Tony is used to meetings - boardrooms that are filled with too much tension as people argue over solutions, or discuss make-or-break deals. They don’t bother him anymore; he’s so accustomed to them that all of the stress and worry just washes over him and he’s left being the one to make the jokes, to point out the obvious, to be totally casual. This, though, is probably the tensest meeting he’s ever been in and even he is on edge.
Technically it isn’t a meeting at all, it’s a debriefing. There isn’t much order either, Tony thinks. Bruce is walking up and down the room, counting his steps while in the corner Natasha is dressing a wound in Barton’s arm.
“That still doesn’t explain how you lot managed to take out an entire shopping mall.” Fury sounds like he’s trying really hard not to shout, jabbing his finger against the table-top with each word. Tony’s seen the guy angry before but never this angry. It’s a little over the top, frankly, considering the Avengers have just taken down a drug-dealing super-villain…even if they did have to sacrifice an Abercrombie and Fitch during the process. Tony’s isn’t looking in the right direction, but he still knows that Steve glances his way before replying.
“Sir, it was a split second decision and certain strategic differences of opinion led to the new mall – not finished yet, by the way, so there was no one inside – getting a little smashed up. It also led to the capture of our target, for the record.”
“Strategic differences of opinion?” Of course, that’s the bit Fury takes notice of.
“Yes sir.” This time, Steve doesn’t look at Tony.
“What you mean is, you and Stark disagreed again and it led to thousands of dollars’ worth of damaged property again, and a negative front page headline for the Avengers again. Is that what he means, Stark?”
It’s not often that Tony gets addressed in these debriefings – Steve usually takes the brunt of Fury’s anger – so it takes him a moment to realise he’s expected to reply. “That sounds about right.”
“This needs to stop. The Avenger Initiative won’t work if you two are constantly at each other’s throats.”
Leaning back in his chair, Tony shrugs – just because he isn’t relaxed, doesn’t mean he can’t act like he is – and gestures towards Steve. “So tell Captain Rogers here.”
“Tell me?” Steve’s voice has just a hint of anger to it, which means Tony’s annoyed him. Good. “You’re the one who absolutely refuses to cooperate at all.”
“Are you referring to how I don’t blindly follow whatever order you throw at me? Because I’m not going to apologise for actually having a mind of my own, soldier.”
“There’s a difference between discussing strategy as a team and being a one-man show who puts everyone else in danger.”
Tony rolls his eyes. “If you’re talking about Hawkeye, he’s perfectly capable of looking after himself.”
“It doesn’t matter how competent a person is, you still don’t have the right to put any of us in even more danger than we’re already in. Clint got injured, in case you’re forgetting.”
“I’m so sorry I don’t live up to your perfect standards, Rogers. Of course I should have predicted that Clint would follow me.”
“You shouldn’t have forced him into a position where he had to make that choice.”
And that’s going to be a problem because Tony has never asked – will never ask – these guys to follow him into danger and he’s not going to change the way he works just because they’ve decided they need to. “Well, tell him not to bother next time. I’d have been fine without him.”
“Sure you would have been.”
“I would have. Just because you’ve always needed men to risk their lives watching your back doesn’t mean we all do.” It’s a low blow he knows and the look on Steve’s face when he says it is almost enough to make him back down, until Steve’s face goes blank and he answers back.
“At least I’ve always had friends willing to do that. Who do you have? The people who work for you? The people you pay?”
It shouldn’t sting as much as it does. Tony knows Pepper is his friend because she’s his friend, not because he has money or because he employs her. He’s sure Steve knows it too, actually, but the words still hurt and Tony can’t find it in himself to apologise for what he said. Instead, he stands up.
“Right, well, if I’m so alone and friendless, I’ll go and be that way by myself instead of listening to this crap any longer. I did the right thing out there – the only thing I could do at the time – and maybe it did upset some people with money but I don’t care. I can afford to pay it back.” He stops at the door. “And, Rogers, you’re not anywhere near as nice as people say you are.”
As Tony heads towards the building’s exit, he realises he’s just broken a three year streak of not walking out of meetings and snorts. Figures it would be Steve ‘flawless’ Rogers who would make him do that. There’s a stubborn part of him that wants to go back inside just because of that, but the bit of him that wants to go home, crank up the music and work in his ‘shop for hours wins out.
He needs to think about something other than the Avengers for a little while, otherwise he’s going to go mad. Mad thinking about how there are people relying on him to toe the line now, which he’s never been very good at doing. Mad thinking about people like Steve toeing the line too much - his inability to challenge supposed authority figures getting on Tony’s nerves. Mad thinking about how what he said must have hit close to home for Steve; the guy has never talked about his past, but he was a solider. It stood to reason he’d lost friends in battle before. Tony knows that the way Steve had lashed out so badly made it more personal, means he went too far with what he’d said.
It’s only been a couple of months since the Avengers were formed and Tony knows Steve feels guilty for what happened to Phil – they all do. He imagines that guilt, magnified by however many people Steve has lost in his lifetime, and feels even more awful. He doesn’t like Rogers, but no-one deserves that.
By the time Tony gets home he’s managed to make himself feel a lot less guilty; it was Steve, after all, who started everything by bringing up their strategic differences of opinion, and it was Steve who had insinuated that money was all he was. He’d just … given as good as he’d got.
Inside his workshop he turns up the volume on his music, but almost immediately turns it down again and makes a call. It takes a while for Pepper to answer, but when she does Tony launches into the conversation without so much as a hello.
“I’m thinking of leaving the Avengers.”
There’s an audible sigh from the other end of the line. “Why this time?”
“Because, Pepper, Captain America is a dick.”
“I like Steve.”
Of course she does. “Well, you shouldn’t. He thinks you’re only my friend because I employ you.”
“What did you do to him to make him say that?”
“Who says I did anything?”
“Me. Years of experience.”
“Touché. Seriously though, I could go it alone again – I was fine before them.”
“But they’re your team, Tony.”
“They’re not my team. They’re a team. Which I don’t have to be a part of, for the record.”
“Yes, well, don’t do anything rash. I’m fine by the way, thanks for asking.”
And this, Tony knows, is why Pepper decided they should go back to being just friends. He’s too preoccupied with himself, apparently. “That’s good to hear.”
“I’ll talk to you soon Tony.”
He hangs up and looks around for something to do. “JARVIS, pull up the latest improvement designs for Iron Man.”
This, technology and schematics and Iron Man, is what he knows, what he’s good at. Not teamwork, not following everything Steve says without considering his other options. Most people know that; he really wishes Captain America would get the memo.
Tony tends to lose track of time when he’s working, especially when he’s working as a way to burn through his anger. As a result, he’s not sure how long he’s been down in his workshop when JARVIS tells him that there’s someone at the door. He’s half-tempted to ignore whoever it is and pretend that he’s out, but it could be Pepper or maybe Rhodey, who he’s needed to talk to for a while, so he heads upstairs. When he sees who it is though, he immediately wishes he’d gone with his first impulse.
Standing in the doorway, holding his shield in front of him, Steve looks even more awkward than he usually does around Tony. In fact, if Tony didn’t know that Steve liked to keep his shield on him at all times in case of emergency, it would almost look like Steve is trying to protect himself with it.
“I’m sorry, Tony.” Steve takes a step into the room and then stops, planting his feet firmly as if he’s not going to move any further unless invited which, Tony realises, is probably the case. “I shouldn’t have said what I did back at headquarters. It was unprofessional and it was nasty and if I could take it back, I would.”
And that makes Tony feel very small, because he never says sorry and that was probably the sincerest apology he’s ever heard. “I do have friends you know, more than you.”
“I know. And you have more money than me so it’s a win-win for you.” Steve sighs. “I’m not sorry about everything else though – you shouldn’t have risked your life like that.”
“That’s the way I work.”
“But it doesn’t have to be anymore. You’ve got a team now – you can have help, go with other strategies, because there are more of us. And at the same time we’re all relying on you to think about the implications for us before you act.”
“It was the only option I could see – waiting would have wasted time.”
“If you’d have waited, you’d have heard Natasha’s much less dangerous option. Sometimes people see things others don’t.”
Tony has JARVIS bring up a screen, not because he needs something but because while he’s swapping files around at a speed Steve will struggle to follow, he has time to think. “Sit down Steve, you’re making the whole room look awkward just standing there.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind?”
Tony shrugs. “We’ve got to at least try and find some common ground – a compromise, like Fury said – otherwise this isn’t going to work.”
“I want it to work.” Steve lowers himself into a chair and leans forward. “It’s a good thing we’re trying to do, the Avengers.”
“It is.” He thinks of Phil Coulson, of innocent civilians running for cover. “I want it to work, too, but we’re very different people.”
“I know we are.”
Steve’s never felt totally comfortable around Tony Stark – the man’s too rich, too confident for that – but this, sitting perched on a chair in Tony’s living room is even more awkward than their encounters usually are. He had to come though, because he is sorry. He’s sorry that he said something he knew would sting and he’s sorry he and Tony can’t get along, and most of all he’s sorry that they haven’t been able to recover a balance like the tentative working relationship they’d eventually found against Loki during the attack on New York.
Not that Tony had pulled his punches either. For someone who had been so affected by the death of Agent Phil Coulson, Tony had sure tossed around vibes about fallen soldiers easily. The pain he’d felt at the memory of all those he’d lost was what had caused Steve to lash out, but he knows it’s no excuse. Following one wrong with another is no solution to a problem.
Tony’s messing around with something on his computer and Steve’s pretty sure it’s a distraction technique, “Tony, surely you can see where I’m coming from.”
He’s met with silence.
He tries again. “There has to be some sort of order, a hierarchy, otherwise everyone will be doing their own thing and it’ll be chaos.”
Steve doesn’t get to hear the rest of Tony’s sentence because his cell phone rings. A glance at the screen tells him it’s Clint, which is odd because he never calls. Steve hopes this change in habit is for a good reason but he suspects it isn’t even before he starts talking. “Clint, this is-”
“We’ve got a problem Cap.”
He sighs, letting himself relax back into the chair a little more because if he’s going to problem-solve he might as well be comfortable doing it. “Okay, fill me in.”
“Not over the phone. This is…this is bigger than Bruce hulking out in the mall or Tony pissing Natasha off again.”
“I’ll meet you at HQ then.”
“No can do, Cap. Is this line as secure as it can be?”
Steve pulls away from his cell for a moment. “Tony, is this line as secure as possible?”
“Of course it is – it’s my tech.”
He nods and focuses on Clint again. “It’s safe.”
There’s a muffled noise and then Clint speaks. “Right, I need you and Tony to meet us at the first place we drank coffee together, as soon as you can.”
“Not over the phone Steve. Listen, don’t tell anyone where you’re going. I don’t care if Pepper’s there and you have to make up an excuse, do it. Make sure you’re not followed, too. And oh,” Clint says, “avoid the cops.” He hangs up.
“What did Clint want?” Tony’s been doing something with JARVIS again, but even so Steve can tell he’s been concentrating on this end of the phone conversation.
Steve pauses for a moment and then decides to go with honesty. “I’m not exactly sure.”
“You’re not sure?”
“He wouldn’t say over the phone. Wants us to meet him at that coffee place you hate, make sure we’re not followed and avoid the police.” The more Steve thinks about it, the more worried he’s becoming. Clint isn’t the type to over-dramatize things; whatever is going on, it’s serious.
“Very cloak and dagger.” Tony stands up. “We should get going then.”
“Yes. But there’s something we should do first – we have no idea what we’re heading into, right?”
“We should at least be as prepared as possible.”
“Well, me bringing the suit is a given.”
“I’ve got my shield. We need money.”
Tony holds up a credit card. “You got your spangles?”
“That’s not funny.”
This is why Steve finds it so hard to get along with Tony; they’re about to head into an unknown, potentially dangerous situation, and the man is still mocking him. Sure, Tony would probably say he needs to lighten up, take a joke, but Steve had more than enough of being mocked before he became Captain America.
“We should go.” Tony’s already heading for the door as he speaks. “We can take one of my cars.”
“No we can’t.”
If Steve takes an inordinate amount of satisfaction from being able to point out the obvious, well, he’s only human. “Don’t get followed. Your cars are too conspicuous. It’s safer and smarter to take mine.”
“That piece of junk?”
“It’s a classic.”
“It belongs on a scrap heap.” But Tony does change direction and heads towards the front door. “If it falls apart as we drive, I’m blaming you.”
Steve happens to like his car. It’s good looking without being too aggressively flashy; a good car to blend in with and despite what Tony says it’s in very good condition; the engine runs well it drives smoothly. Or at least it does when he doesn’t have to put up with Tony grumbling and critiquing his driving skills from the passenger seat.
“Can you just stop?” Turning a corner, Steve waits until he’s on a straight road again before shooting a glare at Tony. “When it’s your car, you can decide how it’s driven. Right now we’re in my car, and if I want to drive at the speed limit instead of over it, I will.”
“Fine, if you want to keep them waiting.”
“I want to get there without drawing any attention to ourselves.”
Tony makes a humming noise. “Might be a little late for that, Cap.”
“Police cruiser, three cars behind. It’s been behind us for at least two corners. Might be nothing but-”
“It might be a tail.” Steve finishes, glancing at the car in his mirror. “I’ll try and lose them just in case.”
“I wonder what’s happened.” Tony points at a turn-off. “We can get there that way, too.”
“Thanks.” It’s dangerous, but he leaves it right until the last possible minute to flip on his turn signal. “And I don’t know what’s going on, but whatever it is it can’t be good.”
The police car is still behind them and Steve knows now, without a doubt, that they’re being followed. He doesn’t speed up, not wanting to turn this into a chase.
“What are you going to do?”
Steve shrugs. “I’ll lose them as soon as I get a chance.”
“I knew we should have brought my car – much quicker.”
“Also easier to spot.” Up ahead, he can see a stop light starting to change to red; this is his chance. Slamming hard on the gas pedal, he doesn’t slow down until they’re through the red light and he’s sure their tail hasn’t managed to follow.
“You ran a red light.” Tony laughs. “That’s illegal, Captain America.”
He rolls his eyes. Tony seems to think he’s the kind of guy who sticks to every rule like glue. “Sometimes breaking the law is necessary.”
“Like when you’re running from the cops?”
“Sure, like then,” he deadpans.
Tony twists in his seat to look at him. “Got any more surprises, Dudley Do-Right?”
This time the nickname doesn’t sound mocking to Steve, and he smirks. “Maybe a few, Tony. Maybe a few.”
By the time they reach the meeting place that Clint had suggested, Steve’s gone through countless scenarios in his head. Maybe one of them has been hurt – or worse – and Clint doesn’t want to deliver the news over the phone. Maybe it’s not even something real, just something SHIELD has set up to test them in some way. As he parks the car, he wonders If Tony’s been thinking of similar things.
“He could have chosen somewhere else to meet.” Tony says from outside of the car, leaning back in through the open door. “He knows I hate this place.”
“Exactly. We’ve only been here twice so no-one will think to look for us here.”
“I’m still not convinced.”
Steve shrugs and gets out of the car. “So complain to Clint, not me.”
They fall into step as they walk towards the coffee shop and Steve can’t relax, keeps looking around trying to spot anything that seems off, anything that might explain why they’re here.
“Looks like we’re the last to arrive.” Tony nods towards the window where they can just make out the rest of their team sitting at a table in the corner of the room. “I don’t like being the last to know things.”
“You might not want to know at all when we find out what the problem is.” He reaches for the door handle. “I guess we’ll see.”
As soon as they’re inside, Steve can see that whatever is going on is definitely as serious as the phone call had made it seem. There’s no-one else in the place, not even any staff, and a glance back at the door confirms that the closed sign is up. Steve doubles back and locks the door behind them before moving to join everyone at the table.
“Were you followed?” It’s Natasha who speaks, standing up to look out of the window as though she needs to check for herself.
“We had some police behind us for a while but Cap skipped a red light and lost them.” Tony’s helping himself to coffee and Steve makes a mental note to make sure they leave money.
“What’s going on?” Steve needs to know; he always hates it when he doesn’t know all of the details, when he can’t be fully in control of any given situation if need be.
“Something really bad, that’s what.” Bruce tips his head back to look at the plain ceiling, taking a few deep breaths.
“Yeah.” Clint picks up a remote and points it at the television that’s mounted on the wall. “We’re all now on the city’s list of wanted criminals.”
Steve doesn’t have to see anything beyond the headline - Avengers Go Rogue - to know that they have a major, major problem. “What are we being accused of?”
“Armed bank robbery.”
“I have money.” Tony sets his coffee down on the table with more force than necessary. “We don’t need to rob a bank.”
“Stealing state secrets.”
“They can’t be serious.” Steve glances back up at the television just in time to see a photo of himself flash up on the screen.
“And various other crimes, including assault, car theft and possession of an illegal weapon.”
“Is this some sort of a slander campaign that’s been taken seriously by mistake?”
Clint shakes his head. “This is serious – we’re proper suspects in a proper police investigation.”
“Who knows?” Bruce sighs. “All we know is there’s a manhunt, we’re being accused of crimes we didn’t commit and we can’t trust SHIELD enough to rely on their help.”
Natasha turns back away from the window. “We think there’s a chance they could be orchestrating this.”
Steve hates to think that that might be true but it actually makes sense; SHIELD definitely has the resources and access to information to be able to set them up. Still, he can’t think of any reason why Fury and his people would want to do this, even if their working relationship with the Avengers has been tense lately.
“What’s our plan?” It’s the first time Thor has spoken since Steve entered the room and it makes him start, wondering why Thor has been so quiet up until now.
“We need to figure out what’s going on, obviously.” Tony taps his fingers against the edge of the table. “Problem is, if we try our usual sources of information we’ll be spotted.”
Steve nods. “Everyone knows what Tony Stark and Captain America look like. And they’ll have photos of the rest of you on the news too.”
“So we stay under the radar.” Natasha folds her arms together and looks at them all in turn. “We split up – people will recognise us faster if we’re all together – and we find out who is doing this to us.”
“That could work,” Tony says, “We wouldn’t be able to have any contact, though, it’d be too risky.”
Clint hums in agreement. “So we’d split for a set amount of time and set a rendezvous point.”
Steve doesn’t like how quickly this is sounding like a plan, not when they don’t even know who their enemy is. “Splitting up isn’t our only option here. We could contact SHIELD right now, and try to find out what’s going on.”
Tony snorts. “Fury’s lied to us before – we don’t know for sure that we can trust him.”
“We don’t know that we can’t, either.”
“You know,” Bruce sounds thoughtful, “It really wouldn’t be in SHIELD’s interests for a group they brought together to go bad – there’s no real reason I can see why they’d set us up this way.”
“Exactly.” He shoots a smile at Bruce, grateful to him for backing his point up. “They might be able to sort this out quickly. Either way, we’re stronger as a group.” As he finishes speaking, Steve thinks he can almost feel Thor’s sigh, it’s that big.
“My friends, whether the decision is to part ways or stay together, I can’t remain here – I have to return to Asgard before tomorrow at the latest. I’m sorry.”
Steve has to admit that not having one of the more indestructible members of their team on hand for this is a loss, but he knows Thor wouldn’t be leaving unless he had to. “Don’t worry about it. Just out of curiosity, what would you do?”
“I’ve not come across a problem like this before, Captain.”
“I don’t think any of us have.” Bruce sighs, “Not quite like this, anyway.”
“Whatever we decide, we’re going to need to do it fast.” Clint’s talking with the professional tone he always uses when they have a task than needs to get done. “We can’t stay here for much longer.”
Steve agrees, and he’s really wishing he’d parked his car further away from the meeting place. “Where would we even meet if we did decide to split up?”
“At the back of Justin Hammer’s place.” Tony shrugs when they all turn to look at him questioningly. “It’s the last place people would think I’d go and it would cause him all kinds of grief if something went wrong – bonus.”
Natasha doesn’t smile. “We could split for a week – that should give us enough time to do some digging.”
“We can dig together.” Steve tries again. “I mean, if we’re already losing Thor then I think we should go for strength in numbers, watch each other’s backs.”
“It’s easier to travel without raising suspicion in smaller groups.”
“We won’t have a clue where the rest of us are, or if they need help. How would you feel if-” Steve breaks off at the sound of sirens.
Natasha looks out of the window and then ducks, gesturing for them to do the same. “Okay, there are snipers outside, police cars already parked up – they must have just turned on their sirens now. I don’t think we’re going to make it out of the front way.”
Clint curses. “The back of this place leads into a pretty tight alley – too small for cars. They might have a few people stationed there already, but it’s probably our best chance.”
Steve knows they’re right but it doesn’t reassure him much. “As soon as we make a move, they’ll know where we’re heading and make their way to the back.”
Thor clears his throat. “I’ll hold them off, provide a distraction – I’d have been leaving soon anyway. I’ll go home to Asgard from here.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. It’s not much help, but it’s something I can do while I am still here.”
Steve understands wanting to help as much as possible so he nods and points the others in the direction of the door. Well-practiced, they move as one when Thor starts up his commotion.
They’re lucky; only one end of the lane is blocked by police officers. They start running and if it was just one or two of them they’d be okay, but together there’s no way they’re all going to make it. Aware that Natasha has been proven right, Steve glances over his shoulder and halts. Together, they’re not going to be fast enough, but like Thor he can give the others more of a chance – slow the police down by surrendering himself. In front of him he can see Natasha, Clint and Bruce disappear around the corner. He’s about to turn around and throw his hands up in the air when he’s tugged upright instead. He’s been lifted – against his will, mostly – enough by Iron Man to know what it feels like by now. This time he can’t bring himself to complain.
They’re flying quickly – Tony always does – but Steve can just make out the guns. He’s about to warn Tony but he doesn’t get the chance. Tony manages to dodge most of the bullets, but a few bounce off the metal arms of Iron Man. Steve is once again very grateful to have his shield – without it, he’s certain he’d have taken a bullet by now.
When they land ten minutes later, they stand in silence for a long moment. Steve can’t quite believe what’s just happened. He has to be alert though, so he looks around. Tony’s brought them down onto the top of a parking lot; there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, but there will be cameras.
“We have to move quickly.” He looks over at Tony. “First thing you need to take off the suit – it’s too noticeable.”
“Oh really? I thought it blended in quite well.”
Steve doesn’t have to be able to see Tony’s face to know that he’s just rolled his eyes, because he’s heard that sarcastic tone plenty of times. “Do you think the others will be far away?”
“Probably not. But trying to find them is going to be pretty hard, especially when Natasha doesn’t want to be found.”
“You think they’ll be going ahead with her plan, splitting up?”
Cradling Iron Man’s mask, Tony gives him a long, hard look. “I think Cap, after what’s just happened it’s our only option.”
Steve still hates the idea of a week without contact, but he can see Tony’s point; the fact they actually had to split up in order to escape shows that this is one of the rare times when being a team worked to their disadvantage. Sighing, he pulls his cell phone out and dumps it in the nearest trash can, watches Tony do the same. Now it’s just the two of them. Just he and Tony for a whole week. Steve hopes they’ll manage somehow not to kill each other.
Tony can’t quite get over the fact that he’s on the run with Captain America. On the run with Steve. It would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact they’ve already been shot at, don’t even know if the rest of their team are okay and, oh, they’re on the run. It doesn’t help that the only piece of technology he has on him is the Iron Man suit in its case, and he won’t be able to use it unless he really has to. Steve, he knows, has the bag of stuff he brought from the house as well as his oh-so-recognisable shield. They make quite a conspicuous pair really, except for the way they’re constantly fighting.
“You think Thor made it?”
He glances sideways at Steve as they walk; the guy looks like the definition of worried – brow creased into a frown, lips pressed slightly together, his free hand in a fist at his side. It’s a look Steve only gets when one of the team might be in trouble or hurt, and Tony wonders whether when he’s been separated from the team on missions Steve has ever looked that worried about him. Then it’s his turn to frown because why does that even matter?
Right, Steve had asked him a question. “If anyone could have been the distraction and still manage to escape back to Neverland, Asgard, whatever – it’s Thor.”
“I guess you’re right.” Steve’s frown remains in place but his fist unclenches. “First thing first then, we need to get out of the city until we figure out our next move – too many chances to get caught here.”
“We’re going to need a car.”
“We can’t risk renting or buying one.”
“Have to steal one then, won’t we?” Tony had expected the look of horror on Steve’s face but it still makes him smirk. “Cap, we’re being accused of it anyway; we might as well do it.”
Steve nods. “I know. I don’t like it but it’s necessary.”
The street they’re on has a lot of cars and Tony knows it’ll be better to acquire one as soon as possible so he stops walking and looks around, trying to find the most suitable looking car to take.
“That one over there.”
Tony looks over to where Steve’s pointing and sees a car in decent condition with a for sale sign on the dash. “Why that one?”
“The people are already trying to get rid of it – we can put money through the mail slot and the deal’s done.”
“Steve, I think that makes you the most honourable car thief ever.”
“Makes us honourable car thieves – I haven’t got enough money on me to pay.”
“I knew you only kept me around for my money, and my dashing good looks, of course.”
Steve nods, a smile playing around his lips. “You caught me – I’m the definition of a gold-digger.”
“I knew it. Question – how exactly are we going to steal it? I don’t know about you but I-”
“I can hotwire it.” Steve’s already walking towards the car they’ve chosen. “I don’t think there’s anyone home, but if you’ll go take care of the money, I’ll get the car ready just in case.”
“You’ll hotwire it.” Tony repeats Steve’s words as he digs his wallet out of his pocket. He counts more money out of his wallet than the car is worth, listening to the sounds of Steve breaking into the car as he finishes. The engine actually sputters to life as he puts the last of the cash through the slot in the door. As he runs back to join Steve, climbing into the passenger seat, he wonders how many other illegal skills the good Captain has kept secret. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“Bucky taught me.” Steve grins, a little wistfully. “His Dad was a mechanic. Of course, cars have changed since then but the principals are the same.”
“Of course,” he echoes, “Who’s Bucky?”
“A friend. One of those friends who risked their life for me.”
Tony instantly feels awful, reminded of his words from earlier in the day. Somehow, though, he doesn’t think Steve will appreciate an apology right now. Instead, he reaches forward and turns on the radio. “Let’s get out of the city.”
Usually in times of crisis, Tony calls Pepper. Pepper is wonderful; she can smooth out almost any incident, sort out travel plans so that he always has somewhere to hide, and probably best of all she understands when he genuinely needs help as opposed to when he needs to be left alone to fall on his ass. It feels strange then, not getting in touch with her immediately but he knows it’s safer for her this way; she’s the first person the authorities will talk to. No, the only person he has to rely on other than himself is Steve, which is a slightly worrying prospect given how much they tend to disagree.
The accommodation that he and Steve have managed to get is a lot less savoury than the type of place Pepper usually organises. The no-questions-asked motel had only had one room with one double bed available and it’s a long way from what any reasonable person would consider to be clean. From the noise Steve made when he’d gone into the bathroom for a shower, there’s also no hot water.
“Water’s cold.” Steve walks out into the room. He’s fully dressed but his hair is still damp, the material of his top clinging a little to his torso.
Tony coughs and looks away. “Might give it a miss then.”
“That’s probably wise. Do you think the guy who checked us in recognised us?”
Tony really hopes not. “I don’t think so – the hood did the trick. Probably.”
“Yeah.” Steve perches on the edge of the bed opposite Tony. “Might be a good idea to move on in the morning though, just in case.”
“Great. Another fleabag.”
Steve snorts. “Don’t complain. You realise if you’d have ended up with the other three you probably wouldn’t even be spending the night indoors.”
“If I’d been with the others, I wouldn’t have been able to save your ass,” Tony points out. “Course, it’s a very nice ass to save.” The flirting embarrasses Steve, which is why he always does it.
Steve looks down at the floor for a moment and then back up to meet his eyes. “I appreciate that – the saving me part, I mean. Thank you.”
“We’re a team.” He shrugs. “Even if we are dysfunctional enough to make a therapist weep with frustration. Besides, you were trying to help us all, least I could do was help you back.
“We’re going to have to do a lot of that over the next week.”
“A lot of what?”
“Help each other.”
Steve, Tony knows, is right. For the next week, all they’ve got is each other. No Pepper to organise anything, no Bruce to calm down their bickering. Just the two of them. Tony knows there’s a joke in there somewhere – he and Captain America alone in a seedy motel room together – but he doesn’t laugh, Things are actually too serious for that.
“We’ll manage for a week,” he says instead, and hopes that Steve will understand the unspoken I’ve got your back and the I trust you and the I hope we can make this work.
“I know we will.” Steve replies, sounding honest and sure and letting Tony know he understands.
He changes the subject. “We should turn on the news. See what they’re saying about us.”
Steve nods and reaches for the remote. “Might tell us something about Thor or the others too. It’ll be a good way of finding out if they get caught.”
“Speaking of caught, how did they find us so quickly?” It’s been bugging him all day.
“My car, I think. Should have parked it further away.”
“Right, makes sense.” He turns towards the television just in time to see their pictures flash up on the screen. It’s not a strange thing, seeing himself featured on the news. The ‘wanted’ underneath his photo is new, though, and he really doesn’t like it. The screen changes to video footage of the scene of their escape and Tony relaxes ever so slightly at the flash of lightning that he knows means Thor managed to get back to Asgard.
It changes again, and there’s someone Tony doesn’t know talking. He wonders why the story on them had been so quick until he hears what the woman is saying and realises it isn’t finished. The woman, who Tony is sure he’s never seen before, describes a bank robbery, describes terror, describes the Avengers with guns and using force to obtain money. She’s claiming to be an eyewitness – one of many, apparently.
“Do you recognise her?” Steve speaks quietly, eyes fixed on the screen.
He looks back at her again, to make sure. “No.”
“Me neither. The report says there’s a bank full of witnesses. Why would they all lie?”
“I don’t know.” They have so many enemies already. “Any one of the bad guys we took down? Someone not even on our radar? SHIELD?”
Steve head snaps around. “Did you see them too?”
“Some of the guns back there – they were SHIELD issue.”
He tries not to jump to conclusions. “Maybe they were trying to bring us in. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re behind this.”
“But there’s a chance, Tony, isn’t there?”
The last time Steve had started to question SHIELD, Loki had attacked New York. Sighing, Tony nods and leans forward to switch off the television set. “It’s a possibility, yeah.”
“Okay. Then until we know for sure, we don’t contact SHIELD no matter what happens. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” He hesitates over saying what he knows needs to happen but Steve’s smart, he’ll understand. “But we do need to try and find out if they’re behind this as soon as we can. We know better than anyone how many resources Fury and his people have.”
Steve shifts on the bed, moving back so he’s leaning against the headboard. “What do you want to do?”
“I need to get to a SHIELD computer.”
“In the city?”
“Yeah, Jane Foster’s lab. It doesn’t have the security of SHIELD HQ but it’s connected to the system. Plus, it’s Jane. If she catches us, she might give us a head start.”
“There’s something else we need to do first.” Steve grimaces. “The eyewitness – we need to speak to her, see if she’s been paid to incriminate us or figure out what else is going on.”
“Seems like we have a plan for tomorrow, then.”
He grins at Steve, trying to lighten the atmosphere. “Let’s hope it goes better than today.”
It’s dark and the room still smells of the greasy take-out pizza they’d ordered in. Tony’s lying in bed going over schematics in his head, which he knows is the worst thing he can do when he wants to sleep but he can’t stop himself. He’s thinking about stealth technology that would be really useful for going on the run with, but somehow ends up listening to Steve instead. Lying just a few inches away from him, Steve’s not actually making much noise at all apart from his breathing, steady and reassuring, and the thought that Steve’s presence can be calming rather than aggravating is strange.
“Tony?” Steve speaks quietly, his voice low. “Are you awake?”
“Yeah. Haven’t been to sleep yet. Are you okay?”
“I guess so – I just can’t stop thinking.”
“I know the feeling.” Tony gives up on any pretence of going to sleep and sits up in the dark. “I feel like I should be doing something.”
“There’s nothing we can do tonight; best thing we could do is sleep.”
“I won’t be able to.”
He considers that for a moment then reaches to grope in the dark for the lamp that’s next to his side of the bed. When he looks over, he sees that Steve is sitting up as well, skin now bathed in the orangey light from the lamp. “So we’ll talk, call it team-building if you like.”
Steve laughs a little, turning over on his side so he’s facing Tony. “What about?”
“Rainbows and puppies.”
Steve laughs again, surprising Tony. He’s heard Steve laugh before but never at his quips although, he realises guiltily, most of his quips over the last few months have been at Steve’s expense.
“What do you want to talk about, Tony?” Steve asks again.
“Tell me about Bucky.” He regrets it almost as soon as he speaks – he doesn’t want to ruin the progress they’ve made over the course of the day – but Steve surprises him by nodding and smiling.
“Bucky was my best friend - he liked me even before the serum. He was funny and he liked the movies and he was good with the dames – ladies, that is.”
“He sounds like a good guy.”
“He was.” Steve manages to look wistful, sad and fond all at the same time and Tony really does admire how expressive his face is. “He fought with me too, after the serum. The Howling Commandos, that’s what we called ourselves. Me and Bucky and Howard and the others.”
Howard. His father. Tony pushes that awareness aside – team building be damned, he can’t think about that now. “Bucky died?” He asks the question softly, more careful than he usually is.
“On a mission. I couldn’t save him. There was – I didn’t get to him in time.”
“Some people can’t be saved Cap, super-serum or not.”
“I know. I just wish Bucky didn’t fall into that category. He was one of my only friends for a long time.”
Tony thinks of Pepper, of Rhodey. “I think I can understand that.”
“Think she’s worried about you? Your girl?”
“Pepper? I bet right now she’s angry as anything. She’s not ‘my girl’ anymore, though, thought you knew?” He’s not entirely sure why yet but it’s important to him that Steve does know.
“I’m sorry – I didn’t.”
“Don’t worry about it – Pepper and I, we work better as friends.”
Steve nods. “I’d like to try that.”
“Dating Pepper?” He’s teasing now, just so he can see that slightly shy look on Steve’s face again.
“Being friends with you – I know we didn’t really start off on the right foot, but I don’t think you’re as hopeless as you like to make people think you are.”
He takes that as the compliment Steve means it to be. “And you’re a lot less uptight than your reputation suggests, Steve.”
“Thanks, I think.”
“Friends does sound good.”
“Friends it is, then.” Steve’s quiet for a moment and then he says, “I still don’t have many of them now, just the Avengers, really.”
Their conversation seems awfully serious all of a sudden so Tony shrugs. “I’d say I’d properly introduce you to Pepper but the thought of the two of you in one room trying to make me be good is terrifying.”
“Can anyone manage that?”
“Many have tried. Pepper’s half-succeeded, but I’ve yet to meet anyone with a one hundred percent success rate.”
Steve smirks. “I’ll have to try harder then.”
He laughs. “Are you sure it’s even worth trying?”
“Yes.” Steve looks him right in the eye. “I know it is. Even if you do annoy me at times. You know that, right? As much as we disagree you’re an Avenger, one of my team.”
Tony isn’t used to this much emotional intensity. It’s not really how people work these days, and the honesty makes him uncomfortable. Still, it’s good to know Steve thinks he deserves his place, accepts him, even though he’s sure at times that Steve must really dislike him. “We should be sleeping.”
“You should.” Steve shrugs, “I never sleep much, especially not when we’re mid-mission.”
“That’s not fair – if I have to then you have to.”
Steve pulls a face. “Fine. Are you going to get the light?”
He nods and watches Steve for a few more moments before leaning over to hit the switch. The last thing he sees before it goes dark is Steve, looking right on back at him.
It’s still reasonably dark outside when Steve wakes up, so he allows himself a few moments just to lie there in bed, looking up at the ceiling and mulling things over in his head. Last night, he’d opened up more to Tony than he had to anyone since he’d woken up from the ice, had talked about Bucky and admitted he was worried and, he thinks, he’d even flirted back at Tony at one point. He doesn’t understand why, but all of a sudden he feels like he can be himself around Tony, doesn’t feel like he’s under scrutiny from him anymore, isn’t just waiting for the criticism that he thinks is inevitable.
He waits until the room is filled with light before he moves, getting up out of bed to start getting ready for the day ahead. Once he’s dressed and freshened up, the first thing he does is tip out all of the things in the bag he’d brought with him the day before. When he looks at the items objectively, instead of in a rush to leave the house, he realises that, really, they hadn’t prepared themselves well at all. There’s some potato chips, a first aid kit – which Steve is glad he included - and a bunch of other things with varying degrees of usefulness. There’s nothing, however, that will help them remain incognito and, from what he can tell, there’s nothing that’ll help them break into Jane’s place of work. Even so, he mentally catalogues every item as he places them back into the bag.
He’s just finishing the repacking when there’s grunt from the bed next to him and he twists slightly, just in time to see Tony disappearing back underneath the covers. He re-emerges, several moments later, squinting against the light.
“What time is it?”
Steve glances at his watch. “Eight. We should get moving as soon as possible.”
Tony pulls a face but climbs out of bed and starts walking towards the bathroom. “Fine, but we’re stopping for coffee first.”
He shrugs. “Okay, preferably somewhere with access to the internet.”
“Aw,” Tony stops walking for a moment and turns to look at him, “Missing your Facebook friends?”
“No. But I assume you’ll need a computer with internet to find out where we go to see our eyewitness, or have you developed psychic powers overnight?”
“Come to think of it, internet access sounds good.” Tony disappears into the bathroom.
Steve grins and starts wiping their fingerprints from the room. Leave no evidence behind, his instincts are saying, and he’s a big believer in following his instincts. That’s what’s got him this far, after all.
Steve’s used to travelling quickly, to living dangerously, but his hands are still gripping the edge of his seat as Tony drives them back towards the city at a speed which, honestly, Steve thinks is reckless. He’s not going to say anything, though, because they seem to be at some sort of a mutual truce and he’s not going to be the one to ruin that.
“You don’t think they’ll have someone guarding her house, right?”
He looks sideways at Tony as the car flies around another bend. “It’s not standard procedure; I think we should be fine. We can approach carefully anyway, just in case.”
“Right. Have to say, even I can’t believe how easy it was to get her name, address and the name of her first pet.”
Steve frowns. “They should be more careful with things like that, witness identities and things.”
“Hey, don’t complain too much. It’s helping us out. What I want to know is how we’re going to ask her what we need to ask her without her screaming the whole place down.”
“I haven’t quite worked that out yet.” It’s been bothering him since he’d been sitting in the internet café, waiting for Tony to find the information. Even if this woman is in league with someone, knows that they’re not really criminals, she still won’t want them to be there. “I guess we just take it one step at a time.”
“Go in without a plan?” Tony’s voice sounds teasing to Steve’s ears, almost fond, “That’s not like you.”
“Yeah, well, it’s what we’ll have to do. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“It’ll be fine. If all else fails, we’ll have the car parked outside if we need to make a quick exit.”
“I really hope it won’t come to that.” But he suspects that it will. Steve knows he tends to trust people a little too easily, trying to see the best in everyone, but the news footage of the woman they’re going to see left him feeling like there was something more to this than a civilian being bribed with money. If this woman genuinely thinks she saw them rob the bank, turning up on her doorstep is going to scare her.
“Well, we’ll see soon. We’re about twenty minutes away.” Tony glances at him, not even easing up on the speed to account for his eyes being off the road. “Just try to relax – how bad can it be, anyway?”
Steve doesn’t bother to tell Tony about all the scenarios running through his head right now because he knows that Tony, despite his flippancy, has probably already thought of them. They’ve both been around too long to expect things like this to be easy.
At the speed Tony drives, the twenty minutes actually turns out to be fifteen. It seems a lot longer to Steve, though, as he looks out of the window. As they get nearer to the city, sirens become more common and he winces every time he hears one.
“It’s weird, huh?” Tony says.
“Yeah, it is.” The thing that bugs Steve the most is that the Avengers have always known they might end up being hunted by the police someday. They know how the superhero gig works; one day you’re a hero, the next you’re branded a vigilante. He’d just never thought he’d become a wanted criminal like this.
“Here we go.” Tony turns the car onto a normal, everyday street. The type where normal, everyday people live. “We’re looking for number twenty-eight, right?”
“Right.” He looks at the house as they pull up outside and yeah, it’s big. “You know, it doesn’t exactly look like the person who lives here would need bribe money.”
“Someone could have threatened her.”
“It’s a possibility. But there were other witnesses, too – it would have taken a lot of manpower to threaten that many people at once.”
Tony pulls a face. “SHIELD has that much manpower.”
Refusing to think too much about that, he just nods. “Okay, I guess we should go knock on her door now. If we hang around out here too long, someone will spot us.”
“Sure. You should go first though.”
Once they’re out of the car he turns to look at Tony. “Why should I go-”
“Because, Cap, you have an honest face.” Tony grins, “You’re Captain America – honest, good, all that stuff – which means that even if you’re a wanted criminal, she’ll like you better.”
“Fair point.” If there’s one thing Steve’s learned over the last few months it’s that despite how offensive or annoying Tony can be, he’s very good at understanding how people work, the best ways to get them on his side. “Okay, I’ll take the lead. Just…help me out if I need it?” It comes out sounding more like a question than the order he meant it to be.
“I might just make it worse.”
“At least you’ll have tried.” He smiles wryly at Tony as he reaches to knock on the door.
“She might be out.”
“That’s wishful thinking.” And yeah, there’s a part of Steve hoping that too, but really he just wants to know more about what’s happening to them so that they can deal with it and go home, a thought which startles him because it’s the first time he’s actually thought of Tony’s place as his home rather than his base.
The woman, when she answers, looks like she’s about to scream and then thinks better of it, tries to slam the door instead, and Steve instinctively sticks his foot in the way stopping her from getting the escape she wants.
“What do you want?” She all but hisses, and then shakes her head. “It doesn’t matter, I’m calling the police. If you try to stop me I’ll scream – I have very good neighbours.”
“Please ma’am – we just want to talk to you.” He tries his best to look as honest as possible, thinks he probably just ends up looking stupid instead. “It’s Rachel, right? I’m Steve, this is Tony. We’re not here to hurt you. We just want to talk.”
“You’re wanted criminals. I should call the police right now.” Reaching into her pocket, Rachel pulls out a cell phone.
“We didn’t do anything.” Tony sounds like he’s speaking through gritted teeth.
“Didn’t do – I saw you!” She moves to close the door again, and when that doesn’t work starts dialling. “I saw you all point those guns and hurt that man and take that money with my own eyes.”
When she finishes speaking, she looks up from her cell just for a moment and Steve knows what they have to do. “Come on, Tony. Let’s go.”
“We’re scaring her and we didn’t want to do that.” He starts walking away. "Let’s go.”
Back in the car, Steve scrubs a hand through his hair as Tony gets back into the driver’s seat, slamming the door after him. There’s a long moment’s silence where Steve can feel eyes boring into him and he sighs. “Come on then, say it.”
“Okay, I will. Why did you do that? Why are we sitting in the car again instead of standing on that doorstep doing what we came here to do, because Cap we sure as hell didn’t find anything out there. And now Rachel is calling the cops and did I mention we still don’t know anything at all?”
“But we do. Tony, you saw her. That – that fear was genuine, she wasn’t lying. Whatever is going on, I don’t think she has our answers. If we’d have stuck around, it’d have just confirmed what she thought about us.”
Tony shakes his head, but starts the engine.
“She was calling the authorities anyway, we had to leave.”
“Fine. I guess you’re right.” Tony begins to drive. “Maybe we’ll have more luck at our next stop.”
Steve really hopes Tony is right, but he’s learned that good luck is something he usually doesn’t get dealt in life.
The security at Jane Foster’s lab isn’t as heavy as at any of SHIELD’s official facilities, which is why Tony had chosen it as the place they needed to break into, but it’s still top-notch. For most people, it’d be a place that was virtually impossible to break into. Lucky for them, Tony thinks, he isn’t most people. It helps that said top-notch security system is made up of Stark technology, too.
“Is that going to take much longer?” Steve sounds nervous rather than impatient as he glances over Tony’s shoulder.
“Maybe another two minutes. Relax Cap, we have a good thirty minutes before anyone realises something is up.”
“Don’t say that.”
“Because usually whenever someone says that, things go wrong within the next two minutes.”
He takes a moment to turn and look at Steve, about to laugh at his joke when he realises Steve is being totally serious. Steve’s brow is knitted into a frown and he’s glancing back and forth, taking his job as look-out very seriously indeed and he looks adorably worried. Tony shakes his head, because he seriously just thought of Steve Rogers as adorable, and goes back to breaking and entering which is something he actually understands.
“Don’t worry about it Cap. We’ll be in and out in ten minutes – I mean, this place is practically built for me to break into, asking for it, really.” He smirks as the door clicks open, pushes through it and heads straight for the computers. “See, we’re in. I’m Tony Stark you know, this is what I’m good at, what I do, and this is my own system which means, you know, piece of cake.”
Logging onto one of the computers, Tony is well aware of the way Steve rolls his eyes. Surprisingly, it doesn’t bother him all that much.
“What are you looking for?”
Steve’s looking over his shoulder again, breathing hot against his neck. Tony tries to concentrate; this is important. “Anything that suggests SHIELD could be responsible for this, really.”
“Or anything that proves they’re not?” There’s a hopeful tone to Steve’s question.
“Yeah - that too, I guess.” He knows Steve’s all into trusting people and respecting authority and things but he doesn’t get how Steve can still want to believe in SHIELD – in Nick Fury – so much after the last few months.
“You think I’m stupid, don’t you? For thinking SHIELD aren’t behind this.”
Tony winces, because he’s been trying to keep his expression blank, his tone non-committal, but he’s obviously failed. “Not stupid, Cap, just a little naïve - I mean, you saw the way Fury lied to us about those weapons. He’s the super-spy, remember? His secrets have secrets which have secrets.”
Steve sighs, dropping into a chair next to Tony. “But Fury came through for us in the end, and SHIELD has done nothing else since then to suggest we shouldn’t trust them.”
“A secret organisation connected to the government with immunity for lots of things, I know. But a lot of people would look at the Avengers and mistrust us because of who we are, too.”
He doesn’t answer for a moment or two, concentrating instead on bringing up any information he can relating to SHIELD and the Avengers. Once the search is underway, he turns to look at Steve. “Okay, a question for you – why do you want to believe that SHIELD must be good this much? I mean, do you still believe that the government is all about protecting people and doing the right thing? Because-”
“It’s not that.”
“Then why?” He’s genuinely curious now, because Steve’s confusing in a lot of ways but this has been bugging Tony since Steve had been so stubborn in defending SHIELD aboard the helicarrier.
Steve shrugs, “They’re the first thing I knew of this century - all I knew for the first few months, right up until I met all of you.”
For a smart guy, Tony thinks, he can be really stupid at times – of course Steve wants to believe the best of SHIELD. It’ll have been Fury who’d broken the news to Steve that he was no longer in his own time, SHIELD agents who’ll have filled him on those first, essential things Steve’s needed to know to get by in this century.
“I’m not saying they aren’t behind this,” Steve looks up and meets Tony’s eyes, “I’m just saying we shouldn’t assume they are.”
“You’re saying I should stop making assumptions?”
“Okay, I can try that.” He points to the computer, “We should know for sure soon anyway. So far so good – I’m not seeing any connections between this and SHIELD.”
“You know, if we don’t find anything, it puts us back at square one.”
“Yeah, well, our partners in crime might have found something. Or they might have been caught.”
Steve shakes his head, “We’d have heard something by now if they had.”
He’s about to nod when something on the screen catches his attention – it’s an email chain between Maria Hill and someone Tony doesn’t know and he’s only scanning but even that tells him that Hill and her correspondent are confused.
“Hill doesn’t know anything.” Steve speaks right next to Tony’s ear, which is when Tony realises Steve’s stood up and is leaning over him to see the screen. “Look, right there – she says we’ve either genuinely gone bad or someone’s manipulating things.”
He reads the section Steve’s gesturing at and nods. “If Hill isn’t involved, chances are Fury isn’t either.”
“So SHIELD is as much in the dark as we are.”
“Tony, that’s a good thing.”
It is, sort of, but it leaves them with a whole lot of questions. “That means our only real lead is wrong and we have a grand total of zero suspects.” He really wants to be happy for Steve because his faith in SHIELD has apparently been proven right but he just feels disappointed because he has no more hunches left, no more ideas about who could be doing this to them.
“We still have five whole days, we’ll work this out.”
“How can you be so optimistic?”
“I’ve been in worse situations,” Steve points out. “Besides, we’re a team of very capable people – I’m sure one of us will manage to figure it out.”
Tony keeps his gaze firmly locked on the computer because he doesn’t want to think about what Steve’s worse situations have been, and clicks onto the next email in the chain. He’s half-way through reading the first sentence when the screen goes blank. “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh? Uh-oh what?” Steve’s barely finished speaking before the alarms start blaring.
He shouts over the noise, “That’s what. Let’s get out of here – they’ll be putting this place on lockdown soon,” Tony’s already heading for the door and he can feel Steve hurrying behind him. When Tony tries the door though, he realises they haven’t been quick enough; they’re locked into the room and they’re going to be caught and man, they’re really screwed.
“No we’re not!” Steve shouts.
Oh, he must have spoken that last bit out loud.
Steve points, already moving back across the room. “The window.”
“Bulletproof glass, Cap – we aren’t getting out that way.”
“Yes, we are.”
Tony watches as Steve lifts up his shield and begins to smash it into the window, and maybe this is another perk to being on a team with Captain America. The glass shatters and there’s nothing left to do but climb out and run for the car, the shouting from behind them sounding way too close for Tony’s liking. He glances over his shoulder to check where they are and when he looks back around, Steve’s accelerated into the distance.
It’s strange, because Tony always thought Steve would be a ‘leave no man behind’ kind of a guy and there’s a moment where he feels a pang of hurt because he really though they were getting somewhere, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because he’s Tony Stark, he’s a survivor, and he plays better on his own anyway.
He’s just about to come up with a strangely brilliant plan of escape when he notices the car zooming towards him and oh, that’s where Steve went. Guns start to fire as the car pulls to a halt, and this time Tony doesn’t look back as he opens the door and launches himself into the seat, trusting Steve to do what needs to be done to escape instead.
“That was another close call.” They’re on the road out of the city in another stolen car, Steve driving at just under the speed limit. Up until now they haven’t spoken a word, but Tony doesn’t like the silence. “We should decide what we’re doing next.”
Steve nods, “I’m not exactly sure what we can do. We know SHIELD isn’t behind this, but we don’t know who is, and we don’t know how SHIELD would react if we turned ourselves in to them.”
“So what? We drift for the next five days? I’m not exactly big on that idea Steve. It’s not productive and it’s not-”
“Of course we don’t sit around doing nothing. We carry on doing what we have been doing – investigating, trying to narrow down our list of suspects.”
It sounds logical, but Tony can’t help but think that with SHIELD out of the way their suspect list has now become longer, composed of pretty much anyone any of them have ever pissed off. It’s not going to make their task easy at all.
“We worked well together back there,” Steve changes the subject, shooting a glance at Tony before looking back at the road, “Even if it did go wrong.”
“I thought you were leaving me behind for a minute there,” he blurts out, and wants to take it back immediately because it sounds hurt even to his ears and it shouldn’t be a big deal and anyway, Steve had been making sure they both got away.
“You’re kidding, right?” There’s silence for a moment and then Steve swears and jerks the car to the side of the road, pulling over. “Tony, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Right.” He looks out of the window, away from the intense look that Steve’s given him because, wow, he’d really not expected them to be having a chick-flick moment right now.
“Tony, however much we disagree I’d never leave you-”
“I get it Oprah. Can we keep driving so that, you know, we don’t get arrested?”
Steve huffs out a sigh as he starts driving again, “You don’t have to be such a jerk about it. I was just trying to-”
“Have a heart-to-heart? Talk about feelings? Yeah, not really my style, Cap.”
Steve is silent for the rest of the drive. Tony doesn’t even try to make conversation anymore.
The motel they’ve checked into this time is even worse than the last one; the guy manning the desk is rude and confrontational, the bed is even smaller, and Tony thinks he spotted a cockroach. This time though he doesn’t complain, because Steve looks defeated enough as it is and Tony’s pretty sure that’s his fault, or Steve’s fault for talking things too personally but even so Tony’s still got to spend the rest of the week with him so he figures some damage control is necessary.
“We’ll move on to somewhere else tomorrow.” Steve’s sitting on the bed he’d been left with after Tony claimed the one nearest the window, playing cards laid out in front of him as he plays a game of Solitaire. “I know you don’t think so, but we do work well together- back there we wouldn’t have got the information without you and we wouldn’t have gotten away without me. We’ll figure something out.”
Tony doesn’t answer because he doesn’t know what to say; up until a few days ago, he’d been sure that they both thought they didn’t work well together. Now, Steve’s got an idea in his head and he seems to have more faith in Tony and Tony, well, he keeps saying the wrong thing. He’s the one that’s put the frown on Steve’s face this time, and he’s the one who is still struggling to fully trust Steve. He’s got to be the only person around – bar the civilians who now believe Steve is a bank robber during this hopefully temporary setback– that struggles to trust Captain America.
“We should make a short-list.”
Steve’s gathering up his cards into a pile. “A short-list, of the most likely people behind this – people who’ve made threats against us in the time we’ve worked as a team.”
It’s not a half-bad idea. “Pepper could do it.”
“I thought we said-”
“That we weren’t going to have contact with anyone. We did, but Pepper catalogues every death threat against me and against the Avengers - she has SHIELD send them over to her.”
“That’s classified information.”
He shrugs, “It’s Pepper – she often achieves the impossible.” He doesn’t want to give Steve time to worry too much about the implications of involving Pepper, so he keeps talking, “We could get a burner phone and call her on that – she has a cell she keeps for emergencies only that won’t be being monitored. I know we said we wouldn’t do this, but she’s in the best position to sort through the threats without, you know, forgetting someone.”
Steve’s still shuffling the cards, his hands working quickly as he talks. “Okay, you know Pepper much better than I do – if you think this is the right call, we’ll do it.”
“She’ll be able to narrow the list down for us, I’m positive.” This, Tony realises, is Steve trusting him implicitly, putting their fate in his hands. It’s a lot of pressure, makes him drum his fingers against the edge of the bed, but there’s also a warm feeling growing in the pit of his stomach, a rush hitting him because Steve trusts him and somehow, that seems very important.
Steve likes to think he’s pretty good at handling stressful situations; he’s been in plenty, after all. Keeping up a façade of calm even when he’s panicking inside is something he’s had to do a lot as a leader but this, he thinks, is a special situation. Showing a little bit of his nerves is something no-one could blame him for and, besides, the only person to see it is Tony, who thinks so little of him anyway that it won’t make a difference.
He paces. Granted, the motel room is small which means he only manages a couple of strides before he has to turn and pace the other way but at least it gives him something to do while Tony talks to Pepper. This is a risk they’re taking, something which could get Pepper in trouble, could help the authorities track them even though they’re using a burner phone. It’s illogical, because things couldn’t happen so quickly, but Steve’s half expecting a SWAT team to come bursting through the door at any moment, alerted by their contact with Pepper.
“We won’t be able to hold onto this phone,” Tony’s saying, already looking more relaxed for being able to enlist Pepper’s help, “so I’ll call you again tomorrow and see if you’ve got anything.”
Steve’s glad Pepper must have agreed to help but he really wishes Tony would hang up now, so they can grab their bags and hit the road again, just in case people are listening in on Pepper’s calls.
“Pepper’s going to take a sick day,” Tony’s still staring at the burner cell, looking mildly shocked, “she’s actually taking a sick day – she never does that.”
“She’ll help us?”
“Yes – SHIELD have been sending her copies of the threats against us for months, in case someone tried to get to us through Stark Industries. Apparently, she’s very keen on clearing my name so I can go back and she can chew me out for not getting in touch sooner to let her know I was okay.”
“Okay, great. Let’s go now.”
“Relax, Cap, even if someone was listening in, there’s no way they could get here that quick. It’s impossible.”
“Tony, we work with a demi-god, a Hulk and agents who used to belong to a top-secret government agency. I fought in Germany during the 1940s and yet here I am today. Nothing’s impossible.”
“You make a fair point,” Tony grins at him, “come on, then, you know where the door is.”
“Our best bet is probably to get even further away from the city – I think we should avoid motels from now on. We’ve been lucky so far but sooner or later someone’s going to recognise us.”
“Please don’t tell me you want us to camp out.”
He almost laughs, because the idea of Tony Stark camping out is ridiculous, and then he remembers the conditions under which Tony Stark first became Iron Man and settles for just shaking his head. “I was thinking we could just sleep in the car for a few nights.”
“I might have a better option. We couldn’t do it before because I wasn’t contacting Pepper at all and she’d have known where we were and wanted to talk but there’s a safe house I have, only Pepper and I know about it, about half an hour north from here.”
“You’re sure no-one knows about it?”
“Certain. It’ll be easier to narrow down suspects there too, with access to at least some resources. Even if we have no luck, at least we’ll be comfortable for the next couple of days.”
“Then that’s where we’ll go.” He trusts Tony, knows he wouldn’t risk going somewhere unless he thinks it’s one hundred per cent safe. They’re outside now, and he gestures towards the car. “You drive. It’ll be easier than having to direct me.”
Steve’s always known how much money Tony has – how much Howard had, if it comes to that – but there’s still a small part of him that gets a shock every time he sees more evidence of that wealth. Tony has property all over the place, everyone knows that, but the fact he owns safe houses on top of all those has still managed to surprise him a little. As Tony turns onto the drive, Steve can’t help but give a low whistle because this place isn’t as big as Tony’s usual place of residence but it still screams money.
Tony takes the car straight into the garage because although there are hardly any other houses around they can’t risk someone spotting them in the short time it’d take to walk from the car into the house. As the doors close behind them Steve relaxes a bit more in his seat because they’re here, they made it, and nothing seems out of place so far.
“Finally,” Tony sighs, “somewhere with hot water and no bugs.”
“You do realise we’ve only been to two of those places, right? It’s not like we’ve been on the road for weeks.”
“But it feels like we have.”
Steve’s inclined to agree, but they can’t sit in the garage complaining all day so he just nods and gets out of the car. “I’m assuming this place has more than one shower?”
“It has three – I think,” Tony climbs out as well and gestures towards a door at the back of the garage, “Come on, I’ll give you the tour, see if I can remember the layout. The only time I’ve actually been here was after I first bought the place and was furnishing it because, you know, safe house.
It should really annoy Steve, the extravagance of owning so many places and not using them, and it does in a way. But he understands the need for this place and the rest, well, that’s Tony. The same Tony who Steve knows contributes billions to various charities every year and risks his life on a weekly basis to protect people. So even though there’s the extravagant wealth, Steve can’t really bring himself to be angry because it’s just one facet of a man who does so much more.
The inside of the house is quite simple compared to some of the other places Tony owns, and Steve likes it; the sleek lines and the easy-to-navigate layout help him to feel comfortable right away and if they do end up spending the rest of the week here, he knows he won’t mind.
“You can have this room,” Tony pushes open a door to reveal a pretty large bedroom, “the second best bedroom in the place.”
“I presume you’re getting the first?”
“Of course I am. Not that the mirrored ceiling is going to get put to use.”
He grimaces, “Thanks, Tony. Mind if I grab a shower?”
“Sure – knock yourself out.”
Steve watches as Tony wanders off down the hallway, already looking a lot more relaxed now that he’s back in his own space. He waits until Tony’s turned a corner and gone out of sight before walking into the room he’s been given. After placing his shield carefully against the wall, he heads straight for the shower because, yeah, the motel they’d stayed in last night has left him feeling grimy and there’s actual hot water here.
The hot water washes over him and he lets out a sigh he didn’t know he’d been holding in. They might be taking a bit of a risk involving Pepper but knowing that things don’t rest solely on them anymore, that there’s someone who can help them legally obtain information they’d have otherwise struggled to get, is a relief.
It helps that the tensions between him and Tony have eased a little, too. The almost magnetic pull towards bickering seems to have gone and Steve knows there will always be things they disagree on because he’s Steve Rogers and Tony is Tony Stark, but knowing that they can get along, that they can work together and live alongside each other, means he’s more optimistic about the future of the Avengers if they manage to get out of this situation.
In fact, he’d go as far as to say he actually likes Tony now and he has a feeling the sentiment is returned; yeah, they’re a lot further on than they were before that phone call from Clint changed things. Given the circumstances, Steve’s trying not to be too happy about it.
It’s later, and Steve’s showered and shaved and changed and stayed in his room for about as long as he can before it seems like he’s avoiding Tony, so he picks his shield back up and goes in search of Tony. He feels silly, in a way, carrying his shield around all over the house but he’s not taking any risks at the moment, and it’s been his for so long that the weight of it just feels like an extension of his body by this point anyway.
He finds Tony in the kitchen where he’s staring into the open fridge as though it holds a secret. It makes him smile and he takes a moment to school his face into a more neutral expression before clearing his throat. Tony jumps, and slams the fridge door closed.
“There’s no food,” Tony explains, “I was wondering what we’re going to do about eating.”
“We can probably, I don’t know, order something online and instruct them to leave it at the door?” He thinks he’s seen that done in a movie but he’s not sure if it can actually work like that.
“That’s a good idea, Cap.” The surprise in Tony’s voice is unmistakeable.
“Yeah, well, I’m not just a pretty face.” It’s funny, how quickly they’ve fallen into bantering rather than arguing, how easy it is to make jokes with Tony now.
“Yeah well, I’ll order some things now for us. The computer’s in the other room.”
Nodding, he follows Tony into the living room. “Any paper around here?”
“There will be somewhere – why?”
“I know we’ve got Pepper working on the list, but I figured I might start thinking about some suspects, too.” He needs to do something other than sitting around waiting all day until they can call Pepper again.
“Right well, just hunt around – I’ve got nothing to hide here.”
“Implying you have somewhere else?”
“Of course I have – I’m Tony Stark.”
“Well maybe you’ll let me in on some of them one day.” He means it as a joke, but the look of alarm on Tony’s face makes him backpedal, “Not – I was, that was a joke.”
It’s only when Tony starts laughing that Steve realises he’s been had. “I know that, Steve. Man, that was just too easy.”
“Note to self: when Tony looks scared like that, don’t take him seriously,” he murmurs, just loud enough for Tony to hear as he starts to rummage through the draws for paper.
“Don’t take Tony seriously any of the time,” Tony adds, “because chances are Tony is being an ass.”
“Here,” Tony tosses a notepad at him and follows it up with a pen, “they were in the bag you brought, remember?”
“No worries. Okay, you get on that and I’ll order us some food – I’ll get your favourites.”
“You don’t know my favourites.”
Tony smirks at him, “You want to bet?”
He should say no, because Tony looks like he’s certain he can win but there’s a competitive streak in him and, aside from that, he wants to find if Tony knows him as well as he seems to think he does. “Sure, winner gets to drive for the rest of the week.”
“You’ve got a deal.”
Steve’s actually pretty confident, despite Tony’s already-triumphant smile, because even if the guy can guess most of his favourites, there’s one thing he knows Tony just won’t know to get.
Tony watches as Steve sifts through the shopping he’s just brought in from the front step, not bothering to keep himself from looking smug because he knows he’s managed to order all of Steve’s favourite things. The fact that all of the Avengers’ shopping was done through JARVIS has definitely come in useful, because Tony isn’t very good at knowing details about people but he is good at memorising lists for occasions just like this one.
Steve looks up sharply from the bags, “You know about the marshmallows?”
“Of course I know about the marshmallows – everyone knows you sneak into the kitchen at night and have two hot chocolates with all of the works.”
“You know about that?”
“Everyone knows about that?”
“Yeah, ‘fraid so, Cap,” he nudges Steve’s hip with his own, “as secret indulgences go, it’s not very secret.” Steve’s warm and solid where their bodies are touching and Tony feels comfortable like that and then he realises he does and he pulls away as subtly as he can. “I believe that means I’ve won our bet.”
Steve pulls the last item out of the box of food and sets it on the counter, “it does. Are you going to help me put this stuff away?”
“Well I was going to call Pepper – see if she’s had any luck – but sure, I can help first.”
“No, that actually sounds like a good idea – go ahead, I’ve got this.”
The phone rings exactly three times before Pepper answers with her usual greeting and Tony feels instantly more relaxed; he’s used to hearing Pepper’s voice every single day and being back in that routine, especially when everything else is up in the air, helps. It even manages to momentarily distract him from thinking about having more of Steve’s warm body pressed against his own.
“I didn’t find anything, Tony.” She sounds tired, and Tony knows she’ll have been up all night looking for something to help them. “Not one name or anything that makes anyone stand out from the crowd.
“You’ve got a short list of the viable threats?”
“Then you have something for us and that’s what matters.” Pulling the piece of paper where Steve had written his own list on towards him, Tony gets ready to take notes, “who’ve you got?”
Pepper rattles off the names, occasionally adding a reminder of who someone is or what happened the last time Tony came across them. When they’re done and Tony’s left staring at a combined list of his and Steve’s over thirty highly possible suspects, he’s feeling almost as useless as Pepper had sounded like she felt when she’d first spoken. He hands the list to Steve and, without another word, leaves the room. He needs to be on his own, somewhere he can think and try and work things out because there has to be an answer to all this somewhere in his mind and maybe if he’s away from Steve for a while, he’ll find it.
The workshop he’s had installed in the safe house is simple, lacking most of the technology he’s usually used to, but it’s still his workshop and it’s as good a place for him to think as any. There’s not actually anything there for him to do, though, so he goes old school, starts sketching out the first designs that pop into his head. That’s something his father had always insisted on; learning how to work without a computer, knowing how to manipulate metals by hand if need be – two skills that have saved his life more than once.
“Are you okay?”
Tony looks around to see Steve standing awkwardly in the doorway and, oh yeah, he’d just walked out without any real explanation earlier. “Sure, just had an idea I needed to get on paper. Anyone on that list stand out at you?”
“No,” Steve shakes his head, “they’re pretty much all as viable as the other. Here, I, uh, thought you could do with this.”
It’s only then that Tony notices what Steve’s holding: a Stark Industries mug – because Tony tends to stock his kitchens with those – of what must be hot chocolate, with a truly indulgent amount of whipped cream and marshmallows brimming over the top. The way Tony’s stomach flips at the gesture is kind of ridiculous but he can’t keep the grin off his face. Steve’s a dork, but Tony doesn’t mind so much if it means he does things like this.
“I’ll just leave it here,” Steve sets the mug down on a table near the entrance to the room, “I’m going to go and use the gym if that’s okay?”
“Sure it is. Thanks, for the drink, I mean.”
Steve nods, looking a little unsure of himself, and then shrugs, “I figured it might help you understand my secret indulgences.”
“Oh, I’d definitely like to understand those.” And that pick-up line is nothing like Tony’s usual quality lines but it still makes Steve flush a little and as much as he’s panicking internally, Tony can’t stop himself from flirting.
“Right.” Scratching at the back of his neck, Steve looks at a spot just above Tony’s head as he talks. “Well, gym.”
Tony watches him go, wondering why he’d used flirting to annoy Steve for so long when, actually, he could have been being serious for all this time because he doesn’t want to irritate Steve any longer. No, he actually likes Steve, thinks Steve is a good guy, less uptight and more like him than Tony had originally thought.
Maybe, Tony thinks, he's feeling like this because of the situation that they're in. Maybe if they were back at SHIELD HQ right now they'd still be bickering about strategy and morals and every other thing that they'd always managed to find to think about. But there's a part of him that wonders whether all of that, all of the arguing and disagreeing that they had done, had just been a temporary thing, something that was happening because they were being too dumb to see the truth. Maybe, then, he actually had something to thank whoever was behind this for, because he's pretty sure that he wouldn't have realised how he felt about Steve if they hadn't have spent the last few days on the run, operating under the radar and spending their time in very, very close quarters with each other.
He has feelings about Steve. For Steve, even. Tony has this silly urge to put on the Iron Man suit and go for a fly; he won't, because that's a sure-fire way to get them both caught before they have a chance to find out who is behind this, or maybe even to talk over whatever's happening between them - although Tony'd rather than didn't happen just yet, not until he's sure that Steve actually feels the same attraction and isn't just being friendly. To make sure of that, though, Tony would have to actually talk to Steve about emotions and he's not crazy on that idea. Unless he can find another, more subtle way of ascertaining Steve's mind set, he's happy to just keep things as they are; this awkward cross between friendship and colleagues and being on the run together.
Looking back down at the list of names, he spots a couple that he can cross off because he knows they're still in prison and don't have the power to make events like this happen from behind bars. Happy at having achieved something, he decides to go and find Steve - it isn't an excuse to see him working out, not really - and see whether he wants to watch a movie or something.
He expects to find Steve at the punching bag, fists pummelling into the leather. Instead, Steve's on the treadmill, running at the quickest speed it offers and just starting to break a sweat. Tony's pretty sure Steve will be able to stick at this pace for a while - has seen him run faster than this when they've had emergencies - and, even after everything he's seen and done, the amount of power that Steve's body possesses still both impresses him and unsettles him a little, too. He realises that even before this week he's been watching Steve a lot without even knowing it; watching Steve as he fills in paperwork, quiet and studious, Steve as he interacts with the others, or as he makes breakfast in the morning with a look of utter concentration on his face. Tony smiles.
"Something funny?" Steve's noticed him, then. He doesn't sound out of breath in the slightest.
"Not really, no," he steps a little further into the room, "I didn't think the treadmill would be your thing."
"It isn't - not usually, anyway. If I want to run, I go outside. But I can't really do that at the moment so this is the closest thing."
"I guess that makes sense."
"Are you here to work-out?" Steve looks a little bit amused as he asks the question, Tony thinks, as though he finds the idea of them working out in the same room funny.
"Who, me? Nope, that would be far too much effort today - besides, I'm not wearing my workout clothes."
"How terrible," Steve smirks, hitting one of the buttons on the treadmill to shut it off, "I can't imagine how awful it'd be if you had to, I don't know, wear normal sweats instead of workout sweats."
"It'd be a travesty." Helpfully, he grabs a bottle of water from the side and tosses it to Steve, "here you go, can't have you getting dehydrated."
"I think I'll be okay."
"Yeah, you will, because of the water."
Steve laughs, but does take a long swig from the bottle before screwing the lid back on. "Seriously, though, did you want something?"
"Not really - I did manage to cross a few of the names off of Pepper's list which is, you know, helpful I guess." Trying to look casual, he leans back against the wall as Steve walks towards him.
"It is," Steve nods, "at least we know a few people who it isn't, even if we're still struggling to come up with our top suspects."
Tony wants to reply with something useful, he really does, but Steve's right in front of him now, looking really quite fine even if he isn't wearing proper workout clothes.
Instead, he says, "I should watch you work-out more often."
Steve takes a step back for a moment and then shakes his head, takes two steps forward, "Tony, what are you doing?"
"You've been - you don't like me, remember? We argue all of the time. You think I'm uptight and boring-"
"I don't think that."
"Okay, you act like you think I'm uptight and boring, and all of that other stuff I said too. So why are you doing this?"
"You know what - THIS."
Okay, so Steve definitely knows that something's going on; Tony still can't tell whether it's a reciprocal thing or whether he's making a fool of himself for nothing but whatever, he's in the habit of doing silly things, has a bit of a reputation for it, actually. "I'm flirting, Steve."
“Well, you're pretty hot, Cap."
"That's it?" Steve backs off a little, looking disappointed, "that's what this is?"
If Tony's wrong about this, he's going to look really, really silly but he can't stop himself from speaking, "that's definitely not all that this is, Steve."
He regrets it almost as soon as he’s said it, because this is Steve, not some random person he doesn’t have to spend much time with, but Steve, who is from a different time and who takes things seriously a lot of the time and who could quite easily knock Tony down to the ground with just one punch. He’s trying to think of some way to take it back because he’s thinking about what’s going to happen if this is just a reaction to their current situation, when Steve moves.
The kiss is so quick and chaste that Tony would think it hadn’t happened if it wasn’t for the way Steve’s shifting awkwardly on his feet. It takes him a moment to process the fact that he’s just been kissed by Captain America, by the guy he thinks he might sort of have feelings for. It’s a moment too long, because when he opens his mouth to speak, Steve mumbles something unintelligible and rushes from the room.
Tony’s pretty sure that isn’t how a first kiss is meant to go.
He hadn’t expected it at all and, actually, he’s not sure Steve had either because he’d looked pretty surprised at himself just before he’d left. Then again, if anyone has asked Tony just a week ago whether he’d be thinking about Steve in a potentially-dating sort of a way, he’d have laughed; Steve’s not the only one who’s just done something outside of his comfort zone. In fact, pretty much everything that’s happened since they got that phone call from Clint had been out of the ordinary. Tony knows he could freak out about that, but that’s what he would normally do. This week, he decides, is a chance to be different. He doesn’t freak out; instead, he goes to find Steve.
Steve really, really wishes that things were different right now. If they weren't on the run, he'd be able to put as much distance between himself and Tony as possible. If they weren't in this situation, this whole thing probably wouldn't have been happening because he wouldn't have let himself get so impulsive around Tony. It's not like the urge to kiss him has come completely out of the blue - there's always been something driving him towards Tony, even before all of this where every time they were in the same room they fought - but the way they've connected over the last few days definitely has something to do with why he lost his head and actually kissed Tony.
He has nowhere to go to escape from this though, so he's in the room he's staying in with the door locked while Tony paces around outside waiting for him to come out. It’s been ten minutes since Tony had first knocked on the door and said he wasn’t leaving until Steve talked to him. Steve’s not a coward, and he’s not afraid to talk about emotions either, but there’s no way he wants to have this conversation with Tony, not when he’s picked the worst possible time in the world to make a move that won’t be reciprocated. He’d just heard what Tony had said about the flirting being about more than his looks and read all the wrong things into it; Tony had probably meant that it was about irritating him, getting under his skin in a bad way. Not this.
Hiding in the room until Tony gives up and goes away is definitely Steve's plan, and if anyone accuses him of hiding he'll call it a strategic retreat - it's not the time for them to be arguing about this anyway, not when they've still got information to find and days left before they're meeting up with the others. Days where they're meant to be relying on each other. Steve really, really wishes that he'd done anything other than kiss Tony.
"Steve, I mean it when I say I'm not leaving." Tony's voice is muffled through the door but it definitely sounds like his determined tone to Steve, and the fact he recognises Tony's determined tone is probably quite worrying.
He doesn't answer, just lies on his bed staring up at the ceiling instead because what is there to say? He likes Tony. He can't help it, would stop himself from feeling anything other than a professional admiration for the guy if he could. He'd thought he had a lid on it - and he had, until some bastard had decided to discredit their names. Maybe it would have been better if he had been caught when he'd tried to surrender himself for the sake of the others, if Tony had been too far in front to help out. Now he's distracted Tony as well as himself and they're going to be off balance, not concentrating at the job at hand, and Steve's pretty sure it'll be his fault now if they end up getting caught.
Tony doesn't give up though. "Steve, I'm the one who's supposed to freak out and go into denial about this sort of thing, not you. I mean, this kind of role reversal is creeping me out."
Steve jumps off the bed and starts pacing up and down the room, counting the number of steps it takes to cover the length, anything to distract himself from the panic he's feeling.
"I don't think you should be panicking as much as you are you know," Tony clears his throat, "I mean, as far as kisses go that was pretty tame."
Great. He hadn't even kissed Tony well.
"And really, I started it by saying the flirting wasn't just about your hot body. I mean, don't get me wrong, Cap, you are very very easy on the eyes, but there's more to the flirting than that. At first it was more about annoying you because, you know, you're fun to irritate and we kept disagreeing - who could blame me for doing something I knew would annoy you when you kept being so right about everything else?"
Steve stops walking, because Tony had implied that the flirting was about something else different and because Tony sounded like he was actually opening up, being honest about something.
"I shouldn't have kissed you like that." He shouts through the door, standing next to it even though it doesn't really make a difference; Tony can't see him either way.
There's a moments silence and then Tony speaks again. "Why not?"
"It was unprofessional, and you didn't ask me to do it, and I've ruined everything. We've been getting on really well."
"Exactly, we have - and I'm the one who's been flirting with you, remember? You just reacted to my actions and believe me Cap, I wasn't complaining."
"You weren't?" Steve doesn't like not being able to see Tony's expression; it makes the man hard to read, makes it a struggle to work out what Tony's trying to say and Steve really, really doesn't want to misread things again so he stops being a coward and pulls open the door.
Tony, leaning against the adjacent wall, looks up in surprise and then shakes his head, "I wasn't. Come on, who in their right mind would complain about a kiss from you?"
"That's not-" Steve abruptly regrets opening the door, because it means he can see how sincere Tony looks and it means Tony can see the way the colour is no doubt rising on his cheeks, "I still shouldn't have-"
"You're not getting it, Steve," Tony straightens up, looks him right in the eye, "I'm glad you kissed me, okay? There's a reason I flirted with you and I'm glad you kissed me and I'm glad you're the one here with me and I'm really really glad that I'm not alone in this attraction between us because that would be really really awkward, and in case you didn't get it the first or second time, I am glad that you kissed me."
Steve stares for a moment and then, bizarrely, he remembers that his Mom always told him not to stare because it was rude. He doesn't want to look away, though, because this is the most open that he's ever seen Tony, even counting after Phil died, and Steve knows how important it is that Tony's letting him see this, letting him hear the honesty.
"Unless, of course, you're regretting it because you don't like me and you don't know what the hell that was, in which case scratch all that I just said, forget it, wipe it from your memory."
"What if I don't want to?"
"What if you don't want to what? Kiss me?"
"No - wipe it from my memory. What if I like the sound of what you just said?"
Tony takes a step closer to him, reaches out and touches his right arm. "Then I'd say great - we're mostly on the same page."
"I don't really know what page I'm on."
"Me neither," Tony grins, "but it sure is a good read that's for certain, or at least that kiss suggests it will be when, you know, we kiss for longer."
“So you do want us to kiss again, then?”
“I kind of thought I’d made that clear. I mean, yes, I do and-”
Steve walks forward, closing the gap between them and decides he might as well continue being bold today, “So kiss me, then.”
There's a moment where Steve thinks Tony is going to pull back, where Steve's sure he's somehow managed to understand things wrong, mistaken joking by Tony for honesty. And then Tony moves even closer, even though Steve hadn't thought it was possible, and presses their lips together.
Steve's not been kissed like this in a long time; deep and passionate and the fact that it's Tony kissing him like this means that, really, he's never been kissed like this before. They stay there for what must be two minutes but feels like much less and much longer all at the same time before Steve moves away, just a little, remembering that Tony, even with his experience, can't control his breathing for quite as long as he can.
Unable to stop his smile, he looks down at where Tony's hands are resting against his hips and just listens to Tony breathing, in and out, in and out, so close to him that Steve can feel the warmth from Tony's body, from his arc reactor, mingling with his own.
“Well, that happened.” Tony sounds unsure to Steve’s ears, but he’s not moving away and that’s a good sign.
“It did. Do you-”
“I’m glad,” Tony takes a small step back but keeps his hands where they are, “that’s probably the most awkward part of this thing over with.”
“So, this is a thing?”
“Probably. Possibly. Cap, I don’t think this is the best timing on our part, you know? I think we should wait until this is all sorted out.”
“You mean you want us to be sensible about this?”
“Yes,” Tony looks a little surprised, “that’s exactly what I mean.”
Steve really wants to kiss Tony again, to talk about what’s happening and sort out all of the confusing thoughts that are roaming around in his head. He wants to, for once, forget about all of his other responsibilities and focus on his responsibility to himself. But he can’t; there’s a team relying on him to keep his head in the game, and the problem is too big to set aside for whatever this thing between them is going to be. So, Steve does the sensible thing.
“You’re right – there’s a lot going on now, we should set this aside for now until we’ve got everything sorted out.”
Tony nods and moves his hands from Steve’s hips. “It’s only a few days until we’re supposed to meet up with the others again, and you never know, something good might happen before that – I mean, nothing’s impossible, remember?”
"So should we -" Steve's about to suggest they do something a little less awkward when he realised what Tony’s just said, “that’s it.”
“Yeah, that’s what you said back at the-”
“Exactly. Tony, we’ve been wondering how those witnesses had seen us when we weren’t there, right? We thought it was impossible.”
“It is – we weren’t there.”
“But they still saw something – something that made them think it was possible. Some sort of visual effect or trick or-”
Tony’s eyes widen. “You think it’s Loki.”
“It’s just his style. But if he’d have somehow left Asgard, Thor would have-”
“Thor was here though, on Earth.” Shaking his head, Tony grimaces. “He wouldn’t have known. We have a suspect.”
“Seems like we do.” It feels like a weight has been lifted but another one added straight away all at once; they probably know who is behind this now but there’s nothing they can really do until the rendezvous with the others. Steve almost wishes he hadn’t had the realisation until later in the week, because now they’re just as helpless against a threat they now know.
In the last ten minutes Steve’s found out that they’re being targeted by Loki, who killed Phil Coulson and started this whole thing. He’s kissed Tony again and realised that maybe Tony’s after something serious too after all, and then made an agreement not to do anything else about the possibility until they’ve sorted out the threat of Loki. Steve’s not really a violent person, not unless he has to be, but he feels like he needs to punch something, or do anything really, to release all of the tension that’s building up inside, the energy that wants to be put into something productive but can’t be, not just yet.
Tony must be able to tell – or relate to, maybe – how frustrated he is because he reaches out to squeeze his arm. “Tell you what Cap, you go to the gym, I’ll go to my ‘shop and we’ll meet up for food in an hour.”
And that, Steve thinks, sounds like a plan.
An hour in the gym has definitely helped Steve relax a little, and the hot water from his shower afterwards has added to that feeling, so that by the time he walks into the kitchen to find Tony already there Steve’s feeling a little less like he’s going to freak out and is down to being just a little panicked. He’s still not really sure what to expect from Tony, though.
What he doesn’t expect is for Tony to turn around from the counter where he’s making sandwiches and smile at him like he does. It’s kind of disarming.
“I’ve come to a decision, Steve.”
“Okay,” he tries not to sound too worried, “hit me.”
Tony turns back to the sandwiches as he speaks, “I think we should both try not to freak out about this too much, just try and focus on our bigger issue right now and deal with whatever’s happening with the two of us once that’s sorted out.”
“You want us to act like nothing’s happened?” Steve’s really not sure he can do that, not when he’s already wondering what it would be like to go on a date with Tony, or to stay up all night sketching him.
“No. Definitely not – I just think we can’t afford to get too distracted by this, you know? Not with everything else that’s going on. So we should just, I don’t know, take it as it comes without rushing into anything, and keep our heads in the game so we don’t end up coming out of this badly.”
“You’re dealing with this surprisingly well.” Steve takes a seat at the table, wondering whether he’s even going to be able to do what Tony’s suggested. It makes sense, is the smart thing to do considering everything that’s happened between them both in the past week and all of the time before that. Steve’s just not entirely sure he’s going to be able to stop himself from worrying for the rest of the week. It’s a tall order.
Tony’s freaking out. No matter what Steve seems to think, he isn’t really handling this very well at all. Earlier, when he’d decided to take a risk and give Steve a little push in a direction he’s not even sure is the right one to push him in, he hadn’t really thought past that initial decision. And then they’d kissed and even though everything had turned out the way he thinks he wanted it to, he has no idea what to do now.
All he knows is that Steve takes his role as an Avenger seriously, and that if anything happens and Steve thinks it’s because he wasn’t concentrating fully on the task at hand, Steve will never forgive himself. So this is the best possible thing Tony can think of to do to make sure Steve comes out of this thinking he’s done the right thing.
Tony only hopes he can stop himself from jumping on Steve despite all that before it’s time to meet the others and, hopefully, confront Loki.
He’s never had much self-control.
Justin Hammer, Tony decides, is still an idiot. Even though his technology is far inferior to Stark technology, it’s still worth a bundle and yet there’s a couple of wanted superheroes hanging out near the perimeter of his place and his security hasn’t identified them. When this is all over, he’s going to be sure to tell everyone he knows.
“Think they’ll be here soon?” Steve looks up from where he’s sitting against a wall, squinting into the sun.
“I think we didn’t specify a time when we joked about this so I have no idea. Try and relax a bit, Steve. It’s only ten in the morning – they’ll be here. Might just be they’ve had to travel further than we did.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t have showed up so early. The longer we’re here, the more chance there is of being noticed.”
“We’re here now,” Tony stops walking up and down and drops down next to Steve instead, leaning back against the wall just close enough so that their sides are touching, “might as well stay.
Steve gives him a small smile, and Tony knows that he’s taking comfort from the contact. With a start, he realises that he is too, glad to be able to sit next to Steve so casually. After the kiss, after they’d talked about the possibility of more, he’d thought doing things like this would be awkward but it isn’t; instead, it’s reassuring and Tony doesn’t feel quite so freaked out any more because this is Steve Rogers. No matter whether they end up being friends or something more, over the last week they’ve proved they can exist together. Even the last few days, after that confrontation in the hallway, have been nowhere close to as awkward as they might have been. It feels strange because he’s Tony Stark, he should be going into denial and pushing Steve away and insisting that there’s nothing wrong, but instead he’s inching closer because he knows it’s the right thing to do.
“We had to do a lot of waiting around during the war.”
Steve speaking startles Tony out of his thoughts, “I can imagine.”
“Still felt like it was important, though, even when nothing was happening. We were there, you know, in case anything did happen.” Steve’s quiet for a moment and then he huffs, “Sorry, should be thinking about other things right now.”
“Steve, we might have hours to wait – believe me, talk all you want otherwise I probably will and you know what I’m like when I start rambling, I just don’t stop. Hey, have you got your cards with you?”
“I have, yeah.”
“Great, pass them over then.”
“I thought you didn’t like people handing you things,” Steve smirks, his eyebrow quirking in the way it only does when he’s really amused and, okay maybe Tony’s been taking notice of him for longer than he thought.
“Normal people, other people – you’re okay, like Pepper is.”
Steve hands him the deck of cards, fingers brushing against Tony’s. “I’m in the same category as Pepper now?”
“No, you’re nowhere near Pepper’s category yet,” he grins, “don’t take that too hard, though - you’re still well above most ordinary people.”
“That’s good to know,” Steve laughs, “Are you going to deal or what?”
Tony loses track of how long they sit there, playing every card game they can think of and talking – although he does the majority of that. Steve mostly seems content to just sit and listen, occasionally humming in agreement with something. He’s half-way through the story of how he met Pepper when Steve shushes him.
“I think I heard something.”
“It’s probably just a bird or something.”
“Given our situation, I’m not going to take that chance.” Steve looks like he’s about to stand up and then he relaxes again, “definitely not a bird.”
Tony glances back over his shoulder and feels a definite sense of relief when he sees that Natasha, Clint and Bruce all look unharmed. They’re not walking slowly but they’re not hurrying either, which means they must be pretty sure they haven’t been followed. Gathering up the playing cards, Tony hands them back to Steve and prepares to get serious again.
“Are you both okay?” Bruce lowers himself down to the ground then reaches out to pat Steve’s back.
“Yes, no injuries and we weren’t followed here,” Steve answers, efficient mode fully in place from the tone of his voice, “and you?”
“Nothing serious,” Natasha glances towards Clint, “Clint took a bullet two days ago – long story – but it’s just a graze.”
“Barely even felt it at the time,” Clint adds. “Please tell us you know something, because we’ve spent a whole week going places that would horrify Tony and meeting people we really didn’t ever want to meet and got zilch.”
It’s childish, but Tony feels a small amount of satisfaction at being the team to work things out. “We know more than something – we know who is behind this.”
“My brother.” Thor makes them all jump, his arrival so quiet that even Steve’s super-hearing hadn’t picked him up.
Tony turns, slightly annoyed at having his thunder stolen by the God of…thunder and ready to make that point, but doesn’t speak when he sees how morose Thor looks.
“It seems Loki has been sneaking out of Asgard again; he has admitted to nothing but no-one remembers seeing him on the day of the crimes and his abilities of deception certainly stretch to this.”
“That’s what I was going to say,” Tony manages not to pout, “Cap figured it out.”
“Good for him,” Clint deadpans, and then turns to Thor. “So what’s our plan?”
“We must track my brother down and get him to admit to what he has done.”
It’s Bruce that points out the obvious thing, the thing that they’re all thinking. “That’s not going to be easy to do with our names plastered all over most wanted lists.”
Natasha nods. “We could do with a distraction.”
“Then we’ll give them one.” Steve speaks up again, his tone determined. “I’ll hand myself in to the police.”
Tony’s not quite sure what to say in response to that. Luckily for him, he doesn’t actually get a chance to speak first this time.
“Why would you want to do that?” Bruce shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “If something went wrong with finding Loki, you’d be stuck there.
Steve shrugs. “Because it’s the smart thing to do. We need a distraction big enough that’ll keep the heat off while we look for Loki – I’d say that counts. And that’s why I need to be the one to do it – if it goes wrong, you all still stand a chance.”
“So you’re just going to risk sacrificing yourself?”
“I’m the team leader, Natasha – it’s my responsibility.”
Tony’s listening to them but not really focusing properly; he should have known Steve would try and pull a noble stunt like this for the good of the team. He can’t complain, really, because it’s what Steve does – who he is – and, actually, it’s the most logical distraction available to them right now. He can’t complain, but he can do something.
“I’ll do it too,” he waits until they’re all looking at him before continuing, “Cap and I are arguably the two most high profile out of all of us – it makes sense for us to provide the distraction and you guys to look for Loki without people recognising us. And it means Steve won’t have to face all the questions and the attention alone. Besides, if I go too I have a team of very, very good lawyers to help us stall things.”
“You don’t have to do that Tony.” Steve’s looking at him with something Tony can’t quite work out in his eyes, “I can do it by myself.”
“I want to.” He’s not going to take no for an answer on this because it’s Steve, but he’s aware that the others are looking at them with interest so he adds, “it’s the logical, smart thing to do, and I’m all for logical and smart.”
Natasha clears her throat. “He has a point Steve about the lawyers, and the fact you’re both even more high profile than the rest of us put together.”
As Steve sighs, Tony smiles and knows he’s gotten what he wants.
"Are you sure about this?" Bruce is leaning against the car he'd come in with Natasha and Clint, the car that they're about to leave in again with Thor to go and find Loki.
"Yes," Steve says firmly. "It's our best option and it gives us a chance to try and let SHIELD know what's going on - if we can get Fury to believe us, he might be able to pull some strings, help sort things out for us. Maybe even give us some resources to help us find Loki if need be."
Tony nods in agreement, already sitting in the passenger seat of their stolen car, the one they're going to drive to the police station in. It feels kind of strange, knowing they're just going to go and hand themselves in after an entire week of being on the run, doing the exact opposite of what they're about to do. It's the right thing though, he knows, and, even if it wasn't he's still be doing it. Steve deserves not to have to do this on his own, just like he deserved to make his escape at the coffee place a week ago just like everyone else.
"This might take a while." Thor crosses his arms. "Loki is adept at hiding himself, and probably determined to cause more problems for us before we are done."
“I was on ice for years,” Steve shrugs, “I’m sure I can handle myself while you hunt for Loki. And Tony’s used to being in trouble with the law.”
He’d take offence at that, but it’s true. Instead he kicks Steve’s shin lightly. “You haven’t exactly hesitated at breaking the law over the past week yourself.”
“You’re right.” Smiling, Steve starts to walk around to the driver’s side of the car. “I haven’t.”
Clint makes a humming noise in the back of his throat. “There’s something different about you two. I can’t put my finger on it, I think – oh, wow, are you actually friends now?”
“Come to think of it, you didn’t kill each other after a whole week in each other’s presence,” Natasha smirks. “That’s quite an achievement.”
“Yes well, we’re both professionals.” Tony barely manages to stop himself from wincing as he says it because, actually, the reason they’ve manage to co-exist over this last week is most decidedly not professional. He doesn’t feel too guilty about it, though; he’s never really been one for sticking to the norm.
Steve looks adorably uncomfortable when he speaks, drawing everyone's attention back to him. "If you're all done analysing Tony and me, anyone have any questions about what we're doing?"
"I'm good." Clint straightens up slightly. "We'll try and get our end done as quickly as possible - I know we're the ones going to confront crazy-as Loki, but I still think you two get the raw end of the deal."
"That's because we do," Tony supplies. "We're the ones who have to face the police and reporters and Fury and possible prison inmates too."
"Just don't give too much away until you have to, and remember not to turn your back on anyone," Natasha's already turning away, ready to leave. "You'll be fine."
"Great, thanks for that wonderful advice. I feel so, so much better now - don't you, Steve?"
Steve shakes his head at the antics and climbs into the car. "We should get going now. The sooner we get started on this, the sooner we'll get finished. Thor, you're sure you'll be able to get Loki to do what we want?"
"I'm as sure as I can be."
"Then we're ready then. Good luck, everyone. Be smart and stay safe."
They wait while the others get into their car and drive away. Tony watches them go until they’re out of sight, wondering how long this process is going to take, whether it’ll be a few days or another week or maybe even longer until they’re all together again. Either way, it seems right that this is the way they’ve ended up splitting again; they’ll finish it the way they started so that they can clear their names. Tony trusts Steve wholeheartedly to have his back until they’re done.
“I feel a little naked.”
“Without your shield? Yeah, I know what you mean.” Tony turns in his seat to look at Steve, who’s looking quite morose. They’d decided that the others should take the Iron Man suit and Cap’s shield with them to stop any government authorities or other unwanted persons getting their hands on them. Putting his suit into the trunk of that car though, had been a hard thing to do.
Steve nods, “I don’t like being without it, especially not at the moment.”
“It was the best thing to do.”
“I know. We should get going.”
Tony relaxes back into his seat a little as Steve drives, aware that this could be his last opportunity for a few moments peace for a couple of days at least. It’s odd to be going into yet another unknown situation. He’s been lucky in his life, he guesses, to have experienced lots of things; it means that usually he’s able to go into any given situation with a certain degree of confidence. He’s never handed himself as a wanted criminal into the police after a week on the run, though. He’s certainly never done anything remotely like that just to provide a distraction.
When they start to reach the city limits, Tony sits up a little straighter in his seat, getting his head back into the game. “Cap, when we get there, we should refuse to cooperate with anyone other than Fury. He’s the safest person to tell about Loki, and besides the more fuss we can create the better job we’re doing of distracting everyone.”
“You’re right.” Steve glances sideways at him before looking back to the road. “If we’re going to do this, we might as well do this in style.”
Tony had been pretty sure Steve couldn’t endear himself to him even more, but he’s done it. “That’s the spirit, Cap.”
They’re parked just outside of the police station and Steve knows they’re going to have to go inside soon, but he just wants another minute or two alone with Tony before they start this. He knows there’s a chance they may not even be allowed to see each other until the others manage to get Loki to clear their names – assuming they do, that is. A week ago, the prospect of a few days’ break from Tony would have been great. Now, though, Steve knows it’ll be strange being on his own.
“Ready to go in there and show some style?” Tony repeats his own words back at him, looking serious.
“Sure – what’s the worst that can happen, right?”
“I’m not even going to start listing all of the bad scenarios that could come of this,” Tony reaches across to squeeze his hand. “Look, at least without your shield and my suit we look a bit less threatening – that gives us a good start.”
“Yeah,” he turns the key in the ignition, killing the engine, “besides, I’m pretty sure Fury really likes me.”
“And I’m pretty sure my lawyers want to get paid. We’re all good.”
Steve’s glad that he’s not the only one trying to reassure himself here. Taking a deep breath, he tries to push as many doubts out of his mind as possible and nods at Tony before starting to get out of the car. It’s time.
They barely get inside the station before there are guns pointing at them from all directions.
Steve does his best to look as innocent as possible and really, really hopes this will work.
Being processed takes a lot less time that Steve had thought it would, although he was about right in his estimation of the chaos them turning up at the station would cause. He doesn’t resist as his prints are taken, leaving black smudge marks on his fingertips. He stares blankly into the camera as his photo is taken, turns obediently to the side when asked. Tony though, as they’d planned, kicks up a fuss, complains loudly about people taking his prints, smirks into the camera as his own photo is taken. Then, as they lead Tony away, Steve creates his own fuss; shouting, protesting his innocence until he’s cuffed and pulled further into the more secure parts of the station.
The prison cell that Steve's been placed in feels too small, too lonely, and too hot. He's given up on pacing up and down because it just serves as a reminder of how small - how claustrophobic - the space actually is. Instead, he's stretched out on the bunk; feet hanging off the edge because it's too short for the length of his body, and wondering why exactly he'd thought this was such a good idea. They could have had Bruce hulk out and cause some havoc, or had Thor create storms all over the place to lead the police in the wrong direction.
They could have, but Steve knows logically that he couldn't have consciously put any of the others in the position he's in now, trying to stay focused under the spotlight in order to keep the rest of his team from being discovered before they can achieve their objective. He doesn't even like the fact that Tony's here, really; he'd just known that there would be no point in arguing about the issue, not when every minute spent standing around had been a minute wasted. Not when Tony is Tony: determined and stubborn and, apparently, with a new found inclination to stick close to him.
Steve can hear Tony in the cell next door, constantly moving about. It’s reassuring, in a way, knowing that he’s still close even though they’ve been separated. If he’d been the one in charge here, there’s no way he’d have put two people like them in cells next to each other – too much chance of an escape attempt. Knowing that that option is still open to them if this distraction idea goes wrong isn’t as calming as Steve thinks it should be.
There’s nothing Steve can do but wait for something to happen so that’s what he does; he stays on his bunk, steadfastly does not worry about how everyone else is doing, and waits.
He doesn’t have to wait long.
When Fury arrives, Steve’s aware of this fact for about ten minutes before he actually gets to see him because he can hear him clear as anything, and Steve’s pretty sure it has nothing to do with him having better hearing than most people because damn, Fury’s being loud. When the cell door does fly open to reveal Fury, flanked by Maria Hill and another SHIELD agent that Steve vaguely recognises, Steve sits up straight on his bunk and stays quiet, letting Fury make the first move.
“I really hope you have a good explanation for all of this, Captain.”
Steve stands, clears his throat, “I do, sir, but I’m not giving it unless Tony and I are with you in a secure area.”
Fury seems to consider him for a moment and then nods. “You’re both being released into my custody. Once we’re at SHIELD headquarters, you will tell me everything.”
“That’s what I said, sir.” He holds out his hands, allowing Hill to cuff him, even though they all know the cuffs won’t hold him if he really wants to get out of them.
“It better be good,” Fury turns and begins to walk out of the cell, “because I’ve had to pull an awful lot of strings and annoy some very important people to get you out of here.”
Steve doesn’t reply as Fury gets a guard to open up the door to Tony’s cell; he’s made his end of this clear to Fury already – there’s nothing more he needs to say right now. Instead, he watches as Tony walks out of the cell, handcuffs on and trademark smirk in place. The smile that starts to play on his lips at that disappears when Fury shoots them both one last glare before setting off down the corridor. They’re expected to follow, to obey, and now Steve realises, is the part where their distraction is going to become really hard. Now, they need to convince Fury of their story without a shred of evidence available to them. Otherwise, they’re going to have real trouble.
At SHIELD headquarters, all eyes turn on them as they enter the building. Steve’s used to attention by now. What he isn’t used to is the accusation in the expressions of people he thought knew him, the glares from people who are total strangers. There’s a part of him that had thought, even with all of the news reports, the warrants out for them, that they’d get to SHIELD and find everyone there welcoming them, not able to believe they could have done what they’ve been accused of. It had been a naïve hope.
As Steve hesitates, Tony takes two quick steps forward, catching up to him so that they’re alongside one another.
“We knew this wasn’t going to be easy, Cap.”
“Yes. Yeah, I know. Do you think Fury will believe us?”
Tony shrugs, “if anyone will, it’s him or Maria Hill. She seemed to doubt our guilt in those emails, remember?”
Despite himself, Steve feels himself smile, “probably best not to mention that, Tony – it’s against the law.”
“Yeah, a breach of privacy and all that,” Tony nudges Steve in the side. “Got it.”
No one tells them to stop talking, or to move apart, so Steve decides there’s no reason why they should. “That lawyer of yours didn’t turn up.”
“He didn’t exactly have much time to get there – Fury was quicker than I thought he’d be. I thought he’d leave us to stew for a while.”
“Believe me,” Fury turns to look at them, “I wanted to. But seeing as you’ve already created a mess – a PR nightmare, drawn too much attention to SHIELD from unwanted people – I couldn’t risk leaving you there long enough to give you time to screw anything else up.”
“We didn’t screw anything up, Nick,” Tony speaks before Steve has a chance. “The only people who did that are the people who’ve been trying to arrest us for something we haven’t done. Well, them and-”
“Someone we’re going to tell you about as soon as we’re somewhere secure,” Steve interrupts. “Look Director Fury, I promise you that none of this is our fault. We’ve handled what’s happened in the best way we could, and now we’re trying to help get it all sorted out.”
“Well then, we’re after the same objective,” Fury pushes open a door to one of the briefing rooms and they file inside, “now talk.”
“We didn’t do it,” Tony states, dropping down onto the nearest chair, “obviously.”
“Then perhaps Captain Rogers can explain to me how there are more than thirty eyewitnesses who say you did.”
Steve glances at Tony and then nods, “I can do that.”
“Then do it.”
“It was Loki. We didn’t realise at first, not until – well, it took us a while. But it makes sense – he’s a trickster, can make people see what he wants them to see, and Thor tells us he’s been sneaking out of Asgard.”
“You’re saying Loki, even after last time, decided to try and take on the Avengers again by framing them for bank robbery?”
“You have to admit,” Tony shrugs, “he gets points for trying a different method. It’s quite original.”
“Where are the others?” It’s the first time that Hill’s spoken since they entered headquarters and Steve can tell by her tone that they’ve convinced her. “I’m assuming there was a reason the two of you handed yourself in.”
“They’re looking for Loki as we speak,” Steve confirms. “We needed something to distract everyone so they had a bit more freedom to do that. And we were hoping we might be able to get some help from SHIELD with this hunt, too.”
“Why should I believe you?” Fury’s face is blank, not giving anything away.
“Because I’ve never lied to you. Not even once since I woke up in that room. And because logically, you have to know that there’s no reason for any of us to do what we’ve been accused of.”
There’s a long, horrible moment of silence and then Fury stands up, “Hill, get those cuffs off Stark and the Captain and then get every spare person we have looking for signs of Loki. Rogers, you and Stark need to stay in the building. Aside from that, do what you need to do understand?”
“Yes sir. Thank you.” He watches as Fury strides from the room, surprised at how easy it has been to convince him. After the week they’ve had, he’d been expecting it to be a lot harder. Apparently, their luck has started to change.
“Well, Steve, I don’t know about you, but what I need to do right now is get in touch with Pepper,” Tony tilts his head at Maria. “That is allowed, right? Not that I never disobey the rules but-”
“He didn’t say you couldn’t.” Hill’s already turning the key in Tony’s cuffs and then it’s Steve’s turn. “I didn’t think you could be guilty.”
“Thank you,” he smiles at her, “for believing or for not believing, whichever way you want to look at it.”
Already heading towards the door, she doesn’t look back as she says, “I just followed my head, that’s all.”
And then they’re left alone again, this time with a little less worry hanging over them than before. Now, Steve allows himself to lean back against the wall and close his eyes, taking a minute just to breathe and appreciate the fact that the two most powerful people in SHIELD believe them. He’s not going to be able to relax until this is over, until the others are able to walk into this, or any other, building without having guns pointed at them, but he’s glad that things are at least a little better.
“What are you going to do now? While I call Pepper, I mean.”
He opens his eyes to see Tony standing right in front of him. “I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll take a look and see what people have been saying about us, get an idea about where we have to come back from to earn people’s trust again.”
“Okay, I’ll come and find you when I’m done.” Tony looks around the room and then lowers his voice. “Do you think there are cameras or microphones in here? I can’t see any but-”
“There aren’t – this is a briefing room, sensitive information and everything. No bugs, no cameras. Why?”
“No reason particularly, I just wanted to check before I did this.” Tony darts forward and presses a kiss to the corner of Steve’s lips, pulling away only ever so slightly to murmur, “I can’t wait until this is all over and we can kiss some more.”
It’s unprofessional and risky and everything between them is still so new, so undefined, but Steve grabs a hold of Tony’s arm as he goes to pull away anyway. “Who says we can’t kiss some more now? And I mean a proper kiss, not a quick peck like that.”
Tony laughs and does as he’s been asked, pressing his body closer as he kisses Steve properly, their hands tangling together at their side. It’s long and slow and languid and Steve wants more, wants to find out how Tony kisses when he’s desperate, when he’s happy, when he’s just woken up in the morning. As they pull apart, still holding hands, Steve’s thinking about how he wants to know everything and Tony’s looking at him with an expression Steve’s never seen on his face before and Steve knows this is a moment to cherish, even though it’s taking place in the middle of chaos.
“You know,” Tony quirks an eyebrow, “I could call Pepper from wherever you’re working.”
Steve smiles, “if you insist.”
Steve stays awake all through the night, going through police reports and newspaper articles and anything else he can find that tells him how the Avengers have been perceived over the last week. Amongst all of the accusations and the expressed disappointments, he manages to find positives, too; an article questioning whether they were guilty, an interview with someone they’ve helped in the past, proclaiming they’re too good to have done what they’ve been accused of. Even in the more negative things he finds, there are questions, people wondering why they’ve reportedly turned bad, and Steve knows that’s good; the more people have doubts, the easier it’s going to be to get them back on their side.
When he’s done with that, he starts to go through all of the reports, both related and unrelated to them, that SHIELD’s been given recently, looking for any hint of Loki. Tony helps, sort of, but spends most of the time managing to distract Steve without even meaning to until he falls asleep in his chair, head tipping over at an odd angle until Steve takes pity and props him up with a cushion so that he won’t get a crick in his neck.
It’s light outside when Steve’s starting to drop off himself, his eyelids closing as he reads yet another document. He’s thinking about calling it quits for a few hours, finding a room where he can rest, when there’s a sudden increase in volume out in the corridor. Tony must hear it too, because he wakes up, is standing quicker that Steve had thought possible straight from sleep.
“Something’s going on,” Tony announces, needlessly, “we should see what.”
Steve nods in agreement. He’s not really sure what to expect when they reach the corridor but he really isn’t expecting to see what he sees, at least not yet, as Clint and Natasha walk quickly up the corridor, followed by Thor holding onto a neutral looking Loki. Bruce is nowhere in sight. As the group draws level, Steve and Tony step forwards to join the convoy, and Steve turns to Clint, doesn’t even need to ask the question he wants to before he gets his answer.”
“The other guy came out to play for a while,” Clint glances back at Loki, “he’s just outside in the parking lot, calming down.”
“How’d you convince Loki to admit to it?”
Natasha shakes her head, keeping her voice low so that only Steve and Tony can hear her. “We haven’t yet. He admitted to it to us, of course, gloating – but he says he’s not going to admit to Fury. We brought him in so we can…convince him.”
“Great, so we have our evidence but our evidence won’t talk.”
“Look on the bright side, Cap. We have our evidence, which is more than we had yesterday. How have things been this end?”
“Fury and Hill believe us, but that won’t make a difference if we don’t have the evidence to convince everybody else that we’re telling the truth.”
“We’ll get it,” Tony pats him on his shoulder, leaving his hand there for a second before pulling away, “even if we have to lock Loki in a room with the Hulk, we’ll get it.”
Nobody tries to stop any of them as they walk towards Fury’s office, and Steve really hopes that’s because they’ve all been given orders to trust him and Tony again, because if not it’s such a big security breach that the people of SHIELD almost deserve to have a disaster on their hands. It’s only when they turn onto the corridor where his office is that they’re even spoken to, as Maria Hill walks out to meet them.
“He’s willing to confess?”
“No,” Thor answers before any of them can speak. “My brother has not decided to do the right thing yet. He will, though.”
Clint steps forward. “We need to talk to Fury.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” Maria answers, looking a little amused, “you’ll all be doing that. This way.”
She leads them away from Fury’s office, through a door that even they don’t usually have clearance for. Steve glances sideways at Tony, hoping that the fact they’re being taken this way is a good sign rather than bad. Tony doesn’t look too worried, but then he’s always been good at hiding anxieties, at covering up problems with jokes or a smile.
“I wonder what you’re going to do,” Loki speaks, and they all turn to look at him, “when nobody believes you. When they all realise that I’m a scapegoat, that I’ve always been blamed for your crimes.”
“That’s what you’re trying to do?” Tony asks, “Get people to believe that what happened with the tesseract was our doing?”
Loki doesn’t answer. Steve fills the silence. “People won’t believe that, Loki. For every person who thinks we robbed that bank, there are dozens more who saw us defending the city that day.”
“Dozens more who will now doubt what they saw, who will not be so quick to defend you when they hear people talking about the crimes they saw you commit.”
Clint snorts. “There’s just one problem with that – you’re going to admit to what you’ve done. You want to know how I know that? It’s because there’s one of you and lots of us and, you know, we have a lot invested in making sure you tell the truth.”
“We’ll see about that.”
“Loki hasn’t admitted to anything yet,” Fury doesn’t bother with niceties as he walks into the briefing room that they’re gathered in, “but he will. And when he does, the Avengers will be issued a full public apology from the NYPD and you will all be allowed to continue as before.”
“What if Loki doesn’t confess?” Steve asks what he knows they’re all wondering, because they’re definitely not out of the woods yet.
“He will. Even if it takes years.”
“And what? We’re stuck in limbo until then?” Tony raises his voice ever so slightly, “with people not knowing whether we’re good or bad, unable to do what we do best? I think what Steve’s asking is: what then?”
“Then we’ll sort something out – I know Loki is behind this. We’ll come up with some other story that clears your name. That’s my problem, not yours.”
Steve’s heard everything now. “With all due respect, Director, it’s very much our problem. It’s our names that are being dragged through the mud-”
“And it’s us who will suffer if Loki doesn’t admit to what he’s done, and soon,” Tony finishes, knocking his knee against Steve’s under the table.
Fury nods, “I said we’ll sort something else out and, if it becomes necessary, we will. For now, though, I need a thorough report from each and every one of you about your movements over the past week. And by thorough, Stark, I mean honest – no trying to omit the little stunt you and Rogers pulled at Doctor Foster’s lab.”
“Is that really necessary?” Thor asks, then repeats what he has said about three times already, “Jane has already assured me there are no hard feelings about the-”
“It’s fine, Thor,” Steve says, “I’ve done worse things than that for the greater good before, I’m not embarrassed.”
Tony rests a casual arm along the back of Steve’s chair, “and I’ve done worse things than that for no real reason. We’re good.”
“What the hell has happened to you two?” Fury looks back and forward between the two of them. “You were at each other’s throats and now you’re almost friendly.”
“What can I say, Nick?” Tony’s arm drifts a little close to Steve’s shoulders. “We had a whole week in each other’s company – we had to either call a truce or kill one another.”
Steve shoots a smile at Tony and receives one in return too. After that, he finds it hard to concentrate on what Fury is saying; none of it really matters yet, anyway, not until Loki has admitted to what he’s done and, besides, he can ask Bruce for a rundown later. He’s too busy thinking about what Tony’s just said, about this thing between them that’s definitely more than a truce, even if the others don’t know it yet. Even if Steve’s not really sure what it is.
Whatever it is, it feels good.
So yes, Steve’s doesn’t really know what’s happening between him and Tony, but he sure can’t wait to find out.