"Must say, Cap. When you say working lunch, I thought the emphasis would be on working and not lunch."
Steve doesn't look up from his burger. If he looked at Tony, sitting smug and lazy across from him at this small circular table on the grill's patio, he'd have to squint against the setting sun and give Tony one more reason to make fun of him.
"I just really like this food, okay," he mumbles around a mouthful of juicy grass-fed beef.
Tony raps his knuckles against the metal tabletop in a staccato beat. "Are you even watching the door? Is this burger you're communing with keeping you from your All American Duties?"
Steve decides to hazard a glance up despite the sunlight. It's not actually that bad, the sun has set enough that instead of stabbing into his eyes like brutal spikes of agony it just highlights Tony's perfectly coiffed hair like he's in a photoshoot.
Tony sees him looking and grins, all teeth.
Steve's his face flushes without his permission. "Isn't that what I have you here for? Doing the numbers, counting the suspicious characters?" He pops the last of his burger into his mouth and chews it carefully. "I'm just the brawn, right?"
Tony barks out a laugh, throws his head back with the force of it.
"When was the last time someone believed you when you said that? One of FDR's terms?"
Another nervous-looking guy creeps into the doors of the building across the street. Tony makes a gesture at his phone laid flat on the table, and it pings at him.
"Lots of traffic for a Tuesday," Steve says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin.
"Place like that doesn't really have any high traffic days," Tony says, takes a sip of water. "I mean, ebb and flow of the tide, right?"
"Ebb and flow?" Steve is totally lost. "What does that have to do with AIM?"
Tony rolls his eyes. "Nothing, it was a masturbation joke."
"Ebb and flow is a masturbation joke now?"
"It is when I say it."
The waitress comes by with the cheque. Tony flips out his black card without asking, and Steve crosses his arms across his chest as she takes it away.
"It's not an actual joke if you're using private codewords that no one else knows about," he says.
Tony scratches at the back of his neck, shrugs. "I'm not the only one who knows about it. Now you do too."
They both catch sight of another man going into the building. Someone comes out at the same time, speeds down the street with his sweater hood up and his shoulders hunched.
"So should we just go in and check it out?" Tony asks, watching the guy flee down the street. "We've been here for an hour, I'm bored."
Steve closes his eyes for a moment, breathes in through his mouth and out through his nose.
"No, we are not going in."
"I'm dressed down!" Tony indicates his suit, which is a two piece instead of his usual Continental three. "I can be discreet!"
"What's the first thing you taught me after the Avengers were formed?" Steve asks.
"...how to use the microwave, probably."
"No, that wasn't--"
Tony waves a hand. "Okay, it was to never ask Clint how to use the three shells, because all of his theories on that are wrong and gross and lies."
Steve leans forward and hisses, "You taught me that everyone has a camera!"
The waitress comes back to return Tony's card. He takes it from her and grins wide, which she returns tentatively. Before she goes back inside she switches on the patio television, leaves it on the early evening local news.
"Come on, going viral isn't the worst thing to happen to you," Tony says onces she's gone.
Steve gives up. "You know what, you want to go "viral" over there, go ahead. If you get attacked I'll come help."
"Fine!" Tony snaps.
"Fine!" Steve returns.
Tony clumsily climbs over the railing separating the patio from the sidewalk, then stomps down to the corner where the street lights are about to change. Steve watches him progress across the street all without a glance backwards, as usual.
Once the doors to the Sperm Bank swing shut after Tony's haughty spine, Steve buries his head in his hands and groans.
"And this technology will be a great boon for my people," Doom's voice booms from the television. Steve drops his hands to twist his head and watch. "The generosity of proprietary StarkTech will not go unanswered, but not before the glory of my country is reestablished and firmly held!"
The press corps attending the conference mummer in confusion. Steve knows how they feel, because what?
"That isn't good," he says to the television as the chyron scrolls the headline, "DOCTOR DOOM TO TAKE STARK-MADE TECHNOLOGY BACK TO LATVERIA - STARK INDUSTRIES REPRESENTATIVE UNAVAILABLE FOR COMMENT."
Steve vaults the railing and runs into traffic. Cars screech, blare their horns at him. Steve doesn't apologise, too intent on the heavy glass doors across the street and the chaos of moving people on the other side.
He slams through the doors and skids to a stop before he collides with a pile of broken chairs. Someone behind the counter is sobbing, but the main action is where Tony stands, in the middle of the room, chair held aloft with one hand and repulsor gauntlet on the other.
One AIM Beeworker is down at his feet, and another Tony's got against the wall.
"I gotta say, the Better Business Bureau isn't gonna be happy with you guys," Tony says, perky. "This is a total misrepresentation of services rendered."
Tony shakes his head, then catches sight of Steve. "Hey, Cap. Help me out here."
Steve steps over the wreckage to grab Tony's hand. The heat from the repulsor is uncomfortable, but it isn't going full tilt so he'll walk away with only minimal burning.
"Steve, wait--" Tony flicks the gauntlet off while Steve drags him over to the television against the far wall. There's a mass array of "So you want to donate genetic material" pamphlets spread out over the table under the wall-mounted set, Steve knocks them to the floor in his haste to grope for the button that switches channels.
He finds it, and quickly scrolls through until he finds the news.
"We have TV back at the tower--"
Steve shakes his head. "No, wait, you gotta see this."
A rerun of Doom's announcement is already in progress, with the same chyron scroll below.
"Son of a bitch," Tony says, faint.
Steve knew it would be bad, but not this bad. He squeezes Tony's hand, then realises that he can't feel it through the gauntlet. He settles for shaking it a little, a nudge to let Tony know he's there.
Tony doesn't look at him. "Someone did it again. Son of a bitch."
A rustle of movement behind them, and Steve looks back to see the remaining AIM Beeworker trying to sidestep out the front door. Steve releases Tony's hand to pick up a statue of an anthropomorphous sperm-- wide smiley face and little gloved hands and a brush of glitter paint down the tail-- and pitches it overhand at the Beeworker.
The guy goes down with one hit. The statue falls to the industrial-grade carpet unharmed.
Steve turns back to Tony, gently places a hand on his shoulder. "Tony?"
"Son of a bitch," Tony says again, broken record.
# # # #
When Sam comes up to the Penthouse, Tony is busy flailing his arms as he paces while shouting into his handsfree. Steve points him to the breakfast bar where Tony left the new equipment he made Sam that morning, then resumes sitting where the television and the sofas are to stare out the window into the great expanse that is New York City's skyline.
"But we can sue, right? What do I pay you an exorbitant amount of money for if you can't sue anyone I want you to? What? Diplomatic immunity has nothing to do with this jackhole!"
Sam comes over to stand next to Steve's slump on the floor. The strap of his brand new shiny goggles with some kind of magnifying upgrade brush Steve's shoulder where they dangle from his hand.
"This is bad, man," Sam says. "This is something out of a Simon and Garfunkel song."
Tony's voice rises as he proceeds with his rage fit. "Diplomatic immunity means you can't jail him for a parking ticket, not that he's not answerable to my stolen tech! He's bragging about it! Didn't you see-- okay, of course you saw it. Then why aren't you doing your job on this?"
"Tony already has so much to deal with, you know?" Steve says to Sam.
"I'm talking about you," Sam says, nudges Steve's leg with the toe of his sneaker. "There are just so many chairs in this room, why are you not sitting in one?"
Steve inspects the closest building to Avengers Tower. It looks like a bank. He thinks it might be a bank. "There was this thing last month where some guy tried to break in and sabotage the construction of a new reactor. It was one of the smaller self-contained models, gonna power villages in Africa if it tested safe. Why would someone do that? Take away charity from people in need?"
"I just counted ten chairs. Within twenty square feet of your ass on that fancy carpet."
"I don't care that your intern is crying!" Tony bellows.
"I think what's left of Tony's relationship with Pepper is on the rocks because of all this stress, what do you think?" Steve asks Sam, still focused on what he thinks is a Bank. If it is one, he's never been inside it.
"I think Pepper would be sitting in a chair right now, so she's obviously doing better than both of you."
A lone hawk flies past the tower. Steve tracks its flight with his eyes, then reaches out to place a hand flat on the glass when it's out of range of his better-than-normal eyesight.
"Okay, then can we hire an assassin to take him out? I mean, come on. Industrial espionage has always made use of shadowy people. No, no. I cannot bring Avengers into my murderous plots, what the hell?" Tony throws his coffee mug into the kitchen, where it makes a cracking noise. "Are you mocking me? Do I need to fire you?!"
Sam makes a noise of judgement-laden disgust and leaves for the bank of elevators.
# # # #
Clint throws a piece of popcorn at Steve's knee. It bounces off and hits the floor, where Lucky is there to be a hero of cleanup duty and promptly hoover the snack into his maw. Steve leans down to scratch the dog between his ears and keeps one eye on Tony as he freewheels through his enraged monologue.
"All I'm saying here is that I know what this is. This is not my first rodeo, this is not my first orgy in a clown car."
"I'm really uncomfortable with all these spectacle metaphors," Clint says. He throws another piece of popcorn, this time at Tony's feet. Lucky speeds after it. "I'm feeling pretty attacked right now."
"This isn't about you," Tony says, sidesteps Lucky's barrelroll into his feet, continues his pacing. "This is about truth and justice and how my tech keeps getting stolen!"
Steve flicks through another page of legal copy on his own StarkTech tablet. Tony gave the thing to him months ago and Steve is intent on using it, even if he sometimes prefers the aesthetic smoothness of Apple's iPads.
"The United Nations doesn't have protections in place if he's transporting Weapons of Mass Destruction," he says, flicks to another page. "Could the tech he's stolen be used for that?"
Tony snorts. "Anything can be a WMD, Steve. But no, not completely and unequivocally, no."
"Ooh, unequivocally," Clint says. He throws a piece of popcorn into his mouth, then throws one at the back of Bruce's head. "Big word for big trouble, huh?"
Bruce is trying to watch a Bollywood movie on the television, is slumped down into the squishy sofa and doing a good job of ignoring all of them.
"I'd like to hear you use a large word in an appropriate setting, Barton, really." Tony veers off into the kitchen, shouts out as he dives into the fridge, "Something that isn't about shooting stuff and playing games!"
Clint ignores Tony in favour of pelting Bruce with three more pieces of popcorn in quick succession. Lucky scrambles around behind the sofa to suck up every last bit.
Bruce pauses the movie on the television, freezeframe of a whirling dance number full of shiny things. He tilts his head back to eyeball Clint.
"Why are you getting butter in my hair?"
Clint shrugs. "Is being greasy gonna make you get up and make dinner?"
Bruce uses the sleeve of his hoodie to wipe at the butter off the back of his neck, then hits play to resume the film. Clint squawks and throws an entire handful of popcorn at him, much to Lucky's rapturous glee.
Steve's phone buzzes with an incoming call. He checks the display, then rushes to hit accept. "Yes, hello?"
"Hello Mr. Rogers, this is Marissa from the Courtesy Desk with the results of the information retrieval you requested!"
"I can bribe the people working JFK today to tamper with his plane," Tony announces as he shoves spoonfuls of iced coffee into his mouth.
"Yes, hello Marissa," Steve says to the phone, then pulls it away to say, "Tony, no."
Tony sniffs and mumbles around his spoon, "I am being expedient, I am being resourceful. I am being a god damn superhero."
"Mr. Rogers, I'm afraid the workaround you're looking for is just not possible," Marissa says on the phone. "Article 2X-91 clearly states that retention of any Foreign Diplomat for any reason could be interpreted as an act of war, and there are no exceptions unless a Tribunal at the Hague has been completed for War Crimes."
"Nah, listen to Steve, man," Clint tells Tony. "Don't worry, we'll take care of this the proper way. The Avengers way."
Bruce snorts. "What's the "Avengers" way again?"
Clint ticks off items with his fingers as he recites, "Smash shit, break shit, blow up shit."
"That's a lot of shit."
Clint does two-handed finger guns at Bruce and winks. Lucky takes the opening to dive into the popcorn bowl and scarf the remainder.
"Aw, popcorn. No!"
"Okay, well. Thank you for looking that up for me, I appreciate it," Steve says to Marissa.
"No problem, glad I could help! You have a nice day!"
Marissa rings off, and so does Steve. He takes a deep breath, then says to Tony, "There's nothing we can do to stop Doom from leaving American soil."
Tony throws his half-full cup of iced coffee at the kitchen sink. "It's called repulsors! They shoot things out of the sky all the time! And oh goody, my suit comes with two of them!"
Steve sighs and picks up his tablet again. The pages of Diplomatic Protocol as dictated by the United Nations got knocked off when he dropped it, and he's left with the browser open to Wikipedia's entry for Latveria.
The sidebar gives some useful information, like that the Capital is Doomstadt, and that the education is universal for every citizen, and that Latveria's official animal is the honeybadger.
He looks over the map that shows how the country's border goes with the Carpathian Mountains forming a tight circle of defence for the entire kingdom. People could get lost in those things really easily, even in this day and age of satellite imaging and tracker chips.
Steve swallows once, twice, three times. Then, a little loud to be heard over the musical number going on in Bruce's film, he says, "Oh no."
Bruce pauses the movie and gets up from the sofa, comes over to the table where Steve is set up. He peers over at Steve's tablet and looks concerned.
Clint perks up and gets to his feet. "Is that a good oh no or a bad oh no?"
"It better be a 'I will set that country on fire' oh no," Tony snarls from the entry to the kitchen.
"No, I ah. I just got a tip." Steve glances at everyone, then back at the map on his tablet.
""Just" the tip, or...?" Tony drifts off, eyebrows up and a strained grin forming.
Steve clears his throat, ignores Clint snickering at him. "It looks like there are rumours of a HYDRA base in the Carpathian Mountains. The Avengers should go check it out."
Steve checks everyone's reactions. Bruce's lips have gone thinner than usual, and Tony has that "very impressed" face on that he uses only when Steve is suggesting something stupid but what he's still going along with.
Clint turns from Steve to point at Tony. "I blame you for this."
# # # #
Sam thumps down into the seat next to Steve. The bag carrying his gear hits the floor of the Quinjet just as hard and loud.
Steve does not look at him, he's too busy examining the threading on his gloves.
"You're just lucky it's a three day weekend and I had the time to get someone to stand in for me," Sam says and pokes Steve in the ribs with an unforgiving jab of his hand. "Otherwise you'd be down air support. And I mean down, because I am not throwing over those guys just for your freaky joy rides."
"I could give Hawkeye his own set of wings, take you out of the equation," Tony says across the aisle without looking up from his laptop.
Sam snorts. "Yeah, you could do that. You could also bring him to me for treatment after he gets a traumatic brain injury when he nosedives right off a roof because he doesn't know what he's doing."
Clint squawks from where he's sitting by the back hatch. "Hey, I know what I'm doing!"
"Yeah?" Sam waves at arm at Clint. "Then tell me what you're doing right now."
"I'm taping glitter packets to some of my arrows," he sniffs.
Sam waves a demonstrative hand at Clint while he looks at Steve. "He would nosedive, man. Right. Off."
"They're for if I have to make a distraction. It's called future planning, come on!"
Bruce shuffles out of the Quinjet's cockpit clutching a bag of wasabi peas and his travel mug of tea.
"I just finished talking to Natasha. She'll get in about three hours after we land, so we're meeting her at the hotel."
Steve grins at Bruce. The man doesn't grin back because he's too busy settling into the seat next to Tony.
"Hey Brucie, look at this. I got some closed circuit going on here from good old Doomy Doom Land," Tony says, tilts his laptop so he can share.
It takes an extreme amount of effort, but Steve does not feel upset that Tony is sharing his highly illegal surveillance footage with Bruce instead of him. It's good he has friends other than Steve. He should interact with people who share his interests and only want the best for him, especially in this dark time when he is yet again betrayed in regards to the technology he sweats and labours over.
"Dude, you okay?" Sam asks Steve, nudges him in the side with an elbow. "You look like you're about to shit your pants."
"What does Steve look like when he's about to shit his pants?" Clint asks. He tilts to the side to get a look at Steve's face. "Oooh, I recognise that. That's the three servings of circus peanuts on top of a large nachos look."
"Yeah, Cap," Tony says. He peers over the top of his laptop lid, and well, now Steve's got his attention at least. "Your face went all pale and splotchy, you gonna be okay to do this?"
"I'm fine, promise."
Tony tilts his head to the side. "You sure? Because you can stay in the--"
Steve stands up and carefully sidesteps around Sam's bag of wings, waves a hand at Sam's attempt to reach up and steady him.
"I'm going to check our landing zone, take a breather. You guys keep focused."
And at that, he flees to the cockpit.
# # # #
In Doomstadt's premier hotel, just across the plaza that Doom's Castle takes up one side of, there are complimentary gift baskets to greet all guests. Premium cable channels to entertain them. Prompt room service, should a call be made with the very sleek phone that is on every single nightstand.
In Doomstadt's equivalent of a Motel 6, the Avengers gather in a single room. Natasha took the bed with her weapons and bag of bagels, and the rest of them spread out in the cramped quarters full of press board furniture and decorative floral arrangements that haven't been dusted since Y2K.
The latest in StarkTech brand phones includes a wee projector lens built into the top of the case. Steve loves using his during mission briefings, but only if he can put it down somewhere so he isn't rooted to one spot while he outlines plans and informs the troops on who does what.
Because Tony got them the one hotel in the city that contains no tables or furniture higher than his knees, Steve is stuck standing next to the wall this time.
"Bruce will be our backup," Steve says through grit teeth. He uses his finger on the phone screen to draw a little green circle around the cafe that's built into the base level of the five-star Doomstadt Experience Luxury Suites. "You can hang out here and if we need you, let Hulk out and come knocking."
Bruce tilts his head back to peer at the circle. He's sitting cross-legged next to the coffee table with a local newspaper spread out before him. It looks like he's filling in the sudoku puzzle with a pen.
"Is there tea there? I know it says cafe, but I'm trying to cut back on my coffee intake. All those acids, I don't think they're good for the digestion. And, you know." He shrugs. "It makes me hyper."
"You are an abomination," Tony says from across the room where he's sprawled on the floor with his laptop. "I am ashamed to know you."
"Come on, man, I'm sure there's a lot of things you can get there," Sam says to Bruce. He's claimed the square of free space under the window and has his wings spread out for a mechanical check across his lap. "I mean, I haven't personally inspected the menu, but I'm sure you'll find something. Doom likes to pretend he's top tier, and top tier does not have a low number of choices at a cafe named after his egotistical ass."
"Wait, what's it called?" Clint asks, looks at Steve. "Come on, what is it?"
"The cafe is called Cuppa Doom," Steve sighs.
Natasha finishes with her array of guns, the last one a snubnosed that Tony made for her custom. She drops it casual on the bedspread, then leans over to where Clint's weaponry is propped and takes his pistol from the stack.
"I can clean my own damn gun, woman," Clint sighs.
Natasha hums and cracks the barrel to look down the inside. "Just checking that it's the real deal and not one that shoots out a little flag that says BANG."
"That was one time and it was really funny."
Natasha takes a soft cloth and starts to buff out a smudge on the metal. "A little funny," she corrects.
Clint mimes throwing a clip of bullets at her head. "No, really funny."
"How are you two still alive?" Bruce asks as he fills in a number on his puzzle.
Natasha and Clint exchange a sly glance. Tony throws up his hands and makes a strangled noise.
"There they go, being all "spies" and "mysterious". They're still alive because they're trained killers, Brucie. No more and no less."
"Go back to your parking lot security footage, Stark," Natasha says.
Tony narrows his eyes, lifts his chin. "Hey, don't knock it. One of his doombots doing detail is totally faulty, which is something that Clint can exploit, and we wouldn't know that if I wasn't doing this."
Clint stops lobbing a clip into the air to look interested. "Perving on dusty 1998 Nissans?"
"I'm on to you," Tony says.
Clint sticks his tongue out at Tony. Tony returns the gesture.
"Shouldn't he be doing that anyway?" Sam asks. "Since he's the one breaking Doom's stuff this time?"
Bruce caps his pen and shoves the newspaper away from him on the table. "But then Tony wouldn't have any fun on this trip."
"I'm good with it," Clint shrugs.
Bruce reaches over to the low table where a small television sits. He flicks the on switch, and the room is filled with the sweeping orchestral arrangement of Latverian Nightly News.
One of the announcers is wearing a honeybadger fursuit, and is speaking German over a recording of Doom's recent pep rally outside his castle.
"Still don't get the honeybadger thing," Sam says. "Is there anything about Doom that screams honeybadger at you?"
Natasha tilts her head to the side. "I've never met one, but I heard they're quite ferocious. Maybe he feels a kinship."
"Uh, hey, so," Tony says as he watches the screen intently, "I... don't think that's Victor."
Steve almost drops his phone. "What?"
"A bodydouble?" Natasha asks. She's watching the television closely too. "That's unlike him."
Tony shakes his head. "No, I think that's physically him. Maybe a brain parasite?"
Steve sighs. "Tony..."
"No, hear me out. He rambles a lot, I mean. You heard him during that last invasion of his. Transhumanism and how it impacts customer service laws?"
He hates to admit it, but: "I wasn't listening."
Tony rears back as if Steve has just presented him with a dead fish in a bow tie.
Steve gets desperate. "Doombots were swarming me, I was focused on those!"
Tony rolls his eyes and lolls his head back against the wall. Says to the ceiling, "Just stating here, he's usually a lot more coherent. And he has a point, even if it's a stupid one."
Steve watches the broadcast with a sceptical eye. On it Doom is talking about something called sunk cost fallacy and emphatically shaking his fist.
"His point here is to steal your tech here and claim it as his own?"
The crowd watching Doom starts to roar. He waves gaily and tells everyone to have a good time.
Tony waves both arms in the direction of the television. "Okay, fine, but look! He never wants anyone to have a good time, especially not the people living in his own country!"
Steve sighs. "Yeah, okay. So best theory is what, brainwashing? Who has the best brainwashing stuff?"
The entire room contemplates the question. The televised Dr. Doom high-fives a small child as the crowd goes wild.
Finally, Tony offers, "HYDRA?"
Steve nods. "Definitely HYDRA."
# # # #
They're dropped off on the correct side of Doomstadt in an abandoned playground by an invisible Quinjet. A low whirr of the engine drifts away somewhere above their heads as it flies away, leaving them within the sight-lines of the backside of Doom's Castle, and also the lit edges of the tourism strip.
"That thing is too loud," Clint hisses at Tony.
Tony kicks at the cube his current suit model folds into and waits for the thing to activate. "If it was completely silent, how would we know if it left?"
Clint's eyes go wide. Natasha smacks him on the back of the head as she leaves them, on her way to slipping into the shadows and being a very good spy in a very dangerous situation. Bruce ambles after her with his hands in his pockets, squinting in the direction of the cafe he's going to find tea and pastries at.
Tony's suit unfolds and starts to come together around him. Clint pats Steve on the shoulder as they watch.
"Just want you to know, Cap," Clint says, "that I expect this kind of dedication if Lucky is ever kidnapped."
The Iron Man faceplate snaps down, and Tony's robo-mechanical voice filters out. "Why the hell would Lucky get kidnapped?"
"I don't know." Clint shrugs. "But if he did, Steve better be on the case, is all I'm saying."
Steve tugs his cowl on methodically and thoroughly. "Goodbye, Clint."
Clint slaps Steve on the back and leaves for the panto theatre in the opposite direction of the tourist strip. There's a massive statue of a ventriloquist dummy set atop the building that, if Clint gets up to at least its shoulder, is the perfect height for him to shoot a zipline from and get into the nearest security tower to work.
"Hey Cap, come lift this."
Steve trudges around a two storey twirly slide to where Tony stands, shining a light on a steel grate set into the concrete. The bolts are all rusted, it doesn't take much for him to lift the metal straight from the ground and give them an entry.
Tony drifts down first because he's got the light. Steve waits for ten seconds, then drops down after him.
Underground is damp, slimy, full of running water, and the electric cords lining the ceiling are completely eaten through by rats. Steve takes his phone from its home in his belt pouch and brings up the map of the castle Clint found for him off of Google Scholar.
"I have GPS on this thing," Tony says. Even with the distortion filter on he sounds amused.
"And I'm the one leading the way, so I'll be looking at a good old-fashioned map," Steve snaps.
Tony trudges through the water away from Steve, points at an intersection up ahead.
"We go left."
Steve grits his teeth and shoves his phone back into the belt pouch. All this water is probably bad for it anyway, he's just saving his electronics if he concedes.
With Tony leading, it takes them all of twenty minutes of constant walking to reach the underground entrance to the castle. Tony lets his spotlight go wide to encompass the massive metal door set into the ancient stonework, and also the very advanced security locks wired directly into the steel.
"There's too much rust and iron deposits for the suit to scan the innards," Tony says. He lifts his faceplate and peers at the control panel next to the hinges on the door. "If I take off the panel I can hack it."
Steve is ready to get out of the cold water already. He reaches around Tony and grabs at the panel that is right in front of Tony's face. He adjusts his grip, ready to pull, then Tony cants forward just a bit and sets his teeth into the kevlar weave of his glove pulled down over his wrist.
"Uh, Tony?" Steve asks. That's about all his brain can come up with, his mouth is too dry.
Tony's lips curl back from where his teeth are set into Steve's armor. He manages to hiss perfectly loud, "Shhhh!" anyway.
They both go quiet to listen. Steve closes his eyes to focus, and realises that underneath all the raging water and scurrying rat noises, there's a familiar voice roaring in rage.
Tony stops biting him and says, "Does that sound like Victor to you? Because it sounds like Victor to me."
"Yeah, that's the tone he uses when the doombots start to explode."
Tony takes a step back. "Okay, get it off."
Steve grips tightly and pulls against the panel. It crumbles into three pieces under his hand and falls to the concrete floor.
Tony flips the Iron Man faceplate back down, says "Well that was anticlimactic," and shoots the wiring inside with a repulsor beam.
The system shorts out and the locks on the door disengage. Steve kicks at the handle and sends the door swinging inward. Off off they go up the carved stone stairs rising in a gentle curve, Steve leading and Tony flying close behind.
One storey's worth of steps drops them into something that looks like a disused win cellar. The diamond shelves are all bare, the lighting is atrocious, and the only other door in the room is solid wood this time.
Doom is standing by that door, in full caped regalia and holding a laser pistol at his side.
Doom is also in a bathrobe, tied to a metal chair in the middle of the room with a construction bucket set right behind him.
"So I guess Natasha was right on this one," Tony says.
The Doom on the chair jerks. "Stark! Disable this creature and free me!"
"I'm not a Skrull, I'm a very powerful doctor man!" the other Doom bellows.
"No one said Skrull," Tony says. He checks with Steve, "Did you say Skrull?"
The Doom on the chair kicks his bare feet against the stone floor.
"How long have you been tied up down here?" Tony asks. "Cos you don't look too good."
The standing Doom takes off his mask, and it is indeed a Skrull, pointy ears and green skin and all. It bares its teeth at them and hisses, "I offered to wash him, but he refused. His look is only because he refused washings!"
Steve tries to casually case the room. There's an uncapped widemouth gallon jug of water on the table nearby. He starts to slowly sidle towards it, confident that Tony will have too much fun gloating to let any of the attention off of him.
"I offered to feed him succulent sustenance, but he refused that also! He is wasted and alone because he refuses proper care, not because I do not provide it!"
"You're a twisted maniac!" Doom roars.
Tony tilts his head. "Define succulent sustenance.:
"He masticated it, like I was his chick! I am not his chick!"
"You're right, you're not his chick, Doomy. You're everyone's chick. You're positively poultry."
"Stark!" Doom thrashes on his chair and nearly tips himself over.
Steve has reached the bottle. He picks it up by the handle and aims the mouth of it at the Skrull, then jerks his arm to fling the contents out.
The water splashes the Skrull right in the face. He drops to the floor with a howl and claws at his neck, face, ears.
Tony side-eyes Steve. "Uh, was that acid?"
Steve shows him the emptied bottle. "Water."
Tony shakes his head at the alien on the floor. "Hey, Wicked Witch of the West! Chill!"
The Skrull rolls onto its back with a wail, and Steve kicks it in the head.
# # # #
The fortress's foyer is a mess of doombots wheeling around, human workers fastwalking with wide eyes, and Doom himself raging across the marble flooring in his ripped bathrobe.
"Not only did you not recognise an impostor in your midst, but a mere circus performer took every single last security system? What did I code you for? Decoration?!"
Tony follows after him, hovering two feet off the floor and gleefully bobbing in circles around Doom whenever he pauses stride. "--and if you don't tell everyone in the morning that you're actually licensing the StarkTech, I'll rig it to blow and make it look like a doombot accident. Think of the madness!"
Steve has the front door open for the other Avengers and is leaning against the water fountain installed for the use of tour groups. He's already lead U.N.-sanctioned agents back down to where the unconscious Skrull was so they could transport him for interrogation, his job is done for the day.
"Tony, I think he gets it."
Tony ignores Steve. "And if you don't make yourself sound like the idiot you are, I'll get Reed Richards to fly out and lecture you in public. Should I keep going, I can keep going."
"Listen to the Captain, Mr. Stark," Doom growls, fists clenched and tattered dignity gathered around his surprisingly dainty bare ankles. "I, as he says, get it."
Doom pivots in place and stomps to the other side of the room, starts to berate a grovelling doombot.
Tony flies over to Steve and lands next to him with a cackle. The lights over the visor of the faceplate start to blink, an external cue for the Avengers to know that he's initialising removal protocol.
The suit starts to peel from his body and fold in on itself as it goes from top to bottom. Tony stands there in his sweaty t-shirt and dirty jeans with a wide grin on his face, eyes bright and hair a matted mess.
Steve waits for him to take a step away from the suit forming itself into a cube at their feet, then hugs him. Full body. No take-backs, no misunderstandings.
Tony tenses under his arms, then relaxes. Leans in a bit and says into Steve's collarbone, "This is what we're doing now? We went from lingering glances to love bites, and now full-on full-body touching? Is this it? Is this the next step here?"
Steve drops his face down to Tony's neck and breathes in. Then he pinches Tony's side through his t-shirt and releases him.
Tony rubs at his ribs and glares. "Super soldier strength, Steve."
Steve tries to look innocent. Tony's still glaring, so he's probably unsuccessful.
"Uh huh," Tony says. "Words. When we get home."
Steve pretends to be solemn and nods. "Okay, Tony. Words."
Tony picks up the suit cube and shoves it into Steve's arms without a second glance, then runs after Doom.
"Oh wow this looks like a mess," Clint says. He and Natasha are wandering in through the open front doors arm in arm, an array of weaponry still attached to their gear and making them shine a little in the chandelier lighting.
Natasha gives Clint a look, and he rolls his eyes then heads over to where Tony is poking Doom in the shoulder and cackling.
Steve coughs, and her focus goes on him. She crosses her arms and looks him up and down, one eyebrow quirked. Steve clutches the suit cube to his chest.
"I know you have questions."
Now her lips are quirking to match her eyebrow. "No, all my questions have been answered."
Steve narrows his eyes at her. "I really hate it when you do that."
"If you were upfront with me I wouldn't have to."
Steve juggles the suit cube so it's tucked under one of his arms. The thing still feels warm from where the arc reactor was powering it, but he'd like to think it's just warm like Tony instead.
Natasha's almost at full-on grinning at whatever is going on with his face, so he tries to stop it. Offers her his free arm, which she takes, and together they leave the foyer and step out into the courtyard.
"Is that Sam at the table with Bruce?" Steve asks, squinting at the mass of tables set up in the Cuppa Doom's patio.
Natasha shrugs. "The cake is really good."