“Sir, with all due respect, I don’t think this was really necessary,” Steve cautions, gaze fixed on the screens in front of them.
Beside him, Director Fury doesn’t shift, doesn’t so much as blink. “He was out of control, Captain. You saw what he did to those robots last week.”
“Sir, those robots were hostile. Tony was saving all our lives.”
Fury growls. “He pulverized them. He split them right down to their very atoms. And we did not know he could do that.”
Steve bites his lip hard and doesn’t say, So it’s not knowing that’s scaring you.
He keeps his gaze on the screens. They show an endless sea of white. White walls, white floor. White ceiling, from some angles. White bed.
The only color in the room – cell – is Tony’s prone form and the straps holding him tied down, spread eagle, helpless.
“I can accept that,” he lies. Better than he used to. Tony taught him how. Tony taught him a lot of things he shouldn’t know. A lot of dirty tricks and secrets. “But is it really necessary to do… this… while you secure his suits?”
Finally, the Director looks up, blinking his one eye owlishly at Captain America. “Necessary? Is it necessary? That man,” he points at the screens. Tony. “Revolutionized the technological world in a cave. With a box of scraps. He developed the most powerful weapon the world has ever seen. In the goddamn desert. So do I think it is necessary to restrain him securely while we invade his tower and take away his toys, his schematics and everything else he ever built that can so much as tickle a person? You’re damn right I do!”
At least the man knows what it is he’s doing.
Steve clenches his jaw, torn. Seeing Tony lying there, spread eagle, defenseless, is horrible. That’s his friend. That’s the man that flew a nuke into space to save them. That’s the man that spent countless hours in his labs, redesigning the weapons and battle suits of his teammates just to make them that much better, faster, stronger. Safer.
But the Director isn’t wrong. What Tony did to those robots last week was… chilling. He pressed a button, made a flippant comment, and then turned them to ash. Less than ash.
And Steve knows that if the older man were aware right now, he’d be giving SHIELD hell over trying to take his tech. Tony is nothing if not possessive.
Steve honestly can’t say how far Tony would go against his allies. Would he stop them? Injure them? Kill them? Would he atomize them like he did last week’s villain?
And that’s what scares him. That’s why he’s here, and not down there, freeing his friend. He doesn’t know how far Tony would go. He doesn’t know what the other man is capable of.
He guesses that makes him not much better than the Director, in the end.
“Hold on,” Fury suddenly barks, starling Steve. “Volume, zoom in,” he demands, his gaze fixed back on the screens.
Blinking, the blond realizes that Tony is not only awake, but talking. His lips are moving and then sound joins image and they hear, “-help me out here?”
An automated, vaguely female voice answers. It’s the computer that runs the detention levels. Surveillance, security, those things. “I am sorry, sir. You are not currently authorized to access me in any way. If you have a request you wish for me to pass on, I may do so, however.”
Tony grimaces, rolls his shoulders against the bed and then suddenly slumps. “Alright,” he drawls. “Where am I?”
“I am authorized to tell you that you are in a SHIELD containment cell until further notice. I may not give you any further information.”
Something ugly flashes across Tony’s face, fast and vicious and angry. It’s gone as fast as it appeared and Steve blinks, as much against the afterimage burned into his eyelids, as against the shiver running down his spine.
Tony nods in acceptance.
“Thank you for being so – “
The computer gets cut off by the engineer. “Override code: B-2-7-3 X, initiate. Program: 7-1-8-alpha.”
For a moment, nothing happens. Into the silence, Steve asks, “Is that computer Starkware?”
Fury growls. “I used to be. We cannibalized it. Stripped it down to its very core. There is no way…”
“Override code accepted. Programs booting. Welcome, Mr. Stark. How may I be of service?”
Steve groans even as Fury hits the alert button, setting flashing red lights off everywhere a split second before the video feed cuts out. The last thing they see is Tony sitting up, rubbing his wrists, lips moving in an endless stream of orders. “You let him have access to his own tech? I thought that’s what you were trying to stop!”
“It was cannibalized! There was nothing left of the basic programming except single lines of code! How the fuck did he…!”
The Director gives up his ranting in favor of unholstering his gun and barking orders into his comm. He waves for Steve to follow and Steve does, because he is a good soldier.
He is a good soldier.
They make their way through chaos and panic toward the central command floor. It’s deserted, due to the evacuation and they slam into an empty room with flashing lights, nothing more.
Cautiously, Steve shuts the door, watching Fury stalk from screen to screen like a caged animal.
“You know what’s funny?”
They both spin, hands going for their weapons, aiming at the voice in the dark.
Tony steps out of the shadows by the main entrance with a wry grin. “I mean, really funny?”
When Fury makes no move to play his game, he shrugs, raises a finger toward the ceiling and twirls it in a loose circle.
“All this? You know why this is happening, Nicky?”
“Because you’re a loose fucking cannon maybe?” the Director suggests, voice biting.
Tony snorts, waves a hand in front of his face. The other is still buried in the pocket of his jeans. He looks utterly unthreatening. But Steve knows his teammate and he’s never seen the older man’s eyes this bright. This mad.
“Well, yeah. We knew that already, try to keep up. But no. I mean, I am a loose cannon. But I was flying nicely in formation with all the other loose cannons, right? No, Nicky, this is happening because you’re scared. You’re scared of this exact thing, and that’s why it’s happening.”
“Spare me the fucking philosophy crash course, Stark, and get down on your fucking knees.”
Fury’s gun hand is perfectly steady. Steve wants to squirm with the knowledge that he will actually shoot. Shoot Tony.
He shifts slightly to one side, ready to, what, take a bullet for Tony? He isn’t sure. He hates that he isn’t sure, but he’s not in the habit of lying to himself
The others notice him move and step back to compensate. Not only Fury. Tony, too.
“All you had to do, Fury,” Tony says, unperturbed by the gun in his face, “was trust me. Just a little. Just… trust me. We low self-esteem types are really not that hard to keep happy. Just give us a scrap, a little something. Your attention, your faith. A little trust. If you’d trusted in me, we wouldn’t be here. How’s that for philosophy?”
“Trust you?” Fury shouts, voice rising in pitch and volume, “Trust you? Stark, you literally atomized a whole army of robots. How the hell am I supposed to trust anyone with that much firepower?”
Tony waggles his finger in the air. “Ah-ah. The operative word in that sentence is ‘robot’. As in ‘not alive’. See also ‘villain’, ‘enemy’ and ‘things we generally blow up’.”
“You shouldn’t have that kind of tech.”
“But you should?” Tony still looks amused. Steve knows him well enough to know it doesn’t bode well for anyone, the man himself included.
“I told you, Stark, I’m not arguing fucking philosophy with you.”
Tony laughs. “Yeah, because you wouldn’t win.” He looks up at the ceiling. “JAR?”
“Sir,” the familiar mechanical voice answers, from a system it should have no access to, on a base it has never been installed on. “How may I be of assistance?”
“Secure. Doctor Banner and Miss Potts escaped unscathed and the hostiles are under my control. Would you like for me to initiate the delta program?”
Tony turns his attention to Steve then, for the first time and the look in his eyes isn’t hard. It’s soft. Soft and hot. Scalding. Steve always envied and pitied Tony for his drive, his fire. Today, he fears him. Fears him because there is something terrible looking back at him from those eyes and he remembers all the files he read. Merchant of Death and three months of torture in an Afghan cave and flying a nuke into space without a second’s hesitation.
As sudden as the weight of Tony’s gaze settled on Steve, it disappears.
“Not yet,” the engineer says, quietly.
He turns back to Fury.
“Did you know,” he asks, conversationally, “that I invented that particular weapon almost ten years ago? Held it back because it seemed… too much, you know? And then the Ten Rings happened and, well. I didn’t get around to adjusting it for the suit until last month. But I had it.”
He spreads his arms, fingers splayed apart. Look here. “I never used it.”
“Until last week,” the Director returns, unmoved.
“Trust,” Tony repeats, like it’s some great revelation.
“Loose. Fucking. Cannon.”
Dropping his hands, Tony sighs. “Yes. That’s the fucking point. Yours. Your loose cannon. All you had to do was believe that. Dogs don’t bite the hand that feeds.” His smile is almost boyish. “But you just had to stop feeding me, didn’t you?”
Abruptly, he shrugs. “Buddy?”
“ETA five seconds, Sir. Delta program?”
“Might as well,” Tony answers and spreads his arms wide, so wide, just in time for the tremendous crash of his armors breaking through the nearest wall and engulfing him while there’s still concrete and plaster raining down on them.
Iron Man assembles in a matter of seconds and Steve didn’t even know it worked like that, didn’t know Tony could suit up this fast, this… deadly.
Iron Man snaps a sloppy salute in Fury’s direction and the man answers by firing a whole magazine of useless bullets into the armor’s torso before giving an inarticulate yell and putting up the gun.
Tony is smiling behind the faceplate, Steve is sure. But it’s not the lazy, unguarded smile he’s become used to. This, Steve imagines, is Tony’s shark grin. “Self fulfilling fucking prophecy, Nicky. Be seeing you.”
He blast out another wall just to add insult to injury and is gone before either of the others can do more than blink.
They find their men trussed up in neat piles outside their door two hours later. Twenty minutes later every screen in any SHIELD base in the world turns blank, flashing the same message: Delta program initiated.
Potts, Banner, Rhodes and Stark disappear. Surprisingly, so do Romanov and Barton. Thor is in Asgard, far removed from all this. Steve only stays because he is a soldier.
A good soldier.
“I was right,” Fury curses when another search comes up empty. “I was fucking right.”
So was Tony.
Steve doesn’t say it.
Tony taught him a lot of things.