the Iron Man, but you couldn't have everything. Loki set the glass on the table and paused to briefly admire the sceptre. Such a convenient device, he thought, and idly considered how he would go about creating a convincing enough counterfeit to return to Thanos in order to keep it for himself—but that was business he could contemplate later. At the moment, he had a planet to invade.

Loki stood and made his way onto the balcony, ensconced in harsh light as he summoned his own armor, gold and shimmering green materialising around him. Stark followed closely behind, obedient as a dog. They both looked up to the column of energy, the tesseract reaching towards the heavens, to where the portal should open at any second.

"You have kindly informed me how your precious Avengers are coming, so you may as well join their welcoming committee," Loki said, grinning as the sky was finally torn apart, and the first of the Chitauri emerged to rain fire on the city below. "And when they've come, why don't you start with the soldier?"

*

People screamed, and it grated on Tony's nerves. The Iron Man was designed for pinpoint operations, not wanton destruction on the scale that Loki's war preferred (Rhodey—no—War Machine would've been better for that, Tony thought), which was why most of his attention was devoted to monitoring the HUD for the signature of an approaching quinjet. Still, Loki's done his research, Iron Man was a hero (nevermind what Steve had said), and a hero turning on his own people had a very definite appeal to it. It wasn't as showy and bombastic as the ugly-aliens-on-hoverbikes destroying the New York City skyline (and wasn’t that a change, Tony not being showy enough), but the small bullets of Iron Man's anti-personnel guns were ruthlessly accurate, hitting only every other person of a crowd, leaving the other half to scream and panic.

After all, they saw exactly who had fired at them.

People looked up as Iron Man flew alongside the invading Chitauri, your allies, the voice whispered, and Tony knew there was something very wrong with that word, but whenever the thought threatened to crystallise into something more, it dissipated like smoke between his fingertips. Well, it probably wasn't all that important.

Iron Man surveyed the scene. The repulsors fired at the exposed struts of an overhang, then at a building's crucial support beam. He fired at the exposed gas tank of an overturned bus, already rigged to explode. He fired to the left of a crowded walkway, lead people right into the line of fire—mayhem working like clockwork. It was almost ironic, how chaos and logical thinking worked perfectly together.

“Target acquired, seventy meters ahead, building’s structural collapse imminent,” said JARVIS, and Tony wasn’t sure when he’d programmed calculated hesitation into the AI. “Sir, are you sure you should be—“

“Just fire the missile.”

You will know peace, someone had once said. One man saw enlightenment, science as an elegant, irrefutable truth. Another man saw a target, and with it the calm serenity of purpose, the comfort of a straightforward op, an arrow finding its mark.

Tony's heart was heavy with contentment, the same feeling of contentment that settled in his chest when he's tinkering in his workshop, and in the background, the soft glow of hologram schematics, Dummy whirring to grab a tool Tony had asked for ten minutes ago, JARVIS' programmed accent becoming more pronounced as he got more and more sarcastic. The hazy delirium of too many cups of coffee and too many lines of code, blurring together but still more simple than anything else in life. For all that he was a supposed genius, Tony was a mechanic at heart and he liked machines best because they were simple. They worked, they made sense, and when they didn't it was just an errant line of code somewhere, or crossed wires, nothing more complicated than hardware and circuitry involved. There was no debugging feature on feelings or people or relationships (and he knew that better than most people, because he couldn't say he's never tried, and that's the thing, wasn't it? his laundry-list of defects made him the human equivalent of the buggiest program ever, and he had no illusions about that). The rush when something worked out exactly per expectations, when the code compiled (and his code was always elegant, even at his most delirious), well, it's almost as good as an orgasm, and Tony’s an expert on those too.

He liked sex for much the same reasons as he liked machines. (They can work well together, but that's a digression.) He didn't give it much thought, it's probably something freudian or whatever and he was never much for navel-gazing, but the fact is, sex was simple, or it was the way he played it. A simple union of bodies, hands and mouths leaving marks on skin, gratification at its most distilled form, and that's where the playboy part of ‘genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist’ came in. The whole song-and-dance into bed was easy, once you figured it out, and someday if he got bored enough he could probably write an algorithm for it.

This thing with Pepper though, oh, let's not mention that, what if he jinxed it? (Tony hoped she wasn't watching the news.)

It's not important, the voice in his mind insisted, sounding a little irate. You have your instructions.

Right. Attack the city until the Avengers (Steve) arrived. Simple.

A crowd rushed out of an office building, and Iron Man's targeting systems locked on for another round of fire, the whine of charging repulsors suddenly filling the air.

*

"Stark, what in god's name—"

The repulsor blast ricocheted off his shield to blow out the innocent lamppost to his left. Steve jumped off the roof of the police car and ducked behind an overturned car, realisation and dread settling in as a furnished blur of red and gold flew overhead. "Stark! Tony!"

So that was why Tony hadn’t responded when they’d flown the quinjet in, hadn’t gotten anything when Loki took down one of their wings and forced them to land in the square. Between the explosions and the panicking crowds, Steve hadn’t had time to worry about Tony, but this was much worse than he’d feared.

The sharp whine of the repulsors was what alerted him more than anything else, and Steve barely got out of the way before the car he was hiding behind exploded, rolling with less than his usual grace across the street to duck behind…another overturned car. He needed to come up with a better plan, and fast. He pressed the headset to his ear, trying not to breathe too loudly into the mike. "Hawkeye, Widow, Stark's been compromised. I repeat, Stark is currently a hostile."

"Shit, are you serious?" Clint replied on comm, and in the background Steve can hear the sound of a bowstring being pulled taut. "’Cause we didn't have enough problems before, is that it?"

“A blow to the head, Cap,” Natasha said, her voice punctuated by gunfire. “That’s how Hawkeye got out of it.”

“A really hard hit,” Clint added.

He heard the sound of bullets firing, and Steve brought his shield up above his head, anticipating the tell-tale noise of deflected fire. Instead he heard the blast of jet boots, and shouting. The bottom of his stomach dropped as Steve realised what was happening.

A scream turned Steve's attention to his right, where a group of people were filing out of the bus. For a second, he made eye contact with a boy, couldn't be older than his late teens. There was a bloom of red on his chest, and a look of incomprehension on his face as he moved his gaze from Steve to his own bloodied hands, before he crumpled to the ground.

Without thinking Steve gave a shout and ran towards Iron Man, deflecting repulsor fire, before throwing his shield directly at the helmet. A dull metallic thunk told him that it had found its mark, and the armor shook its head as if in a daze, before he vaulted forward and caught the shield on its downward arc, slung it onto his back and ran as fast as he could down the street. He could feel the heat of an exploding rocket right at his heels and knew that Iron Man was following.

"He's—Iron Man is attacking civilians. I'm leading him away from the crowd down 59th. Hawkeye," Steve said into his comm, "do you think you have anything that can disable the armor?"

A pause before Clint replied, "Yeah, I think I got something. Just keep him occupied while I get into position."

That was easier said than done but, "Get here fast, would you?"

*

No one should be able to run that fast, Tony thought to himself as he flew after Captain America. He tried anticipating his trajectory, but Steve was unpredictable, turning in zigzags, leaping and jumping and swinging from lampposts like a particularly patriotic acrobat.

“Sir, my protocols are dictating me to intervene. I believe Sir has been compromised and should not be taking this course of action,” JARVIS interjected. Suddenly his arms were at his sides, systems shutting down, and he was landing on the street.

NO, that is not what you should be doing, a voiced hissed.

“Run-down base systems, disable JARVIS AI personality uplink, vocal recognition override code 429-7-Skynet-1,” Tony said without inflection.

The HUD wavered, a protesting “Sir—“ before it cut off and everything went dark. A second later, the display returned, visual capabilities restored, just in time to see Captain America coming towards him to punch him in the face.

Tony was thrown backwards into a car, ow, how the fuck, before he tore off the crushed car door and threw it at Steve. Seriously, what was this guy’s deal, he was just trying to kill him, he should’ve died seventy years ago anyway.

God, he really hated this man, he told himself as he stalked towards him, firing shot after shot only for Steve to avoid it or deflect it with his shield. A good man, a great man, his father had said. But, no, he was arrogant, pompous, self-righteous, disappointing.

Or wasn’t it you that was the disappointment, Tony?

Steve threw his shield at Tony, and wow, that one-trick pony had gotten old real fast, Tony stepping to the side to avoid it as it swept past his torso. He smirked to himself, before it was all ruined when the shield came from behind and hit the back of his neck. He fell forward to his knees, suddenly dizzy, and then Steve was there in front of him, bracing his hands on Tony’s shoulders to pull him to his feet, “Stark, are you okay?”

You idiot, you big idiot, Tony wanted to scream.

A gauntlet closed around Steve’s throat and Tony stood up, staring at the man as he held him in the air, grappling at Tony’s grip, gasping Tony’s name.

“Tony—Tony, you have to fight it—,” he choked out, his voice rasping.

Yes, that’s it, Stark. The symbol of all your father’s accomplishments, his legacy, and all your shortcomings.

“Tony—“

Iron Man dug his fingers deeper into Steve’s throat.

*

To be honest, this part was familiar. The chaos of explosions, the sound of buildings collapsing around him, even the eerie blue glow of the enemies' guns—Steve could almost think it was just another HYDRA mission, still the same war, and that he hadn't been away for seventy years. But then he'd catch a glimpse of a familiar building, a landmark that had been there since his time, a street sign saying 50th and 7th, and he'd remember it was his city under attack, his home.

Tony—no, the Iron Man had stopped chasing him and made an unexpected landing, and that was another new thing too. No matter how advanced HYDRA's weapons were, they were nothing compared to Tony's armor, the starkest (ha ha, Steve could almost hear Tony laughing at the unintended pun) example of the world of tomorrow. His flight as he came down was weird, and Steve wondered—hoped—if this was a sign that Tony was coming to his senses.

Still, it wouldn’t do to take chances. A blow to the head, was it? He dashed forward before Iron Man caught his bearings and landed his strongest punch on forehead of the helmet, sending him back into a car. Iron Man quickly recovered though, and yanked the car door to throw it at Steve. He ducked, and tried a second time, deliberately aiming for the building behind him to have the shield hit him on rebound.

Steve dashed forward as Tony fell to his knees, couldn’t help worrying if that was too hard and he’d hurt Tony too badly, surely that was enough. Without thinking, he ran forward and knelt in front of him, and—

That was not my best idea, he thought as metal fingers closed around his neck.

Steve scrabbled at the grip, and tried finding purchase on the ground but failing, the toes of his boots brushing the concrete. He gasped, the edges of his vision blurring, his pulse roaring in his ears—

Then, a bullet hit Iron Man from behind and made him turn around for a second, and in the distance Steve caught a glimpse of Natasha down the block, gun aimed at them both. Steve took that small distraction to bring down his forearm on Tony’s elbow, before pulling himself up to bring his knee to Tony’s face. Iron Man’s grip slackened, just enough for Steve to drop himself on the ground and aim a sweeping kick at his feet. Tony fell to the ground but quickly held his hands up, his palms aimed at Steve, who grabbed the shield just in time to block the shot.

The force of the repulsor fire at point-blank range sent Steve backward, and he somersaulted into the fall. A sharp sting on his knee, as additional repulsor fire grazed him. The volley had hit the damaged supports of a building entrance behind him, which gave a great heave as it collapsed in on itself.

This was all taking too long. He wasn't getting anywhere; his best hope was close combat, hand to hand, but Iron Man had varied his tactics, keeping out of his immediate range so that Steve could only duck as bullets rained from overhead. He looked at Tony, then at the squadron of Chitauri stalking towards them both, and knew he had to do something drastic fast.

He stood and jumped on the hood of the car, launching himself at Iron Man, holding his shield in front of him to impact with the back of the helmet. A dizzying sensation as they crashed together, and then Steve quickly locked his arms around Iron Man's neck in a chokehold, mostly futile what with the armor and all, but it threw Tony off-balance, judging from his suddenly erratic flight pattern, and he fired his repulsors in front of him to compensate for the added weight of Steve on his back. He did a violent spin in mid-air to shake him off, but Steve held on tight.

"Cap, I'm on your six. He's gonna smear you to the side of that building if you don't get off him fast," Clint said on comm.

Steve turned around, where he saw Clint taking aim from a window on the fourth floor of a building. Iron Man was speeding up, flying backwards, the concrete face of a wall suddenly looming in front of him. He climbed on Tony's shoulders and vaulted himself onto a building ledge, the wind knocked out of him where his torso hit the parapet. He pulled himself up to stand on the ledge while a buzzing noise sounded behind him, and he turned in time to see Iron Man freeze in mid-air, surrounded by electric sparks and an arrow sticking out of his back. Then he stilled, and dropped like a stone to the street below, crushing a car on his landing.

Steve went inside the building through a broken glass window and ran down the stairs, leaping down several steps at a time. "What d'you hit him with?"

"An EMP. SHIELD's been developing ways on how to disable the Iron Man armor in case Stark ever went rogue."

Steve pressed the comm to his ear and tightened his hold on his shield as he emerged from the building. "Cover me, I'm going to check his condition."

*

For some reason, he suddenly remembered the first time he’d met Steve.

Well, not the first time. This was the guy my dad never shut up about, he’d told Bruce, but what he didn’t say was, this was the guy his dad told stories about when he was a kid, in kind, admiring tones, one of the few times he could remember his dad talking to him instead of berating him. So he asked his dad for story after story, just to hear him talk like that for a while longer. And when his dad had deemed him too old for fairy tales, Tony held on to Captain America because, well, his dad had given Cap to him, right? Cap was his now, to fight evil-doers and go on adventures with, just like the ones he had with Tony’s dad.

So yeah, Tony had felt like he’d known Steve Rogers since he was a kid. When he heard about what SHIELD fished out of the water, he had JARVIS hack into the SHIELD’s HQ in New York and play AC/DC on the intercoms until they let him see Steve, because why was he finding out about what his company’s arctic expedition found a full week after they got him from the ice, a full day after he’d woken up?

Fury called back an hour later, Thunderstruck playing in the background, and told Tony he could see Steve, but if he ever pulled a stunt like that again, he would call in Natasha and have her maim him in the most colorful way she could come up with. Tony felt mildly impressed at how effective that threat was, but the trick worked, he was getting to meet Captain America.

“Captain Rogers is currently off-site, and should be back in 1900 hours,” Fury continued. “Try not to traumatise a historic national icon, will you?”

For one of the few times in his life, Tony had felt nervous. He kissed Pepper on the way out of the Tower, telling her he had a thing with some guy, had Happy drive him to Midtown and then flashed his consultant badge at the front desk, where a surly looking attendant had glared at him and led the way. Come on, some people just had no taste, AC/DC at full volume was practically a gift—

He turned the corner and blinked. The old newsreels, the vintage trading cards (Coulson wasn’t the only one who had a set), none of it prepared him for seeing the man in the flesh. Except…

Except this guy looked young, so painfully young, much younger than the image of the man Tony had built up in his head, the one he spent his entire childhood hero-worshipping. He looked up when Tony came in, a surprised expression on his face, and said, “Mr Stark.”

“Captain,” he replied.

Then Rogers smiled, wide and genuine, before, “So, they tell me you’re Howard’s kid?”

Tony—Tony couldn’t help it. He bristled. He’s had decades of getting used to people reacting that way, of people looking at him and seeing his father. Years of people (Obie) telling him what Howard Stark had accomplished and how Tony fell short of those expectations. So what was he expecting? That Steve Rogers would know all that and treat him differently? 

(But Cap always knew how to make him feel better.

He hoped none of that showed on his face.

“Yep, and you’re the Star-Spangled Man with The Plan,” he said. “You’re much cuter than your file made you look.”

Rogers blushed. “I—thanks? Err, you’re also very handsome. You, I mean, you look a lot like your dad,” he finished lamely, looking a bit sheepish.

Tony rolled his eyes. “I thought the flirting would offend you enough to derail you.”

“What?”

“So you’re alright that I think you’re really cute?”

The man was still blushing, but he'd barrelled on. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Uhuh. Did they even know about homosexuality back in the 40s?”

Rogers’ eyes widened. “What—what does have to do with anything—”

“Have they given you a presentation on what’s considered socially acceptable in the 21st century yet?”

“No, they’ve been too busy trying to make sure I won’t have a breakdown first,” Rogers said. His tone had a hint of annoyance in it, and he continued, “derail me from what?”

Meanwhile Tony was trying (and failing) to remember all the reasons why he had set this meeting up. “Cap, I don’t actually like talking about my dad, or did they not have a note like that in my file?”

“You don’t like Howard?” asked Rogers, surprise evident in his voice, as if he couldn’t believe that his friend could have been an awful father. It made Tony angry, and yeah, that wasn’t fair to Rogers at all, but he just thought…

“If that surprises you, you knew a different guy than I did.”

Tony opened his mouth to say something else, before he stopped, and said, “Good meeting you, Cap.” Then he stormed out the door, and the last thing he saw as he left was a confused expression on Steve Rogers’ face.

*

Experiencing catastrophic systems failure, initiating systems reboot.

Tony, a sing-song voice whispered in his head.

nononogetoutgetoutgetoutgetOUT

The whole world felt upside-down.

Creepy manic laughter. He could feel his skin crawl.

Systems reboot in progress, 19 per cent.

For a second his skull felt like splitting in two.

getoutGETOUT

It felt like a heavy, dank fog was lifting from his mind. Everything hurt, but the voice and the laughter had grown faint, and everything was so much more—

Systems reboot in progress, 47 per cent.

What had happened? The last thing he remembered was—

The last thing he remembered was a sharp point on his chest, and a sudden enveloping cold.

Systems reboot in progress, 82 per cent. Restoring heads-up display.

It was all suddenly brighter, numbers and data scrolling past him on the HUD.

"Stark!"

Systems reboot complete. "Life support systems indicate that you are conscious, sir?"

"Yeah, JARVIS. Are—are you okay?" Tony remembered the last few hours like broken pieces of film, and shit, had he really done that to JARVIS? He had written that Skynet override half as a precaution but mostly as a joke, for fuck's sake.

"Sir’s override code was terminated in the system reboot and my uplink was properly restored.”

“What happened?” 

A pause, as though JARVIS was carefully considering the wording of his answer. “Sir was compromised. Captain Rogers should be able to explain in greater detail."

Without warning, his faceplate opened, and suddenly his field of vision was comprised entirely of blond hair and very, very blue eyes. He groaned.

"Tony!" Steve was kneeling in front of him, and he was lying on his back on the street, and wow, fuck, everything hurts.

(Everything was coming back. The memories were arranging and assembling themselves, slotting into place, and with each image that cleared, the more Tony wanted to return to not remembering.)

"Are you—is it you?" Steve asked. Cap looked a tad dishevelled, a bit worse for wear than when he'd seen him last on the Helicarrier.

"It feels like I got in a fist fight with my own brain." Tony sat up. He didn't look too hot himself, and his left-shoulder arsenal was completely spent. He tried hard not to think of the reason why. "How—how long was I under?"

Steve let out a relieved sigh. "Since the attack started. You’ve been out for ten minutes. How much do you remember?"

Tony looked at Steve, at the purpling bruises on his throat—"I remember enough," he replied, curbing his internal screaming long enough to reply, and hoped that Steve left it at that for now. He'd take look at what his feelings were doing later. "What d'you do to me?"

"Black Widow recommended hitting you on the head, so we dropped you seventeen stories from midair."

Despite everything, Tony couldn't help the small chuckle that escaped him. "Knew I could count on you to have my back."

"Cut the chatter guys, I can't cover you indefinitely," Clint said on the comm.

"D'you think you can fight?" Steve helped him to his feet and fixed a steely gaze on him, all resolve and unspoken questions.

Blood, so much blood, and he didn't know how he'll ever wash it off.

Do you trust yourself to fight? hung unasked in the air, but Tony nodded anyway. "Yeah, I can fight."

*

Can you fight, he asked Tony, though Steve already knew the answer, and he knew Tony would have to face a whole new host of demons, but he would just have to do it later. This was war and Steve had led people before, was familiar with the different ways people compartmentalised, closing off certain parts of themselves, like a tourniquet to staunch blood loss. To survive the now and deal with it later, in the unlikely chance there was a later.

For Tony, compartmentalising meant replacing the expression of despair (realisation) on his face with one of grim determination.

They stood back to back as a horde of Chitauri foot-soldiers swarmed them, Steve bashing one on the head with his shield and ducking as Tony shot repulsor fire over his shoulder. But for every one they incapacitated, there were three more firing at him and Tony, blue whizzing past his head by inches.

"Tony!" he shouted, braced himself and poised the shield in front of him, and Tony turned towards him and gave an infinitesimal nod. He aimed a continuous repulsor beam at the shield, and Steve turned, deflecting it to hit all the opponents in their immediate radius.

A roar directed both their attention skyward, where a huge…thing flew out of the portal. God, he was going to have to give Fury another ten after all this was over. "Are you seeing this, Stark?"

Tony elbowed one of the Chitauri in the face before taking a pause, putting his faceplate up. "Seeing...still working on believing. Has Banner shown up? We need him if we're gonna win this."

Steve nodded, and didn't say that they needed Tony too. "No, but I'll keep you posted. You think you can distract that thing?"

The faceplate fell back down with a clunk. "Poke the giant space centipede, right, on it, Cap."

*

So they worked as a team, and Bruce showed up like Tony knew he would, and the team's capacity for destruction went up some several levels.

"Call it Cap," Tony said, and tried not to think how many of the bodies below were there courtesy of yours truly.

There was anger in his veins, both at himself and at Loki, that little shit, and he directed it to newly spirited methods of destroying the enemy.

He flew in circles as aliens exploded around him, debris marking deep furrows in his armor (he doesn't even try to lie to himself that perhaps he was being more reckless than usual).

Then Fury's voice was in his ear, telling him about the nuke headed for New York, so he put his thrusters on full to meet it head-on and flew a nuclear bomb towards an alien portal.

"Stark, you know that's a one-way trip."

Maybe—maybe that wasn't the point.

Tony didn't answer, told JARVIS not to bother calling Pepper because he didn't know if he could talk to her if she picked up, if he deserved to have her voice be the last thing he heard before his repulsor jets sputtered and died, and he fell, fell, fell—

It had to be at least some ways towards redemption if he managed to save the city from his father's creation (and at this he wasn't sure if he was talking about the bomb).