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
CHAPTER 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5
CHAPTER THREE: Ghost in the Machine
Namor floats, infuriatingly silent, while Tony gapes. Extremis can’t tell him anything beyond the fact that the thing lying in that casket is not Steve Rogers. It’s an LMD, one of the recent models that Fury was so fond of.
“How long have you known about this?” Tony says.
“Not long enough,” Namor says. “Find him. You owe him that much.”
He swims away.
Tony remembers why he can’t stand Namor.
“Thanks,” he says absently to the trail of bubbles he’s left behind. “I’ll just deal with this, then.”
He takes the shield with him as he rockets up through the swirling blue-black, lets the Extremis buffer him against the pressure changes – uncomfortable, but he doesn’t have the patience for a slow ascent right now – and takes to the skies, laying in a course for the Helicarrier.
It’s not enough that Steve is dead, he’s not even properly dead now. His body is somewhere else, and there’s always going to be a seed of foolish, misplaced hope, in the back of his mind, that maybe. Maybe there’s a chance. Maybe he gets another chance-
But Tony isn’t supposed to get another chance, he’s supposed to suffer for this chain of events.
Everything he does is wrong, and he’s doing the best he knows how to do.
He doesn’t want to, but he has to watch the tape, has to gather evidence, has to solve the puzzle. It’s not difficult to find the footage, he’s had it queued for months - it’s just that he hasn’t been able to bring himself to watch it until now.
He watches as Steve’s life bleeds away on marble steps, as Sharon kneels over him. He watches Steve’s lips form words that aren’t meant for Tony. He watches as they heft his enormous body onto a gurney that looks pathetically inadequate, watches as he’s bundled up and driven away.
He runs it again, but Steve is definitely bleeding.
Life model decoys don’t bleed.
- - -
Tony is sick of waking every morning with his pillowcase damp, sick of shivering and curling under the sheets, sick of rocking himself until he stops shaking with sobs.
He takes the Audi, because it looks like a normal car, and actually drives away from the Helicarrier base, through rush hour traffic, to the James, because he owns it.
He’s wearing Gucci, but he hasn’t shaved in a few days, and there’s red rimming his eyes. Still, he’s Tony Stark, and his face is enough, most days, no matter how haggard, so he waltzes up to the desk and takes off his sunglasses. The woman snaps to attention, and he’d be indifferent, once, and later, flattered, but right now he’s just grateful he doesn’t have to open his mouth to say anything.
They rush to accommodate him, asking if he’ll be staying long (he won’t), if he has any bags (he doesn’t), if he needs anything (nothing they can give him).
The suite is as cold and impersonal as he remembers, decorated in creams and whites and dramatic reds. Bold. Modern. Lonely.
The clunk of the door slotting into place echoes off the too-high ceiling. He sits, very carefully on the edge of the bed, and cycles through his contacts in his head. He wishes something would change his mind, but he’s lonely, and he aches deep in his bones with this grief that’s latched onto his soul.
He makes the call.
The woman who answers sounds younger than he remembers, but she’s professional and discreet, and he’s mildly pleased that nothing has changed since he used their service years ago at MIT. He wasn’t rich then, but his father was, and his name was enough to get him in the door. If she knows who he is when he gives her his account number now, she doesn’t let on. She probably doesn’t care. He’s just another exorbitantly rich, faceless man.
He asks for broad shoulders, blond hair, blue eyes. Athletic. She asks if he’d like to give exact specifications – he’s a very important client, even as high-end of a service as they are - and he’s ashamed that he gives them – 6’2”, 240 lbs. He wants to say, “wholesome,” but that sounds juvenile and he’s got a reputation to maintain, and it doesn’t adequately describe what he’s looking for, anyway. An hour, she says, and he thanks her.
Tony reclines on the bed for a few minutes after he’s hung up, wondering what he’s done.
In what he’ll come to think of as a pre-meditated decision, Tony pours himself a glass of bourbon, because if he’s going to do this, he’s going to do it.
He throws it down.
When the knock on the door comes, Tony answers, 3 glasses in. He’s gorgeous, chiseled jaw, bright blue eyes, blond hair in gelled disarray. He’s slightly younger than Tony. He has a kind face.
His name is Chris, it turns out, and he tries to arrange himself under Tony on the bed when they’re ready, and Tony knows how this works, knows he’s all stretched and lubed and ready to take whatever Tony gives him, but Tony runs his hands over him greedily, nestles his face into his neck, whispers close against his ear.
“I want you to fuck me,” he says raggedly. “Hard, I want you to be rough, I wanna feel it tomorrow.”
Chris looks momentarily surprised, but he’s adaptable, he has to be. Tony’s sure it’s not the first time he’s had such a request, he’s used to servicing his clients however they need him to, so after a little while, he folds Tony in half and pounds into him until he’s gasping for breath.
Tony closes his eyes to mask his tears, moans a little louder, draws Chris in a little tighter with his calves, and thanks a god he doesn’t believe in that Steve can’t see him now.
- - -
When Tony gets back around midnight, the Helicarrier is in the water, 30 miles offshore. He drops the shield in the airlock before landing more forcefully than he probably has to on the tarmac.
Maria is standing at the edge of the landing strip, looking absolutely pissed.
“Report,” Tony says automatically, because they were in the air when he left.
“I’d like a word, Director Stark,” she says. Always so angry with him.
He’s got a lot to answer for, because he didn’t follow protocol and he’s been brushing too many engagements lately, so he sighs and takes the helmet off. Maybe she’ll think he’s less of an asshole this way.
“My office,” he says, eyeing the grunts lined up on the landing platform. “Give me five minutes.”
He runs over the footage again while he walks back, but it’s there, it’s Steve, undeniably shot and bleeding out. It had to be the hospital, then, between the time he was unloaded from the ambulance and Tony – when Tony arrived on scene.
He’s wading through footage from 14 different security cameras within a one-block radius when Maria strides into his office.
He does his best to engage.
“Report,” he says again.
“You missed a hell of a party,” she says icily. “While you were gone, we got hit with a nasty little transmission that wrecked half our active protocols. It’s a fluke we even picked it up on sensors, someone made it look like civilian chatter, but then everything went to shit for a little while. Turns out there was actually an anomalous waveform embedded in the transmission, and about 15 seconds after it registered, we starting having random systems malfunctions – turbine 3, generators A, E, and F, and some of the higher nav functions crapped out.”
Just what he needs.
“What kind of malfunctions,” he says, tapping into the logs even as he asks.
“Nothing crippling or even particularly damaging,” Maria says, “but I put us in the water because the disruptions were unpredictable. The transmission subsided about 2.5 hours ago, but we’re still getting flare-ups. Not as widespread now, but they’re still there. They’re almost like electrical surges, instruments don’t respond as they should, levels spike without input, that sort of thing.”
She sits down across from him.
He replays the pulse in his head, and it vibrates through his skull, an unpleasant resonance that makes him feel like he’s got a bad hangover.
He sees what she means – it’s similar to an EMP, but it’s much weaker and far more elegant. It doesn’t match anything he’s got stored in his brain. He’ll have to work on it.
“Actually, they’re just as widespread,” Tony says. It’s like looking at microfractures in a hull, but instead they’re electrical and they’re everywhere. “There are more now, in fact.”
“What? That can’t be right, I just –“
“Trust me, my sensors are more advanced than anything we have aboard until they finish the upgrades,” Tony says by way of explanation. He knows it sounds flippant, but it’s true, the current version of his brain is better than his old tech.
He runs over the incident reports briefly. They were random, Maria was right – there’s documented anomalies in weapons, nav, comm, backup propulsion, everything, on every deck. There’s no pattern his brain can determine, it just seems like a feeble, protracted seizure of the ship itself. He needs more data.
“I just initiated scans on all the servers and the mainframes, I’ll keep monitoring the live results. Did you put people on the waveform?”
“Yes,” she says. “Maya and Sal are working on it as we speak.” She’s never liked the way he brought his strays with him.
“Fine,” Tony says. He can’t keep the fatigue from his voice anymore. “Recall any squadrons that are out right now – training missions, anything non-essential - let’s head back to drydock.”
“Is it that serious?” she says.
Tony doesn’t know what to think, because he’s tired, and he knows he should, but he doesn’t care about the Helicarrier as much as he cares about what happened to Steve right now.
“I don’t know,” he says, “but it’s widespread and random enough and unknown enough that I want to run diagnostics, and I’d rather do it docked than sitting out here with no support. We’re not running any active ops, we’re only 30 miles out. We can run patrols from shore just as easily as we can from here. We’re still at blue alert, correct?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Fine. Do that, then. If we need Air Force support to fill in the gap, go ahead and patch Kooning through to me. I can help do patrols if we’re stretched thin, I’d cover more ground anyway –“
“No, you can’t,” Maria says. “You’re Director, and clearly we need your superior brain for analysis on this, not flying around whenever you feel like it, which brings me to my next point, Sir.”
“Before you say anything,” he says, “I had a very good reason for not telling you –“
“I don’t fucking care, Stark, you can’t keep doing this. You could have run diagnostics two hours ago and maybe even figured out what this was by now if you’d been here, at your post. Doing your goddamn job.”
“Maria, darling, that’s what I have you for,” he says, his voice flat. “My favorite deputy director –“
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she says, slamming her hand down on the desk. His pen jumps. “You think this is a game, Stark?”
“No,” he says. “No, I don’t think it’s a game,” because he’s trying, he is, and he’s worn thin, and if he hasn’t proven by now that he’s dedicated, if people still don’t think he takes it seriously after he’s stood by and watched his friends desert him, then he can’t do anything more. “You’re dangerously close to insubordination, deputy director,” he says with a quirk of his mouth.
“Oh, save it for Dugan,” she snaps. “You’re not just Iron Man anymore,” she bites out angrily, “you have responsibilities. You can’t just take off whenever you feel like it, Tony, you have to fucking lead.”
She called him Tony, and it might be the most confirmation he’s had in months that he’s still a human being.
“I am leading, Maria. We’re doing fine, we’re doing better than fine.”
Maria glares, and he knows she’s not going to let it go.
“Did you follow me,” he asks quietly, neglecting to address her other concerns.
She looks at him, long and steady, for a minute, as though she’s seriously considering spitting in his face.
“No,” she says.
“No,” he echoes, averting his eyes. He twirls his pen and sighs.
“I went to see Namor,” he says. It’s all the explanation she’s getting.
“Namor is unregistered,” she says.
“I’m aware,” he says, irritated.
“You have to stop doing this,” she says. “You’re not Fury, Tony. You have to be squeaky clean.”
Tony looks up at that, because he would have bet money that Maria couldn’t wait to see him go. Dugan certainly makes no show of hiding it. He has no illusions, of course – he knows why Kooning’s put him here, knows he has to toe the line. He sighs.
“You should know me better than that. I took precautions –“
“That’s not the point. It’s illegal, and you’re the director of the most important intelligence agency on the planet. You’re our new poster boy for all that’s legal and right. Or have you forgotten?”
He hasn’t, and she knows it. That was low.
“I know why you’re here,” she says quietly. “I know why you took the job. I know you don’t like being here, and I can’t say I love it either. Fury was a hell of a lot better than you, and he came with a lot less baggage. But if you don’t want everything that’s happened in the past year to be a waste, you need to fucking check yourself, Stark. You need to do things by the book, you need to pay attention to protocol, you need to stop being a cowboy so you can do what you set out to do.”
It might be the nicest thing she’s ever said to him. She looks at him, and waits.
“You’re not going to tell me anything else, are you.”
Tony wants to, wants to pawn this burden off onto someone else, wants to trust her, wants.
Wants a friend.
“No,” he says. “Dismissed.”
Tony sits for a long time after she leaves, going over the wave patterns, but he’s not making any progress, and he’s tired and sleep-deprived and there’s a headache building behind his eyes, so he shucks his suit and climbs into the shower.
He goes over the footage of the courthouse crime scene, the audio of the ambulance’s interior, one more time before he falls asleep, just to make sure he hasn’t missed anything, but Steve is still bleeding, still gasping for air, still dead on arrival at the hospital.
Well, there’s that.
He doesn’t have to worry about that second chance.
They wanted his body, then, but for what? Tony’s mind goes to dark places, because he can’t imagine anything other than ritual sacrifice. Cults, maybe. It’s fucking ridiculous, but it rankles his blood because Steve deserved his peace, whoever’s taken his corpse.
Tomorrow, he thinks, he’ll fix this, he’ll fix the Helicarrier, he’ll fix.
Tony falls asleep with a headache and dreams that Steve is drowning him in a shallow pool.In the early morning, when he wakes, he doesn’t remember what he dreamed about, only that it was awful.