- Death-Minor Character
- Explicit Sex
- Action Adventure
- Alternate Universe
- Established Relationship
Nesting was more or less over, after that. Steve’s instincts wouldn’t put up with anything else. The rest of the day was spent pouring over everything that Tony had on SHIELD, and the picture that he was painting wasn’t one that Steve was happy about.
“Who’s jurisdiction is SHIELD under?” Steve asked at last, staring at the bare-bones org chart Tony had managed to put together through eavesdropping and being a pain in the ass until people told him things to make him go away.
“That’s the thing,” Tony said with a frown, zooming in on the top of the org chart with a wave of his hands. “I have no idea. I mean, Fury is clearly taking orders from someone. I just don’t know who.”
“Walk me through it,” Steve said, staring at the shadowy outlines that Tony had put above Fury’s head.
“I mean, it’s clear that he has a lot of unilateral power,” Tony said. “I thought for a while that they answered directly to the president and no one else. But it became clear that wasn’t the case. So then I thought they might be entirely extra-governmental, but there was a little too much paperwork for it to be a dictatorship. But I wasn’t sure until the thing with Ross.”
“The thing with Ross?” Steve asked.
“J, bring up everything we have on the Harlem incident.”
“Certainly, sir,” JARVIS said, and a moment later the SHIELD chart had been banished to a wall, replaced with a video clip of two creatures like nothing Steve had seen before attacking each other. One was unmistakably green and huge, but at least looked humanoid. The other, well. It was vaguely human shaped. Vaguely. There were ropes of tissues across its skin, and its rib cage was prominent, almost like it was trying to break through the hide that passed as skin.
Looking at the two of them, Steve felt everything in him go on high alert. There was something wrong about them on a fundamental level, and it was all he could do not to start growling right away. Even more than SHIELD, they had his instincts on overdrive. If he’d been able to smell them, instead of just hear them, or if the recording hadn’t had the clipped quality that he associated with most footage these days, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to keep himself from standing between Tony and the recording.
“Dr. Bruce Banner – ” Tony said, gesturing to the green one. “AKA the Hulk. An object lesson in why experimental procedures are there for a reason. Smart guy,” Tony said, and the admiration in his voice had Steve shooting him a look.
It was a purely professional sort of admiration, Steve knew. Tony’d confessed exactly how lonely being a genius could be. If Banner was smart enough to impress Tony, he was maybe someone Tony thought might be somewhere closer to his level than most people.
Had Banner been anyone else, this early into their bond, Steve might have reacted with jealousy. As on edge as he was, even knowing that the admiration was for Banner’s mind and nothing else, all Steve wanted to do was whatever it took to make sure that the two of them never met. Because the Hulk was dangerous.
And it was clear that Tony was angling for a science playmate. Steve would prefer it if he’d stick to ones that didn’t have every part of him on high alert if it was all the same.
“Blonsky,” Tony said, gesturing to the other figure. “Aka the Abomination.”
“No kidding,” Steve muttered as he looked at the figure. The name was an excellent one in his book.
“Blonsky is an ex SF officer who had this done to him by general Ross and then went a little crazy. Well, no. A lot crazy. Power mad, all that kind of good stuff. He’s the one who started the whole thing, for all that Ross tried to paint a different picture. Hulk was stepping in to defend everyone from the Abomination.”
Looking at the footage, Steve agreed with Tony’s assessment.
“I can see why SHIELD would be interested in this,” Steve said slowly, “But I’m not sure what it has to do with the command structure.”
“Fury wanted the Hulk,” Tony said. “I know he wanted the Hulk for our little get together here.”
Steve went cold all over and hoped that Tony couldn’t feel it through the bond. If that was true, if that was still true, then they were going to need to have words with Fury. And they were going to be far from pleasant ones. Because Steve wasn’t going to let Tony anywhere near Bruce Banner. Not if he had any say in the matter.
“But the next thing I know,” Tony continued, “Fury’s sending me to talk to Ross to try and recruit Blonsky for the program.”
That, Steve was certain, would have been even worse.
“Wait,” Steve said. “He sent you? To negotiate?”
“Exactly!” Tony said. “This? This is my point. I mean, I’m a negotiator, don’t get me wrong. But it’s much more the hostile takeover kind of negotiations. You know, the kind where someone pisses me off and then I destroy everything they love. Which, coincidentally is exactly what happened.”
“Tony, what did you do?”
“I may have pissed him off enough that he had me kicked out of his bar And then I might have bought the bar in question and then, you know, demolished it,” Tony said, reaching out for his coffee cup and taking a sip for a smile only to have his face screw up as soon as he tasted it. “What the hell is this?” he said.
“Decaf,” Steve answered. “The doctor said you shouldn’t have caffeine with your painkillers.” He went over the information that Tony had just given him. “They sent you in on purpose to piss off Ross?”
“Don’t worry about drug interactions, I haven’t been taking my painkillers, so it’s fine,” Tony said. “And yes, that’s exactly what happened. They know Ross and I can’t stand each other and they sent me in specifically to piss him off enough to make sure that he wouldn’t hand over Blonksy.”
Steve filed the painkiller comment away with a frown. That would be a fight to have later when Tony was less on his guard. After he thought that Steve had forgotten. Instead, he focused on the other piece of what Tony had told him.
“So that Fury could still have Banner,” Steve said, the pieces clicking together
“Exactly. None of which would have been necessary if there wasn’t someone above Fury calling the shots.”
“Right, so Fury is reporting to someone,” Steve said, his brow furrowed. “Isn’t that a good thing?”
“Who is he reporting to?” Tony asked. “I can’t find anything on any of them. And given the number of pies that SHIELD has fingers in, I find that seriously concerning.”
Tony’s emotions tasted sour, and the acrid smell of old pain and new anger filled his scent.
“I’ve already been a part of a system with zero accountability. I won’t do it again.”
Steve’s mind flashed to that famous press conference, one that would no doubt be prominent in history books for decades to come. Only he had the benefit of Tony’s feelings during the entire thing. The self-recrimination. The determination to fix it. To make something new of himself. To make sure that no one would ever again be hurt by the very things he had made to try and protect them.
Accountability went deep for Tony. Right to the very core of him. Just like his arc reactor.
“We’ll figure it out, Tony,” Steve said. “Whatever it takes, we’ll figure it out. And we’ll make sure that these people are held accountable for what they’ve done.”
Tony gave him a smile that was too tight to be reassuring, but he did slump against Steve’s side, some of the tension finally seeping from his frame.
“This has been bothering you for a while, huh?” Steve said.
“Ever since Fury first approached me,” Tony confessed. “Ever since they offered me that cover story. It told me things about them that I don’t think that they meant to tell me. Like the fact that they would be perfectly fine with me not taking responsibility for my own actions. And that they wanted to control me.”
Tony sighed and Steve reached over, running his fingers through Tony’s messy curls.
“I thought that if I stayed out of it, it would be fine. But then I realized that they weren’t answering to anyone…”
“And you had to do something,” Steve said and sighed. Because that? That was his Guide. Stubborn, terrifyingly selfless Tony who had a moral compass that was absolutely fixed but still ready to adjust in the face of new information and a view of the future that left Steve reeling.
Steve was excellent at tactics. He knew that. Taking the situation and adapting, running through whatever problems he saw on the ground. He could take the pieces he had and put together the big picture. But he couldn’t take the whole board and project two steps further.
Tony was all strategy. He saw not just two steps ahead, but twenty, thirty. Steve didn’t know how he coped with all those possibilities buzzing around in his brain, adapting and reorienting themselves with everything that he learned. But he was so focused on the big picture that the small stuff threw him. He never had much of a plan beyond attack – all reaction, with nothing like a plan in sight.
Steve saw the trees, but not the forest. Tony saw the forest but would run headlong into a tree. They balanced each other. Just like it should be.
This? This was strategy. And that was Tony’s domain.
“Tell me what you need, Tony,” Steve said. “Tell me what you need, and I’ll figure out how to get it for you.”
Because that’s what this was. Tony would see the objective, and Steve would find a way to achieve it. It was that simple.
Tony stared at him in surprise, and it broke Steve’s heart. They fit together so well, the two of them, it was hard to remember that Tony had spent so long alone. Steve, at least, had always had someone by his side. Bucky, the Commandos, a Pride to lead and rely on. Someone to have his back.
Tony had been all alone. And he wasn’t used to having anyone to rely on besides himself.
Nothing would fix that but time. Time, and Steve always there, ready at his side when Tony needed him.
“What do you need?” Steve asked.
“I need a look inside the system,” Tony said. “I need to know who else is on the board so I can get the big picture. I need more about SHIELD.”
“What you need,” Steve said, the pieces slotting together, “is a man on the inside.”