The jet provided by SHIELD wasn’t the same as they were accustomed to. It didn’t feel right. It did its job and got them to their missions but it wasn’t -
It wasn’t the Avenjet.
If Steve allowed himself to ponder over the feeling he would drown in how nothing felt right, the uniforms, the code of missions, the debrief. It all felt foreign even though Steve was familiar with them.
“Doesn’t feel the same,” someone said and he turned to see Hulk eyeing the straps and seats of the jet, a frustrated expression on his face as his gaze shifted to his uniform too.
“Yeah, well, we’re not with Stark furnished facilities,” Natasha commented and Steve bit back a grimace, not entirely successful in it going by Natasha’s gaze, “What?”
“I thought you were happier here,” he commented, trying to rein back the bitterness, “Didn’t you say this was better? More organized?”
Natasha caught on to his unsaid sentiment even though Steve had been working on keeping it quiet. She raised an eyebrow but shrugged.
"I'm mad at Iron Man," Natasha agreed, shooting Steve a quick glance before facing ahead, "But you're not, are you?"
"You're mad at Tony ," she said bluntly, not one for beating around the bush, "But more than that, you're hurt". Steve remained quiet, waiting to land and the silence lingered for a minute before she spoke again.
"You need to figure out what you're going to do about all this, Cap. For yourself, for the team," she paused before adding, "And for Tony."
“Yeah, well,” Steve huffed, looking ahead, a lingering sour feeling in his gut, “I’m sure Tony’s got it all figured out for himself.”
Thankfully, Natasha didn’t comment further but Steve knew that she was right, even if he didn’t want to think about it. Thinking about Tony made him feel angry, but more than that, betrayed.
They had been going good, working together on the field and sharing a life off it, and Steve had held out hope for more. For trust.
It hurt that Tony had hidden information that affected all of them but it hurt more that Tony hadn’t trusted him to help. Tony had alienated Steve from something that hit both of them and that stung.
The jet landed and the SHIELD operated Secret Avengers got out, filing into the Helicarrier to report about the latest mission.
Steve’s attempt at shelving Tony’s thoughts failed when Fury gave them a new mission and the Captain felt the first tendril of foreboding hit him when he wondered how he would fulfil that. Being mad at Tony was one thing but Steve knew that Tony was nowhere near a criminal, a threat. He might have been out-of-control at times and reckless when cornered but he was still Iron Man. Still the man who had saved the world and formed the team that Steve now had. Tony was an Avenger, no matter what situation they were in, and as Steve stared at the holo-screen in front of him, he felt an unnamed guilt thinking about what he was expected to do.
“We’re not actually going to arrest Tony, are we?” Sam asked when Fury left and Steve remained silent. He didn’t know if there was a good answer to the question.
“It’s what we’re supposed to do,” Natasha said, though Steve could hear a tightness in her tone, a displeasure of the concept.
“You think he’d do the same?” Hulk asked and the room fell silent, each knowing the answer even if nobody wanted to share.
Confronting Tony, Thor, and Hawkeye was never going to go well but when it did happen, Steve was sure that they could have handled it better. Facing Tony again after the last time had been bittersweet but their argument had derailed them from noting Sam getting hit by the nano-virus.
The plan was going down the drain by the time they had all gathered in the subway, and Steve noted Tony understanding that too. One of them needed to back down but both were not sure how to do that yet.
“We need to get the civilians out of range,” Steve said as he saw the virus spread but Tony flew up.
“Great. You guys can handle that,” Tony said and picked up the new guy, Ant-Man, “C’mon, we’ve got to stop Ultron.”
“Tony!” Steve tried to call him back but Tony had already sped off.
“Sounds like a typical day,” Natasha commented but Clint snorted.
“He’s saved the world enough times for us to trust him, Tasha,” he reminded casually, “You’ve got to try.”
“Maybe when he decides to trust us back,” Natasha sighed and Steve gathered his wits to get his team going. When Steve saw Tony standing in the way of a train though, he reacted. It was second nature to jump and push Tony out of the way.
“I had it under control,” Tony said weakly and Steve felt his frustration bubble.
“Didn’t look like it from my perspective,” he grit out and slammed his shield into the Ultron robot, “You need to get your team out of here. SHIELD is better equipped to handle this.”
“Do you EVER not play by the rules?” Tony snapped even as he took Ultron’s attention off Steve, allowing him to strike from the side, “Weren’t you supposed to bring us in?”
“Situations changed my objective,” Steve shot back and heard Tony huff. It felt right, good, fighting together but Steve knew that this was just them doing what they always did.
Hearing Tony point out that trapping Ultron in a jar was risky made Steve snort and he couldn’t stop himself from pointing out the irony. What he didn’t expect was for Tony to snap back.
“You leave the team, you don’t get to criticize.”
Steve frowned but he also knew that he didn’t have a rebuttal for that. It was only cemented when Ant-Man called them out by pointing out how they had done Ultron’s job for him by splitting up themselves.
Extending a temporary olive branch felt easier when Steve could disguise it as for the mission but the speed with which Tony accepted it made Steve realize how he had probably been waiting for it. For a chance.
The team grouped up again and went to guard their duties when Tony insisted that he would find Ultron Prime. Steve rushed after him, keeping pace on his Sky-jet. Hearing Tony sound dejected about not finding Arsenal anywhere, Steve felt his frustration war with an understanding.
“You have to out-think him,” Steve suggested, hoping that he could get through to Tony. Getting into an argument about Arsenal never helped and Steve was starting to get that it wasn’t the right way either. Their focus had been on Arsenal for long enough and that was what had derailed Tony.
Despite all the trouble and complications, Tony had tried, even if Arsenal meant something special to him. He had tried to save everyone, including Arsenal, and Steve - he wondered why he had thought that he could stop Tony from being attached to a part from his past. He had always known that Howard had been a double edged sword in Tony’s life but Arsenal had been his best part. Where the team had considered the android just a machine, Tony had considered him his friend.
If Steve had paused to think, he could have seen the similarities between this and his own dilemma about Bucky. The Winter Soldier had been a danger to people but Bucky had been his friend; his one good part from the past. Steve had stumbled in trying to be objective there. But Tony hadn’t left his side then. Hadn’t questioned his motives or rebuked him for it, sticking to only telling him to include Sam better.
Tony had accepted that Steve’s emotions were complicated. Was it fair that Steve didn’t try the same for Tony? Was that how he wanted to have their relationship, much rather their team?
When Fury spoke his doubts about Tony after their plan to stop Ultron hinged on the genius, Steve knew that he had to make a change.
“I trust him,” Steve said and felt Tony’s eyes snap to his face, “Taking a risk that saves the world? Tony does that five times before breakfast.”
“If he doesn’t succeed, we might not have another chance, Rogers,” Fury warned but Steve held the Director’s gaze unflinchingly.
“He’s Iron Man,” Steve said and made that point stick. When Fury turned around, Steve felt Tony come closer and turned to look at his boyfriend.
“This means that Arsenal has to go,” Tony said with a regretful expression, “I know you don’t get it but...he was my dad’s greatest creation.”
Steve shook his head and clasped Tony’s shoulder.
“No, you don’t get it,” he said firmly and put as much confidence as he could find in his voice, “ You are your dad’s greatest creation, Tony. You’re the one who can make him prouder than any android could.”
Tony’s eyes searched Steve’s face for a minute before he smiled softly.
“Alright,” he agreed and Steve could see the warmth in his eyes as Tony spoke, “You’ll take care of the rest, right?”
“I can handle it,” Steve assured him and Tony grinned, fond and familiar enough to make Steve’s throat clench up.
“Don’t get cocky,” Tony teased, and lightly brushed Steve’s hand as he removed it from his own shoulder, “that’s my job.”
As Steve watched Tony leave, he had the realization that he was essentially sending Tony to his death. It should have brought him to his knees, especially when Fury told him the same, but Steve held on to the hope that he’d get Tony back. He had spent enough time not placing his trust in the man who had needed it more than anything else; he couldn’t do that again.
He had to believe that they would get through this because it was what they were fighting for now. Not their pride or opinions, but each other.
Hearing Tony wish them farewell as he sped towards the sun almost shattered Steve but he held on and signaled Thor to go to help Tony out. When they saw Thor and Tony plummet, Hulk caught them and Steve ran, rushing towards the man he had almost lost.
“Remind me not to do that again,” Tony groaned with a weak smile when the faceplate slid up and Steve caught his hand, pulling him up. They didn’t let go even when they recruited Ant-Man, and when they began to make their way back to the mansion, Tony held out a hand, offering a ride.
“Want to go home?” he asked, hesitant but placing his trust in Steve, waiting for Steve to decide.
And Steve knew just the answer he wanted to give.
Going home was long overdue after all.