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baby doll I recognize you're a hideous thing inside

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The make is a 2004 Chevrolet Express with dinged white paint and a crushed rear fender. The tires are old enough that the tread is worn down and the handles are carefully wiped clean.

The words SHOW YOUR FACE IRON MAN are sprayed along the side that faces Avenger's Mansion. Steve stands in front of the van with his arms crossed and his jaw clenched.

"It's probably a prank," Tony says. He's got his suit on and is taking scans, he doesn't really think this is a prank, but the dear Captain looks like he's going to sneeze blood in his fury so downplaying is the way to go.

"It's a threat," Steve says. He's got that glare dialled up to eleven. Tony is pretty happy that it's not directed at him this time.

The HUD on the suit flashes and Tony sends the results to his secure server. He pats Steve on the shoulder, this "there-there" thing, and starts to amble back inside.

"The cops are coming to tow it away, we're fine."

"This isn't fine!" Steve calls after him.

The lift going down to Tony's secure lab echoes as he climbs into it and when he climbs off. He needs to get it replaced with something sleeker and more current but hasn't had the time. He turns on the privacy protocols, lets the programmed robot arms take off his suit for him, and plugs the chestplate in at his desk.

The chair in here is really comfy, at least. He can put his feet up and watch the basic algorithm pull up all recent threats he's gotten in the mail and start making matches to the work outside.

The whole thing is probably some angry weapons developer or something. Trying to make Tony in his business persona nervous. Not going to work. He'll just find them and send some cops after them and no more worrying until the next wiseguy gets an idea.

He sets a more detailed set of parameters for the algorithm to make matches with right before a callout rings on his card.

# # #

The Iron Man suit gets stuck to the upholstery on the desk chair and he has to have Steve help him rip it off after the Meeting. Now he's got bits of felted blue weave stuck to his shiny ass, how glorious.

"Do you need help--" Steve waves a hand at all the glue glooped on the armour "--cleaning that off?"

"Why, you looking to help polish my armour?" Tony asks. No he does not want help, he doesn't want Steve anywhere close where he could accidentally figure things out. Doesn't mean he's not going to make a joke out of it though. "You going to get a rag and really put in the elbow grease?"

Steve looks tired now that his cowl is off. "It was a serious offer, Iron Man."

Tony tries to not feel guilty and is supremely unsuccessful. "There's a machine that will do it, I'm good, thanks."

Janet comes over with her mask off and her makeup smeared. She crams half a burrito into her mouth then grins at Steve as she chews.

"What's going on?" she asks after she swallows.

The suit's HUD flashes that there are still too many matches with the current parameters set. Tony flicks his eyes to the left to dismiss the message, he'll deal with it when he gets out of here.

"The Captain wants to polish my suit," Tony tells Janet.

She laughs and elbows the suit in the side. "Oh, some some wax on and wax off, huh?"

"What does wax have to do with anything?" Steve looks confused. "Is there wax on Iron Man's suit?"

"It's a eighties thing, Winghead. You wouldn't get it."

Steve's jaw sets and Tony tries to sidestep on out of there. Janet won't move out of the way and he ends up bumping into her instead.

"We tease because we love, Cap," she says.

"You're not going anywhere." Steve grabs the suit by the arm and moves Tony away from Janet and the door. "Could we have a minute, Wasp?"

Janet takes another bite of her burrito and waves a hand as she leaves.

"I'll catch you up on the Karate Kid, no need for that face."

Steve blinks, then shakes his head. "What does Karate-- No, I want to talk to you about Mr. Stark."

The bottom drops out of Tony's stomach. "What about him?"

"I think the message yesterday was for him," Steve says, and now Tony can breathe again.

"Why do you think that?"

"If someone discredits you, they can discredit him." Steve still hasn't let go of the suit's arm, which he shakes a little now. "Make Mr. Stark seem incompetent for choosing someone they can attack, that sort of thing."

"What kind of past do you think I have?" Tony asks, going for a joke. He already has this figured out, but if it's bothering Steve enough to make him think about it for hours now, then he needs to get this taken care of ASAP.

Steve looks the helmet in the eye. If Tony wasn't inside it, he might feel special.

"I think you have the kind of past that Mr. Stark wants hidden, for whatever reason. Just pass my theory on, will you? And be careful."

Tony salutes him and finally is allowed to leave. Steve calls after him, "If Iron Man needs to take a few days to focus on his employer none of us will judge you," but when Tony turns around to respond Steve is already heading out the other door with his phone in his hand.

# # #

In the wee hours the computer dings a hit on some warehouse by the waterfront over in Jersey. Tony rouses himself enough to drag on a couple layers of clothes-- it's cold out by the water, he doesn't want to get a cold on top of the exhaustion he deals with all the time-- and uses his keychain to ping the auto on his Tesla to come out front of the Mansion.

Just his luck, Captain America himself is just finishing his morning run when Tony gets outside.

"Mr. Stark," Steve says. He's standing in front of the driver's side door with his arms crossed and doesn't look like he's going to move.

"Hey, Captain." Tony stands on the walkway from the house like a moron. He's not wearing business casual, but neither is Steve, so why does he feel underdressed. "Just going on a drive, you have a good run?"

Steve ignores his question. "Is Iron Man going with you?"

Tony raises his eyebrows and pretends he's confused. "On a drive? No."

Steve exhales heavily. "There's a threat, you need protection."

It's nice that the Adonis that is Steve is worried and all, but if Tony had his way he'd get Steve's attention an entirely different way. Which is never going to happen. So he bites down the instinct to flirt and tries on his "no really, do go on" smile he uses at fundraising dinners.

"Iron Man is a click away if I need him. Don't worry about me, Cap, I'll be fine."

Steve still doesn't move.

"Where are you going?"

Tony drops the fake smile and crosses his arms. The hoodie and the two shirts he's wearing don't give near enough padding between him and the chestplate for it to ever be comfortable.

"Going to check out a property, then I'll swing by this place in Hoboken that makes great crullers on my way back."

"You need to check a property on your own?" Steve's eyebrows go up. Whoever taught him that expression should be taken out back and shot.

"I can do things on my own." Tony tries to glare. It's like glaring at a beautifully muscled wall.

"Well, I've got time," Steve says. And he walks around the car to the passenger door and gets inside.

Tony stands there like an idiot as Steve buckles himself in like a rule-follower he is. Then he steps to the driver's door cautiously and speaks through the window. "I could just go get another car and leave you stuck in this one."

Steve gives him an even look.

"Get into the car, Mr. Stark."

# # #

The warehouse is set a ways away from the pier and is surrounded by boarded up windows and cracked pavement. Tony whistles, low, and gets out from the car.

"Wait, I thought you were just doing a driveby?" Steve says and gets out of the car to follow.

"Going to look inside, take some photos." He stops yelling when Steve gets close enough. "This is all normal."

Steve makes a noise but waits for Tony to open the doors with a screech and walk inside.

The warehouse isn't dusty at all, and there are a few upturned wood crates here and there. Otherwise the place is empty. Tony peers up at the rafters to check for cameras or booby traps, then Steve says "What's that?" and he finally notices a perfectly stacked tower of cardboard in the centre of the room.

Tony doesn't get closer because he's an idiot. Doesn't matter much anyway when a click happens and a huge flash blows the top cardboard off.

He gets up from his protective crouch when all that is revealed is a polaroid camera, but he's angry and his palm is out before he can stop himself, like he's about to shoot at the thing with his gauntlet. A photo pops out from the bottom but he can't see how stupid he looks from this distance.

Tony takes one step closer to it, then Steve's got an arm wrapped around his waist and is carrying him backwards out the door and--

"That was dangerous!" Steve shouts.

Tony smacks at Steve's arm around him until the man lets go. His arm was high enough to feel the chestplate, but hopefully because of all the layers Tony's wearing it didn't register. Just to be safe Tony takes as step back and points at Steve.

"The guy cleared out, I'm fine, this is all fine!"

"Why do you keep saying that! Someone is trying to take you out!" Steve runs a hand through his hair and makes it stand up all over the place. "You need bodyguards."

Tony snorts and starts back for the Tesla. "I have Iron Man."

"Iron Man can't save you from that. What if it were an actual explosion instead of a camera? If I couldn't get to you in time, then Iron Man wouldn't be able to either!"

Tony keys in the alert for investigations to happen under the auspices of his company and gets into the car. Steve scrambles to get into the passenger seat, like Tony would really drive off without him.

"Tony-- Mr. Stark," Steve says, and Tony cranks up the music to drown him out.

The drive back to the Mansion is full of really angry quiet. Steve almost slams the cardoor on his way out, then stops at the last minute and closes it gently.

He waits for Tony to get out too before he says anything.

"I'm sorry for overreacting. But these kinds of threats, no one expects this stuff and yet it happens more often than you think."

Tony clicks the keychain and the Tesla drives off towards the garage on its own. "Yeah, well. No one expects the Spanish Inquisition."

Steve stares at him. Tony grins weakly.

"It's a seventies thing, you wouldn't get it."

Steve makes an angry noise and stomps away.

# # #

There's a robot-looking thing holding a boombox up outside the Living Room windows of the Avenger's Mansion. Tony stares at it in mild horror; whoever put it up even printed out a picture of John Cusack's face and taped it across the faceplate.

"I WON'T HAVE TO FIND YOU, I'LL LET MOB MENTALITY FORMED AS A RESENTMENT TO THE CAPITALIST HEGEMONY FOR IT FOR ME!" the speakers blare on repeat. There's a jaunty muzak version of Tears for Fears' classic Everyboy Wants to Rule The World playing behind the words, which Tony is impressed by despite himself.

Steve is the one who found it. Tony was down in the lab fixing a sputtering issue on his gauntlet at the time. Now he's in full Iron Man armour because he has a feeling Steve would tackle him if Mr. Stark showed and not let him up until Iron Man flew in to take over.

"I think this is enough to get John Cusack to sue," Tony says. He pokes at the boombox with the hand that has the working repulsor. The thing doesn't budge. "It's really sturdy, guy knows how to use his cement."

Steve doesn't relax his stance with his shield. "Is it an actual robot?"

Tony shakes his head. "Sculpture. I think he's mocking Iron Man, but it's so bad I can't tell."

There are pieces of paper scattered across the lawn. Tony picks one up and lets the HUD do a scan before he bothers to read it.

SCAVENGER HUNT FOR THE MASSES is printed along top in huge copperplate bold, then the body read Curious about Iron Man? Want to know who the richest man in New York has flying over our heads and keeping recordings of what we're doing? Only YOU can find out by completing this scavenger hunt to find the truth. If you meet other searchers, join together! We will uncover this conspiracy once and for all!

Tony scans the step-by-step list. It basically leads to the Stark Industries building, nothing new or unusual about it. "This guy needs to take a class in writing propaganda."

Steve has a paper to read too. He darts a glance between Tony and the paper a couple times, then his shoulders sag and he finally stops guarding with his shield.

"Are you gonna show this to Mr. Stark?" Steve asks.

Tony crumples up the paper and drops it on the lawn.

"Already scanned in and available." The flashing lights of the police on their way start down the street like some migraine-inducing beacon. "You need to have more trust in me, Cap."

# # #

He honestly tries to avoid Steve on his way out, but Steve pops up behind him as he's getting the front door open and nearly gives him a heart attack.

"Is Iron Man going this time?" Steve asks. He's got a bagel absolutely slathered in creme cheese in his hand with two bites taken out of it.

Tony grips the doorknob too tight and makes his own knuckles creak.

"Iron Man already cleared a place, so I'm doing a driveby. He's out on a lead somewhere upstate right now."

Steve nods. "Another driveby, huh?" He takes a big bite of his bagel.

Tony watches Steve's tongue dart out to nab a bit of smeared creme cheese, then blinks out of his stupor.

"Yes, a driveby." Then he leaves to where his Tesla is idling again.

Steve follows him. Of course he follows him, he's Steve. Tony doesn't groan as Steve walks fast to the passenger door and gets in, but it's a close thing.

"So where can I drop you, Cap?" he tries.

"Why do you drive Tesla? Janet says it's a rival company," Steve says, then polishes off his bagel.

Tony puts the car in drive and clenches at the steering wheel.

"Elon uses my energy patents so I drive his car around. It's a quid pro quo thing. You sure you don't need to be anywhere? A children's hospital to visit? A gym to get sweaty at?"

Steve props his chin up on his hand with the elbow balanced on the door. He watches Tony with a slight grin. "You're trying to get rid of me and I don't appreciate it."

Tony does groan at that. "Are you old guys always this stubborn?"

"It's a 40s thing, you wouldn't get it," Steve shoots back.

They're at a stoplight so Tony can be all surprised in Steve's direction, who is as innocent as a shit-eating grin of an angel can be.

"I'm on to you, Captain," Tony says.

Steve's smile gets bigger. "Of course you are, Mr. Stark."

This warehouse is North of Hoboken and surrounded by Official Transit Authority Condemned signs. He leaves the car a way back from it just in case the thing explodes, because that car is expensive and he doesn't want a building to fall on it.

"This is such a nice driveby," Steve says as he follows Tony to the door. There's a deep bass beat going on inside the warehouse, so he ignores him.

Tony finds a window and peers inside. A bit of flashing light like a rave and the music is louder, but he can't really tell what's going on inside because of how dark and weird the glass is.

"I'm calling for backup," Steve says. His phone is already out, so there's not a lot Tony can do to stop him.

He sidesteps out of Steve's reach and goes to the side door around the corner. It opens with one gentle tug, no screeching hinges, so it's been oiled recently. Steve still hurries to catch up as Tony walks inside to greet the blacklight and rave lasers.

The door shuts behind Steve. Tony listens to the music for a moment, then asks, "Is that a chipmunk version of Gloria Gaynor?"

Steve bodily puts himself between Tony and the rest of the warehouse. "I thought women were called lesbians?" he hisses.

"No, it's a name," Tony says. The music cranks up even louder as it merges into a gabber remix of some death metal and the lights start to do a strobe effect.

"I see you," a voice says loudly somewhere. There's a clicking noise like a camera, then the light show is everywhere they are, green and red and purple flashing to the beat.

A row of red lights create a series of horizontal bars between him and Steve. The heat from them slap Tony in the face, he says, "Shit," with feeling and takes an instinctive step back.

Steve moves to step back, right into the lasers. Tony shouts "FREEZE" and thank fuck, Steve does.

"Turn around," Tony hisses. Steve follows his direction, really angry looking in the jaw, then he sees the lights and stops.

"Why are these hot?" Steve asks.

Tony picks up an empty box and shoves it through two of the lights at once. The thing bursts into flames.

"Oh," Steve says.

There are lasers on all sides of Steve now. Tony assumes he was meant to be caught in the same trap, because there's really no way to get out unless he could dig down through concrete. It forms a five by five box jail cell for Steve, who checks all angles and then begins to prowl around in the small area.

"I should've brought my shield," Steve growls. He finds the small window of space the lasers allow at head height, probably due to faulty lenses and not there on purpose. He glares at it with such resentment it's amazing the lasers don't switch off out of shame.

Tony peers over a nearby stack of boxes to look at the guy standing in the middle of the room dancing around with his arms up. He's wearing a skull mask, and that hat he's wearing is horrible. The coat looks like it was made out of some serious old-school drapes, too. "Why didn't you?" he asks.

Steve throws his hands up. "Because I thought I coulda grabbed you and run if we got trouble again!"

No way is Tony commenting on that. He climbs up onto the crates instead and measures the width of the gap in the lasers. He could fit his shoulders through, but just barely. There's no way Steve can get through on the other side if he tried; he'd be cut in half pretty much immediately.

"Okay," Tony says. He reaches through the gap and puts a hand on Steve's shoulder to make him look at him. "Okay, I'm probably going to die here."

Steve gets his glare going again and shakes his head.

"No, no you aren't. Just let me--"

Tony grabs Steve by the loose fabric of his sweatshirt to make him stop. "No, see. He wants my tech. This is what they always want, they want to expose me and take my tech and they want me to suffer but ultimately die, Okay? I'm okay with this, if this is what gets me in the end."

Steve grabs Tony's wrist and squeezes it tight. "Just give me a damn minute to get out of here, and--"

Tony angles one shoulder away and uses his hold on Steve for balance so he can lean through the gap in the lasers without getting burnt. The heat searing through his shirt hurts anyway.

He kisses Steve square on the mouth through the protest, presses hard and mean. Then he gets himself quickly out of the gap before Steve can hold on even tighter.

Steve blinks at him with his mouth open.

Tony sketches a salute with a grin. "Just let me take care of it, Winghead."

He jumps off the stack of crates in one big jump and hauls ass to the cover across the room. Steve shouts after him, "God damnit, Tony," which gives him a good grin to go out on.

Now he's to the side of the guy in the getup. He pulls a disc out of his pocket and starts to fiddle with the wires hanging out, keeps a side-eye on the threat. There's a port at the neckline of his chestplate that he can hook into, and he pulls the collar of his shirt to do just that.

"Capitalist Swine, I know you're in here!"

The guy starts towards the lasers where Steve is, so Tony shouts at him as a redirect. "You're really original, you know that? I am astounded by how original you are, it's like seeing something brand new for the very first time."

"The Scourge of the Underworld does not need originality! One only needs the mask and the vendetta!" The guy screeches. He honestly sounds like a chipmunk himself, no wonder his taste in music is so squeaky.

A twist of wires, and he's got some burning metal charged up in the palm of his hand. He's going to need a skin graft after this shit if he survives, he's sure of it.

"So tell me, you sound like a smart guy," he calls as the Scourge starts to pace. "Why can't we just be friends?"

"I shall choose friends among men, but neither slaves nor masters!" the Scourge bellows in his hideous voice, then throws his hands up in front of a light display like he's a conductor at a symphony orchestra.

"This is why they shouldn't allow Philosophy Majors anymore!" Tony mutters. He clicks the burning plate, holds out his hand like he's about to fire a repulsor, and shoots the charge right into the back of the guy getting it on with his console.

The lights cut out when the charged up asshole hits the display. The lasers cut out too, Tony assumes. He can't get up and check because the lack of power to his chestplate hits him like two tonnes of water slamming against his lungs and he can't breathe, he can't--

# # #

There's a hospital ceiling overhead. He's seen enough of them and that pocked white bump number is common in all of them. There's a reassuring buzz from his chestplate at least, so he's not dead and stuck in some kind of personal, hospital-confined hell.

Tony rolls his head to look around, and oh, there's Steve sitting in a chair next to the bed, looking furious in his hoodie and tight jeans.

Normally this gets Tony upset, but he's on really good drugs so he just smiles.

"Hey, how long was I--"

Steve clenches his hands on his knees. They are very nice hands and the blood smeared across the back of Steve's knuckles shows up brown in the glaring light.

"Couple hours. I did CPR on you until the ambulance got there."

A deep sorrow strikes Tony in the heart.

"I missed mouth-to-mouth?"

Steve closes his eyes for a moment and breathes out through his nose. "You have two broken ribs now and that is what you focus on?"

Tony raises a hand to tap at the chestplate, but it's muffled because his hand is swaddled in bandages. Oh.

He coughs once to clear his throat and that feels uncomfortable too. "So, uh. I know what this looks like and--"

"I'm not an idiot, shellhead," Steve interrupts.

Tony side-eyes him.

"And how long have you not been an idiot?"

Steve rolls his eyes. "Long enough to not be surprised by--" he gestures at the chestplate "--that. Though I don't know how you manage a normal life with it on, that thing is heavy."

"All the cardio a gal like me could need to keep fit for her man." Tony tries to flutter his eyelashes and is uncoordinated enough to fail.

Steve just stares at him, not furious anymore but definitely unimpressed.

"So, uh." Tony inspects the bandages on his hand. "Am I off the team?"

"Why would I kick you off the team?"

Tony gestures with his unbandaged hand and makes a tangled mess of the IV lines, but the point is made he's indicating himself. "Because I'm a walking disaster."

Steve raises both eyebrows. "You don't walk into battle, you fly."

Tony doesn't laugh because he doesn't know if he's allowed. This is good stuff they have him on, though. "Am I ever going to live this down?"

Steve rubs at his face with both hands. "The secret? Of course you will, everyone is entitled to their privacy. But the leaving me in a box made of deadly lasers after you kiss me thing..."

Tony was hoping Steve would forget that. He inspects the ceiling for faults and prays the shouting match will go quickly.

Steve's chair creaks as he gets up, then there the man is, hands braced on the bed so he can lean over Tony and force him to look Steve in the eye.

"You don't do that again," Steve says.

Tony swallows. "I don't do that again."

"Someone goes after you personally, you call for backup," Steve continues.

Tony blinks. "Someone goes after me personally, I call for backup," he parrots.

Steve nods, says, "Good," then kisses Tony.

It's a quick kiss, not nearly as insistent as the one Tony gave him, but he pulls away with a red face and Tony is honestly delighted. Confused as shit, but delighted.

"I have to tell the Avengers that Iron Man is going to be out for a couple days because his suit was damaged," Steve says. Looks anywhere but Tony, coughs a little. "You rest for a while, I'll be back soon."

Tony watches Steve as he leaves, then gently punches the air after the door is closed.