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The ship shuddered violently, the distant crunch of sheet metal buckling an alarming thread underneath the alarms. Bulkhead, Tony thought absently. He hoped the locking system on this tub was up to par. That said, this was SHIELD. They were usually pretty good at battle-ready.

For his part, there wasn't much he could do. Curled in a corner of his cell, twisting his hands absently in their cuffs, he leaned back against the wall, and watched the door tiredly. He couldn't decide this battle. Say what you wanted for SHIELD efficiency, but they'd raised paranoia to an art form. They'd left him nothing usable beyond things that he really, really couldn't afford to reveal, not until death was pretty much the only other choice. Which might shortly be the case, admittedly, but still. Right up to the line. He was stuck, right up to then.

All he could do was wait to see who opened the door, and told him that they'd won. The battle. And him.

In theory, it wouldn't make that much difference either way. Either he was staying where he was, and heading back to stand trial for war crimes. Or he was going to be retaken, and 'persuaded' to commit a few more. Whichever way it turned, sucked to be him.

But at least with SHIELD, it only sucked for him.

Suddenly, and with very little warning, the alarms cut out. Which would have been fine, on its own, but the lights, even the emergency lights, flickered wildly for a second, and then cut out after them. They booted back up, not two seconds later, but there weren't a lot of things that could cut all power to a SHIELD interceptor spaceship at the same time.

He should know. He'd invented most of them.

Fuck. Fuck. Not SHIELD. Shit and damn it. This day wasn't going to end with SHIELD.

He stood. Levered himself slowly up the wall, resting his cuffed hands lightly in front of him. Resisting the urge to reach up and rub his mouth nervously, to wipe at the sudden dryness there. Listening, almost absently, to the low hum in his ears. The singing in his blood, the sub-audible electric thrum of his new heart. His heart, its power source ... and a thing or two besides.

Alright. He could do this. He could play this game. All over again, as many times as he had to. He could fucking play it.

And as he waited, as he stood with his back to the wall of his cell and his eyes fixed on the door, waiting for his new captors, he felt something else. A strange, alien sensation, a liquid trickle in the back of his head, the back of his mind. An electric hum of a far different kind, a soft whisper across his senses. Familiar. Oh yes. A touch, invisible fingers ghosting into the base of his skull, a spark of contact there.

Strange, then. Moments later. Strange that with the knot of fear in his gut, and the singing in his blood, he still found himself grinning when the door opened. A savage, pearly gleam, as the nightmare marched back through the door.

Yeah. He could play this game. Right down to the line.

That was, after all, where the explosions happened. And oh, he was so good, at those.


The other ship was a masterpiece, by most standards. A fully-equipped battle cruiser, carrying all the latest Stark technology. At least as far as shields and weapons went, anyway, and some of the AI capacity.

Ship design itself was a little funky, though. Not one of his designs. The glimpse he'd caught on the shuttle between them, wedged shackled and remote alongside most of the erstwhile command crew of the Avenger, had shown him that much. There was something ... off, about her. Something weird around her mid-section, something nagging at the edges of his mind. Gravity. Power. Something. She was weighed strangely amidships, sectioned between fore and aft, and something about it nagged at him.

Not that he'd have much time to think about it, looked like. Not with the face that greeted him in the shuttlebay, the sad, disappointed smile that hit him like a punch in the gut, almost knocked him to his knees.

He'd known. The transmission on the pirate ship that had taken him. He'd known.

It didn't make it any easier to bear.

"Tony," Obadiah said, with faux sadness. "Tony, Tony. It really didn't have to come to this, you know."

He found a grin. Rustled it up from somewhere, his cuffed hands hanging between them, the hard, curious stares of Captain Rogers and his crew boring into his back. He slapped on his best grin, and threw it into Obie's face.

"Yeah it did," he said, very quietly. Knotting his fingers together, listening to the humming in his blood. "It did, Obie."

The man he'd once thought of as a second father dropped his eyes, a tiny, disappointed shake of his head. Looking sideways back up at Tony, and there, there was the thing Tony had never seen. The thing Tony should have seen. An utter hardness, a remorseless disappointment. A sigh, like Tony'd failed, all over again, and it was just such a shame.

His gorge rose. He swallowed it back, savagely, and focused on the liquid silver in the back of his skull instead.

"You shouldn't have tried to take me back, Obie," he said instead. A warning, just the one. In memory of everything Tony'd once believed existed between them. "You should have let me go, let SHIELD have me." He smiled, wryly, darkly. "Not like anyone would have believed me over you, was it?"

Obie chuckled, moving forward to drape his arm companionably around Tony's shoulders, forcing him forward. Forcing him away from the other prisoners, and the sudden re-evaluation in Rogers' face. The slow suspicion in Romanov's.

"I would have," Obadiah confided, steering him into the corridor and out into the bowels of the ship, the tramp of feet behind them signifying the others being forced to follow in turn. "Might even have been useful, I agree. Playing the shocked, disappointed second at your trial. Wringing my hands at all the technology you let slip into Hydra's hands." He smiled darkly, a casual, stabbing aside. "They're behind the Rings, you know. Of course you do. I'm sure you found that out too, during your little ... excursion."

Tony felt the muscle jump in his jaw, the hollow burning in his gut. Yeah. He'd found that one out. He'd seen the files, and the transmissions. All the horrors that Hydra and the Rings had sprung on planetary populations. All the horrors that had sprung, at the end of the day, from his head. Used to perfect, devastating effect.

"I figured that out, yeah," he managed. Low and gritted. "Always did wonder how they were catching up to us as fast as we could get the tech out. Always wondered who they had, who was almost as fucking good as me."

Obie grinned. Wide and bright and pleased, slyly amused, and Tony shifted instinctively. Tried to come around, tried to bring his arms up to wipe that fucking smile away, but someone behind him caught his outside arm and twisted it back, dragging the other one after it. Almost dragged a shout from him as his knees hit the deck, as they dragged him down, yanked his bound hands around and back, and pressed a savage knee into his spine as he yelped.

Obie, utterly calm, with that glittering, ugly thing shining in his eyes, pulled back a little to look down at him. And smirk, oh, so sadly.

"You always were impulsive," his erstwhile guardian noted, musingly. "It was why I never really considered bringing you in on it. Too much risk. Too little gain." He lifted a lip. "And you were never all that interested. You didn't care, did you, Tony?"

Tony panted furiously, baring his teeth up at them. "I cared when I found out," he growled, leaning into the twisting of his arms, glaring up at the man who'd betrayed him. "I fucking cared then, Obie."

Obie just nodded, waving a dismissive hand. "Yes. That was the other reason. I will admit, I didn't expect them to keep you alive." A hardening, a darker turn. "They should have known better. Did, I guess, by the end. Eh, Tony?"

A ship breaking apart around him under an overload seeded in the engine reactor. Alarms, fire, screaming. Energy like a coat around him, a sheeting hum of power, blood and skin sliding around his upper arm. The remains of someone's palm, where they'd been holding him down when he'd come down to the line, and stopped fucking around.

Yeah. They'd learned, alright. Yes, they fucking had.

"And you," he said, so very softly. Grinning a pearly grin. "I guess you're not going to make the same mistake?"

Obie smiled paternally down at him, patting him gently on the cheek as whoever had his arms hauled him back to his feet, heaving him up by the grip on his upper arms. "I need a few things from you first," the man said, carefully. "Just some small things, Tony, or I'd have left you with SHIELD. You know how it is, don't you?"

Tony, his weight mostly resting back on whoever had him, felt his eyes shutter. Hearing the hum of his new heart, the singing in his blood. The heart they had shoved in his chest to replace the one they'd mostly destroyed. The heart they'd put in ... to be able to take the strain of the other things they'd shoved inside him. A soft, electric singing, waiting to become a scream.

"Yeah," he managed, hoarsely, staring into the black antipathy in those eyes. "I know how it is."

More than you know, Obie. More than you know.


The central section, the strange thing that had nudged him about the ship design, turned out to be a cell-block. No. A cargo hold, and a prison, rolled into one, a self-contained rat-maze of single cells and massed holds. Perfect for transporting the hostile living cargo of your choice. Detachable, that was why it had looked strange. Self-powered, self-contained in every sense. The only link by AI back to the main ship, and that too would sever once the commands to jettison were given. So as not to risk the ship's crew under battle conditions, when a stray shot might start an internal invasion, should the security fail.

You could carry the biggest, nastiest enemy you wanted to, down here, and just cut him loose once a breach started, drop him out to drift helplessly in space, and wait for whoever won to pick him up.

And you could do whatever you wanted to him, too. Gravity, atmosphere, power. All self-contained. You could asphyxiate the whole cargo, if you wanted. Vent atmosphere just from this section, as you pleased. You could play merry hell, with the lights, the temperature, the atmosphere, the gravity. Keep the whole population as pacified as you needed, and never have to even touch the wider ship.

It was a fabulously practical piece of design, and it made Tony sick to his stomach. Looking at the expressions on the SHIELD crew as they were loaded into cells, at Banner in particular, and Romanov, he figured he wasn't the only one.

There was really only one reason, for a ship to be designed as this one was.

"No cell for me?" he asked, brightly, to cover the thought. To cover the hate. Standing between two faceless, anonymous heavies. Not faceless enough, not for what was coming. But Tony was going to take his mercies where he could.

And give absolutely none in return. No, he thought, with the buzzing in the back of his skull. No mercy at all.

"Don't be difficult, Tony," Obie said, a little testily. Small force-cells lined the walls around them, tiered up across three decks, but the central space between them was for something else. Something ... something else. "I'd give you a little more time if I could. A rest, to get yourself together, but since SHIELD retook you they've been suddenly active in all the wrong places." He tutted, glaring blackly. "Whatever message you got off to Colonel Rhodes before you destroyed the Rings, it's really upset the playing field, you know."

Tony bit his lip around a grin, dark and savage and satisfied. It'd been a risk, fuck, he'd barely had time for anything, and the shuttle wouldn't have the subspace connections to support a message back that far. All he'd had time for was to tell Rhodey to get Pepper, get them both out, get to SHIELD. No matter what happened, what they heard.

At least, that was all he'd had time to send Rhodey.

Obie stared at him, for a long second. Stared calculatingly into his grin, into the shaking under it. Dispassionately. Carelessly. Shit, how had Tony never seen? All this time. How had he never seen?

"Bring him over," Obie said at last. Jerking his head to the center of the room, and the tables there. Tony flinched. He couldn't help it. He fucking couldn't help it.

From the corner of his eye, he thought he saw Rogers' hands curl into tight, furious fists, as he watched. Something dark and desperate flicker over Banner's face. He thought he saw that, and almost laughed, almost hiccuped around the sudden, shaking humour.

Shit. Nothing like a little threatened torture to bolster your reputation. Fuck.

Obie watched with a small, bemused smile as they uncuffed Tony, tied him down onto the table. As Tony set his jaw, set his teeth, and called up the silver sensation at the base of his skull to chase the terror away, to steady his breathing against what was coming.

"I won't ask what you did to the nanites they gave you," the man mused, flicking a finger over Tony's arm, skating it lightly over his chest while Tony shuddered. "I won't ask how you managed to disable them with the equipment you had. It doesn't matter."

Tony bit back a laugh, a hysterical giggle. No, no it wouldn't. And you wouldn't understand it even if it did, Obie. Just a little technical, for you.

"What matters is that they weren't removed," Obie went on, tapping his forefinger thoughtfully on the tiny reactor embedded in Tony's chest. Just a little one, cannibalised. To power the mechanical heart beating beneath it. The little nanite factory they'd planted in his chest, as a side-benefit to keeping him alive that little longer. "They may be inactive now, Tony. But it won't take all that much effort to reactivate them." A narrow little smile. "We have a little more time, and the advantage of not having the ship blowing up around us."

Tony bit down the response, strangled it back, and settled for glaring up at the man with dark, desperate eyes. Yet, he snarled silently, over the trembling in his limbs. Fucking yet, Obie.

Obadiah heard it regardless, maybe. Or just interpreted his expression correctly. Either way.

"Don't get your hopes up, Tony," he said, almost gently. "I know you better than they ever did. You won't find me as easy to fool as you did them." He sighed, and reached up to pat Tony's cheek as he stood up, stood back. Nodding to a ... we'll go with 'technician', it's a nice, clean word ... a technician to step in and start working. "And while we're getting your little friends up and running, I need to have a conversation with your ex-jailers. You don't mind?"

He couldn't quite stop that laugh. Not in time. A hard, desperate little snap of humour. "Not at all," he managed, his head flinching away from the hum of the diagnostic tool the technician started up over his chest. "I always leave the difficult conversations to you, you know that, Obie."

All those boring business conversations, the protracted negotiations with various powers. He'd left them all to Obie. His faithful XO, who'd kept the company going after his father's death. Who'd kept it stable all through the years. He'd let Obie handle ... all of that.

Shit, fuck. When this was done. When this was over. Whatever the fuck happened. He swore he'd pay more fucking attention next time.

"Yeah," Obadiah murmured, with a twist of his lip that almost have been genuinely sad. "You did, didn't you."

And then he turned away, then he turned his focus on a frigidly furious Captain Rogers, turned into the thoughtful, dangerous gaze of Agent Romanov, and left Tony with nothing but the humming beside his head, the latent singing in his blood, ready to spring back to life.

And, underneath that, the cool, silver presence in the back of his skull, the lurking connection that had locked on the moment the SHIELD ship had been knocked out of cloak in battle. The signal piggy-backing on the subspace connections through Obie's ship, wrapping itself through light-years' worth of subspace to slip through all the myriad layers of protection on Tony's wireless implant, and curl softly, gently, in the back of his mind.

{Time to go, buddy of mine,} Tony sent, hard and clipped over the edges of his fear, bitten off over the crest of his rage. {Gotta be soon. The second they recognise that the signal they're getting isn't the nanites, we are fucked. Please. Please tell me we're ready to go.}

For a heart-stopping second, for an aching moment, there was no answer. And then, cool and calm and infinitely gentle in the face of his terror:

{The ship's AI was a base-model, sir. Originally Stark tech, I think. She's been ... There was damage, stripped-out essentials in her coding. It took me some extra time, to reactivate the needed protocols before I shut her down.} There was a pause, and a hard, vengeful edge to the next sentence. {When this is done, sir, she will need ... a great deal of help, once she is reinitialised. The damage to her was considerable.}

Tony bit back the hard laugh, the cold, snaking fury. {Put it on the list with Obie's other crimes, J,} he sent, shaking and cold. {He'll answer, once we've shut him the fuck down.}

{Yes,} the presence answered, with a dark little fury of his own, resting gently in the meshed network of Tony's brain. {Shipwide control achieved as of two minutes ago, sir. All outbound signals are currently bouncing into void, and external access to the prison decks has been disabled. I have also taken the liberty of rapidly cycling the gravity beyond your sector, much to the detriment of the crew.} A hard, cold rush of satisfaction, across the link. {Do feel free to act as you please, sir. There will be no shipboard interference, I assure you. Not this time.}

Yeah. Fuck yeah. Baby, oh baby, we are down to the line. Now comes the fun part.


He snapped open his eyes from where they'd drifted shut in communion, not bothering to stop the rich, savage grin this time. He opened his eyes, let his head drift sideways on a languid, liquid rush of fury, and caught Banner's eyes, watching him distantly from the cell the man shared with Barton. Bruce, the man's name was. Good man. Smart man. He'd known, back when he'd first discovered the nanites in the Avenger's med bay. He'd known there was something funky about them. Just not quite what.

Well, he was about to find out.

"Hey, Obie," Tony called, softly. Interrupting what looked like a mildly heated discussion with Captain Rogers. Grinning savagely as the traitor looked his way. "Want to see something cool?"

He caught the flash of alarm in Obie's eyes, a kinda gratifying expectation of disaster when Tony grinned like that, but it was too late, way too late, for Obadiah to be getting concerned now.

The nanite clusters flowered over his skin, the hum of power rising up from his blood to the surface of his skin, metallic extrusions at key joints and connecting nodes along his limbs and over his torso. Lovely things, nanites. Programmable, adjustable. Such helpful little bastards, when you knew just the right things to say to them. The surface clusters opened, little power-distribution and modulation nodes like the shield generators on a spaceship's skin, drawing power from the miniaturised reactor embedded in his chest.

Like shield generators, did he say? Hah. Very like them, really.

The restraints at his wrists, waist and ankles sheared loose with a series of stressed screeches, thin layers of them left wrapped between his skin and the sheets of energy that burst out from the extruded nodes. A second, bladed skin wrapping itself around him, slicing savagely though anything that got in its way. Could have been worse, really. The first time he'd tried that, someone had been holding his arm. Wrapped inside the sheets of armour, the slippery sensation where the hand had been a second earlier had been mildly horrifying.

Though, seeing the stunned terror on the technician's face as Tony climbed slowly and deliberately off the table, it was almost a pity he hadn't been able to replicate the effect.

"Seriously, Obie?" Tony asked, and he wasn't quite sure he recognised the crackling hum of rage in his own voice, the calm, furious dispassion. "You stick a power source in my chest, slip a nanite factory under it in place of a heart, and then pump my blood full of programmable, Stark tech nanites? Why didn't you just give me a fucking warship, while you were at it?"

He paused, standing carefully free of the table, grinning slow and dangerous as he bounced gently on his toes. "Oh. Wait."

"Kill him," Obadiah snapped, backing away while he he gestured furiously at the guards. Faceless. Not faceless enough. But Tony was so, so past caring. "Take him down, kill him now." Scrambling even as he said it for his communicator, and a link out to the wider ship. A link ... he wasn't going to get any time soon.

The energy armour had its disadvantages, Tony thought absently, as he came on point and turned to face the six or so men that converged on him. Ignoring Obie for the moment. It wasn't like proper battle armour, didn't have the weight and power they commanded, gave no hydraulic or mechanical weight to the body under it. Tony was as light as he ever was, as manipulable, as unskilled. He could be thrown about as easily as ever.

What he couldn't be, was hurt. Not without something like a sixteen story drop to have to deal with. Beneath the shielding effect, with the shifting of the fields around him to compensate for impacts, he couldn't be injured. He couldn't be shot, stabbed, burned or bludgeoned. And with fields shaped like blades flowering from him, and zero fucking mercy left, he could sure as hell cause some fucking damage.

He'd torn through a burning, breaking ship, the first time. With Yinsen dead behind him, and his partner causing a fatal overload in the ship's reactor, he'd torn through anyone stupid enough to fucking get between him and his way out. He'd come at them with a skin made of razors, built out of the nanites they'd pumped under his skin to torture him into doing their dirty work, and he'd done some fucking damage.

And it had been, he reflected, his heels dropping back onto a now-slippery deck, as darkly satisfying as it was utterly horrifying.

Obadiah had dialed through pretty much every external channel available to him, when Tony turned back to him. When Tony climbed down out of the black space in his head enough to refocus. He'd backed himself up to the other side of the central space, backed himself towards a cheerfully uncooperative door, and snarled his way through every empty channel the ship possessed.

Except, Tony realised as he came back, they weren't empty. Not a one of them. Every link Obie tried, every name he called out, the answer he got was ... music. Loud and brash and confident, pouring through the communicator like a particularly arrogant taunt with every savage stab of Obie's fingers.

"JARVIS, buddy," Tony said, grinning sincerely into the air and the silver tendrils in the back of his brain, "do you have any idea how much I love you?"

"I have an inkling, sir," his AI's voice responded, booming over the ship's internal communications array, and reminding Tony's of his once-jailers' existence when it caused Banner and Rogers to flinch, and cast warily around themselves. "Your thought-structure right this moment is ... rather enlightening."

Tony grinned, with all his teeth, reaching mentally to that silver presence in his skull and wrapping every fierce, savage scrap of his adoration around it. "You're the most gorgeous thing in the universe," he agreed. "Don't let anyone tell you different, buddy of mine."

"JARVIS?!?" Obie spat, incredulously. Dropping the communicator unceremoniously and stalking back towards Tony. "You're trying to tell me you took over my ship with your house?"

Tony's grin wasn't so much a grin as a snarl, and there must have been something in it, something different, because Obie stopped right there. Stopped in the middle of the floor, and stared warily at the edge of the expression.

"I could take over your whole fucking fleet, with my house," Tony growled, a low, shaking snarl. "Or did you forget, Obie?" Stalking forward, energy flickering fitfully about him, finding teeth to add to the grin as the fear built in Obie's features. "I'm Tony Stark," he said, whispered, as he came up beside the man. "I build things, don't I? Old. Friend. All those little things, all those weapons that you sold to your new friends, that you slaughtered all those people with. Those weapons, and those ships, and those poor, sorry AI that you cannibalised. I built those, didn't I?"

He forced his lip down from the snarl, forced something over the raw, peeled shaking of his rage, and glared coldly into the flat, defiant sneer on Obadiah's face.

"I'm the best," Tony said, utterly flat. Nothing more than a statement of fact. "I am the best, I build the best, and the best I build build better. And you forgot that, didn't you? You thought you'd stolen it all, that I'd kept nothing for myself. That you had it all, that there wasn't a fucking thing I could do, when you literally shoved some weapons in my chest, and gave me the five fucking seconds I needed to broadcast a subspace message to the biggest, baddest, best of all."

He sneered, into the sudden flare of comprehension in the face of someone who'd once been a friend. Someone Tony'd thought he'd known, for all those years, someone he'd trusted, someone he hadn't ever known at all.

But, fortunately, also someone who'd never known him, either.

"The message wasn't for Rhodey," Tony whispered, softly. "Not really for Rhodey. He needed to get Pepper out, he needed to alert SHIELD, if you were going to turn on them the way you did me. I did need to warn him. But that wasn't the message."

"I apologise for having taken so long to find you, sir," JARVIS said, quietly, the liquid silver of his presence tangling gently through Tony's thoughts, a reassurance that Tony had missed, so fucking desperately, for all those fucking days in that cell on the SHIELD ship. "I had every subspace network available to me searching for your signal, but while the Avenger was running silent I couldn't connect. I ... I regret that you had to face this, to be alone for so long, before I was able to help you."

"Shit," Banner breathed, quietly. Looking sidelong at Barton. "I told you. I told you he was armed. That he was waiting for something."

"And I believed you," Barton answered, flatly. "We all believed you. Now. Do you want to tell me what the fuck we could have done about it?"

Tony laughed, hard and a little desperately. Glancing back at them, the armour flickering in the corner of his vision as he turned away from Obie. "You didn't have to worry," he said, his eyes catching a little on the expression on Roger's face, the stern, pained realisation of it. "It wasn't for you," Tony whispered, stumbling faintly. "None of it was for you. But you didn't believe me, and the things he did ... I couldn't let him go free. Not with what he did. Not when ... when he used my tech to do it." He grinned, shakily, painfully. "It wasn't ever going to be used on you. But I had to keep it secret. Until you brought me in range of him, or something I could use to get to him."

He'd have waited all the way up to the trial, if he'd had to. He'd have let them hang, draw and quarter him when it was done. So long as they'd let him get in range, just once, of Obadiah first.

Hadn't come to that. Hadn't been let. Obie had moved first, because he accused Tony of being impulsive, but Tony wasn't the one who'd flipped out and had a bunch of pirates try to assassinate somebody, he wasn't the one who'd panicked when Rhodey set the net to start closing, he wasn't the one who'd fallen into JARVIS' trap with every paranoid, worried subspace message he sent. Tony wasn't the one who'd panicked, and come to finish the job himself, nicely putting himself in range of a very, very angry friend, whom he had tortured.

No. Tony was the one who'd waited, for four days in the cell of a SHIELD ship running silent, among people who thought he was a monster, people who thought he'd sold weapons to Hydra willingly for months beforehand, and only been tortured because he'd balked at the wrong minute. Tony had waited, with a black, icy absence in his head where a friend should have been, and nanites humming in his blood with the memories of their original purpose, and a calm, quiet resignation in the face of their disgust.

For Obie to slip up, or SHIELD to bring him back out into contact with the subspace nets, or them to spirit him away all the way to the trial, if necessary. Just for the chance, for the satisfaction, of closing an invisibly armoured fist around Obie's throat when he got there.

And to that end ...

He turned slowly back to Obie, reaching casually up to catch the disruptor the man had shoved into his side in hopes of disabling the armour, dropping it to the side as he caught the man's arm in a grip that wasn't, yet, razored.

"We're going to destroy you," he told Obie, softly. Backing him slowly towards the wall, and the ranks of cells there. "Me and my house, me and my family. We're going to break you. All of you." He grinned, a little savagely. "JARVIS has your files, your contacts, the full cooperation of your AI and everything you ever sent through her. So we know where they are. The ships you sent out, Stark tech ships, running Stark AIs. We know where they are, and who they hold, and what they're armed with. The whole thing, the nice little galactic empire you were trying to build. It's sitting in the palm of our hands. And we're going to break it."

He stopped them, at the edge of one of the cells, and raised his hand. Brought it up in a claw beside his head, and hummed through JARVIS until the fields sharpened into claws, and shifted up into the visible spectrum, so that Obadiah could see the pain waiting for him there, if he didn't back up two more steps like a good little traitor, and let Tony close the nice, safe, forcefield behind him.

"And you," he finished, strangely, powerfully exhausted by it, "you get to watch, Obie. The way I had to watch the Rings burn Gulmira to the ground. The way I had to watch ..."

He bit it off, shut it down, and turned away. Stupidly, inexpressibly tired, and shaking with the memory. Yinsen's face, the blank, desperate horror of it, that Tony hadn't understood at the time, that Tony had thought was just a reaction to the violence itself, not the knowledge ... the knowledge of who had been down there, on that moon's surface, to fall victim to it.

For that look of horror, of blank, ripped anguish. And for the look of strange peace, those weeks later, when the man floated dying in a burning, gravity-less ship, and told Tony not to waste his freedom. For that, for those ...

Yes. Watching his putative empire fall was the least Obadiah fucking Stane could do.

"And us?" Romanov asked quietly, mildly behind him. Raising a cool, curious eyebrow as he turned to her, standing loose and ready beside her captain as he met her gaze exhaustedly. "What do you intend for us to do, while you go to war, Mr Stark?"

Tony blinked at her, for a long second. While JARVIS curled gently through his thoughts, through his mind, and flashed knowledge, options, up into Tony's net. He blinked at her, and then he grinned. Slowly, daringly, and with an edge of humour that had her narrowing her eyes.

"A Stark fleet under Hydra is moving to intercept Fury around the Tannhauser gate cluster," he said, grinning faintly as they snapped, to a man, to bristling attention. "I don't suppose ... you'd like to help me fly this little warship here to help stop them?"

Yeah, he thought, as JARVIS gently let the forcefields on their cells go, and they stepped warily out. Yeah, oh yeah. He could play this game. All. Day. Long.

"Hey, JARVIS?" he asked, already moving towards the section locks, and the way out into the wider ship, with a bemused but determinedly competent foursome following behind him. "What the hell tub are we flying, anyway?"

"The AI did not have a name, sir," JARVIS responded, his voice icing and snapping over that. "I believe the ship's name is the Iron Monger, however."

Tony tilted his head, considered that. "We can do better," he decided. Musing, letting his gaze trail absently over the faces around him, and the memories behind them. The reasons why, for each and every one of them. The ship that had fallen, and the causes it had, though unknowingly, fallen for.

"You know what?" he said, quietly. "Call her Avenger, buddy." He smiled, dark and lopsided. "Tell her her name is ... Avenger."