Steve watches Tony swan out of the meeting room, poking at a tablet with gloved hands. He's dressed in a custom-tailored suit that probably costs more than Steve can rationally think about – it would have to be custom; the jacket is far thicker than any other suit jacket Steve's ever seen, and he finds himself envious of how warm it looks even as he's irritated by that exact same fact. Tony is flaunting his wealth even as he shoves Steve's own weakness back in his face, and Steve wonders, for the umpteenth time, what the hell the other man's problem is. He'd been quick enough to accept and dismiss Steve's apologies after the invasion, even offering his own apology in turn for what he'd said while under the Sceptre's influence. Now Steve wonders if the sincerity Tony had shown then had really just been more sarcasm.
Bruce catches his eye as they both stand, following in Tony's footsteps rather more slowly. "Sorry," he offers quietly. "I tried talking to him, but..." he shrugs, as if to say, You know how he is.
Steve does, and he sighs. "It's fine. I need to talk to him myself."
This has gone on long enough – ever since August gave way to September, and now it's nearly the end of October. If his teammates are feeling the need to intervene, then it's past time that Steve confront the situation.
And frankly, trying to just ignore Tony's callous teasing, hoping that he'll get bored with it, is grating on Steve's nerves. Tony teases people, Steve knows that. But there're things you have to respect about other people, boundaries that you don't cross, and Steve's had it with Tony infringing on this one.
Before Steve can go looking for Tony, Tony comes to him.
Steve's sitting on the couch, playing Tetris. It's not that he's putting off the ensuing confrontation, he's just... getting in the mind-set for it. As Bruce had explained when he'd introduced the game to Steve, being unable to win also meant you couldn't lose. You just did the best you could. It was sort of meditative, listening to the music and shutting out everything but falling blocks.
"Hey, Capsicle," says Tony from behind him, breaking his concentration. Steve hits pause, barely refraining from grinding his teeth. That nick-name, too? How damn petty could the man get?
"Really, Stark?" he asks, barely managing to keep his tone even.
Tony's eyebrows shoot up. "Last names, huh? What's got your panties in a bunch now, Captain?"
"I've had enough," Steve replies, putting the controller down so he can stand and face Tony fully. "You've succeeded, okay? You've gotten on my nerves. Really thoroughly. So just stop."
Tony's expression is very strange for a moment, but then it clears as he slips on the cool, devil-may-care smile that he uses on the press. "Right. Well, extended exposure to my presence does have that effect, I know – too much concentrated awesome in a small space of time – but hey, you don't have to worry, I was actually coming to let you know that I'm heading back to Malibu for the next few months, so you'll be free and clear of me."
Steve's thrown off-track. "You're heading back to Malibu?"
"Is there an echo in here? Yes, Malibu, land of warm winters and sunny skies," Tony says, a touch of impatience slipping out from behind his mask. "You think I want to stick around here while New York gets frozen in smog-colored sleet? This is why people have homes in California. Don't worry, the suit's top speed means I'll still be nearby if you need me – "
"You just can't leave it alone, can you?" Steve interrupts him, cold and furious. He shifts his weight forward, blocked from actually taking a step – from getting in Stark's space, the same damn way Tony keeps getting in his – by the couch between them. Even so, Tony leans back slightly; Steve has a lot of inches on him. Good, he thinks viciously. The only times Tony seems to listen to him are when he gets right up in his face – why the hell does Stark have to be so damn difficult?
"I lost my entire life to the ice," Steve spits, all the hurt of the past few weeks welling up in him and given words before he can pause to consider them. "And I'm sorry that your own is so pathetic that you feel the need to mock that. But if you need to go so far in taunting me about it that you'll up and move for a couple of months at a time, then maybe you should just stay away."
Tony's expression is blank for a long moment, during which Steve dares to hope that he's made his point, even as he immediately begins to regret the harsh way he'd done it. He knows Tony has his – issues. He really should have addressed this earlier, before he got so wound up about it that he'd lashed out, but – well, Tony isn't the type to back down easily, and Bruce had said he'd already tried talking to Tony about it. Maybe this is the only way. If Tony's going to be cruel enough to taunt Steve about this, then he's going to have to put up with getting some back.
"Right, Captain," Tony says brightly, as if the awkward pause had never happened. He shoves his (gloved) hands in the pockets of his sweater – they call them ‘hoodies' these days, Steve knows – and smirks. But it's the exact same smirk that Tony gives Nick on those rare occasions when Fury's thoroughly outmaneuvered him, and Steve feels the little bud of hope bloom, ever so slightly – until Tony's next words crush it. "Yeah, if this is going to be – yeah, probably a good idea. Jarvis," he doesn't look away from Steve as he says this, "prep the house, I'm leaving early – have my stuff shipped on the plane, I'll just take the suit now," and as Jarvis answers back in the affirmative, Tony is turning and leaving, brushing past Clint, who is standing in the doorway. Steve hadn't even noticed him arrive. For a moment, Clint looks like he wants to grab Tony, stop him from walking away, but instead he lets him go.
Steve's mouth twists. He's not happy to have had an audience – praise should be given in public, but remonstrations in private. Clint frowns at him, but doesn't say anything, just shakes his head and leaves.
Steve sinks back down onto the couch, but doesn't pick up the controller again. His concentration is broken, and stays that way, interrupted by the nagging need to let Fury know of this most recent upset. He can't bring himself to be sorry, even if kicking Tony off the team isn't his call to make – he should have consulted with Nick first, he knows. But if Tony can't manage to not act like an asshole all the damn time, then no matter how much of an asset the Iron Man suit is, Tony's going to be detriment to the team.
He's drowning, but his body isn't screaming for air – air is a distant, unimaginable thing – but for heat. For warmth. True warmth, not the false fire that screams up his limbs, a cold so deep that it burns. Debris pins him in place, keeps him from generating even the meager heat that thrashing about would create. His head swims as he tries to think through the cold; his feet have already gone completely numb –
Steve wakes with a rushed intake of breath, his eyes opening to the pitch black of his room. His feet are – not numb, thankfully, although they are cold. He's managed to pull his blanket up too much, again – although it's enormously wide, and at least ten feet long, it's still not big enough to huddle under as fully as he'd like. The room may be climate-controlled, but there's something about having a thick comforter on top of you to keep you warm, so by request Jarvis keeps it somewhat chilly while he sleeps so that he can snuggle under the blankets without overheating... which is nice, except for how his feet keep getting uncovered in the middle of the night.
The dreams had stopped being so frequent after he moved into the Tower, but the advent of colder weather brought them back again. Tony's teasing hasn't helped, either; having it shoved in his face all the time has left it preying on his mind. Steve breathes in and out, feeling his racing heartbeat return to normal. Maybe with Tony indefinitely in Malibu, the dreams will start to go away again.
Fury had not been impressed when Steve had informed him of that development yesterday – but apparently he'd had other concerns to deal with, because he'd merely given Steve a gimlet stare and promised (threatened; Steve's aware that Nick is usually a tad softer around him than with the rest of the team, but not this time) to send Coulson to deal with the situation. Steve likes Coulson - now that the other man has gotten over his hero-worship and started to see Steve as a person - but he only manages to successfully wrangle Tony about half the time.
"Jarvis?" Steve calls out after a moment, when the room doesn't brighten on its own. Since Tony left yesterday, Jarvis hasn't spoken to Steve at all, when before they'd gotten along pretty well – Steve thought it was because Steve treated him like a person, instead of a computer. He doesn't really understand why Coulson and Fury – and to a lesser extent, Clint and Natasha – insist on treating Jarvis as anything but a person. Clearly, he has a mind the equal of (at the very least) any human. Unfortunately for Steve at the moment, that also means he is fully capable of feeling whatever emotions are fueling his current recalcitrance. Not that Steve would ever begrudge Jarvis his sentience, but he does dislike the way that there isn't even a light switch in his room; it's hard being so fully dependent on someone who is currently angry at him.
But what is he supposed to do? He feels oddly like he should be apologizing to Jarvis, but for what? He didn't say anything to Tony that didn't need to be said.
Well, perhaps he could have said it a bit differently, he admits to himself, as the lights finally come on – a bit too dim, but enough to see by, so he won't push his luck. No doubt Jarvis could do a whole lot more to make him feel unwelcome, if sufficiently riled.
"Thanks," he says softly, and the lights glow a bit brighter, and simultaneously a bit softer, in response. It feels almost like sympathy – but Jarvis still says nothing.
He goes through the rest of his morning routine in silence, without Jarvis's usual mild commentary on the weather, the location of his teammates, or the day's scheduled baseball games. It's disquieting, not having Jarvis to talk to – Jarvis's voice is soothingly British, but has just enough of an electronic accent to remind Steve that the future is his present, AIs are real, and there is no Santa Claus. It is with some relief that Steve finally exits the Tower for his morning run.
The relief fades as soon as the first gust of cold air hits his face. He's wearing long sweats, instead of the shorts and t-shirts he'd preferred during the summer, and he knows his body will warm itself as he runs, but that doesn't make breathing the chilly, pre-dawn air any easier. For a moment he fiercely envies Tony, able to pack up and move to California on a moment's whim, and resentment boils in his gut at the way the other man had casually thrown that in his face.
Steve breathes in, deep. The air is chilly in his throat; he makes himself feel it. He breathes out, and lets the anger flow with it, like his therapist taught him. If Steve wanted to go to California or Texas or Florida, SHIELD would oblige him, he reminds himself. He'd chosen to stay here because New York is his home, and he's not going to be chased from it by something as insignificant as a bit of cold weather.
By the time he's completed his run, some two hours later, he's sweating, and New York has come alive. Smartly dressed businessmen and -women hurry by on the sidewalk, next to construction workers heading to the repair sites. The crowd is thick enough that Steve slows to a jog instead of keeping up his usual pace, which anyone else save Thor would consider a sprint. Steve likes running: he hadn't been able to run very well before the serum, with his asthma and his bum leg, and being able to outrun cars – well, that never gets old.
He gets a couple of appreciative glances, along with a few glares from people who bump into him, but almost nobody tries to stop him. That's one of the things Steve likes so much about New York: superhero, celebrity, or otherwise, the people here have seen it all. By the time he jogs up the steps of the Tower, he's only been asked for his autograph once, by a pleasant young man who had thanked sincerely him for his efforts saving the city, and not pressed him for anything more than a quick signature.
The inside of the Tower is busier than it usually is at this time of day. As Steve crosses the lobby, he offers his usual greeting to the receptionists, but he only gets a distracted nod from Marla, who is holding a phone to her ear. Bettany and Tim ignore him entirely - they're also busy with phones, and people are standing in front of them at the desks. Near the main elevator bank – the penthouse elevator is off to the side, but it's being suspiciously slow to respond this morning, and his hearing was phenomenal even before the serum – Steve catches snippets of conversation from well-dressed employees sipping no-doubt-complicated coffees from paper cups.
" – just leave on a moment's notice. I wish I could do that."
"R&D must be thanking god that we don't all have to pack up and move, too. You remember when he first moved out to LA?"
"Oh, yeah, who could forget Stane's face? He sure knows how to drop bombs at press conferences."
"Uh-huh. I can stand to get up early today if I don't have to spend the entire day packing up my office."
"Yeah – funny how you get to be thinking, ‘thank god, this is pretty tame' once you start working here."
"Alien invasions really screw up your sense of scale!"
"Only in New York! We just gotta hope that some senator has an affair, soon, and gets Jameson to stop writing those stupid editorials about the boss – "
"- you mean the boss's boytoy, now," a third suit interrupted with a laugh. "Thank god for Pepper Potts – "
The private penthouse elevator arrives, giving a discreet ‘ding' from its hiding spot in the corner, and Steve steps in, letting the doors close and cut off the conversation. It's unnerving to think about, the way Tony moving could stir up all these people – not even because it affected their work, but just because people like to watch what he’s doing and comment on it. Is that why Tony keeps needling Steve? If a guy got used to being the center of attention all his life - but, no, most of the time when Steve pays attention to Tony, the other man gets annoyed at him for interrupting his work... and Steve knows it isn’t just him; Tony’s like that with any of the Avengers who come down to the lab, except Bruce. But when the man spends almost all his waking time in the lab, how else were they supposed to ever talk to him? Granted, Steve interrupts him the most – the others have mostly given up.
A shower later, Steve heads to the communal kitchen for breakfast. A part of him wants to just make something simple in his own kitchenette. Breakfasting in the common kitchen has been awkward for weeks, with Tony there (Tony, surprisingly, actually gets up about as early as Steve – even though Steve doesn't think Tony's ever gone to bed before 3AM, in all the time he's known him. But SCIENCE! doesn't wait for sleep, although apparently it will wait for coffee. Coffee is the only reason Tony ever visits the communal kitchen, or so he's sworn on several occasions, citing the superiority of that kitchen's espresso machine over the one in his lab. Steve, as always with Tony, has never been quite sure how much the other man is joking). Tony, who wears scarves – both finely knitted ones, and dorky cheap knock-offs that look ridiculous when paired with his custom-tailored suits – and hats, even indoors. For the past few weeks he's been constantly wearing gloves, but a few mornings he's even worn mittens, as if Steve wouldn't notice the gloves all on their own. Once he even came down draped in a blanket, and at the sight of it Steve had to get up and take his plate of scrambled eggs elsewhere, lest he say something he regret.
Now he wishes he hadn't. Maybe if he'd said something sooner, he wouldn't have been quite so harsh yesterday. But still – Tony can dish it out, but he can't take it? All the issues in the world aren't an excuse for just plain being mean. There's a point at which a person has to be responsible for their own actions.
Voices coming from the kitchen pull him from yet another examination of yesterday's argument, and other ways it might have gone. " – confirmed this?" That's Coulson's voice, which is somewhat surprising – Steve would have thought he'd be in Malibu, trying to deal with Tony. Tony may be occasionally impossible to deal with, but it's not like Phil to give up that fast... which means that he thinks there's something here at the Tower that needs to be handled first.
Steve wants to groan. Of course Phil has to hear all sides of the issue to properly deal with it, but after weeks of constant reminders of the cold, Steve wants nothing more than to be done with it – even if that means Tony will be gone for months. Honestly, he'll miss the man, even if he won't miss the cruelty that Tony's been displaying these past weeks. But putting off talking to Coulson won't do much good.
"He didn't deny it, which is – " Clint cuts himself off a moment before Steve enters the kitchen, which is all the confirmation that Steve needs of the topic of their conversation.
"No need to stop on my account," Steve says wryly, pouring himself a mug of chocolate milk and sticking it in the microwave to make some quick hot chocolate. Ordinarily he'd just drink juice, but if he's going to be debriefed on this now, he'd prefer to have a hot drink ready to wrap his hands about, and he doesn't want to wait for the water to boil for tea. A few seconds later – Steve is given to understand, by virtue of Tony's pre-coffee rambles, that most microwaves don't work this fast, but apparently SCIENCE! had happened to this one at some point – he pulls out the now steaming-hot drink, and takes a careful sip. He burns his tongue, but it will heal fast enough, and the heat provides welcome comfort.
He's aware of Clint and Phil's eyes on him while he does this, assessing. It's a look that he'd gotten used to long before the ice, so it's easy to ignore. When he turns back around and fixes them with his best neutral look, Phil inclines his head and Clint shrugs.
"Jarvis, play the first of those clips I grabbed," Clint says to the ceiling. He hasn't gotten the hang of not needing to direct his voice at something, the way Steve has, following Tony and Pepper's examples. Steve suspects it's because Clint doesn't engage Jarvis in casual conversation.
The door of the fridge shimmers a bit and turns into a TV screen. Most of the surfaces in the Tower can become touch-screens at a moment's notice, which, as Steve's said to Tony, is pretty nifty. The future might not have jetpacks, but there're a lot of things it does have that none of the old masters of sci-fi had ever imagined.
On the screen is the team from a few weeks ago, when, on their way to a press conference, they'd been ambushed by even more reporters just outside the Tower. The footage is from the security cameras, not from that taken by any of the news networks – this is obvious not only from the lack of newsfeeds at the bottom of the screen, but also from the viewpoint. Tony takes his security very seriously – no reporter would ever be able to get that angle.
The camera is focused on one of the foremost reporters, who is standing far too close to Tony, practically shoving her microphone in his face. Tony being Tony, he's actually leaning forward into it, reaching up to take her microphone and purr something no doubt filled with innuendo, when something catches his attention and he leans back, shoving his hands into his pockets. The clip repeats. There's no sound.
"I see," Phil murmurs, apparently catching something that Steve doesn’t.
Steve shoots a questioning look at Clint, but it's Jarvis who answers – still non-verbally. Instead a part of the video brightens, highlighting Tony's hands, and then Steve sees it – Tony's hands are shaking slightly as they reach for the microphone, right before he shoves his hands into his pockets and starts projecting personal space so strongly the reporter quickly backs away a step, as if he'd actually pushed her. Although Tony's eyes don't flicker down, Steve knows suddenly that what Tony had gotten distracted by was his own trembling hands.
Steve remembers that day. It had been cloudy, with a bitter edge to the air, which was colder than he'd felt since waking from the ice. Unprepared and thus a bit underdressed for the change in weather, he'd been in a poor mood himself, feeling the cold creep over him – he hadn't noticed that there was something wrong with Tony at the time.
"What's wrong with him?" he asks, frowning in concern.
"Same thing that's wrong with you," Clint returns, matching his frown – but with irritation instead of concern.
Steve is skeptical, and he lets himself show it. If there was ever a man who was the exact opposite of ‘left behind by the future', that man would be named Tony Stark. Tony invents six impossible things before breakfast, and then complains (over coffee, or occasionally weird green gloop; Steve has tried cooking him breakfast, and so have Clint and Bruce, but apparently Tony has a ‘thing' about ‘solids' in the morning) about how the rest of the world is falling behind the times.
"We all forgot about Afghanistan," Phil says. "Except for Agent Barton." He nods at Clint.
If that was supposed to be explanatory, Steve thinks, he's still not getting it. It's a familiar sensation these days and he's learned, by force of repetition, not to get annoyed by feeling it. "I thought the anniversary of that came and went already," he says, letting his confusion show here, in private with two friends, like he wouldn't in public.
If this is something to do with Afghanistan, then – Steve hopes that Tony is alright, alone in his big empty house in Malibu. Was that why he was being an asshole – trying to drive Steve and the others away? Steve's noticed, and Tony's file also mentioned, that when Tony's hurting he tries to go off alone by himself, like a wounded animal preparing to die – which is the worst sort of thing he could do, but then, one only has to see Tony pre-coffee in the mornings to know that although he really is a genius, he's also a complete idiot sometimes. If that was what was going on... well, it wouldn't excuse his behaviour, but it would explain it.
On the other hand, Afghanistan alone being a problem... doesn't actually explain anything.
The files on his teammates make Steve so angry sometimes. Thor's is, thankfully, actually rather fun, written by somebody with a subtle but pervasive sense of humour. The phrasing is just so as to remind Steve of some epic ballad, but not so much that the writer would have gotten called out over it. Too, almost everything in it, aside from mentions of Loki, is pretty light-hearted - Thor's a fun guy.
Bruce's file, on the other hand, makes Steve's blood boil. The way that the man has been betrayed and hunted by the military is completely inexcusable, and whenever he's reminded of it, Steve has to hope like hell that he never meets General Ross, because the day he does is the day he punches a three-star general in the face.
Natasha's file makes something in his gut feel queasy. Much of it is blacked out, but there's enough there for Steve to know just how young she was when she started, what she'd been forced to do as a child – and he can't bring himself to ask whether the American government had (or, even worse: has) a similar program, because his teammates might all think he's an idealist, but he's not out of touch with reality (and even if he was, Bruce's file would bring it home right quick). He knows his government can do evil. But with all awful things that USA or its presidents have done since he was frozen – and he knows, he forgives his country that because he has to, because people are people and people make mistakes – he can't bring himself to believe that they wouldn't. But he also can't muster the bravery to destroy the illusion that there is yet one line left uncrossed.
Clint's file is easier reading, but that might just be because it's more selectively blacked out: missions that were shady, or which went wrong, and Steve doesn't know which it is and doesn't have the clearance to find out. He does know that Clint's been tortured at least once, but he's pretty sure he's never been in the other chair, the one asking questions and breaking fingers, and Steve is angry that he's thankful for that – that that is a thing to be thankful for, instead of something just automatically assumed.
Tony's file is, next to Thor's, the easiest for Steve. It's one of the longest, but the vast bulk of it is mostly an accounting of Tony's various inventions and interactions with the military, along with a great deal of intel on his company, which threatens to send Steve to sleep every time he reads it. He's looking at brilliance, he knows, but it's a bit hard to appreciate it when it's up close and personal and totally incomprehensible.
It's really only the first section that's difficult: the brief synopsis on Howard. Steve was surprised, and bit wary, when he first heard that Howard had a kid. Howard had been a great friend – one of the most loyal men that Steve had ever met, as well as one of the smartest, and he'd had a sense of humour to rival Bucky's – but he was a scientist first and foremost: an engineer who believed in testing to destruction. Even after all they went through together, all the gadgets that Howard had made for the Commandos, and all the times he'd flown transport for him – much to the dismay of the SSR – Howard had still sometimes looked at him as an experiment. Steve wonders how often Howard had fixed that clinical gaze on his son, tumbler of brandy in hand – because that was Howard's other real flaw, drinking too much – and winces when he thinks of his old friend as a father. Before he'd ever heard that Tony existed, he'd been told all about how Howard would spend months at a time off in the arctic, searching for Steve – and while it had deeply moved him at the time, once he'd learned that Howard was abandoning his young wife and son to go searching for the dead, Steve had been unable to view his actions in the same fond light.
The section of Tony's file that covers the arc reactor, and Afghanistan, wasn't – or hadn't been, but maybe it should be – one of the sections that made Steve want to punch the wall. Afghanistan in particular was a sparse section, apparently gathered entirely from quips that Tony had made later, as he'd refused to be debriefed; but it read like a tale from a penny-dreadful: the dashing, rich hero is captured by villains, but manages to daringly outwit them and escape, putting an end to their villainy in the process. His initial injuries had been terrible, Steve knows, but he also knows that Tony doesn't view the arc reactor as a weakness: it's exactly the opposite. He can't bring himself to feel regret for Tony's experiences, either, when they were clearly what turned him into the man he is today. Tony's file might be devoid of anything analyzing his personality (beyond a brief paragraph that discusses his textbook narcissism), but Steve knows that Tony quietly, deeply hates the person he used to be, and after some exposure to Tony's ‘in-public' personality, Steve had to admit he thinks the change was for the better, too.
Now, Steve feels himself preparing to change his mind, as he's so often had to do these days, when he receives so much new information, all the time, almost always in incomplete chunks (because they always expect him to have background that he's lacking), and disordered despite SHIELD's best efforts. Clearly he's missed something to do with Afghanistan, if Phil and Clint are so concerned about it.
"Not the anniversary, the cold," Clint explains.
"I thought Afghanistan was a desert."
"Deserts get pretty fucking cold at night," Clint says. "And I've been in some of those caves – heated, they ain't."
"You've pulled more clips?" Phil asks, as Steve's eyes widen.
He barely hears Clint reply, "Yeah. Jarvis, play the rain comparisons?" His own voice is the one echoing in his mind, replying his argument with Tony yet again, but this time showing them from a different perspective. Because if Tony wasn't mocking – if he genuinely doesn't like the cold, after spending three months in Afghanistan – then Steve's words... he winces. ‘Harsh' barely begins to cover it. And here he'd thought it was necessary.
Two videos play side-by-side on the fridge door, time-stamps on the bottom, both lacking sound. The one on the left is dated from July, and shows Tony standing on the roof of the Tower, holding a beer and standing in the rain. His head is tilted back and his tongue is out to catch raindrops. Steve remembers this – he'd been watching from the door, with amusement, as Tony refused to come inside after the storm that had been threatening all day broke. The rain was warm and his tech was all waterproof, he'd argued, teasing Steve about running away like the wicked witch of the west, afraid he'd melt. Steve is pretty sure that Tony had made that reference just because it was one that Steve would understand, and even now, it makes him smile, the subtle ways that Tony can be kind.
The second clip is from a few days ago, and shows Tony getting out of a car – it's footage from a news camera, filming Tony's arrival at some event or another. Happy's holding out an umbrella protectively as Tony gets out of the car, but there's a gust of wind and the umbrella slips, slightly, allowing some drops to fall directly onto Tony's face. He flinches, and Steve would put it down as just a normal reaction to the unexpected touch of cold water, but on the replay Steve looks closer, and there's something unusually tense about Tony's expression. It's hard to tell with his customary sunglasses hiding his eyes. Tony never goes anywhere in public without sunglasses, even at night, and Steve had put it down to eccentricity, but.
"He won't be happy you've compiled this," Phil says after a moment, and the video shuts off. "And he'll undoubtedly be keeping an eye on you now that he's gone, if he knows you know."
"You have a certain grace period, as Mr. Stark is currently unconscious on the floor of his Malibu lab," Jarvis announces, the first time that Steve has heard him talk since yesterday. Steve barely notices it; he's too busy turning over events in his mind, re-analyzing everything Tony's been doing for the past seven weeks. "Unfortunately, the current security directives are sufficiently redundant to prevent me from losing the footage of this conversation without drawing his attention."
Clint tosses a thumb drive across to Phil. "Be careful plugging that in, or he'll just hack it, too," he warns, and Phil nods and tucks it away.
"The bit about the water – what is that?" Steve asks, and he doesn't like the looks he gets from the other two in return. They're surprised, and Clint is disapproving.
"You haven't read his file?"
"Of course I have."
Clint frowns at this, but Phil suddenly looks understanding, and asks, "Where and when did you read it?"
"Before I met him. It was part of the package I was given to get caught up – files on people with superhuman abilities." The keywords for Tony Stark's extraordinary abilities were ‘non-mutant genius' and ‘supreme ego'; the Iron Man suit wasn't mentioned until the summary paragraph. He'd thought that strange, until he'd met the man.
"You got it on your tablet – not hardcopy?" Phil asks, and Steve nods, then immediately has to resist the urge to thunk his head on the table. Clint apparently has no such compunctions, and his head hits the surface with a metallic thud.
Of course Tony had hacked his own file. Steve should have known, right from the start, when it had made no attempt to fathom at the deeper issues that kept the man up at nights, drinking whisky straight from a bottle. More than once Steve had come back from a 3am workout to find Tony staring out the windows at the lights of New York, his expression much darker than the night outside. Why hadn't it occurred to him earlier to wonder at how SHIELD had obviously dropped the ball when writing that particular file? He'd seen the way that Stark and SHIELD hacked and counter-hacked each other (much to Jarvis' increasing irritation); he should have known that Stark would take a pick-ax to anything he didn't like in his own dossier.
"I'll bring you a hard copy when I come back," Phil says, standing. "I need to discuss this with Fury." He nods at them both, already on his way out the door.
"I owe him an apology, don't I?" Steve asks Clint.
Clint snorts. "You think?"