TITLE: Sins of Omission
RATING: NC-17 for sex and violence and language
WARNINGS: noncon (in later chapters), torture, abuse, violence, canonical character death.
SUMMARY: A post-civil war/pre-secret invasion AU where Steve is dead, Tony's a mess, and everything sucks. Tony deals poorly with Steve's death and the invasion is imminent.
read on AO3 / FF.net
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CHAPTER TWO: The Body Bound
2 Months Later
Tony wakes, shivering, the image of Steve’s body burned indelibly into his eyes.
Always the same.
It’s too early, he can tell, because the light isn’t right yet, but the re-circulated air is cold and stale and nothing happens in his bed except nightmares, so he forces himself out of bed and into the shower.
He keeps his eyes closed as the water falls on his face so he can’t look at himself in the mirrored walls.
He forces himself out of the shower and into a suit, black. It befits a Director. Also, it’s winter.
He makes coffee, and drinks it while it’s still too hot. Lets it burn his throat. It’ll heal anyway.
He turns on his brain.
There are 402 new messages waiting for him, most of them from people who hate him.
Tony makes himself walk out the door.
- - -
Tony starts his day out by reviewing the list of pardons.
Because he really is judge and jury now, he gets to decide who gets amnesty and who’ll be left to rot with super-villains.
He reminds himself that the only other person he trusts to do this is dead.
- - -
Maria finds him staring off into space in an empty briefing room in the early afternoon, long after the meeting has ended. She yells at him until he responds.
- - -
He has to talk to Kooning at 4:00. The secretary is smiling onscreen, comfortably settled behind his monolithic desk when Tony walks into his ready room.
“Director,” he says, wearing his smug little grin.
“Secretary,” Tony says. He already has a headache.
“Commander Dugan has raised concerns about your allocation of resources. What’s this about giving Colonel Danvers –“
“Ms. Marvel,” he interrupts.
“- a carrier,” he finishes, ignoring Tony.
Tony sighs, because he’s been having this conversation every fucking day.
“She needs it,” he says simply. Maybe that will work.
“She doesn’t need it,” Kooning says.
“She needs a way to get her people from point A to point B. New York is a high-profile tactical target and her team gets the brunt of it.”
“I’ll take it under advisement.”
“It’s really not up to you,” Tony says. As if it will make a difference.
“Oh, but it is, Tony. Maybe you should remember who approves your budget,” Kooning says, smiling.
“I’ve cut our expenditures,” Tony says, even though he doesn’t really care, even though they both know this isn’t about money. “I’ve done better than you’ve done in 20 years.”
“Yes, and the fact you’ve managed to cut so much and still maintain the same standards of performance suggests that perhaps S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t need such an extensive budget as Nick Fury has led us to believe,” he says.
“Yes, but I have plans for the surplus,” Tony says, because Carol needs a carrier and there’s no one else. “You hired me to be the liason. I’ve been there, I know what the Avengers need to keep operating at the level of performance you’ve come to expect. As –“
“The 50-state initiative,” Kooning cuts in smoothly.
“I’m sorry, what?” Tony says.
“The Iniative,” Kooning presses, “not the Avengers.”
Tony cannot believe this is what it’s come to.
“Yes,” he lies, “that’s what I meant.”
“I’ll take it under advisement,” Kooning says again. The conversation is over.
Kooning doesn’t care about the carrier, he just wants the satisfaction of getting Tony to ask his permission, and Tony grits his teeth as he breezes out the doors, because the only reason he has to keep doing these ridiculous teleconferences is because Kooning likes to reinforce that Tony’s a kept man now.
Tony grits his teeth and smiles, because that’s what he does now. Answers to the brass. Makes sure the world is a little more under his thumb. Lies.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
- - -
Tony walks back to his quarters and the grunts salute him as he passes. It’s something he’s not sure he’ll ever get used to, and he still can’t tell if it’s anything more than mockery. They don’t like him.
Maria doesn’t like him, either, because she was supposed to have this job.
For the thousandth time this month, he wonders what the fuck he’s playing at. He hates bureaucracy, he’s always hated the red tape and signatures and fucking hypocrisy of it all. He doesn’t want any part of this accountability he’s earned for himself (for them all).
He wonders if he can ever really be Iron Man again, after this. He wonders if he wants to.
Tony Stark, filthy fucking hypocrite.
He walks, seeing nothing, willing his feet to move along their path. He answers an angry email from Hank, who’s been complaining about the S.H.I.E.L.D.’s implementation parameters. The president wants him for dinner on Wednesday. He declines, makes excuses. It’s what he’s paid to do, now.
He presses his palm to the door and it opens at his touch.
And, because this day can only get worse with Tony’s luck, Barnes is sitting at his desk.
- - -
The day is fading fast, but it’s not late enough that the lights have come up automatically, so all Tony can see is dramatic shadowing on his face and the gleam of his arm beneath the auxiliary lights.
“There’s a warrant out for your arrest, you know,” Tony says, feeling tired and mildly threatened.
“Yeah, thanks for that, Director,” Barnes says. “How’s the new job treating you? They pay you well? You get bonuses for betraying your friends these days?”
Tony thinks he should defend himself, and doesn’t.
“Yeah,” he says, because Bucky will always win this one, “that’s me.” He sighs and leaves the lights off. If he’s going to have his throat slit tonight, he doesn’t want to see it coming.
“Well,” Barnes says, his mouth curling in distaste, “I’m here. Make it quick.”
Tony’s just another chore, another unpleasant encounter. He closes his eyes, because they were on good terms, once, and he really has nothing, now, doesn’t he.
“It’s not what I want, it’s what St – Cap wanted,” he says without inflection.
Barnes just stares out at him from the shadows.
“Look, could you just try not to be an asshole about this?” He’s trying.
“That’s rich, coming from you,” Barnes spits.
“I’m putting my ass on the line just by not sounding the alarm right now,” Tony says.
“Well, that’s generous of you,” says Barnes.
“Please just listen,” Tony says. “Steve wrote me a letter, and he wanted you to be his successor. And I didn’t want to call you, because I really don’t like you very much, but Clint won’t do it and no one else can throw the shield worth a damn and I don’t fucking care if I never see anyone fighting as Captain America again, but – I need you to decide.”
“I can’t fucking believe you,” he says, standing up. “I can’t – Steve is dead because of you. Because of you, Tony.”
It’s not like he was expecting amiability, but there it is, the stab of guilt that never hurts any less.
“I know,” Tony says in barely more than a whisper.
Barnes looks at him with something that Tony would like to think is pity, but it’s probably disgust in better lighting.
“I’ll do it,” he says, “but not for you.”
Tony swallows. “You’re going to have to register,” he says, because the security cameras are still on and he won’t have a chance to edit them until he leaves.
Barnes turns and laughs. “Oh, I see, you think you’re clever,” he says. “Well, you’re going to have to decide, because if you really want me to do this, I do it properly, like Steve wanted, I do it on my terms. No registration.”
Tony closes his eyes, because he knew this was coming.
“I can’t be an accessory to - unregistered avenging,” he says quietly. “I have to, I need to make sure I’m here long enough to settle the rest of the transition.”
Barnes laughs, actually laughs out loud, and says, “The transition. You’re unbelievable, you know that? No one gives a fuck about your efforts, Stark. You think you’re helping? You know what they all think of you?”
No, he doesn’t, but he can imagine. That’s fine, he knew he was going to ruin everything with this. He doesn’t need them to like him any more. It’s enough that – that they’re mildly safe now.
“You haven’t changed,” he continues. “Still covering your own ass, and fuck everyone else.”
“I’m sorry,” he says, because he is, and it’s true, what Bucky is saying, and maybe if it wasn’t Steve wouldn’t be dead.
Bucky looks like he wants to break his neck, but he’s a professional.
“Yeah, I’ll bet you are,” he says, and turns to leave.
“Wait,” Tony says.
He turns back.
“I’m willing to overlook – this,” he says, waving his hand absently, “just.” For Steve, he doesn’t say.
Barnes walks over to him and looks down at him for a good minute without saying anything, scrutinizing. Tony knows, he knows he’s been full of bullshit and lies and he doesn’t blame him for that. He knows Bucky could easily kill him before he even knew what was happening.
“Fine,” he says, finally, his voice clipped and his eyes utterly cold. “I need his shield.” His shield.
“I know,” says Tony, and presses his palm against the wall, mildly shocked that it was A storage unit slides out at his touch, and he pries it out of its drawer, gently, runs his fingers over the fresh paint job.
He hands it to Barnes, and it takes everything he has not to hold onto it.
“Don’t come here again,” he says, as the drawer hisses back into the wall.
“Don’t worry,” Bucky says as he crosses to the airlock. “If I do, it’ll be to kill you.”
Tony stands in the dark for a while after he’s gone, thinking about what a relief that would be.
He walks to his bedroom, presses his hand against the wall, and a drawer slides open. It’s there, just as he left it, blood splattered unevenly across the battered surface.
The real one.
He has no excuses left, not now that Bucky has the replica in hand. He’s been sneaking off to the tower for weeks to work on it in the early morning when the silence is too loud, when he’s too upset to sleep, when he’s crazy in his grief. He’s used up the last of the vibranium T’Challa left to do the plating on the front, he’s even cannibalized one of the suits for salvage to reinforce the back.
It was almost a perfect copy. Bucky’s good, but he’s never been as good as Steve. He’s almost familiar enough with it to know its exact weight, almost skilled enough to notice the balance will be ever so slightly off when he throws it. Almost.
He won’t suspect. Tony’s always been a clever liar.
The real shield gleams in its drawer, and he’s overcome with the urge to rip it out and hurl it through one of his fancy windows. It’s just another slap in the face, another reminder that you fucked up, Tony, another relic from a past he doesn’t deserve to remember. He he’s been greedy keeping it, grasping for comfort where there’s none to be had. It doesn’t belong here.
It’s time he returned it. Captain America should have his shield.
Tony shouldn't have anything.
- - -
He undresses in the half-light of a winter sunset. It feels like snow, and the window glass is cold to the touch. He leaves his suit in a rumpled pile on the floor, locks down his quarters, and flies out the airlock, the shield clasped tightly in his armored hands.
He doesn’t tell Maria he’s going.
He flies faster and faster until the wind howls synthetically in his ears and he doesn’t think anymore.
It starts to snow as he flies over Newfoundland, the arctic air heavy and dark around him.
He could die out here, and no one would ever find him.
- - -
It’s a clear night in Greenland when he finally touches down at the spot. He’s never noticed before, he’s never been here under good circumstances, really, but it’s rather lovely, this juncture of ice and water.
Namor is waiting for him when he lands, arms crossed and legs set wide. Tony opens his mouth to say something, but Namor is striding over to him, and he clearly has a bone to pick.
“What have you done?” he snarls. “Why did you not tell me?”
Tony can’t keep up with everyone he’s been pissing off.
“I came as soon as I could, you know that. I contacted Barnes weeks ago, but he just showed up tonight. I thought –“
Namor waves his hand and turns away.
“No, Stark,” he growls. “Why did you not tell me about the body?”
Tony is tired and uncomfortable, he’s messing up this sacred ground, he’s trampling where he doesn’t belong, and he has no idea what Namor is on about.
Namor, like just about everyone else, also has good reason to want him dead.
“The –“ Tony stops. “The body. Steve’s body.” He tries not to choke on Steve’s name.
“How dare you feign ignorance –“
“I’m not feigning ignorance, what are you fucking talking about? What’s wrong with – the body?” he asks, trying to tamp down on the panic he feels creeping into his voice.
And it’s really not fair, how everyone assumes that it’s his fault, that everything, these days, leads right back to Tony, but he’s always fighting a losing battle with Namor.
Namor searches his face, distress and anger and hatred written in his eyes. He must find no trace of treachery in Tony’s, because his face softens ever so slightly into a frown, and his expression loses some of its ferocity.
“I fear there is something foul at work here,” he says, crossing his bare arms.
“I thought you said he would be safe here,” Tony says, and he can’t keep the accusation out of his voice, can’t help feeling betrayed, because he thought this was it. That this was the last time he’d have to feel this raw pain, the immediacy of this grief.
“He is,” Namor says simply.
“Then what, show me,” says Tony. He grips the shield tighter, afraid of what Namor is going to show him beneath the waves.
- - -
They dive down together into the black. Tony lets the water carry him in Namor’s wake, lets the fathomless darkness blanket him. He holds the shield in front of him like a talisman to ward off the evils that must lurk in the deep, but he knows it’s silly.
There’s no one down here.
It’s not such a bad place to spend eternity, he thinks. It’s deadly calm, and hopelessly dark, secreted away from the world.
The light from his suit is dim, increasingly swallowed in the blackness, but what little there is glints off of ice shelves and rock formations. Occasionally Tony sees the sheen of some animal’s wet flank sliding through the dark water, but it’s only ever a glimpse.
Tony feels like he’s trespassing. He shouldn’t be here.
Namor leads him past what looks like dead coral from eons ago when these were warm waters, past the jagged mouths of underwater caves, past spires of rock and impossible ice that gleams like polished glass.
And then he’s sure his heart stops for a moment, because they round a bend in the trench and there it lies, glimmering on the ice. Steve’s casket has settled in a little valley bordered by a sharp rise on all sides. The embossing on the lid catches the light, and Tony allows himself raise the lumen output.
The casket was opaque when they buried him, a kind of iridescent green, but the outer coating has been gently polished away in places by the currents and possibly helped along by Namor. Now it’s distinctly clear in patches, and Tony can see the blue of Steve’s scale, the red of his gloves folded over his heart. Water has creeped into the casket through a hairline fracture in the lid, the suit informs him. It’s filled it up, suspended Steve’s hair in an eerie crown around his face.
He could be sleeping.
“What’s wrong,” Tony asks, looking away. “It – he looks fine to me,” he finishes quietly.
Namor turns to him, suspended in the water without treading.
“Look closer,” he says.
Tony looks, allows himself to lay a hand on the glass. He rubs at the surface, and a bit more of the frosting on the glass flakes off at his touch.
And then he sees it.
There’s what would be a gash, rising above Steve’s collar, where the skin has split and fallen away. And once Tony sees it, he can’t not – a piece of skin on his hand worn thin, worn through, a patch on his neck disintegrating.
Something glinting underneath, dulled by the faintest dusting of red.
He buried a machine.