The Corrupt and the Pure • Chapters 1-3
Title: The Corrupt and the Pure
Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: The Avengers & Captain America (MCU)
Timeline: post-Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Genre: Drama, action, hurt/comfort
Rating: MA / FRAO
Characters: Steve Rogers (Captain America), Tony Stark (Iron Man). Also: Bruce Banner (Hulk), James “Bucky” Barnes (Winter Soldier), Clint Barton (Hawkeye), J.A.R.V.I.S., James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow), Thor, Sam Wilson (Falcon)
Summary: When the Steve Rogers from an alternate universe appears in the middle of the Avengers Tower, two worlds are about to collide: one where Captain America became the tool of HYDRA and fell into a relationship with the hero Iron Man – and one where Tony and Steve are tentatively getting along. The latter are forced to reconsider their relationship when the Commander kidnaps Tony to replace his dead lover.
Written for: A story commissioned by Susanne (ChickenHax @ AO3 / starkred @ Tumblr).
Warnings: Rape/non-con, major character death (alternate universe), graphic canonical violence, M/M sexual content, language.
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers, and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Joe Johnston, Louis Leterrier, Alan Taylor, Anthony & Joe Russo, Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, and Universal Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
About The Corrupt and the Pure: This story was pieced together from the things ChickenHax/starkred liked. It’s been a long, stubborn project to write, the outcome not exactly what the original intention was, but I feel it is the most honest interpretation of the premise I can offer.
Chapters and statuses: Below you see the writing process of the story’s chapters. If there is no text after the chapter’s title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Chapter 1: The Knife
Chapter 2: The Gem
Chapter 3: The Tower
Chapter 4: The Commander
Chapter 5: The Duel
Chapter 6: The Armor
Chapter 7: The Captive
Chapter 8: The Roster
Chapter 9: The Talk
Chapter 10: The Search
Chapter 11: The Sleep
Chapter 12: The Chip
Chapter 13: The Spike
Chapter 14: The Delay
Chapter 15: The Frustration
Chapter 16: The Temper
Chapter 17: The Balm
Chapter 18: The Bystander
Chapter 19: The Clue
Chapter 20: The Resistance
Chapter 21: The Trail
Chapter 22: The Clash
Chapter 23: The Rescue
Chapter 24: The Guilt
Chapter 25: The Homecoming
Chapter 26: The Clarification
Chapter 27: The Strategy
Chapter 28: The Fallback
Chapter 29: The Pursuit
Chapter 30: The Hit
Chapter 31: The Soldier
Chapter 32: The Rematch
Chapter 33: The Resolution
Chapter 34: The Wait
Chapter 35: The Plan
Chapter 36: The Warning
Chapter 37: The Bait
Chapter 38: The Ploy
Chapter 39: The Captain
Chapter 40: The Survivors
Chapter 41: The Comparison
Chapter 42: The Prospect
Chapter 43: The Trial
Chapter 44: The Mistake
Chapter 45: The Consensus
Chapter 1: The Knife
A motel outside Phoenix Deer Valley Airport,
The headboard of the bed banged a steady rhythm against the thin wall. There were already dents in the plaster, and as if triggered by the crescendo of moans, one of the cheap picture frames dropped from the wall, crashing to the floor.
“Fuck, yes,” Tony hissed, legs shifting on his partner’s shoulders, squeezing his neck in a clear sign that he was close. “Fuck me like you mean it, Cap,” came the sharp order, and like he’d done for most of his life, Steve Rogers did as he was told.
His hips moved at the pace of the breaths forced out of Tony’s lungs, seeking his own release, leaving the other man moaning and twisting because their position didn’t allow him to touch his hard cock – something Tony had just discovered if his fingernails leaving half-moons on Steve’s hips were any indication.
“Come on,” Tony encouraged, his voice breaking down around a groan, his back arching.
One of Steve’s arms curled beneath Tony’s body and lifted him slightly, and his angle deepened just a fraction.
Tony’s next groan was on the thin barrier between pain and pleasure, fingernails breaking skin.
Steve bit his teeth into Tony’s shoulder and came with a sharp rush of release, growling his pleasure into the other man’s skin like an animal diving in for the kill. It was good, tingling all the way up his spine and pulling at his gut before shooting out of his balls and through his cock, the sensation like nothing else. It was easy to see how men got addicted to it, walking through life with their hands wrapped around their dicks, looking for the next chance to get off.
Tony moaned and whimpered, sounding breathless.
Steve drove one last thrust into him, feeling the slickness of his cum, and then pulled back, knowing that the position was making it hard for Tony to breathe. Sure enough, he looked a little red in the face, breathing in a big gulp of air as his hand shot away from Steve’s hip and to his cock the second he could fit it in there.
“Yeah,” Steve growled, leaning in to watch after he released Tony’s legs from his shoulders. Tony’s chest was hot where he laid his forehead, eyes tracking the motion of his hand, smelling how close he was.
Tony grunted and came, hips twitching, body quivering even with Steve’s weight on it. His cum shot out of his cock like a bullet from the barrel of a gun, a splash of it hitting Steve’s chin.
Like always, Tony settled fast once he had come, lying boneless on the bed, a blissed out expression on his face. Steve sat up, wiping a hand across the mess on his face – sucked one finger in his mouth to taste.
Tony chuckled. “I love it when you do that.”
“Hmm,” Steve hummed and got up.
“Where are you going?” Tony asked, hand reaching for him and failing to catch him.
“Bathroom,” Steve replied. “I have to get ready.” He didn’t need to look at the clock to tell the time.
Tony sighed dramatically, but there was a note of true discontentment in the sound. “I have a counter-proposition,” he said.
Steve halted near the doorway of the bathroom, looking back at him; naked and sweaty he lay there on the bed, hair disheveled, the usually neat goatee showing the signs of their recent lovemaking. Steve could still feel the lingering burn it had caused on certain areas of his body – a reminder that would vanish all too fast due to the effects of the serum. The image, however, would last, and he drank his fill, knowing it could be a while before he had this again.
“I say you don’t get on that plane you’re supposed to be boarding soon,” Tony went on as if Steve’s lack of progress was a sign he wanted to hear his proposition. “You can stay here, with me,” he spoke, shifting one leg, dragging it along the messy sheets.
“I have a mission to get to,” Steve replied.
Tony looked at his face, meeting his eyes. “You know you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, right?”
Steve nodded slowly, then walked back to the bed and bent over, kissing the corner of Tony’s lips, feeling the beard, tasting the sweat. “I don’t know if that’s so… A few minutes ago you were telling me exactly what to do,” he murmured into his skin.
Tony chuckled. “Such sass. That’s why I love you.” He stretched and settled again, not showing surprise when Steve pulled back and headed again in the direction of the bathroom.
As Steve entered the painfully unnatural light of the tiny room, he looked at himself in the mirror. The marks of lips, teeth and nails were vanishing, leaving only the old, faded scars and cybernetic implants scattered across his skin, covering damages that the serum had been too slow to heal at the time. The right side of his face, as always, bore an ugly hand-shaped burn mark that was too resilient to heal, showing bone in places.
He could still recall the searing pain of the grip of the hand pressing desperately into his skin, the smell of flesh burning… It had been the first time he and Iron Man crossed paths, and he had gotten so very close to ending Tony’s life that day. Well, until Extremis kicked Tony’s survival mechanism to a whole other level and left Steve with a lasting mark to remember his first failed mission by.
They had fought many times since, and some of the damages to his body were leftovers from those altercations. Few people could deliver a punch like Tony did, for all his lack of formal training; guts and spirit were so much more important.
It was that spirit that had enthralled him in the end, wringing passion out of their clashes, and standing here, years later – after having heard Tony drop the word ‘love’ for the first time…
‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.’
What did he want to do?
He looked at himself again, a distorted image of the man he had once been. Sometimes he could no longer picture that face, and whenever he began to recognize it in himself – the sneer of disdain and disappointment reverberating from his very core – the scientists at HYDRA made sure to wipe that from his mind.
Remember and forget, like a snake eating its own tail…
When he was with Tony, it was easier to remember. It was easier to accept himself, even when it made him painfully aware of how far he had strayed from the former glory of Captain America.
I’m not him, he told himself. That man died in a plane crash seventy years ago.
A familiar tale told in the history books. Only a few people knew how the story really ended – the grim sequel to the heroic tale of sacrifice.
He shook his head, turning to get in the shower. Time was running short before his plane was scheduled to depart, and he had to be on it. He had a mission, and he had already gained what he’d wanted from his tryst with Tony.
The shower stall was so small his shoulders kept brushing the walls, but it got the job done, washing the traces of their passion from his skin. A cleansing before the mission which he would have gladly made into a ritual, if only he could withstand Tony’s gaze on such a regular basis.
After all, Tony knew he was going out on a mission, and it was his duty as Iron Man to come and stop him.
There may be more scars the next time they see each other like this, but Steve was confident by now that he could not kill Tony even if he tried, and it was not for lack of trying. Tony, on the other hand, was yet to deliver the death blow, and Steve sensed it had very little to do with the idealism of heroes not killing anyone – not even the villains.
Tony had killed plenty in the past while wearing the armor. Either Steve was an exception – or too stubborn to die.
As he reached for the complementary bottle of bodywash, a sound reached his ears. His hands stopped, senses focusing to detect another disturbance. It was Tony, most likely moving around, but his gut told him otherwise and so he put down the soap and slowly stepped out of the stall, leaving the water on, careful not to make a sound.
Opening the door slowly to keep it from making noise, he moved towards the main room, body ready for action even in his naked, wet state. In his line of work, you got used to expecting anything, at any time, and when his nose detected the faint smell of burning linens, he took the last step out of the bathroom, eyes sweeping the small room.
He stiffened as his gaze made it to the bed and a scent of copper overtook the odor of smoke.
“Bucky –” His word caught in his throat as the other moved, drawing his favorite blade out of the back of Tony’s neck. A gush of blood followed, bright red against the sheets, and Bucky moved away, allowing Tony’s body to drop down.
The brown eyes were wide open, empty and lifeless. His neck was at an unnatural angle, and as seconds ticked by and Steve expected the bright colors of Extremis to rush to the surface of his skin, nothing happened.
“Don’t look so shocked,” Bucky told him. “Since the moment you two stopped trying to kill each other, they knew it was only a matter of time before he made you into a liability. By removing him from the picture, we won’t have to worry about that.” Bucky pushed his knife into the sheets, casually cleaning it of Tony’s blood. “You were starting to stray, Rogers,” he said, moving off the bed, standing up, sheathing the knife. “Your head filling with dangerous ideas.”
Steve had a hard time looking at Bucky and simultaneously staring at Tony, expecting him to jerk at any second, the wounds sealing themselves.
“He’s dead,” Bucky snapped. “I did what you haven’t been able to do, all these years. He’s not coming back from this one.”
Steve’s skin turned cold, his eyes finally meeting his best friend’s. Only, it wasn’t really Bucky but the Soldier, because Bucky would have never taken this from him. The Soldier, however, had no qualms about removing every obstacle in his way, and seeing as the two of them had been working missions for decades now, perhaps he had considered Tony an obstacle in both their ways.
In one small moment, he had erased the one person Steve had felt close to, with whom he wasn’t the Commander or an asset, but simply… Steve.
He hadn’t felt like a monster when he was with him.
“He was making you weak, unfocused,” Bucky went on, stepping closer. “HYDRA has no tolerance for those who stray from the path. I just saved your life.”
Steve lashed out, taking Bucky by the throat, a roar rising from his chest. He slammed him forward, all the way into the wall he had just been banging a hole into while fucking into Tony’s body, and the remaining pictures fell off their hooks as Bucky’s body hit the wall. “I loved him,” he hissed at Bucky, pressing into him, knowing that any second now, he would start fighting back. “I loved him and you took him from me.”
He might never have said it, but looking at Tony’s lifeless form, seeing his blood soak into the sheets, the feeling exploded all over him and it was worse than all he could remember, the ghost pain of losing his world, over and over – the shattered remnants of choosing to nose-dive the HYDRA plane into the ocean.
Bucky growled, his metal arm coming up, seizing the side of Steve’s face.
Steve yelled and drew back a few inches, then slammed forward again, this time taking them both through the wall and into the next room. People shouted and moved away, a woman screaming. Steve bore Bucky’s body down to the floor with his and pounded at him, trying to get past the metal arm blocking his blows.
Bucky twisted, wriggling out from beneath him, his right leg following and trying to kick Steve to the side.
Steve rolled with the motion, just out of reach of the kick, his shoulder slamming into a bed as he ran out of space. He got up to his feet at the same second Bucky did, and this time it was the other who charged him with a sharp yell, taking them both down on the bed that crashed beneath them, legs giving out, the sharp drop making little difference to them.
Bucky slammed his left fist down. Steve twisted to the side, feeling metal by his right ear, and then kicked up with his legs, sending Bucky forward and off the bed while he followed, rolling back over his shoulder and onto his feet, not bothering to turn but kicking back as he got his feet under him, catching Bucky full on the small of his back and sending him crashing forward into a closet. Wood cracked, Bucky’s left hand going through the closet door, and Steve turned and went after him – then got a torn-out piece of wood slammed in his face as Bucky yanked his arm out.
The wood shattered into tiny pieces, flying everywhere. Steve tried to catch his balance, lowered his stance, and then took Bucky’s weight head-on, fighting to stay upright as the other pummeled him like a pissed off bull.
Steve took a few punches to his midsection, feeling every impact on his unprotected skin, but it just fueled his rage and made him leave himself open for the next punch in favor of getting one arm around Bucky’s neck and twisting, forcing him to focus on keeping the upper hand and stop hitting him.
They twisted and turned for a moment, grappling for a winning hold. At one point Steve had Bucky on the floor, his back grinding into the splinters of the door, but every time Bucky got himself free he came at Steve again, fighting for the upper hand.
After all their years of fighting together, they were quite evenly matched, and Steve knew he was running out of time. As always, he looked at his surroundings, more adaptable than the Winter Soldier had ever been, and eventually he picked up a fallen lamp from the floor and smashed it in Bucky’s face, then attacked him while he was distracted, shoving him into the window covered by stained curtains.
Glass shattered and Steve gave one more push, feeling a sharp edge draw a long line into his shoulder and upper arm. Bucky fell through, metal fingers grasping at the edge but ultimately failing to stop the fall, his body crashing down three stories before hitting the pavement outside. The fall wasn’t nearly enough to kill him with Zola’s serum in his system, but it would take him a while to get to his feet and by then Steve would be gone.
He returned to his room through the hole in the wall, stopping short once he did, looking at the bed. Tony lay there, eyes still open, blood spread all over his upper body, seeping into the bedding. With stiff motions, Steve climbed onto the bed, carefully lifting him up by the shoulders. His fingers slid to the back of his neck, feeling across bloody skin, finding the entry wound of Bucky’s knife, leading up in a sharp angle.
Tony had never told him if Extremis had limits, but HYDRA had always believed so. Steve had never been able to discover it for himself – a fact for which he had been glad when his feelings for Tony became clear – but sitting there with his lover’s dead body in his arms, fingers digging into his torn flesh as if he could physically put him back together, he felt an ugly sense of failure.
He had not realized how much he looked forward to seeing Tony – had not taken the time to notice how much he needed him, and how far he was willing to go to keep him. Recruiting Tony to HYDRA had been an impossible concept, so the only real option left to them would have been for Steve to go rogue.
‘You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.’
Steve grit his teeth, eyes burning. His fingers tightened and he felt bones shift where Bucky must have broken Tony’s neck.
Slowly he drew in a breath and made himself stand up, finding his clothes and getting dressed. It was a familiar process, one he knew by heart, and after he had holstered his weapons and finished the routine, he grasped his shield, bloody fingers leaving stains on the metal painted with black and gray.
He looked back at the bed, trying to envision his last glance at Tony, alive and fresh from their fucking, asking him to stay. His mind failed him, almost as if the memory had become corrupt, and all he could see was what lay before him now. It filled him with a depthless rage, growing, deepened by his feelings that had infected him like a festering wound, splintering the brainwashing HYDRA had subjected him to since they found him in the ice.
“I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to,” he said out loud, words clipped with emotion he could barely keep under control. His eyes bore into the sight of Tony, bloody, naked, and lifeless, taken from him so suddenly it felt like the shattered halves of a bone that kept grinding against one another. “I don’t want to live without you,” he concluded.
He had made up his mind, and all he needed to do was to accomplish the impossible.
Good thing he already had a plan forming in his mind.
to be continued…
Chapter 2: The Gem
(classified Stark International storage facility)
As the elevator doors opened, Steve allowed the dead body of the Stark Industries technician to fall to the floor, blocking the doors from closing as he stepped over him and into the dim corridor. The man had served his purpose, getting him into the facility, but Steve knew he was short on time and the man’s absence would soon be noticed at his workstation, from where Steve had kidnapped him, and they would be hot on his trail after that.
He had visited the Vault once before with Tony. It was a location that many organizations – HYDRA included – had tried to track down for years, and that Tony had actually let him in was like rubbing Steve’s face in the fact that their often toxic relationship was reaching a new level.
They had taken this same elevator to the main vault deep beneath the surface, walking over to an observation window that showed the inside of a vault – and the single item it contained: the Tesseract.
Steve stepped up to the window now, gazing at the blue cube that lay inside a containment capsule – an item which had sparked an attempted alien invasion a few years ago. Iron Man had fought against it, leading a group of other heroes called ‘the Avengers’, who had managed to defeat the enemy, and after some bumps in the road, Tony had taken possession of the Tesseract to keep it safe.
Steve looked to his right, easily remembering his last visit to this place.
“Thor says it’s the Space Gem,” Tony said, casually leaning one hip against the wall beside the observation window. “It opens doors to other dimensions. Problem is, it can be controlled from afar if you know how, and that poses some issues… So, now it’s here, hidden away.”
“You don’t trust the Asgardians to keep it safe?” Steve mused.
“After they had it taken right out from under their noses more than once, I began to question their methods. Good thing Thor agreed at the time, ashamed of the inability of his people to look after this one small thing.” Tony’s eyes glowed faintly blue as he stared at the cube – then flashed as he turned his gaze towards Steve. “Don’t get any ideas,” he said and stepped closer, sliding a hand across Steve’s chest. “I didn’t bring you down here so you could steal it, and besides… you already downed one plane to keep it from getting into the hands of HYDRA.”
“I remember,” Steve said. He did, small fragments at a time. They came and went, depending on how often HYDRA had wiped him recently. Those memories floated back, though, slowly but steadily, as if Steve were sitting at the mouth of the river and eventually the water would carry his scattered memories back to him.
Memories of Tony, too. He liked those better than his past, now that they weren’t trying to kill each other every time they crossed paths. A part of him loved fighting Tony, no denying it, but the end was so much more satisfying.
Tony must have seen it in his eyes because he moved closer still, positioning himself between Steve and the observation window. It was an open invitation and Steve took it, pressing their bodies together, hands grabbing hold of the unarmored body, so frail, so vulnerable…
When Tony reached up to drag Steve’s face into a kiss, it was clear he was not aware of any such weaknesses in his person. That knowledge ignited a fire inside Steve; it made him press Tony a bit tighter into the window, his lips feeding off the wild energy of the other man that had nothing to do with Extremis. Perhaps it was a left-over from the arc reactor, or the hours spent inside his suit, surrounded by the energy contained by the RT units. Or maybe it was the spirit that had surprised so many who thought less of him – who considered Tony defeated until he came back for one last strike…
Their kisses were making him hard and he pressed himself against Tony. The other let out a sound and then pulled back, leaning his head against the window. “Just kiss me,” he said.
Steve supposed anyone could walk in on them, although he had not seen another soul inside the facility.
Tony’s hand reached up, touching his face – tracing the scars their first collision had left. He didn’t fit his hand against the matching shape – he rarely did – but something flickered in his expression. Almost like sadness.
Steve didn’t want to see it, so he bowed his head, leaned their foreheads together, and then claimed Tony’s mouth again, eyes catching the distant glow of the Tesseract before he ignored it in favor of focusing on the man in his arms.
With a blink, Steve snapped himself out of the memory. The hallway was dim and empty around him, as if no one had ever been here before him. There was no dust on the surfaces, however.
He turned his gaze towards the Tesseract, just as bright and steady as the day he had first seen it. For an instant he had a hard time telling whether the memory was from aboard the Valkyrie or in the Vault, but it did not matter.
What mattered was that less than five feet from him lay what he needed, and nothing was going to stop him from getting it.
Bracing himself, he lifted his shield arm and struck the edge of the vibranium against the observation window with all his power. It cracked into hundreds of small pieces, distorting the visual into the vault, and Steve struck the window again, this time breaking it inwards, the glass spreading out across the floor.
Alarms began blaring in a high whine, the lights flickering, and Steve swiftly jumped into the vault, hearing something moving behind him as he landed: thick metal walls were lowering themselves from the ceiling, locking him inside the vault. They were thick and no doubt comprised of an alloy he would have a very hard time breaking through, but it didn’t matter: he was not about to leave through the door or the broken window, and he refused to entertain the idea that he would fail.
The room descended into darkness, the only remaining source of light being the Tesseract itself. The mystical object made the shards of glass sparkle on the floor, Steve’s approach creating violent shadows on the walls.
Steve touched the containment capsule, then knocked his knuckles against it. As transparent and thin as it seemed, it was firm, and it took him four precise strikes of his shield before the capsule cracked and fell apart, revealing his prize.
With his arm aching from the impacts, Steve lifted his shield over his shoulder and onto the magnetic lock on his back, then reached out for the Tesseract, lifting it from its place. He expected it to be hot to the touch, or cold, but it was neither. There was a thrum of energy, however, and a sense of staring into something much greater than himself.
Steve was not interested in the lore behind it, only its power.
“I know what you can do,” he told the cube. His fingers squeezed around it tightly. Whatever happened next, he was at peace with it: if he failed, he would try again; if he died… well, that was one simple solution to his problem.
Steve Rogers had never chosen the easy way out, though, and he would see this through, as far as he could.
His grip almost painful around the cube, he stared deep into its glowing depths, eyes aching from the brightness of it. “Take me to him,” he ordered. And, if this was to be his last moment, he focused his thoughts and closed his eyes in concentration, recalling the familiar lines of Tony’s body he knew by heart; the smell of his skin; the soft caress of his sleeping breaths – then felt something burn through his entire being, the world warping and disappearing around him.
to be continued…
Chapter 3: The Tower
Manhattan, New York City, NY
Steve gazed out through the wall comprised of floor-to-ceiling windows. He could see most of Lower Manhattan from his vantage point, so far above the streets that it felt almost as if he was not part of the world below.
It wasn’t just the height, he knew. Almost seventy years in the ice did that to a person; waking up to a world so different from his own after accepting that he was going to die…
“Captain,” Tony Stark’s voice broke him out of his musings. “I’m sorry for making you wait.”
“That’s alright.” Steve slowly removed his eyes from the scenery and turned to watch Tony’s approach. The man looked good, considering the hours of sleep he must have been losing after S.H.I.E.L.D. fell due to HYDRA’s exposal. There was this healthy glow to his skin that hadn’t been there the last time they saw each other, and Steve was glad for him.
Tony came over and offered his hand for a shake. Steve took it briskly, then let go as soon as it was appropriate. It seemed to amuse Tony, who gave him a flash of a smile and turned away. “As it happens, I have something for you, Cap.”
“Really?” Steve asked. He wasn’t in uniform, so the nickname felt strange. Truth be told, he wasn’t sure if he even was Captain America anymore.
There were a lot of things he wasn’t certain about.
“Yup,” Tony nodded and walked over to the doors that led to another room. The brief glimpse Steve got when the door opened suggested it was a lab space, but Tony didn’t linger there, returning with something large and circular in his hold. “Granted, I wasn’t on the lookout for it while fishing in the Potomac for remnants of the downed Helicarriers,” he stated as he spun the disc around with some difficulty, revealing the freshly painted surface of the iconic vibranium shield. He then proceeded to toss it like a Frisbee over to Steve, who caught it with much familiarity. “Don’t drop it again,” Tony ordered. “Large bodies of water are difficult places to find lost items.”
“Point taken,” Steve said, sliding his fingers along the metal. “Thank you,” he added, glancing at Tony. “I didn’t think I was going to get it back.”
Tony shrugged but looked content at his gratitude. “So, what else brings you here?” he asked. “You’ve been a busy guy.” There was so much left unsaid, and Steve preferred to keep it that way.
“I need a breather,” Steve admitted. “Things have been hectic, and I’ll need to keep going soon, but for a day or so…”
Tony spread his arms, gesturing at the room – the building – around them. “Avengers Tower. Stay as long as you want. You have a room ready and waiting.”
“Were you expecting me?” Steve raised an eyebrow.
“I have rooms prepared for everyone, and besides, seeing how well we got along the first time, I think we’ll all need our own space,” Tony noted. His expression grew more serious, then. “You’re going after Barnes, aren’t you?”
Steve tensed. “Natasha told you?”
Tony shook his head. “I can dig up information on my own. After the alarms went off when Project Insight went live… I have kept myself well-informed,” he concluded. “Not just for my own sake, of course,” he added, as if that were necessary. “Bruce got a little green under the collar for a few seconds. I thought I would have to rebuild the Tower for a second time.”
Steve looked around. “Is he here now?”
“No,” Tony replied – then chuckled, as if that were funny somehow. “He’s on an… expedition, I think he called it. With Jane Foster and her crew – and Thor. I wasn’t made aware of all the details, or if I was, I wasn’t paying attention.”
“You were fully informed, sir,” a voice corrected him, coming from all around them as if the room itself were speaking.
“That’s J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony explained. “You’ll become familiar with him once you get settled.”
Steve wasn’t so sure, although he had encountered intelligent programs at S.H.I.E.L.D.
“A pleasure to meet you, Captain Rogers,” the sophisticated English voice greeted him.
“Likewise,” Steve said, to not be rude.
Tony chuckled again, as if the exchange amused him. “I understand if he creeps you out,” he stated.
“I’ve gotten used to voices in the walls.”
“J.A.R.V.I.S. is more than a voice,” Tony corrected him.
“I am not certain that bit of information will make the Captain feel more at ease, sir.”
Steve looked around, trying to locate the sound system, but it was so fully integrated into the walls he could not spot a single speaker – or a camera, for that matter. If the same was the case in his own quarters, he would feel uneasy for quite a while, knowing he was being monitored but unable to see how.
“So, we were talking about Barnes,” Tony reminded him.
“You were,” Steve said, unsure whether this was a topic he wanted to broach with Tony. Then again, they were teammates, and Tony was letting him stay in his Tower. “I need to find him,” he finally conceded.
Tony nodded. “I think I can help you with that.”
Steve hesitated. “Not to sound ungrateful, but I think I want to do it my way.”
“And do what, search every dark corner in every city of the entire world until you find him – and hope he didn’t take to the hills?” Tony challenged. “I’ve got ways to track people down. Give me a little time and I’ll at least be able to point you in the right direction.”
Steve knew he would be a fool to dismiss the offer. He also knew that he may have subconsciously hoped for Tony to offer his help in the first place. After all, there were plenty of places where Steve could have gone for a bit of down-time while Sam got his things in order – and the commotion eased around the subject of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the various enquiries that were keeping his allies busy.
At times Steve felt like a coward, keeping away from the people who would ask questions, but after he had recovered from his injuries, neither Natasha nor Maria Hill had requested that he appear before any of the committees looking into the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the sudden resurgence of HYDRA.
It was as if they thought Steve had done enough, and whether that was good or bad…
Tony must have read his expression wrong because he gave Steve an encouraging look. “We’ll find him,” he said – as if finding Bucky was a team effort and somehow touched Tony personally. For all Steve knew, Tony hadn’t even intended to catch that hot potato until a few minutes ago.
Either way, Steve couldn’t help but be a little thankful.
“I hear Hill works for you these days,” Steve spoke up, to take the subject away from his search for Bucky.
Tony let out a sound that was hard to translate. “I’m sure she could have found work opportunities elsewhere, but I had something she sorely needed – and as it happens, she’s an asset.”
Steve wondered what had spurred Maria to seek shelter with Stark Industries, seeing as she wasn’t Tony’s biggest fan. The other man must have seen his confusion because he grinned.
“I have – as I’ve heard her refer to it – ‘an army of lawyers’; with the Senate on our asses about how HYDRA was able to infiltrate all of S.H.I.E.L.D. and most branches of the Government, the key members of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s organization need a safe haven. In some cases, I’ve provided that.”
Steve wasn’t sure what Tony’s requirements were, and he was suddenly glad he didn’t need to seek actual shelter with him, just in case he didn’t meet the quota.
Before either of them could speak again – Steve thought it might be a good time to be shown to his room – the lights flickered. Tony’s gaze jumped up, a frown instantly appearing on his face, as if something truly impossible were happening.
“J, what’s up?”
“An energy surge is building up, sir,” the voice responded promptly. The lights went on flickering, faster and faster.
“Is it the arc reactor?”
“No. The energy signature is completely separate from the building’s systems, causing a disturbance.”
A pause followed and Steve shifted his shield, sensing Tony’s rising unease. Something was afoot, and although he didn’t know what, he had long ago learned to be ready for anything. His readiness only partially braced him for the slow build of light in the center of the room, the illumination strengthening and growing in increasing pulses.
Steve shot a look at Tony, tempted to ask if something was going to blow.
“I have identified the energy signature, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. finally announced, speaking faster than before.
“Spill,” Tony ordered, eyes on the lightshow.
“The energy matches that of the Tesseract.”
They looked at each other, then back at the light. “Awesome,” Tony muttered. “Prep Mark 43.”
“Already in progress, sir. However, the interference from the surging energy –”
The build-up of light reached a breaking point, a blue-tinted barrier growing around it like a cocoon for a few seconds before it all blew outwards, sending furniture and the two men flying away from the center of it.
Steve hit a wall hard enough to make a dent in it, the force pushing the air out of his lungs.
Tony crashed up against the bar, the sounds of breaking glass continuing long after the pressure faded and the room grew quiet save for Steve’s own breaths and Tony’s groan – and the hiss of a third person now standing in the middle of the ruined living room.
to be continued…