vain_glorious: (ironman)
[personal profile] vain_glorious
Title: Step the Paces Ten
Author: [personal profile] vain_glorious
Fandom: Avengers
Wordcount: ~8,300
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Gen
Notes: Pre-Thor 2, Pre-Iron Man 3
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Summary: Tony says, “I just wanted you to know that I’m not addicted to anything, certainly not this mind-altering drug that makes me flip out and try to kill my friends – because that’s not a substance that exists - so I would really like them to stop trying to kill me back.”


 

The file is called “Tony Stark Containment Plan.” The system administrators evidently though that no one would ever breach – breach, violate and ravage like a data miner on an epic bender - their security so thoroughly as to even bother with any additional levels of subterfuge.

Maybe they’d never read the very documents they were charged with keeping secure. One of the first bullet points after several unkind paragraphs of character assassination asserted that, if threatened, Tony Stark’s initial act would be to attempt to determine his enemy’s plan of action and that he would do so through technological means.

Bang on, that one. Tony wonders who wrote it. Natasha, probably. It’s astute but lacking the technical specifics the programmers really needed. That’s not her area, after all. What they should have done was taken the file, put it on a disc, and have Bruce Banner swallow it.

That would have successfully kept Tony from stealing it.

He’s torn between leaving no sign he was here, and leaving every light in the house on. Figuratively, that is. Tony is smart enough to suspect that this is a trap, a distraction to lure him into both a predictable path of destruction and discredit him. If he loads SHIELD’s servers with gay porn and penis pump spam like a teenage hacker – which, yes, he wants to – he’s not exactly helping his case.

In the end, he settles for an unsatisfying act of passive-aggressive editing, subtly altering every sentence in the containment plan that is already one step behind. They’ll read it and now it says is don’t do any of this, dumbasses. It’s practically pointless, but it’s the first chance Tony’s gotten to express his outrage that didn’t involve lots of weapons and threats of mutual-assured destruction.

He wonders how much significance to apply to the fact that the document’s title refers to “Tony Stark” and not “Iron Man.” He finds separate documents detailing the capabilities of the Iron Man suit. This one pisses him off, too, though it’s much more impersonal. He doesn’t like that someone –who he suspects at the time lived in Stark Tower – put this much thought into shooting him out of the sky.

It’s seriously outdated – which, ha – but otherwise an itemized homicide instruction manual.

Tony stops reading.

In a couple angry finger strokes, he sets off the equivalent of a bomb inside the network. SHIELD will be using carrier pigeons and smoke signals to communicate after this.

~

Before he melts it down, the SHIELD database gives him some useful information aside from the fact that his coworkers had homework assignments about the best way to kill him.

Tony finds out that Thor is gone from SHIELD’s medical facility. They weren’t doing anything for him and someone smarter arranged to have him sent back to Asgard. The documents don’t say, but Tony thinks Bruce.

Steve is still there. Recovering quickly and remarkably alive, according to the astonished physician’s reports. Completely better and wanting to play the national anthem on flutes made from Tony Stark’s shin bones, according to Steve’s own report. He says Tony’s a national security risk and a threat to SHIELD.

The latter, Tony agrees with. But they started it.

He’s not a national security risk. He called Rhodey and asked. Right now, the federal government is pretending there is no secret team of super heroes, at all, despite their frequent appearances on the news and youtube, and that Tony tells anyone who asks. They’re also pretending that the team leader – the guy who owns the damn building the team operates out of, not the guy with the silliest costume – isn’t currently on the run from the rest of the team, who have all lost their damn minds.

Not because Uncle Sam thinks Tony is innocent. They just don’t want to take the economic hit and care more about Stark Industries than Tony Stark. Rhodey says he’s going to have to do worse than kill two superheroes.

“Try,” Tony corrects. “They’re not dead, and if they were, they’d be pretty terrible superheroes, wouldn’t they?” Rhodey doesn’t say anything, and Tony sighs. “I didn’t try, there is no try.”

“Watch out for Captain Barbecue,” is all Rhodey says, which at least makes Tony laugh a little.

But Rhodey doesn’t offer to watch Tony’s back, because he can’t. He’s on an aircraft carrier somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. And the military isn’t picking sides, which seems unfair given the name on half their safety gear.

Tony wouldn’t trust them, anyway. He’s seen Natasha and Clint’s closets. They each have a uniform from every military branch just hanging there.

~

Next, he calls Pepper. If SHIELD really doesn’t want anyone noticing this, she’s in her office being a workaholic. Long ago, he set up a private line with automatic voice-altering software. They’ll probably figure it out eventually, but it’ll work for a little while.

“Hey, it’s me,” he says, when she answers. “Who do they have on you?”

Pepper coughs. “I was hoping you’d call,” she says, and there’s an edge to her voice. “I want to talk about why your accounts are in the red.”

Shit, that’s Natasha. Not that there’s really a preferable option on the table.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Your performance is unacceptable,” she says. “You better have a decent explanation.”

“I do,” he says. “What’d they tell you?”

Pepper pauses. “You’re spending like a junkie,” she says, picking her words carefully. The doublespeak isn’t natural to her, and he knows Natasha is staring at her. “I don’t understand what you’re trying to do?”

“I am not a junkie,” he snaps. “I’ve tried most of the drugs and none of them have made me do anything worse than public nudity. You know that. You were there.”

“This is different,” Pepper says.

“This is stupid,” Tony says. “This is a set up.”

Pepper makes a noise in her throat.

“Remember how rich I am?” he says. “I could buy the world’s heroin supply. If I wanted. Which I don’t.”

“Come in and we can talk about resolving this situation efficiently,” Pepper says, finally. Shit. “Efficiently” means “under duress,” and that means Natasha cracked their genius code.

“Well, no,” Tony says. “I just wanted you to know that I’m not addicted to anything, certainly not this mind-altering drug that makes me flip out and try to kill my friends – because that’s not a substance that exists - so I would really like them to stop trying to kill me back.”

“I believe you,” Pepper says. “She would like to talk to you.”

Tony remembers Natasha’s gun bearing down on him. Not Natasha, his grumpy Russian lady pal. Black Widow, SHIELD’s assassin.

“Well, I don’t want to talk to her,” he snaps.

“Tony,” Pepper says, pleadingly. He hears her fumbling the phone over and cuts the line before Widow can speak.

~

Tony has been sleeping in abandoned mines in the Southwest. Deathtraps to anyone who isn’t very, very careful. He switches around nightly, but he’s pretty sure no one knows he’s here. Everyone tends to believe he has a thing, maybe even a phobia, about caves.

This isn’t totally untrue. Bad experience. But he’s also got a good track record of walking out of them alive. So, it balances. Or maybe it doesn’t, but he’s got himself a network of underground lairs, now, and no minions to do the work for him, so caves it is.

With the suit, he can patch into just about whatever he wants.

Including home, sweet home. Gallingly, they’re all still living there. He hopes JARVIS is treating them terribly and has done nasty things like turn off sewer function.

Oddly enough, no one has taken any real steps to stop his access. If he put his mind to it, Bruce could probably take a stab at it. Natasha almost certainly has tech skills no one knows about. Clint’s preferred means of technological security is to start cutting wires. But none of them have done anything.

Tony has instant access to all the house’s systems. Including his surveillance cameras, which are everywhere. Not because he anticipated this precise situation, but because he has a very healthy need to know what is going on in his own home at all times. Only six of his cameras read as obstructed, and they’re all the ones he put in the showers mostly for recreational purposes. He uses other cameras Widow (or Captain America) didn’t find to locate the problem. It’s the same in five of the cases: a Band-Aid over the lens.

The third case he can’t tell, because the shower curtain is pulled and the water is on. The silhouette tells him it’s a lady inside.

“Widow?” he asks JARVIS.

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS responds.

“Ice her.”

“Sir,” his AI whines, but oddly doesn’t protest any further before blasting ice water from the showerhead. Tony doesn’t get to see that part, but instantly Natasha shrieks and jumps out of the tub, wrapped in the shower curtain so he doesn’t even get a show. She also has a gun in her hand, which he hopes she was keeping on the soap dish and no place more uncomfortable.

JARVIS makes a disapproving noise.

“She shot at me,” Tony says. “And she’s stalking Pepper. We don’t like her anymore.”

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS says, still obviously judging him.

“Locate the others.”

JARVIS obediently provides cameras angles on Banner and Barton.

Barton is working on his bow. Tony wishes he’d thought of installing some kind of emergency shutdown chip on that thing. He’s actually helped to improve it.

Banner is in his lab, face buried in a tablet and tray full of beakers by his elbow. He’s normal colored and normal sized, which is interesting.

“What’s he looking at?”

JARVIS provides a copy of Bruce’s screen. “The molecular structure of the substance you named Super Crack.”

“It sounds stupid when you refer to it like that,” Tony tells him.

“I’ll endeavor to improve.”

“So that’s the stuff I’m addicted to and made me decide to kill Thor and Captain America?” Tony asks, rhetorically.

“I do not have information on that,” JARVIS says.

“Well, I’m not, and it didn’t. “

“Captain America and Thor are no longer in residence.”

“They’re not dead,” Tony tells the AI. “Thor’s back on Asgard. Captain America should be returning any day now, and FYI, he’s gunning for me.”

JARVIS is disturbingly silent.

“So…uh, I don’t want you to help him out with that. Anything he asks, lie to him.”

“That exceeds my programming.”

“Oh, it does not,” Tony says.

“Yes, sir.”

“And uh, every time Barton picks up his bow, turn the lights off in the room.”

“Yes, sir,” JARVIS says, dutifully.

“And make it extremely uncomfortable in there. I’m talking temperature, plumbing, noise…I don’t want Captain America, Widow, or Hawkeye to like living there anymore. Just mess with them. Mix it up. Make it normal for an hour then do it all again.”

“And Dr. Banner, sir?”

“Don’t bug him,” Tony says, after a moment. “Leave him alone.”

“Very wise,” says JARVIS.

~

“It’s 30 degrees Fahrenheit in my room and JARVIS is playing French hip-hop,” Clint says, by way of greeting as he enters Bruce’s lab.

“One-hundred and two in mine, slow jazz, and ice water in the shower,” Natasha tells him.

They both look at Bruce, who hasn’t moved from his lab bench.

“Maybe he’s not mad at me,” is all Bruce offers.

“Is there a way to terminate his access?” Natasha asks.

“I’m sure he’d like you to try,” Bruce says. “I bet it would make his day.”

“JARVIS,” Clint says. “Is Stark listening to us right now?”

“Negative.”

“Why should we believe you?” asks Natasha, her face creased.

“Mr. Stark has instructed me to lie only to Captain Rogers.”

“That seems like a mistake,” says Bruce. “Who’s side are you on?”

JARVIS, unsurprisingly, refuses to answer that.

“Where is Stark?” Natasha tries, and also gets no response.

“Staying here might be a mistake,” Clint says.

“He’s going to come back,” says Natasha. “Eventually.”

“Before or after he has the AI electrocute us in our bathwater?”

“Tony wouldn’t do that,” Bruce objects. “C’mon.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Clint says. “Ask Thor. Or Cap.”

“There weren’t any robots involved,” Bruce points out.

Natasha and Clint stay in Bruce’s lab, even after he excuses himself. He steps out on to the landing of the tiny balcony Pepper had installed at his request for some fresh air.

He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath.

“Is there where you hide your bong?”

Bruce opens one eye, sees Tony hovering in the Iron Man suit just over the railing. Just out of reach.

“Hey,” Bruce says, opening both eyes. “Clint and Natasha are wondering where you are.”

“And you,” Tony prompts. “You don’t care?”

“I respect the right to get away and be left alone.”

Tony tilts his head. “But they’re discussing the best ways to kill me.” At Bruce’s nod, “Which are?”

“Bullets and arrows, respectively.”

“Ah.”

“I didn’t tell them they could just pull the arc-reactor right out of your chest,” Bruce continues.

Tony’s thrusters activate and he retreats another couple of inches.

“Thanks, I think?”

Bruce leans against the railing, which looks too decorative and fragile to hold his weight. “Consider us even. You told JARVIS not to bug me.”

“That was mostly out of selfishness. I don’t want to remodel, again.”

“Tweedle-gun and Tweedle-bow hanging out in my lab, though…”

“Bugging you?” Bruce closes his eyes again, and nods. “Pissing you off,” Tony says. “Sounds dangerous.” His tone is just as unfriendly as Natasha and Clint’s conversation inside.

“Is that your plan?” Bruce asks. “Other Guy takes them out, SHIELD takes me out, and you have to do a little remodeling?”

Tony scowls. “I just said I didn’t want to remodel. Pay attention. Does that sound like a plan of mine? Relying on SHIELD? What do you think of me?”

“I think you shouldn’t do medical experiments on yourself,” Bruce tells him. “I looked at the simulations. Hallucinations and violence occurred together 70% of the time.”

“So, you’re not mad at me because you think I’m crazy,” Tony says. “I think I’m offended.”

“You’re not the only who does things you have no control over. And don’t remember.”

“I remember,” Tony retorts.

“You remember trying to kill Thor?”

“No!” Tony bounces impatiently in the air. “Because as I said, repeatedly, wasn’t me!”

“You remember trying to kill Steve?”

“He tried to kill me first!”

Bruce falls silent, stares at Tony. “I didn’t expect you to admit that,” he says, finally.

“And I know the big patriotic Ken doll is fine, and I’m sure Fury is sending him right after me, so he has an excuse to shut me down and lock me up.”

“Fury does want you captured.”

Tony rolls his eyes. “Not gonna happen.”

“I’m not a big fan of Fury.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Tony chuffs.

“But I am a big fan of Cap and Thor,” Bruce says.

Tony stares at him. “Are you proposing a resolution?”

“Come in and let me take a sample of your blood,” Bruce says. “Either it has crazy juice in it, or it doesn’t.”

“Which one of those absolves me?” Tony asks. “Because I didn’t go crazy.”

“But you did drink the crazy juice.”

“Actually, I learned from this guy I know who turned himself into a not jolly at all green giant not to experiment on myself.” Tony tilts his head. “I didn’t, and even if I had, this wouldn’t be the outcome.”

“Or it made you blackout, go nuts and try to kill two of your friends.”

“Can I get the benefit of the doubt?”

That’s when Clint sticks his head – or rather his bow –out a nearby window and lets an arrow fly.

Tony’s faceplate slams shut and he accelerates to evade the projectile. His suspicion about just who wrote that “How To Kill Iron Man” list is pretty much confirmed, especially when Hawkeye’s arrow finds its target. It slams into the shoulder joint on his left side, followed by searing heat and pain.

Tony fires back, too pissed to think about the damage to his building, or the possibility of Bruce turning green, or the number of innocent bystanders below and their inevitably troublesome cell phone cameras.

~

“I was trying to talk him down,” Bruce says, after the smoke and steam from JARVIS’ fire suppression system has cleared. “Did you really have to shoot at him?”

“Yeah,” says Clint, at the same time Natasha says, “You try your way, we’ll try ours.”

“My way keeps him alive,” Bruce says, bluntly. “Is that in yours, or…”

“If Fury wants him alive,” Natasha says.

“Preferably,” Clint adds, and the two of them share a conspiratorial, homicidal glance.

“I need to do research on the substance Tony used,” Bruce says, after a tense pause. “And I need to do it alone.”

“You want us to go?” Clint asks

“You want you to go,” Bruce corrects.

Natasha understands. She touches Clint’s arm. “Excuse us,” she says, stepping back.

~

Steve arrives back at Stark Tower shortly. He looks fine, on JARVIS’ surveillance cameras. Incredibly self-righteous, but fine. That serum in his bloodstream mends bone and skin. There are no scars, even. He probably had to get a new spangle-tutu, though. So there.

Captain America is a bit more tactical than the other two, who generally specialize in spontaneous violence. He tries to dismantle JARVIS. Fortunately, he’s also the most technologically inept. It’s more amusing than frustrating. If he wants to delete all the protocols about air conditioning, more power to him.

Tony watches while doctoring himself, a stinging bleeding ordeal that is so painful it makes Tony imagining flying Hawkeye to the top of Stark Tower and dropping him. Maybe a couple of times.

He also has to fix the suit. Without any help from his usual mechanical aids, by the illumination of a flashlight. This is some seriously familiar territory, except he wasn’t in a humvee in a warzone, he was chatting with a friend right outside his home. And the guy that did the shooting - did the wounding and the bleeding – did so with a weapon Tony personally helped improve to better arm a friend.

But the friend thing isn’t working out. This hasn’t been fun since Thor collapsed. It hasn’t been anything but ridiculous since Captain America took a serious, intended-to-be-lethal shot at him. Widow is following his girlfriend around. A guy who turns into an angry green smashy mutant thinks Tony is the crazy one here. And Tony just took an arrow to chest.

It’s fairly obviously a conspiracy designed to end with Tony in chains, in the bowels of SHIELD, the Iron Man suit technology hijacked for Fury’s remaining team of homicidal freaks. Maybe no chains, no bowels. Tony has no magical powers or spectacularly contaminated blood. He has nothing to study or experiment on. Just a well-documented attitude problem and a reasonably presumed ability to eventually outwit any form of technological confinement.

The only thing he has to offer is the devout promise to lethally sabotage anything they want him to build for them.

They’re not going to bury him in SHIELD; they’re just going to bury him.

He wonders if this cold, calculated anger is what Natasha feels all the time. Tony doesn’t like it, but it stays as he recalibrates the suit weapons.

~

“I’m fine,” Steve says, when both Clint and Natasha won’t stop eye-balling him. “I heal quickly.”

“If he’d hit us,” Clint says, “we’d be crispy.”

“I was,” Steve says, since the serum didn’t reduce how much it’d burned. “I’m better. Status,” he orders.

“Stark was here,” Natasha reports. “He spoke to Banner.”

“I took a shot,” Clint says, with none of Natasha’s formality. “Winged him. He, uh..”

“Returned fire,” Natasha interrupts. “It might be on the news tonight.”

“R & D accident,” Steve says, easily. “What he’d have to say?”

“He didn’t talk to us,” Clint answers.

“I’ll ask Bruce,” Steve says, and starts walking towards Banner’s lab.

“He’s in lockdown,” Natasha says, quietly, and Steve stops and turns around.

“Kicked us out,” Clint confirms.

“Was he changing?” Steve asks. Having The Other Guy swipe Iron Man out of the sky isn’t exactly what Fury ordered, but it’d sure work.

“That’s what lockdown is for,” Natasha says, but her voice has a tone to it.

“What’s going on?” Steve asks.

“Three on one,” Clint says. He shrugs. “Still works.”

“Three on one or three on two,” Steve says. “Is Bruce still in there?”

“He won’t help,” Natasha says, not making it clear who she’s talking about helping. “He didn’t leave.”

“Iron Man is a threat to us all,” Steve says, confused. “He tried to kill Thor. He very nearly succeeded. And he tried to barbecue me.”

“I don’t need convincing,” Natasha says, flatly.

“What’s our game plan?” follows up Clint. He slings his bow over his shoulder, pointedly.

“Fury still wants him contained. We need to know what he did to Thor and why.”

“Alive,” Natasha says, like she’s cataloging some binary in her head.

“Preferably,” Steve says, after a second. “But…contained at all costs.” If Stark goes after SHIELD, it’s going to get bad. The man’s a toddler who can build an a-bomb. He doesn’t say that lightly, not to these two.

Clint nods and Natasha’s eyes flick as is she’s flipping her mental switch.

“First we gotta find him,” Clint points out.

The sighting outside Bruce’s lab was the first in weeks. By now Stark should have called a press conference and put up billboards with wanted posters for the remaining team members he hasn’t hospitalized. Going quiet and going gone is not something Stark is good at. Steve suspects he might actually be building a bomb. Projects like that are the only thing that holds Stark’s attention without having breasts or a camera and microphone.

JARVIS is of no help. He recites lines in what Clint tells him is a children’s story about green breakfasts when Steve asks for Tony’s location. He does ask Steve to stop destroying all of Tony’s surveillance equipment, and then goes silent and starts blasting modern music at ear-splitting levels.

“Britney Spears,” Clint says, snarling, and starts trying to find speakers to shoot out.

Wanton destruction is not in Steve’s plan, but it might actually bring Stark back. The man’s insufferably proud of his robots and gadgets. Clint probably just climbed to the top of Stark’s assassination list.

Steve leaves Clint and locates Natasha, who has escaped the music by standing outside Bruce’s lab.

“He’s not bothering Bruce?” Steve asks.

“He’s not stupid,” Natasha replies.

That she’s stationed herself closer to the teammate that turns green and rages says a lot about how she’s feeling about Stark.

“How do we draw him out?” Steve asks.

Natasha tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. She crosses her arms in a way that suggests she doesn’t expect her answer to be appreciated. “Pepper Potts.”

“We’re not going to harm Pepper,” Steve says, firmly.

Natasha’s eyes roll. “I didn’t say harm,” she says. “Don’t be dramatic.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“I think that if I even make like I’m going to touch a hair on her head, Stark will come out of hiding.”

“He’ll turn himself in?”

“No, he’ll probably try to kill us all,” Natasha says, calmly. “But he will come out of hiding.”

~

If Tony had to choose which Avenger he fought in a battle to the death, it’d be Thor. He’s thought about this before. In an idle, paranoiac way, not a practical, real world, write-a-report-and-turn-it-in, way. Which is an important difference between him and several other Avengers, right now.

Thor’s lightening juices the Iron Man suit. Mjolinar’s less fun, but if Tony didn’t have absolute confidence in the integrity of his armor, he’d never put it on. Really, it’s not about the weapons or the armor. It’s about the guy swinging the hammer and the guy it’s aimed at. And Thor - despite being about 8 feet tall and built like a Viking’s brick shit house - is full of honor and fairness, and various other battlefield traits Tony can’t even name.

Tony is full of dishonor and unfairness, and also cheap shots and an inclination to cheat more often than is even necessary or advantageous.

They don’t know if Asgardians can die. Given Loki’s dedication to fratricide, it’s a possibility. Given Loki’s repeated epic failures to do anything other than deeply wound Thor’s feelings, it seems a remote possibility.

That’s also why Tony would choose Thor. He’d get his licks in – and they’d be terrible, excessive, and legendarily ignoble licks – but they’d be against a probable immortal. And eventually Thor would stop being all noble gentleman-warrior, get pissed off, and hammer him. Tony has a couple of quips prepared, because of course he does.

Thor wouldn’t understand them, but he’d probably laugh anyway. Because Thor likes Tony, and he likes all the tiny, silly Midgardians he completely doesn’t understand. And he’s promised to protect them all from, among other intergalactic villains, his own psychotic little brother. Tony thinks Thor makes an appropriately impressive figure to take out Iron Man. If it has to happen, he dies at the hands of a legend, a god, and a dude who can drink more than him. A nice guy who will still head the Midgardian Neighborhood Watch and not, like, start enslaving people and go for world domination.

Iron Man’s death will make an awesome story, and the world will go on. Lacking any cool new tech developments, of course, and maybe reverting back to sticks and stone tools without Stark Industries around. But that’s maybe a fair price to pay for not getting turned into Loki’s mind-controlled minions.

All of these are reasons why Tony didn’t try to kill Thor. And also Thor never tried to kill him first, because of the aforementioned honor and goodness – and the fact that the guy actually has an apartment in Stark Tower, where he lives rent free and drinks all of Tony’s alcohol and causes constant property damage – despite which they’re actually friends.

Tony has never told anyone this thought process, because most people would consider it homicidal, suicidal, and worthy of report to the one with the eye-patch. Apparently, though, he could have run it by Hawkeye or Widow. They’d probably have given him constructive criticism, maybe shared their own assassination plans for Thor. Now he kind of wishes he had. It’d just have been another flag on his personnel fire that’s already covered with the entire spectrum of red.

And also, it’d prove that if he wanted to kill Thor, it’d be worthy of spectacular new Norse legend. Not silent and invisible, not mysterious, and not so incredibly effective.

They don’t really know about the effective part. Thor’s back on Asgard. Tony’s pretty sure they can magic away whatever sneaky, toxic Midgardian harm was done to him. How Thor’s daddy feels about the folks who’ve now tried to kill both his sons, is another question. That’s what Tony thinks people should be focusing on. Although, maybe they want to catch Iron Man so they can hand him over to Odin. Tony hadn’t considered that. He’s suddenly intensely curious how the Asgardians would want to punish him, because he’s half-betting it’d be hilarious. The other half bets it’s the completely unfunny capital punishment. Feh.

The next Avenger Tony would fight to the death was Captain America.

For a lot of the same reasons as Thor, actually. Honor, integrity, warrior-code blah de blah blah, and the almost definitive knowledge that while the serum makes Steve Rogers very hard to kill, he could and would ultimately take Iron Man down. The fight would probably be a lot more annoying and preachy, though. And knowing SHIELD as he does, it wouldn’t become so much a legendary tale as a top secret file locked in a very dark cabinet and buried at the bottom of a lake. Boring.

Tony also has recent experience with just how much the spangled Frisbee hurts. His suit deflected it, of course , but his oblique muscles are still in agony from the spin it put on him.

So, maybe some dirty fighting, a few choice insults – some funny and some just really mean ones to provoke Cap – and that’d be it.

Tony doesn’t think it’d bother Captain America all that much. Especially since he thinks Tony has turned super villain. Presumably, SHIELD makes him lie down on a couch every week and tell a nice psychologist how much he thinks the 21st century sucks, and they can work out any related issues. Maybe Thor can have a couple sessions.

Tony hasn’t thought about that, much. He knows Thor has feelings. In as much as people think Tony has no understanding of those in others, he does. Respect, not so much, but he acknowledges they exist. And he’s seen Loki so thoroughly shred Thor’s, so it’s not like he can pretend Asgardians don’t have the same emotions as humans. But Thor already thinks humans have sadly short little lives. So it’s unlikely to wreck him to have to cut just one life, even one as awesome as Tony Stark’s, just a little bit shorter.

Tony doesn’t want to fight the rest of the Avengers. Not even a little bit. Less than he doesn’t want to fight Thor and Steve, who he also really doesn’t want to fight. Yeah, he shot back at Cap. He sort of thought that Steve would duck or dodge or evade, for fuck’s sake. Not get it straight on, and then burn. Tony’s very much aware that if he’d hit anyone else, they’d be dead. And the self-defense claim clearly isn’t winning anyone over. Even though it’s completely true.

But they also seem to think that he’d just spontaneously decide to try and kill Thor, so they all just have terrible judgment.

At least Bruce is kind of on his side. Because he’s the smartest, naturally.

Bruce is last on Tony’s list.

There’s nothing appealing about getting squashed by the Other Guy.

Well, it’d probably be quick. That’s like the only plus. Quick and messy.

Bruce wouldn’t take it well, though. The Hulk likes to smash, and really doesn’t care what or who he smashes. But Bruce does. And smashing Tony would probably drive him to go find the most miserable place on earth and camp there with his oppressive guilt forever. Even if Tony provoked it, which is the case in this scenario. Bruce wouldn’t know. Tony would have to leave a note or something, for Bruce to find in the aftermath. Yes, he’s put this much thought into it.

The other two…eh.

They’re before Bruce in the “more fun to get killed by on account of their very flexible consciences” side of things. It wouldn’t send either of them crawling into a bottle or off a cliff.

But they’re also just people. Highly trained, exceptionally violent, intensely scary people. They’re not gods or super soldiers or super soldier serums gone wrong.

Tony could totally kill both of them. He’s not saying they’d make it easy or anything. And this isn’t his ego talking any more than it usually does. It might take a while, but one on one, he’d win.

Iron Man is an awesome, impenetrable suit and they’re not. Paper planes versus a tricked out fighter jet.

And as unabashed as Tony is about lacking all the honor and dignity and other martial qualities that Steve and Thor have in abundance, this isn’t the kind of unfairness he gets off on.

He also, to repeat himself, doesn’t want to fight them. He does want to shoot Clint in the shoulder with an arrow to see how he likes it, but that’s it.

They do want to fight him. And kill him. Hell, he knows how to make a face at Natasha that instantly turns her homicidal. And that was before everything. They know what they’re up against, and backing down isn’t even in their vocabulary. It’s not really in Tony’s, either, though, especially when he’s pissed off.

 

Tony’s not sure, but he thinks he may have had this roundabout discussion with them in the past. Natasha has definitely threatened him before, and it seems unlikely that he didn’t respond by daring her to, and then reminding her how squishy and unarmored she is. Natasha laughed, which was creepy, and he thinks he remembers Clint wanting to take him up on it as a wager.

But back then they would have known that he wouldn’t do anything to them, not just because they’re mortal and fleshy, but because Tony Stark doesn’t randomly and violently lash out at the very, very few people he considers friends.

So Natasha probably actually has a pretty good understanding of his thoughts on this topic, as she appears on JARVIS’ closed-circuit surveillance screen threatening Pepper.

~

Tony doesn’t choose to go after Natasha for sexist reasons. He’d like to make that clear. She’s virtually last on his aforementioned list to fight, under these circumstances. It’s between her and Hawkeye, and she’s the one that brought Pepper into this.

He’s also hopeful that she might be just the tiniest bit receptive to listening, once the fighting is over. This is dependent on both of them being alive and able to have a conversation, though.

Thinking about fighting Natasha sucks. He doesn’t want to hurt her. On the other hand, she wants to kill him. Or at least capture him and give him to Fury as a Best Eye-Patched Motherfucker’s Day gift.

His plan is nice and nonviolent. It really is. JARVIS will sabotage all her weapons, Tony will stick her with a tranquilizer, and when she wakes up, they can have a civilized discussion without anybody shooting anybody else.

And he knows their plan, more or less. Even though Captain America is smart enough to hold the briefing out of JARVIS’ hearing, Tony knows the plan because he knows them. And just because he can’t see Cap or Hawkeye as Widow makes her slow, conspicuous journey to Pepper’s office, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. They totally are, which is why he waits until Widow makes it all the way up. She shouldn’t be able to get through security, since Pepper made her persona non grata. But of course, she does.

The tracker JARVIS put on her shoe tells Tony her location inside the building. She’s going up. Pepper happens to be holding a conference call in the sub-basement. He would prefer she not be there at all, but this was the best she would do.

Tony yanks Widow through a window. The glass shatters around them. It’s loud, and only gets louder, because Natasha pulls her gun and tries to shoot him in the face. Her gun fires, which it is not supposed to do. The bullet ricochets off his facemask, but he still feels the force of the bullet. It’s distracting enough and while he’s grabbing her gun away with one hand, Natasha takes the time to twist around in his arms. She doesn’t break his grip – which would be terrifically suicidal at this height, anyway – but she does knock the syringe from his fingers.

“Hey,” he scolds her. “That was me being nice.”

“Why?” she asks, and then she’s stabbing through the suit with a tiny, vicious knife.

Tony grabs that hand and pulls it away from both their bodies, but somehow the knife reappears in her other hand. He takes five more stinging slices before capturing her other wrist and holding them together above her head. It has to be a ridiculous sight: he’s got her by the hands, but she’s actually got her knees wrapped around his waist. And they’re hovering at the top of Pepper’s skyscraper.

A close combat fight with Widow was literally the last thing he wanted. He’s sure she’s about to do something terrible with her legs, and he’s afraid even inside the suit.

He can see Captain America and Hawkeye now. They’re on the street trying to figure out how to help her. It’s a good thing they can’t fly.

But Tony can.

As he accelerates upward, he notices Clint drawing his bow. But Hawkeye hesitates to shoot. From his perspective, he doesn’t see Natasha holding on in a death grip. He sees Iron Man with a human shield.

“Nighty-night time,” Tony tells Natasha, who seems to be measuring whatever violent thing she was going to do to him against their rising altitude.

“You won’t drop me,” she says, her arms struggling in his grip and her knees squeezing tighter around him.

“Stab me again and say that,” he dares her, accelerating again. Natasha looks down at the vanishing city. She hides her fear well. “How long can you hold your breath?”

Tony’s done his research on hypoxia. It takes Widow only about thirty seconds longer than he calculated to start losing muscle control. Her legs slip off him and she’s hanging only by her wrists. She looks scared for the first time, but he’s not freeing her hands while she’s still conscious.

“Don’t fight it,” he orders. “Come on.”

He’s going to pretend that she obeyed him, when she finally passes out and goes completely limp. Then he grabs her around the waist and holds her Lois Lane-style. He watches for any sneaky last second tricks, but Natasha is out cold.

Tony immediately begins descending. Not fast enough to fuck her up with serious side effects, but enough that she’s getting more oxygen. He’ll put a mask on her when they’re on the ground. He really doesn’t want another mid-air fight.

~

Naked bondage games with Natasha were much more fun in Tony’s fantasies. In reality, he’s working as fast as he can before she wakes up and tries to break his neck. And he doesn’t get her completely naked, because the last thing he needs is everyone thinking he’s crazed, murderous, and a rapist. This also means Widow is totally still armed in some way when he ties her upside down, ten feet up a thick tree trunk.

It’s not nice, and that’s the point. She’s going to have the head ache from hell, and if she gets loose, her skull will be the first thing to hit the ground.

He’s not making himself look good here.

Tony hovers the Iron Man suit just above the forest floor. He could have tied her a lot higher. He could also just hold his big metal hand over her mouth and nose and wait for her breathing to stop. There are so many things he could do right now to end her life, and no one here to see him not do them.

Quickly, Tony loses patience and shocks her awake with smelling salts. Natasha’s face is already turning pink from blood flow and it’s only going to get worse.

For a few seconds, Natasha blinks at him, eyes unfocused and confused. Or she’s faking it. He can’t be sure.

He retracts the Iron Man face shield - which is probably dumb and might cost him an eye – because they need to have a face-to -face conversation.

“Pepper is off-limits,” he says, as serious as he’s ever been.

Natasha looks at him, then casts her gaze downward, assessing her situation. Almost instantly, she’s obviously alert and tracking.

“Pepper,” Tony repeats. “Out of bounds.”

“So was Thor,” she says, without a trace of fear. “And Steve.”

Tony throws up his hands in frustration. She blinks sharply, like she thinks he’s going to blast her.

“For the last time, I didn’t do anything to Thor.”

Natasha opens her mouth and he interrupts: “And Captain America hit me first. He started it. He was completely in bounds and on-limits, or whatever.”

At that, she closes her lips and just blinks at him. Still far too calm for the way her face is rapidly turning red from the redirected blood flow.

“But see how I’m not killing you?” Tony asks. “See how I didn’t drop you on your completely wrong-headed skull?”

“I see that,” Natasha says, like it makes no difference.

“Although I’d think you’d duck,” Tony says. “I’ll give you that. You don’t need a super serum to duck. Guess that wasn’t in the bottle.”

“I don’t have a super serum,” she says. “And I’m not an Asgardian God.”

For a second, Tony stares at her. “What?” He shakes his head. “So you’re worth fewer points? I mean, what?”

Natasha just blinks at him.

“Okay, I get it,” he says. “But I’m offended that you think I’d try to kill Thor and Cap because it’s a challenge. I do not get that bored. And you’re underestimating yourself, you fought for a whole three minute before getting the vapors.”

She squirms against the tree.

“Head first,” Tony reminds her. “You will land headfirst, mess up your hair.”

Natasha stops moving. “Why am I here?” she asks, sounding bored.

“Because you went after Pepper,” Tony says, outraged. “What did you think was going to happen?”

“This,” Natasha says. “I just thought more whining.”

“I don’t whine,” Tony says. Then, “Hawkeye and Cap about to tag in?”

She nods, and her gaze travels to her left. Immediately, Tony looks the other direction.

Just in time for another of Clint’s arrows to slam into his back.

Tony cries out and maneuvers up and away. Or he would, except Natasha falls out of her bonds and grabs him on the way down.

She’s hanging on to his back. Tony shoots in the direction that arrow comes from, trying to shake her loose. She won’t land on her head anymore.

Natasha won’t let go, which is incredibly dumb because Hawkeye has more arrows and Steve, from somewhere in the trees, whips his damn shield at them both.

Tony shoots in that direction, too. He’s too busy firing to do anything about Natasha.

Captain America’s shield hits him in the thigh, hard enough to send him careening into the nearest tree trunk. Natasha takes some of the impact, too. Without a suit, she probably just broke several ribs. Still, Natasha doesn’t drop. Tony can hardly believe that, and he’s having a harder time grasping that gallant, gracious Captain America would do that with her in the way.

More believably, Steve is currently demanding surrender. Tony shoots at him some more. This time, the guy has the sense not get hit.

Something jabs Tony in the back of the neck. Natasha was doing more than getting a piggy-back ride; she dismantled a part of the suit and just stabbed through it.

But it wasn’t a knife; the pain was too short. It was a needle.

The syringe falls over his shoulder and he realizes it was the very same one he brought to use on her.

“Original,” he snarls at her, then shoots some more at Cap and Hawkeye.

Another of Hawkeye’s arrows hits him again, this time in the foot.

Instinctively, Tony accelerates upwards. Even though he’s already losing consciousness.

“Get off,” he warns Natasha. If he lands on her, she’ll be crushed.

He tries to wait until she jumps free, but he blacks out.

~

Tony wakes up in a SHIELD holding cell. Without the Iron Man suit, which isn’t surprising. But with two roommates, who are surprising.

Natasha and Clint, both dressed in white medical scrubs, lie in separate but adjacent cots against the parallel wall. For a second, Tony almost thinks they’re both dead. He doesn’t even remember hitting Hawkeye. But then, Natasha sighs and shifts in place.

“Huh?” Tony says, alerting them both to the fact that he’s awake.

Clint sits up, then reaches over to help pull Natasha into a sitting position, too.

“How ya feeling?” Clint asks, without any malice.

“Confused,” Tony says, honestly, since he is. The energy level in here is shockingly low and lacking violent intent. There’re no handcuffs or anything, either.

He scans the room. The only other thing in there – aside from an IV bag leading into Natasha’s left wrist – is a glowing orb against the perpendicular wall.

“What’s –”

“It’s an Asgardian lava lamp,” Clint volunteers. “Thor’s mom sent it.”

“It’s magic,” Natasha adds. “It reverses malicious spells.”

“I think it’s working,” Clint adds. “She had it made specifically for Loki.”

“Loki –”

“Put us under a spell,” Natasha says.

“Oh, really.” Tony leans on an elbow, then rolls himself up. Sitting hurts. His foot also hurts.

“That’s what he told us,” she says, mildly. “Thor.”

“Thor,” Tony says. “He’s resurrected?”

“That substance you had in the lab,” Clint tells him. “Loki’s doing. I guess it was part something lethal to Asgardians. They wouldn’t tell us much about that.”

“I wonder why,” Tony says, softly.

“And the rest was a malicious suggestion spell,” Natasha says.

“I didn’t feel under a spell.”

“Neither did I,” Natasha says, evenly.

“How come Cap and Bruce aren’t in here, too?” he asks.

“It didn’t work on them,” Clint says.

Tony frowns. “Cap…tried to kill me a bunch, right? I remember that. And I can still feel it.”

“He feels pretty badly about that,” Natasha says. “But he was defending Thor.”

“And going along with the rest of us,” Clint adds. “He didn’t realize anything was wrong with anyone besides you.”

“Captain Peer Pressure,” Tony mutters. “He and I are going to have a conversation.”

Natasha rolls her eyes.

"You write that homicide manual under a spell?" he accuses them both.

"Wrote it specifically for this kind of situation," Natasha replies, without blinking.

"You get a B plus," he tells her. "Hawkeye, yours was outdated, C minus."

Clint shrugs, then nods in agreement.

“Pepper’s been told you’re okay. How are you feeling?” she asks Tony. “Less homicidal?”

“Not really,” he says, though it’s not true.

Clint frowns. “We can’t leave ‘til we can all play nice.”

“I can play nice,” Tony says. “I always do.”

~

They aren’t actually allowed to leave until several more blood tests. At that point, Tony has murderous plans based purely on being in a confined space with the two assassins, who for being generally quiet and sinister people also managed to be epically annoying. Even when they aren’t plotting his death.

SHIELD wants to keep Natasha, who’s on the IV bag because she took a beating in their final fight. Clint and Tony liberate her anyway, take her back to Stark Tower.

It feels refreshing to be on their side again, Tony admits. He’s not going to tell them, but distracting SHIELD while Clint helps Natasha out a side door is his favorite thing that’s happened since this all started.

“Sorry I bashed the crap out of you,” he says, when they’re in the car on their way to the tower.

“Sorry I threatened Pepper,” Natasha returns.

“Yeah, that was dumb,” Tony agrees.

“Want me to apologize, too?” Clint asks.

“Well, that sounds sincere,” Tony grumbles. He still kind of wants to shoot Clint with an arrow, but at least that feels like an original desire and not a spell.

Bruce, Steve, and Thor are waiting for them at Stark Tower. JARVIS must tell them Clint and Tony are taking Natasha to her apartment, because they show up together in the hallway just outside.

Thor is large and looming, and looks exactly like an immortal god is supposed to, instead of crumpled and dying on the floor like the last time Tony saw him. Steve and Bruce hang back while Thor walks towards them.

Tony deserves a cookie for not making a resurrection joke.

“Looking good, Thor,” is all he says, and gives the guy a bicep squeeze.

“I am recovered,” Thor tells him, “I am unharmed.”

Tony nods, glad to hear it.

“Good to see you,” Clint says, while Natasha accepts a gingerly hug.

“You are hurt,” Thor says, concerned.

“She jumped me,” Tony mutters.

“I did,” Natasha agrees. “But we spent some quality time with your mom’s lamp, and we’re good now.”

“I’m sorry I attacked you,” Steve speaks up. “I wasn’t under any spell.”

Tony accepts the apology with a shrug. “Sorry I burned up your star-spangled pants.”

“I got new ones,” Steve says, with a frown.

“Maybe we should let Natasha go to bed,” Bruce interjects.

After a second, the bodies part and Natasha, with a supportive hand from Clint, makes her way towards her bedroom.

“I have nothing to apologize for,” Bruce says, as she goes. “This feels weird.”

“You left Tony alone in his lab and he pressed the wrong button,” Natasha tells him.

“There was no button,” Stark volunteers. “Just unlabeled Asgardian kryptonite and a note to show it to Thor.”

Everyone looks at him and frowns. “And a spell,” Tony adds. “Remember?”

“I accept full responsibility,” Bruce says, finally. “Sorry.”

For some reason, it takes all the Avengers to put Natasha into bed and tuck her in. Bruce hangs her IV bag up and the rest drift around uselessly.

“I wake up,” Natasha says, “No one had better gone evil again.”

“No promises,” Tony says.

“I promise,” Thor corrects.

“Thanks,” she tells him, with a sigh. “But I’m not worried about you.”

The five men leave Natasha to get some rest.

“Are you okay?” Steve asks Tony, when they’re outside her apartment. “I did a number on you.”

“You did not.”

“Yeah, I did. I’m sorry –“

“Captain Apology, knock it off,” Tony interrupts. He addresses the entire team, save Natasha. But frankly, Natasha’s smart enough to know this. He doesn’t need to tell her. “Look, I tried to kill Thor. Not on purpose, shockingly enough, but still. I appreciate that you stopped me,” he says to Steve. “In the future, should I try to kill any of you, I would ask that the others, again, stop me. I probably don’t mean it. Or, it’s a spell.”

Clint and Bruce look at him, then nod in agreement.

“Okay,” Steve says, figuring it out.

“Also, “ Tony says. “Learn to duck.”

The End

 ~please feed the author~

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Date: 2014-03-04 07:13 pm (UTC)
ancarett: Tony Stark inside the Iron Man suit (The Avengers Tony)
From: [personal profile] ancarett
This is all kinds of fabulous. I love you Tony and your Natasha and, well, your everything!

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