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 5: South of the Border.
Tony does not call Maria.
He doesn’t head back to the Helicarrier as his job description and international law dictate he should, he doesn’t call Carol for backup.
This is personal, and he’s going to see it through.
Sinthea Shmidt. Her name drums through his head and he charts a course over the Atlantic, through three storm systems that will probably disrupt his communications and a blizzard over Greenland. Tony knows her only by reputation, but he remembers the weariness in Steve’s voice as he’s talked about Shmidt, the way he never quite had a handle on this problem that wouldn’t go away. Steve’s Mandarin. If the clone thing was any indication, any plans he has for Steve’s body end in him wearing Steve’s face.
Tony doesn’t think he can handle that again.
His head aches, a dull pain coiled behind his eyes, but he sucks it down, mashes his eyes shut and presses on. He needs sleep, probably badly, but he’s not willing to put this off any longer. He injects himself with caffeine from one of the thigh compartments.
He skulks along the edge of the Baltic sea for awhile, and then continental Europe rises up to meet him, dull and black in the early winter morning, and he scrambles his energy signatures and goes into stealth mode. By the time he’s crossing the Romanian border into Latveria, he’s just angry, and any doubts he might have had going into this are gone when he sees the sprawl of Doom’s little Capitol, sparkling silver laid out on the dark green/black.
He’s overcome by an overwhelming desire to blast Doomstadt right off the map, but that’s nothing new, really.
And then he gets hit with a surface-to-air missile. That’s new, he thinks as he falls, Doom must have found a way to get around his shielding since they last fought. He lands in a pond a few miles outside of Doomstadt proper.
Maria, of course, picks that moment to start caring about protocol.
“Make it quick,” he says, flicking mud off his sensors.
“We’re reading your energy signature and missile activity in Southern Latveria. S.H.I.E.L.D. is not authorized to enter Latverian airspace - “
“I’m a little busy right now.“ He doesn’t have time for this, there’s two more rocketing towards him from the North, and he shoots into the air again and heads for the mountains.
“It’s actually you, isn’t it? Jesus Christ, Tony, you cannot be in Latveria -”
“None of your fucking business, Maria.“ He ducks into the gap as another one trails him over the ridgeline.
“Stand down,” she says. “You have no authority –“
“Yeah, no. They shot first. I’m sorry, I thought I gave the orders – “
“I’ll remove you as Director if I have to,” she says.
“Maria, just fucking trust me for once!“ He swears loudly, because he miscalculated as he banked, and the force of the explosion behind him sends him veering into a wall of rock. He’ll probably have a concussion on top of his headache now. At least the missiles are dealt with.
“This ISN’T ABOUT TRUST, you are going to start an INTERNATIONAL INCIDENT –“
“You don’t like it, come pick me up. Good luck catching up,” he snaps, and cuts the transmission.
He perches on top of the highest peak he can find and starts scanning.
It’s ridiculously easy to pinpoint his target. It doesn’t look like much from above ground, and if Tony didn’t know better he’d say it was a power station. But it’s the only one with its very own power grid and the two Hydra jets tied down on the landing pad are a dead giveaway.
Tony doesn’t dare hold his breath, because he knows better than that, but no more missiles chase after him. He targets the weapons systems not-so-cleverly nestled in concealed ports in the surrounding foothills anyway, and fires a volley of disruptor homing charges so he’s not actually causing property damage. Tony would very much like to torch the entire fucking facility, but he needs to search if he’s going to bring Steve’s body back, not to mention a jet to do it, so he settles for double-checking his stealth shielding and blasting the roof in.
He falls somewhat farther than he’d expected to, but he rolls into a ball as soon as he’s hit the ground and targets the automatic sentry-bots before they’ve even gotten a shot off.
The ceiling is vaulted, and backlit, though there’s a sizable hole where Tony launched himself through. It looks to be some kind of hub, a central room with corridors leading out in all directions. There’s an alarm going off, and the lights have gone red, though from the elevated alert level or Shmidt’s demented sense of industrial décor, Tony isn’t sure.
There isn’t a standing soul to be seen. There are bodies, strewn on the floor, limp against still-humming machinery, draped over railings, but no one is rushing at him with machine guns or lazers or idle threats.
Someone’s already been here to exterminate his filth.
Tony scans the room, but no one’s died from gunshots or weapons fire, it’s all broken necks and internal bleeding and fatal head injuries.
Tony stalks off down the corridor that Extremis says leads to research levels.
- - -
The tunnels are sleek and narrow, and the red alarm lights gleam off the slick yellow walls as he moves on through. There are more Hydra guys down here, slumped in the middle of the hall, fallen aside in storage rooms along the way, and he’s starting to worry that he’s not actually the thing that tripped the alarm. The air is heavy with ozone from weapons fire but there’s an air of abandonment, of ruin, that unnerves him.
He’s starting to worry he’s not going to have the satisfaction of killing Shmidt himself.
And then he almost trips, because he finds Sharon Carter shackled to a support beam as he rounds a corner into the next sub-level, a bullet in her gut, her eyes open and dull with sweat and pain.
He thinks he should be surprised.
She’s wearing her uniform, but it’s torn and dirty and her hair is filthy, hanging in strands over her face. The last he heard, she was in deep cover, and he wonders how long she’s been rotting away as a prisoner here. She was a good agent, one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best, and Tony has no idea what the fuck she’s doing here.
He wonders if she let things slip, too, after Steve – if she drifted, a little too far gone, a little too complacent, to be captured like this. Did she stop caring, when he died in her arms?
Did she know she wasn’t the only one who had eyes for Steve?
“Oh my god, Sharon,” he says, raising the faceplate, because he would want a face instead of a mask.
She splutters and sucks in a weak breath. “Tony,” she says, her eyes flickering up to meet his. “You shouldn’t be here.”
He lets his gauntlets fall away so he can put pressure on her stomach, but it’s no good. She’s lost too much blood already, she’s getting paler and she’s far too still, and what is she fucking doing here?
“You’re gonna be fine,” he lies, “just –“
“Tony,” she says again, her eyes unfocused.
“Ok, no, stay awake, here,” he says, looking around wildly, her blood bubbling up between his fingers. He has no idea what her part in this is, but it can’t be a coincidence, can it. “Just, talk to me, tell me what they’re doing, why are you here?”
“Steve,” she says, “they couldn’t, they were trying to, Red Skull, he was, trying to bring himself back in Steve’s body, but it went wrong, something went wrong – it wasn’t him.”
She looks down at her stomach and back up at Tony’s face.
“I think someone shot me,” she says, genuinely confused.
“Yeah, I got that – Sharon, how are they - Steve’s dead, his body is – how could they?”
Her eyes are sliding out of focus, but she blinks, determined, and steals a shallow breath. Tony gives her a minute, tops. He doesn’t have the tools to fix her, they aren’t the same blood type, he can’t do anything.
“No, you don’t – it doesn’t matter – he – got loose, he, Shmidt failed, it can’t have been ready yet, you have to, go, you need to kill him before,” she pants.
Sharon tries to breathe, but it sounds like her lung is collapsing, and she shudders in his arms.
“Got loose - before what, Sharon? I’m gonna kill Shmidt, why do you think I’m here? Sharon?”
Her eyes are dull and blue and dead.
“FUCK!” he shouts at the ceiling.
Tony kneels for a moment in shock, because Hydra’s gotten their claws in everywhere, and this is way past simple negligence on his part. Sharon was there, she was on the steps, with Steve – Red Skull’s been planning this, and he never even suspected. To lose one of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s best agents with no heads-up at all, to lose Steve’s body, these are basic things, he should have done better, he needs to focus -
He closes her eyes and moves on.
- - -
The machine has its own room.
It’s Doom’s handiwork, Tony can see that much – but it’s very much Zola’s code. The lab is a mess - there are doombots disabled and blinking on the floor, their casings and housings twisted and smashed on the concrete floor. If Tony didn’t know better, he’d say Bruce was behind this. Something was fighting - the lab techs are all unconscious or dead on the floor, bloodied and thrown aside like they weighed nothing at all.
The machine itself is still humming and cycling in its housing, and it takes up the better part of the room. There’s a stasis chamber hooked into the main coupling, and Tony runs up to it, clanking.
The glass casing has been broken, and there are restraints – empty, blood-stained – one of them ripped right out of the metal interior.
Fuck. That containment cell is a model intended to suspend cellular decomposition immediately after death, and if it’s broken –
No, Tony, He got loose, Shmidt failed, you have to go -
There’s a trail of blood leading from the stasis chamber, and Tony follows it.
He has to.
- - -
Zola’s body (hardware, whatever) is propped against one of the corridor walls, the viewscreen smashed and the rectangular head severed from its base. Tony blasts the door to the control room out of the way, and he’s just stepped inside when when Sinthea Shmidt flies through the wall of glass not 3 meters in front of him. She hits the wall behind him and falls, limp, to the floor, blood trickling from her forehead, her eyes open and unmoving.
The control room isn’t big, just monitors lining the walls and two rows of control interfaces, their swivel chairs empty and their panels untended. It’s overlooking a massive room that houses what looks like an enormous reactor, humming orange beyond the glass window that’s just been broken.
He hears the scuffle before he sees it, far down in the reactor chamber. Tony dives in through the hole she’s just come from, and he’s just getting to his feet when he stumbles again, because his body forgets how to breathe for a second.
Steve Rogers is naked, and he’s grappling with what looks like a Doombot wearing a shitty Halloween mask that’s hanging in latex strips from its robot face.
“You have no business interfering here,” the Doombot says in a German accent, and it’s a voice Tony knows too well. Red Skull apparently hasn’t recovered from losing his last ill-gotten body.
Red Skull punches Steve hard in the jaw with a mechanical fist, and he reels from the force of the blow.
“You had no business trying to steal my fucking body,” Steve’s body – Steve – snarls, as he staggers back up.
“You cannot hope to win,” Red Skull says, “You cannot – NO! I will not be thwarted, not by -”
Steve plants two broad hands on the sides of his mechanical head, and snaps his electronic neck with a quick jerk of his shoulders. He falls to his knees, panting, wincing from the broken glass he seems to have settled on.
Tony doesn’t even move, because has no idea what the fuck just happened.
Steve looks up from where he’s kneeling, and recognition and disgust run themselves over his face.
“Come to see the show, Director?” he asks, throwing out a hand to steady himself as he lurches back on his heels.
“Jesus, Steve,” he gets out.
It’s surreal, standing there, talking to a dead man who very clearly isn’t dead – his body looks just as alive as it ever has, and he’s bleeding – a lot, a jagged gash running over his forearm and what look to be gunshot wounds healing in his shoulder.
There are scars, three – on his chest, his abdomen. Round. Bullets. Freshly pink, almost white.
All the things he’s been pushing away, all the things he hasn’t allowed himself to feel come flooding back when he sees his face, and grief and unabated shame wrap themselves around Tony’s heart and burrow in.
Tony wants to believe, but he doesn’t know how to reconcile this. He raises his right arm in warning.
“How the fuck are you alive?” he says, unsure.
“I missed you too, Tony,” Steve says darkly, and there’s no humor in his voice.
“I – you were dead,” he says.
Steve closes his eyes.
“I thought so too,” Steve says.
“Fuck,” Tony says. “That – this was you. The body count – that was – that was you, escaping. You – Zola - fuck, that was – you threw Sinthea Shmidt through a window. Christ, Steve, you took out the whole facility.”
“It was self-defense,” Steve says.
“I don’t care about that,” Tony says quietly, lowering his arm in a gesture of good faith.
“Well, you’re all about law and order now, aren’t you,” Steve says, pulling his knees up to his chest. “And thank god for that - I thought I was on my own, but here you are, Iron Man come to save the day. My savior.” The words echo off the metal walls, and Tony’s stomach churns, because he really didn’t think Steve had that kind of bitterness in him.
“I came here because I thought I was recovering your body, Steve.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Steve says.
Tony opens his mouth but no words come out.
Steve is pulling himself up and leaning on one of the control panels, now, and he looks around and starts stripping one of the Hydra guys for his jumpsuit.
This is so colossally wrong. He’s never allowed himself to imagine this reunion, because that would be self-indulgent and childish and until today it never could have happened, but now that it’s happening, now that he’s here, he can’t fucking handle how unfair this is.
Steve is alive, and he still hates Tony.
“Still hiding behind your armor, I see,” Steve says, pulling on pants, because Tony hasn’t raised the faceplate yet. “Did you build yourself a brave new world while I was gone?”Tony calls Maria, because he doesn’t know how to deal with this anymore.