They had been stuck in this cell for far too long. It wasn’t that Steve was hurt, or even really afraid – the rest of the team were on their way, after all; he’d been able to get a message to Bruce before the communicators went down entirely – but he hated sitting here, unable to do anything about the situation. He was worried about Tony, too. Von Doom’s paralysis serum had worked its way out of his own enhanced metabolism very quickly, but Tony still sat in his suit, slumped against the wall, eerily still. Steve knew he was conscious; he had lifted the faceplate so he could see Tony’s eyes, and Tony was still able to blink if he worked hard at it, so they had been able to communicate enough to establish that he was awake and unharmed. He looked frightened, though, as much as Steve could tell from his eyes alone. Steve had done what he could to help him into a comfortable position, and had spent the last hour talking nonsense about the war and 1930s Brooklyn and baseball in an attempt to distract him, but he was becoming tired of hearing his own voice. He would be glad when the others arrived with the antidote Bruce had promised before the communicators failed.
As if in answer to his thoughts, he heard soft footsteps in the corridor, and then a quiet voice outside the door. ‘Cap? Stark? You okay?’
‘Natasha.’ His voice was full of relief as he scrambled to his feet and strode over to the door. ‘We’re fine; Tony’s still paralysed, but he’s not hurt. What’s the situation?’
‘All fine here too; Von Doom’s been contained. I’ve got the antidote.’
‘That’s wonderful. Can you get in? We can’t open the door from this side.’
There was a silence, then the sound of a tumble of stones. ‘Damn it. I thought I might be able to force it open, but it needs an electricity source. Can you see that metal plate on the door? It has to be connected up to some kind of power before it’ll shift, and Von Doom has fused all the electricity in the place. We can get you out – it looks like we only need to make a circuit with the door itself – but we’ll be a few hours. I need to get a generator shipped in here. Think you can hold out that long?’
‘Sure, but – hold on a minute. I think I have something.’ Steve looked speculatively over at Tony, remembering a conversation they had had just a few short weeks ago, not long after the battle in New York.
’How do you power the suit, anyway? It must run on electricity, right?’ Steve looked admiringly at the sleek red and gold armour.
Tony grinned. ‘It does. What, you thought my pretty light was just for decoration?’ He thumped the arc reactor proudly. ‘This baby gives me all the power I need. An inbuilt power source for the suit, right here. Clean energy, and more powerful than any generator. Like it?’
Steve nodded, impressed. ‘I sure do.’
Steve walked over to Tony, bending down beside him. ‘Hold on, Tony. Natasha’s outside, but she can’t get in. I just need to borrow this for a moment.’ Deftly, as he had seen Tony do once when he had to change the reactor after a battle, he gripped the edges of the arc reactor and pulled it out of Tony’s chest, long wires trailing after it. He turned away, crossing back to the door without looking back.
‘No need to get that generator; we’ve got our own right here. Give me a moment.’ Steve knelt next to the door, clipping the two wires to each side of the metal plate embedded in it. The plate began to glow softly, emitting a gentle thrumming sound, and Steve smiled to himself.
‘We’re in business. Try it now.’
There was a series of clicks, and then a grating sound as the door slid slowly open. Steve grinned widely as Natasha stepped through, holding a vial of pale blue liquid, a faint graze high on her cheekbone but otherwise apparently unharmed.
‘I’m impressed,’ she admitted with a small smile. ‘How did you do that?’
Steve gestured proudly to the arc reactor, still hanging from the glowing door panel. Natasha followed his gaze, and then abruptly her demeanour changed. She ripped the arc reactor from the door, and then spun on her heel, rushing to Tony’s side. Steve followed her, confused and alarmed, then caught his breath as she began to tear the suit away from Tony’s body. Tony’s face was ashen, his lips blue, and his eyes were wide with unmistakeable terror. Tear tracks ran from the corners of his eyes into his hair, and Steve crouched beside him, horrified. ‘Tony?’
Natasha ignored him, tearing the chestplate from Tony’s armour, exposing the gaping hole where the arc reactor should be. Deftly, she reached into his chest, plugging the wires back in with a click, speaking softly to him all the time.
‘It’s okay, Stark. You’re all right. Just breathe. You’re fine.’ There was an undercurrent of fear and anger in her words, and she took a moment to brush the hair from his forehead before taking the vial of liquid, unsheathing the needle and plunging it into Tony’s upper arm. The effect was almost immediate; Tony brought his arms up across his chest, gasping for breath, turning his too-white face away from Steve. Steve reached out to him instinctively, trying to offer comfort. ‘Tony? Natasha, what –’
‘сукин сын!’ Natasha spun on her heel and struck him across the face with the flat of her hand. Steve staggered backwards, feeling a small bone in his cheek crack, raising his hand to his face.
‘What – I don’t understand, I –’
‘I thought you were my friend. I trusted you.’ Tony’s rough, hoarse voice from the floor made them both turn, suddenly silent. ‘Steve - Captain. You – I trusted you.’ His voice broke on the last words, and Steve fell to his knees beside him.
‘Tony – what did I do? I thought – it just powers the suit, right? Right?’ There was an edge of desperation in his voice. Tony turned away from him, his whole body shuddering with the aftermath of terror, and Natasha grabbed Steve’s face in one hand, squeezing too tightly over his fractured cheekbone, forcing him to look at her. She stared at him for a long moment, then let her hand drop.
‘Fucking idiot. He’s telling the truth.’ She pushed roughly against his shoulder. ‘It powers his heart, Rogers. Didn’t you read anyone’s file?’
‘I – nobody offered, and I thought – that stuff’s private. If you don’t choose to tell me, I have no right –’
‘You have a responsibility,’ Natasha spat, her eyes full of scorn. ‘You’re supposed to be the leader of this team, and you know nothing! How can any of us trust you if you don’t care enough to find out the basics of how to keep us safe?’
‘You – you really didn’t know? Really?’ Tony’s voice was still rough, but he was looking at Steve now, a small spark of hope behind the betrayal in his eyes. Steve held out a hand to him, imploring.
‘Tony, I swear I didn’t. I would never do anything to hurt you; not ever. I thought it was just for the suit, not – oh, God, your heart. Tony, I’m so sorry.’
Tony just looked at him, but he reached his hand out hesitantly towards Steve’s. His fingertips were just brushing over Steve’s palm when Natasha spoke again, her voice heavy with contempt.
‘He’s an idiot. Let’s not waste any more time. Come on, let’s get out of here.’ She pushed Steve aside, taking Tony’s hand in her own and helping him to his feet. Tony cast one glance back at Steve, and then he was gone as Natasha led him out of the door. Steve could only trail behind them, shaking with reaction, nauseous with guilt. There was no way he could ever make up for this.