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. In which Tony deals poorly with Steve's death, falls off the wagon, and sees ghosts. Oh, and the skrulls are about to invade.
read on AO3 / FF.net
Part 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6
CHAPTER 6: FUBAR
“Nice of you to call,” Maria says, “You’re under arrest. Don’t even think about running, Tony, the Helicarrier is already en route -”
“Yeah, whatever,” Tony says, “look,” broadcasting the live feed as he pans over Steve.
The line goes quiet for a few seconds.
“What,” she breathes. “Is that - really him?”
“Far as I can tell,” Tony says, determined to demonstrate he couldn’t care less. “Red Skull stole his body for another resurrection gambit. He just took out this entire facility singlehandedly. Now do you get why I came here?”
“That was Doom’s facility,” she says, “You’re still the aggressor, it’s foreign soil–“
“I didn’t attack anyone,” Tony says. “I meant the whole facility, Maria, there was no one left by the time I got here.”
“Well, you’re just lucky you found stolen government property. Maybe you won’t go to prison.”
“He’s not government property. And I’m not going to prison, Maria, Doom was involved in stealing Steve’s body, there are witnesses -”
“His body was in federal custody,” Maria starts, “so that makes him government property for now until he’s not officially dead anymore. He’s still a criminal, coming back from the dead doesn’t excuse -“
“No,” Tony says. “I’ll bring him in for stitches and a debrief, but we’re not locking him up again.”
“It’s not up to you,” she says. “It’s not up to me. International law says you’re in deep shit for waltzing into Latveria without an invitation.”
“I’ll talk to the president myself,” he says. “He was dead. That should be a slate-wiper.”
“Well, it’s not,” she snaps. “You’re assuming you’ll still be Director after this. The Helicarrier is on the way, we’ll send a Quinjet. Don’t let him out of your sight, and don’t fucking blow anything else up. You’re both functionally under arrest.”
“I didn’t blow anything up, Maria, all I did was disrupt their guidance systems-“
“It doesn’t matter what you did or didn’t blow up, you still launched an assault on a sovereign nation-”
“Oh, that’s bullshit, there was no assaulting-” he snaps.
“Acting Director Hill out,” she says, raising her voice above his.
He pulls his helmet off and chucks it across the room.
Steve looks too exhausted to care.
“How much do you remember,” Tony says impassively, fiddling with his gauntlet instead of looking at Steve. “There are going to be questions. Are there gaps, are you missing things?”
“You don’t get a pass,” Steve says, “if that’s what you’re thinking. I remember everything, Tony. The last thing I remember is being shot.” He sneers. “Fix those security holes yet, Director?”
There’s something in his voice Tony doesn’t recognize, something mean and horrible that makes his head throb and his heart ache for better days.
“Stop calling me that,” Tony says.
“What should I call you?”
“How can you be so cavalier about this?” Tony says, angry enough to chance a glance at Steve’s face.
Steve just stares at him.
“It’s nothing new. I’ve been dead before,” he finally says. He presses a hand to his still-bleeding shoulder.
Tony doesn’t even know what to do with that.
“I have to take you in,” he says.
“I heard,” Steve says.
“The Helicarrier is coming, but they won’t be here for at least another hour. Are you – do you need-”
“No,” Steve says, “I’ve had worse.”
“That’s not what I asked,” Tony says, standing up. “I’ll – I can go get a first aid kit. You probably need stitches on that.” Tony’s sure he could handle this if he had alcohol. As it is, he’s still got a blinding headache, and he’s willing to bet he can find great painkillers in their medical bay.
“Probably,” Steve says.
“Are we going to talk about this,” Tony says, because this isn’t progressing as he’d envisioned it. “I’m sorry. I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. I didn’t think I’d–“
“No,” Steve says sharply, “we’re not.
“Steve,” Tony makes himself say, “Please, I’m –“
“How do you think I’m feeling?” Steve says.
“I don’t –“
“For all I know a few hours ago I was dying. I wake up strapped inside a stasis cube with Red Skull’s voice in my head, no idea how I got here – and right now you –
“– what –“
“– are the last person on earth I want to see.”
Tony looks very pointedly at the interface panels on the opposite wall.
“Well, it won’t be long,” Tony says coldly, looking down at his hands, “and you’ll probably be back in a cell again so you won’t have to see me. Get up, we’re going to medical, come on.” He bends to pick up his helmet and jams it back on his head.
He keeps the faceplate up, even though he really doesn’t want to.
“I’m fine,” Steve says for the thousandth fucking time.
“Fucking – fine,” Tony says, and throws a ziptie at him. “Do your hands,” he says, “if this is how you’re gonna be.”
Steve loops it around his wrists and yanks it shut with his teeth, and then sits resolutely on his heels and closes his eyes.
They pass the rest of the hour in silence.
- - -
Tony has never been more relieved to see Maria stalk down the ramp of the Quinjet.
“Captain Rogers,” she says, ignoring Tony.
“Maria,” Steve says. There’s a grudging respect in his voice Tony suspects he’ll never be privy to.
“Get rid of your armor, Stark,” she says, all business. Come to clean up his mess.
“It’s not like I’m running,” he says, but he drops the plating and sends it into a containment unit she’s got set up in the Quinjet. He rubs at his temples, because there’s a dull pressure behind his eyes.
“Look,” Tony says as her guards move to corral him. “I know you’re eager to throw me in the brig and claim your rightful place on the throne, but you need to do some cleanup first – there’s a machine needs packing up, what they were using to bring him back – and Sinthea Shmidt is a level up, as is Zola. Fuck, and Sharon’s body,” he says, remembering.
“Sharon Carter?” Maria asks, just as Steve says “Sharon’s body?” shaking off the agents that are attempting to shackle him.
“Yes,” Tony says to both of them. “She’s dead. Didn’t you notice her when you were roaring and rampaging?”
“No,” Steve says. “No, I didn’t.”
“I’m sorry,” Tony says, and he can’t decide if he means it or not.
Maria is mumbling orders to someone, but Tony has enhanced hearing now, and he rounds on her as two agents try to grab his arms.
“How the fuck did she just fall off the radar and happen to be here? Did you know about this?”
“She was in deep cover,” Maria says, “She went dark about two weeks ago.”
“And you didn’t think to look for her?”
“You know that’s not procedure,” Maria says, waving groups of agents into the facility.
“Fuck, Maria,” Tony says, looking at Steve, willing him to understand, this wasn’t his fault, this wasn’t his screw-up, for once, but Steve doesn’t say anything. He just looks at Tony with unspeakable anger and hurt in his eyes, and Tony has to look away, because everything is wrong.
He’s led up the steps, into the narrow interior of the jet, and he thinks the world seems a little blurry, but he can’t be sure. He stumbles, a little, and that can’t be right, he’s not drunk, he’s not drugged - Maria is saying something to him, something about Doom, and Steve is glaring at him from where he’s sitting, and the roaring is back, thrumming through his head, because he never did get anything for his headache –“
“I think I fucked up,” he says, and then the world comes crashing down around him.
- - -
He wakes up in medical, wearing nothing but his boxers. There’s a monitor beeping insistently somewhere to the right of his head, so he turns it off with his brain.
Bad idea, he thinks, and almost rolls off the bed as pain fires through his head. There’s an IV tugging on his wrist, so he fumbles with the tape and slides it out. He cracks an eye open with great effort, and after the god-awful light resolves into something manageable, he sees he’s in one of the smaller observation rooms. No restraints, that’s nice of them, and there’s not even a guard, so he sends the gold creeping over his skin and half rolls, half falls off the bed.
He doesn’t have time for this. He needs to do damage control, badly, because he has a sneaking suspicion he’s about to be fired if he hasn’t been permanently removed already. Oh, and Steve is alive, and Maria is angry, and Sharon is dead.
He needs a fucking drink.
The door mechanism hisses open and a younger guy in a labcoat walks in.
“How long was I out?” Tony says, annoyed, because this kid isn’t Maya.
“8 hours,” Labcoat says. “Nice to see you up, Director. You collapsed in Latveria, you’re suffering from a migraine as well as-“
“I don’t get migraines,” Tony cuts in, doing his best to stand up, “you might not have heard, I grew a new brain when I took Extremis –“
“Apparently you do,” Labcoat says, apparently unimpressed by his bullshit. “You’re also ridiculously dehydrated, and will continue to be so for the moment, as I see you’ve taken it upon yourself to remove your IV line –“
“Where’s Maya,” Tony says, running a hand over his face, “If I’m getting migraines she should look at my scans or something.”
“Uh, I don’t know where Dr. Hansen is - you need to rest, Director. Your body may be…enhanced…but you still need sleep like the rest of us. How many hours had you gone without?”
Tony tries to remember and honestly can’t.
“Uh,” he says, “probably too many. I’ll take a nap,” he says, moving to go.
“You’re not free to go,” Labcoat says indignantly.
“Uh huh,” Tony says, and walks out the door.
He passes the observation room where they’re drawing Steve’s blood on his way to the turbolift. A medical team swarms around him where he sits on an exam table with his shirt off, nodes stuck all over his chest.
Tony storms past and pretends not to see.
- - -
No one tries to stop him as he makes his way to his quarters, and there’s not even an armed guard waiting for him. He must not be Maria’s biggest problem in light of recent events.
It doesn’t take him long, and he vaguely thinks maybe he should have kept the IV, because if he was dehydrated before, he’s going to feel like dying once he really gets going. He slumps in his chair all the same and throws back two glasses of whiskey in quick succession.
He brings up the feed from the medbay and watches them run tests on Steve.
He’s moderately drunk when Maria uses her override codes. Her mouth falls open a little when she sees him lounging on the sofa in sweats.
“Are you – are you drinking?”
Tony looks at the bottle he’s gripping with clumsy fingers, then back at her.
“Since I’m an adult and I can have a fucking drink if I feel like it?”
She stares. “You’ve been clean for years –“
“I fell off the wagon weeks ago, Maria, where have you been?”
She opens her mouth to say something.
“Don’t even start,” he says, “You don’t get to lecture me about this. There’s no way you can realistically argue that it’s been a problem if this is the first you’ve noticed it.” He’s being absurdly unprofessional, and he knows it, but he’s suspended and there’s nothing he’d rather do to pass the time.
“You’re supposed to still be in Medical,” Maria says.
“I don’t need a doctor,” he says, taking another swig. “Maya is the only -“
But he closes his mouth, because Maria looks uncomfortable, and almost apologetic, and this is not what Tony fucking needs right now.
“Well,” he says, setting his glass down with a clatter, “She actually did it. And you let her go.” He didn’t think she’d actually go through with her threats, but Maya’s never fucked around, has she.
“Yes,” Maria says. “I did. She’s a liability.”
Tony buries his head in his hands and wonders if the universe is paying him back for everything he’s ever screwed up. It takes everything he’s got, but he represses the urge to down the rest of his glass and slink into his bedroom so he can sob into his pillow.
“Good job, she wants to weaponize it, Extremis,” he says, feeling vindictive and utterly miserable. “I guess she was always gonna go. Steve hated her. Hates. Steve hates me,” he says.
“YES,” he moans, “Steve Rogers, Captain fucking America. Hates me.”
“I can’t say I blame him,” she says, eyeing him and his bottle warily, “but he appears to be the genuine article. We –“ she eyes the empty glass he’s set down and hesitates.
“What,” Tony snaps, “spit it out, Maria.”
She looks pissed, but she continues, “We haven’t decided what to do with him yet. He’s being cooperative, although we’re still not sure why Doom consented to have Red Skull do the resurrection in Latveria. That’s harboring terrorists, and we’d bring him in if we knew where he was –“
“We?” Tony says, bleary-eyed.
“Well, for reasons that are beyond me, someone on Capitol Hill is still hell-bent on keeping you here, so you’re reinstated. We finished our diagnostics while you were out beating up witnesses, there’s nothing wrong with the Helicarrier. Isolated incident. We still need you to go over the repairs, and you need to go over Steve’s stuff, but I suppose that can wait until tomorrow.” she says.
“I can’t, Maria, m’not on duty,” he says, standing up. He lurches.
“Oh, fuck, we’ll do this later. Sober up before you set foot on the bridge,” she snaps.
“I’m not going to the bridge, I don’t like anything, just leave,” he murmurs.
“Pull yourself together, Stark,” she says with disgust, her boots clunking on the grating as she leaves.
Tony sits on the edge of the couch and pours another glass.
Pull yourself together, Tony, stop feeling sorry for yourself, Tony, fix yourself, Tony.
Stop caring, Tony.
- - -
Midnight finds Tony officially on a bender.
He pads down to detention, trailing a hand along the wall, and he trips down the last flight of stairs.
Steve is in proper detention quarters this time, and he’s lying on his back on the little cot in the corner. He’s got no privacy, though, there’s a window that discloses his goings-on to the guards in the hallway.
“I missed you,” Tony says pathetically, pressing an open palm to the plexiglass. He’s leaning and lurching and he’s entirely too sloshy to be having this conversation.
“I see you’re drinking again,” Steve says, without getting up.
“You gonna lecture me, too? ‘S what you do best.” Tony presses himself against the coolness of the window. His head is spinning.
“It’s not like you’d listen,” Steve says acidly, and something twists in Tony’s gut.
It’s a far cry from the Steve that carried him out of a burning building once.
“Ok, ok, I want to talk to you,” Tony says.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Steve says.
There’s a guard watching them from his post at the end of the hall, and it’s making Tony irrationally angry, so he rounds on the poor kid.
“Hey,” Tony says, entirely too belligerent for the hour, “Fuck off.”
The kid scampers, because you don’t fuck with Iron man, especially when he’s drunk.
“I was fucking Maya,” he blurts out, and he doesn’t even care that he’s being obnoxious, he just wants a reaction, something other than silence, wants Steve to yell at him so he can stumble back up to his quarters and drink himself into a blackout.
Steve stands up in a huff. “Why are you here,” he says. “I’m trying to sleep. We’ve done this already, Tony, we’ve said all there is to be said, there’s nothing more.”
“No,” says Tony, “No, there’s more, you don’t- there’s – you don’t even know, you don’t know what it’s been like, here.” He’s drunk, he knows he’s a mess, he feels sloppy and out of control but he doesn’t even care, because this has been welling inside him for weeks now, and there’s only so long he can push these things away.
“Yes,” Steve says, “It must have been terrible for you, all that power and freedom to implement your grand plans to keep the world safe.”
“Fucking – you told me that you wanted to talk, once,” Tony says, hitting the plexiglass with his fisted hand. “But we – fucking – punched each other out, Steve.”
“You’re drunk,” Steve says, turning away.
“That doesn’t change anything,” Tony says, and he’s legitimately angry now.
Steve rounds on the window. “It does, Tony –“
“It doesn’t, I still want us – “
“There is no us,” Steve roars.
Tony closes his eyes in abject despair, because he should have waited to do this, he shouldn’t have come down here with whiskey buzzing in his brain, he shouldn’t have thought he could make something of this nothing. Shouldn’t have presumed.
Should have known there’s no room in his life for faith anymore.
“I wanted there to be,” he says, swaying on his feet.
“You should have thought of that before you tried to have me sentenced to death, Tony,” Steve snarls.
“I didn’t,” Tony says miserably, “I didn’t, Steve, it’s – it was all I could think of, it was all I fucking thought of.”
“Save it,” Steve snaps, “Go sleep it off, Tony, you’re embarrassing yourself –“
“You’re not fucking listening,” Tony shouts, “It was only ever about you. It - there was only ever you, Steve, I ruined everything because I didn’t want to destroy you, I wanted you whole, I wanted you to stay good, because I don’t think I could have fucking - lived with myself if you hadn’t. I was willing,” he says, his voice breaking, “I was fucking willing to do it, and then you died, Steve, and nothing fucking mattered, because it was all a giant fucking waste.”
Steve stares at the ceiling, and somehow that hurts most, because he doesn’t even care enough to listen anymore.
“I should have told you,” Tony says, “I should have just fucking told you.”
“Told me what,” Steve says.
“I did tell you,” Tony continues bitterly, “but it wasn’t even you, was it. I was ready, when you went, seeing you like that – I told you, and it didn’t mean a fucking thing. It wasn’t even you.”
Tony flees, because he’s losing his nerve, he’s sobbing and he doesn’t even know when that happened, and he turns in an entirely graceless pirouette and runs up the stairs past the baffled guards who probably heard the whole fucking thing, past engineering and the med bay and the lab where Maya worked, past the morgue where Sharon’s body is lying, through the corridors and up the lift and back to his quarters to weep.
He fumbles with the keypad because he can’t fucking see through his tears and he’s rapidly losing his fine motor control, but he stumbles in and faceplants on the couch. He’s spinning, he feels the world moving on without him, and he sinks and sinks and sinks, and Steve’s face, Steve’s dead fucking face, lying on that table with his eyes closed, is all he can see.
Tony makes himself sit up and gets into the security recordings, goes back those long, awful months, and erases. Tony making a fool of himself during the eulogy. Tony sobbing over a corpse. He deletes the pictures of them in costume, deletes the news articles praising their cooperation, deletes the post-it-notes Steve used to send him, deletes his emails, deletes the evidence, deletes.
Delete, delete, delete, delete.
It wasn’t worth it, Steve.
It’s still not.