This is bad, Clint thought. This is really, really bad.
It’d been easy not to take the villain-of-the-week seriously. Too easy. The man was short, pompous, and wore an honest-to-God top hat and monocle. Clint didn’t even remember his name. He was that unimpressed.
To make a long, embarrassing, story short: Top Hat Guy’s attack on an elementary school was a ruse. Shortly after, Clint and his teammates found themselves trapped in cages and forced to listen to Top Hat Guy’s villainous monolog. Well, not Bruce. He’d fallen asleep thanks to some sort of gas that Top Hat Guy had pumped into his cell. The Hulk hadn’t even come out to defend ‘puny Banner’.
Not good. Not fucking good.
And now, Top Hat Guy had turned his attention to Steve.
Being a super-soldier, Steve had been given an extra reinforced cage. It had the same glass walls as Bruce’s. Clint would have bet money that meant he was going to get gassed next.
Steve must have come to the same conclusion, but he never let it show on his face. He stood before Top Hat Guy, muscled arms crossed over his chest.
“Whatever you’re planning next, it’s not gonna work,” Steve said boldly.
Top Hat Guy leered. “You, Captain, especially, are not immune to the effects. You have made no secret of your feelings—the strength of your convictions.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Tony demanded, from the cell across the room. Like Clint and Natasha, he’d been thrown in a normal cell, with only bars. He was also without his Iron Man suit. Clint hadn’t seen where it had gone, but without it, Tony was the most vulnerable one here.
Top Hat Guy twirled an honest-to-God cane at Tony. “The so called ‘Super Hero Civil War’, of course.” He made a tutting sound. “Such bad blood between the leaders of the Avengers. Yes, you made up in public, but,” he turned back to Steve, “that’s not the whole story, is it?”
Steve took an involuntary step back.
Oh shit, Clint thought, wishing Steve had a better poker-face.
“Yes,” Top Hat Guy crooned. “I can tell—I have latent telepathic powers, on my mother’s side. I can feel that nothing was resolved, was it? It’s still there. The desire boiling within you. The need to steal your teammate away from cameras and do what you should have done in the first place. Isn’t that right, Captain?”
“You’re wrong,” Steve said, but his voice actually cracked in the middle.
Clint exchanged a glance with Natasha. She flashed ‘fifteen minutes’ in quick sign. She was working on a way out – Top Hat Guy had put she and Clint in regular cages, which was a huge mistake. But she needed time to escape.
“We’ll see, won’t we?” Top Hat Guy walked to a bank of controls and started pressing buttons. “This gas will eliminate all inhibition, and force you to act on your deepest desires.” He pressed a button, then looked up. “I wonder, Captain, when you come to your senses, will you turn yourself in for the murder of your team mate?”
“Don’t listen to him, Cap!” Tony yelled. “He’s putting these ideas into your head. You’re a better man than that—”
“Tony—” Steve yelled, looking anguished.
He was cut off as a billow of gas flooded Steve’s glass cell. Within seconds, had completely disappeared from view.
Then Steve started screaming.
“Shit!” Tony shook the bars of his cell. “Cap! Steve! It’s okay! It’s going to be okay!”
Not good, Clint thought again. Hurry up, Natasha.
Top Hat Guy gave a villainous chuckle. “The doors to his cell will open in thirty seconds. You should say your goodbyes, Stark.” With that, he swept dramatically out.
Tony growled something under his breath. The moment the doors closed behind Top Hat Guy, he turned to Natasha. “You’re working on a way out, right? Tell me you have a way to get out of here.”
She was bent by the lock and was trying to pick it open. Clint wanted to know where she’d hidden her picks – his had been taken when he’d been thrown in here.
“Why do you two always depend on me to get you out of this mess?” she asked.
“Because Bruce is taking a nap,” Tony shot back. Steve’s screaming had stopped. It was ominously quiet. “Time’s wasting, Miss. Rushman.”
Then, only twenty seconds in by Clint’s count, the doors to Steve’s cell opened.
Steve leaped out, hunched, clothing torn, his eyes wild. Despite himself, Clint drew back from the bars. There was an air of menace around Steve that Clint had never felt from him before.
Steve focused on Tony.
“Hey Cap,” Tony said, and to his credit his voice was calm and even. “Take a deep breath, big guy. The ball’s in your court. Whatever you’re feeling, that was in the past, remember? We put it behind—“
Steve leaped forward, grabbed two of the bars to Tony’s cage and pulled them apart.
Tony tried to back away, but Steve moved with inhuman speed. Clint had seen that from him a time or two in battle—when he wasn’t holding back, and the serum was working at peak efficiency. In a moment, Steve had pulled Tony out and was hauling him out of the room…
“No!” Clint yelled. “Steve! Don’t do this!”
The door slammed shut again. Steve and Tony were gone.
Clint whirled to Natasha. Her lips were pressed together. She didn’t look at him as she continued picking the lock. “I’ll need a couple more minutes.”
“Tony won’t have a couple minutes,” he said.
Her silence was agreement.
Ten minutes later, Natasha had both her and Clint’s cell doors opened.
Top Hat Guy was nowhere to be seen, and they decided to keep Bruce where he was, sleeping peacefully. Waking him might rouse the Hulk if he panicked, and right now Tony was in the greater danger.
Clint wasn’t looking forward to seeing what had happened on other side of that door. Steve Rogers was a good man, but the gas had removed all inhibition, and… well. There had been some bad blood during the Civil War. Tony and Steve learned to work together, afterward, but the tension was thick between them. No one ever brought up Barnes.
But Clint had been a SHIELD Agent for a long time. He had seen terrible sights before, the darkest humanity had to offer. He mentally braced himself for the worst.
The room beyond a storage room. Clint stopped and stared.
Tony was alive and tied to a chair. Sat in front of an old wooden table, with Steve sat primly on the other side. An unlit candle stood between them.
“Um?” Clint said.
Tony twisted around. “Apparently, Steve’s ‘deepest desire’ is to take me on a date ala Lady and The Tramp.” Far from hurt or offended, Tony sounded delighted. “Who knew? Also, I wouldn’t come close," he added. “He’s not thinking too clearly right now.”
Sure enough, Steve had tensed up, and the glare he sent Clint’s way promised death if he interfered with the ‘date’.
Clint quickly backed away.
“Huh,” Natasha cocked her head. “Surprising, but not totally unexpected.” She tapped Clint on the shoulder. He’d been staring. “Let’s spring Bruce.”
“Stark’s fine,” she said, nodding to him. “He’s clearly enjoying the attention. Look.”
Sure enough, Steve actually had his chin on his hands and was gazing with adoring eyes at Tony, who was speaking. Steve hadn’t spoken yet – maybe the gas made him non-verbal—but killing Tony was… not on the menu.
“Yeah.” Clint was happy for his friends, but he was seriously not paid enough for this. Ugh. He had shacked them in his daughter’s room at his house as a joke. Now, he had so many questions about what actually went on that night. “Let’s give these two lovebirds some space.”