People are broken.
Steve has seen a lot of things, in his life. He's seen genocide in the war, he's seen his men killed next to him and his best friend fall from a train. He's seen the ice rushing towards him as his plane went down, and he's seen the lights of Time Square, the former billboards now awash with color and a cacophony of sound and humanity teeming around him.
But it isn't until he has time to think, to really sit down and consider what has changed -- and, more importantly, what hasn't -- that Steve realizes that humanity is a waste.
Though, that's not fair. Humanity isn't a waste. It's just that society has collapsed in on itself somehow, the people who do the least good accumulating the most goods and manipulating the system. It needs to be fixed. America was never pure and perfect like it's always pretended to be, he knows that. But it used to mean something, stand for something besides corporations and killing.
He doesn't trust SHIELD, doesn't know what to do with the way Nick Fury looks at him, the way he feels like the man is sharpening a scalpel behind his back, ready to dissect Steve at any given moment.
The first person Steve kills is a policeman.
In his heart he regrets it, because surely there are good policemen, there are good people who honestly want to make the world better and help the helpless. But not this man. This man is harassing a homeless man, threatening and kicking him, and Steve isn't going to stand by. So he steps in and breaks the cop's neck.
The strange thing is how easy it is, how freeing and how simple. The man is barely on the ground before Steve starts to laugh, his fury turning to hysteria. Here he is, the Star Spangled Man, murdering a cop in an alley.
The homeless man looks up at him, fear burning bright in his eyes. "Don't hurt me, man," he whines, but Steve can't even find the words to reassure him. He just shakes his head, shoves his soiled hands into his pockets, and walks away, still laughing.
The oddest thing happens, after Steve kills the cop: nothing.
Sure, there's a manhunt, and a news story, but the trail is cold and the fingerprints inconclusive and the only witness never comes forward. Steve retreats to his apartment to wait for the guilt. Except it never comes, and Steve just finds himself thirsty to do more. To fix things, to change them. And he thinks he might finally know how.
He makes it a month without killing again, and then another. Two whole months. But then he finds himself in a coffee shop, watching a man screaming at the poor barista, unleashing a world of abuse on the boy over the temperature of his foam. Steve feels something break when the man throws his coffee-- though it misses the worker, it's still too much. Steve puts himself between them, but not without noticing how the other people, the alleged humans of the city, just pretend not to notice.
So Steve kills him; he follows the man to work and waits for him a few days later, snatching him up as he gets leaves the building and quietly slitting his throat. He wears gloves and everything, takes the man's wallet to make it seem like a mugging. It's a totally premeditated crime.
Steve is going to start making the world he wants, start building his empire through getting rid of the bullies and the cruelty and the people who are ruining everything. He decides to start being proactive about change; not just wanting it, but working for it.
He makes a list, he checks it twice. And though it's going to be a long time before he can take out the major players -- Nick Fury, say, or the Security Council -- Steve thinks he has a place to start.
SHIELD still trots Steve out from time to time, their mascot of things Good and True and Patriotic, and he wonders how many people can see the blood on his hands, how many know how much he despises their smut-peddling, life-ruining bullshit.
Not many, apparently, because twelve months and 23 victims into his spree the cops don't even see the pattern. It could because he varies his method - here a broken neck, there a poisoning, there a slit artery - or because he chooses to kill people from all the boroughs, all over the city without a clearly defined ethnic, racial or gender type. It's all very methodical, Steve thinks. A cop in Brooklyn, a politician in Manhattan, a bookie in Staten Island. There's no pattern to point to a serial killer. So he's safe while he works, while he starts. He knows this isn't the end game, that killing a few random scumbags won't change the world. But he figures it's a start, until he can figure out how to do more, how to take out the people at the top.
Until he returns home from killing his 24th victim - yet another crooked cop dosed with cyanide on a sidewalk after Steve saw her take a bribe from a shopkeeper - and finds a man in his apartment, sitting casually on his couch, drinking his beer.
The man is short and dark and has an unpleasant air about him, like someone who Steve thinks should be on his list.
"Hi," the guy says conversationally, rising from Steve's couch. "Tony Stark, domestic terrorist. Big fan of your work. We need to talk."
Steve finds himself taken aback - not only the name, though that hits like a blow - but the casual admission of guilt, and the tacit mention of Steve's own extracurricular activities.
"My work?" he asks, feigning innocence as Tony takes his hand.
"Yeah," Stark smiles, laying a hand on the small of Steve's back and leading him towards the couch. "You do great work. I mean, it took me a year to crack the pattern-- and it's subtle, well done-- and the cops'll never get it, but the way you kill painlessly, it's, really. It's art. Big fan, really."
"So you're here to arrest me?" Steve asks, his palms sweating.
Tony laughs, his head tipped back, and hands Steve one of his own beers. "No, no, Rogers. Please. I'm here to recruit you."
Steve knows the basic story, cause everyone knows the basic story. In the wake of the incident in Afghanistan, Tony Stark went a little funny in the head. His board took control for him when he suspended manufacture of weapons, but Tony just used his assets to complete a hostile takeover, and used his brilliance to steal launch codes from the government.
The part Steve didn't know, couldn't have known, is that since then Tony has funded a small group of soldiers and spies, warped individuals like himself who are dedicated to creating a new peace, to getting rid of the weapons that Stark created and ushering in a more peaceful and prosperous time.
"And that," Stark says, his voice oily and his smile cruel, "is why I'm here, Captain. Wanna help?"
Steve finds his jaw open, his brain swimming. "What are you-- are you asking me to be a villain?"
"No," Tony says softly. "I'm asking you to be a hero. And right now, that means taking out SHIELD, and everyone who supports them."
Steve takes a second to digest, to understand all the words he's heard, and then he nods once. "I don't like bullies," he says, his fists balled at his side. "I told them that when they made me. They-- they've become what they fought."
Tony smiles again, and Steve can't help the shiver that runs up his spine - the other man is handsome in a dangerous, creepy way, but he's also clearly criminally insane. And that's coming from a guy whose newest hobby is murder.
"Exactly," Tony says. "See, I knew you'd get it."
It takes roughly no time for Steve to get Tony-- to really understand him. He's broken, in the same way that Steve is. He's alone in the world, has a kind of regret in his eyes that Steve knows all too well, the kind of regret that a person gets when they watch the people they love die.
He doesn't ask, because Tony will tell him when he's ready, instead meets the man for coffee and idle threats. The chemistry between them is electric, is palpable, but Steve tries not to sleep with criminals. Though, he thinks, that does put a certain pall on masturbation.
"There's a senator," Tony says, sliding a picture across the table as he hands Steve a black coffee. "Stern. Real hawk of a dude. Wants to start military action against North Korea."
Steve takes a sip of his coffee, ignoring the jolt of electricity as Tony's fingers graze his. "And?"
"And he'll be in Jersey in three days, and I want to kill him."
Steve raises an eyebrow. "Hell of a first mission."
Tony shrugs, taking a draught of his own drink. He moves to sit next to Steve, so their thighs are touching, and Steve can't breathe for a second, caught in how good it all feels. "I know you've killed 24 people. You know I blew up DC's American Legion Bridge in rush hour. We've got mutually assured destruction here."
Steve glances around the coffee shop, wondering if anyone cares enough about Tony's words to turn them in. "Okay," he says, when he realizes that everyone else in the general area is a self-involved hipster and he and Tony look like a couple. "So what's the plan?"
Tony pulls a tablet out of his bag and hands it to Steve. There's a map and a whole set of contingencies with it, most of which involve guns. The very last option, if everything goes to shit, involves Stern having an audience with Captain America.
"I--" Steve hesitates. "I've never done this in uniform."
Tony nods, tracing his fingers up Steve's arm. "But think of how easy it would be if you did," he breathes, his lips mere centimeters from Steve's ear. "Think about how easy it'll be. A toast to America and jab him with a needle in your palm, inject him with something that'll kill him hours later. Untraceable."
Steve nods and hands Tony his picture and his tablet. "What do I get?" he asks. "What do you give your hired gun?"
"You?" Tony's voice has a slick kind of laughter in it, a sound that curls in Steve's chest. "I was thinking about riding your cock, if you want."
"If I want," Steve repeats, his mouth dry. It's a sin, he thinks, men lying with men. But then again, so is murder, if it's righteous or not, and if he's already going to hell, he might as well go there with a smile on his face.
"Buy a girl a drink first," Steve says, laying his hand over Tony's on the table.
"I just bought you coffee."
Steve rolls his eyes. "So you did," he concedes. "You do this with all your-- friends?"
"No," Tony breathes, and Steve turns to look, sees his pupils dilated and his breathing heavy. "Usually I pay them. But you're just so pretty."
"And I can kill you," Steve sighs. "I will kill you, you know that? One day, I'm gonna kill you, and it's not even gonna make me sad."
Tony shrugs. "Sounds like fun."
"Captain," Fury says, his grimace tight-lipped and frightening. "How are you fitting in?"
Steve shrugs. He's not, truth be told. He doesn't like most people at SHIELD and hasn't taken the time to get to know them. He has one friend, an insane billionaire who he fucks and who keeps him on retainer for clandestine murders. It doesn't help that he's recently discovered that there's a TV show where mothers dress their little daughters up as adults and order them to shake their bottoms. He's not fitting in at all.
"I'm okay, sir," he says.
Fury nods. "I'm not gonna fuck around with you, Cap," he says. "You're friends with Tony Stark, right?"
"Sure," Steve nods. He's found that Fury doesn't really ask questions he doesn't know the answer to, so there's no use in lying. "To the extent that Tony has any friends."
Fury tosses a thick folder onto the desk between them, a few pieces of paper fluttering free from the ream within. "Your pal," Fury sighs. "Has been perpetuating cyber attacks against SHIELD for the better part of three years. We think he might even have spies in our ranks."
Steve allows his face to show surprise - not because he feels it, but because Nick Fury knows, has known, what's going on, and he seems to believe that Steve isn't a part of it. "Sir?"
"He has to be stopped. I want you to bring him in."
He shakes his head. "Why me, sir?"
"Because I said so," Fury snaps. "And because he trusts you. So you invite him up here for a tour or something -- tell him you'll show him the weapons. I don't care. Anything to get his mouth watering. And you can even act surprised if you want to, when we arrest him."
The silence between them is long and fraught, though Fury misreads Steve's hesitation as loyalty to his friend, and not blithe enjoyment of how fucking weird this situation is.
"You told Erskine," Fury says, "that you don't want to kill people. Well, you help us lock up Stark, and you'll be saving lives. Can you do it?"
Steve nods. "Yes, sir."
Tony laughs when Steve tells him the plan, what Fury wants, and insists on doing it immediately.
"Oh, Steve!" he crows. "You have no idea how-- how long I've waited for Nicky to step up his game! This is amazing! This is great! And you get to arrest me? You? Perfect!"
Steve furrows his brow. "But you'll be in jail."
"Nah," Tony grins, lounging back on his sofa, sipping a tumbler of scotch. "I mean, I will be, but he can't hold me."
Steve shakes his head. "You really want to do this?"
Tony tosses his head back, barking a laugh that seems to rend the air. "Steve, Stevey, baby. Of course I do! I want you to give me the tour, and you to get in with Fury, and then I want you to kill him." His smile is all teeth, and Steve can't help returning it. Tony stands, stepping into Steve's personal space and curling his fingers into the short hairs at the nape of Steve's neck. "And then we can fuck on his broken body."
Steve shudders, the image powerful and arresting, the idea of licking Fury's blood from Tony's fingers like an aphrodisiac, a heady feeling that he hasn't had for years. "Yeah?" he asks, stepping forward until their chests touch.
"You want that?"
Steve takes the tumbler of scotch from Tony's free hand and drains it, the amber liquid burning as it runs down his throat.
They walk onto the Helicarrier like they own the place, like it's Steve and Tony's Excellent Floating Palace. Which, to be fair, it kinda is. Or it will be.
They do the tour, the quick in and out of the weapons vaults, and the crew quarters.
"You know how much of this tech is stolen from me?" Tony hisses in Steve's ear as they pass a lab full of men and women in white coats, surrounding what looks like a human specimen with long blond hair. Tony's hands are clenched tightly, fingernails digging into his palms. "Fury is a rat bastard."
Steve doesn't say anything. This whole thing is gnawing at him anxiously. He wants to laugh, almost, because he's killed people, actually watched the light leave their eyes, and taking Tony to see Fury's men is what makes him nervous.
They round a corner, Tony talking animatedly at Steve about nothing in particular, and find the welcome party-- seven fine SHIELD Agents aiming guns at their heads. (And hey, Steve thinks, five of them have okay form.) He knows that, if they wanted to, he and Tony could take out the lot, could have them all groaning and whimpering before they knew what hit them.
Tony does a good job aping surprise, lets his eyes go wide and his stance fall to ready. "Steve?" he asks.
Steve opens his mouth to respond, to play his part, but before he can, he feels the cold tip of a blade-- or something-- at the back of his neck.
"Thank you, Captain Rogers," Nick Fury says, stepping into the light. "It's good to see you and your accomplice aren't quite as intelligent as our analysts feared.
Steve stares, the shock on his face actually genuine. "Sir?"
"Don't 'sir' me," Fury snaps. "Barton, Romanoff, cuff 'em."
Steve feels his arms yanked behind his back and secured by metal cuffs, as ordered. "Don't fight me," the man at his back says, and Steve shudders at the implication, the threat in his voice.
Fury is talking, saying something about their crimes, the murder of Senator Stern and the terrorist plot to cripple the pentagon, but Steve isn't listening, too shocked by this turn of things, that Fury would have-- could have played him so completely.
Still, Fury finishes his tirade and the agent at Steve's back starts to escort him away, and Steve hears Tony and his agent fall into step.
"We're taking you to The Raft," Tony's agent says. Steve is only slightly surprised to hear she's female. "So maybe get your last view of sunlight, boys. You'll be missing it for a long time."
Steve goes numb, wondering how this could happen, to him of all people. He gets on the plane and lets them lock him down, his agent going to the front to start a checklist.
"Do we have the cargo?" the female agent asks. The male agent checks something and shakes his head.
"He-- it wasn't preloaded."
The woman swears. "I'm gonna get it," she says. "Honestly."
Steve's mouth is dry as he watches the woman leave, the plane's back doors gaping like the maw of a monster that's already swallowed him whole.
"You're doing great," Tony breathes in his ear. "Just a few more minutes."
Steve blinks at him, his voice the only thing that's really penetrated his state. "What?"
Tony's smiling, his lip quirked obnoxiously. "Come on, babe, you think this was a shock to me? Fury made us, so we're making our move. Hawkeye and Widow here are-- oh, god!" Tony starts to laugh, an unhinged and awkward kind of sound, one that sets Steve's teeth on edge. "Look, this is all planned. We're just waiting for one more-- interested party, okay?"
Steve shakes his head. It's not okay. He doesn't understand at all.
The woman-- Widow, Tony calls her-- returns after half an hour with a long crate-like object, on a hovering dolly, something that moves counter to gravity in a way Steve can't explain.
"We're all here," she says, and the man-- Hawkeye, apparently-- starts the jet.
Steve closes his eyes, a sinking, queasy sensation settling into his stomach as the ground falls away.
That's when Tony turns to the woman and leans forward, wiggling his cuffed hands. "Natasha? Wanna help?"
She rolls her eyes, but moves to undo Toy's cuffs. "Cap?" she asks, raising at eyebrow at Steve. "Wanna get free?"
"Aren't you-- What the hell is going on here!" he demands, his voice high and tight.
Tony sighs. "This is Natasha Romanoff," he says. "One of SHIELD's top agents. And that's Clint Barton, her partner."
Barton makes an annoyed noise, but Tony continues. "They're as anti-SHIELD as we are, okay?"
Steve shakes his head. "So this was all-- planned?"
"Yeah," Natasha says, a smile playing across her mouth. "Come on, you think Tony would walk into a trap?"
"Yeah," Steve says, shrugging.
Tony rolls his eyes, but takes the keys off of Romanoff and undoes Steve's cuffs.
"It's like this," Tony says, rolling his shoulders. "I knew something was up. Romanoff has been on my team for ages, feeding me Fury's info. But when our buddy in the box over there came through, well."
"Clint joined me," Natasha says, touching the box gently. "And if Fury is onto you and Tony, he's onto us. So we're gonna go rogue."
"Where can we go?" Steve asks. "And-- what's in the box?"
"It's safer if you don't know," Tony tells him, an edge of kindness in his voice. "At least, on the first one. The guy in the box, well." He shrugs. "An alien? Or something? Fell out of the sky in New Mexico, and SHIELD's been running tests on him. Doesn't seem fair, you know? Not when he can talk and reason."
Steve feels his gorge rise in his throat, a seasick feeling like he'd felt when he found Bucky, all those years ago in the Red Skull base. "Is it just us?" he asks. "Two spies, a genius with his assets frozen, an alien in a box, and a super soldier?"
"There's another genius," Tony says. "Guy with some anger issues. You'll like him."
Steve shakes his head. This is all too much. So much. "And we're gonna-- What, exactly?"
"We might not save the world," Tony says, softly, his hand finding Steve's and squeezing. "But maybe we'll avenge it or something?"
Steve doesn't reply, just watches the sky move through the front of the plane, where Barton sits. He wasn't lying, he thinks. Eventually he's gonna have to kill Tony. And the others. But only after the world is where it should be. Only after they're the only monsters left.
And there's plenty of time until then.