Actions

Work Header

Keep Your Enemies Closer

Chapter Text

Tony’s not exactly supposed to be in New York. He has meetings and other important CEO stuff back in Malibu, but sometimes he just gets this craving for a proper New York bagel. He’d buy pizza, but New York pizza brings bad connotations at the moment.

The house in Malibu, open as it is, feels too much like a prison. It throws him off balance – hell, he still can’t sit on his own fucking couch. Tony needs to get away, and a coast to coast flight in the suit helps with that.

The point is, Tony is in New York, but he’s not supposed to be. Right now, he’s also fighting Flame Brain, which he really isn’t supposed to be. Well, he says fighting. It’s more like Flame Brain is fighting him, and he is being fought.

This is not Tony’s fault either, by the way – he didn’t even know who Flame Brain was until as of two minutes ago. He’d just been flying over New York, minding his own business, when a semi-impressive show caught his eye in a back-alley below: a bald woman throwing flaming tennis balls at a couple of muggers, with an old lady clutching her purse in the background.

“JARVIS?”

“I believe you’re viewing Flame Brain, sir. Female, twenty-three years old, currently resides in New York. Powers include pyrokinesis, a resistance to fire and weak telekinesis. A superhero without any known affiliations.”

“Thanks.”

“You are very welcome, sir.”

He hangs around, because pyrokinesis makes him revert back to his twelve year old self, and is just leaving when he hears:

 “Oi, lady.” Flame Brain doesn’t speak particularly loudly, but Tony hasn’t invested billions into the suit for nothing. “How about some payment?” She grins, flexing her right arm and periodically engulfing it in flames. The old lady she’d just helped lets out a confused stutter. “Manual labor isn’t cheap these days, at least not American born and bred,” she continues. “And I had to beat up two thugs for you. That deserves a reward, doesn’t it?”

Tony might be in doubt of his own heart on a good day, but not even he lets threatening old ladies pass. “Hey,” he shouts from overhead. “Are you serious?”

“Well, if it isn’t Iron Man!” Flame Brain squints up at him, and Tony mentally high-fives himself for being somewhat well-known already, even if it is with an inaccurate moniker.

“Are you seriously exploiting this poor old woman, right after defending her from someone who was doing the exact same thing?”

Flame Brain scowls. “I don’t have to explain myself to you. It’s not like this job pays much.”

“Maybe not, but don’t take it out of the people you’re trying to help, Jesus.” Tony was almost standing on the ground now, having gradually lowered during the conversation. “Ma’am? I think it’d be best if you left now.” The old lady, still shaking slightly, nodded and hurried away.

Flame Brain looked at her leaving, then turned back to Tony. “I don’t know who you think you are, but this isn’t the west coast, so get lost. You think you scare me, with your flying and your crazy-ass suit of armor?”

“A bit, yeah.”

Really, the ensuing fight is not his fault at all.

Flame Brain throws more of those tennis balls at him, which have a much higher density than he first assumed – it doesn’t much matter, though, because the armor is pretty much undamaged.  Flame Brain swears.

She throws other stuff at him too, but the armor is nearly indestructible. He tries telling her that, to console her frustration with not affecting him, but it doesn’t help. Her pyrokinesis must have some upper surface area limit, because she doesn’t try to set the armor on fire – not that it’d work, anyway.

He might be a bit too gleeful about dodging or just absorbing the impact of the flaming objects she throws, with her mind or her hand, but it’s not his fault he feels giddy – this is something completely different to fighting Stane, this is fun and easy and everything he thought superheroes did when he was a kid. Flame Brain grows more and more frustrated with him – he lands on the ground in a flash, kneeling to aim his repulsors at her feet. She curses loudly and stumbles, and Tony grins to himself, hidden behind the helmet. He knew that fire resistance theoretically shouldn’t hinder the repulsors, but it was nice to see it confirmed.

Flame Brain throws her arms out in a very dramatic gesture, and the minor details lying around, like beer bottles and garbage lids, start rattling and levitating.

Tony looks around in mild disinterest, then almost takes a step back as all the objects burst into flame. Flame Brain pants, flexing her fingers. The objects start vibrating. Tony wants to spare her the embarrassment of powering up only for it to fail terribly, so he picks up one of the garbage cans – now lidless – and throws it at her, and all the objects drop again as she raises her hands in front of her to shield herself.

“Really,” Tony says. Flame Brain is still panting, and she looks seething. It’s not a good look on her. “You should either stop blackmailing old ladies or stop being a superhero, this is embarrassing. Actually, here’s a tip, Hero 101 for someone of your caliber: team up with someone. If I’d been a bad guy I’d have killed you in two seconds flat.”

“Why do you even care so much?” she asks, teeth gritted. “Last anybody heard, you were in Gulmira.”

Tony stops. He doesn’t say, because for once in my life I want to take pride in something truly honorable, and you are ruining it. “Why are you bald?” he asks instead, and wobbles a bit – seems like Flame Brain did manage to damage one of the flight stabilizers after all. She doesn’t answer, instead chooses to spit at him and turn her back, but JARVIS tells him anyway. “Her skin is flame resistant, sir,” the AI tactfully comments. “Her hair is not.”

“Okay,” Tony says, and flies off.

*

It’s not like he doesn’t know that superheroes are people too, that they can be greedy and small-minded and condescending, but the encounter with Flame Brain still rattles him more than he’d admit if he were sober. And it’s stupid and almost disgustingly naïve to think that all superheroes act by some universal code, he knows that, but such definite proof to the contrary revealed that some subconscious part of him does think that – did think that.

Ripping away his beliefs seems to be a trend in Tony’s life lately.

Tony’s problem now, besides the fact that his vodka seems to be disappearing alarmingly fast, is that he can’t define the difference between a superhero and a supervillain. A superhero is one who works for the good of the people, he thinks, and remembers old film reels with Captain America’s earnest face. But what’s Flame Brain, then? Do her actions regarding the old lady negate all the good actions she’s done in the past?

Everything about this makes Tony’s head hurt. He needs another drink.

*

After Flame Brain and the philosophical night that wasn’t, Tony has JARVIS set up some basic search parameters for corrupt superhero activity nationwide.

It’s horribly vague, as it isn’t exactly something you can just set a Google Alert for, so Tony leaves it running in the background and then promptly forgets about it.

Until JARVIS one day reminds him.

“Sir,” JARVIS says. Tony’s typing, making adjustments to the system code – he’d found some minor bugs earlier. Artificial intelligence means the system should be able to spot and fix these things itself, but this seems like a blind spot.

“Yes, dear?” he says absently, completely focused on the screen in front of him.

“The ‘corrupt superhero watch list’ is displaying a red flag, sir.”

“The—really?” Tony stops typing and moves over to another screen, code forgotten. “Give me the feed.” He leans forward, reading, then actually chortles. “Oh my God, those idiots.

*

Tony’s back in New York. He actually cleared it with Pepper, this time – she thinks he’s looking at real estate, and there was way too much pity on her face when she agreed to clear his schedule for today.

Dart and Racquet are meeting Lightning Lad on a rooftop. Tony’s amused by pretty much everything about this, but a top secret meeting on a rooftop in New York has to be one of his favorite parts. It’s like they don’t know anything.

The armor’s not very silent, but the three have already devolved into a shouting match by the time he gets here, so nobody seems to notice until he’s hovering right by the edge of the rooftop.

“Hey, guys,” he says, killing the boot thrusters and walking onto the rooftop. Dart, Racquet and Lightning Lad stop squabbling to look over at him – Dart and Racquet immediately assume more defensive positions, while Lightning Lad just looks confused.

“What are you doing here?” Dart hisses. Tony looks at him. He’s tall and sleek, but the four awkward fins sticking out like a deformed skirt destroy anything he might have had going for him – except for how committed he is to his supervillain name.

“Oh, just dropping by,” Tony says. “You know, seeing how the old scheme is coming along. Seriously, guys? The Helicarrier?” Lightning Lad finally seems to move into action, having caught on. “Nice to see you, Lightning Lad.”

“It’s Dynamotron,” Lightning Lad says, angry – and sure enough, there’s a gigantic D on his chest. Tony raises his eyebrows.

“Is that your dark side identity, or what? Last time I recall, you were helping out in thunderstorms and the like.”

Lightning Lad chokes on air. “That was five years ago,” he says, like Tony should be completely caught up on what all superheroes are doing at all times. Tony shrugs, but it doesn’t translate well in the armor.

“Whatever.”

“Iron Man,” Racquet says. It’s the first time she’s spoken so far. Tony looks at her, at her fairly conventional spandex suit with green and black stripes. “What do you know?”

“I know that you’re planning on infiltrating the Helicarrier ... somehow? You know that’s SHIELD’s best and brightest, right? I almost want to see you try, just because of how miserably you’ll fail.”

Lightning Lad visibly bristles. Dart does too, but Racquet stays calm – she seems to be the most level-headed of the three. “We can’t let you leave, then,” she says, and nods to Lightning Lad – he returns her look for a second, before moving. Tony can practically see the oh, right, as it crosses his mind.

Lightning Lad makes a fist, punching the air towards Tony. At first he thinks nothing’s happened, and it’s when he tries to get a few meters of leverage he realizes his left boot thruster isn’t working.

He’s grounded. Shit. Lightning Lad seems to have short-circuited his boot, but he can still move it – and right now, Tony’s really grateful for his paranoia, because giving each limb its own circuit stopped Lightning Lad from rendering the entire armor ineffective at once.

He raises hands palm-up towards Lightning Lad, sending two repulsor blasts his way, and singing some of the youth’s hair as he stumbles backward. Dart and Racquet join in on the action. He starts running circles around Tony, presumably looking for a weak spot – it doesn’t matter, because there are none. Racquet is more trouble – she dodges his repulsor blast and wraps a hand around his wrist, the metal making some ominous noise as her biceps bulge. Well, shit, Tony knew she was strong, but he didn’t know she was that strong – he punches her in the stomach, causing her to double over and release his wrist. He rotates the joint, but it still works, even if the armor now has some slightly intimidating marks.

Dart is like a mosquito buzzing by your ear – relatively harmless, but really fucking annoying. Tony tries punching him, blasting him, everything, but he dodges and delivers his own punches – which bruises his knuckles more than it does Tony. Lightning Lad is back in the game, too, and he’s the real threat. Tony’s chest and upper leg flight stabilizers still move, which increases his over-all mobility strength, and helps him dodge Lightning Lad’s vibes.

Racquet, since recovered, tries to kick Tony, but manages to hit Dart, who’s still spinning around them. Dart falls to the ground with a yowl of pain, and Racquet curses loudly, apologizing as she falls to her knees beside him. Lightning Lad and Tony both stop to stare at them for a second, but Tony’s the quickest to re-engage, and he hears a sickening crunch as he breaks Lightning Lad’s left arm. Tony winces. He’s still getting used to the armor’s strength translating from his own, and now he feels almost bad for the kid.

Dart is still on the ground, but Racquet’s up and moving again. Tony’s caught between her and Lightning Lad, who looks downright furious now, with his left arm cradled along his side and the other stretched towards Tony. He seems to be gearing up at for something big, and Tony ducks at the last minute. The vibe hits Racquet behind him, but seems to do no harm. Tony takes a second to marvel at the specificity of Lightning Lad’s powers, but reconsiders when he thinks about how it would be to be virtually powerless against all foes not wearing a giant technological suit of armor.

He throws himself to the side to avoid another one of Racquet’s kicks, using Dart as a landing pillow. Dart moans in pain, and rolls over on his side – hopefully not to die. Tony is a bit busy not dying himself to notice. He stands up, but Racquet crouches and grabs his ankle, throwing him almost across the rooftop. It’s obvious Racquet has had no proper training, which is probably saving Tony’s life right now – it’s not like he has any, either.

Tony staggers to his feet. The ankle Racquet grabbed is kind of wobbly, and it makes him wince. “Why am I out of missiles?” he complains to JARVIS. “Missiles would’ve solved everything right now. This would’ve been over before it had even started, if I had missiles.”

JARVIS, clever enough to realize that Tony’s being rhetorical, stays silent.

Racquet starts running towards him, and Tony has just enough time to raise his palms and think that man, being kicked from a rooftop wearing the most advanced armor in the world would be a ridiculous way to die, before she’s on him. Tony turns full power on his repulsors and hopes for the best.

Luckily, Tony seems to have some kind of magical force on his side – his repulsors catch Racquet in the chest, and she’s pushed backwards. He punches her over the head, and she’s on the ground, out for the count.

Lightning Lad is the only one left now. He’s moved closer, and Tony meets him in the middle of the roof – it probably isn’t a good idea to approach the guy who can take his armor out of commission, but it’s not like Tony can do much from a range without those damn missiles. Lightning Lad seems tired. He’s sweaty and panting, with his arm still against his side. Tony really doesn’t want to hurt him more, so he tries to do what he does best: talk his way out of it.

“Why?” he asks.

Lightning Lad frowns, his murderous expression somewhat mollified. “Why what?”

“Why team up with—” Tony waves a hand at Dart and Racquet, “these guys? They’re supervillains, and they’re not even respectable ones. I mean, just look at Dart’s outfit.”

“I want to be remembered,” Lightning Lad says. “I want to put my mark on New York, on the world. Nobody notices me, you know that? This town is so fucking full of superheroes that nobody gives two shits about the small-fry.”

Tony seems to have lucked out on this one, Lightning Lad looks like he’s gearing up for a monolog.

“I’m twenty four, and people still call me Lightning Lad, even though I wanted to be known as Dynamotron from the start,” he continues. “You said it yourself, I’m known for helping out in thunderstorms!

“Helping out in thunderstorms is perfectly honorable,” Tony tries. “Besides, not everybody is destined to be a hero.”

“I know,” Lightning Lad says, and his face is dark. “So I decided to take down SHIELD.”

“Take down— are you kidding me? With these assholes? You’d be better off just trying by yourselves, or did you miss when Racquet kicked Dart so he almost died?”

Dart wheezes somewhere on the roof.

“I have to try,” Lightning Lad insists. “You don’t understand, you popped into existence a few months ago, and you’re already famous— I’ve been trying for years, and nobody even seems to care!”

“Being a superhero is not about being noticed,” Tony says. The words feel hollow. “It’s about helping others.”

“I know that!” Lightning Lad looks almost like he’s about to cry. He doesn’t look twenty four, not at all, and Tony catches himself wondering if this one is an orphan too – they’re disturbingly over-represented in the superhero community. “You don’t understand,” Lightning Lad finishes miserably. “Just… leave me alone. Go.”

“Will you try to infiltrate the Helicarrier and – quite possibly – die in the process?” Tony asks, because he feels like he has to.

“No,” Lightning Lad snaps. “Fuck off.”

Tony does. It’s an awkward trip home without the boot thrusters working. Maybe some real estate in New York would be a good idea after all, a place to keep a secondary armor and a nice bed.

*

It isn’t often Tony shows up for the office without Pepper nagging at him, so he’s surprised when she interrupts his reluctant signing of paperwork to slam a newspaper down on his desk.

“Tony,” she says, “what is this?”

“What’s what,” he asks, and pulls at the paper until Pepper removes her hand from on top of it.

IRON MAN: NEW YORK’S NEWEST TERROR?

Iron Man was seen last week doing battle against New York’s own Lightning Lad. Who is this newcomer, and why is he attacking New York’s finest? Has this rising superhero switched sides? (…)  Our reporter Zena Johnson caught an interview with Flame Brain, who also says she has fought Iron Man. “He probably wouldn’t label himself a supervillain, but he is one,” she says. “He seems to have some really weird notions on the superbusiness in general.”

“Well,” Tony says, after reading the article twice. “I think I lost a few brain cells just reading that. Come on, Pepper, bad press isn’t exactly news to us – and there’s nothing tying Iron Man to Stark Enterprises, so it’s fine. Besides, it’s just the Super Scope. Nobody reads the Super Scope.”

*

It’s not just the Super Scope. Whatever media goodwill Iron Man has gotten over the last few months is backlashing now, and the way they’re tearing into him is vicious. It’s nothing Tony hasn’t experienced before, but Iron Man is supposed to be separate from all that – he’s supposed to be something more than petty bickering between tabloids.

It makes Tony sick, to see the superhero community like this. Howard was pretty much guaranteed to raise a Captain America fanboy, but superheroes faded to his periphery as he got older, and he had no idea everything was so messed up. There are still good people, there has to be, but they seem buried under this shit, deceit and gossip and conspiracy and corruption.

Fuck it, Tony thinks. If they want a supervillain, then he’ll give them a supervillain.

*

The first thing he does it burn down the Super Scope. He waits until the building’s emptied out, but doesn’t bother trying to mask it being Iron Man’s work – this was what they wanted, after all.

He knows, as he’s emptying a can of gasoline over a desk, that this is probably the least rational, most childish response imaginable. So fucking what? He’s Tony Stark, he’s the king of irrationality.

*

Second, he crashes a concert. It’s really more for himself than for the media, but it’s one hell of a publicity stunt either way. Being a supervillain, honestly, is kind of relieving. Tony does whatever the fuck he wants, and it’s amazing – nobody seems to appreciate how much effort he puts into keeping himself in line. Pepper would disagree, but she’s started walking around with a hazy look on her face after Iron Man – arguably – became a ticking PR bomb. Tony can respect that, so he actually makes an effort to meet on time to board meetings – but it will take more than Pepper being worried to make him pretend to be interested.

Anyway, the concert. Tony actually thinks it kind of ingenious, the software he wrote that allows him to hijack the speakers and play AC/DC – proper music, not whatever garbage this band tries to pass off as rock – upon his arrival. He’ll have to remember it for the future.

Tony lands on the stage, and grabs the microphone from the gob smacked singer. The band stands behind him, shocked into inaction – Canadians, Tony scoffs internally. They’d probably just apologize to him if they could get anything out. The crowd splits into three: the ones who are screaming, the ones who are cheering confusedly, and the ones who just stand there, staring.

“Hey,” Tony says. He doesn’t really need the microphone to project his voice, could just link the armor to the stereo, but he likes the showmanship of it. The AC/DC quiets down as he speaks. “I don’t have much to say to you all, except that your taste in music is bad, and you should feel bad.” Tony gives the microphone back to the vocalist. The speakers on stage blow out as he jets upwards and into the skies.

Tony grins. Being a supervillain is awesome.

And if he has a tail on his way back to Malibu, well, he loses them before ever reaching Oklahoma anyway.

*

Even Tony thinks it’s a dumb move to attack SHIELD. He remembers Lightning Lad, how he teamed up with two supervillains to somehow coup the Helicarrier. Tony remembers saying it was an incredibly stupid decision, which makes what he’s about to do not a little ironic – but not very surprising, either. Pepper would have a heart attack if she knew, but the anomaly Tony found in the SHIELD database needs to be checked out.

The SHIELD base is small, not far from Albany. Still, Tony doesn’t want to alert the entire fucking thing, so he has to touch ground a few miles out and then walk the rest of the way. The suit is awful to walk in at length, he’ll have to do something about that – it chafes in really uncomfortable places.

JARVIS tells him of the two guards by the door before he can see them, and two sedatives launch from the armor’s shoulders before they manage to raise the alarm.

A key card from one of them, and a borrowed finger, opens the base doors. The building is non-descript, and surprisingly subtle against the landscape, but the hi-tech doors glide away to reveal a very shiny floors and classy paintings hanging on white walls. Well, classy by Tony’s definition, anyway – they could be from IKEA for all he knew. Or maybe they were from Pollock’s winter period.

There are three more agents who spot him as he walks in. The armor isn’t exactly very stealthy, but Tony doesn’t know if he can do anything about that, or if it’s just a bi-product of being incased in metal – he has a sedative for each agent, anyway.

The fourth, he asks before he sedates. “Where is Lund and Mahoney?” Tony asks, gripping the front of the agent’s uniform.

The agent stutters. “I—don’t succumb to pressure,” he replies, in what is quite possibly the least convincing voice ever.

“You can repeat that,” Tony says amicably, “and I can break your fingers, or you can tell me where Lund and Mahoney is.” He wouldn’t, but this guy doesn’t know that. Besides, Tony has a reputation now – whatever the agent is imagining is probably worse than anything Tony can think of. “I mean, I’m going to find out anyway.”

“Their offices are 203 and 204,” the agent chokes out. Yeah, this one won’t make it far on the SHIELD ladder – Tony hopes this experience will make him understand that.

“Great, thanks,” Tony says, and sedates him for good measure.

Walking up stairs in the armor is not very fun, either, especially when he meets three more agents going up. “JARVIS,” Tony says, and the armor sends out two more sedatives, which – shit. “Why’d I only bring six sedatives?” Tony asks, as the last agent standing seems to be going through some minor shock phase. Tony’s trying to figure out how to knock him out without hurting him – at least without giving the poor man a major concussion.

In lieu of a reply, JARVIS plays him an audio clip of himself saying, “Six is fine. Six is plenty, come on, it’s Iron Man – I’ll just knock the rest out.” Tony sighs. “I really need to start planning these things better.” JARVIS makes a noise of assent, like the snarky Brit he is.

The agent’s gearing up for a fight now, which is really not good. Tony tries whacking him over the ear, but while it certainly seems to hurt, it doesn’t make him pass out.

“Is there anything I can say that will make you go away quietly?” Tony asks, in vain. The agent doesn’t even seem to have heard him, and punches the armor again. Tony doesn’t understand why people think that’s a good idea – the armor is made of a gold-titanium alloy, it’s not going to fold under a regular punch.

Tony diverts the agent’s attention by doing some serious damage to the wall next to him, and punches the agent neatly in the head. A tiny bit harder than needed, maybe, but the guy was annoying.

Lund and Mahoney are easy to find, luckily. They’re even together, chatting in Lund’s office – Tony’s not surprised. They seem really, really stupid, even for HYDRA double agents.

Tony closes the door after he enters. Lund already has his gun out, and the sound of bullets hitting the armor still makes Tony wince, even though he had it reinforced for that exact purpose. “I just want to talk, guys,” Tony says, and repulsor blasts them both. Lund flinches backwards, and falls over his own desk. Mahoney, swearing, backs into a filing cabinet. “How are you contacting HYDRA?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Lund wheezes, from behind his desk. Tony ignores him, and grabs Mahoney by the throat, lifting him up a bit so he has to stand on his toes to keep the pressure off his air pipe.

“How are you contacting HYDRA,” he repeats. The armor’s voice is perfect for this – that dead, robotic, slightly unsettling quality seems to drive the point home to Mahoney.

“Meet-up,” Mahoney hisses, and Tony lets up a little. Not too much, though, when it seems like Mahoney won’t continue. “In Albany, bi-weekly.”

Tony waits.

“By the Palace Theatre,” Mahoney finally admits. By then Lund’s come to his senses and presumably alerted the rest of SHIELD, and he tries to shoot Tony again. Absolutely hopeless, these guys. Tony throws Mahoney at Lund and blasts his repulsors at them both, damaging both them and Lund’s computer, before taking off directly through the roof. Subtlety doesn’t matter now.

*

“Tony?” Pepper stands by the door to the workshop, looking vaguely concerned. Tony’s more interested by the sandwich she has in her hands, and he makes some very mature grabby hands as she comes closer and hands it to him. “Listen, I know you’ve been looking at real estate, and I was wondering whether you’d like me to buy your parents’ mansion back?”

Tony actually chokes a bit on the sandwich, and makes some violent noises. Pepper, eyes widening, backtracks a bit. “I mean, I didn’t mean to pry, but people have different ways of coping, and maybe some familiar surroundings will help—”

“Stop talking,” Tony says, after swallowing the rebellious bit of sandwich. “Is this you encouraging Iron Man? I think this is you encouraging Iron Man.”

“I’m not encouraging him, Tony—”

“JARVIS, a quick summary of Iron Man’s latest adventures?”

“Iron Man was last seen attacking a SHIELD base, sir,” the AI says tactfully.

Pepper’s words stutter to a stop, and her eyes widen. “Oh my God, Tony, a SHIELD base?

Tony doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t how Pepper looks right now. She looks afraid, and he’s not sure whether it’s of him or for him, but neither is good. “No, I mean, yeah, but it was small, I was infiltrating, JARVIS forgot to mention that I was being a good guy, JARVIS, damn it—” Tony stands up to grab her hands. “There were some double agents there that I needed to talk to. I didn’t hurt anyone.” Not chronically, anyway, he added mentally. She looks a bit calmer now, but with a growing question in her eyes.

“Double agents? For who?”

“HYDRA,” Tony says. “I, uh, might’ve hacked into their server. Or something to that effect.”

She looks admonishing now, which means things are back to normal. “Tony—”

Pepper,” he mimics. “Don’t sweat it, seriously, I’ve got it under control. And maybe this way I’ll even get my very own nemesis, you can’t be a supervillain without a nemesis.” She’s fighting a smile now, which means that he’s won. “I know what I’m doing. If I don’t, you can have the company and it’ll be Potts Enterprises, and— now I’ve gone and given you ideas, I can tell. The Potts phone? Sounds bathroom related, you’d need to figure out something else.”

“I’m leaving now,” Pepper says, and takes her hands out of his.

“Okay, but don’t go off starting your own company now, just because I gave you the idea,” Tony shouts after her.

She stops at the door to look back at him. “How on Earth would I be able to do that, I’m already running this one! And doing a better job than anyone else in this room.”

“Harsh, Pep,” he says, but he’s grinning, and she’s smiling back.

“Goodbye, Tony.”

*

Nick Fury stands in front of a meeting table. A flat screen TV is dominating the wall behind him. By the table, three agents sit: Steve Rogers, Clint Barton, and Natasha Romanov.

“Last week,” Fury begins, “a SHIELD base just outside Albany, New York was attacked by the supervillain known as Iron Man.” The flat screen turns on, and grainy surveillance video shows Iron Man taking out three agents in quick succession on a stair case. “Iron Man has been reported active for six months now. He started out as a vigilante superhero – we have reports of him attacking a terrorist cell in Gulmira, Afghanistan. Then he started attacking superheroes, like Flame Brain and Lightning Lad.” Pictures from the fights are now shown as a slideshow on the flat screen. “We have not as of yet identified the trigger that made him switch sides. When he attacked the SHIELD base, all but two agents were left unharmed: Carl Lund and Robert Mahoney.” Fury looks at his agents. “Two hours after the attack, SHIELD received this audio clip.” He gestures for the clip to start playing, and the voices come through clear and loud, contrasting with the earlier grainy footage.

“How are you contacting HYDRA?”

“Meet-up, in Albany, bi-weekly. By the Palace Theatre.”

Clint and Natasha exchange a look. “Amateurs,” he says, and she smiles.

Fury looks unimpressed. “Exactly. It’s downright embarrassing that an outside source caught this before us, and we’re triple-checking everything now.” He nods to Coulson, who’s standing by the door. Coulson nods back.

“An outside source, sir?” Steve asks.

“We’re assuming the sender either is, or is connected to, Iron Man. Along with the audio clip, we also received documents proving that Lund and Mahoney have been leaking information to HYDRA. You three are here because we’re sending you after Iron Man.”

“Sir,” Steve says, but Fury quiets him with a look.

“We’re reinstating Lund and Mahoney as soon as they’re out of medical,” he says. “At the moment, HYDRA doesn’t know that we know, and we intend to keep it that way. Which is why,” Fury sends Steve a pointed glare, and he finally settles, “we need to respond in some way. This will be a nice way for you to get used to thinking as a team, too.”

The three agents nod.

“That’s all,” Fury says. “Get ready, Iron Man has been sighted in New York.”