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Call It Asunder

Chapter Text

“In war, truth is the first casualty.” –Aeschylus

What makes a villain a villain? Who decides what’s right and what’s wrong? How far is too far? Just how thick is the thin line we’ve been toeing our entire lives?

How do we justify the things we have done, and will do?

(Why do we justify them at all?)

. . .

He just appears out of nowhere one day.

There is no warning, no reason.

It just happens.

There had been rumors, though nothing substantial, of a red and gold robot flying around Afghanistan, blowing things up. There was a lot of speculation about who or what it actually was, if it was a weapon terrorists had been able to get their hands on, if it was even real at all.

No one expected it to suddenly appear and blow an entire Stark Industries storage building sky high and start shooting beams of energy at the first responders.

It, he, laughs and mocks the SHIELD agents that show up to apprehend him, acts as if it were all a joke, just a game that they had lost and he had won.

They shoot at him and he cackles as their bullets ricochet off his metal (armor? Body?) Frame. He swoops down and lands next to a rookie, throwing an arm around the kid to prevent him from retreating.

“Isn’t it beautiful? I think so.” He says, waving an arm in the direction of the flames, “Though I agree,” he continues as if the agent had said something, “Not my best work. I’ll do better next time.” He promises.

“Next time?” The kid is finally able to squeak out.

Obviously,” He says as if it were just that, turning a blank face, far too menacing to have such humor coming from it, to the rookie, “I’m having fun.”

Another agent, losing his patience with the tension and inaction of just standing by and watching, shoots the red and gold figure in the back of the head. The bullet, of course, ricochets, like all the others before it. A shout is heard and one of the other agents stumbles, clutching his shoulder from where the shot had gone wide. In his defense, he stays standing.

“Now, why did you have to go and do that? I’m going to get blamed for that, I just know it.” The robotic man sighs and releases his hostage, shooting back into the sky.

Coulson arrives on scene just in time to see red and gold streak across the sky. He takes in the carnage around him that said streak had left and curses on the inside.

He had a bad feeling about this.

. . .

The next day the tabloids and news stations are all screaming and wondering about the red and cold robot destroyer.

About the Ironman.

Chapter Text

Captain America, Steven G. Rogers, was not having a very good day.

Six months ago he woke up to an unfamiliar world in an unfamiliar time and was told they won the war he had fought in and all but died to end. He woke up on uneven ground with nothing to hold on to anymore.

Then, a month after he woke up, Fury gives him his first assignment. Ironman. An unknown. Steve had asked questions while reading the briefing, all with the same result.

“What is he, a robot?” After getting his first glimpse of the red and gold metal figure, actually posing for the photo, giving a peace sign.

“We don’t know.”

“Why is he doing this?” After reading about his exploits, not just in America, but all over the world. He’d blown up an entire town in Afghanistan and had given no reason.

“We don’t know.”

Ironman had appeared a year before Steve ‘woke up’, suspiciously six months after Anthony Stark, Howard’s son, died. The man had been a recluse, according to Fury, only ever leaving his property when he had to. Fury himself had only met him once, and he had been a child at the time. “He didn’t like many people. Trusted even less than that.” He wouldn’t even allow people to take his picture and had periodically run through government systems and the internet and deleted anything about him, like finger prints and DNA, old photos and videos, anything, he was so paranoid. He was a ghost.

Anthony had been in Afghanistan giving a presentation on his new bomb, the Jericho, when his convoy was attacked. He was last seen with a bunch of shrapnel and a hole in his chest that no one could have survived.

“Why are you telling me this?” because it hurt to hear about his friend’s son like that, even if he had never met him, and it wasn’t exactly relevant, Steve didn’t think. The man was dead, it’s not like he could have been Ironman.

“We believe Ironman may have been a failsafe gone wrong.”

“What do you mean?”

“Strange how the world’s biggest weapons maker dies and suddenly what could possibly be the greatest weapon in history shows up and starts destroying things. Maybe Stark had an employee ready to dawn a suit, or, more likely, an A.I. on standby, for when he died.”

Steve’s brow scrunched up, “Six months isn’t exactly sudden, and why would he do that?”

“We don’t know, but it’s all we got.”

The more Steve read the more confused he felt. While Ironman mainly stuck to bombs there were also numerous occasions of where he just… terrorized people. He’d held up a bank with a dozen people inside for nearly seven hours, threatening bodily harm and demanding the negotiator get him absurd things like a trampoline or a giraffe, then he just- left. Flew right through the roof.

He had kidnapped a bus full of kids right off the road. Returned them three days later. No one was hurt but the kids refused to say what happened while they were gone. The bus driver claimed he had been knocked out and then locked in a room the entire time.

And then there were the bombs.

At first he had mainly stuck to weapon storage and manufactory, Stark and Hammer amongst the highest to be hit. People had gotten hurt, some severely and permanently maimed. It was a miracle nobody had died.

Except- somebody had.

“That’s when things go sideways,” Fury explained, “He started out with a clear goal, even if we didn’t know the reason behind it. Destroy weapons. Maybe Stark wanted to make amends but didn’t think he could do it in his lifetime, maybe Ironman himself just disapproves of war profiteering, but whatever the reason, when he murdered Obadiah Stane things changed.”

And they really had. Ironman obviously hadn’t cared if people got hurt, had even made comments about how much fun he was having while shooting back at whoever decided to try and stop him, but he wasn’t actively out to get them either.

But Stane had been different. SHIELD had recovered the security footage of right before the factory had been blown up. There was no sound but Ironman and Stane were clearly having a heated conversation. Then Ironman made a finger gun that shot a bullet pointblank at Stane. Beyond the obvious ‘finger gun’ joke there had been no theatrics, like Ironman usually did, and he hadn’t stuck around to taunt the first responders.

And that was when things started to get… different.

Pepper Potts, the CEO of SI (Stark’s old PA. She’d been named the new CEO in his will, something Stane had been trying to fight before his death), had pronounced the end of weapons, claiming that it wasn’t like any of their weapons were making it to the battlefield anymore, anyway, and turned their focus to clean energy. Ironman left them alone, after that.

Of course, that meant he had a lot more spare time for other things. While he still targeted weapons manufacturers, he also turned his sights to other things, like; ice cream trunks, theme parks, parts of the ocean (why), art museums, and any fifties diner that ‘didn’t due the era justice’, and those were just the things he blew up.

“And just what do you expect me to do, stop him?”

“If you can.”

That, of course, was five months ago. Not long after he met his new teammates, Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton, the Black Widow and Hawkeye. They’d been part of the team to take out Ironman from the beginning. Th team didn’t have a name yet (“We’re still ironing out the details.” Coulson had tried to explain) but was the main task force against Ironman and other super villains that decided to come out of the woodwork. Steve also met Ironman face to faceplate on numerous occasions and the maybe-robot was definitely infuriating, to say the least.

Their first meeting kind of proved the point.

Ironman had paused his one sided discussion he was having with the cops he had tied to a tree when they tried to apprehend him, and had shot straight toward Captain America, landing right in front of him before he could blink.

“Are you real? Like, ‘real’ real? Like, the ‘real deal’, real?”

‘what?’ Steve had fought to keep his composure at the barrage of fast spoken questions, glancing briefly over to Hawkeye and widow, who had their weapons drawn and ready, before turning back to the villain, “Yes?”

“Sweeeeet. Wanna play a game?” Ironman had practically sung the question.

Hawkeye had started coughing loudly before Steve could answer. Widow had stomped his foot pretty hard. Steve had a feeling he was missing something there, but it hadn’t really been a good time to ask.

The fight, if you could even call it that, went on for three hours. And it wasn’t even a real fight! Just them trying to shoot Ironman out of the sky while dodging the firecrackers he shot at them. Not dangerous, just really annoying.

After that, Ironman started to target New York pacifically, stating that they were his new favorite toys and New York his sandbox. New York was not happy about that.

Neither was Steve.

Right now, he was definitely not happy about that.

Ironman had sent an army of robots (the ‘Iron Legion’) for the sole purpose of causing as much property damage as possible before they were all destroyed.

And he was just flying around, watching.

“Why are you doing this?” Steve yelled. Because there was always reason. Not always a good reason, mind you, but a reason. He couldn’t just be doing this to do it, couldn’t have just been a thought to cross his mind, he put too much effort into building the robots for it all to be for nothing.

Looking around, Steve really hoped there was a reason for all this destruction.

Ironman chuckled, doing a loop around Steve and shooting off before Steve could whack him with his shield, “See, that’s what I don’t get about the human race; everything has to have a reason.” He stopped and shrugged, “I guess I just felt like it- No, no, wait, I know!” He paused for dramatic effect “Science!”

“Science? really!?” Hawkeye shouted through the comm from his spot on a roof where he was shooting several of the Iron ‘bots out of the sky, “Are you that much of a-” Steve turned just in time to see Ironman snatch Clint right off his perch and corkscrew straight into the air.

“Hawkeye!” Widow demanded after he’d been cut off.

There was static. Steve waited for an answer, searching the air while still trying to take out as many bots as h could.

Finally, “I’m okay,” Steve breathed.

“Wait! Not okay, not okay!”

Jerking around, Steve finally spotted Ironman just as he dropped Clint from however high he had flown (well above the skyscrapers). He was running before he knew it, though he didn’t exactly know what his plan was for when he got there.

It didn’t matter though. About halfway down Ironman swooped in and caught him, doing another corkscrew to the side. Steve could hear his laughter through the comm.

“You crazy bastard!” Clint yelled, clinging to the metal frame like his life, apparently, depended on it.

“I’m going to kill him.” Natasha growled.

“What if he’s a robot?” Steve questioned, too relieved to be angry (that would come later).

“I wasn’t talking about Ironman.

“Well, it’s been fun, but I gotta run.” Ironman said, dropping a queasy looking Hawkeye off next to Steve, “Maybe next time you’ll actually be able to catch ‘em all, sweetheart.” He blew a kiss toward Steve and shot off into the sky.

That was another thing Steve didn’t like about Ironman; He was an incessant flirt.

Steve sighed in frustration as the figure disappeared, then jogged the few feet over to make sure Clint was okay, he saw Natasha doing the same.

Then what was left of the Iron Legion blew up.

Of course.

Explaining this to Fury was not going to be fun.

Chapter Text

Afghanistan changed him.

Well, not completely. He had always been a little messed up. He had once spent an entire year in his lab because he didn’t feel like facing the ‘real world’ in any since of the word.

He had been what most people called ‘paranoid’, but the fact of the matter is, it’s not paranoia if people really are out to get you. And people really were out to get him.

And he wasn’t necessarily afraid, either. Pepper had told him all the time that he lacked self-preservation and he believed her, it’s just every time he left his property bad things happened. Ever since he was a child it had been nothing but kidnappings and assassination attempts whenever he so much as took a step over what he liked to call the ‘safety line’. Sure, home life wasn’t necessarily better, but the devil you know, and all that.

College was the first time he’d left the place since he was ten.

And it was awful.

No, seriously, it was terrible. Howard had finally given up on him and shipped him off where he wouldn't have to look at the failure anymore, just tossed him to the dogs without even a goodbye. If it hadn’t been for Jarvis, Anthony (Tony, he preferred his friends to call him Tony) wouldn’t have even known where he was going.

He was pretty sure the only reason he was even alive was because his roommate-turned-first-turned-best friend, James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes, took pity on the poor little rich kid that everyone loved to hate. (Which was fine with him, he didn’t particularly like them either.)

But he was kind of getting off topic, here. So yeah, he had always been a little messed up. He had refused to meet any of his PA’s until after them working for him for a year (no one besides Pepper had ever lasted that long), he didn’t like to be handed things, it was fight to get him out of his house, he did all the meetings he could over the phone, sending Pepper in his steed otherwise, he built weapons that he hated just so he didn’t have to argue with his godfather, he had to be talked down from causing bodily harm to people by his freaking AI, because people are stupid, and he could go on.

But Afghanistan changed him.

His spent three months being tortured in a cave. Water boarding only scratched the surface of what had been done to him.

They had beaten him, laughed while they did it, but stayed clear of his chest still attached to the car battery because they needed him alive (because they wanted something. They always wanted something.)

When that didn’t work, when he still refused to build them the bomb (he didn’t even like building it for Obie, like fuck he was going to do it for them), they brought out the knives. The only things they spared were his hands. Because he would need them.

Still, he didn’t break. Not over that. No, whenever they would pour salt over the jagged cuts along his stomach and arms and feet and back (partly to disinfect, but mainly to watch him squirm in agony) he would think about Pepper or Rhodey or, heck, even Obie. They may have not been looking for him (part of him hopes they weren’t, because if he was going to die there, and it had started to look like he would, he didn’t want them to have to see him like that) but they were the only people he had in his life and thinking about them, knowing that they wouldn’t be killed by something he created as long as he kept his mouth shut, as long as he didn’t give in, certainly went along way in keeping him defiant.

(Eventually everything had gone numb, anyway.)

(In the recess of his mind, during one particularly bad session, he could hear Miss Carter telling him that whenever he felt like crying to laugh instead, because there was few things in life worth crying over but you could always find a reason to laugh.

So he did. There unnerved faces were certainly worth laughing over, too.)

And Yinsen, well, Yinsen was great. He was politely blunt in a way that Jarvis had been, and maybe that’s why Tony took to him so well. And Tony felt bad for him, because he didn’t deserve to be there. There was no reason for him to be there. (What had Yinsen been doing before Tony got there, anyway?)

(He didn’t know, he had never asked.)

It wasn’t until later, when he was being slowly drowned in ice water, barely being able to take breath before they were pushing back under, when he’d heard Stane’s name in his captors’ taunts that he finally started to understand that this may have not been a random attack, after all.

He asked Yinsen (who they kept on standby during those particular sessions just in case he stopped breathing) what had been said.

That was when he started to crack, a hairline fracture along the class wall that protected the delicate little world he’d built for himself.

(Stane had been his godfather. Why would he do that?)

That was when he finally agreed to build the Jericho.

(It’s pretty obvious what happened next.)

But then Yinsen didn’t stick to the plan. Well, he did, just not the right plan. He ran out, gun blazing at the ceiling, and why didn’t he at least take some of those bastards with him?

It was in moments like that that Tony questioned everything. He’d always been curious, a scientific mind, looking for the patterns and logic in everything, but this. This didn’t make sense.

“Don’t waste it… don’t waste your life, Stark.”

(What, like you did? He ran the numbers; it would have been tight, but they both could have gotten out of there alive.

This was suicide.)

That was the hairline fracture spider-webbed. Too many things were happening around him and none of them making any sense and he’d just lost two friends in the course of a few months, one to betrayal and the other. The other to himself.

He didn’t understand a lot of things, Pepper normally had to explain this stuff to him, but Pepper wasn’t there, so he had to figure it out himself. And to do that he needed time.

But first. Some good ol’ fashioned revenge.

The explosion was magnificent, he thought, as he listened to the still-alive-but-not-for-long screams of his torturers. The smell of their burning flesh assaulted his senses but he had long since grown used to the smell of his own during his stay in captivity, when they decided to try their hand at branding.

It was truly a masterpiece.

(Perhaps those particular thoughts should have been a warning…)

(Served them right, for trying to use his creations against him.)

He steered clear of the helicopters heard in the distance, because he didn’t want to be found. He needed more time, damn it! He just needed a little more time…

He had stumbled across a small village like place to stay until his wounds were healed and he wasn’t about to keel over from dehydration. The people there were… ‘Nice’ wasn’t necessarily the right word, but close enough. No one had tried to kill him yet, so that was plus, but his skin still crawled, senses screaming at him that it wasn’t safe, this isn’t home, this isn’t something you can control. He mainly ignored that voice, though. Not like he could do anything about it, anyway.

When he deemed himself healed enough he cannibalized the few pieces of technology the little town had and called JARVIS. He had him fly out one of his favorite little stealth jets that he used when he decided (Read: was forced) to go somewhere he couldn’t drive to.

JARVIS, bless him, had read the situation correctly and hadn’t contacted anyone. The jet had been flown by the AI directly and Tony was rather proud that it had only taken a few hours for it to get there despite the fact it was flown in from halfway across the world. Since it was a stealth jet with th highest of Stark Stealth technology, no one noticed it in the restricted airspace.

Instead of going home he’d gone to one of his safe houses in an undisclosed location, because of course he had safe houses, several of them in fact, and he could rest better there, and build things and plan.

He would need to have Dum-E, U, and Butterfingers shipped out there, though.

(Because he missed them, okay?)

JARVIS was already on it apparently, because by the time Tony got there, there were already boxes sitting on the front porch waiting for him.

(Tony would never admit it, but his eyes may have misted a little at the sight of them after he opened the boxes.)

After turning them on and herding them inside and to the basement lab/workshop (ugh, stairs are a nightmare with these three), he asked how JARVIS had got them there without any issue.

Apparently he just told Pepper that it was in his protocols that should Tony ever be missing or assumed dead for a certain amount of time that they were to be shipped off to a specific storage building so they wouldn’t end up ‘in the hands of idiots’.

His AI could lie without orders, who knew?

(Why was Tony more excited than worried about that?)

(Also, he now had to add that to JARVIS’s code, because no way was his bots ending up in the hands of idiots.)

At the safe house he had two projects to work on, one was Mark II, and the other was basically a fortress of awesome. Kind of like the SHIELD helicarrier that he’d designed before his trip and that currently in construction, only smaller and better in every way.

(Because SHIELD is full of dicks that like take his original designs and butcher them while trying to ‘make it better’.)

The fortress was obviously going to take longer…

After Mark II was built and he saw the news, and yeah, he was still pissed off that his weapons were in the hands of terrorists, that any weapon was in the hands of terrorists for that matter, and fuck you Obie, and maybe he wasn’t exactly thinking straight.

That was how Rhodey found out he was alive. Thankfully, after about three hours of fighting, some yelling, and a few tears that will never be mentioned, Rhodey agreed to keep the whole thing a secret.

(“Are you out of your mind, Stark?”

“Yes,”

“Tony-”

“I’m at the end of my rope, here, Rhodey. I’ve already been betrayed by one friend, and I really don’t want to have to hurt you.”

Rhodey would never admit it, but in that instance Tony could tell he was afraid.

He wished he could bring himself to care.)

After that he had to tell Pepper, partly because he promised Rhodey, but also because he needed her help. He was going to stay dead, but he had plans and the only person he trusted to be able to carry them out was her.

(“Tony, please don’t-”

“Pepper, trust me. It’ll me just like before only I’ll never have to go to another board meeting again and you won’t have to chase me down for my signature.”

“Just- don’t do anything stupid.”

“Too late. Besides, I was never gonna be able to promise that, anyway.”

“I know.”)

God, he loved her. (Just, not like that.)

So yeah, both his friends knew, his company was in good hands, and he had a mission of taking out any asshole that decided treason was a good idea and started double-dealing to terrorists.

The only thing left to do was confront Stane.

(“Why? Why’d you do it? You practically ran the company, anyway, it’s not like I was stopping you.” He asked, desperate for a reason.

“Oh, Tony, so naïve. I did it for a pretty simple reason.”

“Oh yeah, and wants that?”

“Because I could, and I don’t like you.”)

That was when he shattered. All the pieces that had been cracked but still there turned to sharp, glittering dust, and was blown away by the metaphorical wind inside of his head, because that. That was no reason.

(“Guess what, Stane?

I don’t like you, either.”)

And Tony? Well, he just didn’t care anymore.

Chapter Text

“Steve, you have a problem.”

He glanced up from the files he was looking through, “What?”

Natasha crossed her arms “You’ve been in this century for over eight months and this,” she said, snatching the file from his hand. She flipped through it, giving him a straight look, “this is all you’ve been doing?”

“That’s not true,” Steve denied. He’d stopped asking her how she got into his apartment a long time ago. “I do a lot of things, like, uh… I run! Every morning. And I hang out with you and Clint. And I go on those dates you set me up on.” He said the last part grudgingly, trying to grab back the file.

Natasha dodged him, taking a step back, “First of all, staying for half an hour as a courtesy then saying it won’t work out is not a date, it’s a waste of both of your time, secondly Clint and I have to practically drag you out of your apartment just so you don’t become a hermit.” She glared, slamming the file back on the table “This is not healthy.”

Steve opened his mouth then closed it, sitting back down. “He has to be caught,” he finally said, “And it’s my job to do it.”

Natasha sat down at the table across from him, “No, Steve,” She told him, “It’s not. Right now, we’re a team, that makes it our job to catch him, but that’s not going to happen if our captain is always tired and agitated.”

Steve looked down, “I just feel like I should be doing more.” He admitted.

Natasha sighed, “Look, Cap. The only way we’re going to catch Ironman is if he lets his guard down, if we get the advantage, but I doubt we will anytime soon, because Ironman is, if nothing else, always in control.”

“So you think he’s unbeatable?”

“Not in the least. I think going in guns ablaze every time he’s spotted is only giving him what he wants.”

“So, what do you think we should do?” He asked, running a frustrated hand through his hair.

“I think,” she started slowly, which never boded well for Steve, “That you need to take a break. Me and Clint have been hunting Ironman longer than you have; trust me when I say this mission can consume you. This isn’t healthy, Steve.”

Steve tried not to growl, fist clinching “Yeah, you’ve said that, but I can’t just stop. Nearly every time he shows up someone gets hurt, and it’s almost always an innocent civilian, I…”

“You, what?” Natasha challenged, “Are you sure this is just about protecting people, Steve? Because if you’re still trying to figure him out, don’t.”

“There has to be a reason.” Steve shot back, “Has to be, no one just decides to be a super villain.”

“He’s a robot, Steve.” She paused, before amending, “Or a sociopath. Either way, if you keep looking between the lines you’ll miss what’s right in front of your eyes. You said it yourself, he keeps hurting people, he needs to be stopped. He doesn’t need to be redeemed.”

“I’m not trying to redeem him-”

“Yes, yes you are, because you can’t find it in yourself to hate the bastard.” She sighed, and if it had been anyone but Natasha Steve would have said her eyes softened “Trust me, I know. Clint even told me that if it wasn’t for all the casualties it would almost be like an extreme sparing match, with how much fun he has shooting at the red and gold pain in the ass target. His words, not mine.”

Steve couldn’t stop the chuckle from escaping, but he quickly sobered. “I don’t like him, and I’m pretty sure we would still be trying to kill each other even if we were on the same side, but-”

“But you can’t hate him.” She finished.

“But I can’t hate him.” He agreed with a sigh, “I really wish I could, but.” He shrugged, holding back an hysteric laugh, “But I can’t! God, what the hell is wrong with me?”

Her lip twitched “Captain America swearing? Never thought I’d see the day.”

“Natasha,” He whined, “This is serious.”

“I know, which is why you should take a break.”

He opened his mouth to say something, even though he didn’t know what, when there was a knock on the door. Steve didn’t know many people in this time, and even less knocked, so he had a pretty good guess of who it was. He stood up and went to answer it.

“Coulson.”

“Captain,” He greeted back grimly.

Natasha came up from behind Steve, “What is it?”

“We have a problem, and for once it’s not Ironman.”

. . .

“What are you hiding from me…” Tony mumbled, biting his thumb and staring at the flashing screens. Something was going on, something big, he just didn’t know what.

And he knows something is going on, because SHIELD is running around like ants after some dick kid took a magnifying glass to their hill.

He and JARVIS were trying to figure out just what they were hiding. Surprisingly it was a little difficult (but only a little) to actually hack their system. Ooh, they were getting better.

(It would be so much fun messing with them later.)

And he was actually getting frustrated, because while normally he enjoyed a challenge, right now he wanted to know.

It wasn’t about him, he knew that much. He had been good these past few weeks, even when he felt the odd urge to put dye into the water supply so everyone would be walking around either red or gold.

Sir,”

“Yes JARVIS?”

“I believe this may be the reason for the sudden panic.” A video popped up from a security camera of a black haired man stealing some guys eyeball. Tony squinted at the screen.

“Isn’t that one of the aliens from Mexico?”

I do believe so, sir.

“And is this live?”

Yes sir.

“Awesome,” He grinned, “JARVIS, flip a coin for me. Heads, I’m against him, tails, I help him.” A screen popped up showing a virtual quarter. It even made the ‘tink’ sound when JARVIS flipped it.

It’s heads, sir.

Tony pouted. Well, fine. A deals a deal. “Prep the suit, J. Maybe we can get there before the Cap Squad.”

Of course, sir.

(Was it just him, or did JARVIS sound smug?)

Chapter Text

Tony sighed contently, doing a quick barrel roll as he got closer to Stuttgart, Germany. He loved flying. It was just like falling, only with a less permanent destination.

JARVIS picked up movement, knocking Tony out of his thoughts. It would appear he did not beat the Cap Squad there, which, boo! But no matter! This way he can make an entrance.

“JARVIS, link me to their comms. I wanna hear everything. Also, Shoot to Thrill.”

“Of course, Sir.

Tony closes his eyes and hums to the sound of AC/DC and the Black Widows curses. Perfect harmony.

“Cap, we have incoming.” She warned.

“What- Oh, we definitely don’t have time for this.” The Captain groaned.

“Now that’s just mean.” Tony said, firing off a repulser at the alien (Bull’s-eye!). He landed hard next to Rogers and slung an arm around his shoulders, placing a hand over the arc reactor, “I’m hurt.”

He was slung off for his troubles, “What are you doing here.” Cap asked apprehensively, taking a step back.

“Uh,” Tony blinked incredulously and looked around, “Did you not just see me shoot Rock of Ages over there?” He finally asked, pointing at the still waiting patiently (suspicious much?) alien off to the side.

“So, what?” Cap asked, “You’re here to help? Sorry if I find that a little hard to believe.”

“I know!” Tony chuckled, “I was surprised to.”

“Cap, if you’re done making bedroom eyes with the supervillain, we still have a situation.” Widow drawled over the comm.

“Hey!” Tony shouted, “I’ll have you know, my gorgeous baby blues are for more than just the bedroom, sweetheart.” The suit eyes flashed brighter in emphasis.

“Are you on our comms?” Cap asked, appalled.

“Yes. Yes I am.”

“Great, we can all hash it out later about how that’s not okay and Ironman can ignore us, but right now can we please apprehend the space god?”

(Tony liked her.)

“Sure, why not? Not like he’s going anywhere.” Tony shrugged, “You guys do that. I’m just gonna go ahead. By sugar.” He blew a kiss at Cap and shot off, ignoring the calls after him, because there was no way he was getting into a quinjet he didn’t design.

(Because reasons.)

Nor was he letting them ‘apprehend’ him.

(though it would be fun to figure out how to get out of that… maybe later.)

. . .

Halfway to the helicarrier the other alien shows up. He does the classic superhero pose and everything.

Then he steals the prisoner, (which Tony doesn’t understand why, but whatever) and proceeds to have a conversation on a rock. Because, why not?

Sadly, as interesting as it is to watch that drama (and he thought his family was messed up- oh wait, his was probably still worse, or at least on par, with that. Because at least Thor cared), he has to intervene.

Because he’s playing on the other team now, and that means playing keep away with the big blond. Surprisingly not Cap this time!

(Well, technically, with Cap, because the captain is playing too, only they’re on the same team. So. Yeah…)

And, maybe, Tony is a little upset that Hamlet just decided it was okay to snatch the prize right out of the plane (why did they even open the back up in the first place? Seriously?), especially since Tony went through all the trouble of catching him, fair and square.

(It suddenly occurred to him that he had no idea why they were actually after the dark haired alien god. Oh well.)

He tackled his opponent through the air and into a nice little clearing, doing his signature barrel roll and everything.

“Do not touch me again.” Thor growled, standing up.

“Then don’t take my stuff.” Tony shot back, stance relaxed. It really was that simple. Why did people always take his stuff?

Thor tightened his grip on his hammer, pulling his arm back slightly “You have no idea what you are dealing with.” He warned.

“Uh,” Tony gave him the up-down look, crossing his arms, “Shakespeare in the park? Doth Mother know, you weareth her drapes? No?” He asked seriously, then shrugged “Oh, well.”

“This is beyond you, Metal Man. Loki will face Asgardian justice!”

Ugh. That was awful. Is this guy for real? Even Tony isn’t that dramatic.

(Shut up, he isn’t. What, nobody said anything? Someone was thinking it. Probably. Oh hey! Caps here.)

“Sup Capsicle! ‘Bout time you showed up.” The captain gave him a side glance, but otherwise focused on Thor, stepping forward with his hands in a placating manor.

(Tony may have pouted behind the faceplate, but it’s not like anyone could see it, so whatever.)

“Now,” Cap starts, “I don’t know what you plan on doing here-”

“I’ve come here to put an end to Loki’s schemes!”

“Then prove it,” He continued, calm but firm, (Tony’s a little jealous. Cap always yells at him, ‘Don’t blow up city hall Ironman!’, ‘Call off your robot dog, Ironman!’, ‘There are people in that building Ironman!’, ‘Widow is going to kill you if you keep dropping Hawkeye, Ironman!’ Ugh. All he does is nag.) “Put the hammer down.” And no. Bad idea. Tony can see it from here.

“Uh, yeah, no! Bad call,” He butts in, “He really loves his hammer.”

The both have apparently become hard of hearing because he is ignored.

Thor started to swing his hammer, “You want me to put the hammer down?!”

What happened next was fucking awesome.

He got flung into a tree and he doesn’t even care, like, that was how awesome that was.

Cap never took his eyes off Thor as he slowly stood up, “We done here?”

. . .

So, he wasn’t exactly allowed on the helicarrier. It annoyed him a little at first, but at least now he can try his hand at sneaking.

Which, turned out, he was pretty good at. Even in the red and gold flashy suit of awesome and genius.

Walking stealthily through the halls, he reached the room just in time for the cue of a lifetime.

(Well, more like a question begging to be answered.)

“ –What do they need Iridium for?”

(Brucie Bear!)

“It’s a stabilizing agent,” He answered, sauntering in. Rogers groaned and Romanov pinched her brow at his appearance, while everyone else (minus Thor, who is eyeing him curiously but not worriedly, and Bruce) tense “So the portal won’t collapse like it did with SHIELD.” And yeah, JARVIS has been hacking like crazy, and, now that he’s actually in the helicarrier, he can do even more. He just needs to plant his bug.

(Why are they called bugs, anyway? Note to JARVIS: Look into why they are called bugs.)

“Also, it would stay open as long as Loki wants.” He walked on, feeling almost all eyes on him. All except-

“That man is playing Galaga!” He said in way of distraction, pointing at said man while absently placing his bug on the bottom of the monitor, “If I had known you could do that during a world crisis I probably wouldn’t be here.”

(He bets he could beat that guy’s record)

Turning back to the monitor, he looked around, “How, exactly, does One-eye see these things anyway?” He asked absent mindedly, placing a hand over his eye.

Agent Hill is half out of her chair, hand inching for her gun (not that it would do her any good- do these people never learn?) “He turns.” She answered tersely.

“Riiiight,” He drawled out, “That sounds. Exhausting. I’m sorry, what were we talking about again?”

Rogers answered, exasperated and stiff, “Loki. The portal.”

Oh. Right. That.

“Right, well, the rest of the raw materials Hawkass can get his hands on pretty easily. Only major component he still needs is a power source. A high energy density, something to kick start the cube, y’know?” 

“Just how do you know all of this?” Hill questioned.

“Because I’m awesome.” He shot back, maybe a little defensive. 

“He's got to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier.” Bruce brings him back. Tony whipped around and pointed at him. 

“You’re right! Unless, of course, the good Doctor Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect.” 

“Well, if he could do that, he could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet.” Bruce continued, and Tony just couldn’t help himself. He laughed and threw himself into a hug at Bruce. 

“Brucie, I’ve missed you!” 

Romanov tensed even more then she had been, “You two know each other?” 

Bruce winced around the hug, “We’ve met.” 

Tony released the other genius to shrug, “I may or may not have held him as my hostage for two months.” (Good times…) “Turns out, the giant green rage monster likes me.” 

“What did I just walk into?” Fury questioned before anyone else could get a word in as he and Coulson enter the room, “And why is that bastard on my helicarrier?” 

Standing right here, asshole.

(But not wrong, either…) 

“Never mind.” He said, “We have bigger problems. Dr. Banner is here to track the cube.” He looked over at Tony, sizing him up “Perhaps you could join him.” 

“What?” Tony and Rogers course together, but probably for different reasons. 

“You do seem to know a lot about this,” Romanov assessed him sharply, “Maybe you could help. That is, if Dr. Banner doesn’t mind.” 

Bruce shrugged, “I don’t really have a problem with it.” 

(Yay!) 

Rogers suddenly stood up, “You can’t be serious! He’s-” he made some wild motion with his hands towards Tony, “He’s him. He’s a villain. And a robot, probably. And crazy. How can we trust him not to switch sides? To help Loki?” 

(You can’t, Cap.) 

“Or even to try and use this to take over the world himself!” 

Well, that just took it too far, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa.” He protested, stepping forward and drawing the attention back to himself, and yeah, still in the room people, “No. See, if I wanted the world it would be mine. I don’t need some half-assed plan from an alien child throwing a tantrum because Daddy said he couldn’t play with the big kids.” He growled, crossing his arms “Frankly, I don’t even see why he wants the world,” He admits, “Too messy, too much politics, too many stubborn asshole personality types willing to start a rebellion, I mean-” He stopped, taking in all the shocked faces. 

This was probably the most serious they’ve ever seen him. 

(Good.) 

And he was talking about how world domination was just too everything to even try. 

Okay then. 

He rubbed the back of his neck and chuckled nervously, “Uh, right, well… Can me and Brucie go play now?” Without waiting for an answer he grabbed Bruce’s arm and took off out of the room. 

(He’d have JARVIS send him their reactions later.)

Chapter Text

It was few hours after Ironman had whisked Banner off to ‘play’. Steve had tried to occupy himself since then of course, but there was very little he could do in ways of helping. Natasha was busy with interrogating Loki while Coulson was talking to Thor about something. Steve just spent most of the time in the gym, trying not to worry.

His original plan was not to eavesdrop. Really, he just hadn’t liked the thought of Ironman being left unsupervised with Dr. Banner on an aircraft filled with hundreds of innocent people.

Perfectly reasonable.                

He was just gonna check in, make sure nothing was set to blow up, and get out. They wouldn’t even know he was there.

But… he couldn’t deny he was curious.

“-Come on Bruce, I’ve made updates! All the latest toys, it’s like Candy-land, only less gumdrops and more Science.”

“No thanks. I’d really rather not have a repeat of what happened the last time I was at your ‘lair’.”

So, there he was. Standing just outside the door. Eavesdropping. Steve bit his lip to stave off the guilty feeling for invading their privacy.

“Okay, I’ll admit, not my finest hour,” Ironman hedged.

“You think?” Banner questioned.

“Why are you being so mean to me right now? I though what we had was special.” He whined.

“We had to throw it in the ocean, T-”

“Hey, watch it! The walls have ears here!” Ironman stressed. Then after a beat, he asked “And will you ever let that go?”

Steve’s eyebrow scrunched up in confusion. Just what was Banner about to say that had the robot panicking?

Giving in to the urge, he peaked around the corner. He saw that Banner look sheepish, “Sorry.” Then his look hardened “But no, I won’t let it go-”

“Oh, come on!”

It exploded!” The scientist hissed quietly, “Do you know how many chemicals were in that?”

Steve tensed. Chemicals? What were they talking about? What exploded?

“Well, yeah. I built it.” Ironman answered with a shrug.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“It’s not like anyone noticed the glowing sharks, either.”

Glowing sharks? Steve bit back a sigh and massaged his temple, where the beginnings of a headache were coming on.

Glowing sha- never mind. No. The answer is still no.”

“I- no, you’re right.” Ironman conceded, much to both Steve and Banner’s surprise.

“I am?” Banner asked, uncertainty in his voice.

“You are,” Ironman nodded in agreement, “Which is why I promise, this time, it will be a stress free environment,” –Banner sighed-“No tension, no surprises…” He rounded the table, getting closer to Banner, “It’ll be like one of those zen retreat things you love so much, only less meditating and more science!” he finished by poking Banner in the side with his own finger.

Which was apparently now part electrical prod.

“Ow!” Banner jumped back and shot Ironman a dirty look.

Steve flinched, bracing himself. After a moment wherein the Hulk didn’t make an appearance, his worry slowly started bleeding into anger. That was it. He couldn’t just stand back now, not when Ironman was putting the entire ship in danger with his recklessness.

“Hey!” He yelled, rounding the doorframe into the room.

He was ignored as Ironman said to Banner “See! You’re fine!”

“Are you nuts!?” He asked, a little louder, finally getting their attention.

“Yes.” Ironman answered without hesitation. “How long have you been standing there? I didn’t take you for the spying type, but then you work for SHIELD.” He seemed to pause in thought, “Is being sneaky a requirement, or do they provide classes?”

Steve grit his teeth at the flippant response, “Is everything a joke to you?”

Ironman stopped and stared for a moment, “I’m sorry,” He started, placing a hand over the blue light in his chest, “But have you met me?”

Steve puffed out a breath in irritation, trying to keep the blush off his face. Because, yes. That was a stupid question. “If you want to risk your own life, fine. But threatening the lives of everybody on this ship isn’t funny. No offence, doctor.” He added, because while true, he didn’t have a beef with the scientist.

Just the red and gold show pony.

“Non taken.” Banner answered with a shrug and a grim ‘you’re-not-wrong’ look, “But I wouldn’t have agreed to let him help if I couldn’t handle… him.”

“You’re tiptoeing, big guy.” Ironman said, not an ounce of the faux hurt Steve was expecting from a comment like that. He never took his attention off Steve as he spoke. There was something in his mechanical voice that Steve couldn’t quite place. Not something he was used to hearing from the laid back super villain, “You need to learn how to strut.”

“And you need to focus on the problem.” Steve challenged, striding further into the room.

“You think I’m not?” He asked, voice light, amused, but with that same undertone that made Steve tense up. He would probably be easier to read if he had another facial expression beyond ‘menacing’. Ironman stepped around the table to be face to face with Steve, “The algorithm is running. There is nothing else for us to do but wait. What’s wrong with having a little fun, huh?”

“It won’t be fun when someone gets hurt.” Steve glared.

“Maybe it won’t be fun for you. Besides, we could all use a few bruises every now and then.” Ironman crossed his arms, “Builds character.”

Steve eyes hardened even further. Mirroring the posture, he said “Yeah, only you won’t be the one with the bruises, will you?”

“More’s the pity.” Ironman shrugged, dropping his arms back down.

“Why are you even here?” Steve finally asked what had been eating at him, “It’s not out of the goodness of heart.” He paused, eyeing the mechanical man up and down “If you even have one.” He shot.

Ironman’s hand came back up to glowing light, Steve noticed. He did that a lot. “Ouch,” He deadpanned, “I’m hurt.” -Steve doubted that- “But in all seriousness, I’m here because I made a bet with myself and lost. And…” He hesitated.

Steve tensed even more, gearing up for anything. Ironman never hesitated. He always said exactly what wanted, when he wanted, even when he really shouldn’t.

…So why was he hesitating now?

“And,” Ironman started again, his hand clinching minutely, “I wanted to know what Fury was so keen on keeping a secret.” He finally admitted.

And he was just accusing Steve of spying? A hypocrite is what he was, even if he would deny it. Or maybe not. Still, it sounded suspiciously like an olive branch. Steve raised an eyebrow, “What, you think Fury’s hiding something?” And you’re actually telling me? Was left unsaid.

“He’s always hiding something, comes with the spy territory, and he’s kind of the king of spies, so no.” Ironman started anxiously gliding around the room, “That’s not what I’m worried about. What I want to know is what he’s hiding.”

That one word, ‘worried’, stuck out in Steve head more than anything else. Not Finding out that Ironman basically spying on Steve’s boss and telling Steve about it, not Ironman’s less cheerful than usual demeanor (though that was unnerving), but ‘worried’. It was something he never expected Ironman to say. He had thought Ironman couldn’t worry, or even take things semi seriously, at all. Would have continued to believe that if he wasn’t hearing what he was hearing just now.

He bit the inside of his cheek to try and stave off the apprehensive feeling building in his gut.

“I mean,” Ironman continued when Steve didn’t say anything, more to himself than to anyone in the room “Clean energy? Who are they trying to fool? No. No, It’s something else, I just. Don’t know what. Yet.”

Steve forced himself to relax, “Whatever it is, I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.” he reasoned, more to reassure himself than for Ironman “We should just follow orders.”

“Following’s not really my style, soldier.” Ironman rebuffed, not breaking stride.

Steve rolled his eyes, “And you’re all about style, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” Ironman answered without missing a beat.

After a short silence Steve finally relented, “So what do you propose we do?” he questioned.

Ironman stopped his pacing and sighed, a mechanical sound that could never be mistaken as something human. He rubbed his hand down the back of his head, “I don’t know. It’s just.” He moved his hand to tap at the blue light in his chest, going over to stand by the work table “None of this is making any sens-”

Banner closed his eyes, hand coming up to cover them.

And Ironman. He just started laughing. Going into full blown hysterics, he had to hold onto the edge of the table to keep standing, “Never mind!” He choked out, “Forget I said anything!”

“Are you okay?” Steve couldn’t help the worry that seeped into his voice. He knew Ironman wasn’t exactly, as Clint would put it, all there, but this was a little crazier than he was used to. They were in an enclosed space, flying twenty thousand feet in the air with a hulk and a crazed Norse god on board. If Ironman decided to lash out up there, it wouldn’t end well.

Ironman abruptly stopped laughing. Standing up straight, he glided over to Steve and threw an arm around his shoulder, “Why, I didn’t know you cared. Don’t you fret Stevie baby, I just realized something is all. I’m just fine.”

And just like that, he was back to his old self. Steve chastised himself for feeling relived about it. “Never mind,” he gritted out, shaking the arm off, “just focus on finding the cube.” He turned and left, making his way down the hall.

Before he was out of earshot he heard Banner ask, “Seriously though, are you okay?”

Ironman chuckled dryly, “M’ just peachy.”

Steve bit his lip. Maybe this was something worth looking into, even if he didn’t want to believe the people he was taking orders from could be calling the less then noble shots.

Because whatever this was? It was causing Ironman to worry. And that made Steve worry.

And what was with that freak out? ‘It was so real.’ He thought, then felt like kicking himself. No, he wouldn’t doubt that Ironman was anything but a bunch of wires and electricity, because if he started seeing him as a person, then Steve really would start looking for redeeming qualities that were just not there. Natasha was right. Down that road leads to madness.

He scrubbed his face with a groan. Yeah, maybe he really did need a break.

But right now he kinda had to save the world. Again.

And first things first; he needed to find out just what they were carrying. Just in case. Changing directions, he started for the hull of the ship.

Chapter Text

"Seriously though, are you okay?"

"M' just peachy."

Bruce watched as Tony gripped the edge of the table, not quite strong enough to dent it. He took fortifying breath -Bruce could tell by the way his shoulders moved- before he took a step back.

"I think I'm just gonna-" he stopped, fists clenching and unclenching, and shook his head to clear it, "I need to get my head on straight, focus on something else right now, so-” he let out a breathy chuckle, “So I'm just gonna take a little walk, okay?" He said with a slightly shaky voice that Bruce tried not to think too much about.

Bruce bit his lip, but nodded anyway, "alright, just... don't do anything dangerous, or stupid, okay?"

He got the feeling Tony was smirking at him just then, however weak or fake it would be, and was glad he couldn’t see it, "No promises," then, in a quieter voice, he added "I won't be too long."

Bruce nodded again and watched Tony leave with a sigh. Despite their less than stellar first meeting, Bruce really did like the supervillain, and the Other Guy loved him, he just wished...

He just wished that there was a way to help him.

...

Despite his promise not take too long, it took over an hour for Tony to get back.

He walked in and sat down in a swivel chair, completely silent. The thing about Tony and silence though, was that Bruce could never quite tell if he's actually being quiet or if the suit had been muted so he could talk to JARVIS -or himself- in private.

Looking away, Bruce started back on finding the Tesseract, though there really wasn't much he could do as of right then. Ten minutes later, Tony spoke.

"So it's a definite 'no' to Candy land?"

Bruce sighed, "Tony-"

"Okay, okay," he swiveled in his chair to face Bruce, "So, why, exactly, did you come out of hiding to join this little shit show?" He asked instead.

"Not like I really had a choice." Bruce muttered.

"That doesn't sound right," Tony said a little too casually, "Do you want me to kill someone? Because I will."

"Please don't." Bruce sighed, "Besides, it's not like it's the first time I've been kidnapped."

"That's different, I'm a villain."

"Maybe they are, too." Bruce shot back before immediately wanting to smack himself. He knew better than to say things like that around Tony.

Tony was silent for half a second, "...now there's something I never thought of." He said in realization, "Of course it didn't make since, I was looking at it all wrong. Bruce, you're-"

"No."

"Bruce,"

"Tony, no. I didn't mean that."

“That doesn't matter, it's true-"

"We don't know that."

"We don't know, yet," Tony stressed, "we don't know that yet. But if they have something to hide, which they obviously do, I'll find it. I will."

Bruce closed his eyes for a minute then breathed, "I believe you." Of course he did, because Tony never did anything in halves, he’s never trusted SHIELD, and there was no way whatever morals he had left was going to stop him now that he had this in his head. Bruce resigned himself to be dragged along for the ride.

Tony nodded once, firmly, and then swiveled back around.

This time, Bruce knew he was talking to JARVIS in the silence.

...

Tony

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Tony swiveled in his chair in the direction of Fury’s exasperated voice.

(Haha, the dread pirate’s eye was twitching.)

Tony almost smirked at the obvious agitation, but then remembered everything he’d found out so far about the supposed ‘good guys’.

It hadn’t been as fun as he thought it would be.

(He had barely scratched the surface.)

(He dreaded what else he’d find…)

“Y’know,” He started nonchalantly, “I’m actually wondering the same about you.” That earned him a worried look from Bruce but not much else.

Fury remained unruffled at the poorly concealed accusation, “You’re supposed to be finding the tesseract.”

“We are.” Bruce confirmed before Tony had the chance to bite anything else, “The model's locked and we're sweeping for the signature now. When we get a hit, we'll have the location within half a mile.”

“And you’ll get your cube back, no muss, no fuss,” Tony made a notion of dusting his hands, before emulating the snapping of his fingers complete with sound effects (he couldn’t actually do it, what with the metal armor,) and files that he and JARVIS had found appeared on his screen, “Now, what is Phase Two?” 

Before Fury could answer Rogers showed up, dropping another piece of the puzzle on the table. It wasn’t going to be a very pretty picture when it’s all put together. 

An assault rifle. 

(A HYDRA assault rifle, a voice that sounds suspiciously like Howard whispers.) 

“Phase Two is SHIELD using the cube to make weapons.” Rogers said, pissed. He sends a nod in Tony’s direction, though, and Tony had enough mind, despite his shock at the show of acknowledgement, to give a slight nod back. 

Fury Started trying to explain, “Rogers, we gathered everything related to the Tesseract. That does not mean-” 

Tony cuts him off, voice decisively light, “I’m sorry Nicky,” He flicks his screen around, putting even more weapons schematics on display, “What were you lying?”

“I was wrong, director.” Rogers Stated, “The world hasn’t changed a bit.” 

Romanov and Thor chose to walk in before Fury can try and wheedle out the mess he made, “A little late to the party, Sweetheart.” Tony drawls, earning himself a glare from the Widow. 

“Did you know about this?” Bruce asked her, motioning at the weapons, anger seeping into his voice. 

(Ooh, maybe he’ll get to see the big guy, after all.)

“You want to think about removing yourself, Doctor?” She deflects calmly, but Tony could tell. He could tell she was afraid. 

“I was in Calcutta,” Bruce shot back, crossing his arms, “I was pretty well removed.” 

“Loki’s manipulating you.” She told him. 

“And you’ve been doing, what, exactly?” 

“You didn’t come here because I batted my eyelashes at you.” 

“And I’m not leaving because you get a little twitchy.” He glared, which would have been terrifying had Tony not already been immune to it, “I’d like to know why SHIELD is building weapons of mass destruction.” 

(That was always a good question.) 

(Too bad Tony knew the answer was gonna be a lie. Always a lie.

“You want to know?” Fury finally broke down, angry, “It’s because of him.” He pointed at Thor. 

“Me?” Thor asked, bewildered. Poor guy, Tony was actually starting to like him, after their little chat. 

“Last year, earth had a visitor from another planet who had a grudge match that leveled a small town.” Fury started speaking, “We learned that not only are we not alone, but we are hopelessly, hilariously, out gunned.” 

(Well, you might be.) 

“My people want nothing but peace with your planet!” Thor defended. 

“But you’re not the only people out there are you?” Fury stated more than questioned, “And you’re not the only threat,” He turned and looked directly at Tony, “The world is filling up with people that can’t be matched, that can’t be controlled.” 

Flattery will get you nowhere. 

“Right, like you controlled the cube?” Rogers cut in, and was he actually defending Tony? Welcome to the twilight zone. 

“You’re work on the Tesseract is what drew Loki, and his allies, to it in the first place.” Thor informed them all, “It is a signal to all the realms that earth his ready for a higher form of war.” 

“A higher form?” Rogers asked. 

“You forced our hand; we had to come up with something.” Fury defended, ignoring Rogers. 

“Yeah,” Tony drawled out, “Because nuclear deterrents always calm everything right down.” 

(They’re not even that much fun to play with.) 

“Remind me again why you’re here?” Fury challenged. 

“How many times are you people going to ask me that?” Tony huffed, “Do you not want my help? ‘Cause I don’t have to be here.” 

“I thought humans were more evolved than this.” Thor told them. Tony snorted. 

“I’m Sorry,” Fury growled, “But did we come to your planet and blow stuff up?” 

“Do you always give your champions such mistrust?” He motioned at Tony, who out right laughed at that. 

“I’m no champion, Big Guy.” Tony stated. 

“He’s really, really, not.” Romanov confirmed. Tony stuck his tongue out at her even though she couldn’t see it. 

Thor continued as if he was never interrupted, “You speak of control, yet you court chaos.” 

“Well, what did you expect?” Bruce asked, voice harder than usual, “What are we? A team? No, no, we’re a no team. We’re a chemical mixture that makes chaos… we’re a time bomb.” 

“You need to step away.” Fury said. 

Tony threw his arm around Rogers, “Oh, come on, why shouldn’t the guy let off a little steam? Great for the nerves, you know.” 

“You know damn well why!” Rogers practically explodes, pushing Tony off, “Back off!” 

So much for the camaraderie. What is up with these guys? 

Still, Tony couldn’t resist, stepping up to be face to face with the national icon, “Oh, I’m starting to want you to make me.” He purred. 

Cap growled, “Just when I thought you could be anything more than a malfunctioning robot playing supervillain- what are you?!” 

“Well, if I told you that,” Tony started, “It wouldn’t be much of a guessing game, would it?” 

“I should’ve known.” He said, “The only thing you fight for is yourself. For your games. You’re not the one to make the sacrificial play, to lay down and the wire and the other guy walk all over you.” 

Tony was having some serious flashbacks to his childhood right about now. Still, “I think I would just cut the wire.” 

Rogers smiled without humor, “Always a way out for you isn’t there?” 

“I try.”

Caps smile dropped, and he grits out “You know, right now you may not be a threat, but you better stop pretending to be a hero.” 

Tony laughed out right, “Heroes! Villains! There’s no such thing, Cap! Just people, fumbling through life, making up labels to help validate your choices!” He said, “You need to face the truth! You’re a science experiment; everything special about you came out of a bottle.” 

Rogers took half a step closer, drawing up to stand taller. Tony refused to be intimidated. 

“You know what? Let’s go a few rounds.” 

“Ha! You’ve never beaten me before, what makes you think you can now?” 

Thor laughed before Rogers could reply, “You people are so petty… and tiny.” 

“Hey!” Tony yelled, then he laughed, too, taking a step back. He was kind of glad that Thor had stepped in, however inadvertently. He was starting to realize that the scepter really was manipulating them. Well, not him. His suit pretty much protects him from whatever that thing is radiating, but everyone else. 

Cap had always been able to rile Tony up, though. No surprise there. 

“Yeah,” Bruce rolled his eyes, “This is a team.” 

“Agent Romanov,” Fury started, “Escort Dr. Banner back to his-” 

“Where?” Bruce cut in, “You rented my room.” 

(Maybe Tony should interfere…)

(But then, maybe not.)

“The cell was just in case-” 

“You needed to kill me, but you can’t! I know, I tried!” 

What!? Knew information! Bruce! 

Tony stayed quiet. 

“I got low.” Bruce started to explain, “So I put a bullet in my mouth and the other guy spit it out.” His hand clenched in frustrated anger before he slumped a little, and sighed, “So I moved on, focused on helping people,” He shot a subtle glance at Tony, “I was good, until you dragged me back into this freak show, and put everyone here at risk! You want to know my secret, Romanov? You wanna know how I stay calm?” His hand tightened around the scepter.

Fury and Romanov’s hands went to their guns. Tony snorted, leaning back against a work table to watch. Not like that would do them any good. 

“Dr. Banner,” Rogers said, calmer now, making a placating gesture with his hands, “Put down the scepter.” 

Bruce started, looking down at the scepter in shock. He probably hadn’t even realized he had picked it up. 

Before anything else could happen the computer beeped. Bruce put down the scepter, “Sorry kids,” he mumbled, going to the monitor, “Looks like you don’t get to see my party trick, after all.” 

Tony pouted, but tried to get serious. Fate of the world, and all that. 

“Have you located the Tesseract?” Thor questioned. 

“I can get there faster,” Tony jumped in. 

“Look,” Rogers tried, “All of us-” 

“The Tesseract belongs on Asgard,” Thor challenged, “No human is a match for it.” 

“Ha!” Tony laughed, turning to leave.

Cap stopped him, grabbing his arm. “You’re not going alone!” 

“What, are you gonna stop me?” Tony asked, amused. 

“Do you really want to find out?” He asked back, not amused. 

“I’m not above hitting an old man, sweetheart. Even a really hot one.” Rogers sputtered, going red. Then he glared, opened his mouth to say something- 

“Oh my God!” 

“Bruce?” Tony jerked around to where the other scientist was looking at the monitors. Before Bruce could answer, the entire ship was rocked with an explosion, throwing Tony across the room, but not before he sees Bruce fall to the floor below them. 

(Well, that’s probably not good.) 

(Worse, because he’s kind of looking forward to it.) 

Tony turned to look at Rogers, right as the super soldier does the same. They make the equivalent of eye contact, before they’re both up and scrambling out the door. 

Tony makes a subtle hand move, muting the suit speakers, “JARVIS, get me on their comms!” He ordered. 

“Of course, Sir.” 

What he heard on the other end is pandemonium, Hill’s voice loud over the sirens. “Turn up that engine! Number three is down, can we get a run in? Talk to me?” 

Another voice answered, male, “Turbines loose, mostly intact, but it’s impossible to make repairs while we’re in the air!” 

Tony unmuted the suit, “Got it!” He grabbed Rogers arm, “This way, Cap!” 

(Tony tried not to preen that the other man didn’t even question him.) 

They ran down the rubble filled hall in silence. There was a door at the end, but it was stuck (or more likely, locked). Tony was about to shoot it open, when Cap rammed into it, slamming it open and against the outside wall. 

“Now what?!” Cap asked. 

Tony shot into the sky, flying above the router, “Now let’s see what we got.”  

Chapter Text

Coulson was dead.

They had survived; the helicarrier was still in the air. But Coulson, Phil, was dead, along with dozens of other agents. In the eight months he’d been awake, Steve liked to think him and Phil had become friends, even if the other man had never really gotten out of the hero worship phase.

But still, he had been a friend; one of the few Steve had and trusted explicitly.

And now he was dead.

Steve fingers the bloodied cards that lay spread out on the table where Fury had tossed them. A taunt really, as he had never gotten around to actually signing them. He risked a glance at Ironman, who’s standing a little ways off, battered and dented and scraped from the propeller, with arms crossed and unnervingly silent, and wondered what the robotic man was feeling, if he was feeling anything at all. Phil had been on the Ironman assignment from the very beginning, but Steve wasn’t sure if that warranted any reaction from the supervillain.

A week ago he wouldn’t have even questioned it. Would have said Ironman didn’t actually feel, in general.

Things had changed.

“We’re dead in the air up here.” Fury started, drawing Steve back from his musings, as he paced leisurely in front of the table “Our communications, the location of the cube, Banner, Thor. I’ve got nothing for you. I lost my one good eye, maybe I had it coming.” He paused to let his words sink in, “Yes, we were going to build an arsenal with the Tesseract, but I never put all my chips on that number, because I was playing something even riskier.” He said, “There was an idea, maybe you know of it by now, called the Avengers Initiative. The idea was to bring together a group of remarkable people, though not necessarily human,” He glanced over at Ironman, who straightens in what Steve guessed was surprise, “And to see if they could become something more. See if they could work together when we needed them, to fight the battles that we never could.” He turned back to Steve, “Phil Coulson died still believing in that idea, in heroes.”

Ironman snorted, the first sound he’d made since finding out about Coulson, before walking out of the room.

“Well,” Fury said, “It was an old fashioned notion.” Then he too walked away, leaving Steve alone.

Steve’s fists clenched, and he took breath, before letting it out slowly, looking back down at the bloodied cards one last time before getting up. He didn’t have time for mourning. Not yet.

They still had work to do.

. . .

He found Ironman in the room where Loki’s cage used to be, where Phil had died, leaning against the railing.

Steve hesitated, but only for a moment. Seeing Ironman like this was beyond unnerving. “You okay?" He asked tentatively.

Ironman didn’t answer. Didn’t even make any outward response. Steve was half wondering if he had even been heard when Ironman slammed his metal fist hard against the steel railing, making Steve jump.

“That idiot,” He hissed, shoulders hunched.

Steve felt himself get angry, heart still heavy with grief, “For what, believing?” He demanded.

“For taking on Loki alone.” Ironman didn’t shout, in fact, his voice had gone eerily quiet as he straightened up and turned to face Steve.

Steve slumped a little, “He was doing his job,” he defended half-heartedly, not really up for any fighting. What was the point?

“He was out of his league,” Ironman rebuffed, then his shoulders sagged, “He should have waited.” He finished just has weakly has Steve.

Steve slowly shook his head, “There’s not always a way out, Ironman.”

Ironman snorted, “Right.” Steve could practically hear the eye-roll, if it were possible.

“I’m serious,” Steve told him, “Is this the first time you’ve lost a soldier?”

I’m not a soldier,” He hissed back hotly, as if even suggesting so was the worst insult imaginable, before going back to an even tone, “I’m not marching to Fury’s fife.”

“Neither am I.” Steve agreed, eyes hardening, “He’s got the same blood on his hands as Loki does, but right now we need to put that aside and get this done.” Ironman crossed his arms and turned away, but nodded for Steve to continue, “Now, you said Loki needs a power source? Maybe we can compile a list?”

Ironman is quiet for a moment, staring at the wall, before he finally spoke.

“He made this personal.”

“That’s not the point,”

“That is the point. That’s Loki’s point. He hit us right where you live. Why?” He asked absently, hand twitching slightly, like he was keeping himself from moving it.

Steve’s brow furrowed, “To tear us apart?”

“He knows he has to beat us to win,” He confirmed, “That’s what he wants. To beat us, and to be seen doing it. He wants an audience.”

Steve nodded, “Right, I caught his act in Stuttgart.” He got what Ironman was saying, but wasn’t quite sure where he was going with it.

Ironman nodded too, but Steve was sure it was more to himself than anything else, “Right, but that was just a preview, this. This is opening night.” He glided forward and around Steve before moving to do it again. Steve had to turn to keep the villain in his sights. “Loki is a full-tilt diva.” He continued, “He wants flowers, he wants parades, he wants a monument built with his name-” He stopped is pacing, going stock-still.

“What?” Steve asked.

“Son of a bitch. I know where he is.”

“What?” Steve repeats, stunned, “Where? How?”

But Ironman was already leaving, “Get the wonder twins!” He called back before shooting off down the hall, leaving Steve once again alone and confused.

He was getting used to that feeling these past few days working with Ironman.

Blinking once, Steve shook his head. He squared his shoulders and set off to find Clint and Natasha.

. . .

“Suit up, it’s time to go.” Steve said when he entered the med-bay, already in uniform.

“Go where?” Natasha asked, standing up. Clint threw his legs over the side of the bed, looking just as confused as she did.

Steve opened his mouth to say something when Ironman’s voice sparked from his comm unit, “Stark Tower, in Manhattan. Get your goody-goody asses out there.

Natasha raised an eyebrow at him, probably hearing what Steve had from her own comm, but Clint remained oblivious.

“Looks like we’re going to Manhattan.” She said.

Clint looked at her with a furrowed brow, “Why?”

“We’ll brief on the way,” Steve said, “Grab your stuff, we need to go meet Ironman.”

“Wait, what?” Clint asked, standing up, “Ironman? What did I miss? Guys?”

We left without giving him an answer.

Guys!?

Chapter Text

Tony

Tony banks around the tower, landing near where Dr. Selvig was working. “What do we have, J?”

“Sir, I took off the reactor. The device is self-sustaining.” JARVIS informed him.

Tony cursed internally. Okay, he could handle this. “Shut it down, Selvig.” He ordered, stepping closer.

“It’s too late!” Selvig shouted, enthusiastically, “It be can’t stopped now. He wants to show us something, a new universe!”

Tony rolled his eyes. Well okay then. Glad you have passion. Taking aim, he fires his repulsers at the machine. The beams shattered with a deafening crack against the shield. The shock wave knocked Selvig back and to the ground.

Tony stumbled back and blinked, his eyes wide.

(That was kind of awesome.)

(But really not what he was going for.)

“Sir, the barrier is made of pure energy. It’s unbreachable.

Tony cursed even more in the now muted suit. Fine. He could deal with this. Probably. Hopefully. “What’s Mark VII’s status?” He asked.

“The Mark VII is not ready for deployment.

“Then skip the spinning rims.” He gritted out, and started flying over to the landing pad that he had secretly installed into the tower, “We’re on the clock, here.”

He took a breath to steel his nerves, before he landed and started walking down the cat walk to remove the suit. He immediately felt naked, exposed, without the metal between him and the outside world. Still, he carried on until the last piece was removed.

Loki smiled predatorily at him as he walked in. Tony ignored him and went directly for the bar.

(He really needed a drink.)

“So the Man of Iron is really just a man, after all.” He purrs, swishing his scepter through the air.

“Well, I wouldn’t say just a man, but,” Tony paused to take a sip of the drink he had just poured, “Basically, yes. Want one.” He held his drink up and wiggled it at the demi-god.

Loki’s smirk dropped, “Why are you here?”

Tony made a frustrated sound, “Why does everybody keep asking me that? Y’know what? Never mind. I’m just here to talk.”

(And get the Mark VII, but semantics.)

The alien raised an eyebrow, “Talk?”

Tony nodded, “Yep, see, I had an interesting talk with Thor.”

(“Do you believe everything has a reason?” Tony had asked the blond as he sat down next to him, mind still slightly off kilter from his previous melt down.

Thor had looked at him strangely, before nodding, “Aye.”

“Then tell me Loki’s.”

After a pause, he did.)

“Oh,” Any humor left from Loki’s face was gone, left in its place a deep seated emotion that he probably confused with hate, “And just what, pray tell, did you and that oaf talk about.”

“You, mostly.” Tony answered, taking another sip.

Loki growled, but Tony spoke again before he could properly reply.

“We’re a lot alike, you and I.” Tony said nonchalantly, swirling his drink.

“Oh?” Loki asked with fake intrigue and a subtle warning, “How so?”

"I know what it's like to have a father with unreasonable expectations, a bar set so impossibly high that there was no way to ever reach it. It's unfair, really.” Tony sighed, leaning forward against the bar.

“You know nothing!” Loki hissed.

“I know what it’s like to live in a shadow!” Tony shot back heatedly, “To try and be everything that you’re told to be and still not measure up! To never be good enough and to think that it’s your fault.” He takes a deep breath to calm himself.

(Because it’s not his fault, it was never his fault. No one is that perfect.)

(…Right?)

“And I know Thor cares about you, if nothing else. It’s where we differ, I guess.” He adds in a lighter tone, straightening “Too bad that won’t save you. Not anymore.”

“And just how do you plan to stop me?” Loki questioned.

“See,” Tony started, walking back around the bar, “I don’t think you understand the ramifications of your actions. What I'm saying is this won't end well for you. I mean, you pissed off a lot of people. Like me, which was really a bad idea, because, I’ve been told, I’m a bit insane.”

Loki snubbed his nose, “I’m not afraid of you, mortal.”

“You should be.” Tony said blankly (You should be.), before adding cheerfully “But I’m not the only one, remember? Let’s name them off, shall we? There’s your brother, the demi-god,” He started, ignoring Loki’s glare, “A super soldier, a living legend, that, as much as it pains me to admit it, kind of lives up to the legend.”

(Oh, hello daddy issues. Haven’t seen you in a while.)

(He couldn’t believe he just said that.)

“There’s the man with breath taking anger management issues,” He continued as if he wasn’t trying to internally kill himself, “A couple of master assassins- and you,” He pointed at Loki, “Have managed to piss off every single one of them.”

Loki gave him an amused look, regaining his composer, “Well, that was kind of the plan.”

“Terrible plan.” Tony told him, stepping closer, “Seriously awful. Mainly because I’m currently with them, but still. When they come, and they will, they’ll be coming for you.”

Loki smirked, “I have an army.”

Tony shrugged, “We have a hulk. He’s awesome.”

“I thought the beast had wandered off.”

“You’re missing the point,” Tony sighed exaggeratedly, making a motion with his arm, “There is no throne, there is no version of this where you come out on top. So maybe your army comes, and maybe it’s too much for us –which I doubt, because, me- but it’s all on you.” Tony said, stepping until he was a breath away from the Norse god, “Because if we can’t protect the earth, you can be damn sure we’ll avenge it.” He finished.

“And just how will your friends have time for me,” Loki started, raising his scepter, “When they’re too busy fighting you!”

Tony laughed as it hit the reactor, watching Loki’s face contort into confusion. He stared at Tony’s chest where the scepter was touching it before turning his accusing gaze to Tony’s mirthful one.

“Where is your heart?” He demanded.

Tony quickly lost all humor, face blanking, “I don’t have one.”

The window shattered and Tony shot his hand out to catch the Ironman gauntlet before swinging his arm and punching Loki squarely in the face.

Having not expected it, Loki flew back at the force of the punch and straight into a wall, allowing the rest of the armor to form around Tony without interference.

Tony half wanted to continue to pursue the alien asshole, but one look out the now-shattered window made him sigh, “Right. Army.”

With one last glance at Loki (who was removing himself from the wall plaster. Pepper was going to kill him) Tony shot out to help the rest of his ‘team’ deal with the space whales and rejected predators.

(When could he play villain, again?)

(Sometimes he hated playing hero.)

. . .

“Ironman, we’re headed north east.” Widow called through the comm.

“What, did you stop for drive-thru?” Tony grouched, before shaking his head and continuing in a less touchy voice, “Swing up Park, I’ll lay ‘em out for you.”

“Got it.

And the fight continued. Unfortunately Tony hadn’t gotten around to rebuilding the Iron-Legion (and even if he had they wouldn’t have been much help. What with being programmed to play around with the Cap Squad and not actually kill anything) so they were on their own, for the most part.

“What happened in Budapest?” Tony asked, overcome with curiosity.

“None of your business,” Hawkeye stated, “What are you even doing here?

Oh, come on! “Fuck off, I’ve been trying to help, you assholes!”

Well, so-orry. What, did I hit a sore spot?

(Bastard.)

Chatter.” Cap called, already used to them and their bickering, “What’s the story up stairs?

“The power surrounding the cube is impenetrable.” Thor answered.

(When did Thor get a comm unit?)

“He’s right,” Tony said instead of questioning it, “We need to get rid of these guys.”

“How we do that?” Widowed questioned.

“Like we always do,” Cap said, “As a team.

(Haha.)

“That was so cheesy, Cap.”

The captain didn’t reply.

I have unfinished business with Loki.” Thor said.

“Yeah? Get in line.” Hawkeye shot back. The whip of a bow through the comms told Tony he had just shot something.

“Save it.” Cap ordered, “Loki’s gonna keep this fight towards us, and that’s what we need. Without him these things may run wild.”

There was a pause, and then a faint voice came over through Caps comm, “So, this all seems horrible.

Bruce!

There was more back-and-forth but Tony didn’t pay attention. Bruce was one of the few people he still truly liked; it was a relief that he was okay.

And Jolly Green is here, too! Life couldn’t be better.

(Unless, of course, there weren’t any aliens. That would have been better.)

Then it got worse.

(It always gets worse when Tony is around.)

Tony doesn’t pause his attacks, but even flying at high speeds and his attention split he caught the massive wave of aliens as they came through the portal.

There were too many of them.

“Guys?” Widow said, an edge of panic seeping into her voice.

“Call it, Cap!” Tony ordered, pulling the captain out of his shocked reverie.

Right. Alright. Listen up! Until we can close the portal we’re gonna use containment. Hawkeye, I want you on that roof. Eyes on everything, call out patterns and strays. Ironman,” he paused as if to get over the fact that he was actually giving Ironman orders (don’t get used to it.) “Ironman, I want you on perimeter, anything gets more than three blocks out you turn it back or turn it to ash.” He finished.

Now that, Tony could do.

(With pleasure.)

Wanna give me a lift?” Hawkeye asked.

Tony contemplated for a second, “Sure, why not. Better clench up, Legolas!”

“Don’t drop me!”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” He swooped down, catching Hawkeye around the waist and depositing with little fan-fair on the building Cap had requested “I have better things to do than give you a thrill, sweet-pea.”

Fuck off.”

“Maybe later you can join me.”

Cap sighed in frustrated resignation.

Tony chuckled and started on his part of Stevie-boy’s master plan.

Ironman, you got a lot strings sticking to your tail.” Hawkeye informed him.

Tony rolled his eyes, “Thank you for the obvious. Anything else?”

Touchy. They can’t bank worth a damn, try taking a tight corner.”

He doesn’t reply in words, but took the advice and banked at the nearest building. Looking back, they were all gone.

“Nice call. Got anything else?”

“Oh, now you wanna know?

“Well, it is your job.” He answered.

Fine. Thor is taking on a squadron on 6th.” Hawkeye finally said.

“And he didn’t invite me?” Tony said with a faux pout, “I guess I’ll just have to crash his party.”

“You do that.

Headed toward 6th, Tony mainly ignored the voices in the comm. He did take notice when Widow started flying one of the alien chariots (and now she can drive alien vehicles along with wielding alien weapons. Great.) He quickly turned to follow, shooting at her tails. She gave him a nod in thanks. He nodded back and shot down to where it looked like Cap was having a problem.

(He’d get to Thor, eventually.)

He fired at the shield. Cap caught on and used the reflection to take more of the aliens. When they were mostly gone Tony gave a salute, not waiting for Cap to reply in anyway, and flew back off, toward his original destination.

Catching sight of Thor and Hulk, though, caused him to decide against getting in the middle of that particular lovers spat.

(Would have been funny had the situation not been so dire.)

(Who was he kidding, that was fucking hilarious!)

Cap, do you read me! We have a missile headed straight for the city.” Fury warned.

(Oh, fuck me. Nuking a city? That’s just in bad taste.)

(If they weren’t in the ‘bad guy’ category before, they certainly were now.)

How long?” Cap questioned. Tony listened intently.

Three minutes, at best.

He growled and muted the suit, “JARVIS, put everything we have into the thrusters!”

“Yes Sir.

With a sudden boost, Tony shot out directly for the bomb. His mind started swirling with a plan the closer he got, and when he finally got there he didn’t hesitate.

(He wouldn’t hesitate.)

Cap, I can close it! I can close the portal!” Widow yelled.

Do it.

“No, wait!” Tony shouted, JARVIS automatically unmuting the suit, “I have a nuke coming in, it’s gonna blow in less than a minute,” He took a breath, steeling his nerves. He was actually doing this. “And I know just where to put it.” He pulls the missile off its course pointing it toward the sky. Toward the portal.

There was silence, they were probably trying to actually understand he was doing, then “…Ironman, you know that’s a one-way trip.” Cap questioned.

“Yeah,” He swallowed, and ignored the emotion he must have imagined in the Captains voice, “But that’s okay. I was never supposed to exist anyway.”

What-”

“Cut the comms, J.” He ordered, their voices suddenly silenced.

Shall I call Miss Potts, Sir?” JARVIS asked softly.

“No.” Tony said without hesitation, “She doesn’t deserve to hear that. This.”

He caught sight of the ships, the mass expansion of stars behind them, and realized that this would be the last thing he’d see.

(And he was okay with that. It was a nice view.)

(He was never supposed to exist, anyway.)

Chapter Text

Steve

“Cap, do you read me! We have a missile headed straight for the city.” Fury’s voice rang through his comm.

Shit, “How long?” He demanded, throwing his shield. It ricocheted off several aliens before he caught it again.

Three minutes, at best.” Fury answered.

Steve breathed, punching one that got too close. He didn’t have time for this! There were too many aliens, how were they supposed to deal with them and a missile?

Cap I can close it!” Widow told him, “I can close the portal!

Steve almost breathed a sigh of relief. At the very least, now they wouldn’t have to worry about the unending supply of enemies, “Do it.”

No, wait!” Ironman cut in quickly, “I have a nuke coming in, it’s gonna blow in less than a minute,

Steve gritted his teeth. He already knew that! What did it have to do with the portal?! Steve opened his mouth to ask just that, but Ironman beat him to it.

And I know just where to put it.

What?

Steve turned, trying to get Ironman in his sights, a bad feeling squirming its way up his throat. If he wasn’t still fighting on autopilot he would have said it was like the world stood still as he finally caught sight of the red and gold figure.

With a nuke on his back.

Headed straight for the portal.

He almost couldn’t believe it. The being that had made it his life’s goal to cause as much trouble as he could for pretty much everyone in the world was, if Steve was seeing it correctly, going sacrifice himself for all of Manhattan (and the surrounding area); even after the conversation they had just had that morning. It was a shock.

Ironman was fast; faster than any quinjet. If he had wanted to leave, to quit playing the role of hero, he could with very little problem. This-

“…Ironman, you know that’s a one-way trip.” Steve stated more than asked, because of course he did, and watched the figure get closer to what could only be a death sentence, even to a robot. Or whatever Ironman was.

Steve was starting to think ‘human’ wasn’t entirely impossible anymore.

Yeah,” Ironman answered with a slightly shaky voice, “But that’s okay. I was never supposed to exist, anyway.

“What?” Steve demanded over the ringing in his ears and multitude of other voices on the comms, “What does that mean? Ironman?”

But there was no reply.

What did he mean, never supposed to exist? A part of him wanted to brush it off, as he watched his enemy-turned-teammate fly through the gates of a virtual hell. Wanted to say it was just him being self depreciating; it would be awful if Ironman really thought that low of himself, it would be even worse if it were true.

But it had been said with such bitter acceptance that it couldn’t be anything but true.

But what did it mean?

After a few minutes, after several derogatory terms were cursed at the flying man of metal from the entire team, when all the aliens had keeled over dead. When Ironman didn’t resurface. When Steve could see the supernova of an explosion coming from the portal. He made the call.

“Close it.”

And he watched as the portal closed, his last bit of hope dying. He wanted to look away, but forced himself to watch. It was the least he could do, since it was his choice.

In the end he was glad he did, because seconds before the portal completely closed a lone figure fell back through, and even without the serum it would have been easy to tell who it was.

‘Oh, thank God,’ Steve let a breathy chuckle of relief, “Son of a gun.”

After a moment though, Thor tensed beside him, “He’s not slowing down.” And started swinging his hammer to fly.

Before either of them could do anything, though Steve doubted he would have been of any use, earthbound as he was, the Hulk jumped and caught the villain straight out of the air.

Using a building to slow his decent, Hulk landed, leaving a small crater in his wake. He cradled Ironman with a gentleness Steve hadn’t known was possible with the giant. A memory of what Ironman had said came to mind: “The giant green rage monster likes me.

Steve realized that it hadn’t just been him being superfluous when he said that, as Hulk slowly lowered the metal clad figure to the ground, stepping back but not far with a weary sort of movement in his step.

But it didn’t matter, didn’t even register, as Steve stepped closer to his downed comrade (Ironman had earned the title, after that stunt). The blue glow Ironman had been so keen on covering, on tapping, on just plain touching, was out, its owner lay unmoving. Steve had never questioned what it was; had never thought it mattered, not really. Now he wished he had, because now he didn’t know. It could have been anything; decoration, a battery. Completely useless, or the most important thing to the robotic like man.

He kneeled down, his hand hovering where the light should have been. He glanced at Ironman’s face, not for the first time wondered what was behind it. He contemplated just ripping it off, now that it was starting to look like it wouldn’t matter. The urge left just as it had arrived, though. Human or robot, it didn’t mean anything.

“Cap, what’s it look like?” Clint asked. At this point it was definitely Clint -not Hawkeye- talking.

Steve swallowed, closing his eyes and dropping his hand, “I-”

The Hulk, finally tired of watching, of waiting for something, anything in the silence that had followed him lying Ironman down, cut him off, letting out a resounding, echoing roar, filled with anger and anguish in equal measure, right at the metal man’s face.

Ironman jolted, the blue light flickering back into existence, “What! What!” He sat straight up, “I’m awake! What happened? Why are you all staring at me like that?” He asked as if he hadn’t just been lying dead on the pavement. While his voice had cracked with static in some places, cutting off into white noise in others, it was plain and real and alive and Ironman, and that; that was enough.

Steve sat back, too many emotions swirling through him to be able to identify any of them, before his hand came up to the comm in his ear, “All clear.” He gave; Twin sighs of relief answered him, saying that his team had been just as worried as he had been.

“But, seriously?” Ironman asked with slight static, stumbling to his feet.

Steve looked back at him, a little worried, before also standing up, “We won.” He answered.

“Oh, that’s great!” He cheered with fake enthusiasm, “That’s- that’s awesome. Good job, everyone! Can I go, now? Because while this has been, an enlightening experience, I think. I think I’ve had my fill of playing hero, so.”

Steve felt his lip twitch, if only a little. Then he glanced up at the tower where he knew Loki was, “Not yet,” He said, “There’s one more thing we have to do.”

Chapter Text

Tony

The armor was too damaged for Tony to feel completely comfortable flying, so he took the elevator up to the penthouse with the rest of the ‘Avengers’ (minus Hulk, who decided he would get there some other way). He’s off kilter, even more than usual, and tired. He wanted to hide away and lick his wounds, and repair all of his suits, and make more suits, maybe even make plans to disturb the peace a little.

(Maybe somewhere in Europe? It’s nice this time of year, would be a change of scenery.)

(New York has been through enough, that’s for sure.)

But he couldn’t do any of that because of a certain alien asshole still occupying his (Pepper’s, but semantics) tower.

The elevator dings, signaling their stop. He trailed a little behind as they stepped off and entered the room. He could tell the others noticed by the (not so) subtle glances they send each other, and the equally (not so) subtle glances at him, but they don’t say anything.

Seeing Loki lying in the middle of a crater (Pepper is definitely going to kill him) is a little surprising, but definitely hilarious; it’s enough to make him laugh. He tried not to outwardly wince at the broken sound of the suit speakers. Yeah, he needed to repair his suit. The sound, for some reason, was enough to make the rest of the so-called team relax, if only slightly.

Which, why?

(Why would the sound of him laughing actually make them relax?)

(What the hell? Usually it’s the opposite!)

The Hulk returned through the already shattered window (Tony made an effort to stop picturing his eminent doom when a certain redhead finds out), then they’re all standing high above the downed demi-god, striking poses and everything, waiting for him to come to.

When he did, it was with a groan and slight shifting. The others tensed again, in anticipation.

Loki sat up, blinking. He glanced up, going still when he saw of them. They were probably an intimidating sight. His gaze shifted over all of them, one by one, lingering a little on Hulk, anger mixed with fear in equal measure, before it moved once more, and finally settled on Tony.

His eyes go hard, “You,” He hissed, straightening his back, “What are you?”

What?

Tony blinked, “Uh,” He looked between the others even though they obviously didn’t have the answer, looking just as surprised as he felt, “Excuse me?”

Loki growled, a deep noise in the back of his throat, “What are you?” He repeated, his hands clenched, crunching the ruble beneath them to dust, “No mere mortal, even one with an advanced suit like that, would have the strength to punch me into a wall.”

Now everyone was looking at him, and frankly, he didn’t know what to say, “I-” he started to say.

Thor saved him, “That is enough, Loki.” He said in a hard, cold voice, hauling his adoptive brother up by the arm, “I will not have you speaking in such a tone to one of my Shield Brothers,” Though still talking to Loki, he turned to look at Tony, “Human or not, the Man of Iron was willing to make the greatest of sacrifices, and saved many lives, including mine own. He has earned my respect, and therefore the respect from all of Asgard.” He finished, leaving Tony stunned.

(The respect of a god, huh?)

(Wonder how long that’ll last.)

Loki opened his mouth to say something, probably about the whole ‘Man of Iron’ thing, but Thor shook him, “I said enough, Loki. Be silent.” He ordered before turning back to the group, “We are leaving, but will need the Tesseract to return to Asgard.” He said.

Rogers nodded immediately, “The cube never belonged to us. I won’t stop you from taking it.” There were murmurs of agreement, even if a certain redhead only did so grudgingly.

(Always loyal to her cause, that one.)

After all the excitement, Bruce finally showed back up (and Tony really needed to start working on the stretchy pants he promised), and SHIELD started to swarm the place, and Tony was still tired.

“Can I go, now?” He asked the room at large, because he didn’t really care who answered as long as the answer was ‘yes’ (wait. Why was he waiting for an answer, again? He was too tired and apparently concussed for this.). The others were still giving him strange, assessing looks. Rogers in particular seemed to be having some kind of war with himself, but Fury (who had showed up with the rest of the SHIELD lackey’s, for the Tesseract, or Loki, or both) was the one to answer.

“Normally I’d say you have to stick around for briefing,” He started, which, no. Tony doesn’t do briefings, “But seeing as I doubt you’d listen, on top of the fact that you’re not one of my agents, or even on my payroll,” He continued in a voice that said what he was saying and doing was going to piss someone off and he gave absolutely zero fucks about it, “I think it’s safe to say you can leave whenever you want.”

Good to know.

“Well in that case-”

“Wait!” Rogers cut him off, jogging over from where he had been talking with the wonder twins and Thor (Bruce was probably either acquiring pants or taking a nap somewhere), “Can, uh, I talk to you? In private?” He asked in an earnest voice and with a puppy-dog face that made saying no practically impossible and Tony was too exhausted for this.

He suppressed a sigh and shrugged (and okay, bad idea, because bruises) “Sure Cap, wherever you want.”

Rogers nodded, once, then led Tony down the hall that would eventually end in the bedroom. Untouched by Loki and the alien invasion, and, therefore, not occupied by agents.

When he stopped he opened his mouth then closed it, whatever he had wanted to say apparently leaving him, “I,” He started, “Uh…”

Tony raised an unseen eyebrow and crossed his arms, “What is it, Cap?”

“Well,” He cleared his throat, “You know we don’t- care. That you’re a robot. Right? It doesn’t. Uh. Matter to us; the team, I mean.” He finally said, shifting uncomfortably on his feet, cheeks heating up.

Tony blinked, not having expected that. “Um, okay?” He narrowed his eyes, “Where is this coming from, Rogers?”

“I-” After another false start, Rogers finally got it out, “After what Loki said, I just wanted you to know. And,” He took a fortifying breath, “I wanted to apologize. For what I said on the helicarrier. It wasn’t right of me, even if I was being manipulated by Loki’s scepter, especially since you were only trying to help. After everything you’ve done, I just wanted to make sure you knew I didn’t mean it.” He finished, his earnest face getting worse if it were possible.

(Don’t lie. You meant every word. Even if you regret it now.)

Tony stared at him for a moment, long enough to make him squirm, before putting him out of his misery, “You don’t have to be sorry about what you said. All of it was true.” Rogers opened his mouth to argue, but Tony didn’t let him, “I’m a villain, Steve.” He said, not even registering that he had used the hero’s first name in a non-joking manner, “Most of my actions these past few days were because I literally lost a bet with myself.” Then, to lighten the mood, he said in a more chipper voice, dampened by the catches and static from the speakers, “I happen to take my bets rather seriously, you know.”

Rogers crossed his arms and does his stubborn jaw thing, “I don’t believe that. You flew that nuke through the portal,” –trying to forget about that, you asshole- “even though it could have, should have, cost you your life. I know how fast you are; you could have just left, but you didn’t. You chose to save everyone, instead.” He gave Tony a look, “That makes you a hero in my book, Ironman.”

Tony shrugged (again, bruises, ow) “New York is my playground, my sandbox. I don’t like it when other people touch my stuff without permission.”

Rogers clenched his fists and lets out a frustrated growl, “Fine. You wanna play the villain, go right ahead. But I know the truth, and so do the others, and nothing you say or do is gonna change that.” He brushed past Tony before the genius could get another word in edgewise, leaving him alone in the hall.

Tony gaped for a moment before his jaw clicked shut. You know what? Tony was tired, and he had a concussion, and his bruises and bruises, and who cared what Rogers and his marry band of crime fighters thought?

He flew out the nearest window and went as far as the suit would carry him before landing and getting in the stealth jet JARVIS had been smart enough to send.

He was going to spend the next three months, at least, in his lair, doing nothing but sleeping and tinkering on household appliances, and screw the world.

He was taking a vacation, dang it.

Then he had to get back to figuring out just what the fuck was going on with SHIELD.

(Because he’s curious.)

(Because something is going down, and he needs to know. Needs to know this won’t cause him problems later.)

Chapter Text

“The enemy is anybody who’s going to get you killed, no matter which side he is on.” –Joseph Heller

Steve

After the Chitauri invasion the world became, well, quiet would be the best way to describe it; peaceful, maybe, had Steve ever known such stillness in the modern world. As it was, with Ironman around, ‘calm’ was a foreign concept, only ever there when Ironman was planning something.

So Steve was rightfully uneasy, when after going on four months there was still no sign of the robotic man.

“Am I boring you, Captain?”

Steve jerked up, “Huh?” He asked intelligently, fighting down a blush, and ignoring Clint’s snickers that were poorly disguised by coughs.

Right, the briefing, because even without Ironman they still had assignments.

Fury rolled his eye, “You’re dismissed. I expect to have your full reports on my desk by tomorrow morning -now get out.”

While Steve was standing up, grabbing his shield from where it had been leaning against his chair, Natasha suddenly appeared beside him.

Having been working with her for so long, Steve didn’t jump. Much. Straitening up, he asked, maybe a little testy, “Yeah, what is it?”

She raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow, “You’ve been zoning out more and more these past few weeks,” she stated lightly, “I was just wondering if there was anything you wanted to talk about, that’s all.”

Steve sighed and contemplated lying to her for a moment. He quickly decided against it. She would know, then she would give him the ‘look’ that said that she knew he was lying, and then she would pretend to accept the lie while in actuality she would be hunting down the actual answer. She would of course find it, and then they would be back exactly where they were now.

“Ironman’s been pretty quiet, hasn’t he?” She asked, after he had been quiet for too long.

And of course she would hit the nail on the head on her first try.

“Yeah,” He admitted, kicking the ground, before shaking his head and started walking. Natasha fell in step beside him as he continued, “I know it’s- I know it’s stupid, but I can’t help but feel like he’s planning something. I guess I’m just worried.”

Natasha nodded, “You should be worried,” She agreed, surprising Steve. She noticed his surprise, and rolled her eyes “You know, the last time Ironman was absent for longer than three months, someone died, right?”

Steve blushed, “Uh, right.” He may have forgotten about that, actually. “So. What do we do?”

Natasha sighed and crossed her arms lightly, “That’s the thing, Steve,” She said, “We can’t do anything. Not while Ironman is a no show.”

Steve looked down and bit his cheek, “Do you think,” He started, hesitant but hopeful, “That maybe Ironman has decided to give up being a villain? After everything that’s happened, I mean, he did fly a missile through the portal, maybe…”

He could tell from the pitying look that Natasha wasn’t nearly as optimistic as him, “Steve…”

“I know.” Steve sighed, hunching his shoulders a little, “I just-”

She nodded when he didn’t continue. Apparently she knew, too.

The Clint showed up and demanded they do something to welcome Thor back to earth and Banner back from wherever he had disappeared to, and Steve found himself forgetting, if only for a moment, about the issue of Ironman.

(He would be glad he had the reprieve in the weeks to come.)

. . .

Tony

For the first three months, Tony did exactly what he said he would, that is to say, nothing but sleep and play with his appliances.

(He wasn’t pouting, shut up.)

But after making a sentient toaster that seemed to be convinced ‘charred’ was the perfect setting to toast things, after sleeping more than he has since before Afghanistan despite the fact that he now woke up laughing in the middle of the night more often than not with visions of war ships and supernova’s swirling around in his head. After the suits are fixed, after he’d built a couple dozen (hundred) more because there was no way he was getting caught without a (functioning) one again.

After things in New York (and the world) finally settled. Then he got to work.

He set JARVIS on the task of bypassing the SHIELD firewalls, (he could do it himself but right now wasn’t a pleasure visit) while he looked over anything and everything they didn’t want him to know.

(There was a lot.)

(It isn’t painting a very pretty picture.)

He saw bills still being paid for buildings that were (supposedly) shut down years ago. Decommissioned, as in, not commissioned. There was no reason for agents to be stationed there- but there were.

Funds disappeared and reappeared from ghost accounts across the globe, at times when there were no (known) assignments in the area, when all SHIELD agents were accounted for.

There was the ‘Let’s nuke a heavily populated city and see what happens!’ thing. The WSC had spun that to make it seem like Ironman was the bad guy (which he is, of course, but they’re apparently worse).

Then there was all the inconsistencies’ between the reports and what actually occurred, all the weird shit that happened when SHIELD was around, when they stuck there collective nose where it didn’t belong (shut up. He was being noble, here).

Tony’s brow drew together as he read another shady report. There was that word again; Asset. It was either a code name for a weapon or an agent (he couldn’t actually tell with the limited information). They only ever mentioned it in passing, only ever in high profile, top secret, mission reports, buried deep in the bowls of the mainframe, written with such offhandedness that if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t find it.

Unless, of course, you were Tony Stark.

(Unless, of course, you were paranoid as all fuck.)

(Shut up.)

“Who, or what, are you?” He asked the air, before snorting at the irony of the question. He’d had it thrown at him plenty enough to know the answer.

‘The exact opposite of whatever you think I am.’

(Even if you’re right, you’re wrong.)

(Ugh. Childhood flashbacks.)

“Terribly sorry to interrupt, Sir, but Miss Potts is requesting to speak with you.” JARVIS said, sounding genuinely sorry about interrupting. Tony preened a little in the knowledge that something he built had actual feelings.

(One of four that he knew for a fact would never betray him.)

(Because people can’t be trusted.)

“Patch her through, J.” Tony answered, spinning in his chair twice before settling back against the work table that housed his computer.

“Tony?”

“Pepper! Light of my life! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Tony asked lightly, picking up a pencil and twirling it between his fingers.

He heard her sigh good naturedly from the other end of the phone call, “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” She said softly, honestly, before sobering, “But the reason I’m calling, and it could just be nothing, but I just got out of a meeting with an ‘Aldrich Killian’ from a company know as AIM. He said that you and he had been working a project together called Extremis, before you –before you died. I don’t know if that means anything to you or not, but he wanted to partner with SI to finish whatever the project is-

“Did you turn him down?” Tony demanded, cutting her off.

She huffed, sounding offended, “Of course I did.”

Tony nodded, even though she couldn’t see him, and relaxed, “Good. I want you to stay away from him.”

“Okay, Tony…” She hesitated, “But, why?

“I’ve met him, and his admittedly-hot-but-not-my-type scientist, that was working on the aforementioned project, and let me just say, Killian may be even more insane than I am when it comes to this.”

“No one is more insane than you, Tony.”

“Flatterer,” Tony teased, but quickly sobered “But seriously Pepper. Stay away from him. Extremis is nothing to mess with and I don’t want it anywhere near you or SI got it?”

“Got it.” She confirmed, if a little wary. Good, she needed to be.

“So!” Tony said cheerfully, changing the subject, “When’s Rhodey-Bear stopping by? I have a present for him.” He asked, glancing over at silver suit hanging from the ceiling, just waiting for its pilot, then, after a moment, glanced over at another suit, this one red and silver, obviously designed for a woman, “Oh, I also have something for you, too, but I don’t think you’ll like it all that much.”

“I’m dreading it all ready,” She snarked, “And you’re in luck; Rhodey has leave next week.”

“Great! I’ll give the both of you your presents then. Now, if that was all, Miss Potts?” He said more than questioned.

“That’ll be all Mr. Stark.” She answered all the same, before the line went dead.

In the silence, Tony sighed and turned back to what he had been doing with no small measure of dread.

Why is he doing this again?

(He’s no hero.)

(Except, apparently, he is.)

Of course, that didn’t mean he couldn’t procrastinate in the form of helping Pepper.

He’d take the Idiot Killian over Shady SHIELD any day.

(He would later regret thinking that.)

(Then he would find out it was true.)

Chapter Text

The first time Tony had heard of the Extremis project it was new years eve, 1999. He was young, looked even younger (as is par the course) and was having a terrible time.

He hadn’t wanted to go to the party in the first place, but he had just inherited the company and Stane had insisted he attend, that he mingle.

So he went and had a terrible time.

There had been too many people, all vying for his attention, wanting to get to know the new CEO of Stark Industries, the only son of the late Howard Stark. It grated on his already frayed nerves.

So when Maya Hansen, an up and coming scientist herself, approached him about something that wasn’t politics or, well, him, Tony jumped at the chance.

After realizing that what she was trying to create was just another version of the Super Soldier Serum though, Tony had wanted to leave immediately. No one but Erskine had ever gotten it right (and that had been a freak accident) and he hated everything that had to do with the project, hated it with every fiber of his being.

(Things like that shouldn’t be messed with.)

But it was either stay and discuss or go back out and mingle (or distract her with sex, but she really wasn’t his type), and Tony would rather talk science than small-talk any day.

He had relaxed a little when he found out Maya had wanted to help people with serum, not create super soldiers. Designed to re-grow cells at an accelerated rate which would enable someone to grow back limbs. Extremis could help hundreds of thousands of people, if Hansen could only solve the obvious problem of spontaneous combustion.

Tony could do it. Could already see ways to improve upon the formula, could see the way the use of nano-tech could help stabilize the overheating cells, could not only fix the problem but make it better, make it something as close to perfect as possible-

But he wouldn’t. Because Extremis was a virus, a curse, and Tony wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

(Even if it would allow him to work from anywhere, allow him to connect with his bots on a molecular level that before had never been possible-)

Still, he couldn’t help but give her a partial formula. Her cause was a noble one, and she seemed like a good person; maybe she would figure it out for herself just how volatile what she was trying to create really was. It wouldn’t solve all her problems though, because as long as those problems existed, Tony thought, there wouldn’t be any human trials.

(He had been naïve.)

A few years later, Killian came to him, too. Hansen had approached the man with Extremis, looking for funding, and he had given not only that but forty-plus scientists to help with her work. It was a dream come true for her.

(Even with all that man power they still weren’t as good as Tony.)

Killian had wanted to partner with him, personally, he claimed. Tony knew, of course, that that was a lie. Tony would do all the work and Killian would take all the credit.

Even if he hadn’t already decided against playing around with any version of the super soldier serum (He wasn’t Howard) Tony still would have said no on principle.

That was when he found out Killian was bat-shit insane. The man had to be forcibly removed from Stark Industries, screaming and shouting all the way. Tony hadn’t pressed charges, hadn’t wanted to cause a scene, but looking back, he probably should have.

Probably shouldn’t have brushed the man off as harmless, probably shouldn’t have pushed him and the project to the back of his mind.

Because now it was coming back to bite him in the ass.

(Hindsight is a bitch.)

(He knew her well.)

Tony made an irritated sound, looking through the AIM files on Extremis. Oh sure, on the surface everything was fine, squeaky clean, but once you get past the mediocre firewalls and half assed coding it’s easy to see all the dirty details. The military had just recently pulled their funding, which explained why Killian was coming back to SI. He needed money he didn’t have.

“JARVIS, has there been any strange explosions lately?” He asked, because apparently they had decided that their plants not exploding half the time was a good enough ratio to start on human testing. That kind of experimentation was bound to leave a mark.

(Why are people so stupid?)

(But then, this is coming from Tony. Maybe making people explode is completely normal.)

“There have been several strange ‘bombings’ as of late. All have been claimed by a terrorist known as the Mandarin.

“Uh-huh,” Tony clicked his tongue, “Right. Of course. Because that makes perfect sense.” He stood up, “Prep the suit; I need to have a chat with Miss Hansen.”

“Of course, Sir.”

. . .

Maya was just exiting AIM HQ when Tony arrived. He swooped down and grabbed her by the waist, not bothering with any fancy maneuvering. He ignored her shouts of surprise and protests, landing on a building not that far away.

The moment he let her go she scrambled away, across to the other side of the roof. Tony stood stoically as he waited for her to calm down and face him.

“What-” She started, face pale as she finally looked at him, “What do you want?”

Tony crossed his arms, “Oh, please. Don’t act like you don’t know exactly why I’m here, Hansen.”

Her brows scrunched up, “Did- did Stark make you?” She redirected, a little fear seeping into her already shaky voice.

“In a sense,” Tony said lightly, “But don’t change the subject.” He stepped forward.

She stepped back, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. The only time I ever spoke with Stark was-” Her eyes widened.

“And she gets it!” Tony cheered, stepping closer. Maya couldn’t move back without risking falling off the roof, “So, I’ll ask,” He said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?”

“You don’t understand! The formula, it’s more stable-” She tried to explain.

“Not stable enough!” He shouted incredulously, “People are dying Maya! Even I know human lives aren’t something to play around with! Not like that.”

(Not like that.)

She glared, finding agitation in way of her fear “If Stark had helped maybe this wouldn’t be happening.” She blamed “As it is, we’re getting closer to finally finishing it. They knew what they were signing up for.”

Tony stopped. He hadn’t even considered- “You know what’s going on.” He didn’t even bother to ask, “And here I thought that maybe you were somewhat ignorant of what was happening with your formula. The thing you created to help people. It wouldn’t be an excuse; there are no excuses in death, but maybe. Maybe I would have let you try and redeem yourself. Maybe I would have let you live.”

Her eyes widened further and she took a another step back, her foot sliding a little at the edge, “I-”

Tony didn’t let her finish, firing a single repulser beam at her chest.

If the shot didn’t kill her, the fall would.

Killian and the ‘Mandarin’ were next, and then it would be whoever signed their life away as an Extremis test subjects- though perhaps not in that order.

(In this case, mercy is something he can’t afford.)

(But then, in this case, death is a mercy.)

Chapter Text

“Her name was Maya Hansen, a scientist that worked for Advanced Idea Mechanics, or AIM.” Fury briefed as if he were commenting on the weather.

Steve stared at the photo of the brown haired woman in the file he’d been given. She was pretty, he thought absently.

“Are we sure it was Ironman?” He asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Eye witnesses state that he grabbed her on her way out of work,” Fury confirmed grimly, “Then proceeded to have a heated discussion on a rooftop before he shot her, right off the roof, no flair added. She was dead before she hit the ground. Any of this sound familiar?” He asked.

“There weren’t any explosions like there were with Stane,” Natasha commented.

“Doesn’t matter,” Clint said, “The explosion with Stane was set to go off before they even started talking- it’s possible that the two weren’t actually connected.”

“That’s one hell of a coincidence.” Steve said, finally looking up.

“It gets worse,” Fury informed them, “That was five days ago. Since then, six other employees of AIM, mainly in their security department, have been taken out in a similar manner. There were also two attempts on the life of Aldrich Killian, the CEO of the company.”

“What does he have against AIM?” Steve asked, at the same time Natasha questioned “Why is he taking out their security?”

“We don’t know.” Fury answered them both, “That’s what we need to find out.”

“He wouldn’t just do this,” Bruce spoke up for the first time since they arrived at the briefing, “Ironman doesn’t take human lives lightly. He may not care if people get hurt, but death is permanent; he wouldn’t just do this.” He said stubbornly, if maybe a little desperate.

Steve felt for him.

“I agree with friend Banner,” Thor claimed with a growl, “I do not believe the Man of Iron would be capable of such slaughter without reason. I am sure that this ‘AIM’ must have somehow brought this on themselves.”

“You don’t know him like we do.” Natasha shot back with a white hot calm, “He’s never operated on reason. Before the New York incident, him killing an innocent would be entirely believable.” She said, “We can’t rule out that he just went off the deep end. Again.”

“Yeah,” Clint drawled out slowly, “But can we really still say that? After everything that’s happened? I mean, he saved New York, he saved all of us. It’s not out of the question that he knows something that we don’t, either.”

“It could also be that he feels wronged, like with the fifties diner that ‘didn’t do right by the decade’ a few months back.” She shot back, “Or maybe it’s a personal vendetta. It could be any of them; it could be none of them. We can’t operate on guesses- they get us nowhere.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Bruce said again, “Because none of you know him as well as I do. As much as he claims not to have a reason, a purpose, for what he does, he puts a thought behind his every move. Every bomb, every supposedly impulsive action, every fight, everything has been thought out; every outcome looked at, all the odds weighed; it’s a chess game and we’re always on the losing side.” He said with conviction “The way Ironman looks at it, he can get away with anything but murder.” Then, in a lower voice, “Because death is permanent.”

There was a long silence in the wake of that, everyone digesting the strong words from the normally quiet man.

“So, what are our orders?” Steve questioned resolutely, ready to listen and then decide whether or not to follow. He wanted to believe Bruce, desperately wanted to believe him, but a part of him had to look at this unbiased.

Just in case.

He fist clenched minutely.

Fury raised a brow, “Officially? You’re supposed to find him and stop him, by any means necessary.”

Steve tried not to flinch at the implication. The way Bruce’s eyes hardened and Thor’s back straightening ever so slightly.

“And unofficially?” Natasha questioned.

Fury blinked back nonchalantly, “Well, I guess that’s up to you.”

“And just what does that mean?” Bruce demanded sharply.

Fury sighed, “This may come as a shock to all of you, but I don’t actually think Ironman would just kill innocent people, either.” He said. The Room sat up straighter, “It would be nice though, if you could prove me right.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes, “But, if that’s the case,” She started after a minute, “What about Stane? If you don’t think Ironman would just kill someone -what do you know that we don’t?”

The Director turned to her, “After his death, SHIELD took the liberty to look into Obadiah Stane.” He began, “While it’s all circumstantial, we have reason to believe that he was double dealing Stark weapons to terrorists, and, while we have no proof, was also the one to order the hit on Anthony Stark.” He finished.

“What?” Steve demanded, feeling anger building up, “And you didn’t think to tell us that before?”

“It wasn’t in the public interest.” Fury explained calmly.

“We aren’t the public.” Steve shot the answer down, “And if Stark really did create Ironman, than Stane basically killed his father. Ironman killing him, it wouldn’t be for ‘no reason’ like you’ve been leading me, us” He amended, “to believe- It would be revenge.”

It made sense, and that was the frightening part.

Before anything else could be said, Hill came running into the room, the doors slamming open as she rushed in. She stopped, took a breath, and turned to look at Fury grimly, “Sir, there’s been another one.”

. . .

Tony

Tony was elbow deep in AIM files finding out everything he needed to know. Like how the Mandarin was a joke (Tony was tempted to blow him up anyway to prove a point), the (new) locations of Killian (because he is a slimy bastard that is apparently part cat, with how many lives he has) and the rest of the Extremis victims (because that’s what they were. Victims), along with the side effects of the virus, because he’s seen what it can do; he wasn’t going in there half-blind.

(Well, not again.)

(Fire balls, it turns out, hurt, even through his amazing armor.)

Then Pepper called.

“This better be good, Potts, I’m busy-”

“Tony, it’s Happy.” She cut him off, voice stiff.

Tony momentarily lost his ability to breathe.

(Because Happy is his friend.)

“What happened?”

“There was a bomb; he got caught up in the explosion-”

“What- Where? What was he doing?” Tony demanded, cutting her off.

(Bomb, his ass.)

I-I don’t know what he was doing –he somehow ended up at a Chinese Theater, of all places-

“Is he okay?” He interrupted again. It was a show just how panicked they both were that neither acknowledged it.

(Could you have stopped this?)

(Probably…)

“He’s in a coma… they don’t know if he’s going to make it, Tony.”

Tony sat quietly for a moment, frozen in his spot. He was thinking. He needed to think.

Finally, “When is Rhodes do in?” He asked, turning back to his computers. JARVIS was already checking all the news stations and YouTube videos about the incident.

Because he liked Happy, too.

Tomorrow- Tony what does that have to do with anything?”

“Potts, I need you to call him and tell him to get his ass here yesterday. You’re getting your presents early –I might need the help. From both of you.”

Time to end this.

Chapter Text

Tony

He was sitting at Happy’s bedside, playing around in SHIELD’s security while he waited. Rhodey wouldn’t be in for a few hours, so Tony had a little time on his hands. It was still strange to be somewhere without his suit (still dangerous, why was he doing this…) it was less conspicuous then a red and gold super villain taking up guard on a random explosion victim.

(Though, it would have been funny to see the nurses’ reactions to that.)

(He kept a suit close by, anyway. Just in case.)

He looked up at the man in the bed. He had never actually told Happy that he was alive; the guy just kind of figured it out when Pepper had started to act different, less weighted. Not that Tony minded. He was a good man, a good friend, and Tony had no doubt that he would have eventually told him had Happy not figured it out for himself.

Sighing, he went back to his phone. He wasn’t going anywhere near that ‘asset’ crap until he could give it his full attention, so right now he was just drumming through less restricted stuff, still top secret –he needed a little challenge- but low-grade enough he could pass through firewalls with half of his attention on something else.

Like how the fuck he was going to get back at Killian.

Oh, he was going to kill him, he was going to kill them all, hopefully with Pepper and Rhodey’s help, it was just a matter of when, where, and how.

(A part of him was thinking the new House Party Protocol; suits can be rebuilt, and he could just picture the looks of horror on SHIELD’s collective face when they realize that there were hundreds of him, more advanced than the Iron Legion had ever been.)

(Now that was an idea worth thinking about. He’d bring it up when he met with Pepper and Rhodey later.)

A tiny beep from his phone brought him back. He looked at what JARVIS thought he needed to see.

(Son of a bitch.)

(Why did he bother believing anything, anymore?)

He sighed, not even bothering to feel angry, ‘Does the Cap Squad know about this?’ He typed quietly.

A ping from the phone, ‘I do not believe so, Sir.’

“This is all a fucking mess,” He muttered with a sigh, leaning back in his chair. He’d have to tell them, this was something important. Tony didn’t understand why they hadn’t been told already.

Katniss, at least, deserved to know that his lover was alive.

. . .

“Have I ever told you I loved you?” Rhodey asked seriously, eyeing his suit with appreciation.

“You could stand to do it a little more.” Tony smirked, before getting down to business, “These suits are yours. You can do whatever you want with them, as long as I’m the only one doing maintenance and upgrades. You even get to pick your codenames, which is more than I can say.”

Pepper was a lot less enthusiastic, eyeing her own suit in trepidation. “Just what exactly do we have to do, Tony?”

“You don’t have to do anything.” Tony answered, continuing before she could call bullshit, “Seriously, you don’t. I would never make you do anything you don’t want to. I am asking for your help, though.”

“What kind of help?” Rhodey asked, looking away from his prize with a little reluctance.

“The explosion that hurt Happy? It wasn’t an accident.”

“I know.” Rhodey confirmed, “It was a terrorist. Some guy called the Mandarin.”

“Wrong.” Tony practically sang. That got the attention of his two (conscious) friends, “The ‘Mandarin’ is a joke. Some actor guy named Trevor hired to take the blame for what’s really going on.” He explained.

Pepper and Rhodey exchanged looks, before “We’re listening.”

. . .

Steve

“Why are we here, again?” Clint whined.

“Because Cap’s too curious for his own good.” Natasha rolled her eyes.

Steve ignored them, looking around the explosion sight.

“There have been over a dozen bombs just like it, all in populated areas.” Hill said, coming up to stand beside him, “SHIELD has been monitoring the issue but we haven’t been able to pinpoint anything substantial. Our techs are going crazy because we can’t find any remains of a bomb anywhere. That should be impossible.”

“Obviously not.” Clint said, kicking some rubble.

“Do you know who’s behind it?” Steve questioned.

“That, we do know. The Mandarin. Unfortunately we don’t know where he is, or how he’s been able to get his bombs into place without tipping anyone off.”

Steve was about to ask another question when Natasha cut him off, “Steve, this isn’t our job. Don’t you think we need to focus on Ironman and his sudden murder spree?”

He blinked, then sighed, “Yeah, you’re right.” The thing was, he had no idea where to start. “I think the first thing we need to do is figure out why he’s doing it. We need to look into AIM, and Killian specifically, and see if there’s anything there that could have brought this on.”

Natasha nodded in approval, “I don’t think that will be an issue.”

. . .

Tony

“You want us to help you with your mission to kill off extremis?” Pepper asked, a little pale.

Now he kind of regretted bringing her into this. Rhodey, well, he understood. Pepper was innocent.

(She won’t be for long.)

“In a nutshell, yes.” He nodded, not letting any of his thoughts show. He had always been good at that.

(Until you’re not.)

(Until you can’t hide anymore.)

She nodded, once, now determined “What do we need to do?”

He took a breath, “You’ll mainly be acting as back up while I handle the dirty work. I don’t want you getting your hands all bloody if you don’t have to.”

“It’s kinda sad,” Rhodey started blandly “That I can’t tell if you were being metaphorical or literal.”

(Maybe a little of both?)

Tony giggled.

Ignoring Tony’s random laugh, Pepper continued with a strong voice, “Well, we aren’t doing anything tonight. You look exhausted, have you been sleeping okay?”

Tony blinked a little, “Uh, define ‘okay’.”

“Bed. Now.”

“So forward.”

“Tony…”

“I’m going, I’m going, no need to break out the ‘Mom Voice’. Sheesh.”

Chapter Text

Steve

It’s been a week and they have absolutely nothing to go on. Three more deaths and eight more attacks on Killian’s life and they’re no closer to figuring out what’s going on than they were at the beginning.

It didn’t help that Ironman apparently had friends now, either.

And that Thor had to go back to Asgard for whatever reason.

As far as AIM goes, they haven’t been able to find anything incriminating from the files Natasha had lifted off their mainframe, or at least nothing serious enough to garnish Ironman’s wrath.

Steve sighed and tried to make sense of the stuff he was reading.

“What was this project they were working on?” Bruce asked suddenly, drawing their attention while pulling up some files, “Extremis? What was it for?”

Natasha answered, walking over, “It was suppose to help amputees re-grow limbs, but there hasn’t been a breakthrough in over a decade. The project was scrapped when the military pulled their funding a couple of months ago.”

“We sure about that?” He asked, clicking another file and turning the computer so they could see. It was a video, no sound, time-stamped two weeks ago. At first it was just a bunch of people in lab coats staring at plants and writing things down on clipboards, but then-

“Uh,” Clint started, “Why is it glowing?”

Steve looked a little closer, and yeah, one of the plants was glowing. “I don’t-”

He was cut off when the plant just exploded on screen. Flinching back, he watched as the scientists were knocked across the room and a crater was left where there used to be a shrub. The video glitched before going dark.

“…Did that look familiar to anyone else?” Clint asked after a moment, looking toward the others.

“You think Killian is working with the Mandarin? Plant bombs would be untraceable.” Steve said, maybe a little too eager, but he couldn’t help it. He really wanted Ironman to be innocent in this.

“I don’t think it was plants.” Natasha answered ominously, leaving a cold feeling in Steve’s chest, “Bruce, look and see if they had started human testing.”

. . .

Tony

They finally cornered him.

They finally, finally had Killian.

Now if he would just hold still so Tony could shoot him already!

Pepper and Rhodey, or War Machine and Rescue, were busy with the last remains of the extremis victims, while Tony was set to fight Killian. It wasn’t going as planned.

Tony got tossed through one of the few inner walls of the AIM warehouse. Killian climbed through the hole he made, literally spitting lava.

(Guy needs a breath mint.)

Tony stumbled back to his feet and shot towards Killian, repulsers ready to fire, but the other man caught his arm in a vise grip before he could shoot, making him stop. Killian’s hand started to heat up and melt away the metal around Tony’s left wrist.

Tony hissed and tried to yank away, but a side effect of extremis was super strength, and while Tony himself was pretty strong he didn’t have a good foothold and wasn’t used to having his wrist slowly cooked by an asshole.

(In hindsight, yanking was probably a bad idea.)

(No shit, really? Where ever did you come up with that?)

He gasped in pain as Killian yanked and slammed Tony’s wrist into a metal support beam, welding it into place. He grabbed the other wrist while Tony was distracted by pain and did the same to that one.

“I had a feeling you weren’t a robot.” Killian said with a smirk, stepping back “And with how much of a pain in the ass you’ve been, I think I know who you are, too.”

“Is that so?” Tony tried to snark but fell short, trying to breathe through the burn.

(You survived Afghanistan and this brings you to your knees?)

(What happened to laughing when you want to cry?)

(You flew through a fucking portal in space!)

(This is nothing.)

Tony chuckled.

“What’s so funny, Stark?” Killian lost his smirk. Tony just laughed harder, body shaking from where it was trapped. Then without warning, he went completely silent.

“Any time now, J.” He said in the muted suit, still giggling a little.

ETA five minutes, sir” JARVIS responded, sounding apologetic.

(Don’t be sorry, J, it’s not your fault.)

“Never mind.” Killian brought him back, “I have a present for you. I think you’ll like it.” Tony looked up and watched as the other man disappeared back through the wall. After a minute he reappeared with the briefcase he’d been carrying when they finally caught up to him. Tony had kind of forgotten about it until then.

Kneeling down a few feet away, Killian opened the case before him, removing a single syringe. Tony stared at the light blue, murky liquid with a since of detachment that only came with acceptance. Strange, he thought it would be red.

“It’s the last of it,” Killian said, standing up. “But I think you deserve it. Besides, if you won’t fix it to help others, maybe you will to save yourself.” He walked over. Tony refused to flinch, even as the man gripped the faceplate, “Now let’s see if I’m right, shall we?” He melted it just enough to burn Tony’s face, before ripping it off completely. Tony made sure to stare up at him in amused defiance.

(It was his favorite kind of defiance.)

Killian raised an eyebrow, “Have your eyes always been blue?”

“Awe, you noticed my eyes, how nice. You could at least by me dinner before you start ripping my close off, though.” Tony deadpanned.

(Tony actually used to wear brown contacts.)

(For reasons.)

“Y’know,” Killian ignored him now and held up the syringe for Tony to see, “There’s a seventy percent chance the moment this stuff hits your system you’ll, well,” His smirk was back, “You’ll go ‘boom’. Given your love of things that explode, I don’t think you’d mind that much.”

“Oh, wow,” Tony faked enthusiasm, “It’s like you’ve known me my entire life!”

Killian chuckled “Joke while you can,” he pressed the needle where Tony’s jaw met his neck, “You won’t be able to for long.”

Tony opened his mouth to say something that was bound to be snarky and hilarious but was cut off by his vein’s being set on fire, that son of a bitch!

(Think of starry nights and supernovas.

Of water in your lungs and knives on your skin.

Of-)

(Stop it! That’s not helping!)

He took a shuddering breath and blinked away the wetness in his eyes and met Killian’s laughing gaze head on.

“I haven’t exploded yet.”

He kind of expected the hit.

Then the house party finally showed up under JARVIS’s command, and Tony could metaphorically breathe easy again.

The Mark Tony identifies as Heart Breaker comes by and helps Tony out of the mutilated suit and then JARVIS gives him control. With the extra back up Killian isn’t all that hard to take out.

But still a little too late.

. . .

Steve

They got there just has the Ironmen were flying away, and yes he said that right. Ironmen, plural. ‘There as to be at least a hundred of them.’

“Holy shit…” He heard Clint whisper what they were all thinking as another Ironman flew past them. Steve completely agreed.

They had tracked Killian down to this location. They had been going to take him in for questioning.

They had been a little too late.

“Hello my Darlings, to what do I owe the pleasure.” One of the robots landed and glided over to them.

Steve was able to shake off the shock, “We know about extremis.” He said stiffly, eyeing the bot in front of him and wondering if this was the real one.

“Old news.” The ironman waved it off, then “Killian is dead.”

“I figured.” Steve confirmed in the same offhanded tone, “Are you the real one?” He asked when he gave trying to figure it out for himself. He couldn’t exactly compare, anyway.

Ironman paused for a moment then laughed “Awe, you saw through my plot! And here I was hoping to give ol’ Nicky a heart-attack.”

Clint spoke next, “Yeah, well, mission accomplished. This gave me a heart-attack!” He waved his arms, “What are these things? Not Iron-bots.”

“Nope!” He chirped, but it sounded fake, strained, “They’re exactly what they look like, just on auto pilot. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice I change practically every battle?”

“I just thought you upgraded.” Natasha said smoothly.

“I do, but it’s easier to do if I just create a new one. Plus I have the old ones as back up.”

“So you can just, change bodies whenever you want?” Clint asked.

Steve realized they had gotten off topic and would continue down that road if he didn’t speak up, “Why didn’t you come to us?” He cut through the conversation.

“Excuse me?”

“We would have listened,” Steve continued earnestly, and a little hurt, “So why didn’t you come to us with this? Why did you leave us in the dark thinking you were killing innocent people, when-”

“Would you have stopped me?” Ironman cut in coolly.

“I- what?” Steve blinked.

“Would you have stopped me?” He asked again with a tilt of his head, “From killing them, I mean. Would you have ignored my advice about just putting them down to try and take them in?”

Steve stopped to actually consider it, but the answer was obvious to him, “Of course! These people needed help, Ironman. Not to be ‘put down’ as you graciously put it.”

“And that’s why I didn’t tell you,” Ironman said with a shrug, “Because you’re wrong and I’m right, and you wouldn’t listen even if I told you.”

“That’s not true-”

“That is true,” Steve hardly registered the others stepping back as he and Ironman stepped forward toward each other, “It’s completely true. Even now, after you’ve seen what they’ve done, you still think what I did was wrong.”

“It was wrong, and you can’t just go around killing people just because they made a mistake!”

“I gave them a choice, not my fault they picked the wrong one!”

“They could’ve had families!” Steve didn’t know why he was getting so worked up about this; he hadn’t come here to fight. The opposite, actually. He had only wanted to talk to Ironman, make sure he knew they backed him on this, not have an argument that sounded like they didn’t.

“So did the people they killed.” Ironman had gone deathly quiet, voice drained of all emotion. It was moments like these that it became obvious just how inhuman the robot actually was, “But I suppose one is a tragedy, many is a statistic.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Steve sighed. It’s like nothing he said ever came out right, or maybe Ironman purposely misunderstood to annoy him.

“Doesn’t matter what you meant,” Said Ironman, “Doesn’t matter what you said, either. It’s over now.”

Steve took a breath and let it out slowly, “Yeah, you’re right.”

“Uh, I am?”

Steve lip twitched slightly in a small smile. It was in these moments that Steve wondered how anyone could think Ironman was anything less than human. “I don’t approve of your methods, but it’s over, and we didn’t come here to fight with you. But next time?” He leveled him with a look, “Next time you come to us, okay?”

“…No.”

Steve reeled back, having not expected that, though he really should have, and felt the others do the same behind him, “What?”

Ironman shrugged, “I can’t promise that, so I won’t.”

“Ironman…” Bruce said sadly, and one day, Steve had to get the story behind that.

“Recently, I find myself playing hero more than villain, even if no one else realizes it,” Ironman said quietly, looking away, “…and I find I don’t mind it all that much.”

That. Was not what Steve had been expecting.

But,” He continued before anyone could interrupt, turning back to them, “That doesn’t mean I am one.”

There was a beat of silence.

“Now,” Ironman said with a more cheery demeanor and clapping his hands together, “I have some… issues to work out, but I’m sure we’ll see each other again, and soon, probably, maybe even on the same side. Actually…” He paused, “That. Might actually work. Yeah, I can see that…”

What.

“What?”

“Never mind Sweetheart, like I said ‘issues’.” He waved a hand and stepped forward to Clint. The archer blinked in surprised bemusement as he was handed something small from the robot. His brow scrunched in confusion as he looked down at what was now in his hand, while Ironman blew a kiss with a “Later Lovelies,” and took off with the rest of his –bodies? With the rest of the Ironmen, quickly blending in until he was gone from sight completely.

“So,” Clint drawled, holding up the flash drive with a speculative look, “That happened.”

Natasha stepped on his foot. Hard.

Chapter Text

Tony

He couldn’t look away.

He’d done it; he’d fixed extremis enough so he wouldn’t, you know, die. Stabilized it so he wouldn’t blow up. Did everything he said he wouldn’t do, touched everything he promised himself he would never touch.

(Not the first time you’ve broken a promise.)

(Won’t be the last.)

So, he wasn’t going to die, or explode, or start spitting fire balls. He came out of this situation pretty much the same way he went into it, only with a closer connection to his bots, (because if he had to do it, he was going to do all of it) and…

And he couldn’t look away.

Tony had always hated his eyes. The way Howard, when he was drunk, would sometimes see them and mistake Tony for someone else, someone he definitely was not, and never would be, even if only for a moment, and then he would get mad at Tony because of it. Like it was his fault that Howard had…

(But then, being around Howard when he was drunk was your own fault.)

(Get over yourself, Stark.)

But now? He couldn’t tell if it was better or worse, because his eyes were still blue –of course they were- but they were… brighter. Practically glowing actually, with a hum of something more just underneath the surface, and he could almost see the binary numbers and code as they ran across the surface of the iris’, and it was-

He didn’t know what it was.

(Amazing, comes to mind.)

(So does ‘freak’.)

With a deep breath, he finally, finally, looked away, closing his eyes for just a moment, calming himself down. He reopened them and turned to look at himself one last time before he got back to work-

Huh. Maybe he was going crazy...

(You say it like you aren’t, already.)

Because his eyes were back to their normal, slightly dull, blue. It were as if nothing had ever changed.

(He needed a drink.)

Shaking his head, he left the bathroom and started making his way back down to the lab. He had more important things to do than worry about his looks, anyway.

(He wasn’t that vein.)

(Learned not to care as a child.)

“Hey, JARVIS, has Pepper done the thing yet?”

. . .

Steve

“I’m gonna kill him.”

“Clint…”

“He lied to me!”

Steve sighed, a soft puff of air, as he gazed at the angry archer and the silently seething spy trying to calm him down, feeling a little helpless, and a lot angry, himself. They had gone to watch whatever was on the flash drive after the briefing, with a mutual, silent agreement not to mention said flash drive to Fury, or anyone, for that matter, until they knew what was on it.

“I know,” Natasha said softly, her own anger hidden under years of conditioning, and placed a hand on Clint’s shoulder, making a soothing motion with her thumb, “Fury lied to all of us, but we can’t dwell on that. He needs you.”

Clint deflates for a moment, at war with himself for a moment, before rising with a laser like focus that Steve’s only seen him get before going off into battle. “But we can kill him after?”

“How about we just make his life a living hell, instead?”

“Deal.”

. . .

“Excuse me, are you Captain Rogers?”

Steve had just left the room him and the rest of the Avengers currently on earth (minus Ironman, -who Steve considered an Avenger- but that was a given) were having their impromptu meeting about the rescue –some would say kidnapping- of a certain agent, when he was stopped by a beautiful redheaded woman in a business suit and high heels that screamed ‘professional’.

“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”

She stuck her hand out to be shaken. Steve took it “My name is Virginia Potts, but please call me Pepper,” She introduced, “I’m the CEO of Stark Industries, and if you have some time, I have an offer for the Avengers. Seeing as you’re their leader, I thought I’d come to you.”

“What kind of offer?” Steve asked as his hand fell back to his side. What would the CEO of Stark Industries want with the Avengers? Steve wondered if she knew anything about Ironman, given that the theory was that he was created by the late Anthony Stark. He wouldn’t put it past the robot to send someone from the company to screw with the team.

Or maybe Steve was just paranoid.

Miss Potts was talking again, “I’d like to offer you all a place to live,” She explained, “and in return get the copyrights to make merchandise of your alter-egos. You would, of course, get a cut of the profits.”

“Why?” Steve asked suspiciously.

“I just told you,” She said, then sighed a little, “But if I can be honest?” Steve nodded for her to continue, “I’ve seen the living arrangements SHIELD has for its agents, and the Avengers specifically, and I think that the people who risked their lives to save the world deserve better. Besides,” She adopted a slight smile, “Stark Tower was where Loki opened the portal in the first place, so I think it would be rather poetic if the ones who stopped him lived there, don’t you?”

While Steve tried to digest all that, he said “That is a very generous offer, ma’am-”

“Pepper, please.”

“Pepper,” He corrected, “While that is very generous, I think I need to talk to the rest of my team before I agree to anything.”

“Yes, of course,” She nodded, then handed him a card, “But when you make your decision, call me? The floors are all set up; we just need to know how to decorate them, should any of you decide to move in.” She gave one last smile, before turning to leave, “It was nice meeting you, Captain.”

“You, too.” Steve said a little absently, looking down at the card in his hand and then back up at the woman’s back.

Well, if he could get his team to agree, that would solve one problem.

. . .

Tony

“JARVIS? Why does the world hate me?”

With Killian dead, there was no excuse for Tony to use to procrastinate when it came to all of SHIELD’s dirty little secrets. Getting back in through their fire walls was as easy as breathing-

(With your head above water, that is.)

(While on earth, not the vacuum of nothing in space.)

-And he made quick work of any new security feature they believed to be impenetrable -which is stupid, because not even Tony can make something un-hackable, even if the only person capable of said hack would be him- and now all he had to do was open the damn thing.

He had been drawn to this one particular file because of the date, because of its significance to him. Because he is narcissistic, and apparently a masochist, and maybe he should look at something else first.

I do not believe the ‘whole’ world hates you, Sir. Just the majority of it.

“Sass. That’s all I get anymore. You didn’t even answer the question!”

JARVIS stayed silent.

Tony sighed, biting the inside of his cheek. His hand hovered over the file.

(Just open it.)

(You need the closure.)

He opened it.

Chapter Text

Tony

He should feel something. Anything would do; anger, grief, even relief would be better than the emptiness currently residing in his chest, just underneath the arc reactor. The kind of feeling that makes you think you might feel something, but also kind of wonder where your soul went, because it’s not where it’s supposed to be.

(Like you ever had a soul.)

(He’s trying to be dramatic and introspective here, why do you have to ruin everything?)

Tony inhaled deeply before letting it out, rubbing his temple to ease the headache brought on by his wayward thoughts.

So. That was how Howard had died, huh? A car accident, that wasn’t actually an accident. The man had been drunk, yes, of course he had, but that hadn’t been the problem this time.

And to think, Tony had always thought the man had killed himself and took his wife with him.

But still, this left him feeling. Conflicted, would be the best way to describe it, but even that didn’t seem right when he thought about it.

Maria, well she had never really been his mother, had barely acknowledged his existence when there weren’t cameras or people to perform for, he hadn’t even met the woman until he was ten, so it wasn’t like there was any loss there.

Because Jarvis had raised him, really, and Miss Carter had been more of a mother than Maria ever had, and she had only came around maybe twice a year. But even then, she had been nothing if not professional.

And Obie, Stane, well he had taken Tony under his wing after the funeral. Had become like a father to him. Had let him finish his schooling before even suggesting he take up the unwanted position as CEO (now Tony knew why, but that wasn’t the point), and Tony had been beyond grateful, had felt so relieved, had actually believed someone cared about him-

(Look where that got you.)

(Not now.)

But Howard? Maria? For all that they had been his parents on paper they had never acted like it. When they died, Tony hadn’t known what to feel, and now, when he was essentially losing them all over again, he still didn’t know what he was supposed to feel.

(Ugh, situations like this should come with a handbook.)

“Do we know who this guy is?” He asked as he watched the video for the tenth time, hand coming up to tap a rhythm on the arc reactor.

I have found several files that confirm he is, indeed, the operative known as the ‘Asset’. Further search has shown that he has also been referred to as ‘The Solider’ on numerous other occasions…” JARVIS hesitated here, but before Tony could panic he continued, “But, after running him though facial recognition, multiple times, I am now 98% positive that he is, James Buchanan Barnes.

Tony choked on air, because what. Coughing, he said “You could have led with that!” Getting his breathing back, he asked “Are you sure it’s him? Like the one from the forties, Caps ‘Bucky’ Barnes?” He verified, not because he doubted JARVIS, it’s just, ‘The Asset’ as been operational since the fifties and if it’s really Barnes than how does he look, you know, like that and not old, and where the fuck as he been-

(Y’know, besides killing Howard.)

(Should probably save this for the nightmares.)

As I said before sir, I am 98% positive, but I have several photos for you to look at if you feel the need to compare them, yourself.

Tony rolled his eyes, “Don’t get testy, I wasn’t doubting his all knowingness. But yeah, I’d like to see some pictures.”

Two photos popped up. One of Bucky Barnes from Tony’s own servers, the other a photo of the ‘Asset’, and yeah, Tony could see it; he was scruffier, had longer hair, totally rocking the hobo look, and a blank, dead face where the other was full of cocky mischief, but-

“Holy shit.” He said.

Because he could see it, and there was no way in hell Cap knew about this.

(And this is on a SHIELD server.)

(Can’t forget about that, can we.)

He shook his head and took a deep breath, exiting out of the video to actually read the file it was attached to. Just out of curiosity. Because this was drama he did not need. If he read other things that have ‘Asset’ or ‘Soldier’ attached to it, well, it’s just because he might end up fighting the guy, and he needed to know his weaknesses.

Really.

He was not going on a rescue mission for a guy he didn’t even know. Or like. Or care about, at all.

The man had killed Howard and Maria.

Tony was a freaking villain, and he was going to act like it.

Just because the guy was Cap’s friend-

(Oh, who the fuck is he kidding.)

“JARVIS,” Tony said, glancing longingly over at some of his half finished projects he had planned on submerging himself in when he got done watching the video, just for a moment. Yeah, that’s not happening. With a resigned sigh, he continued “I know I’ve dragging my feet about this for awhile, but I think it’s time. Show me everything you compiled about this guy and I’ll start figuring out what the fuck SHIELD did to him, how the fuck I’m supposed to fix it, and where the fuck he is. Not necessarily in that order.”

Of course. And might I say, very eloquently put, Sir.

“Shut it. I really don’t need your sass right now.”

Fuck everything and its mother.

. . .

Three hours and six cups of coffee later, Tony can safely say everything has steadily gotten worse the more he read. And watched. And listened.

Why was he doing this again?

(Because as much as you want to be the big bad villain, you can’t just turn your back on this guy.)

(This is what you were made for, even if you’ve always failed at it.)

From the beginning, the logical decision was to retrace Barnes’s (he couldn’t exactly call the guy ‘Asset’ but there was no way in hell he was gonna call him ‘Bucky’ either) steps.

This, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the best idea.

That was a lot of blood.

(Pot, meet kettle.)

Just an observation, no judgment.

(Oh, please. There is so much judgment. Just not at him.)

Even so, Tony found himself feeling sorry for the guy, what with the chair and the cryofreezing. None of that looked particularly fun, and- holy hell!

“JARVIS, please tell me I’m not seeing what I think I’m seeing, because if I’m seeing what I think I’m seeing, there will be explosions.” Tony growled out and felt extremis hum under his skin with his anger.

“…Terribly sorry, Sir, but if I told you that I would be lying.”

(Explosions it is.)

“Fucking HYDRA.”

Because Tony could handle a lot of things. Like SHIELD being dirty. He could handle that, no problem. But this? Fuck this.

“JARVIS, Protocol: Snake in the Grass.” He made a frustrated sound and scrubbed his hand through his hair, “I fucking warned Howard –he said he had everything under control!”

(Oh, yeah. Blame the dead man that’s been gone for over two decades.)

(What else is new?)

Sir, that protocol is-

“I know.” Tony confirmed grimly, “I’m about to become public enemy number one, more than I already am.” And SHIELD wouldn’t make it out alive. He stood up and started walking away. He couldn’t look at this right now.

“Just find out who’s dirty and who’s not,” He said as the doors swooshed open for him, “I’ll handle the rest.”

(No rest for the wicked.)

(No wonder he barely sleeps.)

Chapter Text

“The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving.” -Ulysses S Grant

. . .

“So?” Steve asked anxiously after he presented the team with the offer. He had given it some thought his self, and he actually liked the idea of moving to the tower. It would get them together, something that Steve had been wanting, but unsure of how to broach the subject, and away from SHIELD, which he knew would make Clint feel better after, the latest revelation. He couldn’t see much of a downside to it.

“Yes.” Clint agreed immediately, no surprise there, arms crossed. “I don’t even care if it’s some ploy by Ironman –yeah, I know that’s what you’re thinking, Natasha-because we need somewhere to go that we don’t have to worry about Fury breathing down our necks.”

They were all in Steve’s kitchen right now. Both Clint and Natasha had made quick work of the bugs in the place (how long have they been there? How long have those two known they were there?) So they could all talk without being overheard. Steve was leaning against the counter, while Clint sat a little ways away from him on said counter. Natasha and Bruce both sat at the table like civilized people.

Bruce nodded. “I agree.” He said, “And it would be a great opportunity to check out their labs. SI’s R&D is rumored to be the best in the country, if not the world; I would love the chance to speak with some of the researchers there.”

They all looked toward Natasha, who so far had been silent, listening. She hmm’d, eyes slightly narrowed, before rolling them with a sigh, “Fine. I don’t like it, but right now we don’t have much of a choice. While I’m sure Fury had his reasons for lying to us,” -She ignored Clint’s glare- “It still doesn’t sit well with me that he kept something like this a secret for so long.” She admitted, “I don’t know who to trust right now, so I’ll follow your lead on this, Steve. Whatever call you make, I’m with you.” She finished with a voice strong in her utter belief in his ability to make the right call.

It was actually really daunting to think about, the faith that these people had in him, the trust Steve wasn’t sure he had earned yet. It put a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He hoped he never did anything to make them doubt him.

“Alright,” Steve nodded once, “I’ll call after we’re done here to see when we can move in. We’re going the need a place to go after our mission. What do you have on your end?” He asked the two spies.

Clint answered, “He’s stable enough to be moved right now, but,” He made a frustrated sound, “The security in the building he’s at is impossible, even for me and Nat. If we were able to get past the guards, there are security cameras and checkpoints around almost every corner and one wrong step will get us sent directly to a SHIELD interrogation room.”

Bruce scrunched his brow, “But you two are some of SHIELD’s best agents. Would they really question you about being in a SHIELD facility?”

“Yes,” Natasha answered, “SHIELD doesn’t trust their own people; you never know who’s really an ally, or a spy working against you in this line of work. Even Fury doesn’t know everything. They say it’s so if you’re ever captured you can’t give everything away, but,” She half shrugged dispassionately, “I’m sure there are other reasons.”

Steve bit his cheek, “So you’re saying this is going to be harder than we thought?”

“Near impossible.” Natasha confirmed.

“The fact that it’s Phil makes it worse, because Fury would know he wouldn’t be able to keep him from us forever. Clint said, “He would have added extra measures for if we ever found out. The security will know our faces; they’ll be on alert for us, and by association, both of you, too.” Then, with a slight growl, he admitted, “This is a clusterfuck that I don’t know how to deal with.”

Bruce tapped his fingers on the table and bit his lip, obviously unsure of what to do, Clint was shifting in one part agitation one part frustration, and Natasha was just looking at Steve, all of them waiting for him to say something.

Steve swallowed hollowly before sucking in a breath, “Okay.” He let the breath out, “We’ll figure this out, I promise. Let’s just take this one step at a time. We’ll get our living arrangements sorted out so we won’t have to worry about that, then can you guys maybe watch the place? Find out if they have any type of set schedule that they stick to?” He asked, “If we can’t get in there without alerting anyone, than maybe we could cause a diversion. Go in while everyone is distracted and get out before they notice.”

“Maybe.” Natasha consented, though she didn’t sound very confident, “But we’ll only have one shot, Steve. If we don’t get it right the first time we won’t have another chance; the security will be jacked up too high.”

Steve looked her straight in the eyes, “We’ll figure this out.” He repeated, “We’re not leaving him there. Even if we have to take him by force, we’ll get him back.”

Clint grinned, finally relaxing a bit, “Now there’s an idea I can get behind.”

Natasha narrowed her eyes at him, “A last resort.”

Clint sighed exaggeratedly “You’re no fun,”

She rolled her eyes, “Moving on.” She turned back to Steve, “Do we have any idea how Ironman even got this information?”

Bruce shifted, drawing attention to his self, “Well, I’m not surprised that he could get it, but I don’t think he would know to go looking for it. He must have been searching for something else.”

“On a SHIELD server?” Clint asked skeptically, a slightly odd note in his voice that Steve couldn’t quite place, “I don’t know about you, but it seems to me Ironman gives zero shits about SHIELD. Ever sense New York he’s been pretty much ignoring us.”

Something about what Clint said struck Steve just then. Ironman had been ignoring them. Before the AIM incident he had been completely AWOL, and now that that was over he was gone again. It hadn’t been long, but Steve doubted Ironman would be making another appearance anytime soon.

Or maybe, it could have been that he was gone for so long because of the AIM situation? But then, why did he have the flash drive to give to Clint? Ironman knew who they were. It wasn’t a stretch that he knew about Clint and Phil’s relationship, and if Bruce was right and he had been looking for something else but stumbled upon this information, he may have felt obligated to tell Clint.

Even if he hadn’t actually told him.

And what was with that? Why would he give them a flash drive in the first place? Why not say some cryptic words, or even just outright tell them? Before New York, which is when everything seemed to have changed, Ironman never minced his words, had said whatever he wanted. He didn’t care. About anything, really. His actions had been carefree to the point of carelessness –he actually preferred it when someone got hurt.

But something had changed. Steve could tell from their last meeting with the villain that Ironman wasn’t the same as before. He had been going through the motions, the flippant attitude, the brief, over the top flirting; none of it had seemed real.

But then, he had just killed a man.

Steve breathed through his nose and rubbed his palm against his eye. Was he actually thinking Ironman had been feeling guilty? That was just stupid!

“Steve?”

He looked up at the three concerned faces now looking at him. The conversation had obviously carried on around him, but he hadn’t been listening.

“Sorry,” He said sheepishly, “What was that?”

Natasha’s expression morphed into one of amusement, “Just call Miss Potts about the tower, Steve. Me and Clint will stake out the facility and see what we can find out.”

“Actually,” Clint started, a strange look on his face, “I was gonna check out my own lead on something else first.”

Natasha shot him an odd look, but nodded, “Just be careful.”

“No promises.” He grinned, but there was still the strange tone underneath that set Steve on edge. Still, he didn’t say anything about it and neither did anybody else. Given the situation, Clint had the right to be a little secretive.

“Okay,” Steve said, “I guess that’s it for now. We’ll talk about this again later.”

And then they all left, one by one, and Steve was once again alone in his apartment.

After a moment in the silence, he sighed and pulled out his phone. He really hoped all of this with Phil would turn out okay in the end. As far as Steve was concerned, he and Clint had been through enough.

Chapter Text

Clint

This was so stupid.

Clint was standing on top of the tower, eyes on the sky, waiting to catch a glimpse of a red and gold figure, because he is an idiot with an overactive imagination and too much faith in a supervillain.

It’s been about three days since the ‘team meeting’ (which Clint still found amusing, despite the nature of said meeting), and Miss Potts is a fucking miracle worker because they were moved in the next day.

Natasha had been working by herself, with little result, in finding away to sneak into the facility without getting caught.

She was alone because Clint is an idiot who abandoned her on a freaking hunch.

He was regretting the plan, had been regretting it from the first day, but just couldn’t seem to stop himself from coming up to this roof and waiting. He doesn’t know why he expected the robotic man to show up after his last AWOL stint, or why he thought said robot would help. He told himself ever night it was a bad idea, but every morning it seemed like the best plan ever.

He sighed and massaged his temple, berating himself once again.

He needed to get his head on straight. This wasn’t helping anyone, much less Phil.

He turned, every intention of going out and finding Natasha, to found out if he could see anything she was missing, when the thing he had been waiting for flew past the corner of his eye.

He turned to look, to confirm that he had just saw what he thought he saw, and there, in the (slightish) distance, was Ironman. The Robot was doing corkscrews and absently spelling his name in blue light that faded away almost as quickly as he wrote.

He either hadn’t seen Clint, or he had and was purposely ignoring the archer.

Clint, because he was an idiot, thought the best way to get his attention would be to jump off the building.

He realized as soon as he did it that it was a fucking terrible idea, because, A) he hadn’t carried his arrows with him, and, B) Ironman was a villain, and he didn’t look like he was in a good mood.

If Clint died like this he deserved it.

If Clint survived this Phil/Nat/Every member of the Avengers was going to kill him. And he would deserve it.

Because this was a stupid idea.

Just as he was writing out his imaginary will in his head and saying goodbye to the children he never had, something solid rammed into his stomach, knocking the breath out of him.

He was spun around a few times, and slowly started peel his eyes open again (they were closed because no one wanted to see their own demise), blinking when he realized he was straddling the supervillain, who was flying lazily on his back with his arms behind his head.

Clint couldn’t stop the grin of relieved giddiness, “Fancy meeting you here,” He said.

“You come here often? Seems like a dump to me.” Ironman answered lazily.

“Yeah,” Clint agreed, “I don’t think I’ll be coming back.”

Ironman didn’t say anything for a minute and just stared at Clint, which said archer tried not to take as a bad sign.

“Any reason you decided to take a literal leap of faith on the off chance I’d catch you?”

Clint snorted, “I knew you wouldn’t let me die.” Lies. Vicious lies.

“I should drop you to prove a point.”

“But you won’t.”

“But I won’t.” He half shrugged as best he could, “Much too curious for the answer to my original question.”

Clint sobered. “Can you put me down somewhere?” He asked as he tried not to fidget. It would be awkward, given their current position.

“Why, so you can jump off another building? I’m not saving you a second time.” Ironman snarked.

“Please,” Clint said, unable to keep a hint of desperation out of his voice, “I just- I need to ask you something. It’s important.”

Ooookay, whatever you say, Birdbrain.” And yeah. Clint was getting judged by a supervillain.

Clint stepped away from the robot when he was back on solid ground (roof, whatever). He cleared his throat.

Now what? Fuck, he didn’t think this through.

“So,” Ironman drawled, “What is this important thing you must ask me? If it’s about the new Sherlock season I can’t help you. I’ve been sworn to secrecy.”

“I need your help rescuing Phil.” He blurted out in a rush.

Ironman didn’t hesitate, “No.” He said blankly.

“Oh, c’mon!” Clint whined, “You cared enough to give me the flash drive! Why not-”

“I gave it to you so you would deal with this yourself,” He cut in, “I have better things to do than rescue your friends or, in this case, boyfriends-” He cut himself off. A half second later he giggled, mumbling “I can’t believe I just said that…” to himself like it was the funniest thing.

“Uhh,” Clint wondered if he should start backing away slowly, but then remembered Ironman is weird all the time, “You okay there, man?”

Ironman waved a dismissive hand, “I’m fine, I’m fine. Just explain to me one thing and I’ll decide if I should help you or not.”

Clint felt himself hope, “What is it?”

“Why are you coming to me in the first place?” He asked, suddenly serious, “I mean, you have an entire team of superheroes at your beck and call- hell, why don’t you just tell Fury you know? Sure, he could play dumb, but it would give you a reason to storm the castle and put him at your mercy for lying twice. I just don’t get why you’re coming to a villain.” He said.

Clint looked down, “I don’t know who I can trust right now- I obvious trust the team!” He corrected quickly, “But Fury? Pretty much everyone at SHIELD? Not so much. I want to. But I just can’t, so.” He shrugged helplessly.

“That still doesn’t explain why you came to me.”

“Doesn’t it, though?” Clint asked sardonically, “They know are faces, they know to be on the lookout for us; we can’t get him out by ourselves. I need you on this. Please.” He begged.

Ironman stared for a moment, “Every time I make plans, you people ruin them.” He stated, then sighed, “Fine, whatever. I’ll get him out, bomb the place, maybe steal some things and ruin lives, have fun with it, y’know?” He asked absently.

Clint didn’t really, but was too relieved to question the less savory part of that sentence, “Thanks, man. I owe you one.”

“You shouldn’t say things like that,” Ironman warned, “I might call you on it one day.” He turned, getting ready to fly off, “Oh,” He stopped and looked back, seeming to hesitate for a moment, “One more thing,”

Clint felt more than heard static in his hearing aid before Ironman’s voice sounded in his ear instead of out loud.

Fury is not the enemy, here.

Then he was gone, leaving Clint alone on a roof top.

How the fuck was he going to get down?

Chapter Text

Tony

To be honest, this wasn’t the stupidest thing he’d ever done-

(Case and point; trusting Stane.)

(Case and point; trusting Howard.)

(Never trusted Howard.)

(Trusted him more than anyone else.)

-But it was in the top ten.

Okay, top twenty. Whatever.

The fact was, Tony had, what some might say, more important things to do than rescue everyone with a semi-relationship with one of the Avengers-

(What’s next? Bruce’s dog?)

-like taking out HYDRA and saving the world. That being said, there was no way he could just leave Agent trapped amongst the enemy.

Mainly because he didn’t want it to seem like he favored Cap, in any way, by only rescuing said man’s best friend.

It had nothing to do with Clint’s desperate plea.

Honest!

And he didn’t favor Cap! If anything, he was going after the Winter Soldier for James. He couldn’t care less about Cap! He really hoped no one read too much into it when he finally got the guy out.

(Steve is going to read way too much into it.)

But that was for another time.

Currently –and how the fuck it happened, he had no idea- Tony was perched in a tree, armor and all, staring down at the SHIELD base, just waiting for the right moment to strike.

It had taken about ten minutes to come up with this plan: storm the castle.

(Perhaps not the best plan.)

It was about noon (believe it or not, this is actually when there were less people around; less agents on the day shift –most villains were boring and attacked at night- and around lunch. Because even assholes need to eat) and Tony had sent JARVIS in before him to scope the place and get into position.

(This was actually pretty fun.)

(A nice, relaxing solo mission, giving you enough time to think about the fact that you’re alone for a reason.)

(Not so much fun anymore. Thanks, asshole.)

Suppressing a sigh, Tony stretched his shoulder blades back, the popping of his spine sending a strange sense relief to the rest of his stressed out body. He really needed a vacation.

Static in his ear was his only warning before JARVIS spoke –and it was a warning; his suits didn’t crackle.

“Sir, systems will be down in T-minus sixty seconds,” the smooth British accent relaxed Tony further as he got into position. If nothing else, even if everything went wrong here, JARVIS would always be there. It eased his anxiety, if only a little, and he started getting hyped for the next stage.

“Got it, J.” He chirped, shifting and getting ready to shoot off toward the window to Agent’s room. The man wasn’t high enough priority to warrant an underground room. That, or they hadn’t told him that everyone thought he was dead yet and didn’t want to arouse his suspicion.

Both were possible.

Tony flexed his palms once, feeling the mechanisms inside that would free the time-released explosives from the suit. He really did plan on blowing the place and ruining lives after he got Coulson out, when the shady SHIELD agents were running around like ants and sounding alarms.

It used to be his favorite pass time.

(Before he decided to be responsible.)

(Foolish, really. To think you could be a hero.)

JARVIS didn’t let him dwell on his inner thoughts, though Tony doubted the AI actually knew he had interrupted anything.

Ten seconds, Sir.

Tony shifted.

Nine,

Eight,

Seven,

A deep breath, slowly let out…

Three,

Two,

…One.

He shot forward as all the lights went out, including the red emergency ones. Not even pausing, he crashed right through the window, startling the agent in the bed, making the man tense and prepare for a battle he couldn’t win on a good day.

“Wha-” He tried, fumbling to his feet. Tony didn’t let him finish.

He snatched up the injured spy in a princess hold, pausing only long enough to say, “Don’t say I never did anything for you, Sweetheart.” before he was darting back out of the shattered window, leaving the shouting agents that had just entered the room behind.

Making a ninety degree turn, Tony flew directly up. Fast, but not so fast that Coulson’s breathing would be impaired, careful because they were headed to higher altitudes.

Wouldn’t do to hurt the man, after all.

(Clint would find a way to kill him.)

(Because that’s the only reason, right?)

He landed as softly as possible on the currently camouflaged hanger of the Iron Fortress of Awesome (it was a working title) and released the man in his arms.

Coulson stumbled back, just managing not to run into another suit that was being piloted by JARVIS.

If you would come with me, Agent Coulson. Sir as matters to attend to.

Agent didn’t flinch (though Tony maintained that it was definitely a near thing), stepping back and glancing between the two Ironmen.

“…It would seem I’ve just been kidnapped.” He said in a deadpanned, mild voice.

Tony couldn’t help but giggle, “Yep, have fun!” then allowed himself to fall backwards off the hanger and into the sky, letting JARVIS deal with their temporary guest.

(He had things to blow up, after all.)

(A temporary stress relief. It wouldn’t last long.)

Flying down, gaining speed, Tony clinched his fists, before, just as he was right above the complex of scrambling dicks, he released his bombs.

He had three minutes to get in and get out.

(Sure, he could have waited to plant the bombs until after he got what he wanted, but where’s the fun in that?)

(He needed the danger, the possibility that he might not come out of this alive…)

Crashing through a skylight this time instead of the same window as before, (because, fuck that skylight, that’s why) Tony flew down the halls, making baby agents squeak has they scramble out of the way and releasing more bombs for good measure.

They were all HYDRA, anyway.

(He had made sure, just in case.)

(Wouldn’t do to kill a good person, right?)

Holding in a snort, he glided down several flights of stairs and around dozens of halls before he finally found the room he had been looking for.

This was one of the few bases that had information too important to be on a computer.

(He hoped he never needed information that was too important to be on paper.)

(Very messy.)

Because the place was gonna be blown to smithereens anyway, and Tony wasn’t trying to be stealthy in the least bit (he was completely ignoring the agents shouting and shooting at him at this point) he just ripped the key pad out of the wall and kicked the door in. Knowing he didn’t have much time, he made quick work of the hundreds of files, snatching the ones that spoke of “The Asset” and “Winter Soldier” and setting the rest ablaze.

Fire was awesome.

After he was sure he had all that he wanted, all compact into a neat box (the original content now burned to a crisp on the ground), he fled through the roof, not even bothering to monologue.

Just in time, too, because the moment he was cleared the building chose to explode in a truly spectacular manor. Turning to look, Tony relished in the mass of color and heat, steadfastly ignoring the memories of a less fun time also involving explosions.

(It would be okay, now.)

(It had to be.)

Chapter Text

Tony

When he got back to his fortress Tony handed the box off to You (the only responsible one of the three bots) and ignored Dummy’s pouting. He headed down to where he knew JARVIS would have put Coulson.

The door slid open as he came close and he greeted the agent enthusiastically, “Hello Agent! And how are you this fine day?”

A bland look for his troubles, “Where am I, and why am here?”

(Someone’s cranky.)

(Can’t blame him…)

Tony rolled his eyes and tried to put as much of that sentiment into his voice, “You’re in my Sky Castle, more accurately, the white room of my Sky Castle –and yes, I know the room isn’t white, that’s not the point- and your lover ask me to do this, so blame him.” He shrugged and turned around, “Now c’mon, I’ll take you to the media room for the rest of the way home.”

Coulson followed after him, silent for a moment before, “…Clint asked you to kidnap me?” He didn’t sound doubtful, just curious and maybe a little worried.

Tony’s thoughts paused, even as he didn’t miss a step, trying to come up with an appropriate response. He decided to just go with the truth, “Fury lied to us,” –Tony didn’t notice the sharpening of Phil’s eyes at ‘us’- “he said you were dead, when you’re obviously not. When Legolas found out he basically grieved for nothing, that a person he believed in withheld something so important to him- I guess he just couldn’t trust them anymore.” He tapped the arc reactor absently, “So he asked me to get you out. You’re not too hurt, are you? I wasn’t really thinking when I snatched you up like that.” He admitted, any hint of worry filtered out with the suit.

(What worry? There’s not worry here, nope!)

(So much denial, so little time.)

“I’m fine.” Coulson finally said after a moment of just watching Ironman, “How long until we get to –where are we going?” He asked suddenly.

Tony tilted his head back to glance at the agent, “Stark Tower; it’s where the Avengers are currently living. And it shouldn’t be long, an hour maybe?” He responded.

(This is awkward.)

(Say something not stupid, if that’s possible.)

“Sooo,” He drawled out, “You meet anyone suspicious in captivity? Possibly dead in the face, blue around the edges, doing an incredible impersonation of a cyborg?”

(What.)

(Smooth. That was amazing. You win a medal.)

“What?”

“Never mind,” Tony chirped, perhaps a little too chipper, “Here we are!” Once again, the door slid open as he got in range, and he spread his arms out wide, showcasing the ‘Media Room’ in all its glory; it had a giant (even by Tony’s standards) TV, every gaming system that currently existed, JARVIS had every movie ever on file to be brought up, and there were also board games and Lego’s in the corner.

(Because, why not?)

Agent looked around the room with thinly veiled appreciation, going to sit on the red sectional in front of the TV, “Not bad,” He commented.

“Right.” Tony said, and then because he couldn’t help himself, “You seem to be taking this rather well.”

Coulson shrugged, wincing a bit, the weariness slowly seeping into his bones, “I trust Clint.” He said.

“I could be lying about that, though,” He pointed out because he is an idiot.

(Stop talking.)

(No, keep going.)

“Well, then…” Phil turned his head to the villain still standing in the door way, “I guess I trust you, too.”

“That’s stupid,”

“I never claimed to be particularly wise; I’m dating Barton.”

Tony blinked, but then he giggled, “Oh, I like you.” He teased, “I may just keep you.”

“Please don’t.” Agent deadpanned, but it didn’t have much heat to it.

Tony snorted, “Yeah, yeah,” He waved a hand and turned to leave, “Enjoy your Super Nanny.”

Coulson sat up straighter, “You’re leaving?”

Tony paused, hand on the doorframe, and turned to look over his shoulder, unseen eyebrows coming together, “I… had planned on it, yes. Why?”

“You should stay,” He said, “You obviously did something to make Clint trust you; why don’t you tell me what’s happened since I ‘died’, hmm?”

Tony clinched to frame. This felt like a trap. He didn’t know how, but…

(Run!)

“…Okay.”

(Sigh…)

. . .

Steve

“He just hijacked the place and blew it up?” Steve asked incredulously. Natasha nodded, once, her arms crossed and face dark.

He hesitated, “And Phil?”

She looked down, “I don’t know, I got there after the fact. Fury is tightlipped about the whole situation and there isn’t an exact body count, yet.” She answered, not looking at anyone.

Bruce looked away, bottom lip between his teeth, but it was Clint that Steve turned to.

The other man’s face was unsurprising blank, but it didn’t hold any of the worry or anger underneath that Steve had been expecting.

Obviously Natasha had finally risked a glance at her friend, because she’s the one who asked, voice low and slightly threatening, “Clint, what do you know?”

He shrugged, shifting a little. An obvious tell that Natasha saw right through, “Barton.”

“Imayhaveaskedhimtodoit.” He said quickly, not looking at anywhere, eyes roaming around the communal kitchen with fake curiosity, “Have you always been blond?” He asked Steve.

“You did what? Are you out of your mind!?” Natasha smacked him in the back of the head before snatching his ear in a vice grip.

“Ow, ow, ow!” Clint whined.

“Answer me.” She growled.

“Well, we were getting nowhere!” He finally defended, yanking his head away from Natasha’s evil hands, “We wouldn’t even know that Phil was alive if it hadn’t been for Ironman, and,” he shrugged helplessly, “I figured asking couldn’t hurt.”

“People died, Clint.” Natasha said quietly.

“Something’s going on, Nat,” Clint said back just as quietly, “I don’t know what, but something isn’t right, and right now I trust Ironman a lot more than I do SHIELD and if he killed those people, well, maybe they deserved it.”

While the spies had a staring contest, Steve’s mind reeled. Clint was right, just like with Killian, if Ironman killed people he probably thought they deserved it, but that still left the big question.

Why?

Chapter Text

Steve

Phil!

Clint practically charged the agent that had just been dropped off on the roof of the tower, slowing down at the last minute to hug instead of tackle, “I’ve missed you so much,”

“I missed you, too,” Phil said, then, glancing at the silent robot a few feet away, he murmured quietly, “You made the right call, asking him.” And Steve was pretty sure the only reason he heard was because of his super soldier hearing as he and the others made their way over at a more sedate pace.

“I know,” Clint mumbled just as quietly, face buried in Phil’s shoulder. He peaked up at Ironman and spoke a little louder, “Thank you!

“Eh, don’t mention it; I was gonna destroy that place eventually, anyways. Besides, now you owe me a favor.” Ironman waved it off, shifting a little uncomfortably.

“But honestly,” Steve said, stepping forward, “Thanks. You didn’t have to do that.”

He threw his hands up, “I just said not to mention it- why does no one ever listen to me?” His question was directed to one of the plants Bruce kept on the roof, and for some reason this didn’t annoy Steve like it usually would.

He actually found it pretty funny, he realized, lip twitching up in a half smile.

“Are you smiling? Why are you smiling? You never smile!” He accused, and Steve’s grin widened.

“What are talking about? I’m always cheerful.”

Ironman lifted a finger, then lowered it. “Are you… are you trolling me right now?” He turned to Clint before Steve could answer (or ask what ‘trolling’ meant) “This is all your fault, isn’t it? I hope you’re happy; you’ve corrupted a national icon. I’m pretty sure that’s treason, don’t know how, but, probably.”

Clint laughed, stepping back, but not far, from Phil, “Oh, that wasn’t me. I blame Nat.”

“Me?” Natasha asked, offended, “If anyone corrupted him, it was Ironman himself.”

“What!? But I’m never around the guy!” Ironman defended, waving his arms in an exaggerated manor.

“Yeah, but,” Bruce cut in, a small smile of his own gracing his face, “You’re the most influential thing in his life right now,”

Clint snorted, “You should see his-”

“Okay, that’s enough!” Steve cut in, a blush darkening his cheeks.

Ironman turned his blank face toward Steve for a long few seconds before addressing all them, “Okay, two things; One, if I really am the biggest influence on his life, you guys are doing something very wrong, and two, please tell me more about this thing Rogers doesn’t want me to know about.”

“Don’t,” Steve warned when Clint opened his mouth.

“Is it a shrine?” Ironman guessed, striking a thinking pose, “I bet it’s a shrine. In that case, while I’m flattered, I’m not actually a god, and-”

“It’s not a shrine!” Steve’s blush deepened, probably not doing himself any favors in the credibility department.

“Okay, okay,” Ironman waved a hand, “Whatever you say.”

“It’s not,” Steve said again, his face slowly returning to its natural color.

“I believe you.”

They had a mini stare down.

Clint snickered and tried to cover it with a cleared throat. Natasha rolled her eyes.

“Anyway,” Ironman hedged, “I brought him back, as requested. Any other task you can’t handle alone, or am I off the clock?”

“I kinda want pizza, if you’re offering,” Clint said, just to be cheeky.

“I wasn’t talking to you. You already got your freebie.”

“But-”

“Clint, shut up.” Natasha sighed.

It felt good watching them joke like that (he was pretty sure Ironman was joking, anyway. He hoped so), and Steve couldn’t help but think, that this; this was right. This was how it should be.

“Y’know,” He started, drawing attention back to him, “for someone who claims to be a villain, you’d make a pretty good hero.”

“Nah,” Ironman said lightly, a disquieted air about him, “I don’t think I would.”

“You already do,” Bruce said softly.

“Why are you a villain, anyway?” Clint asked. It was a question that Steve had asked a lot over his time in this century, but he had never thought to actually ask the man himself.

“Besides the fact that it’s fun?” Ironman asked, “Well, why would I let myself be content with good things, when there’s so much evil in the world?” He said it in a almost giddy tone, and Steve wondered how much of it was fake.

“That seems like a pretty dark way of looking at life.” Natasha said casually.

“So? What’s wrong with that?”

A lot “Why don’t you join us?” Steve proposed, ignoring the sharp looks he got from his team. Not in objection but in questioning. Are you sure about this?

“…besides the fact that I just blew up a SHIELD facility?”

“They don’t actually know it was you.” Natasha cut in quickly, nipping that argument in the bud, “They assume, of course, but can’t prove it. All of the systems were down, and so was the cell signal; no could get a message out, and if any agent survived, they’re in no condition to speak against you.”

Steve sent her a quick grin of appreciation that she, obviously, ignored.

Ironman turned to her, “I just admitted it to you.” He pointed out, “Are you saying you’re willing to lie to your boss for a villain who just literally killed dozens of your coworkers?” he asked incredulous. Steve found it funny how the tables seemed to have turned on the poor robot.

Clint shrugged, “’Lie’ is such a strong word. Withhold information is better.” He said, “And if it bothers you so much consider it payback for rescuing Phil.”

“You make it sound like I was a damsel in distress, trapped in a tower, waiting for a knight to save me.” Phil sighed.

“Technically-”

“Don’t.”

Ironman sighed exaggeratedly, breaking up the bickering lovers, “Fine. Normally I would never consider it… But, if you really want me to, I’ll give it a shot.”

Steve perked up, almost afraid, because that was a little too easy. He hadn’t actually expected the robot to say yes. “Wait, really?”

Ironman shrugged, “Yeah, sure, why not?” He asked offhandedly, “It might be fun to be on the other side for once.”

Bruce snorted, “What about the New York incident? You seemed to be on the side of heroes, then.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Riiiight,” Clint drawled but then said excitedly, “But you’re really-?”

“I already said yes, please don’t make me say it again.” The no-longer-a-villain gave what Steve assumed was a fake shiver and rubbed his arms, “Just the thought makes me want to break out into metaphorical hives.”

“Stop being so dramatic,” Bruce said, but he was obviously surprised/thrilled about these resent events.

“But that’s who I am!” Ironman said with a gasp, “If you can’t accept me for me than this isn’t going to work, darling.”

Steve shared a glance with the others and smiled. This was turning out better than he had hoped to dream for.

“C’mon guys, I think this calls for a movie night.”

“That is the most domestic thing I have ever heard.” Ironman deadpanned.

Clint’s grin turned evil, “He makes us all breakfast in the mornings.”

“Clint,” Steve warned at the same time Ironman asked, “Really?”

“Wears an apron and everything!”

Clint!

Chapter Text

It takes time to love someone properly, and in this business, you get very wary of people. - Mark Roberts

Six months later,

Steve

“Put me down, you useless piece of scrap metal!”

“No!”

Steve looked up as Ironman flew by laughing and spinning, Hawkeye trapped and struggling in his grasp. He couldn’t help the smile that worked its way onto his face as he watched the robot go by. The fight was over, Doom Bots destroyed (it was always Doom Bots), so Steve decided not to rescue his teammate this time.

It had been… a great six months. Better than Steve had thought to hope for –Oh sure, he and Ironman fought, a lot, all the time, more than would ever be desired, but it didn’t matter. Steve was firm in his conviction that he could safely say Ironman was one of his closest friends.

Thor had come and gone already, staying long enough to welcome Ironman and then disappearing again to see Jane, though Steve suspected he’d be back sooner or later, possibly with a certain female scientist in tow.

And maybe there were still some questionable actions that they all assumed came from Ironman, but it’s not like anyone could prove it –who knew that robot could be so sneaky? - So they mostly chose to ignore it.

(The SHIELD higher ups were all but calling for his head, but again, they couldn’t prove Ironman had anything to do with the destruction of SHIELD buildings and other property, and the fact that said robot was on their side at the moment, kept even the loudest from saying anything and risking the real wrath of the villain-turn-tentative hero.

And Steve was sure he had a reason for it, anyway)

“You’re doing it again,”

Steve jumped, swirling around to face Natasha, “Huh?”

She raised an eyebrow, tilting her head in the direction of the shouting and manic laughter, “You’re staring again.”

Steve blushed, “I am not,” he denied,”I was just-”

“Looking longingly in the direction of a certain red and gold super villain?”

Steve made a wounded noise. That was another thing. Steve may or may not have gotten a crush on Ironman. He wasn’t proud of it, but it was just really hard not to like the guy, okay? Steve had tried. Actually, it was pretty impossible. Really, it was bound to happen eventually-

“I am not!” Steve repeated more vehemently. Like hell he was ever going to admit any of that to Natasha. The woman was a gossip if he ever saw one, and had only gotten worse as she became great friends with their landlord in recent months. “And he’s not a villain anymore.” He added to stave off most of the embarrassment.

She rolled her eyes, “Sure,” She turned and left, calling over her shoulder as she went, “Be sure to invite me to the wedding!”

Steve glared at her retreating back, but before he could say or do anything too stupid, and probably more humiliating, Ironman landed beside him.

“Who’s getting married?” He asked.

“No one! No one is getting married!” Steve responded a tad too quickly.

Ironman leaned away from him, hands coming up, “Ookay, there something you want to tell me, Cap? You seem pretty worked up over here,”

Steve’s face heated, “No, I- Where’s Hawkeye?” He changed the subject.

“Oh, he’s fine.”

“That is not what I asked.” Steve said, turning wary. This wasn’t the first time they’ve had this conversation.

Ironman shrugged, “Well, it’s the answer you got. But seriously, he’s fine. Probably.”

Steve closed his eyes, hand coming up to rub them, “What-”

Probably?” A new voice cut him off.

“Agent!” Ironman cheered, bounding over to Phil, who looked about ready to shoot the robot with his taser and beat then him with it.

Fury had let the fact that Coulson was alive and well in the hands of the Avengers go pretty fast. Choosing not to ask, and instead actually covering for them, something Steve tried not to look at too deeply. Ironman didn’t seem to think it was a bad thing, and in cases involving SHIELD Steve tended to differ to him these days.

Phil threw up his hand before Ironman could come too close, “Where is Barton?” He asked, voice calm.

“He’s fine! Show a little trust, would you?”

“Why are you avoiding the question?”

“Why do you insist on asking it?”

After a long second of silence, Phil sighed.

“If he isn’t at debrief in five minutes I’m making you stay for them for the next three weeks.”

Ironman ‘eep’ed before taking off into the sky.

Steve gave a breathy, half mad chuckle that probably sounded more like a giggle than anything else, unable to help himself. Even Phil’s lip twitched into a smirk.

“I like how he humors me,” The agent said as he and Steve watch the red and gold blur fly away. Neither were under any reservations that they had Ironman under control in the least bit.

Steve hummed in agreement. He’d stopped laughing, but kept a grin. Ironman wasn’t one for rules, and only ever followed the orders he wanted to. It caused a lot of fights between them, but, even though he hated to admit it, Steve could acknowledge -if only to himself- that Ironman was usually right when he disobeyed.

He was reckless and self sacrificing/destructive in ways that Steve would never in a million years have called, and he still somehow always ended up saving lives.

The point was, if Ironman didn’t want to do something, he wouldn’t.

Which made him following orders that much more liberating, as rare as the occurrence was.

Ironman showed back up, a slightly queasy looking Clint in tow. Said archer stumbled away towards his partner and glared at the robot.

“I hate you.”

“Awe! You say the nicest things,” Ironman sighed sweetly, swaying a little on his feet.

Phil cut in before any real sniping could be had, “Where were you?” He asked Clint.

“I’m fine.”

“That.” Phil breathed, somehow refraining from pinching his brow, “Is not what I asked.”

“I know, but it’s the only answer you’re getting.” Clint hedged.

“Hm, we’ll see about that,” Phil said lightly, placing his hand on Clint’s arm and subtly dragging him away.

“That sounds both promising and terrifying.” Steve heard Clint say as the two disappeared into the crowd of cleanup crew. He turned to Ironman once again.

“Are you okay? I saw you take a pretty bad hit.” He asked, making an aborted hand gesture. He wanted to touch the robot, but restrained himself with the knowledge that Ironman didn’t like to be touched, as least not in worry.

Ironman snorted in his mechanical way, “I’m fine. I’m always fine. Why do you ask such stupid questions?”

He was right. Steve knew that, theoretically, Ironman couldn’t be hurt. That he could take any hit thrown his way and come out of it better than he’d gone into it. Steve knew that.

And Steve would probably believe it and let the issue drop if Ironman ever gave a straight answer, but the man always seemed to dodge the questions.

He hummed instead of answering, not wanting to start up that particular fight again. It starred in many of their arguments, some had almost gone to blows over the stupidest of things, all because Steve was worried about a robot getting scratched up and said robot didn’t appreciate it.

Ironman bumped into his shoulder, drawing Steve from his thoughts. He looked up with a raised eyebrow.

“Are you okay? You seem pretty spacey right now.” The mechanical man joked, but there was a slight tell that gave his own worry away.

Steve rolled his eyes, “I’m fine -super soldier, remember?” He said.

“How could I forget,” Ironman mumbled before shaking his head, “Right! Well, I think cleanup’s got this under control, so unless you have something else for me to do?” He motioned to leave, which made Steve frown a little.

“You know, you don’t have to leave just because you’re not ‘needed’ anymore, right?” He asked, not really thinking as he placed a hand on the robots arm before he could take off, “Why don’t you come back to the tower after debrief? Hang out with the team, I’d- uh, Bruce would probably like that, after he comes back from his hulk out, that is.” Steve rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly with his free hand.

“Well, um,” Ironman started, stepping away from Steve, “I kinda have other things I need to do. Bruce will understand-”

“You’re not staying!?” Clint bounded back over with Natasha, Phil nowhere in sight, “But it’s movie night! You have to stay for movie night!”

“I don’t have to do anything,” Ironman bristled a little before relaxing, “and I miss movie night all the time,” He shrugged, “Why is now any different?”

“You’ve missed the last three in a row,” Natasha said, crossing her arms, “You can’t miss four. It’s against team policy. Right, Steve?” She asked pointedly.

“Right.” Steve nodded, catching on, “Plus, you’ve missed all other team bonding exercises that we’ve had. If you miss this- think of team moral! You could become alienated, and no one wants that.” He said sagely.

Ironman looked between them with an air of betrayal, “Why are you all ganging up on me? It’s not like I’d ditch you to watch Law and Order reruns! Well, actually… -No; important matters.”

“Well, maybe if you told us what you were doing…” Natasha hinted. Clint perked up and even Steve felt himself stand a little straighter. They had been trying to get Ironman to tell them what his secret project was for months now.

Ironman growled, before, “Okay, fine!” He huffed agitatedly, “I’ll tell you!”

Steve found himself waiting with bated breath-

“I’ve been building a life sized Death-Star out of legos.”

Steve slumped. Of course. The worst part was that he couldn’t even tell he was being serious or not.

“…Can I see it?” Clint asked, apparently choosing to believe.

“When it’s finished, yeah. But it’s not, so no.”

“Well, in that case,” Natasha said lightly, “You’re coming to movie night.”

“But it’s Clint’s turn!” The robot whined, “He sucks at picking!”

“Hey!”

Chapter Text

Tony

So Tony had a couple of hours before ‘Movie Night’ began, depending on how long debrief ran. Probably not all that long, actually, given how common doom bots were.

Tony was gonna have to have a serious chat with that guy.

(You don’t start trying to take over the world with New York.)

(A capital would be better, doesn’t really matter which one.)

And now, because he promised, he had to start building the Death Star on top of everything else.

He sighed, doing a lazy spin in the air. Flying was still one of his favorite pastimes, something not even HYDRA can take away from him.

(Unless they kidnap you and take your armor…)

(Fuck off.)

Yep, no one could take away the joy of flight, the feeling of moving unimpaired through the clear sky, the contradiction of heaviness and weightlessness existing simultaneously. The only thing that would make it better would be I he could feel the wind on his face, rushing through his hair.

(Why can’t he just lift the faceplate?)

(Bugs.)

(Right… forgot about that.)

Frowning at the memory, Tony smacked his lips from the phantom taste. Yeah, maybe feeling the wind wasn’t so great after all.

When he got close enough to his Sky Lair of Amazing he started flying higher. Maybe if he had like, a beekeepers net? He could still feel the wind, but the net would catch all the bugs...

(But he would lose all his Cool Points.)

(Not worth it. Better get used to watching birds with envy.)

Aviator goggles? It would at least keep the bugs out of his eyes…

Contemplating this, Tony landed and allowed JARVIS to remove the suit as he walked.

But he would also need something to protect his mouth- he frowned as he stepped down onto a platform- and that would kinda defeat the purpose. Hmm, he wondered what wind tasted like…

(Air. It tastes like air.)

(Well, no one said he was smart.)

(He is a genius. Everyone says he is smart.)

(The plebeian’s don’t count.)

As the last piece of armor came off, the platform Tony had stepped onto started to go down like an elevator. The top part of the fortress was his ‘living quarters’, even though he rarely went up there, much preferring the bottom part, otherwise known as his workshop/lab.

“Ahh, daddy’s home,” He announced with a satisfied sigh, patting Dummy’s claw when the robot surged to greet him. The bot had gotten pretty clingy since Afghanistan, especially since Tony had been going out more these past few years than he had for the last decade before.

He wasn’t used to Tony coming and going, of him disappearing to places he couldn’t follow. It was one of many reasons Tony preferred to just go home after a battle; even JARVIS, who was always with him, got nervous if Tony was out for more than a few hours.

You and Butterfingers were better at not panicking, but they were younger, more adaptable, less jaded. Dummy and JARVIS were both created in college (Dummy at fourteen, JARVIS at seventeen), and had seen Tony disappear and come back worse for wear more times then he would care to admit, while the twins (they were created at the same time, build simultaneously, therefore; Twins) hadn’t been built until Tony had taken over SI and rarely left his house anymore. While they had been uncomfortable at first with him leaving all the time, and Afghanistan certainly shook them, they weren’t going to start a revolution unless Dummy initiated it.

(Trouble maker.)

(Like father like son-bot.)

“Don’t get too excited,” He told the bot, “I’m leaving again to have ‘movie night’ with the team.” Dummy drooped which made Tony roll his eyes, “So dramatic.”

He walked over to his computers, waving a hand at his other two children, who gave a whirl in unison but otherwise kept building their Lego castle, which reminded him, “Hey, I’m gonna need those later,” at their sad beeps he sighed, “Yes, you can help, but it’s a very important project, got it?” They nodded enthusiastically before going back to building. Dummy ran over to help them.

Tony smiled despite himself; as much as he liked to degrade/threaten them, he really did love the three (four.).

(As cute as this is, kinda on the clock, here.)

Right, Tony shook his head to clear it and sat down on his swivel stool, “So, what do we got?”

HYDRA is still unsure of what you’re looking for, Sir” Awesome, “and has doubled the security on all bases because of it.” Not awesome. Okay, let’s see…

“Barnes?” He asked. It was best to take this one step at a time.

Still no sign of him, unfortunately; I believe he may be in cryo, Sir.

Okay, not the best. Moving on, “And the place we’re hitting next?”

A map of Switzerland popped up, a red ping pinpointing his next HYDRA base location.

(Ah, Switzerland, my old fiend.)

(At least it isn’t Morcote this time?)

(Because the wildcats, badgers, and salamanders in the Alps are sooo much better?)

Tony rubbed his hand down his face, “Okay, well.” He hmm’ed, “I guess we should start scoping the place out. Let’s get some satellites watching the place.”

Already done, Sir.

Tony grinned, “I love it when you break the law.”

I aim to please.”

Tony giggled, swirling in his chair, “Okay, okay, okay,” He said, “Can’t really do much else on that front. Did Brucie ever respond?”

Dr. Banner has agreed to come over tomorrow to help with the Extremis project. He also wanted me to tell you he disapproves of you waiting so long to ask him.” JARVIS informed him pointedly.

Tony stuck his tongue out at the nearest monitor, “He can suck it.” He said, “It’s not like it’s hurting me, I’m just,” He waved a hand in his eyes general direction, “Glow-y.”

JARVIS stayed silent.

“The silent treatment? Really?” Tony asked incredulously.

More silence.

With a huff Tony got up, “Fine then, I see how it is.” He turned to his other AI’s, “You guys ready to a build a Death Star?”

Enthusiastic chirps all around.

Tony was pretty sure he heard a sigh come from the computer monitor, telling him just what JARVIS thought of this situation.

But it could have been his imagination.

(Oh please, he doesn’t have imagination anymore. It’s all hallucinations, now.)

(Eh, potato, tomato.)

Chapter Text

Tony

Touching down on the landing pad, it took great effort not to start the removal of the suit as he walked down the catwalk. Even now, after the many months of the team living here, Tony still had trouble remembering that, despite it being his property, the tower wasn’t exactly a safe place to land anymore.

(He used to be able to relax here,)

(It was his own fault for inviting these people to move in, through Pepper or otherwise.)

“I have arrived!” He announced with a dramatic flourish as he walked through the patio doors, “The party may start.”

His announcement was met with eye-rolls and sighs, much to Tony’s consternation.

He huffed, “Right, because it’s not like you all begged me to come here, or anything,” He dropped down on the couch next to Rogers, “Hey, Old Man, how goes it?”

“Uhh…” Steve’s eyebrows drew together in confusion, “What?” He asked and turned to Natasha, “Was that an actually saying or is he messing with me again?”

“One time! One time and you get labeled for life!”

He was ignored as Natasha answered from her spot on one side of the love seat (Clint would most likely take the other side once he was done picking the movie, Bruce taking up residence in the arm chair), “It’s real. It means ‘how are you?’ and ‘what’s been going on in your life?’” She explained.

“Oh,” Steve said. Turning back to Tony he smiled, “Then it goes pretty well.”

(Why the fuck is it impossible to hate this guy? Oh, that’s right, he’s a giant puppy.)

“Could you not?” Clint asked from the floor, where he was thrumming through the movies on a tablet (why are you on the floor?), “Seriously, I hear enough of your flirting in the field, and it’s making me want to gag.”

Steve blushed and glared, not that Tony noticed, leaning forward on his hands, “Oh, are you jealous?” He teased, “That’s so cute. Don’t worry, there’s enough of me to go around!”

Clint snorted, “I’m pretty sure Cap would kill me.”

Clint,” Rogers hissed.

“What?” Clint asked, “It’s not like he doesn’t know –you’re not subtle, Steve, and frankly your pining hurts to watch –ow! Nat, what was that for!” He wined, rubbing the spot where Natasha had kicked him in the back of the head.

“Shut up.” She said.

Hold up, wait. Cap actually…

(Ew!)

(That is disturbing on so many levels.)

(Maybe we should tell him…)

(Because that would go over well, “Hey, Cap, guess what-”)

(Fair.)

Tony decided to ignore this new information –it was probably just a crush, and crushes never last- and instead chose to play dumb, turning to Bruce, who had yet to join the conversation. “Do I even want to know what he’s talking about?”

Bruce, who had also been watching the exchange and knows, gives him a look that says “we’re talking about this later,” but just sighs, “No, probably not.”

Steve, who is now extremely red and looks about ready to either disappear into the floor or kill Clint, made a strangled noise.

“Wait, seriously?” Clint asked incredulously, now looking at Tony, “You don’t-”

“Clint.” Natasha warned again.

He winced, “Uh, sorry.”

“What?” Tony asked again, for some reason.

(Why can’t you just stop talking?)

(Maybe it would be best to nip this in the bud, now?)

“Does my flirting make you uncomfortable?” He asked, turning to Steve, “Because you know none of it is real, right?” That part was true, at least. Tony hated to lie, much preferring half truths over anything else. Still, he could tell his words hurt by the minute flinch the other man made.

“Yeah, I know.” Steve answered softly, but easily heard in the now dead silent room.

A second ticked by.

Tony laughed, at himself, at the situation, leaning back in his seat, “I mean, I flirt with everyone,” He admitted lightly, “but if your forties sensibilities start to prune up every time I blow a kiss –well, I won’t stop, can’t, because it’s kinda a part of my shtick, but at least I’d know why you start squirming so much-”

“That’s not it!” Steve denied venomously, quickly rising to his feet as his face heated up for a completely different reason, “I don’t care if-if people like the same sex! If a girl likes a girl, or, or if a guy likes a guy! It doesn’t bother me-!”

“But I do.” Tony said coolly, it wasn’t a question, “I bother you.” He stood up with lazy grace.

(What are you doing? Why are you starting a fight? It can be over now.)

(This will not end well.)

(Seriously, stop.)

“I mean,” He continued when all Steve did was look at him in surprise, completely ignoring the now even more tense atmosphere and Bruce’s warning glare, “What you just said- I’m not really either of those things, am I? I’m a construct made by man, running around mimicking emotions- that would make anyone uncomfortable, right?” He tilted his head in mock question.

Steve swallowed, and maybe he had forgotten that Tony was supposedly a robot in his little world. Maybe now he would realize how stupid he was being, “That’s not what- You don’t bother me, that doesn’t bother me.” He said, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself than Tony.

“So, it’s just the flirting that upsets you?”

Bruce finally cut in, “Ironman, Steve, that’s enough. We’re here to watch a movie.” He said, looking pointedly at Tony.

Tony huffed, but let himself visibly relax, “Yeah, sure thing, Big Guy.” He was about to sit down again, when-

“Why is everything always a fight with you?”It was quiet, almost inaudible, and maybe not even meant to be heard, but. Tony turned to face Rogers again anyway.

“Believe it or not, I don’t usually mean to start fights,” He said nonchalantly.

(Except with you,)

(But really more over you. With himself.)

“Really?” Steve asked, “Because I thought after you joined the team all this would stop,”

Clint groaned, “Here we go,”

“’All this’?” Tony asked, “What, you thought just because we’re technically on the same side I’d change? Become a better ‘person’? Well, guess what? You’re not that special, Snowflake.”

“I thought we’d tone down on the fighting, but now we actually fight more,” Steve said in frustration, running a hand through his hair, “And I don’t understand why.”

“Well, we are in more situations where we can’t take out our frustrations in a more civilized manner.”

(Because you insist on him coming to these stupid ‘team bonding’ things when he has more pressing matters to work on, like finding your stupid best friend, and the suit isn’t exactly the most comfortable thing to sit in for hours on end?)

(Because having to look at your face for any extended period of time that he doesn’t get to hit something brings back a slew of bad memories and tends to end up being physically painful?)

“You mean beating the shit out of each other?” Steve growled.

“Oooh, Cap swore! Does he have to put a dollar in the jar?” Tony cheered.

Natasha was glaring now, “God, why are you such an asshole?”

“Uh,” He spread his arms a little, “Supervillain, here.”

“You’re not a villain!” Steve yelled, stepping forward and drawing Tony’s attention back, “Not anymore!”

“Maybe not, but I’m sure as hell not gonna change how I act because of you!” He yelled back.

“C’mon, guys,” Clint whined, “Can’t we all just-”

Shut up, Barton/Clint!

He raised his hands and leaned back in surrender.

They turned back to each other, twin glares even though no one could see Tony’s.

“What, no come back?” Tony hissed after a few seconds of silence.

“Fuck you!” Steve growled, looking about ready to storm out.

“I know you want to, but sadly that’s never gonna happen!”

(What the actual fuck, Stark?)

(What the actual fuck, Stark?)

“T-!” Bruce’s reprimand (that Tony probably deserved but would also be genuinely angry over, because Don’t tell the fucking secret identity, Bruce) was cut short as Tony found himself flying over Bruce’s fucking head and into a wall, with a spectacularly loud bang, because he hit a sore spot in Captain Pissy.

Also: ow.

Blinking as he pulled himself out of the wall (Pepper was actually going to kill him), he heard Clint’s quiet “Shit,” Natasha’s intake of breath, Bruce trying to calm the fuck down, and Steve’s own squeak of surprise, as if he hadn’t expected to hit Tony himself.

And Tony? Well…

Tony could barely breathe, everything was too close, and too loud, and his ears were ringing. He felt a sharp pain when he tried to move his face and knew from experience that his jaw was fucking broken.

And with a startling clarity, Tony realized that Steve hadn’t been holding back with that punch; if Tony hadn’t been in the suit, he would be dead right now, hell, if he’d been a normal human being, even with the suit, he would be dead right now.

(Fuck, fuck)

‘He tried to kill me,’ Tony heard himself think in a daze as he slowly stood up, ‘He broke my jaw,’

(He didn’t mean to. He didn’t.

He wouldn’t.

He wouldn’t.)

“Ironman?” Steve asked quietly, no longer angry, sounding decidedly worried and wary, voice full of growing regret and shock at his own actions.

(If you don’t leave now…)

Tony slowly turned to face his ‘team’, hand coming up to feel the large, fist shaped dent Steve had left in the side of the faceplate. Then he finally identified the feelings currently running through his head, the dark thoughts that he hasn’t felt or heard since Afghanistan, and he realized;

(If you don’t leave now…

…You’ll kill him.)

Tony shot through the nearest window and didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Tony

He was staring at the blossoming bruise on the right side of his face in the mirror, flinching a little when he decided to poke it. Bad idea, Stark.

(But, not your worst idea.)

(Going to movie night was your worst idea.)

(Obadiah Stane.)

(No, going to movie night was the worst idea.)

(And isn’t that all kinds of screwed up?)

Tony growled a little, lightly rubbing his thumb under his eye, relieved that Rogers hadn’t hit him any higher, or else he would’ve been blind in that eye. JARVIS had been able to fix him up (having taken control of not only some of the suits, but also the bots, with their permission), but his face was still pretty messed up and his jaw had to be wired shut. It would be a month, at least, before he was able to eat solid food, much less talk!

(He still wanted Steve dead- no, worse; Wanted to see him brought to his knees, wanted to be the one to do it. Wanted to break his jaw in an eye-for-an-eye kind of way and watch him suffer-)

(Wanted to hate him for everything he’s ever been a part of, even the parts Tony knew wasn’t his fault. Wanted to blame him for the life he had, and the pain he felt, the training he went through just to stay alive- wanted to hate him for the father that wouldn’t, and the mother that wasn’t-

-And he hated himself because he couldn’t.)

But Tony was petty, in the best of ways really, and the moment he could he would prove it.

Just not in the way most people would think.

. . .

Steve

“Let me get this straight,” Phil started with a tone of disbelief and deep seated disappointment, “You got in an argument with Ironman, then you punch him into a wall,” He motioned to the aforementioned hole in the wall, “And then he flew off without retaliating, which could mean a lot of things, most, no all, of which will not be anything good regarding our tentative alliance with the unstable robot. Did I miss anything?”

Steve groaned and buried his face in his hands from his spot on the couch, not saying a word.

“It was Clint’s fault,” Natasha cut in.

“Hey!” Clint protested, “All I did was point out the obvious! I didn’t realize either of them were that dense!”

“I seem to remember someone showing up for their first date in full body armor, prepared for war, because they thought it was a test.”

“I didn’t know he was asking me out! He was very subtle about it!”

Before Natasha could explain just how not subtle Phil was, she was cut off by said man, “That’s enough. I don’t care whose fault it was,” He said, eyes roaming over everyone in the room, including Bruce who sunk back in his seat when the eyes landed on him, “The fact is, Captain America hit a teammate in what should have been a friendly environment, outside of a spar, because of an argument. The fact that the teammate he hit was Ironman means nothing, the fact that Ironman provoked him means nothing. What if this had been someone else, Clint, Natasha, Bruce, if it had been one of you, what would’ve happened?” He questioned sternly.

“They would’ve died…” Steve answered quietly, not looking up at his hands, “At least, Clint and Natasha would have –if it had been Bruce I would be dead.” He chuckled lamely before groaning again, “God, if he had been human I would have killed him.”

“What?” Bruce asked just as quietly, sounding a little close to panic. It hadn’t been long since the whole fiasco had happened, maybe a few hours- maybe it was too fresh for him.

“Do you need to go the panic room?” Natasha mumbled to him. Bruce shook his head no, but got up and left anyway.

Coulson sighed as the man left the room and pinched his brow, “See? This isn’t something that can be swept under the rug, Steve. If it had been anyone else you would be facing charges, and the only reason you’re not now is because Ironman is unpredictable and we may need you to finish the fight you started.”

“Yeah, I know.” Steve said. Fuck, what was wrong with him? He claimed to love the guy and he had punch him through a wall because he had said something Steve didn’t like. And for what? He had just pointed out the obvious. The two of them would never work; Ironman was, well, Ironman, and Steve was Steve, and it would never work.

But Steve had hoped they could at least try. That Ironman would find the whole thing amusing enough to humor him, and when he not only found it too funny, but made fun of him for it, well, Steve had saw red.

He had realized his mistake immediately, seeing Ironman down for the count, covered in dry wall with a dent in his face the shape of Steve’s fist- it hurt to see. Physically pained him to know he’d done it. He wanted to go back and change it, punch himself in the face instead, because while they’d both said things they shouldn’t have, hitting a teammate, a friend, was never going to be okay.

“Why’d you hit him?” Phil prompted, sitting down next to Steve, “It couldn’t have just been because of an argument.”

Steve looked away, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You’re going to have to eventually,” He said as he stood back up, “But I won’t force you right now. I need to talk to Fury about possible contingency plans –you,” He pointed at Clint, who startled at being singled out, “Are coming with me.”

“What, why?” He whined, but started to get up anyway.

“Because I said so.”

“I’ll come, too,” Natasha said, gliding up from her seat, “Unless,” She looked back at Steve, “You need me to stay?”

“No,” Steve denied immediately, most likely what she had been expecting, “I’m fine, just.” He made a noncommunicative hand gesture and sighed, “I’m fine.”

She raised a disbelieving eyebrow but nodded anyway, “If you say so. Call of you need anything, okay?”

“I will,” He wouldn’t, but she didn’t need to know that. He waited until he heard the elevator close before covering his face and falling sideways onto the couch.

He was such an idiot.

Chapter Text

Tony

Tony was laying on the couch in his lab, eyes closed, using extremis to go through files and maps of all known (as of now) HYDRA facilities. He normally didn’t like using extremis for a number of reasons, mainly because of its ties to the super soldier project, but also because of the headaches that he got after. Besides, nothing beat getting down and dirty, shifting through firewalls with his own two hands.

But in this case, he was feeling lazy and honestly couldn’t give a shit about his moral code right now.

(He’d just have to deal with the headache.)

(But he was gonna have one of those, anyway.)

(Because of his broken face.)

(Because Steve broke his face.)

Sir, Dr. Banner is requesting pickup, shall I send a suit?” JARVIS questioned.

Tony sighed through his nose and waved a absent hand, “Yeah, go ahead.” He answered with extremis. Another feature he preferred not to use.

(For reasons.)

He waited a few minutes, but his lair was docked relatively close to New York, so it didn’t take Bruce long to get there.

“Tony? Please tell me you’re not dead.” Bruce said as he stepped off the elevator and into the lab.

Not dead,” Tony confirmed from the speakers JARVIS usually used, opening one eye to look at Bruce. The man jumped and looked around, before pointing at the ceiling.

“How?” He asked, not the least bit surprised anymore.

Shrugging, Tony sat up, “Extremis? I assume, anyway –I was never able to do it before.

“And you didn’t tell me this, because…?”

Well, I was going to when you came over to discuss the whole, ‘Glow-y florescent eye’ thing, but.” Tony stared at him, “That didn’t happen.

Bruce flinched, having been reminded why he was there, and finally took in Tony’s bruised and abused face.

(Such a travesty. Now no one will take him to prom now.)

“Are you okay?” He demanded worriedly, scurrying over to take Tony’s face in his hands, gently manhandling it to get a better view of the worst parts.

I’m fine,” He tried, but Bruce’s face clearly said he wasn’t in the mood for his bullshit, “Okay, not ‘fine’ fine, but given that my jaw has been broken in several places and I’m lucky bone pieces didn’t break off and enter my brain and kill because part of my nose got hit with backlash… I think I’m doing pretty fine.

Bruce made a wounded noise, “How did you even get wires and plates to fix this without going to a hospital?”

JARVIS is pretty handy.”

“You…” Bruce started slowly, bringing Tony’s face down to look him in the eye, “You let your AI perform a surgery? What if something had gone wrong, Tony!”

Tony rolled his eyes at Bruce’s panicked rhetorical question.

(He was assuming it was rhetorical, anyway.)

(Geez, Bruce, calm down. He’s alive, isn’t he?)

I’m fine,” Tony stressed, grabbing the other man’s hands and pulling them away from his face, “I am currently alive and not in any danger of dying, so.” He gave Bruce a look, “Let it go.

They have a small staring contest before Bruce huffs and relents, sitting down next to his friend.

“Well, you seem to be healing pretty fast for this kind of injury, even given you’re, well,” He stopped and restarted, “So, on a scale of ‘laugh it off’ to ‘blow up everything he ever loved’ how are you handling Steve hitting you?”

Tony’s chuckle, while –obviously- muffled, was undeniably dark and malicious in nature.

(Not unlike his soul,)

(Can’t argue there.)

“That was not an answer, Tony.” Bruce sighed and rubbed his forehead, “So, you still want help with extremis?”

Tony gave him an amused look at the obvious change of topic, but let it slide. “Sure, why not? I don’t have anything better to do, what with being crippled at the moment.”

“The only thing crippled is your ability to talk-”

Exactly!

“-but you’ve already found a way around that, so stop complaining.”

(When did Bruce get so sassy?)

(He wasn’t like this in the beginning.)

(He’s been corrupted. I hope you’re happy, Stark.)

Tony pouted and gave Bruce his saddest puppy dog eyes before falling sideways to lay his head in the other scientist’s lap, careful of his face.

Brucie, Stebe hit me…”

Bruce made a wounded noise that also half sounded like a growl. He placed his hand on Tony’s head, running his fingers absently through the soft hair, “Please, don’t remind me. The Other Guy already wants to rip his arm out of its socket for hurting ‘Tin Man’.”

(It’s not tin!)

(It’s not Iron, either…)

(Fuck it.)

Bruce gave him a weird look, “Are sure you’re okay?”

Tony rolled over to look up at him and raised an eyebrow, “Of course, why?”

“…You do realize you’re saying those things out loud right? Through the speaker, I mean.” Bruce questioned slowly.

(Wait, what!? Really?!)

“Yes.”

Tony blinked, wide eyed, before turning toward one of the speakers, “Well, that’s never happened before. Please ignore all wayward thoughts that make it through during this time of distress.” He turned back to Bruce, “Now, extremis?

(Keep it together, Stark. No need to panic.)

Bruce scrunched his brow, before relaxing and nodding, “Alright. Not like this is the weirdest thing I’ve caught you doing.”

(Uncalled for.)

(That’s never gonna die, is it?)

“Nope.” Bruce deadpanned, gently lifting Tony to get up.

Don’t answer the wayward thoughts, Bruce!” Tony complained as he rolled off the couch, before heaving himself off the ground.

“How am supposed to tell them apart from what you mean to say?” He asked.

Tony whined, “JARVIS!

I will attempt to filter out your personal commentary, Sir, but it might be difficult given that what you think and what you say are very similar.” JARVIS intoned.

Tony paused, “…Was that sass? Do I need to reprogram you? Because I will!

Not at all, Sir, I was merely stating a fact.

Tony glared at the ceiling.

Bruce chuckled and said, a bit exasperated, “Tony? Extremis? Glowing eyes and talking through technology?”

Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” He grumbled, but stalked after Bruce anyway.

Chapter Text

Tony

He strode down the halls of SHIELD HQ, smirking at all the agents that stopped and stared at him even though they wouldn’t see it. It had been a little over a month now since Steve had aquatinted his fist with Tony’s face.

(Not a good way to start a friendship, much less a relationship.)

(Talk about a school yard crush.)

Now, fully healed and mind set on payback, Tony ignored the panicky receptionist that was trying to deny him entry and swung the door to Fury’s office wide open.

He glided in and laughed a little at the tenseness that set in the older man’s shoulders at his arrival, flippantly taking a seat across from the desk.

Fury eyed him warily, hands braced on his desk, “What do you want?”

(How cute, he’s afraid.)

(Good.)

“I’m here to file a formal complaint against a teammate, Steven G. Rogers.” His smirk grew at the brief, taken aback, look Fury got before it was hidden away behind a wall of blank, “I would like to discuss possible repercussions’ for his actions, and the steps that will be taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

“And if I say no?” Fury asked defensively.

Tony snorted, leaning forward and stapling his fingers, “Look, I’m coming to you as an act of good will, extending the olive branch, and what have you,” He started mildly, “Captain Rogers, who is team leader by the way, in case you forgot, punch me, a teammate, in the face, hard enough to leave a dent. He hurt me, I’m hurt, I was damaged and, let me perfectly clear on this,” His voice turned to ice, “I’m being nice here, by allowing you to handle it, but if you don’t, well then you better believe I will.” He leaned back in the chair.

(If he had to handle this on his own, it wouldn’t end well for anyone.)

(Not even him.)

Fury sat and contemplated it for a moment, but Tony doubted there was really that much for him to think about.

“Alright,” He finally said. He knew Rogers had made a mistake. He wasn’t going to make it worse. Good. “I’m listening.”

Steve

Steve shifted in his seat as he waited for debrief to start.

Another mission without Ironman.

Bruce was more testy lately, quicker to snap (not in a ‘Hulk out’ kind of way, but definitely more sarcastic), but didn’t seem worried like he usually was when the robot went AWOL, so Steve was choosing to take that as a good sign.

Natasha and Clint hadn’t changed much, if at all, after the mishap. The only thing really note worthy was Natasha calling him an idiot every time he started to dwell –but really, now that he thought about it, that wasn’t new at all.

Thor, who was back, had just missed the whole thing, arriving a week after the fiasco. He had brought Miss Foster and a girl named Darcy with him after Miss Potts (who had also seemed more hostile toward Steve. Probably the hole in the wall…) had offered them both jobs in R&D. He –Thor- had started off more confused than anything, but transitioned into dubiousness rather quickly.

Apparently hitting your friends was normal on Asgard.

Doing so with lethal force was not.

(“-But I thought our Captain aimed to woo the Iron man-”

“Thor, buddy, there really isn’t a good way to explain this without Steve sounding like a total douche.”)

Clint sighed loudly and smacked his head on the table, drawing Steve out of his thoughts, “What’s taking them so long!? Debrief was supposed to start, like, an hour ago!” He whined.

Natasha rolled her eyes, but even she was starting to look a little crabby with having to wait.

Coulson had, of course, told them that he, and possibly Fury (which was strange in and of itself, because Fury really only came to the big meetings now), would probably be late. Given that the moment the battle ( with some guy who was pretending to be a wizard, but had actually done some experiment on himself to give him “conjuring” abilities) was over, he had been summoned to help deal with what sounded like a serious problem, if even Fury, with Hill’s help, couldn’t handle it.

“I’m sure they’ll be here soon,” Steve tried, but seeing as that was the fourth time he’d said those words, they didn’t hold as much ground as before.

“Aye, they’d better; Darcy has requested that I watch Frozen with her today –though why anyone would want to watch an animated show about a frozen wasteland is beyond even I- and I do not wish to keep her waiting any longer,” Thor said, his arms crossed as he paced around, too restless to sit.

Steve bit his lip, but before he could give anymore platitudes that would (literally, in Clint’s case) fall on deaf ears the subjects of their conversation chose to walk in.

Fury dropped a pile of forms in front of Steve as he walked to the front of the room, taking his spot at the head of the table with a slightly haggard Hill not far behind. Coulson took a post next to Clint, but even he looked mildly dazed.

“Uh,” Steve started, picking up the top paper, “What are these?” He asked nervously, glancing at Phil.

Fury sighed, rubbing his brow, “Just sign them so we can get on with this,”

Steve was taken aback by how genuinely stressed the man sounded and judging by the dubious looks the others adopted, he wasn’t the only one, “Um, right, okay.” He signed them quickly, not reading them. It may have been a mistake, but Steve didn’t honestly think, Phil at least, would make him sign anything damaging.

“But. What are they?” Clint asked, curiosity peaked as he tried to peer at the words.

“Those,” Coulson started, “Are the end result of over seven hours of negotiation.” He didn’t offer more than that.

“I’m not gonna like this, am I?” Steve sighed, handing the papers over to Phil, who took them and set them aside for now.

“No, you’re going to love it and be grateful.” Fury grouched, “Next time I’m just gonna let the bitchy robot have you.”

Steve’s head shot up, “Wait, this has something to do with Iron-”

“Too put it mildly, you’ve been served Captain.” Phil cut him off, sitting down hard in the seat next to Clint, “Ironman actually did the mature thing and filed a complaint. He had all the forms filled out and everything.”

The silence that followed was broken by Clint snorting, soon going into a full out laugh, “Oh, my god, he actually tattled on you!”

“There is nothing funny about this, Agent Barton.” Hill stated seriously, cutting through Clint’s mirth.

Clint stopped laughing, “Oh… kay. What’s his punishment?”

Steve tensed, waiting.

Fury made him wait a little longer before sighing and sitting straighter, “He got off easy. He’ll have to take anger management classes for at least six months, along with some form of therapy outside of SHIELD, and he’ll have to write an apology letter to Ironman stating just why what he did was bad and why he will never do it again.” He told them.

Steve sagged. That didn’t sound so bad, considering he was expecting a lot worse from the robot.

“That sounds… incredibly anticlimactic,” Bruce joked dryly, slumping back in his own chair.

Thor nodded, “I too, was expecting something… more from our metal friend,”

“Did none of you hear the ‘seven hours of negotiation’ part?” Fury asked, “Because his original request was for the Captain to be paraded around HQ, naked, before allowing the junior agents to take turns flogging him.” He admitted, much to Steve’s horror, “The Iron bastard is also incredibly persuasive –by hour five I was about ready to agree to having you jump sharks in the old USO girls uniform.”

“By this point,” Hill said in strained voice, “I had already been called in as back up, for three hours.”

Clint glanced around the table, “Can I find this funny? Because I want to find this funny, but I’m also kinda worried about Steve.”

Steve didn’t want to know what his face looked like right now.

“When I got there, Ironman was haggling for Japanese water torture. Over bamboo.” Phil said blandly.

Natasha raised a dubious eyebrow, “And just how did you go from that to this, in the hour you were there?”

Phil shrugged, “Ironman has a soft spot for me.”

“And, at this point,” Fury said, “I don’t even care why. Now, can we get to actual business?”

Steve sat straighter and got back to the briefing. If nothing else, he now had a new respect for his bosses.

And a slight fear of Ironman’s creativity.

Chapter Text

Steve

He took a breath, standing in front of the VA center, fingering the card in his pocket that Natasha had given him.

She had recommended this place for his ‘mandatory therapy’ outside of SHIELD, said that group would be easier, if not better, for him than one-on-one. She was probably right, considering Steve’s history with the SHIELD therapists.

It didn’t stop his stomach from turning at the prospect.

Shaking his head, Steve took another, fortifying breath, and walked in.

He smiled shakily at the middle aged receptionist as he walked up to the desk, who smiled back encouragingly, sitting down the papers she had been looking at, “Hi, how can I help you?”

“Uh, hi,” He started, unsure, “I, um, I’m not sure where I’m supposed to go?” He gave her the card, feeling a little like an idiot. If it showed, the woman didn’t mention it, kindly pointing down the hall to his left.

“The room you’re looking for is down that way, it’ll be the third door on your right. It’s Mr. Wilson’s room, so if you get lost, you can ask someone.” She explained.

Steve nodded once, throwing a hand up in an awkward wave as he started down the hall, “Thank you, Ma’am.”

“You’re welcome,” She said, before going back to her papers.

Steve shook his head and started looking for the right door, not wanting to make this experience worse than it already was by walking into the wrong room.

When he walked in the session was already going on –not that he was surprised, he had procrastinated earlier that morning, then again at the door- so he snagged one of the empty seats in the back and tried to be as unobtrusive as possible as he listened to these people, these veterans, tell their stories.

It was humbling, and Steve didn’t really feel like he had the right to be there, with all these heroes. Sure, he had crashed a plane into the ocean, had fought aliens, and other strange people, but he was a super soldier. These were ordinary people who had suffered unimaginable horrors, people who signed up to serve their country and paid the price, are still paying the price, for it, and Steve was there because he hit a friend.

It didn’t seem right.

So he kept silent until it was over, and watched as most of them trickled out at the end, only a handful lingering by the refreshment table. He waited until the ones that were leaving left before standing up himself.

“Hey!”

Steve turned to see the man from before, the counselor, jogging up to him.

“You’re Steve Rogers, right?” He asked when stopped.

“Uh, yeah,” Steve squared his shoulders a little, like he did when he had to talk to reporters, “That’s me.”

Either the man hadn’t noticed the change in Steve’s demeanor or he was ignoring it, either way Steve was grateful, “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Steve. My name’s Sam. I introduced myself earlier, at the beginning of the session, but seeing as you came in a little late I thought I’d say hi now.”

“Well, thanks, I guess,” Steve shifted awkwardly.

“Uh-huh,” The man, Sam, gave Steve a look, but chose not to comment, “Sooo, How’d you like it?”

“Oh, it was fine, great even,” Steve assured the man, but shrugged helplessly, “I’m just not sure it was for me, that’s all.”

Sam nodded, “Yeah, I get that,” He agreed, “It’s not for everyone, but I’d like it if you’d give it a chance. You might surprise yourself.”

Steve winced a little, “I don’t actually have a choice,” at Sam’s questioning look, he continued, “I… did something I’m not proud of, and now I have to go to some form of therapy, and since I know one-on-one doesn’t work…” He trailed off, looking away.

“Hey, man,” Sam started, getting Steve’s attention, “Everyone’s done something they regret –hell, that’s kinda why we’re all here in the first place, but you do have a choice here, Steve. Showing up may be mandatory, but what you take away from it? Well that’s entirely up to you.”

“Yeah…” Steve said quietly, not really believing, but not wanting to argue.

“Yeah.” Sam reaffirmed before he started rummaging through his pockets, “Old on a sec,” He said, drawing out a card not unlike the one Steve had given to the receptionist and a pen before he started writing something down on the card, “I know you said one-on-one doesn’t work, but if you ever need to talk to someone, as a friend,” He handed Steve the card, “My phone number’s on the back, don’t hesitate to call, okay?”

Steve looked down at the card, ran his thumb over the number, before looking back up with a slightly strained smile, “I’ll keep that mind.”

Steve wasn’t going to call.

Sam gave him an amused look, as if he could tell what Steve was thinking, “Riiight. Well, I’ll see you next week then, Steve.” Then he left.

“Yeah, bye,” Steve mumbled, fingering the card once more, before putting it in his pocket. He wasn’t gonna use it, but it would be nice to have. Just in case.

. . .

Another balled up piece of paper hit the already over flowing trash can. Steve groaned in frustration, hitting his head against his desk.

There was no way he was going to be able to write a sincere apology letter to Ironman without sounding like a complete heel. He meant every word he wrote, but whenever he reread it, it came off as demeaning and there was no way Ironman would take too kindly to that.

He whacked his face against the desk again. God, he couldn’t even apologize right.

He thought back to the card in his pocket. This probably wasn’t what Sam had had in mind, but…

Both Clint and Natasha would laugh at him; Bruce was still pretty angry himself and Thor…

Would it be mean to think Thor was useless in this situation?

Fury wouldn’t help, and Steve really didn’t want to face Coulson’s disappointed look. That really only left one option.

Sitting up, he pulled out his phone and then the card, dialing the number before he could talk himself out of it.

Hello?

“Hey, Sam.” Steve bit his lip.

Steve, hey, how ya doing?” He asked, as if they really were friends and hadn’t just met that morning. It made Steve relax a little in his seat.

“I know this is sudden, but I was wondering if you had any clue how to write a believable apology letter without sounding like a jackass?”

There was a moment of silence on the other end, “…This have anything to do with the thing you did?

“Uh…” Steve hesitated.

Right, well, do you need it right now? ‘cause If not, we could meet up in the morning, maybe get some breakfast, and you can tell me what exactly you need this letter to convey besides ‘sorry’.

Steve blew out a breath of relief, “Yeah that sounds great, Sam. I really appreciate it.” He slumped back in his chair, “There’s a diner we can meet up at; it has pretty good breakfast.”

Sounds like a plan. See ya then,”

“Bye,” They both hung up, but Steve still found himself feeling lighter. He would have someone he could bounce his ideas off of, and Sam probably wouldn’t make fun of him for it.

Tomorrow might actually be a pretty good day.

Chapter Text

Steve

“Okay, you were right; this is delicious.” Sam said after taking a bit of his food.

Steve smiled, “Yeah, it’s become one of my favorite places since-” He cut off, unsure if Sam knew about him being, well, him.

Sam swallowed and seemed to ignore his cut-off, “Well, I guess it might be time to get started on that letter now, huh? Unless you’ve changed your mind…” He added when he saw Steve’s hesitation.

Steve shook his head, “No, it’s just. What I did was really stupid, and I’m not sure how I’m ever gonna explain that to him without making it worse or him making fun of me for it.” He sighed and slumped back in the booth.

“If you don’t me asking,” Sam started cautiously, “Just what exactly did you do?”

Steve bit his lip, trying to decide just how much he should say. In the end he decided if Sam was gonna help than he needed to be honest.

“I hit one of my teammates.”

Sam eyebrows shot up, “Well, that’s not good. You have a reason why?”

It was said in a way like Sam expected there to be a reason, but it wouldn’t surprise him in the least if there wasn’t. It wasn’t something Steve had been expecting.

And the truth was, Steve wasn’t sure he had a reason.

“I don’t know,” He answered honestly, defeated, “We were fighting -which isn’t unusual for us, because we fight a lot, god we’re always fighting…” He shook his head to clear it, “Anyway, he said something, and he’s always teasing, but something about this felt… well, spiteful may be a little too strong of a word. It just. Hit me wrong I guess, and I saw red, and the next thing I know my fist is connecting to his face, and then he’s in a wall, and oh god, fuck-”

“Hey, Steve calm down, it’s okay.” Sam tried to help. Steve took a stilted, shaky breath and buried his face in his hands, trying to calm his heart.

What the fuck was wrong with him!? It’s not like he was the one who got hit!

“You feeling better, now?” Sam questioned when Steve finally got his breathing back to normal. He whined softly and laid his forehead against the slightly sticky table.

“I just feel so stupid…” He mumbled.

“Now, I’m not going to make any excuses for you, but believe it or not,” Sam started quietly, “What you’re feeling right now is normal, Steve. You’ve been through a lot, enough to drive a strong man crazy ten times over – God knows I wouldn’t have been able to handle it as well as you have, that’s for sure. You were bound to break eventually, and maybe the way it happened wasn’t ideal, but you shouldn’t beat yourself up over it because it did.” He told him.

Steve sat up, “What? What are you…”

“I know who you are, Steve,” He answered before Steve could ask, “It doesn’t mean what I said was any less true. You may be a superhero but you’re still human, and there was only going to be so much you could take. Waking up seventy years in the future and then having to turn around and fight aliens and rogue robots? I get panicky just thinking about it, and I’m not the one that has to go through it.” He finished, trying somewhat successfully to comfort Steve.

Well, it would have been successful had he not mentioned Ironman, no matter how indirectly.

Steve’s face hit the table again.

“Oh man, what did I say? I thought I was doing pretty good with that speech, are you okay?”

“Ironman was the teammate I punched in the face. I wasn’t holding back –if he had been human he would be dead.” Steve admitted quietly.

Sam was quiet for a moment, “Uh, don’t you do that all the time? Isn’t that kinda your job?”

Steve sat up and glared at the man a cross from him, “Hey, Ironman is a hero! He’s been on our side for over six months now and has done nothing-” besides blowing up a bunch of SHIELD bases, not that Steve would ever tell Sam that “-to suggest otherwise. He’s helped hundreds of people –he saved New York during the invasion! He’s the one people should look up to, not me!”

“Then why’d you hit him?”

“I –what? I just told you-”

“It’s more than that Steve, if everything you just said is true –and I believe it is,” He cut Steve off before he could say anything, “You obviously admire him, and if the two of you argue all the time than there’s probably something deeper at work here,”

“I…” Steve looked out the window, not wanting to make eye contact, “I don’t know.”

“What you felt just now? Did you feel it then?” Sam asked, then elaborated, “Trouble keeping your breathing steady, mind moving faster than you can talk, possibly a rage stronger than necessary in the situation?”

‘Among other things,’ Steve thought wryly. It hadn’t been the first time, either. Ever since Phil supposedly died it had been harder for Steve to control himself. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“You would’ve known it as shellshock, but today we call it PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It effects everybody differently, but…” He shrugged, “Sounds to me like you have it.”

Steve swallowed and turned back to look at Sam, “That doesn’t change what I did.”

“No,” Sam agreed, “It doesn’t, but now that you know you can get help, make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Steve bit his lip. He could probably end it here, get Sam to help with the apology, or even write it himself, but…

Sam noticed his hesitation, “What is it?”

“I liked him,” Steve admitted before he could back out, “I mean, I really liked him.”

Sam sat back in surprise, “Oh. Oh! Wow, okay, so, I’m not judging or anything, but you do realize...”

“Yeah.” Steve agreed, “I know it’s just a crush, and that it’s never going to go anywhere, now more than ever, but,” He slumped helplessly, “What he said that upset me so much? I felt he was making fun of me for it, heck he probably was. It doesn’t give me an excuse, but.”

“But it was dick move and he shouldn’t have done it.” Sam said, holding up a hand when Steve tried to protest, “Again, I’m not making excuses for what you did, I’m just sayin’ that he’s not innocent either, Steve, and you gotta stop looking at this like it’s all black and white.”

Steve thought for a moment, taking in what Sam said. He still couldn’t find it in him to blame Ironman for any of it, after all, the robot teased everyone about everything and Steve knew it would happen if he ever found out.

Even if it hurt.

“So, what do I do now?” He asked, meeting Sam’s eyes.

“Now? Maybe we should start on that apology letter.”

Chapter Text

Tony

Tony was devastated. Completely, utterly devastated.

Apparently, there aren’t enough legos in the world to build a life sized Death Star.

(How was he going to break the news to Clint?)

(He was going to be so upset…)

Tony had, of course, toyed with the idea of building his own legos, but JARVIS had nixed that particular plan, even going so far as tattling to Pepper, the traitor.

Sighing exaggeratingly, Tony shot the last HYDRA agent in the room without looking up and planted his bomb. Another bust.

(Turns out, ‘ghost story’ was an understatement.)

It was as he was flying away from the flaming, smoldering building (which was getting pretty old) that JARVIS spoke up.

Sir, the Avengers have been called to assemble in New York.

“So?” They get called to assemble all the time, the majority of those times in New York. The city may have been his sandbox, but Tony wanted his toys to stew a little before he played with them again.

(Besides, said toys were also excellent guard dogs.)

(Not exactly the best trained, though, considering the alpha has no qualms in biting the master.)

(That metaphor may have gotten out of hand.)

The ‘villain of the week’ has planted a bomb, and so far SHIELD has been unable to locate it. The man also has sword that is on fire, some form of hovering shoes allowing him to glide in the air, and a force field.

Oh.

Oh.

(Well… shit.)

“Did they at least evacuate the area?” He asked, slightly exasperated, as he changed his course.

They are attempting to, Sir, but unfortunately they do not know the blast radius to be completely sure. The villain is also making it difficult, charging any attempts to save civilians.” JARVIS informed, “While his end goal is unclear, it has been noted that he seems to particularly relish in the fear and panic he is causing.

Riiiight. Tony tried not the think too hard on that, “And how’s the Cap Squad fairing?”

There was a pause (which never meant anything good coming from JARVIS), “Prince Thor is fairing the best, Sir, but as I said, the man has a force field, rendering most attacks harmless.”

(Fuck.)

“…If it looks like I’m not gonna make it, send the Iron Legion to assist.”

. . .

He makes it, which is great, but he doesn’t announce himself like he usually would, instead vying to look for the bomb without the baddy interfering. Every one of the SHIELD agents look stressed the fuck out, and under normal circumstances Tony would have found that hilarious, but given the situation…

(They couldn’t find the bomb, they didn’t know how long before it blew…

They all thought they were going to die, and continued to try and evacuate as many people as possible.)

(And there wasn’t a single HYDRA agent in sight. Figures.)

He scanned the buildings from above, looking for heat, any type of radiation, or things that would make up a bomb. It didn’t look like anyone had noticed him yet, which he was pretty proud of considering Clint was on a rooftop not far from where he was flying.

(But then, he was pretty distracted by the flying guy with a fire sword, so.)

(Whatever.)

Sir,” JARVIS intoned, dragging Tony from his thoughts. Looking he saw what the AI had, a heat signature hidden on the second floor of a collapsing apartment building.

Just not the heat signature he was hoping for.

Sir, there appears to be-

“A kid, yeah I see it.” He sighed. If he didn’t help JARVIS wouldn’t talk to him for, like, a week. And he’d probably tell Pepper.

He swooped down through an already broken window. Don’t get him wrong, Tony liked kids; they were small and corruptible and made the best minions. It was just really inconvenient in his current situation.

He found the kid hiding under his bed, shaking.

“Well?” Tony asked after all the kid does is stare at him with slightly widened eyes, after he had crouched down to see him, “You just gonna hide there until you explode?”

The boy squeaked before finally scrambling out from under the bed, “It’s you!” He shouted as he threw himself at Tony.

(Wait, what- Oh!)

“You’re one of the kids from the school bus I borrowed! Mark, right?”

Mark nodded, his arms tightening around Tony’s neck. He had calmed down some, but was still shaking quite a bit.

‘Well, that makes this a lot less awkward.” Tony said, standing up with the ten year old on his hip. A little too old to be carried like that, but times were rough and Tony could handle it. The kid didn’t seem to be objecting, anyway.

“Are you gonna take me back to your lair?” Mark asked as Tony flew through another window.

“Can you not say that?” Tony whined, “It makes me sound like a pedophile and I don’t need that on my record. And no, I’m not. You skipped school, right?”

“Yeah,” The kid admitted sheepishly, not at all worried now that they were out of the building.

“Then your mom is probably really stressed out right now, since the school obviously has no idea where you are. I’m going to drop you off on the other side of the barricade and the agents there will get you somewhere safe and find your mom, got it?”

Mark grumbled under his breath but nodded anyway has Tony did exactly as he said he would. He caught Natasha being blown away by the field from the corner of his eye, Rogers charging at the villain not long after, and rolled his eyes.

(Yeah, that clearly isn’t helping, but hey, do whatever you want.)

“Found you a straggler,” He announced as he landed. A few twitchy agents jumped at his sudden appearance and glared, but Phil only looked relieved.

“You’re late.” He informed Tony, motioning an agent to take the kid, who went reluctantly.

“Hey, I’m never late; everyone else is simply early.”

Phil gave him a bland look, “Just go defeat the bad guy.”

Tony mock saluted, shooting back into the air with a back flip and a spin.

“How is it that five heroes can’t defeat one villain? Well, four. Where’s green bean?” He asked over the now open comm.

Oh, thank fuck.” Clint sighed in relief.

You’re late.” Natasha echoed.

“Well, I thought, there being five-ish of you and all, –one of you an actual god- that you could take care of yourselves. I am very disappointed in your performance.” He tutted, “Fill me in, will ya?”

Thor and Cap lost their comms,” Clint started, “Thor fried his and Steve lost his when he got thrown into a building.”

(Haha.)

(Karma’s a bitch, isn’t she?)

“And Bruce?”

Down. This guy was counting on the Hulk and had some kind of tranq ready. He shot Bruce before he could hulk out. He tried shooting at Steve but missed.

“This guy? Really? He’s wearing a bed sheet like a cape.”

He’s some MIT dropout named Kevin. That’s all we know.

Well, okay then. A little disappointing, but about what he had been expecting.

“Well, that sucks. Do you think you can keep him busy for a little bit longer while I search for-”

Oh, shit –Steve!” That was Natasha.

Tony whipped around in the air, eyes zeroing in on the iconic red white and blue. Rogers was on his back, left leg definitely broken, holding his head and looking dazed, with this Kevin guy looming over him. His shield looked like it had been flung several yards away and there was no way Rogers would be able to get to it before this guy brought the sword of fire down.

(Fuck.)

(Do you think we’d get away with-?)

(No, probably not.)

(Fuck.)

He took off in a dive, calculations running in his head even as the Kevin raised his sword with both hands to impale Steve through the heart.

(Oh come on, he needed to go faster!)

JARVIS!” He hissed, the AI gave him a sudden burst of speed, but even then it only gave him just enough to-

(This was gonna hurt…)

(Yep, it hurt. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, OW!)

He had landed just in time to shield Rogers as the Asshole struck. The sword came down with enough force to pierce the armor and cut through his actually flesh like butter, the flames cauterizing the wound before it could even begin to bleed. At the angle Tony had landed, the weapon hadn’t hit anything vital, so he’d probably live, as opposed to just letting the guy kill Cap, but that didn’t mean it was an enjoyable experience.

“…Ironman?” Rogers whispered, confused, barely coming out of his daze.

(How does a super soldier even get a concussion?)

(If the head wound could kill a man.)

(Oh, yeah. Thanks.)

Kevin jerked the sword back in surprise (which had still been in his shoulder, fucking shit, thank you, you bastard), and hovered backwards a little, “It’s you…” He whispered in what sounded suspiciously like hero worship.

Tony started charging the unibeam.

“Oh my god,” The guy said louder, laughing giddily, “It’s actually you-

Tony fired.

Not unlike the force field that had shielded the tesseract when it was used to open a portal, when the repulser hit there was an explosion. A big, loud explosion, that blew fucking Kevin away, knocking him on his ass.

Tony, pissed and in pain, got up from the ground and stalked over to the downed villain.

The man sat up, hand going to his head as he groaned. Tony crouched down, hand shooting out to grip the bastard’s neck. Kevin squeaked as he was lifted off the ground, The force field arm bracers having been damaged in the blast (good) and no longer able to help him.

“You shot me,” Kevin sounded like he didn’t know whether to be hurt or ecstatic.

“What. The fuck.” Tony deadpanned.

“Can you put me down?”

“No.”

Kevin wiggled a little. Tony was just barely holding him above the ground, forcing him to stand on the very tips of his toes.

The man, kid really, finally decided to be absolutely delighted, “I am like, your biggest fan!”

(What.)

The fuck, man?” Clint asked bemusedly.

Tony ignored him. “How does that lead to you planting a bomb and terrorizing the city?”

The guy slumped before standing straight again, trying to avoid being strangled, “Because you. You used to be so great, but then those stupid aliens invaded,” He spat, “And then they corrupted you! Now you act like some hero you’re not… Someone needed to remind you of your legacy-!” Tony’s hand tightened.

(Legacy. Why does everyone always talk about Legacy.)

“No.” Tony said, eerily quiet, “I don’t have a legacy. I’m not here to be remembered, and even if I were,” He drew Kevin closer to his face, “It wouldn’t be because of this. Now, where’s the bomb, Kev?”

“What makes you think I’ll tell?” He asked stubbornly, with just the right hint of fear.

(Maybe he’ll have nightmares, wouldn’t that be great?)

(The very best, indeed.)

“Well,” Tony started mildly, “If you don’t, you’re useless and I’ll kill you.”

Kevin swallowed, and seemed to think about it, “And… If I do?”

“You’re still useless, but as I’m currently acting like a hero,” He said, still completely mild, “I’ll be required to let you go into custody.”

The guy remained stubborn for a few more seconds, before, “Fine.”

. . .

“How did I not know you were that terrifying?” Clint asked as they all started to gather, like usual, during clean up.

Tony shrugged, wincing when the sword wound caught. Fuck, that needed to be looked at. It wasn’t bleeding, because fire, but still hurt like a bitch with a high chance of infection. “I am a man of many talents, Barton. I doubt you’ll ever know all of them.”

“Uh-huh,” Natasha eyed the hole in the armor, “and is that going to be okay?”

Tony rolled his eyes, “I’m fine, mom.”

Before Tony could die for calling Natasha ‘mom’ –and the lapse of judgment on his part was not lost on him- Rogers walked/limped over to their group. Bruce was still unconscious somewhere, and Tony would be more worried if he hadn’t been more afraid of what the doctor was gonna do when he found out what happened.

“Hey,” He started awkwardly.

Tony crossed his arms, again flinching at the pain, “Rogers.”

Steve shifted off his bad leg, “I just,” He took a breath and squared his shoulders, “Thanks, just -thank you for not letting that jerk kill me like I know you probably wanted to.”

Tony huffed, “Whatever. Where’s my letter?”

Steve chuckled, the asshole, rummaging through his pant pockets, having changed out of the uniform already, “I figured you’d ask for it –here.” He handed over the envelope, and-

(Wait. He actually did it?)

“You actually wrote it!” Tony crowed, snatching the paper out of the icons hand.

Steve rubbed the back of his neck, “Well, yeah, I-”

Tony cut him off, completely giddy as he read it, “This. This- I love this. I’m keeping this.”

“Really?”

Tony hummed, holding the paper out as if to get a better look, “Yes. I’m getting it framed, and I’m gonna put it someplace I’ll always see it.”

“So…” Steve started, bemused but full of hope, “Does that mean we’re okay again?”

“Oh, I still don’t like you,” Tony said frankly, causing the super soldier to slump. He hugged the letter close to his chest, “But now I don’t want to punch your face in every time I see it.”

“Good enough!” Clint cheered before Steve could open his mouth, “This means you’re back with the team, right?”

Tony hedged, unsure of just how long he’d actually be back on the team, “For now, I suppose…”

“Huzzah!” Thor bellowed, raising his hammer, “This calls for celebration!”

(Uh, how about no?)

(Why would he even suggest that?)

“Maybe next time, but I kind of have repairs to do. Well, that, and I don’t want to go, but you guys have fun!” He blasted off before they could react and headed for home.

Hopefully this would be the last time he would be hurt for awhile.

Chapter Text

“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” - Winston Churchill

. . .

This was it,

Fast, hard footsteps connected to the concrete floor.

This had to be it…

A hard left. A small, disk like explosive thrown with a flick of a hand at his pursuers. He didn’t bother looking back at the fire, and the resulting screams that followed.

There wasn’t any option left, this was the last building he could track down that had that fucking tank in it.

More people were ahead of him, blocking his path. He didn’t slow down, instead raising his repulsers to shoot right through them.

If he wasn’t here than he wasn’t anywhere- a wild ghost chase, if you will.

He finally got to the door he needed, ignoring the bullets he had long since become accustom to beating against his back, and blew the handle to bypass the lock, not wanting to waste time doing it manually.

And if this had all been for nothing he was going to…

Tony walked up to the tank and wiped off some of the frost to see inside-

“Found you.”

-Well, I guess you’ll never know.

. . .

They were having a staring contest.

Barnes had awoken not long after Tony blasted through the roof, taking the soldier with him after he had ripped the tank door off its hinges to get to the guy.

(Because he finally had him, and there was no way he was losing that chance because of a door.)

(What was he going to do with him now, though?)

(A good question,)

Tony had no clue what he was gonna do with the guy now that he had him. Drop him off at Steve’s doorstep? How in the world would he explain that? “Hey, Steve, here’s your old bestie, yeah, that’s why I was destroying SHIELD buildings, because SHIELD is actually HYDRA, who had had said bestie as a brainwashed soldier for the last seventy years! Also, you and your merry band of do-gooders have actually been working for the bad guys the entire time, haha, yeah –oh, the reason I didn’t tell you any of this is because… actually, I don’t have a reason, I just didn’t want to.”

(That was terrible,)

(Now, hang on, it could work-)

(No,)

Tony shook his head to clear it, finally breaking eye contact with the assassin, who was standing exactly where Tony sat him on the landing pad, ‘awaiting orders’. It was creepy as fuck and Tony still didn’t know what to do with the guy!

“You know what?” Tony said, because fuck it, “I’ll be sure to step lightly around all your land mines and sensibilities later, when I’ll probably care more,  but right now I don’t, so first order of business is shower, coffee, food, sleep, in that order.” He walked over to the platform that would take him down to the lab to remove the suit. He turned back to Barnes to say something else only to nearly jump out of his skin when he found the man standing mere inches from his face.

“Son of a bitch, have you never heard of personally space!” He clutched at the arc reactor while he caught his breath, then used one finger to push the other man back a little.

He didn’t budge an inch.

(That bastard,)

Tony huffed agitatedly, taking his own step back and watching Barnes with narrowed eyes to make sure he didn’t follow. “Right,” He drawled out tightly, “You, of course, can join me in any of those things except the shower, though I would recommend you taking your own, because hygiene was obviously very low on the list of important things at HYDRA-”

(Those filthy animals,)

(Should be ashamed of themselves, all of them,)

“-And while normally I’d welcome you with more than just open arms, you’re kinda not in the best place to be making those kinds of decisions-”

(Does this guy even know how to make a decision?)

“-So why don’t you take about two steps back, go through that door over there, and wait while I go get out of this suit and then I’ll show you to a bathroom you can use. I hope you know how to use a shower, but if not, JARVIS is more than capable of assisting you, just voice the question out loud, got it? Good. Now,” This time when Tony poked him he actually took two steps back, “Why don’t you go do your thing, and I’ll go do my thing, I’ll have coffee, which can have too, if want, I’ll try and scrounge up food, which I’d normally say is mandatory in this situation, but the irony would be too cruel and I can’t exactly force you to eat. Same with sleeping, though I guess you’ve been sleeping a lot, huh?” Tony paused thoughtfully, “So I guess if you wanted to opt out of that you could always watch something or read a book –if you can find one of those blasphemous things in the lair- or just stare at a wall for eight to ten hours, y’know, whatever bakes your pie.”

(Hmm… pie.)

(Does he even know what he just said? That was a lot of words.)

(Was it, though?)

After a second when Barnes just stood there Tony started to feel a little awkward. He shifted, “So, uh, shoo.” He made the shooing motions with his hands, which was apparently all the guy needed, as he immediately turned and walked (stalked) over to the entrance. JARVIS let him in and Tony was finally able to breathe a little easier.

(What the fuck had he gotten himself into?)

(I doubt any good will come of this.)

Fuck.

Tony shook it off and rode the lift down to his workshop. He allowed the bots to remove his suit and stepped out, cracking his back with a groan.

(He was pretty sure this whole experience has been giving him gray hairs.)

Now he had to take another elevator up, escort Robocop to a bathroom, take a shower, drink coffee (which wasn’t exactly a hardship, but the company would be off putting), actually cook and eat actual human food like an actual normal human being, before he could allow himself to Succumb  to the sweet relief of temporary death.

(So very dramatic.)

Chapter Text

Tony

He stretched before curling further into is burrow of blankets and comfort. Last night had been one of the rare ones where he actually slept all the way through, and he was still in the high stage of limbo between asleep and awake and never, ever, wanted to leave his bed.

Unfortunately, his bladder had other ideas.

Tony tried to ignore it, wishing the feeling would somehow take care of itself without him having to get up and/or wet the bed in a wholly undignified manner.

(Although…)

(No.)

With a frustrated noise somewhere between a sigh and a growl, Tony heaved himself onto his knees, leaning down for the briefest of moments, silently saying goodbye to the warm embrace of the only thing that ever truly loved him-

(That’s enough, go get some coffee.)

Mmmm… coffee.

Once more he stretched out, listening to his joints pop pleasantly, and then swung his legs off the bed.

Still in the half dozed limbo, and dreaming of the sweet essence of caffeine, as he started to make his way to the bathroom, he didn’t notice a certain, uh, obstacle, in his path.

So, of course, he tripped and face planted into the hard, cold, unforgiving, polished metal floor.

Where he stayed.

(That’s it, life is canceled.)

(Pepper-)

(Will just have to get over it.)

Sir?” JARVIS asked, voice a cross between worried and amused, “Are you alright?

“Just let me die here.” Tony groaned into the floor.

I’m sorry, Sir,” –He sounded completely not sorry- “But I’m afraid I can’t do that.

With a huff, Tony levered himself up onto his elbows and turned to glare at the thing that had caused his fall.

“You do realize you have a room, right?”

No answer.

“A room with a bed. A bed I got specifically for you. So you wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor.”

The cyborg blinked dryly (somehow, that asshole) before rolling over with his back to Tony.

Muttering some choice words under his breath, he got up and continued to the bathroom.

(A month in, and, would you look at that? The guy under the blank face is seeping through. The bad news? That guy is a dick.)

(At least he’s not acting like a lost puppy trailing behind its owner anymore.)

(Not completely, anyway. He’s still way too clingy for Tony’s taste.)

(Oh, please, he loves it.)

Tony rubbed his face to banish the lingering sleep, and the viscous, viscous lies, along with it.

How is this his life?

Still, after he was finished in the bathroom, he headed towards the kitchen in hopes that the coffee, that he knew JARVIS had started during the first signs of wakefulness, was done.

It was, the sweet aroma wafting close and wrapping Tony in all the right ‘good morning’ places.

(This isn’t going to turn into porn, is it?)

(It might.)

The only thing that put a damper on it was the Barnes already sitting at the table, drinking his own coffee mildly.

What a bastard.

Grabbing his own mug perhaps a little too roughly, he poured his first cup and, without adding anything to it, took the first sinful sip and flopped into the chair across from the one-armed bandit.

Coffee having done its job in sating his ire, Tony hummed and asked in a mild tone, “So, what are your plans for this not-the-best-but-could-be-worse morning?”

James paused and looked down at his cup, rolling it in his hands a couple of times, “I was, uh, thinking about watching some more of the footage.” He admitted quietly, if a little shaky.

Tony downed the rest of his coffee in one giant swig, sighing as he rose to get another, less bitter, cup. “If you’re sure that’s what you want. You want me to watch with you?” He made sure to keep his voice relaxed, despite the vague felling of, not quite dread, but the next worse thing, swirling in his chest.

(Because he can actually be a decent human being.)

(Well, sometimes…)

There wasn’t a verbal conformation, but instead a soft whirr from James’ left arm. The noise made Tony glance over out of the corner of his eye.

The soldier caught his stare and gave a slight, but firm, nod. His face was entirely blank, save for his eyes, but Tony doubted he’d ever even start comprehend just what type of emotion he could see there.

“Alright,” Tony said with a grin, just a slight octave away from way too cheerful, “I’ll make the popcorn!”

. . .

It hadn’t really taken all that long for the mind wipes to start wearing off, and seeing pictures or watching videos seemed to speed up the process even more. But, in spite of popular belief, Tony was not always an asshole-

(Snorts.)

(Manic laughter in the distance…)

He was so mean to himself, it wasn’t even funny, he takes it back, he is always an asshole.

But that doesn’t mean he has to act like one towards other people. He had informed James, after a week, when the guy started to act more human-

(Ha ha)

-That he, Tony, was currently in possession of a large number photographs, a vast collection of video, and just general information, pertaining to his life. What James did with it was entirely up to him.

When, after another three days, he asked if Tony would look/watch/read it with him, well…

(He’s a sucker for puppy eyes.)

(And for someone who used to be an emotionless weapon of mass destruction, man could that guy pout.)

(He wasn’t even doing it on purpose! That is so unfair!)

So, long story short-

(Too late)

Shut up- Long story short, whenever James decides he wants to jump in with both feet down the deep end of the rabbit hole chocked full of PTSD filled angst and issues, Tony willingly gets dragged along for the awful ride of despair.

But on the bright side, whenever things start to get too intense JARVIS will pause whatever they’re watching so Tony can throw popcorn at the tense ass mother fucker until said mother fucker finally gives in and opens his mouth so Tony can make the fucking shot like come the fuck on you dick we’ve been at this for over ten minutes!

“Finally!” Tony cheered, throwing his hands up in his excitement when he finally got one in, “Was that so hard? And look at all the popcorn you wasted, my roombas are going to have a field day, no wonder you’re their favorite half human,” He paused, “Quarter human? Fifth human? Not-completely-human!” He finally settled, not at all secretly pleased his rambling had done its job of draining some of the tension from his current living companion.

(Finally, he has a reason to talk that’s not just for him to hear his own voice.)

(Or drown out the voices, the thoughts he can’t hide from, because they’re always there, just waiting-)

“Seriously though,” Tony started when all he got was silence and a slight almost smirk for his troubles, hopping a seat over so he could bump James’ metal shoulder with his own, fleshy one, “I’m used to dealing with over emotional old people that look young and who always try to blame themselves for pretty much everything. And this,” He waved a disinterested hand at the TV, “is so far from you, it’s kinda funny. Because no matter who you were, before or after HYDRA, that doesn’t really say anything about who you are now, and I should know, I’ve changed so much over the years!”

For all his sincerity, he knew he sounded forced, strained, by the end of his little speech. It wasn’t something he talked about, at all, no matter how abstract or indirect it may have been.

But you can’t exactly expect someone to be truthful if you don’t.

“I know,” James sighed. He bumped Tony back and ran a hand down his (own) face, “But it’s still… unnerving to see me- someone who looks like me,” He amended on his own, “doing all this shit I barely remember, much less feel any sort of attachment too… I guess, I just thought I’d feel- more, and I-”

“Don’t?” Tony offered, “Feel practically nothing? A vague since of guilt that’s directed more towards the fact that you don’t feel guilty than the actual horrifying acts someone used your body to commit?”

James looked over at him strangely for a brief moment before chuckling, “Yeah, that about sums it up.” His smile fades a little, “How do you deal with it?”

(Well, that was a loaded question.)

Tony blinked in bewilderment and scratched his head, “Y’know?” he started, “I actually have no idea.” Then he laughed, falling sideways so his head was in the soldiers lap, “But I’ll tell you one thing,” He reached up and poked James in the nose as they made eye contact, “You have, like, a 99.7% higher chance of successfully becoming one with humanity again than I ever did, and the percentage gets higher every day,” He grinned so widely his face was practically split through his cheeks, “So don’t beat yourself up over the little stuff, like guilt or ‘feelings’, okay?”

James snorted and shoved a handful of popcorn in Tony’s face, but he was smiling now, so it all worked out in the end, Tony supposed.

Chapter Text

Tony

He couldn’t stop laughing.

Sprawled out on the cool floor of the workshop-

(Or was it The Cave…?)

(No, no definitely the workshop.)

He couldn’t help but think how stupid it was, how something as small as burning his hand with a welder would make him feel. Remind him of a different time, a different him.

He saw the moments all the time in his dreams, has even seen it out of the corner of his eye occasionally, even more so after The New York Incident, but this…

He couldn’t stop laughing.

Because, for a brief moment, he could feel. He had never forgotten the images, but the feelings had been lost in a sea of numb for so long…

And it hurt, the sanity his mind had forced upon him, a lucid hallucination with Yinsen’s mumbled but clear explanations as he cleaned wounds and apologized when Tony forgot not to flinch.

And he could remember Pepper, her no nonsense face as she hunted him down from one hiding spot to another, the clanking of heels that signified he had a place to be that he really didn’t want to be.

He remembered Rhodey, too, back before his brow was always crinkled with worry, the way they joked and neither had to worry about what they said. Back when Rhodey was proud to present Tony to the new recruits, back when he could.

And Happy, he never saw Happy anymore. Before, he was practically always there, silent, just outside the door. Now?

Truthfully, he never really saw any of them anymore. And it hurt.

And he couldn’t stop laughing.

Then there was Obie, the kind, if overbearing, godfather, who never made Tony do anything he could do himself. Then there was Stane, the traitorous bastard, who hired a hit on Tony’s head, who sold weapons to terrorists, who looked him in the eye and confirmed the fact that you couldn’t trust reality.

He didn’t register the fact that there were now tears streaming down his face, that he had at some pointed turned on his side, curling in on himself.

He could hear JARVIS, voice worried and panicked, but he couldn’t stop laughing enough to comfort one of the only constants to ever truly stay.

He didn’t even notice when there was a new voice in the mix, or the cold silver hand on his shoulder, or the anxious face of James Barnes trying to get him to calm down, to breath, Tony, you need to-

He didn’t know when his laughter had turned to sobs, couldn’t understand, because it had been years, and he’d lived, he was alive- why? Why now? Why at all? He didn’t want to feel, not now, not ever, because feeling hurt.

And then suddenly it all snapped back. Tony found himself dry heaving, absently thankful he hadn’t eaten due to his binge working, sweat pouring out of every pore, the hand now steady on his back, voice mumbling nonsense that Tony didn’t even try to make sense out of as his breathing settled again.

And just like that, the numbness fell over him like a veil. He was back to his normal –if it could be called that- self, his mind, though not silent, never silent, was quieter.

Just like that, he was fine.

(Relatively, anyway.)

(But never really.)

“M’ good.” He tried, voice hoarse from laughing and crying both.

“Are you?” James asked incredulously.

“Yep, just need-” He swayed as he got to his feet (much to both JARVIS’ and James’ mother henning consternation) and tried to think. What did he need, again?

(Maybe something to do with his hand?)

(Eh, it was already healing. Not important, anyway.)

“You just need…?” James continued, still hovering with sharp, assessing eyes, like Tony was going to shatter if he got more than a foot away.

“I don’t remember, but it probably wasn’t important.” The genius sighed, shuffling his way to the old couch in the corner, Barnes not far behind.

Flopping down and closing his eyes, Tony decided now was as good as any for story time. After all, James got to tell all kinds of stories, why shouldn’t Tony?

“Did I ever tell you about the time I stole a school bus?”

The scraggily soldier started a little as he sat down slowly beside the crazy man.

(You know that’s got to be what he thinks of Tony.)

(That’s what Tony thinks of Tony.)

“No,” He said eventually, “But it sounds interesting. Why’d you steal a school bus?”

“Does there have to be a reason?”

“With you? Absolutely.”

Tony snorts at the deadpanned reply, “Funny, if you’d ask anyone else it would be the exact opposite.”

James raised an eyebrow of derision “Really? I’ve lived with you for nearly two months, and if there’s anything I’ve learned it’s that you always have a reason,” He paused, “Sometimes it’s a stupid reason, but there’s always a reason, nonetheless.”

Tony grinned at him, both at the sass, and at the faint bit of Brooklyn that bled through. It didn’t happen often, but sometimes…

“Fair enough you little shit, I’ll have you know this was a very noble reason.”

“Yeah, and what was that?”

“A kid asked me to.”

Barnes actually stopped at that, “What?”

Tony laughed, “Yeah, it surprised me, too. I was filling a park with sand and this kid just came running up to me, asking if I’d be willing to kidnap someone.” Tony explained, still somewhat amused by it, “So naturally, I said yes.”

“Naturally.”

“The kid felt the need to explain himself,” Tony rolled his eyes, “And I had a few minutes before SHIELD showed up, so I humored him. Turns out his best friend’s parents were going through a really nasty divorce, and his dad had somehow gained custody until it was all settled,” Tony rubbed his face at the memory, “From an outside prospective, I guess it made sense. Dad worked less and made more money, so he’d obviously be able to take care of the brat had he been any good at not being an ass.”

“I’m not sure I like where this is going.” James said slowly.

“Probably not,” Tony shrugged, “Anyway, the kid’s dad was abusive but no one but the kid’s friend, the one who approached me, believed him. He told his friend he’d literally rather die than go back to that place. I’ve been in that kind of situation and I know what it can do to a kid, so,” He shifted a bit uncomfortably, “The next day I stole a school bus. All the kids loved my lair, not that I blame them, it is awesome after all, and I kept the bus driver fed and watered, so all good on that front. The kid, his names Mark, by the way, his dad, despite the big fit he was throwing over the custody battle, ended up running away with his mistress.” Tony smirked, “Shame, he hasn’t been seen since.”

James smirked, too, before it turned a bit softer, “That was… actually very heroic of you.” His smirk fell, brows going together in concern,  “Wait, what do you mean you’ve been in that kind of situation? What-”

“Alright, story times over.” Tony rushed, jumping up from his seat. He swayed a little, still off balance from his early episode, “I’m sticky with sweat, so I’m going to take a shower.”

“Wait, but your hand is still-” He started, sounding even more troubled.

(So much for him forgetting that little tidbit.)

“My hand is fine, promise. Go pick a movie, preferably animated. And make popcorn!” Tony shouted back over his shoulder as he got in the elevator.

He had a feeling this conversation was far from over.

(Fuck.)

Chapter Text

Clank, clank, clank

“Open the doors. Let her through.”

Clank, clank, clank

“Mr. Wallis is right this way, madam,”

“Hmm, yes. Leave us.”

“Of course,” The nervous man nodded in deference before walking back out of the room.

The door slinked shut.

Clank, clank, clank

Stepping forward, the woman peered through the class divider, receiving a glare in return.

“What do ya want?” The prisoner grumbled, looking away.

“Hello Kevin,” she smirked, “I have a bit of a… ‘Proposition’ for you.”

. . .

Tony

“Oh, c’mon! That’s not fair, you cheated!”

“I did not!”

“Blue shells are cheating!” Tony pointed at the dubious face of the soldier, “And that makes you a cheater!”

“Then what do ya call your banana peels, huh?” Barnes shoots back, accent thick due to his agitation.

Strategy.”

“I’m calling bull shit.” He grits, putting his controller down and standing up.

Tony’s brow scrunched, “Where are you going? We have another race!”

“Hell if I know.” He called over his shoulder as he left the room.

Tony watched him go in confusion.

(Well, somebody’s in a bad mood.)

(I wonder what’s wrong…)

(Maybe he just doesn’t like being called a cheater?)

(Doubtful.)

Tony huffed out a groan and buried his face in his hands, knowing there was no way he could just ignore a grouchy recovering brainwash victim.

He waited another five seconds to bonder what the fuck happened to his life before getting up and following after the soldier.

JARVIS kindly pointed out that he was out on the air strip, and Tony tried not to drag his feet too much.

(Feelings…)

(Just, ugh.)

“Hey buddy,” He called as if talking to a skittish dog when he finally got to where the other man was standing, staring out into the distance like it was some cheesy drama movie.

James shot him a steely look out of the corner of his eye, clearly unamused.

“You mind telling me who pissed in your coffee this morning?” Tony asked casually, “Because you’ve been bitchy all day. I know you’ve been having nightmares, but they normally don’t affect you like this.”

Barnes glared weakly for all of two seconds, before slumping with a defeated sigh, “I’ve been thinking a lot about HYDRA lately-”

“Haven’t we all?”

“- and I can’t help but think there’s something I’m forgetting; something important.” He revealed, placing a hand on his head.

Tony scoffed, “You do realize you remember and forget shit all the time right? Last Tuesday you thought I was the mechanic for your arm, and just yesterday you remembered your mom’s name. I’m sure whatever it is you’ve forgotten can’t be too terrible.”

“Either way,” James continued, not looking convinced, “I can’t stay cooped up here anymore. I need to get out, do something.” He shifted, obviously on edge and jittery.

“What,” Tony said, trying to seem casual and not hurt, “You want to leave and go see Rogers? I mean, I guess-”

“No!” James had paled, “Don’t get me wrong, I love Stevie, but I still ain’t ready to see ‘im yet. Not… not right now, anyway.” He licked his lip and turned away, “But I do need to do something! I’m going mad, here!”

“Okay!” Tony held up his hands, not even a little relieved that Barnes wasn’t leaving him for Rogers.

(Not even a little.)

(Cross his heart as he lies.)

“I wasn’t gonna bring you in so soon,” He started,

(Read: Never.)

“But seeing as this isn’t prison, I’m in no way a warden, and it’s been awhile since I’ve done something completely stupid, the last time being you… I think you might, perhaps, maybe, sort of, be ready to kind of handle my ingenious, if half cocked, plan.”

Barnes stared at him blankly, “You done?”

“Yep.”

“What’s the plan?”

“That depends,” Tony grinned, waggling his eyebrows, “What size dress do you wear?”

“No.”

“Fine.” Tony crossed his arms with a pout. “You want to get out and do something? Let’s take out HYDRA.”

James raised an eyebrow, “HYDRA?”

“HYDRA.”

“…All of HYDRA?”

“You said you wanted to get out,” Tony shrugged, waving a dismissive hand, “Though I guess we could go steal the Statue of Liberty- but then I’m kind of a good guy right now.” He rubbed his chin, “Eh, either way they’re gonna call me a villain again, so yeah,” a smirk, “Go ahead and pick.”

After a long, incredulous, look, “HYDRA, okay, I guess I can do that. What’s the first step?”

Tony shrugged, “Well, mostly I was just looking for you, destroying places as I went. I’m not entirely sure how to go about this now that I’m not on a scavenger hunt, to be honest. Any ideas.” He smiled.

A pause.

“You’re absolutely hopeless, aren’t you?”

(Hey!)

(He’s not wrong.)

(Fair.)

. . .

Several hours and many, many, cups of coffee later, Tony sat in his swivel chair, chugging the last dregs of his latest mug of heaven, while James sat stoically reading one of the many HYDRA files Tony had acquired.

(Read: Stole.)

(Read: who gives a shit?)

After his cup was empty he placed it back on the table. He propped his feet up with and whined “How much longer? I’m dying of boredom here!” he through his hands up and almost fell backwards, “Oh shit!” He scrambled back into a sitting position, “Ignore that.”

Luckily (?) James hadn’t been paying any attention to him in the first place, gaze solely on the paper in his hands.

(Really, did he have to ask for paper?)

(The digital files would have been just as good, if not better.)

(Stupid senior citizens and their love of dead trees.)

Annoyed that he was being ignored, Tony waved his hand in the soldiers face, “Oi, are you almost done, or what?”

Swatting Tony’s hand away, James looked up with a serious face, “I think I remember the important thing I forgot.” He said slowly.

Tony felt his stomach drop at the serious tone, “And that was…?”

“Project Insight.”

. . .

Steve

Sitting at his kitchen table, doing last minute paper work, Steve found himself humming as he drank his morning orange juice.

It was a beautiful day, clear skies, there hadn’t been a villain that required the Avengers for two weeks, and Ironman was actually-

“Steve!” Clint burst into the room, followed closely by Coulson and Natasha. All three had varying looks of worry on their faces.

Steve slowly sat his juice down. “I’m not gonna like this, am I?”

“Ironman’s gone rogue. Again.” Clint stressed.

Steve groaned. Of course he had. Opening his mouth to reply, Coulson beat him to it.

“There’s more,” He told him gravely, “This time he has a friend. A very dangerous friend.”

Steve felt his breath hitch, sitting up straighter, “Who?”

“The Winter Soldier.”

 

 

Chapter Text

“I can learn to live with guilt. I don't care about being good.” ― Holly Black

. . .

“So, why do you need this stuff again? It didn’t last very long, and it took forever to make-”

“Just do your job. We’ll worry about the rest.”

“Um, yeah, okay. Whatever.”

“Good boy.”

Steve

“So, does this, like, happen often?” Sam asked, slightly out of breath as he ran next to Steve, who had slowed down enough so that they could talk.

Steve gave a half shrug, “I guess… I just wish he’d pick a side and stay there.” He confessed.

“More like, you wish he’d pick your side and stay there.” Sam said knowingly.

Steve bit his lip and didn’t say anything.

They ran in silence for a little while, “Alright, what else is it?” Sam asked.

“What?”

Sam shot him a look, “Don’t even, Rogers. I’d like to think I’ve gotten to know you these past few months, and right you’re doing your ‘gutted jaw’ thing, so whatever it is, just tell me.”

Steve felt surprised but quickly hid it, turning his face away, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Right, yeah, sure, whatever,” Sam rolled his eyes, “Now, you want to try the truth?” He raised a questioning brow.

Steve worried his lip as the conflicting feelings warred in his chest. On one hand, Sam really was a good friend, and had helped Steve a lot in the past, but on the other, what he was thinking about was technically classified information and Steve wasn’t even entirely sure he knew what was going on.

“Steve, you know you can tell me anything,” Sam started in a softer voice, “But if you’re not comfortable talking about it, you don’t have to…”

“It’s not just about Ironman,” Steve blurted, unable to stop himself, “I mean, it is, but not because he turned villain, again, because he does that all the time,” He took a breath.

Sam gave him an encouraging look, persuading him to keep going.

“It’s that he’s got this, uh, partner,” Steve continued, but chose not to say exactly who, “And it’s not like the Iron Legion, or even the other Ironmen that show up from time to time, but an actual, uniquely individual, human, partner. I’ve never heard of him before, but he’s got even Natasha spooked. For as long as I’ve known her she’s never seemed afraid of anyone, but suddenly she’s telling me that if I get the chance to go for the kill shot,” He gave a half laugh, “She didn’t even tell me to do that with Ironman. But she’s terrified of this guy, and that worries me.”

Sam gave a low whistle, “I can see why. You got anything on this guy?” He asked.

Steve paused in thought, but then shook his head, “Not really, nothing concrete, anyway. Ironman’s gone back to destroying SHIELD property, only this time he’s not trying to hide it.”

“Let me guess, you have no clue why he’s doing it.”

“I wish I did,” Steve said listlessly, slumping a little, “All I know is that he’s- they’re looking for something, and whatever it is, they haven’t found it yet.”

Sam hummed. They talked about trivial things after that, but it was still sitting in the back of Steve’s mind.

. . .

Tony

“Alright, other eye,”

Bruuuuce,

Toooony,” Bruce mimicked the whine, jerking Tony’s face to the side to shine the pin light in the other eye.

Tony huffed, shifting in his seat, but didn’t struggle. James had a fist in his mouth to stifle the laugh.

“Okay, now activate Extremis,” Bruce commanded in his ‘no nonsense’ voice.

(Pepper taught him that.)

Tony grumbled at having to do so again but didn’t argue. He felt his body slowly relax as he felt his bots’ very being start to run through everything that Tony ever was. It was an incredible feeling.

(It felt like coming home.)

Bruce hummed and put the pin light away. “You can turn it off, now.” Tony did, but only because if he used it too much he’d get a headache, and he’s been turning it on and off for the past hour.

“Please tell me we’re done,” Tony said, just short of begging, as he blinked the spots out of his eyes.

Bruce smiled knowingly, “Yes, Tony, we’re done, and,” he wrote something down on the clipboard he was holding, “Just as we suspected, your eyes glow when you activate Extremis beyond what is always activated. You don’t realize how much you subconsciously do it unless you’re around a reflective surface, or,” He motioned at James with his pin, “You have someone around to tell you.” He finished, placing both pin and clipboard on a work table. He leaned against it, “Speaking of telling things,”

(Oooh, that was Brucie’s annoyed voice!)

(Looks like someone’s in trouble. Again.)

“When, exactly, were you planning on telling me you were not only harboring a deadly, brainwashed, assassin, but also Steve’s long lost, dead, best friend?” He asked, raising a mocking eyebrow.

Tony gulped and felt more than saw Barnes take a step back. He had hoped Bruce would forget about that.

“Uh, would you believe me if I told you I kinda, maybe, forgot?” He winced.

“You forgot,” Bruce deadpanned.

“Um, yeah…”

They stared at each other for a good five seconds before Bruce broke eye contact to pinch his brow, placing his other hand on his hip, “I can’t believe I actually believe you.”

Tony grinned, glad he was no longer in trouble, “Aw, c’mon, Brucie! You know I don’t like lying!”

Bruce rolled his eyes up to look at him, “You might want to stop saying that, because I have a lot of questions that you still haven’t answered.”

Tony let out a nervous laugh, “Uh, yeah, let’s not continue twenty questions, especially when we have so much other stuff to talk about, like,” He swirled in his chair and waved a hand at where Barnes was trying to phase into the wall, “How I’ve been practically rehabilitating this walking pile of misery and brooding-ness that is James Barnes! It was a lot harder than it sounded!”

(That’s what-)

(Don’t. Just, Don’t.)

Bruce finally breathed a faint laugh and shook his head. He shot James one of his gentle ‘I’m harmless, it’s okay’ smiles that could make even Tony at his most angry and rabid calm down.

The soldier sent a hesitant smile back, not used to being around people who weren’t Tony or HYDRA, but the effort was there.

It was in this moment that Tony remembered why he had missed Bruce so much when the other man had left. He wished he could somehow con the man into staying, but short of imprisonment, which according to Bruce and Pepper and Rhodey and JARVIS, was not an okay way to make and keep friends, Tony, stop it, Bruce was going to leave, like he always did.

(People always left.)

(It wasn’t fair…)

“Well,” Bruce started, “It was nice to meet you Barnes,”

James nodded, “Likewise, and, uh, you can call me James. If you want.” He looked away, a faint blush creeping up his neck.

Cute.

“Alright, then it was nice to meet you, James,” Bruce said in assent, “But I really need to go now. I have an Avengers thing to get to.” He seemed apologetic, if only for Tony’s sake.

Tony was about to give an exaggerated groan, whining about how Bruce really needed to stay, not go to some Avengers ‘thing’ that was just going to be them speculating in circles about Ironman, when JARVIS interrupted.

Sir, I’m sorry but…” He paused. JARVIS never paused, unless-

I’m so sorry, but Miss Margret Carter as passed away.”

Tony’s heart stopped.

And Extremis went wild.

Chapter Text

Bruce

This was bad.

Very, very bad.

Bruce knew as soon as JARVIS finished speaking that this was not going to be good.

Carter was one of the few people Tony had ever claimed to truly love.

This was bad.

“Tony,” Bruce tried cautiously, taking a hesitant step forward.

Tony, whose body had been visibly trembling, stilled. In a flash his head jerked up, his eyes that cold electric blue of extremis. He took a deep breath-

“Tony,” Bruce tried again in panic.

-And screamed.

The airship started to violently shake, throwing Bruce and James into a worktable and to the floor respectively. Every light bulb exploded in a shower of glass. The computer screens were flickering wildly across websites and TV stations and static and lines of code too fast to decipher. Sirens were blaring and the emergency lights were flashing red in a warning much too late.

Then everything stopped.

And they were falling out of the sky.

“Tony!” Bruce yelled, stumbling to his feet and rushing to where his friend had backed himself against the wall, eyes clinched in emotional pain. His skin was glowing a dangerous red. Bruce forcefully grabbed Tony’s burning arms and shook him.

“Tony, stop! You need to breathe!”

Tony’s eyes snapped open and he took a deep breath.  Bruce was able to keep himself standing when their descent came to an abrupt halt. The unnatural blue bled from Tony’s eyes and with it the fire from his skin.

The emergency lights were back on, but not flashing. Bruce could feel Tony shaking again. He looked up at Bruce with wide, wet eyes filled with hurt and confusion.

“Bruce?” Tony whispered, unsure.

Bruce pulled him into an embrace, burying a hand in sweaty brown hair, trying to calm his heart rate, unimaginably thankful the Hulk cared so much about Tony to let Bruce handle the situation, “Yeah, Tony. Just-just breathe, okay?”

“Bruce? My chest hurts…” Bruce closed his eyes at the broken words, “I think… something’s wrong.” Tony’s hands clenched and unclenched slowly.

Bruce pulled back just enough to get a good look at the proclaimed villain, and yes, he was very pale. This could be because of the shock, or…

“James!” Bruce ordered sharply when he looked down to where there should have been a blue glow but wasn’t. “Go get a spare reactor now!”

James, who had hung back in shock, scrambled to do as he was told.

“Bruce…?” Tony tilted his head, uncomprehending, still breathing hard.

‘Shock,’ Bruce’s mind supplied even as he had Tony sit down. He tugged the engineer’s shirt off as James rushed over with the reactor.

“Bruce,” Tony started again, staring at the ceiling, not paying attention as Bruce changed the thing keeping him alive, “Bruce, I can’t laugh.”

“What?” Bruce looked up now that he no longer had to worry about Tony having a heart attack. He slumped down, placing a hand over his friend’s chest. James sat down beside him, not touching, but still close in case he needed something.

“She, she told me to laugh, I’m supposed to laugh, even though it’s not funny, because few things are worth crying over but you can always find a reason to laugh,” His voice trembled, “But I can’t.” His head lulled and he looked at Bruce with the most pleading eyes, “Why can’t I laugh like before?”

“I guess,” Bruce started, his voice thick, “I guess this is one of those things worth crying over.”

And just like that, a dam broke and Tony was a sobbing mess on the floor. The Bots’ –which had gone into hiding, lest they become victims of their distraught creator, which would have made this ten times worse- came over with several blankets and pillows, whirring worriedly,  though it did very little as Tony didn’t even seem to notice their kind gesture.

Bruce had pulled the distraught genius back to him, allowing his friend to cry, and told the concerned soldier, in a lowered voice, instructions on what needed to be set up for the coming days. JARVIS would help, now that he was back in control.

Once James had left Bruce closed his eyes with a quiet breath, leaning his head against Tony’s, listening to his hitched breathing as he slowly calmed down.

It was awful to think, Bruce knew, but he was just thankful that Jarvis, the man, was already dead. If it had been him, right now, there was no way Bruce would have been able to get Tony to calm down in time to stop the fall, if he could have been able to get him to calm down at all.

“Bruce?” Tony spoke suddenly, quietly, barely a whisper.

“Yeah, Tony?” Bruce said just as quietly, absently running his fingers through Tony’s hair.

“Please don’t leave.”

“I won’t.” Bruce assured.

Tony pulled back. Bruce opened his eyes to look at him.

“You promise?” Tony asked.

“I promise.” Bruce said firmly, before getting up. He offered a hand to Tony, who took it and stood on unsteady legs, his chest still bare while the blankets the bots’ had thrown around him pooled at his feet.

Tony yawned, blinking slowly in surprise, “Bruce, I’m tired.”

That tugged a small, rueful smile from Bruce, “I bet. Why don’t we head to bed.” He almost said ‘you’ll feel better in the morning,’ but stopped himself. Tony hated lies, especially from those he trusted, and Bruce knew he wouldn’t be feeling better for a long time, yet.

. . .

Steve

Bruce never made it to the ‘Avengers thing’, but Steve and the others barely had time to wonder where he was, when Steve got the news.

Peggy was dead. Her funeral would be held in two days, in Washington DC.

The team offered, more like demanded, to go with him. Even Sam said he’d go, that he used to live there, that he could show him around, make sure he didn’t get lost.

Steve tried to say no. He really did, but they all ignored his halfhearted protests and got on the plane with him anyway.

And Steve? Steve didn’t know how he felt. He had loved Peggy, so long ago, but she had moved on without him –which was fine! Steve had wanted her to, but it still stood that he hadn’t been a part of her life for a long time.

He had gone to see her a few times in the beginning. All their visits would start out fine, but out of the blue she would suddenly be cursing at Howard, speaking nonsense about his projects and moral and ‘Steve never would have wanted this!’. It was, well, frankly it was scary, to see her like that. And it hurt, too.

After the third time Steve decided he was causing her too much trouble and stopped going.

Maybe he shouldn’t have.

Now he’ll never get the chance to go see her again.

Steve took a shaky breath and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the planes window and prayed for both the shortest and the longest flight in history.

Chapter Text

Steve

The reception was over and all of the other guests had left. It was just Steve and his team now in the church.

Steve was sitting on the front pew, arms braced against his knees and forehead resting on clasped hands. The others were quiet, behind him, watching him. He could feel their sharp eyes against his head but ignored them, his own pinpointed every detail of the beautifully simple casket, on the two photos, one from her years in the SSR and the other much more recent.

She was smiling in both and Steve was having a hard time decided which one she looked better in.

“Do you want a moment alone?” Sam intoned softly.

Steve took a shaky breath. Did he want to be alone? He didn’t know, but he was almost certain he needed a moment to say his final goodbye. He opened his mouth-

The church doors swung open loudly against the otherwise silent atmosphere and Steve immediately stood to see who would dare barge in like that, even if the actual funeral was over.

It was Ironman, in all his eye-catching red and gold, and he was walking down the aisle without any consideration, and no.

He didn’t get to do this. Not today. Not to Steve.

Not to Peggy.

Steve was angry- no he was furious at the audacity of this careless, reckless, asshole, who thought he could do whatever he wanted without any consequences, and Steve had been willing to overlook a lot, the attacks on SHIELD without being provoked, all the injuries and murders, because he thought that maybe, just maybe, there was a good explanation, but no, not this.

But then Bruce was there, too, following and watching Ironman with wary and grieve stricken eyes, and Steve realized that the robot hadn’t said anything, hadn’t made a sound as he walk calmly toward the front, not once sparing the Avengers a glance.

Now Steve was wary too, because the last time he’d seen Ironman like this was when Phil ‘died’. Ironman shouldn’t have known Peggy, though, so why was he here, acting like this?

Bruce hung back once he reached Steve and the others, now all of them watching the metal man as he stood for a moment in front of the casket.

Then, he dropped to one knee, head leaning in just enough to touch the slick surface and he slowly, gently, sat a hand reverently against the glossed wood.

“Bruce?” It was Clint that spoke uncertainly.

Steve saw out of the corner of his eye, not taking them off of Ironman, Bruce shake his head, once.

“Please,” The doctor started, “just let him have this. He’s not here to cause trouble, I promise.”

“You’re explaining this later…” Natasha spoke.

A grim line appeared on Bruce’s face but he said nothing, neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

Another minute passed before Ironman stood and turned with that same calm and calculated movement, and made his way back down the aisle.

Steve was so focused on his back, watching him go, that he almost missed the sharp intake from Natasha. Steve looked up and followed her gaze all the way to the doors.

And there stood a man in full combat gear. His face covered with a mask and goggles, a bullet prove vest and straps to a large gun across his chest. His metal arm was gleaming in the sunlight that he was half standing in and Steve was pretty sure he saw the hilts of hand knives sticking out of his boots.

This was the Winter Soldier, the ghost story that scared even the Black Widow.

Steve tensed. Natasha had already pulled a gun from somewhere and Clint was looking between his partner and the Soldier with confliction.

The Soldier didn’t pull a weapon, Natasha didn’t pull the trigger.

“Hey,” Bruce called softly.

Ironman paused, head still down.

“Do you need me to come with you?”

A pause and then a minute shake of the head. Ironman was moving again and didn’t stop until he was at the doors. As soon as he was close the Soldier reached out and wrapped an arm around the robot. After a moment to adjust their positions Ironman took off.

And they were left alone in the church again, with only Bruce as proof that Ironman had ever been there.

“Bruce…” Steve started hopelessly, not sure what he wanted to say.

“You all assume that Anthony Stark was the one that made him. Why?” Bruce asked, still staring at the open doors.

Steve startled a bit, but it was Natasha, her eyes now gleaming and sharp, that spoke, “What are you implying, Dr. Banner?”

He glanced at her, “I asked first.”

“It seemed pretty obvious,” Clint stepped up, breaking the eye contact between the scientist and the assassin, “Stark dies, and boom, six months later a highly advanced robot shows up taking out dirty arms dealers.”

“Is it still obvious?”

“I never really believed it, not really anyway,” Steve surprised himself by saying, “But I hadn’t ever met Anthony, so how would I know. The fact that Stane was the one who put a hit on him, and then Ironman killed him… It made since, I guess.”

Bruce hummed, turning back to the door, “Have any of you ever stopped to think, that maybe, just maybe, you had the wrong Stark in mind all along.”

The room fell into a tense silence.

“…Wait,” Steve said, unsteady all over again, “Are you saying that Howard created Ironman? But- how –why?”

“I never said that,” Bruce denied half-heartedly, “I’m just saying that Ironman has known Miss Carter a long time, perhaps even longer than you have, Steve. From what I’ve seen these past few days, he knew her well and loved her dearly, and loosing Tony in Afghanistan may have been what brought him out into the light, but Ironman existed long before then, had known Carter long before then, and I will not have any of you questioning his motives for being here- and don’t even act like you weren’t, Rogers,”

Steve met Bruce’s eyes and was started by the green. He didn’t look away, though.

 “I know a little something about anger, especially how to spot it, and I could see it all over you from the moment I walked through those doors.”

Steve locked his jaw, “You’re right,” he admitted tensely, “I was angry. I thought he was being his normal, disrespectful, disruptive, villainous self. I thought he saw an opportunity to cause trouble and took it.” He looked away, “I won’t apologize for that, because he’s done it before, but… I will say I’m glad I was wrong, this time.”

Bruce continued to stare at Steve for another few seconds before the green bled back to brown. He huffed, “As long as we’re clear on that.” The he blushed a little, “That being said… I just want it to be known I was completely against this plan, but there’s just no stopping that guy when he has a stupid idea in his head, really…”

“Banner, what are you talking about?” Natasha rushed to demand, gripping Bruce by the shoulder.

An explosion in the distance shook the ground, knocking over a few flower arrangements.

Completely against the plan.”

Chapter Text

Interlude –This is Your Warning

Anthony Stark, Age 11

Duck, dodge right, jump!

Punch, dodge left, leg swipe…

Spin, roundhouse kick to the chest,

The SSR cadet went flying across the ring and landed hard on the mat. He was most likely sporting a few cracked ribs and a concussion.

“Anthony, are you alright?”

The young boy grabbed his towel from the top rope and wiped the sweat from his forehead, “I’m fine, Miss Carter.” He said, climbing out of the ring and walking over to his water bottle.

“Anthony –Tony,” Peggy said in a sharper tone, “What’s bothering you? And don’t say nothing, I know you better than that.”

He flinched and fist clinched around the bottle. Why did she have to call him that? He felt her stare on the back of his head and sighed, “He’s making me go to Maria’s stupid gala thing next week.”

She placed a hand on his shoulder, though how she got across the room that quickly Anthony was unsure, “Ah,” She started, “And that’s a bad thing? I thought you liked getting out of the house.”

“That was before-” He bit his lip and stared down at the water in his hand.

“Before what, darling?” She asked, taking a seat on the bench and gently tugging Anthony to sit next to her. He leaned into her a little.

(Baby steps)

“It was before I realized that,” he shifted uncomfortably, finishing in a whisper, “That bad things happen whenever I leave Howard’s property.”

“Oh, sweetie,” she wrapped an arm around his shoulders, “You don’t actually believe that, do you?”

He looked away, “It’s true…”

“No, it’s not. Tony, look at me.” He did as he was told (like he always did. It’s what he was good at). Carter looked him in the eye, “Bad things happen whether you’re there or not, baby, that’s just how the world works.” She used her free hand to brush his chocolate curls out of his eyes, “Besides, if you really did cause bad things to happen than how come you have no problem coming here, hmm? Nothing bad is going on right now, and this isn’t Howard’s property, no matter what he likes to believe.”

“But bad things are happening right here, right now!” Anthony defended, “It’s just, like, a long term bad thing, I just know it!”

Miss Carter’s brow scrunched in concern, “What are you talking about, sweetheart?” She asked, rubbing her thumb across the spot he always got migraines.

Anthony shifted again, though this time it was to get closer to Peggy, “Howard doesn’t believe me,” He finally said, then he leaned in even closer and said in a hushed voice, “But I think we have some dirty agents skulking around.”

Carter gave a soft gasp, “What makes you say that, Anthony?” She asked, calm yet sharp, and certainly not disbelieving.

Anthony relaxed at someone finally listening, “I don’t have anything definite, but I know something shady is going on. I’ve been looking through all our files, and the numbers just aren’t adding up, Miss Carter.”

Miss Carter hummed and relaxed a bit, though not all the way, and adopted a thinking face, “Alright, I’ll see what I can do, but in the meantime I want you to lay low and go to that gala, understand?”

Tony made a face but nodded. He didn’t mind arguing with Howard because he was smarter than Howard. Miss Carter might not be what you’d call a genius, but for as long as Anthony had known her, she’d never been wrong.

“Good,” She smiled down at him and drew him into a tight hug, “Now, no more nonsense about being bad luck, okay, love?”

Another face was made, though this time it was made into her collarbone. For as long as Anthony had known her, Miss Carter had never been wrong.

He hoped she never would be.

. . .

Unfortunately, the very next week, in Anthony’s eyes Miss Carter was proven wrong.

As far as captors went, they weren’t the worst that had ever nabbed him. Of course, the ‘spoiled, sheltered,  son of Howard Stark’ wasn’t supposed to be able to escape on his own.

So he didn’t.

A few bruises never hurt anyone, and he actually liked gaining some scratches every once in a while. It wasn’t that bad for him, he didn’t really mind.

Except, he had heard gunshots, and screams, and pain, before they had shoved him in the getaway car.

He hoped no one died because of him.

Because death was permanent.

Chapter Text

Tony

He was done. He was done with the slow paced destruction of everything wrong with SHIELD, with the world. He was done with playing the guessing game of ‘good vs. bad’ with the Avengers. He was done with being subtle (yeah, what he’s been doing so far has been subtle) done with trying to save the remains of whatever’s left of what Miss Carter had tried so, so hard to build.

Because Miss Carter had been old, but that’s not what killed her.

Bruce doesn’t know (Tony could barely string two words together in his agony and rage), but the woman who had been the closest thing Tony had ever had to a mother, the one who gave him his name, was not allowed to live out her golden years in peace-

Because her mind was failing her, and she knew too much.

And Tony, no, Anthony, was beyond pissed off. They would not get away with this. He would not let them.

He wouldn’t.

(How many people was he going to fail…?)

(How many had to die before he got it right!)

He screeched in pure hatred as he shot through SHEILD (Hydra!) HQ with nothing but ‘destroy’ running through his mind. At this point he didn’t care about casualties.

If they got in his way it was their fault.

(“Oh, my Dear-Heart, don’t cry! I know it hurts, Baby.”

“Come now, Anthony, give me a smile!”

“Don’t waste your tears on that man, Love. He’s not worth it.”

“Oh, Tony… whenever you feel like this, like you want to cry? Laugh instead. There are so few things in this life that are worth crying over, Honey, but please promise me you’ll always find a reason to laugh?”

“There’s that smile! I just love it when you smile, Tony.”)

He felt another cry strangle itself from his throat. His eyes glowed both with the haunting blue of Extremis and tears while his skin burned.

He was done.

. . .

For the next three days it continued like this.

In those days, Tony did not eat or sleep, not even when James did.

(James was human.

Anthony has never been limited by such a title.)

He tore through building after building, not letting a single Hydra agent get away from his wrath. He no longer looked for information, he no longer cared.

He sent shipments and warehouses up in flames, ripping things apart with his own hands, no longer feeling the pleasure of the explosions he use to revel in.

He hurt.

He was tired and sick and slowly killing himself-

(But he didn’t care, didn’t care, those monsters killed her-)

So now he would kill them.

(“But I have my life, I’m living it. It’s twisted, exhausting, uncertain, and full of guilt, but nonetheless, there’s something there.” ― Banana Yoshimoto, the Lake)

And if he had to die to do it, well he was never supposed to exist anyway.

And if anyone tried to stop him, well, they would die, too.

After all, he was never going to be a good man.

. . .

The Avengers finally caught up to him just in time to see the three helicarrier’s go down in smoke and flames, utterly destroyed and unusable.

Project Insight never even managed to get off the ground.

He should be proud.

(He was so angry)

(His chest burned, but it had nothing to do with the reactor.)

“Ironman!” Captain America shouted, coming to a stop in the warehouse, a few yards from where the not-robot was floating.

(He didn’t feel grounded enough to touch the ground just yet…)

“What did you do?” The man asked in muted horror, the other members of his team behind him with looks of varying levels of shock and upset.

(As if they had any right-)

Tony didn’t answer.

“What’s gotten into you, man!?” Hawkeye demanded, “Do you even know about all the people you killed in your little tirade?  Some of them were my friends!”

(Those friends betrayed you; they lied to you and locked up your partner and told you he was dead, and yet you still call them friend, still think I’m the bad guy, here.)

(Maybe I am…)

A metal fist clenched and unclenched, but still he didn’t speak. Didn’t even bother to look at them, his gaze going over their heads.

“You’re not even trying to hide it anymore,” The captain breathed, “I don’t know what’s happening to you, but we gotta take you in,” He took a step forward, hand outreached, “This isn’t like you, Shellhead.”

‘Shellhead? That was new.’ He thought absently, trying not to have a breakdown.

“How would you know,” Tony said coolly, not at all how he felt, not getting any closer but not moving away.

“Because we know you, Ironman,” Widow said firmly, “Or at least we did, before you went even more insane than you already were. Do you have anything to say for yourself?” She asked.

“Yeah,” Tony grouched, finally looking at them, “How about, fuck off.” Bruce wasn’t here, and neither was Thor. Tony wondered, for a fleeting moment, why they had been left behind.

But then, he didn’t actually care.

He did find it a little funny though. The original task force set to capture him was back. To capture him.

(Maybe it wasn’t all that funny after all. He certainly wasn’t laughing.)

Captain America grit his teeth, “Ironman,”

Tony snorted, a mechanical sound that held no humor, “I don’t think you ever knew me as well as you thought you did.”

“We know enough!” The walking flag snapped, “You’re our friend!”

(Pop, goes the weasel…)

You don’t even know my name!”  Tony snapped and shot closer, still not touching the ground, getting right up in the captains space. “You claim to be my friend, but you don’t even know my name!”

Steve took a step back from the suddenly too close metal frame, “I- what?”

Ironman,” Tony laughed without humor, a little more than half-crazed, “That’s the name the media gave me, well, news flash-

(“Stark men are made of iron, and like it or not you’ve got the Stark blood, so act like it, boy!”)

“I am not made of iron!” He yelled shooting back into the open space of the warehouse and started gliding back and forth as if pacing.

“Okay,” Clint held up his hands, still upset but trying to push it down so as to not trigger the not-robot any further. Maybe he did have some self-preservation. “It doesn’t matter. We could care less what you’re made of, and yeah, we probably should’ve ask you what your name was, our bad, but that doesn’t have anything to do with what’s happening right now. You’re our friend, and you’re acting crazier than usual, and, fuck man, we just want to help!” He finished with a plea.

Tony growled but said nothing and continued his pacing.

Steve started next, “I have seen you do incredibly selfless things, Iron-” He stopped and started again, “I have seen you do good things; I have seen you be a good person, so whatever this is, it isn’t you. This isn’t what you were meant to be.” He claimed lamely, “Just tell us what’s going on.”

There were other agents now, Tony new. They had the building surrounded, waiting for their cue to rush the place and take in the crazed super villain who is a danger to everyone around him.

But Tony wasn’t paying attention to that.

“Meant to be?” He whispered, barely loud enough for the people in the room to hear, with his head bowed low as eyes shining the blue of the face plate bore into the three on the ground. “Meant to be!” He snarled in a much louder voice, hands forming fists, “Howard Stark created me in a lab!”

Steve flinched.

“I’m a science experiment! Everything special about me came out of a box of scraps!” The only thing keeping him from having a complete melt down was his fury, “And do you want to know what I was meant to be, Captain?!”

“Uh-oh…” Clint said, taking a step back, because common sense.

Tony ignored him and flew back over to Rogers, stopping a mere foot away, “You! Everything I am, everything I have ever been was just a foolish mans attempt to recreate you!”

Steve’s voice caught, “I-”

“And I tried!” Tony screeched, “I did everything I was told! I was perfect!” He half-laughed, waving a hand in a showcasing manner, “But it never mattered, because people never remember the bad things about the dead.”

“I’m sorry-” Rogers tried again-

“I was doomed to fail from the very beginning, by the vary man who created me, because for all that I was the perfect soldier, to him, I would never be a good man.” Tony was fighting back a panic attack and gasping for breath, but the suit was designed to filter that kind of shit out, so this so called team had no clue the pain he was in right now.

Well, fuck them.

“And then they found you in the fucking ice,” he grinded out, making Steve flinch again, “And you’re everything he said you were, everything I thought impossible and I wish I could hate you for it, but I can’t because even now he won’t let me.”

Steve was pale under his mask and speechless.

Frankly he looked devastated.

Tony didn’t care.

“And you know what?” He said with fake cheer, doing a little spin, “I am the farthest thing Howard had ever wanted me to be and I don’t even fucking care anymore. So, where does that leave us, hmm?”

(Where does that leave him?)

“We’re still a team,” Natasha spoke, her voice for once somewhat gentle, “And whatever name you go by, you’re still a part of it.”

“Team?” Tony asked incredulously as sweat started to pour off of him, the panic still there, getting worse, “Let’s all be honest and face it, this team, with me on it, it’s always been-” He wracked his brain, “Well, let’s call it asunder, shall we?” He smirked sardonically, not that they could see it, “Torn apart, in pieces, if we were a puzzle I’d be from a different box. We don’t fit, and if we try to force it it’s not gonna look right and I’d just be taking the place of a different piece, a piece that actually belongs there.” He took a breath and tried to leave.

“I don’t care,” Steve said quietly, making Tony pause, “I don’t care about any of that. You’re my friend, and I just want to help you. Please, for once, just let me help you.” He pleaded.

Tony shook his head, “No, whatever I was to you… All you’ve ever been to me is a shadow, Rogers.” He took a shaky breath, sweat dripping down his face, “And I can’t even hate you for it.”

With that he shot off, leaving three shaken superheroes, and a large number of cursing SHIELD agents who missed their shot.

(And, alone in the silence, he craves the quiet of a crowd.)

Chapter Text

Steve

“He did what?”

Steve flinched. Yeah, Bruce was angry.

The green in his eyes meant that Hulk was also angry.

Not good.

“And just why was I not informed you were all going to meet him in the first place!?” Bruce’s voice was only slightly raised, but he might as well have been yelling through a megaphone for the rest of them acted.

“Uh…” Clint started, “Well, um, you’re kinda, uh, compromised?” He winced.

Compromised?” Bruce questioned, “I’m compromised? Me? I’m not the one who jumped off a roof just to talk to him, Barton.

“Hey, now, those were extinguishing circumstances!”

“I’m sure,” Deadpanned Bruce, “Just like punching him in the face during an argument. Completely justified, right?”

Steve blanched. Why was he getting dragged into this? “I apologized for that…” He tried.

Natasha tried to step in, “You’re looking a little green, Banner. Maybe you should step outside.”

“Not happening, because you,” Bruce turned on Natasha, “Have done worse than those two. I can understand them letting their emotions cloud their judgment, but you Natasha? You were supposed to be better than that.”

She glared, crossing her arms, “I’m not the one with a clouded judgment, Banner. I acted as if he were any other villain.”

“But he’s not, and that was your mistake,” Bruce grounded out, “You acted under the assumption that you didn’t know anything about him, you ignored everything he’s done in the past because you felt hurt, you felt betrayed, and since you couldn’t admit that, not even to yourself, you decided to act as if all slates are clean.”

“Well, what would you do?” She asked heatedly, “We can’t treat him like a good guy when he’s killing people, and he’s already shown that he can’t be reasoned with.”

Bruce huffed and sat down at the table. They were in the kitchen, where they had found Bruce drinking tea before they told him what had happened with Ironman.

Or, whatever his name was, Steve thought gloomily.

“Have you tried talking to him?” Bruce asked, then raised a hand to cut them off as they went to argue, because of course they tried talking to him, it hadn’t worked. “Not yelling, not accusing, not reasoning; just talking. Hell, you could have just asked me!” He looked at them in disappointment, “I actually know what’s going on, you know.”

Wait.

“You know what’s going on and you didn’t tell us!” Steve shouted, “We’ve been chasing him non-stop for days!”

“I’ve tried telling you, but none of you would stop your moping, frantic, hedging search for answers long enough for me to pin you down!” Bruce’s eyes were fully green now, but Steve wasn’t worried. Bruce had the Hulk under control.

He wouldn’t let the big guy out just to get back at them.

…Probably.

“Well, why is he doing it!?” Clint yelled, finally running out of patience.

Bruce shot him a look, “Well, I would say this doesn’t get back to SHIELD, but it won’t matter soon, anyway.”

“What does that mean?” Natasha asked sharply.

“It means,” And here his gaze landed on all of them, “That in a few days there won’t be a SHIELD for you to go running to tattle to, and the whole world will know why.”

“Bruce,” Steve said, sitting down across from the other man, Natasha seething in the background and Clint acting like a fish, “Please, tell me what’s going on?”

Bruce stayed quiet for a minute, letting them stew, before, “SHIELD doesn’t exist.”

“You lost me.”

“SHIELD is HYDRA.” He then said.

Steve blinked, “What?”

Bruce nodded, once, “Ironman noticed some discrepancies while he was on the helicarrier the day we met, and he’s been looking into it since. That’s how he found out about Coulson being alive.”

Clint jerked, “That’s why he said Fury wasn’t the enemy!”

Bruce raised an eyebrow, “Probably, though he’s never told me whether the director is HYDRA or not, if Ironman told you, than we can probably trust him.”

“Anything else you’ve been hiding from us?” Natasha hissed.

“Yeah, HYDRA was planning on killing all of you with those helicarrier’s you mentioned. Good thing Ironman destroyed them, isn’t.” Bruce said.

“But, why so sudden?” Steve finally found his voice, “I mean, I know he’s probably been working on this for awhile, years even, if what you say is true, so why did he just…” Have a complete meltdown? That seemed like a good way to phrase it.

Bruce looked down at the table and sighed, “Peggy Carter,” He finally said, “Did not die of natural causes.”

Steve felt his heart clinch, but breathed through it, “HYDRA killed her?” He gulped, “And Ironman?”

“They were close,” Bruce answered the unasked question, “Very close. Ironman basically saw her as a mother, for a long time she was the only one who knew about him, and he loved her. When HYDRA had her silenced, he just…” Bruce closed his eyes for a second then reopened them, “I was there when he found out, and he almost completely self-destructed, if I hadn’t been there-”

There was a heavy silence in the wake of the information Bruce had just laid before them.

Bruce spoke against the quiet, “He doesn’t know I know about HYDRA having Carter killed. Winter told me, but he has his hands full making sure Ironman doesn’t explode for me to know much else.”

“Yes, about that,” Natasha starts, less hostile but still closed off, “The Winter Soldier is a dangerous assassin completely loyal to his employers. Why is he working for Ironman?”

“Because he was a human being who was tortured and brainwashed and didn’t know any better,” Bruce deadpanned, “Now he’s still a human being who was tortured and brainwashed, only he seems to be able to make his own choices. The fact that he chose the man who saved him from slavery isn’t all that surprising.”

Clint looked pensive, “So, Ironman thought SHIELD was being fishy, hacked the shit out of them, found Phil alive, found the soldier, who he didn’t kill but instead adopted like a puppy from what I’ve seen, has been doing a bunch of shady things involving fucking SHIELD up, only they made the mistake of killing his mom, so now he’s just going to make years of semi-subtlety useless by going bat-shit and killing everyone involved?”

Bruce shrugged, “Basically.”

“Okay,” Clint nodded, “New question, what did you mean the whole world is going to know?”

“I mean within the next few days Ironman is going to release everything he has on SHIELD, and I mean everything, and when that happens there won’t be a SHIELD anymore, only HYDRA will be left.”

“Oookay,” Clint drawled out, “Final question, do you what Ironman’s real name is? Because he seemed pretty- ow, Nat!” He rubbed the place Natasha had just whacked him.

“Shut up.” She glared at him.

“I do, actually,” Bruce said, amused as the tension finally bled from his frame, “Carter gave it to him, so he probably reacted worse than he usually would, but if you want to know what it is, you’re going to have to ask him.”

Clint crossed his arms and pouted, “Fine. What are we gonna do about HYDRA? I mean, are we going to do anything, or are we just going to wait until Ironman kills them all?”

And then they were all looking at Steve.

He groaned and buried his face in his hands.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

Rhodey

Rhodey had been on a mission with radio silence during the major parts of the most recent incident. It wasn’t an excuse, before Tony had always been able to contact him, but after Afghanistan… It seemed like whenever Tony called it was to show him memes or blare the elements song, and Rhodey just needed to concentrate.

It wasn’t an excuse.

Still, the moment he got back and heard what had happened, he was gone.

Because his best friend needed him, and he was already late.

He had called Pepper but hadn’t been able to get a hold of Tony, and any time she had gone to see him he wasn’t there. Whether that was true or if JARVIS was keeping her out for whatever reason was yet to be seen.

All Rhodey knew was that when he touched down on the airstrip of Tony’s lair and JARVIS was leading him directly to the broken genius hiding in his darkened lab, the AI sounded a bit cold.

When the elevator stopped on the bottom floor and the doors opened Rhodey had already steeled himself for what he was going to walk into. He barely spared a glance toward the soldier and the doctor sitting outside the locked lab door, ignored the “where have you been”s and “what took you so long”s, and continued even as JARVIS opened said door and then shut it behind him as soon as he walked in.

The room was dead quiet and dimly lit, dark enough that it took a minute for his eyes to adjust, but the moment they did, he immediately spotted Tony curled up in the corner of that old couch he’d kept since college.

The sight was as heartbreaking as it was familiar.

“Hey, kid.” He said softly as he walked over to the couch, and echo of a different time and place. Tony looked up and for a fraction of a second all Rhodey saw was a shivering seventeen year old who had just found out the man that had raised him had died, looking so lost and alone and scared, and no matter what happened between them one thing would remain unchanged.

They would never abandon each other.

They were never supposed to abandon each other.

“Rhodey?”

The voice was just as soft, but a hundred times more haunted, that Rhodey’s own.

Rhodey sat on the couch and drug the curled up lump against him, “Yeah, Tones, it’s me. Sorry I took so long to get here.”

He felt more than heard the sob against his neck as Tony unwound himself and instead wrapped his arms around Rhodey, clinging to the older man like the lifeline he was.

“She’s gone, Rhodey…” Tony whimpered, tears wetting Rhodey’s shirt.

“I know,” Rhodey hugged him tighter, barely repressing his own tears, “I know, I know, I know…” He continued like a mantra, rocking as Tony cried.

“It’s not fair,” The distraught man choked out, keeping his face buried, “No one was supposed to die because of me; I never wanted that, Rhodey.”

“This wasn’t your fault, Tony. Never think that.”

“I never wanted people to die, but that’s all they ever seem to do.”

“Everybody dies eventually, Tony…”

Tony shuddered a breath and pulled back to look into Rhodey’s eyes, “But it shouldn’t be because of me.”

“Tony, this isn’t-”

“I’m not talking about Miss Carter,” Tony cut him off, voice dull save for the barely held back sobs, and even after so many years and a breakdown Tony still couldn’t refer to the woman with anything other than respect, “I never wanted to kill people, Rhodey. I never wanted to be the bad guy,” he buried his face in his hands and started rubbing away the tears, “I never wanted my best friend to look at me and not recognize who I am anymore.”

“Tony-”

“Rhodey,” Tony looked up again, “You were afraid of me, when I came back from Afghanistan –you still are. You’re my best friend and you’re afraid of me.” It was a statement, not a question.

Rhodey couldn’t answer. He didn’t want to hurt his best friend, but he also couldn’t lie, either.

Tony looked away again, “You and Pepper, you both try to act like it doesn’t bother you, that when I left that cave it was like I had left myself behind, too, but I’m not blind and I am not stupid.”

Rhodey shook his head, dragging Tony back against him. The genius didn’t struggle, just rested his head against the other man’s chest. “You haven’t changed all that much, you’re still Tony. You’re still my brother in all but blood and that is never going to change.” He told the other man firmly, his voice tight.

“Rhodey?”

“Yeah, Tony?”

“I’m not okay. I thought if I acted like I was that it wouldn’t matter, that if I didn’t care I wouldn’t care, that-” He breathed, “That if I laughed, I wouldn’t have a reason to cry anymore. It worked, for a little while, but now it hurts and it’s like everything I was holding back is racing towards me and I’m on the edge, and I think I’m gonna fall…”

He swallowed and buried his face back onto Rhodey’s neck, whispering so quiet that Rhodey didn’t know if he was supposed to hear it.

I think I want to die…”

. . .

Steve

Steve never had the chance to actually make a decision either way when it came to the Avengers getting involved with HYDRA.

He had tried, of course, to think of a plan of action, but by the time he even had an idea it was too late and the files had been dropped.

Surprisingly enough, though, was the fact that it had only been the HYDRA files that were spread. SHIELD would be disbanded for awhile, no doubt about it, but the loyal agents were safe. You could only find mention of them in passing.

Well, according to Natasha, that was.

But Steve wasn’t worried about any of that; it barely even crossed his mind, because there was something so much bigger taking up space inside his head. It was on repeat, over and over.

His best friend was alive.

Bucky is alive.

And working with Ironman.

Chapter Text

Steve

“What was he thinking?!”

“Steve-”

“I mean it’s Bucky, that asshole!”

“Ste-”

“What gave him the right?! Bucky’s my best friend, I had a right to know he was alive!”

Steve!

Steve’s mouth clicked shut at Bruce’s hissed almost-yell. Bruce sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his glasses up to rub the corners of his eyes.

“I knew Bucky was alive,” The scientist said after a minute.

Steve flinched and gave Bruce a hurt look, “You knew? And you didn’t tell me? Why?” He asked quietly.

“I knew,” Bruce agreed, “And I didn’t tell you. Granted it was just before we found out about Miss Carter, but I wouldn’t have told you even if I had had the time to do so.”

Steve sat heavily in the seat across from Bruce, next to Natasha, “Why not?”

Bruce met his eyes seriously and answered, “Because James -what Bucky prefers to be called now- wasn’t, isn’t, ready. Despite what you seem to think, Ironman isn’t holding him hostage. He even offered to bring James to you once he was able to actually give an answer, and he said no.” Bruce gave him a sad look, “You know what he went through. I think he just needs time, Steve. You can’t blame Ironman for giving him the choice, either.”

“How did he even find him? Was it like with Phil?” Clint spoke up for the first time, his hand gripping Phil’s arm tightly, “What was he looking for in the first place?”

Bruce shrugged helplessly, “I don’t know. He may be my friend, but he doesn’t tell me everything.”

The room was quiet for a few minutes as they all digested the information.

“How was he?” Steve asked, not lifting his from where it was bowed, “When you saw him?”

“Who?” Bruce returned, “James or Ironman?”

“Both.”

Bruce released a light sigh and slumped a little in his seat, “James is doing okay, all things considered; quiet, a little touch-shy, he seems to be pretty protective of T- Ironman, but nothing I wouldn’t have expected.” No one commented on his slip, if they noticed.

“And Ironman?” Natasha asked; still humbled from Bruce’s accusations the last time they talked.

Bruce hesitated, “Not… as good. I’m not sure I should tell you, since you all tend to turn on him as much as he does on you.”

She looked away.

“We won’t use it against him, whatever it is,” Clint said numbly, “And I don’t think there’s much to tell that he hasn’t already said, or at least alluded to…” His speech wavered, “Is it really that bad?”

“War Machine is with him,” Bruce evaded, “He’ll be fine.”

They would be more inclined to believe him if he didn’t sound like he was trying to convince himself.

. . .

Tony

I think I want to die.

No, you don’t.

And that had been the end of it. Rhodey knew Tony better than Tony knew Tony, and he was right.

If Tony had really wanted to die, as in, desired to be less than alive-

(Too late)

-Than Tony would be dead already. Now that he thought about it with a clearer head-

(Rhodey just had to poor all the good booze down the drain)

Shut up. Now that he could think passed the haze of alcohol, sleep deprivation, and the feeling of raw rage with no outlet, it was clear that not caring if you lived and actively hoping to die are two completely different things entirely.

Now, three days after Rhodey assured him of his sad little excuse of a will to live-

(Fascinating)

-And about three minutes after a nice breakdown in the shower-

(Easiest way to blame tears on water, second only to rain)

-Tony was feeling much better. Stepping out as the stream shut off and toweling away the excess water, Tony felt rejuvenated and energized and ready to take over the world!

(Metaphorically, of course)

(The world was too much trouble)

(And not near enough fun)

He got dressed and contemplated his next move. His little freak-out towards the A-team probably wasn’t the smartest thing he could’ve done, but quite frankly he was due for a breakdown, and those assholes never could let it go.

(And fuck Rogers)

He had been going through a really trying time, okay? And their lack of faith in him, coupled with their patronizing ‘this isn’t you’s, he could live without, thank you very much.

(And fuck Rogers)

He was a bad guy first, always, in all the ways it mattered, and they would always look for that in everything he did.

(That was probably a good thing)

He didn’t blame them for that-

(Much)

-But he couldn’t take them lying about it, either. A polite toleration when they worked together, and sarcastic hostility when they didn’t, is all he could ask for, all he wanted-

(And they couldn’t even give him that)

-But if they wouldn't do that, than at least they could act like civilized human beings-

(Right, because-)

Instead of jumping to conclusions and using loud voices as if yelling would make Tony give them the answers they wanted to hear.

Deep down, they wanted him to be the bad guy, because if he wasn’t that meant that they were, if not the villains themselves, then working for them, and superhero’s never could fully own up to their own mistakes.

(Projecting much?)

At least Tony could admit he was terrible at being good. Fuck, he was bad at being bad. Didn’t really leave him with many options, did it…?

What was he doing, again? Oh, right, right, next move…

He didn’t have one. Did he need one? SHIELD, HYDRA, whatever they called themselves, was gone.

(Where does that leave him?)

(Alone, in a boring world)

(So, pre-New York incident?)

Scratching his head absently, Tony entered the kitchen and went directly to the coffee pot. James watched him warily from his spot leaning against the counter reading a newspaper-

(The fuck did that get in here?)

-and eating a strip of bacon.

Tony threw up a hand in a weird wave as he filled his mug. After the first swig he mirrored the soldier’s position against the counter and made a grabby motion with his free hand toward the plate of bacon.

He ignored the small smile James was unable to stop along with the relief in the other man’s eyes as he was handed the plate of heart-attack.

(Worth it.)

There was a moment of silence, save for the sounds of chewing and sipping with the occasional rustle of paper pages.

“I’m glad you’re okay, Tony.” James didn’t look up from the blasphemy in his hands.

Tony glared into his drank.

(Okay? Okay?)

(He was far from okay, the farthest from okay, the monster that hid in plain sight, a villain that others strived to be like, the recluse that died alone in a cave-)

Tony sighed and slumped. Who was he kidding? This is the best he’s felt in a long time. “Me too.” Then, “Things are going to be quiet-ish from now on, at least, quiet for me, until the next mass alien invasion. You have any plans?”

James blew a piece of hair out of his face, “Stevie knows I’m alive,”

“Yeah,” Tony didn’t look up from his cup.

“What do you think I should do?”

“Whatever the fuck you want,” Tony said with more honesty than he gave himself, “You’ve been through enough that you could get away with anything and claim temporary insanity, I say go for it. Drink a bar, join a yoga class, eat all the fucking ice-cream you want, dye your hair pink, change your name, raise yaks in the Himalayas- actually scratch that last one. The Himalayas are fucking cold, how do you feel about emu?”

While it probably didn’t help his conundrum, at least Tony got him to laugh.

Chapter Text

“Tell me who threw your chance away? Did they even know your name? If you live in the echo your heart never beats as loud.” –‘Forgettable’, Project 46, Featuring Olivia

Tony

Two months later and things were still quiet. Eerily so, in fact. There haven’t been any aliens or villains, or even a fucking doom-bot, since SHIELD fell and quite frankly, Tony was getting twitchy.

James still hasn’t worked up the nerve to meet with Rogers yet, practicing what he would say in the mirror and beating the shit out of the reinforced punching bags along with arguing with himself about the pros and cons in the guise of asking Tony for advice.

(As much as he liked having the soldier around, he was considering dropping him off at a fire station with a note attached to his shirt, ‘Return to Star-Spangled-Asshole if found’)

(Get him a collar and a leash and leave him at a gas station tied to a post like a pet.)

(His tag would read: Owner-‘Steven G. Asshat’)

The fact of the matter is Tony has lived the vast majority of his life alone. He had at one point gone an entire year without seeing another human being, in person or otherwise.

And Tony couldn’t just send the guy away when he needed his silent time because he was going through a ‘crisis’ and was scarily good at giving puppy eyes for a man who used to be an emotionless assassin.

(He still got chills just thinking about it)

“Look,” Tony finally cut him off, held awake only by coffee and spite at this point as he worked away on what might be a bubble maker-

(Or a deadly laser)

-making James pause in his semi-coherent rant from the ragged couch in the corner.

Tony continued, “Just go see Rogers already. The man is going to be thrilled no matter what you say. You could probably tell him you wanted to move to the country and raise Shetland Ponies-”

“What is with you and raising things?”

“-Hush, you could tell him you wanted to move to somewhere stupid, like Nebraska or some shit, and he’d ask when the two of you were leaving. You’re his friend, James.”

“So are you,” James sat up and stared at Tony, “And I’ve done things way worse than releasing hundreds of bunnies into SHIELD ventilation while cackling about the earth equivalent of whatever the fuck a Tribble is.”

Tony snickered at the memory then shook his head. Serious matter. “I’m also a super villain more than half the time.”

“Well, I’ve been an assassin working for HYDRA for over half the time.”

“Doesn’t count if you were brainwashed, and even if it did, technically that would mean both Barton and Romanov would be in the same boat. SHIELD was HYDRA and they were assassins that worked for SHIELD. You’d actually come out of that better than they would because you were never given a choice.” Tony went back to playing with his fire while James blinked and flailed (emotionally. Too much deadly asset to literally flail) trying to come up with a comeback.

“But-”

“’But’ what, James?”

“But what if he hates me?” James asked in a quiet, defeated voice and sunk back into the couch.

Tony snapped.

“Mother of Einstein, fuck!” He cursed and span around on his stool to glare at the moping cyborg, “You’re driving me sane! Do you know how hard that is? The last time I was this coherent was in ’01 and I was signing papers and going to board meetings on time and sleeping at least eight hours a night like a actual human being and it was awful. I do not need that kind of productivity in my life so go talk to Rogers before I start color coding shit and filing reports in alphabetical order!” He finished by throwing a paperclip at the other man’s head.

James was too surprised by the rant to even dodge the office supply and it bounced harmlessly off his chest.

Tony hissed, “I didn’t even know I owned paperclips.”

James held up his hands in surrender and headed for the door, “Okay, I’m going. No need to throw a sticky-note at me.”

The door just shut when there was a crash against the class behind him.

Why the fucking shit do I own a stapler!

James wisely made a hasty retreat after that.

. . .

James

‘This is so stupid,’ James sighed and leaned his head against the brick wall of the alley he was standing in, right across the street from Stark Tower.

‘Avengers Tower,’ His mind amended. He was pretty sure that was the name now? Different people called it different things so he wasn’t too clear on the official title.

Aaaand, he was stalling again. He cursed silently before he took a deep breath and pushed back from the wall. He pulled out his phone and glanced at the time.

7:38 PM

He blinked, slightly taken aback. Had he really been standing like a dumbass in the middle of a Manhattan alley for three hours, teetering like a child that knows they’re going to be in trouble as soon as they see their parents?

Of course, now that he thought about it, it has gotten pretty late. Maybe he should just head back to base and try again in the morning-

He moaned and his head fell back against the wall. He shoved his phone back into the pocket of his jeans. He was being stupid. Tony was right, Stevie would never hate him, would probably be thrilled to see him, so why did he have such a bad feeling about going over there?

“Stop being a coward,” He mumbled to himself. He pushed himself back up strait and walked across the street. He spared a glance at the front door then headed for the side entrance. He didn’t plan on being seen by anyone except Steve tonight.

Standing in front of the door he fumbled for the card Tony had given him the first time they talked about him leaving. He found it and slid it down the side of the code box. There wasn’t a green light or beep that would ordinarily tell you if the card worked, but James, with his super-soldier hearing, heard the click of the lock coming undone and didn’t hesitate to grab the handle and push the door open.

This was a fire exit so stairs were immediately to the left, though there was an elevator farther down on the right. The hall was dark, which James found unsettling. He didn’t need the light, he had memorized the blue prints and knew where everything was, down to the last stair, be he had a feeling it shouldn’t be this dark.

He shook his head to get rid of the paranoia. The security guard probably just locked this part of the building down for the night. This wasn’t a mission, and this building was arguably the safest building in New York. Nothing was wrong.

He kept that thought all the way up until he got to the elevator and tried to go up. The lift wasn’t working. In a stark building? No.

Something was wrong.

JARVIS hadn’t said anything, and he would have, had he been in this part of the building (where he should be) so James pulled his gun and his phone out.

He checked his phone. No signal.

Tony was going to throw a fit when he found out. But that was later. He pocketed the phone and, without making a sound, took to the stairs. Over and over his thoughts played like a broken record.

‘Something is wrong, get to Steve.

It was an overwhelming mantra, so ingrained not even HYDRA had been capable of squashing the instinct.

‘Something is wrong, get to Steve.

Because if there was trouble, that moron was in the middle of it. On purpose.

James wasn’t Bucky, but he wasn’t the Soldier either. He was somewhere between the two, but he had been both, at one point, and he still had what Tony liked to call, “The best and worst of both worlds”.

But there was no middle ground when it came to these types of situations.

So James, for just a moment, allowed himself to be Bucky: to panic and run to try and drag his punk of a friend out of the fire. Then, just as briefly, he was Sergeant Barnes, running to help his captain out of the mess he probably got himself into.

And then he let the Soldier take over.

The soldier could think, could compartmentalize, and wouldn’t do something stupid just because he was worried. James clung to that mentality as he raced up the stairway.

He had prepared himself for battle.

He was too late.