Steve is ready to sever Tony’s spinal cord when his lips move inside his helmet and he grunts out, “do it, Steve.” His mouth is slack and his eyes are dull and he’s not regrowing the helmet like he could. And it would be so easy, so easy to just end him (end them), to just let the shield fall –
It’s not even a taunt. It’s a request. Tony wants this, and somehow that’s worst.
He’s done. People are pulling him away. Everything is burning, and everyone is bleeding.
Steve is dropping his shield. Steve is crying. Steve is pulling off his cowl. Steve Rogers is holding his gloved hands out for cuffs.
Tony is probably still lying there, his faceplate smashed off. Bleeding. Fine.
This is the way. It is. This way, he’s removing a full half of the equation. This way, he can stop fucking it up even further. He knows this was all them, that everyone was looking to them to solve it. They broke it, their Avengers family, and maybe they were just stupid for thinking that they could ever sustain it for this long anyway, maybe –
Maybe Tony was right, and this was always going to happen. But it wasn’t about Tony, was it, it was about freedom and anonymity and wanting to believe that the world could still give him that, after all these years –
But it doesn’t matter, because here he is, being arrested, and led away to an armored van, and then to a cell that Tony has probably designed just for this eventuality. He’s done his part. It didn’t work. It backfired, really. He’s no longer responsible. This is Tony’s mess to clean up, now. Tony with his smartass mouth and his golden skin and his cold fucking heart, Tony with all the answers.
It was always about Tony.
Here I am, Tony. Giving up.
Steve tells himself he doesn’t care, as he’s led away in chains. He knows how this ends. He’s so very tired.
He’s so very tired.
The President offers Tony the job and he says yes, plasters on his very best disgusting press face, and says things like opportunity and talks about implementation and rebuilding and a new chapter and doesn’t look at anyone’s face.
He supposes this means he has to go see him, now. He’s a director now.
He ignores this for a while, and he settles for not thinking about anything. He works his face into sharper, cleaner expressions, works at erasing those damn facial cues that give him away, and he lets himself drift a little further inside himself every time a reporter asks him to comment. He lets the Extremis do the work, and he has never been so grateful for the relentless streams of data.
He’s got part of his brain monitoring public opinion on Captain America, and the pit in his stomach grows as he watches more and more news clips. The networks replay that clip with him crying over and over, and even now, they express admiration for what they’ve dubbed “his underdog spirit.” He’s always been the favorite. But Tony’s side won, and America busies itself with retconning current events to suit their apparently lawful sensibilities. The people want someone to pay for this mess, and he’s beginning to suspect it’s going to be Cap. They work treason and sedition into the conversation. There’s talk of the death penalty.
Tony wants to vomit.
Everyone is casting him as the fucking hero in this whole thing, and for once in his miserable life he doesn’t want the spotlight. He never thought he’d actually fuck up something this important to this irreparable extent, but there you are. Tony Stark, giant fucking traitor.
So as he much as he wants to hide himself away and crawl into a bottle, he can’t. Because he has to go see Captain America in his fancy prison before they sentence him.
He goes in his armor, because he’s sick of people looking at his face, and Maria Hill walks to meet him as he lands.
“Director Stark,” she says, and he can’t tell if she’s pleased or annoyed with him.
“Agent Hill,” he says. The faceplate stays down.
She looks like she wants to say something else, but he breezes past her like the self-important asshole he’s playing today, and leaves her standing on the platform in the rain.
He’s almost amused at the guards they try to send with him, stares them down for a few seconds. He knows how intimidating he looks in his armor. They don’t try to follow after that.
He moves down into the depths of the Helicarrier, which is his playground, now, apparently, and his steps get shorter as he approaches cell block C. He doesn’t know what he’s going to say, and thinks he maybe should have thought about it before he did this.
His sensors pick up the conversation before he can even see them.
“Son, I’m going to hang for treason,” says Steve to his guard.
Someone calls for due attention, because Tony’s important now, he has men who salute him. He asks for privacy. They oblige him.
Steve glares at him, fight in every inch of that chiseled jaw.
Tony wants to raise the faceplate and tell him he’s sorry. He wants to tell him that he’s working on a plan, that they aren’t going to hang Captain America, that he fucked everything up and he’s an idiot and god is he a fool. He wants Steve’s jaw to soften. He feels like a villain.
“What?” Steve spits at him.
The best-laid plans, Tony thinks. Tony leaves the faceplate down and tries defensive and righteous on for size. Tony is a coward today.
He lets Steve yell at him, quote fucking Mark Twain to him – could he be any more American? – berate him for letting the Extremis take over his brain. It’s an old hurt. Steve is looking to wound, and Tony has nothing left in him to throw, no reserve snark to fall back on. He takes it. He deserves this.
Steve is yelling at him. Steve is talking about principles and protecting and defending, and it hits Tony, again, that Steve is a better man than Tony will ever be, and that this is Tony’s fault. Steve is yelling at him, and he’s shaking with the force of it, and he knows just how to twist the knife to hurt Tony most, because he knows Tony best. And Tony knows the moment he committed to this path, he handed the knife to Steve. No one better, he thinks, to hold it.
He’s bellowing at Tony now, and he hasn’t even stood up, he’s just sitting there and Tony wishes he would stop. He knows how badly he’s fucked this up. He wants to stop Steve and tell him that he’s terribly afraid, every moment of every day, that no, of course he’s not qualified to make these fucking judgments, and that he’s pretended to be so sure of himself because Steve is always sure of himself, and Steve has known where he stood from the beginning, but he didn’t have Steve to help him with this, so he had to act, because you wouldn’t listen, Steve –
“WAS IT WORTH IT?” Steve screams at him.
Tony doesn’t have anything to offer him. He stands there stupidly and wishes desperately it was him in that cell, doomed to hang, because at least he’d have that. He doesn’t have anything now, because Steve will always hate him and if he doesn’t it will be because he killed Steve with this stupid fucking war.
He goes for defiant, because that’s what he’s been doing these past months. He tells Steve he’s a sore loser because this is it, he’s won, and it sounds wrong as soon as it’s left his mouth and he thanks god that Steve can’t see his face.
He’s crying behind the faceplate, and no one will see.
Steve is shaking, even after Tony leaves. His whole body just wants to stop, and he wonders if he’s going crazy, and he worries that Tony isn’t, and he knows they’re never ever going to kiss and make up.
They take Steve’s uniform and give him an orange jumpsuit, but he only wears it for a few hours, because then they give him his uniform back, mended and pressed and clean, his blood and Tony’s blood scrubbed out from between the scales. The cowl isn’t there.
“Are you serious?” he asks them. The woman looks sheepish and nods. “Director Stark wants you to be in uniform for the hearing.”
“Well, you can tell director Stark to go fuck himself,” Steve finds himself saying.
She blusters and walks away. The arraignment is in one hour.
They can’t make him wear the uniform. He could just go in his ill-fitting orange, but then he wouldn’t be a symbol, would he. Steve Rogers, not Captain America. He wonders if Tony will be there. Tony wants him on display, that’s why he’s doing this.
Steve takes issue with this, and that’s what confirms it for him. Because he’s been the puppet, the figurehead, for weeks now – and Tony hates him for it - but right now all he wants is to sink quietly into his own despair, float through the nightmare that will be the trial, and accept his sentence gratefully. Gracefully.
He puts on the suit, because it’s all he has now, and he’ll take what little comfort it can give him. He still feels exposed without his shield, and he’d wonder what happened to it – but he knows Tony. He’ll never see it again, certainly. So he’ll hide behind his armor. It may be the last time he ever gets to wear it.
He’s sure Tony was hiding behind his.
He fits the scales onto himself and pulls on his gloves and they pull his wrists behind his back as gently as they can and cart him away.
Tony is supposed to show up at the arraignment.
Tony is sitting at his fancy desk, sunk deep into his chair and seriously considering breaking into the liquor cabinet that he welded shut.
Considering. He doesn’t even think Steve could fault him for that at this point.
The news is playing in the back of his brain. The crowd outside the courthouse is an unbelievable, swarming mass. They’re really getting into it, shouting and pushing – some of them have signs that say things like FREE CAP and END THE SHRA.
A lot more of them have signs that say TRAITOR.
Steve doesn’t deserve this spectacle, doesn’t deserve to be paraded around in his costume. Tony feels filthy, because Steve is only being rolled out to meet his judgment in his costume because Tony wanted it that way. He took his cowl off when he turned himself in, and Tony took that choice away too, because that's what he does best, he ruins everything he touches, he fucks things up when they can't possibly be fucked up any more, because Tony is selfish, and what Tony wants, Tony gets, fuck you very much, Captain America.
Tony can at least pretend to handle this if it’s Captain America being sentenced, and not Steve.
He’s expected to be there, in an obscenely expensive suit, to look on impassively as Steve pleads not guilty and stands stoically in front of judges who want him to hang. Tony suspects he’ll plead not guilty, because Steve believed he was right, and Tony knows Steve better than anyone –
And that’s the problem, isn’t it, Tony and Steve all tangled up in each other, Tony all guilt and bluster and Steve all muscle and goodness. This is why Tony said it wasn’t a good idea, him and Steve, because Steve made him think he was something better than he was, because Steve either called Tony on his fuckery or overlooked it or mistook it for being endearing. They’ve tried each other on for size too much, settled into each other’s sensibilities, and Steve’s picked up Tony’s pigheadedness, and Tony’s picked up Steve’s quiet power.
Except it was fake when Tony wore it.
You’re a good man, Tony, except he’s not.
This self-assuredness bullshit doesn’t suit him at all, not now, not when he held actual power in his hands as Secretary of Defense, and he wants to rip it off his skin, but it’s in his skin now, isn’t it, that’s what Steve was trying to tell him, because when you pretend for long enough, you almost don’t have to pretend anymore, and Tony’s been working on his capacity for self-delusion for years.
They couldn’t both give the orders.
It was never going to work, because for all his logic and genius, he needed Steve to be leading this charge.
Tony knows now, knows that having reason on your side doesn’t mean a damn thing when you’re in love.
One of them had to be the villain.
Iron Man and Captain America. Tony and Steve.
If Steve pleads not guilty, they’re going to want Tony to testify against him, and he’s honestly not sure he’ll be able to do it.
Because as much as he wanted this to go through, to pre-empt everyone else screwing him (them) over for once, as much as he wanted Steve to be on board with it, he wants Steve back more.
And Tony has swallowed his own scruples for this, and he’s stayed professional and collected for everyone and done his best to ignore the fact that he’s shit all over everything they ever had. He’s erased years of loving and fighting and saving and being saved -
They’re not going to fix it.
He can’t quite contain the chill that runs through him, because Steve is going to be executed for his lesson, he’s run numbers, and it’s on his hands.
Tony knows it’s him who’s never deserved to die more.
Tony doesn’t want to put on a suit, and the thought of being in the courtroom with Steve sends panic seizing through his body, so he sits and stares at nothing and the clock ticks on, and the hour grows later, until he shrugs into the dark grey Armani suit Steve said made him look like a mobster. It’s cloudy, but he grabs a pair of obnoxious sunglasses so no one can see how glassy and red his eyes have become these past few days. Director Stark is expected to be there, and so he will be.
Tony is absent without leave.
Tony hates New York, and if he feels claustrophobic it can’t be anything compared to what Steve is feeling. He’s waiting for them when the door open and Steve is ushered out of the truck by S.H.I.E.L.D agents, his agents, because he has things like jurisdiction now. He’s doing his best not to shuffle his feet as he waits on the steps with the flock of U.S. Marshals that are going to march their prisoner into the courtroom.
Steve’s head is down, and he’s only looking ahead insofar as he needs to walk up the steps, and he looks so very broken. Well done, Tony.
Tony is standing above him, at the top of the stairs, and he hates that he’s looking down at Steve.
So Tony doesn’t look at Steve, he looks around, and he looks at the fucks in the front row with signs, and he looks at the cell they brought Steve in, and thinks it must have been very lonely, and he looks up at the orange-grey light of the sky and he sees the glint of a sight in a building.
That’s all it takes for him to bolt. This is something he knows how to do.
He’s still mildly surprised when the bullet rips through his chest. He’s still clutching at the scale on Steve’s chest when two more catch his stomach.
What a sloppy fucking sniper, he thinks as he falls.
Steve sees the dot of a sniper’s scope on the back of the marshal in front of him 3 seconds before he sees Tony running down the stairs towards him. Tony’s hands are on his armor, dragging him to the side, spinning them around -
Steve is yelling, because someone has obviously dropped the fucking ball. People are screaming. The men charged with guarding him move around him in an ineffectual swarm, talking into their communicators, looking for the shooter.
Tony is bleeding.
Steve hands are cuffed behind his back (in the cuffs that Tony designed) and all he can do is kneel next to Tony with each knee on a different step. Because the fucking S.H.I.E.L.D. agents aren’t doing anything but wringing their hands and why is there no fucking ambulance coming, he’s the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D, and he’s the most important person in the world -
Tony shouldn’t be bleeding this much, his body should just rewire itself and fix it, why isn’t the Extremis fixing it –
“Why are you bleeding so much?” he realizes he’s saying out loud to Tony. “Fix it,” he says, and he’s not sure who he’s talking to.
Tony shakes his head ever so slightly, and gasps in pain, and there’s blood running out his mouth.
Tony shudders, because he’s not getting enough air. There’s a hole in his lung.
There are still no medics, and there’s blood everywhere, and it’s just the lone S.H.I.E.L.D. agent dutifully keeping pressure on his boss’s torso, but he doesn’t have enough hands for all the bullet wounds, and why isn’t it healing?
“Tony,” Steve says.
Tony’s eyes are looking somewhere above his right shoulder, and Steve thinks that maybe this is the part where he’s supposed to come up with some hopelessly inadequate goodbye.
“Tony,” he says. “Please.”
Because it’s not the Extremis that’s not fixing Tony’s lungs.
It’s Tony that’s not fixing Tony’s lungs.
“Steve. I think –“ Tony does his best to spit blood out the side of his mouth – “I think I’m saving you.”
“Tony,” Steve says. It’s all he can say, because Tony’s ruining this again.
“No,” Tony says.
“No, what?” Steve asks, panic bleeding into his voice.
“Your answer,” Tony gasps. “It wasn’t –“
Tony is drunk and the mansion is on fire, Tony is shaving his face at the sink and laughing at Steve, Tony is breaking the mirror, Tony is stumbling through the jungle half-naked looking like Rambo, Tony is kissing him against the wall, Tony is smiling, Tony is punching him, Tony is saving him, Tony is dying –
Tony is dying –
Steve bends over and presses his cheek to Tony’s bloody chest.
His heartbeat is very faint, but he stays there, the blood drying, sticky on his cheek, his hands still cuffed absurdly behind his back. He doesn’t know what else to do.
When he sits up, he’s crying, and he’s looking into Tony’s very blue eyes, and they aren’t looking back at Steve.