Verse/Setting: Spoilers ahead - Post-Avengers; Post-Iron Man 3 (Tony’s chest has been fixed); Post-Thor the Dark World (Thor has returned on a more permanent basis); PRE-Captain America: the Winter Soldier; early Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (before Coulson was kidnapped)
Prompt: What would S.H.I.E.L.D. do if one of the Avengers decided to become a super-villain instead of being the hero? Fury decides a drill to find out the answer to this question is imperative. He better hope it never goes beyond a drill….
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: The Avengers do not belong to me. I’m not making money from this fic.
Warning(s): CP of an adult.
Author Note: The inspiration for this story comes from scifigrl47’s story “Phil Coulson Knows Tony Stark’s Super Villain Name,” found here at Archive of Our Own: Scifigrl47's story. I used the main plot of that story as a prompt for writing my own story.


FLYING SOLO


Tony Stark sprawled languidly, his face pensive, one arm draped lazily across the back of the couch, the other laying on his thigh with just enough use of muscle to avoid having the drink he clutched go spilling onto the floor. He was alone. Pepper had left early that morning to attend meetings in Tokyo and would not be returning for another week and a half; Steve was on a date with some girl Pepper had set him up with; Clint and Natasha were on whatever spy business they normally went on; Thor was spending the weekend with Jane; and Bruce had made an early evening of it – claiming the need to rest and de-stress before the “Big Guy” decided to come out and play. So…Tony was alone.

He really wished he weren’t. The kind of news he’d discovered wasn’t really something one wanted to be left alone with to ponder. Steve would say it was his own fault for snooping where he shouldn’t – of course he would, and Cap was more than likely right about that…probably – but it didn’t make finding the information any less disturbing to the billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, genius. Not that he wanted anyone else to know the information he’d found. Not this time.

He supposed he really shouldn’t be surprised that Fury had a file on him buried deep within the S.H.I.E.L.D. servers. Fury was nothing if not the Master of Secrets. The fact he’d kept Coulson’s living status secret for so long was proof of that – if Tony had needed any further proof. He had still managed to be caught completely by surprise when he’d discovered the file and seen just what was inside of it. Caught by surprise and irritatingly enough- hurt.

The file had posed one simple question. What would S.H.I.E.L.D.’s response be if Anthony Edward Stark – aka Iron Man – decided that he no longer wanted to play on the side of the heroes and turned super-villain. How would S.H.I.E.L.D. either stop him or take him out?

Ok. So Tony could allow that it was a valid question for a super-big spy agency charged with protecting the world to have. Heck. He’d have lost all respect for them if they hadn’t had contingency plans in affect for all the big players that were currently on the side of good. The problem was they didn’t have – not for all the big players. Tony had looked. The only ‘hero’ they had a contingency plan for was him. So what? Did Nick think that none of the others were capable of changing sides – only Tony? Or was it that Nick believed Tony would inevitably change sides and he had to be ready? What was up with that???

It hurt. It really did. He knew he wasn’t always the most responsible – but with the important things? He was…responsible. He was very responsible when it mattered... for the most part…and even if he wasn’t, that didn’t necessarily mean he was going to completely flip and become Mechanotron or the Scarlet Tinker! And thank you super-villain name generator for those wonderful monikers. He’d take HIMSELF down, if he ever started calling himself King Droid….

Well…if Fury wanted to make certain S.H.I.E.L.D. was ready and able to cope, should Iron Man ever turn evil – then Tony would just have to give him the opportunity to find out. In four days, the Avengers were meant to rendezvous at a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. training facility in the Black Rock Desert (which of course Tony knew the existence and location of). Fury had plans for a facility wide paint-ball fight and wanted the Avengers to join in so that the agents could get a bit of practice working with (or in some cases, going against) people with superhuman capabilities. Tony would just give old Nicky a ‘bit more’ than he planned for.

Sitting up straight and putting the empty shot glass next to the empty bourbon bottle, Tony clapped his hands together loudly. “JARVIS? I need the following to happen….”

# # #

He had taken care of everything he needed to arrange within two days, finishing last touches and returning to the tower just before his teammates would return and be around to notice his activity. On the third day he began to act on his plans for his team. Bruce was the first to fall prey to his ingenious plan. It had been easier than it should have been, really.

“Hey, Brucie! I need a favor…” he’d walked into Bruce’s lab all smiles and quivering anticipation. Bruce couldn’t help but smile back- he looked like an over-eager puppy.

The older scientist sighed softly. “And just what can I help you with?” he asked calmly – only the glimmer in his eye betraying his amusement at his friend’s antics. “I’d really like to finish running these tests before we have to go to that exercise tomorrow. If I don’t get them done before then, I’ll have to start over again from scratch…”

Tony bit his lip hesitantly. Experiments were important and he hated to make Bruce have to start over – essentially making all the time he’d already spent a waste. But he couldn’t carry out his plans if he hadn’t taken Bruce into account…. Huffing slightly, he grinned again but a bit more subdued. Bruce would forgive him. He’d help him redo everything if necessary….

“I promised Fury I’d check out some of the areas where the exercise is to be taking place – make sure the ‘traps’ and what have you are ready for the newbie agents to learn and stuff. I’ve finished all but one of them, but I seem to be having some difficulty getting it set up and thought maybe an extra pair of eyes would help me see what I was doing wrong…. It won’t take long. It’ll probably take longer to fly out there and back than it will to actually fix the thing….”

Bruce frowned. Something about the whole situation seemed off, but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was wrong. He leaned back to stretch his back, causing his vertebrae to pop in several places. Huh. “I guess I could use a break,” he finally answered. “If you think you can have me back here within the next three hours, I’ll help you out.”

“Yeah…sure, I’m planning to take one of my newer jets that goes faster than the normal ones – we can be there and back in that amount of time easy.” Tony waved his hand in a ‘don’t worry about it’ manner, still grinning.

Bruce wrinkled his nose and looked at his friend again, not missing how Tony fidgeted under his stare. But he didn’t comment on it, instead motioning forward. “After you then…”

# # #

He hadn’t commented when Tony had taken them to the training facility – empty except for a few guards. He hadn’t commented when Tony made a point to avoid said guards and took them in through a back way that kept them from running into anyone at all – after he’d had JARVIS scramble the security systems so that they wouldn’t be seen. He wished he had commented when, after Tony led him into a rather nice sized room with a bed, toilet, sink, and mini-fridge, his friend had immediately turned around and left the room-and promptly sealed the door, locking it from the outside so that Bruce couldn’t get out.

“Tony! What…?” Bruce barked out in surprise, a slight green tinge forming in his eyes.

Tony’s eyes widened at the sight and he quickly held both hands up in a placating manner. “No…Brucie. Calm down. It’s ok! There is food and water and I left you some of your favorite books to read – and you’ll only be here until the exercises are complete! And I know this will mess up your experiment and I’m really sorry about that but I couldn’t do what I need to do tomorrow if I didn’t have you safely out of the way…and…” Tony’s voice trailed off, seeing that Bruce wasn’t really calming down the way he’d hoped. Maybe if he got out of the other man’s sight, he’d be able to get control over himself. “Don’t worry about if you hulk out because of being mad at me. This is a hulk-proof room. I made sure of it. And I put extra clothes in that trunk over there. Along with a file that explains why I’m doing what I’m doing. I’ll…uh…talk to you later then.”

Tony wasn’t too proud to admit he nearly ran away from what had become his science-bro’s cell.

# # #

He didn’t bother flying back to the tower just yet. Instead, he went back to his jet and made a quick phone call.

“Hello, Jane? ... May I speak with Thor? It’s important.” Tony spoke in his best, I don’t want to panic you but you really should be panicking voice…the one he tended to use with Pepper whenever he’d done some bone-headed stunt that he needed her help with but didn’t want to admit he was in over his head. Jane immediately gave the phone to Thor.

“Friend Tony,” Thor’s booming voice could have been right next to him, it carried through the phone so easily. “What do you wish to speak to me about?” Thor asked with curiosity heavy in his tone.

Tony smiled. This was going a lot easier than he’d thought it would. “Thor… I need your help with Bruce. We came out to the facility where the exercises are to be held tomorrow – to fix something that Fury needed my help with. And well… something happened and next thing I know the Big Guy has come out to play. And since I was in the room when whatever happened – happened – he seems to have decided that I had something to do with it, so I’m not able to calm him down. I was hoping you could come over…get our good doctor back into his normal calm self. But I don’t want Fury to find out about it, so you’ll need to meet me at my jet and sneak in with me. Bruce gets looked at with enough distrust. I don’t want him to have to get a lecture or looked at funny because of this. Especially when Hulk hasn’t caused any damage yet….”

“I will be there shortly, Man of Iron. You are a good friend to worry about your brother of science in such a way.” Thor stated solemnly before disconnecting the call.

Tony winced. Well didn’t that just make him feel all of two feet tall?

# # #

As promised, Thor had arrived within 30 minutes of the phone call. And they had snuck in – just as he had snuck in with Bruce an hour before. He’d led Thor into a room exactly like Bruce’s – right next to Bruce’s in fact – and had done the exact same thing…turning and quickly leaving the room and locking Thor inside of it. Thor stared at him like a kicked puppy whose beloved master had turned on him. “I do not understand…why would you do this to us – your brothers in battle? Why would you turn against us?” Thor’s voice was amazingly soft and quiet – which made the raw hurt in his tone that more noticeable. Tony winced, not wanting to think about what comparisons the Asgardian might be making that would cause him to think the worst and be so hurt by it.

“Um…” Tony fidgeted under the Thunderer’s stare. “There are extra clothes and books in that trunk. And…if you push that button on the wall over there, it will open up an intercom so that you can talk with Bruce. And…if you don’t want to read the file that is in the trunk that explains what I’m doing, then I’m sure he can just explain it to you. Since I’m sure he’s read the file I left him…so…um.” Tony finally looked away, feeling the slight twinges of guilt he’d experienced at deceiving Bruce grow to more than just slight twinges. He’d just lied to two of his team mates. It wasn’t something he normally did – lying – he was more the type to just avoid giving information at all, or hide things…not outright lying.

He swallowed then lifted a hand in a half-hearted wave at Thor. He wanted to explain and reassure Thor that it wasn’t as bad as he was assuming – but Bruce was standing at the door looking at him with irritation and developing a green tinge again (had he not read the file yet?) and there really wasn’t time if he wanted to get the rest of his team out of the way. Tony huffed slightly and started talking quickly. “You’ll be let go as soon as the exercises are concluded…” he turned and left.

The flight back was a lot quieter than he was happy with.

# # #

He’d had to change his plans for Nat, Clint, and Steve.

Originally, he’d planned to slip Nat a sleeping pill in some coffee that he had made for her; set up a sparring session with Clint and then use a tranquilizer on him; and then somehow trick Steve into ‘trying on’ one of his suits and then once he was in it, have JARVIS take control so that the super-soldier couldn’t move by his own free will.

Unfortunately, when he’d arrived back at the tower, all three of them had gotten back from their original activities ahead of him and were all three in the sparring range. Nat wouldn’t be quitting for a coffee any time soon. Clint was already sparring – but shooting him with a tranquilizer was out of the question with both Nat and Cap there to stop him. And Cap knew he wasn’t in his lab when he got home so telling him that he’d just done something to his armor and needed Steve to test it out for him wouldn’t hold water.

Frowning slightly, he fingered the device he’d palmed in his hand then reached up to make certain the ear plugs were securely in. One good thing had come from Obadiah Stane using the paralyzing device on him when he’d stolen the original arc reactor from his chest. It had gotten Tony’s interest in the device rekindled. After months of tweaking and testing, SI’s R&D had finally perfected the device so that it would paralyze – but not cause unholy pain in the recipient. It was actually less painful than a taser. He would use it and cause Nat and Clint to become paralyzed long enough for JARVIS to wrap them up in two of his newly rebuilt suits. IF he was lucky, Cap would also become paralyzed long enough for JARVIS to get a suit on him. If he wasn’t lucky….He stuck a tranquilizer into his pocket – just in case – at the last minute.

# # #

Tony grunted, carefully rolling out from under his now sleeping team-leader. He wiped a hand over his face, slumping slightly in weariness. “OK, JARVIS. Put the last suit on him, please….”

“Very well, sir. You may need to arrange him for the armor to seal correctly. He wasn’t incapacitated standing up, as the others were.” The AI’s voice was calm and clear…and Tony could swear he heard an undertone of disapproval.

“None of that, J!” Tony griped. “I know it’s not ideal – but I can’t have them helping Fury tomorrow when I enact my plan. They’ll understand.”

“If you say so, sir,” the AI’s tone was droll. Tony wrinkled his nose in irritation at the almost mocking disbelief he heard, but didn’t say anything. Instead he pulled Steve up, groaning slightly as the larger man’s weight sided with gravity and fought against his efforts. It was much easier once JARVIS had directed the armor around the super-soldier- the super computer taking control and making certain that the suit kept the Captain upright.

Satisfied that all three were secure in Iron Man suits, Tony called his own suit to him. “Alright…You know the plan J. Keep us off of all radar. We’re flying into the facility in the suits this time. You’ll need to scramble their security long enough for me to get all three into their cells. I had hoped to be able to use these three suits in my ‘attack’ tomorrow but I don’t particularly want to be taken down before I can get out the door and if I wait for the suits to disengage and fly out with me, I will be taken down. No doubt about it.”

“I remember sir. I will not disengage the armor until you are out of the cells and they have all three of your team mates have been locked safely away where they can not throttle you,” the AI intoned.

Tony frowned and looked up at the ceiling suspiciously. “Are you mocking me J? Don’t mock me. You know widow could kill me with a piece of rice if she wanted. Clint would probably kill me in a more painful way. And Cap wouldn’t kill me – but I’d probably wish I was dead by the time he was done. Locking them up before removing the armor is a smart move, not worthy of mockery. It really is.” The genius nodded his head emphatically before pulling his faceplate down.

“If you say so sir….”

“Still mocking me, J!” Tony sing-songed before starting his thrusters and lifting off the ground to begin the flight to the facility - his three suit-bound teammates following behind him, courtesy of JARVIS.

# # #

And yet again, it had gone exactly to plan. Security hadn’t picked up anything of what they were doing. They’d managed to avoid every guard in the facility. The suits imprisoning Nat, Clint, and Steve were standing at attention in each of the cells he’d directed them to, and the doors had been sealed shut so that they were secure and unable to stop him. Tony would probably need to talk with Fury about his security measures and how to improve them – after the exercises were concluded that is.

Tony stood in the aisle and looked at all his friends. Clint and Nat were in two cells next to each other. Thor and Bruce were across the aisle from them in two cells next to each other. Steve was at the end of the aisle. The cells formed a sort of U-shape that would allow all the team members to see and talk to each other – once Tony turned the switch so that the wall would become clear as glass. “Remove the suits, J…and let them see each other.” Tony whispered, feeling uncertain about his actions for the first time since he’d begun planning.

Bruce and Thor blinked as they were suddenly able to see through what had seemed like a solid wall. They nodded at each other then turned to watch Tony, the frowns on both their faces stern and unyielding. Tony wasn’t sure if the looks of disapproval Bruce and Thor were giving him were worse – or if the glares Nat and Clint were giving him were worse. Neither of the assassins said anything, leaving the inventor to squirm – uncertain if he should explain himself or not. The looks on their faces promised painful retribution and he finally decided words wouldn’t save him and might make things worse, so he swallowed hard and kept quiet. Instead he turned to look at Steve.

His throat closed up and his mouth went dry. No. Steve’s look was definitely the worst. It was a combination of stern disapproval and severe disappointment. And the man had raised his eyebrow in that manner that Tony had seen only one other person use – ever. The raised eyebrow that told Tony without words that he’d just made a horrendous mistake and he’d be paying for it deeply. Tony swallowed hard again. “Uh… I haven’t seen that look in thirty years. How’d you learn that look?” he blurted out his eyes widening as he found his mouth working without his brain’s permission.

Steve’s eyes crinkled in confusion. “What look?” his voice radiated the disapproval and disappointment and…yes. He even had the voice tone that went with the eyebrow.

Tony shook his head – feeling slightly faint – and giggled nervously as he thought about the horrifying fact that “Did you teach my father that eyebrow trick???” He snapped his mouth shut and turned pink as he realized that he had giggled the question out. Lord help him, he needed to get out of here. Between Nat and Clint’s glares of doom, Thor’s kicked puppy look, Bruce’s stare that indicated he thought Tony was being an idiot, and Steve… looking exactly like Howard had when Tony had thrown a party for all his MIT classmates and his father had visited unexpectedly, catching him with a beer in one hand and his tongue down the throat of a pretty blonde co-ed. (It was the first time his classmates had ignored the fact that he was only 15 years old. He still maintains that he did nothing truly wrong.) It was too much. He had to get out before he let them all loose and gave up his plan to teach Fury a lesson.

Closing his eyes tightly so that he wouldn’t have to see any of his team staring at him; ignoring the sudden cacophony as all of them tried to argue him into not doing whatever foolish idea he had planned – and a “Don’t be an idiot, Tony!” courtesy of Bruce; Tony blurted out the pertinent information to his newest captives. “Everyone has a change of clothes. Food and water are in the min-fridges… books and stuff are in the trunks…explanations are in the file in the trunk. I…uh…I’ll see you after the exercises tomorrow.” He then turned and forced himself to walk away – he wanted to run again.

He also wanted to turn around and let them out. He clenched his fists and kept walking. He didn’t like second guessing himself but that’s what he was doing right this moment. He had already pissed them off royally and likely earned himself a plethora of pain as they all ‘got even’ with him at a later date…he may as well make it worth his while and finish what he started.

Soon he was far enough away from the facility to take off and fly home back to the tower. He landed on his balcony and walked quickly into the main area, his armor being removed as he went. He rubbed a hand over his face wearily. “Keep an eye on things J. If something happens and they are needed…or they become endangered…let them out. Otherwise, proceed with our original plan.” Tony’s voice was subdued.

“Understood sir…. Try and get some sleep. It would be most unfortunate for you to lose at this contest after all the effort you have taken.” JARVIS intoned calmly.

“Yeah. Okay.” Tony sighed softly heading to his bedroom. He was going to stick it to Fury. Then all of this mess would be worth it.

# # #

Bruce had read the file shortly after Tony had brought Thor in. He’d spent the time before Thor’s arrival trying to calm down enough that he wouldn’t Hulk out. After Tony had left the second time, Thor and he had read the file together. He understood why Tony felt the need to do something – prove something – but his friend was going about things entirely the wrong way. After Tony left the third time, and Nat, Clint, and Steve explained just what Tony had done to them to capture them – he was positive that Tony was out of control and that only bad things could happen from the actions his friend was taking. Unfortunately, Tony had locked them all away where they couldn’t reason with him. He’d effectively cut himself off from his team. He growled softly to himself, causing all the other Avengers to look up from reading the files they had been left.

It was Steve that spoke for all of them. “I know this is not ideal. He’s decided to handle things all on his own – again.” They all frowned remembering how they had felt when they’d seen Tony threaten the Mandarin on the news and give his address out. They had all been too far away and on their own missions and by the time they’d been freed up to go and knock some sense into their mouthy team mate, the Malibu residence had been reduced to rubble and Tony had been presumed dead. It had been a very rough time between watching the explosion on the news and Iron Man turning up again to rescue the president.

Steve sighed softly and ran a hand through his hair. “This time, he’s not going to be allowed to get away with it. We’ll find a way out of these cells…since apparently we’re supposed to be against him in this exercise, we’ll stop him… and then when everything is all over… we’ll take him home and address his behavior. He’s going to know – in no uncertain terms – that he’s not allowed to take care of things without at least informing his team and giving them a chance to help. Not for any reason. Not ever again.” He looked around at his team mates and noted they were all nodding at him in agreement – and calming down now that they had a set plan of action. He smiled slightly. “First action – figure out how to get out of these cells….”

# # #

The next morning came way too quickly for Tony’s comfort, but he was up and ready to go immediately. He flew his jet back to the facility, choosing to keep his Iron Man costume in the suitcase he carried with him. It would give him an excuse to carry the suitcase into the meeting room where the Avengers were supposed to meet Fury in order to receive their orders for the day. He’d already outfitted this particular Iron Man suit with paint guns – he left an unaltered extra back up suit on the jet. If something went wrong and the Avengers were actually needed, JARVIS would let his team mates loose and the suit would fly to him wherever he was located.

When he walked into the meeting room – which was on the fifth floor, facing out toward a small track that was between the two main buildings – he allowed himself to walk in with a swagger. “Hey Cyclops! So nice of you to drag everyone out on this beautiful day to shoot art supplies at each other!” Tony made certain to make his voice as snarky and obnoxious as possible – he really wasn’t happy with Fury at the moment. He turned his head and took in the presence of Phil and five other people who he only recognized through the files he’d had JARVIS hack for him. “Hello, Agent. You in for the fun too?” He kept his voice neutral. He wasn’t mad at Phil but he didn’t know how much of Fury’s plans the man knew about either…so. He turned back toward Fury, who was looking toward the door expectantly.

“Nice of you to join us on time for once, Stark. I assume your team is going to be arriving shortly?” Fury asked, managing to keep his temper despite Tony’s disrespect.

“Nah…they can’t make it at all, actually.” Tony smiled innocently. Before Fury could ask – only as Fury could – what Tony was talking about, Tony continued. “See. A little birdy told me … and by little birdy I mean me and my awesome skills of detection … that today’s exercise would be one where it would be SHIELD and Avengers vs. one lone Rogue Avenger. Because you wanted everyone to have some small clue on what to do in case one of us went all Evil-Villain on you. And this little birdy also pointed out that the only Avenger you really have any plans on how to stop if they go bad, is me … and I can’t believe you named Evil-Me ‘the Vermillion Menace’ - although that has a better ring to it than some of the names you could have chosen, I’ll admit … which indicates that when you think of possible Avenger defections to the dark side, I’m the one you think most likely to become Darth Vader … which I’m not sure if I should be flattered that you fear my brain so much that you’d actually make a contingency plan in case I flipped – or insulted that you think I’m the only one disloyal enough to even think about flipping … but either way, that one little file told me that more than likely I would be playing the villain in today’s little exercise. If you don’t smarten up and admit that me being the bad guy in today’s little exercise is a really, really, bad idea that is.” Tony smiled brightly and batted his eyelashes at Fury. Who knew the man could turn that interesting shade of purple.

“Where is your team, Stark?” the director almost growled.

“They’re safely hidden away where they can’t help you take me out, should you decide this is really necessary.” Tony admitted calmly. “Pre-emptive measures, you know? Cuz if I really was going to turn coat, they’d be the first ones I’d have to get out of the way.”

Fury slanted his head considering, then gave Tony a shark’s smile. “You didn’t hit them with red or gold paint, did you?”

Tony gave a predatory grin back. “No.”

“So they are technically still ‘alive’ and able to take you out – if we find them and free them from wherever you stuck them?” Tony wasn’t sure he liked the smug tone Fury spoke in, but nodded briskly in answer.

“Yeah…. Guess so…. It could be a problem for me – if you find them.” He admitted this glibly and tried to act like it wasn’t a big deal.

“You should have taken them completely out. A real villain would have…”Fury admonished with an almost warm tone in his voice. Tony flinched then grimaced irritably not wanting Fury to start down that path of questioning.

“Are we going to do this or not?” Tony spat out, finally letting his frustration and anger at what he’d found leak through in his voice.

Phil, who had been watching the exchange quietly, quickly spoke up. “I’m not so sure this is a good idea sir. Perhaps we can just split everyone up into two even teams like would normally be done? Have him go get the rest of his team and not make this so…personal.” He spoke calmly in that bland way that Tony hadn’t realized he’d missed until it was no longer there.

“No. No. Mr. Stark has gone to all this trouble to make sure the best means of stopping him has been removed from the game – before the game has even begun. Let’s see what else is up his sleeve…” Fury’s shark grin was back again.

“Fine,” Tony was abrupt. “You win if you capture me and/or hit me with a ‘lethal’ shot from your blue or silver paint. How do I know when I’ve won?”

Fury’s grin was not nice. “I’ve hidden a flag of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, on this base. You will find this flag and bring it back to this room and hang it in the window.”

Tony chuckled. He’d already found the flag, but left it where it was since he wasn’t sure if it was going to be used or not and didn’t want to tip his hand. It wouldn’t take long to go get it and bring it back. But that wasn’t the point of this whole event. He wanted to make Fury regret having that file. So he pretended he didn’t have any clue where the flag was. Smiling faintly, he responded to Fury. “Me thinks my winning is going to be a lot more difficult than you winning. Looking forward to it.” With that he opened his suitcase and snapped on the bracelets that would allow him to call his suit to him.

Within seconds his armor had surrounded him. He quickly spun on his heel, raised both palms up and shot paint while throwing himself backward out of the window – all at the same time. Fury’s cussing was music to his ears.

Fury rushed to the now broken window and looked out – holding his own paint gun, but Iron Man was already out of sight. “Damn it!” he turned to face the group of agents that was standing in shock, looking at their colleagues who were covered in red paint. The suitcase made an odd crackling noise.

“Well, by now I have either taken Phil out – which was my intention … first thing to do when engaging an enemy is to blind them, after all, and we know Phil’s your good eye … or someone on his team sacrificed themselves to keep him in the game. I suspect that is what happened. So which one of you gets to sit on the side-lines? Agent Ward? Agent May?” the group looked at the two in question, noting the big red blotch smack in the middle of both May and Ward’s chests. Stark had fired from both palms. May rolled her eyes in frustration while Ward just looked very sheepish.

“Never mind…I’ll get the rest of you soon enough.” The crackling ended and Tony’s obnoxious gloating cut off.

Growling, Fury walked over to the intercom and pushed the button to make his announcement. “Attention S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The drill has commenced. I repeat the drill has commenced. You all have your weapons filled with the appropriate paint pellets. Your target is Iron Man! Bring that muther down!”

# # #

Back in the hidden cells, the rest of the Avengers stared at each other. Tony had made certain that their intercoms would play whatever was said over his radio or through the facility intercoms. He’d also made it so that apparently (at least in the meeting room) some rooms had microphones that would pick up conversations and transmit those as well. They’d heard the entire exchange between Tony and Nick. Steve frowned.

“He tried to shoot Phil with the paint gun. Did anyone else notice the slight catch in his voice when he admitted that?” the super-soldier asked curiously, uncertain if he was hearing things that were actually there or if he was just hearing what he wanted to hear.

Natasha sighed. “I heard it too. He didn’t like shooting at Phil, but the game is on and he wants to win.”

“Which begs the question – why didn’t he shoot us with the red paint and take us out of the game? Why leave us locked up in cells, pissed off at him for tricking us and ‘kidnapping’ us last night, but still able to play the game and take him out if someone finds us?” Clint pondered.

“Because he couldn’t bring himself to kill us – fake or otherwise,” Bruce rumbled. “This whole thing….Tony isn’t a bad guy. He’s done some pretty questionable things due to ignorance and trusting the wrong people. And he’s done some rather horrible things in defense of himself and others who couldn’t defend themselves. He’s feeling hurt and misunderstood because of this damn file, but he isn’t a bad guy. I guess even fake ‘killing’ us was something he couldn’t imagine doing.”

Thor grimaced. “I would be more sympathetic to our friend Tony, had he not lied to us and used other dishonorable tactics to get us out of his game.”

“I hear that,” Clint muttered.

Steve smiled slightly. “We can be sympathetic. Doesn’t mean he’s going to get away with it. We each have a bone to pick with our misguided friend. I suggest you think of what you are going to require him to do for his actions.”

“Oh. I already know what I’m going to do...” Natasha said ominously. Thor’s sympathy for Tony grew just a bit.

# # #

Tony had to admit he had a slight advantage that Fury had neglected to take into account. Or maybe Fury had taken it into account – but there was little that could be done to stop Tony from hacking into systems, especially when JARVIS was doing the hacking. Tony would have been more apprehensive about hacking into the system and causing things to ‘malfunction’ if he hadn’t been aware of the fact that the facilities computer systems were completely separate and in no way connectable to the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. Causing mayhem in the computers wouldn’t put the entirety of S.H.I.E.L.D. at risk – but it would make things more interesting and fun for Tony.

One of the first things he had done when making his plans and getting ready, was to sabotage the computer room. When the techies who were taking part in the exercises showed up in their assigned room to do their assigned roles (Fury was adamant that everyone practice what they would do in case something occurred – not just agents that would be on the ground fighting), they all gathered around their computers and booted up. When Fury’s announcement to begin came over the loudspeaker, they began their scans of the security footage trying to catch a glimpse of the Iron Man so they could give the information to agents that might be near to him.

None of the agents manning the computers noticed the extra blinking red light on each of their monitors. No one was ready for what occurred five minutes after they began their search. The microphones Tony had planted in the room, broadcast the events quite clearly toward all participants plus the Avengers. The panicked screams, then moans caused everyone not in the computer room to stop in shock then run toward where the chaos had originated. Fury had to wade through a rather large group of curious onlookers to get inside the room to see what had been done. He barked out furiously to those just standing around, “We are still in an exercise agents! I suggest you get your asses in gear before he finds a way to take you out – or I take you out myself from sheer irritation!” The lingering agents who weren’t covered in red quickly ran off to keep looking for their opponent. Fury glanced into the room.

The moaning – which closer listening had actually been whining at having been taken out of the game so early – had died down by this point. All the computer tech agents had been covered in an ‘explosion’ of red and gold paint. The equipment was covered in the paint too (and wasn’t Stark lucky that it was a water based paint that was easy to wash off, or he’d be replacing all these computer components). All the techs were out of the game – and since the computers were covered in the paint as well, it could only be assumed that they had been ‘destroyed’ and therefore would not be able to be used. A quick check with other agents in other areas of the facility proved that every computer in the facility had been set to ‘explode’ and if there had been anyone actively working at the computer at the time of the explosion, they were taken out along with the technology.

Fury shook his head, his eye twitching, as Phil and his three agents that hadn’t been taken out walked up. “We no longer have computer systems that we can use. He ‘blew’ each and every one of them ‘up’,” he groused and stepped out of the way as Phil gave directions on where the ‘killed’ computer techs were to go wait out the rest of the game. “Not just in this room, but in all other rooms where we had a computer.”

Phil frowned. “So we’re going in low-tech without a lot of support?”

“Exactly,” Fury gritted out between clenched teeth. “This is just the sort of thing that agents like Romanov and Barton would normally handle – or May and Ward. Since he’s already ‘killed’ May and Ward, and we have yet to find the rest of the Avengers – we’re at a disadvantage.”

“Um…maybe not.” Skye hesitantly broke in, semi-hiding behind Coulson when Fury’s gaze landed on her, because seriously? Angry one-eyed dude was scary.

Phil gave her a slightly amused but still encouraging smile. “Maybe not?” he prodded calmly.

Skye looked at Coulson and nodded hesitantly before holding up her laptop bag. “He didn’t get my laptop – and as long as he didn’t ‘blow up’ the servers…I might still be able to use it to locate the other Avengers…or figure out where he is hiding…whichever you want…” she bit her lip as she waited for a response.

Fury eyed the younger girl speculatively before nodding. “Find the other Avengers. When you do – see if you are able to release them remotely. If you are not, then give their location to Coulson and he will forward it to everyone who needs to know.” His order was brusque, but everyone present could hear the undertone of approval. Skye grinned brightly.

Coulson gently took her arm and pulled her into the paint covered computer room. “We should be safe enough in here. He should have no reason to come revisit the scene of previous carnage,” the agent chuckled in dark amusement. Skye wrinkled her nose but didn’t say anything, choosing instead to get out her laptop and begin the slow process of trying to hack into the facility servers without letting the other hacker notice her.

# # #

Tony had to admit – as irritated as this whole situation had made him, he was still having fun. Nearly immediately after taking out Fury’s computer techs and equipment, JARVIS had taken control of the facility’s controls. Tony had the AI begin locking doors. This had two effects. The first effect was that those who were inside the rooms where the doors were locked were unable to get out of said rooms to go hunt down Tony…leaving him with less opponents. The second effect was that those who were not in rooms before doors started being locked found themselves being ‘herded’ in the direction Tony wanted them to go.

That direction ended up being a small courtyard where – on normal days – agents would go to have lunch. This small courtyard left all the agents who entered into it, sitting ducks – especially when Tony had JARVIS lock the door back into the building and the only options left were to run around the building and try to find an open door to get back inside to cover or to be hit by blasts of paint from above as Iron Man soared overhead. It really wasn’t a fair fight.

“So…that takes care of twenty more J.” Tony drawled to his AI. “How many people were on hand for this exercise?”

“Fifty sir…We have eliminated thirty-two of those fifty. Thirteen have been locked into various rooms in the facility. There are still five agents that were not locked into a room and who have not been eliminated yet.” The AI gave the pertinent information but didn’t volunteer anything.

“If I didn’t know better J., I’d think you wanted me to lose…” Tony teased lightly before asking, “I’m assuming you aren’t including my team in the group of fifty?”

“That is correct sir,” JARVIS answered. “The five remaining are Director Fury, Agent Coulson, Agent Skye, Agent Fitz, and Agent Simmons. Agent Skye is currently hacking her way through the server and has managed to override my directives. Your team has been released.”

Tony’s eyes widened at the news. “And you couldn’t have told me this sooner??!” he yelped as he involuntarily looked in the direction where he’d hidden his teammates.

“You did not ask sir.” JARVIS sounded amused. “You also did not ask if she was attempting to override my controls and take over my functions in controlling your suit. But I’ll tell you that she is anyway.”

“Shit!” Tony immediately dropped toward the ground, just in case. “JARVIS… I need you to initiate Code Orange, immediately.” Landing on the ground, Tony quickly removed the armor then had JARVIS reassemble it. He left a surprise hidden behind the faceplate.

“Very well sir. I’ll speak with you again at the end of the games.” JARVIS sounded entirely too chipper considering he was about to ‘withdraw’ his control and leave Tony to his own devices for the remainder of the exercise. Of course, the AI hadn’t hidden his disapproval of what Tony was doing since the whole thing started, so that probably had a lot to do with it. If he hadn’t planned for someone to attempt to hack into JARVIS and take over control of his suit, he would have been very upset.

As it was, he had planned for such an eventuality- and had actually left a back door into the suit controls for someone to do just that. With any luck, he’d get all five of the remaining participants. He was running off toward where the flag was hidden as the suit rose off the ground and began flying back to where Tony could only assume Fury and the mysterious ‘hacker’ (probably Skye) resided.

# # #

“I found them…” Skye almost whispered to Coulson, she was so nervous.

Coulson smiled faintly. “Good girl. Can you release them from here, or do we need to release them in person?”

Skye wrinkled her nose then grinned brightly. “I can’t, but I just sent Fitz and Simmons their location and they are on their way. Hopefully soon, five Avengers will be on their way to stop their naughty team mate.” She laughed at the expression on Coulson’s face. “What? He hasn’t really gone darkside so I can’t very well call him evil….”

Coulson ignored the comment and instead asked, “Do you think you could take control of his suit? I know JARVIS sometimes flies it for him – if you take control of JARVIS….”

“We can control the suit and then he’ll be ours!” Skye finished the thought. “I think I can, but…”

Fury’s voice broke through on the intercom. “Change of location. If you can gain control of the suit, do so…but do it from the meeting room. I am waiting for you there. If you can’t control it, there aren’t enough of us left and he’ll be going for the flag soon. We need to guard the window.”

Skye wrinkled her nose and looked a bit perturbed that Fury apparently could hear everything that was being said in the building, even when they weren’t actually talking into headsets. She surreptitiously began looking around to find the hidden bug, mumbling under her breath about super spies, spying on conversations super secretively. Coulson stopped her with a hand on her shoulder and a raised eyebrow.

“Understood…we will meet you at the – meeting room – in approximately ten minutes.” Coulson replied while motioning Skye to gather her items together. She quickly did so while attempting not to lose her connection – still mumbling under her breath.

Putting a steadying hand on her shoulder and giving her an amused look, Coulson directed her out the door and back up to the meeting room. “I’ve already told Fitz and Simmons to lead the other Avengers to the meeting room,” he continued speaking with Fury. “They should be there not long after us.”

# # #

Tony grimaced as he slunk around the corner carefully making his way to the stairwell that he needed to take up to the meeting room where he would hang the flag. ‘JARVIS couldn’t have given me a heads up a few minutes earlier…oh no, he grumbled in his head.’ Because he’d found out about his team mates release on the back-side of them actually being released, he was now reduced to the pace of a snail – or at least that is what it felt like to him – as he attempted to NOT run into any of the other Avengers while still making it up the stairs.

He’d barely stopped himself from walking out in front of them when he was still outside, catching himself just as he was about to turn the corner. They were going into the building. He’d heard Cap telling the others that they were to head up to the meeting room and wait with Fury. Tony had debated calling one of the suits that he’d left in the cells with his teammates, but feared that his team would somehow notice (and that was assuming they hadn’t found a way to make it impossible for the suit to come to him). Luckily the majority of players had been taken out within a few minutes by either computer ‘explosion’ or being locked away (and he’d insured they’d be taken out by a light mist of paint- just in case they figured out how to get out of the rooms), so he didn’t have to worry about running into anyone else.

His biggest problem was – he really didn’t want to be doing this. And he really didn’t want to win. Not truly. He’d had a bit of time to think while skulking around trying to avoid his team mates and he realized – proving that he could actually take out S.H.I.E.L.D. wasn’t really a very good way to convince them that he’d never do it. Bruce was right. He was behaving like an idiot. Even so, it didn’t feel right to just waltz in and turn his self in. The best thing to do would be to be captured. Or win in a completely idiotic way that Fury wouldn’t give credence as being a legitimate effort. May as well end as he began – behaving foolishly.

# # #

When Fitz and Simmons finally made it back upstairs to where Fury, Coulson, and Skye waited – the other Avengers surrounding them in a protective wedge – Skye was directing the Iron Man suit up to the broken window so they could bring it inside.

“So you caught him?” Gemma asked brightly, going to stand next to her team mate and friend.

“I took control of the suit – so yeah. I guess we caught him…” Skye bit her lip as she carefully hovered Iron Man in front of the window.

Steve and Bruce especially, but all of the Avengers had thoughtful, suspicious looks on their faces. Skye ignored the looks and focused on bringing the man inside the building so he wasn’t hanging five stories in the air. All of a sudden the suit made a funny spluttery noise, then the repulsors revved loudly.

“No…wait…!” Skye exclaimed in horror as suddenly the suit flew through the window at a rapid speed and hurled into the opposite wall – which was made of concrete. Iron Man fell to the ground in a jumble of crooked limbs.

“Oh crap….” Skye whimpered even as Simmons ran over to the now limp Iron Man. Fitz and Skye were quickly beside her.

“Help me get the faceplate off – I can’t tell if he’s awake or unconscious or breathing or…” Gemma whispered frantically. Fitz quickly moved to do as she asked, as both she and Skye leaned over prepared to give first aid.

“I don’t think that’s a good…” was all Widow managed to get out before there was a loud pop. Fitz, Simmons, and Skye looked at each other in consternation – red paint dripping off of their faces and onto the floor next to the, now obviously empty, suit.

“Ooops?” Skye said hesitantly before she began to giggle loudly.

Simmons couldn’t help but start laughing herself. “S..St..Stop laughing. It isn’t funny!” she pouted, then started laughing again.

Fitz grimaced. “Since we will not be allowed to try and stop him from hanging the flag, where do you want us to wait?” he asked with a sigh, then quietly grabbed Skye and Gemma by the arms and led them over to the corner Fury wordlessly pointed at.

# # #

Doing this without a suit had to be one of the more stupid stunts he’d done in a long time. And he’d done a whole lot of stupid in his life – he knew…Pepper had a list...that she shared and compared with Bruce and Steve’s lists. Huh…he paused for a moment thinking on that, then shook his head.

Double checking the rope – and yes it was rope…he hadn’t had time to go looking for rigging – he took a deep breath and slid over the ledge, slowly sliding down the rope with the flag gripped in his teeth. He stopped toward the top edge of the window where he was able to look in and see his team mates and still have wall to attach the flag to. His wish that everyone in the room would be watching the door – since he was not in his suit and they’d be able to hear if he had another suit – was granted. At least it was until the sun managed to shine just right and fling his shadow onto the opposite wall next to the door.

Before he could try and shimmy back up the rope – or just slide down the rest of the way – they all turned and stared at him. He stared back, eyes comically wide.

Then of course everything went wrong.

A big gust of wind caught him and slammed him into the side of the building causing him to drop several feet rapidly before he was able to firm his grip. “Damn!” he gasped out as the rope cut into his hands. Yeah. This definitely was one of his more foolish stunts. He had managed to crawl back up two of the feet he’d fallen when the wind caught him again, this time slamming him into the broken window. Broken glass sliced against the inventor making it difficult to keep his grip – though he tried. When it became obvious he wasn’t going to be able to, he attempted to swing himself forward and back into the window.

He didn’t quite make it.

Steve did.

Tony winced as his arms were caught in a punishing grip and then he was bodily drug back through the window and into safety. “Well…not quite the entrance I was hoping for…” he finally croaked out, trying but failing to hide his pain.

“Do you have a death wish?” a hoarse voice carried through the room. It took Tony a few seconds to realize it was Bruce talking to him. The scientist was taking deep breaths and struggling to control himself if the green tinge to his skin was anything to go by.

Embarrassed and ashamed at the looks of fear that he’d put onto his team mates faces, Tony reacted as he always did when uncomfortable; he answered flippantly. “You know, as many times as I’ve been asked that, I’ve never been able to come up with a good answer….” His voice trailed off as he noticed the fear in everyone’s eyes turning to discomfort (those who didn’t know him) or anger (his team, Coulson, and Fury).

“Hey, I’m alright! And…you all won! So good news all around, I guess?” His voice was less flippant and a lot more uncertain that time – some would even say he sounded nervous.

Fury snorted, the gleam in his eye the only thing that showed his relief. “Yeah. S.H.I.E.L.D. won. I’ll let all the agents know…and schedule training for each and every last one of them….” He grumbled as he headed toward the door. “Take your team home captain and make certain Stark gets looked at instead of trying to act like he wasn’t just cut up by a rope and glass shards.” The order was brusque with an underlying hint of worry. Then the man disappeared.

Tony really didn’t know what to do with Fury’s worry. He looked at Steve in confusion.

Steve smiled faintly – only his eyes giving away the fact that he was still very upset with Tony. “You heard the man. Let’s head home Avengers…and you WILL let Bruce take care of your cuts Tony. No arguments.”

“I won’t argue…” Tony said in a tiny voice even as he forced himself to stand tall and not cringe behind Steve like a little boy.

“Mind if we come along?” Coulson’s question hung in the air as the Avengers looked toward Steve for him to give permission. Steve’s smile was more genuine this time.

“We’d love to have you come along. We can order in dinner. I’m assuming your other two agents will meet us downstairs?” Steve asked amicably as he took Tony’s arm firmly and directed him toward the door.

“I can walk on my own, you know…” Tony muttered under his breath, but didn’t attempt to get away.

“They will.” Coulson smiled, amused at the situation and not trying to hide it.

Steve nodded. “Let’s go then.” They all left the room, heading toward the jet – Steve towing Tony and leading the way.

# # #

The jet was a bit crowded.

Well, ok. It really wasn’t – though it was a smaller jet, it was plenty big enough to hold eleven people comfortably. But when you are sat in the middle of said eleven people who are just staring at you – and you have your shirt off – it can feel very crowded. That was Tony’s opinion anyway, as he finally huffed and gave a disgruntled glare at the people surrounding him.

Only three people reacted to the glare by backing away with sheepish looks – Skye, Fitz, and Simmons. Agent May raised an eyebrow, but she did turn away and begin reading a file she had on her. Agent Ward grinned unapologetically and likely wouldn’t have moved at all if May hadn’t called him over. Coulson didn’t move from his spot. Neither did any of the Avengers.

“Ok. I’d like to point out the concept of personal space…” he finally whined – and there was no way to call it anything but a whine, no matter how much he would like to. He winced as Bruce dabbed at the cuts on his back with disinfectant. “That stings!” he yelped, but then shut his mouth again at the non-impressed look both Bruce and Steve gave him.

“You’re lucky the cuts aren’t worse than this. The way you were bleeding, I was positive you’d need stitches.” Bruce was remarkably calm – although part of that could be the fact that Tony had cooperated fully with his every command and hadn’t yet balked.

Tony bit his lip his eyes darting to stare over Steve’s shoulder at the wall as if he was hiding something. “Yeah…real lucky…”

“Of course,” Bruce continued conversationally, “and I may be imagining things, but I don’t think so, the cuts that I’ve already cleaned appear to not be as bad as I originally thought when I saw them not more than ten minutes ago…”

“Yeah…you must be imagining it, Brucie. ‘Cuz there’s no way something could heal that fast, right?” Tony smiled brightly, and his voice sounded normal and amused – his team knew him well though and could hear the underlying tension.

Coulson stared at Tony’s face for a moment then at his chest, then back up again as if trying to work out a puzzle.

Natasha didn’t just stare. Moving closer to Tony with a pensive look, she reached out and harshly rubbed one finger down the center of his chest, leaving a white mark that quickly reddened. Tony jerked away, “Ow! What the hell, Widow?!”

Bruce just calmly pushed Tony back into place and continued cleaning cuts.

The spy’s pensive look turned into a frown. “You aren’t wearing make-up,” she accused.

Tony blinked at the remark in befuddlement, before glancing at Steve with a ‘WTF?’ look on his face. Steve snorted. “She’s right. You aren’t wearing any make-up,” he commented in amusement. Tony’s nose wrinkled up in irritation.

Duh! I only wear that for press conferences when I’ve had one too many drinks and need to hide the evidence…” he ignored the various looks of disapproval that comment got him.

Natasha was nothing if not tenacious. “So where’s your scar?” she asked bluntly.

By this point, Thor and Clint were also staring at Tony’s chest and Steve had moved around to the front so that he could look at what Natasha was looking at. Clint narrowed his eyes. “She’s right. You should have a scar from when they removed the reactor. You don’t have a scar…”

Self-consciously Tony raised his arms up and covered his chest like a bashful virgin. “Did anyone ever tell you people it’s not nice to stare? Sheesh! And there’s no scar because I only hired the most excellent of doctors…” he gave them all an affronted look that turned a bit nervous when he noticed a look of understanding cross Coulson’s face.

“The best of doctors and a highly dangerous experimental serum that you had to cure your girlfriend of, if I’m not mistaken…” Phil spoke as calmly as Phil ever did, though there was a slight bite at the end of his words that indicated his view of Tony using the serum on himself. Steve blanched giving Tony a horrified look. Tony couldn’t see Bruce’s face, but if the man’s slightly green hands – gripping his biceps like a steel clamp – were any indication, Bruce was not happy with him at the moment. Tony rolled his eyes at Phil in exasperation and attempted – but failed – to get out of Bruce’s hold.

“Gee, thanks Agent. Like I needed one more reason for Mom and Dad to be angry at me…” he muttered, wincing when Bruce’s palm connected to the back of his head with a semi-gentle thwap.

Tony cringed down wanting nothing more than to put his shirt back on and hide the evidence of what he had done, but Bruce was still dabbing – although Tony was positive the other man had cleaned every spot available and was now just drawing things out to teach Tony a lesson. “I didn’t use the same serum as what was used on Pepper. I used the improved serum that was a result of my attempting to find a cure for Pepper. And look! So far no explosions, so I musta done something right!” he crowed flippantly, then flinched as Steve’s palm connected to the back of his head with a little more force than Bruce’s had. “Hey, cut it out! I’d rather not suffer brain damage!” he grumbled.

“Sorry Tony. Next time I’ll aim a bit lower.” Steve growled.

Tony wasn’t sure how to react to that comment – if he should take offense, treat it as a joke, or act worried – so he ignored it instead. “Are you almost done Brucie? It’s a bit chilly in here…” he spoke softly in a contrite tone. He wasn’t going to apologize for the Extremis, but he could understand both the scientist’s and the super-soldier’s concerns about it. And even if he wouldn’t admit it, the fact that they worried about him made him feel all warm inside, so he wasn’t going to argue that they shouldn’t be concerned. Even so, he would try to put off the conversation explaining his actions as long as possible. There was enough to deal with, considering the paint ball fiasco.

“Thanks,” he mumbled when Bruce wordlessly handed him a clean t-shirt. He quickly pulled it over his head then tried to find a seat that was as far away from everyone else as he could get on a plane.

The jet was a bit crowded….

# # #

Coulson and his team hadn’t stayed long…just long enough for everyone to get cleaned up and change clothes and then for Tony to treat everyone to a nice meal out (the majority chose Italian). They probably would have liked to have stayed longer, but Coulson and his team had been given a new assignment, so shortly after they returned to the tower from eating, they were on a shuttle to take them back to their bus. The Avengers stood on the landing pad and saw them off. As soon as the shuttle was no longer in sight, Steve turned to the rest of the group.

“Normally, I’d suggest debriefing immediately – but we’re all tired, still a bit cranky, and I think things will be more productive if we wait till tomorrow night for explanations. I’m going to bed. I recommend the rest of you do the same.” And with that the First Avenger headed downstairs to his rooms.

Clint, Natasha, and Thor quickly followed. Bruce remained behind standing next to Tony. The scientist looked as if he wanted to say or ask something, but finally he sighed and ran a hand through his salt and pepper locks. “I’m going to bed too. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Tony shrunk into himself at the cool tone in his friend’s voice. He only hoped that talking would make things better. He’d never had many friends before – Rhodey and Happy, and then Pepper. Bruce was the first friend he had that he’d actually had so much in common with. He wasn’t sure what he’d do if he’d messed up so badly the other man decided to leave. He didn’t know what he’d do if any of them decided to leave. They had become what he could only imagine a family was supposed to be. He suspected the only way to avoid that happening would be to confess all. No more secrets. This was going to be a pain in his ass.

Sighing, Tony went downstairs to his own rooms. “JARVIS – did you fly the other three suits back?”

“Yes sir,” the AI intoned quietly. “They are with the one that was flown into the wall, awaiting repairs.”

“Ok. I’m just gonna go down and work a bit on them then. I can’t sleep…” Tony sighed softly. “You’ll warn me if someone gets up and goes looking? I’d like to avoid being scolded for my insomnia on top of everything else…” his voice sounded tired and depressed.

“Very well sir,” the AI’s concerned voice followed him down to his lab.

# # #

It was evening the next day and Steve was staring at the computer that Pepper Potts had arranged for him. Fury and Coulson stared back at him from the screen as they discussed the events of the day before.

“So what does Stark have to say for himself?” Fury asked point blank.

“He doesn’t,” Steve sighed. “He locked himself in his lab before anyone else woke up this morning and hasn’t emerged yet. I think he’s afraid of what his team plans to do to him…” the soldier smiled crookedly,

“Well…he doesn’t need to worry about anything on our end. The exercise went better than I could have ever hoped. Not only did I find out where many of our weaknesses in security were, and see exactly how much training some of our agents need – but Stark managed to give me a lot more clues as to his capabilities than I think even he is aware of.” Fury sounded inordinately pleased with his self.

Steve frowned. “With all due respect sir, I don’t believe you would ever have to worry about Tony Stark becoming an enemy – unless you deliberately made him one.”

Coulson slanted his head. “I tend to agree with the Captain, Director. Stark – the way he spoke right before the exercise began…and looking in his eyes…he was hurt sir. You know his background. He’s spent his whole life either trying to get his father’s attention and approval – or prove to everyone else that he is as good as his father while arguing that he is nothing like Howard Stark. His father helped form S.H.I.E.L.D. If he thought that someone believed he would betray his father’s memory by trying to destroy everything his father stood for…well.” Phil watched the expressions as they crossed Steve and Nick’s face.

Nick shrugged. “I don’t believe he will ever turn against us, Phil. But as the leader of this organization, I can’t afford to let my feelings and beliefs hinder my preparation for any eventuality. If it will make the pup feel better though, I’ll add files for each of the other Avengers – even if fighting against them doesn’t require a lot of planning – just a lot of manpower and strong sedatives.”

Steve frowned, not certain if he should be insulted or not, but let it go.

Nick chuckled darkly. “You handle your team member however you feel best Captain. But as far as I’m concerned I got exactly what I wanted from him and won’t be coming after him.” With that, Fury disconnected.

Phil smiled faintly again. “You’ll do the right thing Captain. Convincing your boy that it is the right thing might take a bit of doing though…” with a nod of his head, Coulson disconnected as well.

Steve sat back in his chair, staring at the bank screen. Finally, he took a deep breath and stood up. He knew what he was going to do. Glancing up at the ceiling (despite the fact that Tony said repeatedly that JARVIS wasn’t in the ceiling) Steve called up. “JARVIS? Please tell the other Avengers I would like to meet with them in the common room in fifteen minutes.”

“Yes, Captain Rogers,” was the response.

“Oh, and JARVIS? Please tell Tony he’s not allowed to hide in his lab any longer. If he doesn’t come to the meeting, we’ll bring the meeting to him…” Steve smirked.

“Of course sir,” the AI answered. Steve could swear it sounded as if JARVIS was smirking as well.

# # #

All of the Avengers were spread out among the couches and chairs when Tony finally drug himself back upstairs – five minutes late. The room was quiet and they all turned to stare at him as he finally walked into the sitting area and glanced around. The only seat available was between Steve and Bruce. Straightening his shoulders, Tony swallowed then walked the rest of the way in and sat down – perched on the edge as if he would take off if given the chance.

Wordlessly, Bruce reached forward and pulled Tony so that he either had to scoot back to sit correctly, or end up practically laying down. The billionaire chose to scoot back.

“So…um…what do you want to know?” the inventor asked almost hesitantly.

“The extremis you used – you haven’t had any negative side effects from it?” Bruce opened the questioning with what he felt was the most important fact first.

Tony blinked in consternation. He’d expected questions on why he’d tricked them and locked them up. Not questions about something he’d done months ago. The looks on the other Avenger’s faces told him that they were most interested in how he answered Bruce’s question though. He blinked coming to the realization that they were worried about him…not themselves or what he’d done to them…but about him.

“No,” he finally answered softly. “I haven’t had any negative side effects. And it was really necessary for me to take it….No. It really was necessary!” he continued quickly when he saw that they were about to interrupt him in disagreement. “The doctors couldn’t remove the reactor before. Even if they managed to find and remove all the shrapnel – which no doctor I’d spoken to was willing to risk trying – even if they removed it all, my heart was too damaged to be able to…” he shrugged, uncomfortable talking about himself.

“Plus, there was this huge hole in my chest where muscle and at least half of my ribs had to be sawed out in order to fit the reactor there in the first place…” he tried to ignore the grimaces that crossed all of their faces.

“Anyway- the Extremis…it allowed the parts of me that had been damaged or removed to repair and in some cases regrow. As you could see…since it didn’t even leave a scar…” he finished softly.

“Okay.” Bruce responded with a gentle smile.

“Okay?” Tony repeated uncertainly.

Bruce’s smile widened. “Yes. Okay. Despite the way you act sometimes, I do know that you don’t really have a death wish and you are far from an idiot. If you say it was necessary, then okay. The fact that you haven’t had any negative side effects indicates that you’d done enough research to at least have a reasonable chance of knowing what you were doing…so…okay.”

Tony looked around at the rest of the Avengers to see their response. Nearly every one of them was either smiling or nodding their head in agreement. He let loose the breath that he didn’t realize he’d been holding. “Okay…” he breathed in relief.

“So…about you tricking and kidnapping us…” Steve crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Tony sternly.

Tony gulped. Damn it. Steve was giving him ‘the eyebrow’ again!

# # #

It hadn’t been as bad as Tony had expected. There had been about five minutes where everyone was chiding, yelling, scolding, and/or threatening him for what he’d done but in the end they’d calmed down and then each one had come up with their own consequences that would allow him to make things up to them.

Bruce had been first to give him consequences…and Tony couldn’t help but feel he’d gotten off a bit light with the other man, considering how he had tricked him. But in the end, all Bruce was requiring was Tony assisting him in redoing the experiment that had been ruined due to Tony dragging him off and locking him away. Of course, assisting him included being a gopher and doing all the menial chores that normally Butterfingers, You, or Dum-E would do…but Tony didn’t mind doing menial tasks when they were necessary. And he knew he deserved it.

Thor was much the same except he was requiring Tony to spend a week following him around answering questions and showing him all the things on Midgard that he might need to know to live there without making a fool of himself – oh…and also how to drive. Apparently when he’d requested Jane or Darcy to help him learn, Darcy had expressed reservations due to Jane having run over him with a truck twice already. The demi-god was requiring Tony to help him without being sarcastic – which might prove more difficult – but helping Thor really wasn’t a punishment and he considered the consequence mild in comparison to what it could have been.

Natasha and Clint had both decided that Tony would spend one hour each, every day, for a total of 30 days (not necessarily consecutive – sometimes they went on assignment after all), training with them in hand to hand…while NOT wearing his armor. This…this could prove very painful. Yeah. Ok. This one might could be considered punishing. But then again, he had incapacitated them using a piece of technology that probably scared them both, even if they’d never admit it. So he deserved it.

Steve hadn’t told him what he had planned yet. Considering he’d not only attempted to incapacitate the captain using the same means as he had with Clint and Natasha, but also drugged him, he figured Cap’s consequences would be the most severe. He almost wished Steve had told him what to expect when everyone else was telling him what they required from him. But Steve had just said he expected Tony to come to his suite to discuss things after the meeting was over and left it at that.

Tony would almost rather have Steve decide to train him as well – however painful it might end up being – since he suspected Steve would want him to talk about his feelings. He wasn’t sure how to suggest that without making things worse for himself…so here he was thirty minutes later…riding the elevator down to Cap’s floor. When the elevator doors opened, he stepped into the foyer of the room and hesitantly called out, “Cap?”

“In here, Tony.” The Avenger’s leader called out clearly. Tony swallowed then headed to the living room area of the suite. Steve was already sitting on his sofa, perched on the edge and almost facing sideways. “Have a seat,” the blond man pointed next to him just as Tony was about to sit in the chair furthest away from the captain. Tony’s answering smile came out like a nervous grimace.

# # #

“Sit down, Tony,” Steve repeated and patted the spot next to him, his tone quiet, but obviously a command.

Swallowing, Tony lowered himself onto the sofa so that he was sitting on the edge and slightly turned to face Steve. He couldn’t quite make his eyes meet the Captain’s gaze though.

“So I know why you did what you did. The file and your explanations were very clear. You wanted to get even with Fury for having plans to take you down and not having a file for anyone else.” Steve was matter of fact. It wasn’t really a question, but Tony nodded anyway.

“Yeah. That’s why,” Tony answered then bit his lip nervously, uncertain where Steve was taking this conversation.

Steve frowned, reaching out a hand and holding onto Tony’s chin – making him look up into his face. Tony almost looked frightened. Steve could only imagine what the other man was thinking to put a look like that on his face. “Why didn’t you come to me and talk to me about it Tony?” he asked softly.

Tony’s look of fear turned into confusion. “Why would I come to you and talk to you about it?” Steve would have gotten irritated at the question had Tony not sounded like he genuinely did not understand why Steve would want to know.

“Because I’m – officially or otherwise – the leader of the Avengers and part of being a leader is taking care of your people. Finding that file hurt you. Regardless of the way you found out about the file, the fact is it hurt you. Don’t try and deny that.” Steve responded calmly. Tony tried to pull his chin out of the Captain’s grip but Steve’s hold was firm and sure. Unable to pull away, Tony did the next best thing and closed his eyes.

“Look at me Tony,” Steve chided. Licking his lip, Tony let out a frustrated sigh but obeyed.

“Ok. I’ll admit it hurt a little bit…” the Iron Man finally admitted.

Steve smiled, “If you had come to me, I would have been able to go to Fury and tell him he was wrong. That if he wanted to test his people against the Avengers that it would be against all the Avengers and not just one. I could have informed him that the chances of you turning evil were next to non-existent.” Steve watched Tony’s eyes closely, noting when some of the hurt that the man was still carrying around lessened as Tony digested Steve’s words and remembered he wasn’t alone.

Steve continued, “And when he informed me that he didn’t truly believe that you would turn evil – which he did by the way – and that the only reason he had a file was because it didn’t matter what he believed, as the leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. he had to be ready for any contingency…” he watched as that information sunk in and Iron Man started looking a bit sheepish as he realized that he’d assumed too much about Fury’s motivations.

“So why didn’t he have files on the rest of you, if he had to be prepared?!” Tony spat out defensively, not wanting to admit he’d over reacted.

Steve’s face was amused, as he let his hand drop to his lap. Tony was too interested in his response not to look at him now. “Apparently, the rest of us are too predictable. All he’d need is a tranquilizer and strong restraints.”

Tony narrowed his eyes in offended disbelief. “You’re kidding…he underestimates you all that badly?!” Steve blinked when he realized Tony was offended on the team’s behalf.

Steve shrugged. “He’s decided to rectify the situation, so it doesn’t really matter. I’m sure if you went snooping where you weren’t supposed to in another two or three weeks, you’d find a file on all of us.”

Steve’s mouth firmed into a stern line. “You let your hurt feelings dictate your actions, Tony. Instead of responding in an adult manner and coming to me so that we could work together to take care of what was obviously a problem…” Steve’s voice was firm and Tony found that the tone kept him looking at the Captain even if he wanted to avoid his gaze. “…instead of acting like an adult, you reacted like a child. Did you think that by doing everything you could to make that file seem plausible that you’d somehow prove that Fury had no power over you? Hate to tell you, but you only gave him more power by reacting the way you did.”

“I know…” Tony admitted with a sigh. “I pretty much knew that the minute I started…I was just too proud to back down.” He slumped and ran a hand through his hair, weariness and lack of sleep making him have less control over his actions.

“You can’t keep going into things by yourself, Tony. You can’t keep just reacting to things without thinking them through. You’re on a team and we all are here to help you – not just in our battles but in everyday life if you need. You’re willing to help us with anything, but you aren’t willing to accept our help? Or even tell us when you need help? That’s not acceptable.” Steve was emphatic.

“Ok. I…I get that I should have told you. And I know this isn’t just about the file – you’re upset about the Mandarin, and AIM, and the Extremis too. I get it. I keep things to myself and don’t inform the team nearly enough. I… It… I’ll try to do better, but it’s hard. I’m not used to relying on anyone else. Not really….” Tony admitted quietly. Steve could tell it was hard for him to admit and he could also tell that the issue would never clear up if he didn’t give Tony something that would help him to remember to think before acting and at least consider telling his team before it was too late.

“As long as you understand that…” Steve nodded, “then we can move onto the consequences that you’re going to get for not only using that stunner on me, but drugging me,” his voice was calm…too calm. Tony eyed him worriedly.

“What are you going to do to me? Do you want two hours a day for thirty days of training? Or maybe a month of me showing you all the modern stuff that you haven’t had a chance to catch up with? Or… I know I haven’t been very open about Howard, but you were friends with him so I could manage to remain civil and talk about him with you…” Tony winced on the last bit uncomfortably – Steve was impressed that he genuinely meant the offer.

“No. Although I appreciate the offer to talk about Howard, this punishment is about helping you. Not myself.” Steve said quietly. “Stand up Tony.”

Tony’s look was a mix of relief (that he wouldn’t have to talk about Howard), embarrassment (Steve actually used the term punishment), and confusion (helping him was nice and all – but why did he need to stand up?). He didn’t argue however and quickly stood, easily moving to the side of Steve’s left knee when the Captain gently took his arm and directed him there. A look of mortified understanding plastered itself to his face as he finally realized what was about to happen.

“Cap…a…are you sure you don’t just want to take me down to the rec room and use me as one of your punching bags?” he asked hopefully.

Steve snorted, amused despite the circumstance. “I’m sure Tony. I believe that making my feelings clear to you through your backside will have a much longer lasting impact than my giving you bruised ribs. I would never punch a child – and since your behavior was very childish, that is how I will be punishing you.”

Tony really wasn’t normally one to be embarrassed easily. There were so many videos on the internet of him doing humiliating things that it took a lot for him to feel shame. This whole conversation he’d been feeling embarrassment and it finally reached a point that he couldn’t hide it. He blushed darkly, feeling ashamed that his team leader… his friend… felt the need to punish him like a child. No one had ever done that for him before – even when he was a child. “I…I’ve never…” he finally admitted hesitantly.

Steve blinked in surprise. Tony continued. “Howard’s idea of punishment was to cancel planned activities he had scheduled to do with me. There were so few of them and he … he knew I wanted to spend time with him so there was less chance of my acting out if the threat of my not being able to was there.” Tony grimaced and glanced away.

Steve closed his eyes briefly in consternation, then straightened his shoulders and gave Tony a stern look. “Well, that’s not going to happen here. Not that you usually want to do stuff with me, but you can bet you aren’t going to get out of the few things we DO participate in together by misbehaving. I’m not going to reward you in that way…” Tony snorted in amusement, relieved that Steve had heard him but not focused on the comment overly much.

“You’re intelligent, so I will assume you know the mechanics of how a spanking goes…” Steve said lightly, continuing at Tony’s nod. “Normally, if someone I’m in charge of had done something so foolish and life risking as you did, you’d be getting this on the bare. Keep that in mind if you ever feel tempted to do a repeat performance.”

Tony’s eyes widened, but before he could protest Steve continued. “Normally, that is how I would do it. Since this is your first ever spanking, I will allow you to keep your underclothing on. Lower your jeans.”

Tony let out a tiny relieved huff then began to fidget, finally opening his mouth and asking hesitantly “You won’t tell them, will you?”

Steve frowned offended, “Of course not. All punishments that I give to you will be solely between you and I. The only way the others will know what occurs here is if you decide to tell them…”

Tony cringed then gave a sheepish look. “I’m not talking about the spanking. I don’t care if they find out about that…I know I deserve it and it isn’t like I don’t do more embarrassing stuff in front of them myself… I just. I don’t want them to know about… well… about…” huffing, he finally undid the button on his jeans and shoved them down to his ankles before standing tall.

Steve blinked several times and he had to choke back a laugh before he swallowed and managed to say with a straight face… “I promise I won’t tell them, Tony.” He then carefully helped Tony lay over his lap, bracing his upper body on the couch before wrapping one arm firmly around Tony’s waist. Tugging him in close he lay his other hand on the center of Tony’s backside – covering one of the numerous ‘Captain America’ shields decorating his boxers.

“I can’t believe I’m going along with this and not arguing…” Tony mumbled before folding his arms in front of him and hiding his face in them. Steve smiled crookedly. He wasn’t entirely able to believe it himself, but he was grateful that the man wasn’t making it more difficult than it needed to be.

“Why are you about to be spanked, Tony?” Steve asked quietly wanting to make certain that his friend knew exactly what he was in trouble for and wasn’t assuming something else.

“Because instead of coming to you and the team with what I felt was a problem, I decided to handle it myself without giving my actions proper thought or consideration. I … I’m not allowed to do that anymore…?” Tony spoke uncertainly as if he wasn’t sure that was the real reason.

“That’s right. You’re a member of a team…a team that cares about you and cares about what happens to you. We don’t just want you to come to us when you need something…we need you to do so. For anything no matter how trivial it might seem to you. That’s what teammates and friends do. And we certainly are not going to accept you deliberately doing things to make sure we can’t help you!” Steve ended the mild lecture by raising his hand and harshly smacking the center of Tony’s backside. Tony couldn’t help the yelp that escaped.

Feeling that no more could be said on the subject, Steve concentrated on dealing smack upon painful smack to his friend’s well positioned bottom. Over and over his hand fell in relentless, firm, smacks – sometimes landing on a new, undisciplined area; often landing on a spot that had already received correction. And it didn’t appear Steve was going to be stopping anytime soon.

Despite his efforts to behave like an adult during his punishment (since acting like a child had gotten him into this position in the first place), Tony couldn’t help but begin to squirm and wriggle as the sting built and turned into a very uncomfortable heat. It didn’t help that all Tony could think about was the fact that Steve wasn’t punishing him for basically attacking him and locking him up… the Captain was punishing him for not allowing his team to help him and for trying to do things on his own. He didn’t fully understand that, but the feeling of warmth and caring he’d gotten from that fact alone was making it very difficult for him to remain unaffected.

Over and over the smacks fell. None of them were gentle. They were all the same exact pressure, falling in a rhythm that Tony had quickly figured out. It wasn’t helpful knowing when the next smack was going to fall though…since he had no clue where it would fall. By this time, every portion of his bottom and upper thighs had received admonishment. Tony was positive Steve had to be up to close to 100…although since he’d lost count somewhere around number 10, he wasn’t able to prove it. Not that he’d want to try and prove something like that. A particularly harsh smack brought his attention back to what was occurring. That’s when it happened.

His first sniffle was his undoing. Once it escaped, he couldn’t hold back the tears. Once the tears began to fall, choked out sobs followed…in no time at all he found himself sobbing over his leader’s lap, limp and crying like a baby. He was crying so hard he didn’t even realize Steve had stopped the spanking and had pulled him up to sit on his lap.

Steve was holding him tightly and rubbing his back gently while murmuring quiet words meant to calm him down, “Shhh…I’ve got you. You’re alright. You did good…. Everything will be okay. I’ve got you….”

Taking a shuddery breath, Tony spluttered. “I shouldn’t be crying over a spanking! Damn it…I had what amounted to open heart surgery without anesthesia or any type of pain medication and I didn’t cry like I am now. Even when I watched them cutting my ribs- I still didn’t cry. What the hell is wrong with me?!” He leaned back, took one look at Steve’s agonizingly shocked face, then promptly leaned forward and hid his own face against Steve’s chest, wrapping his arms tightly around the super-soldier.

“I’m sorry…” he apologized brokenly. “I never meant to say that out loud…”

Steve breathed in deeply several times, calming himself and reassuring himself that Tony was alright now and healthy by resuming his rubbing of his friend’s back . If he held Tony a little more tightly than he had been, Tony didn’t complain. Finally he spoke, his voice quiet. “We’re going to talk about that later…don’t think we won’t.” He said with promise. “Don’t worry about crying though. It just means I got through to you. That’s not a bad thing….”

Tony snorted, then slowly sat up, whimpered softly, then stood to his feet and began to hunt for his jeans. At some point he must have kicked hard enough for them to go flying because they literally were across the room on top of the stereo. Giving Steve a sheepish look, he walked over to retrieve his clothing then slid the jeans on with a tiny hiss. His voice was slightly impressed when he remarked, “You’ve got quite a swing on you Cap.”

Steve smirked. “Better to punish naughty little boys….” He wasn’t surprised when the pillow came out of nowhere and hit him in the head.

“Yeah…” Tony smirked back. “Well, this naughty boy wants to go find his bed. Are we okay?” He looked at the ground then glanced back up at Steve hesitantly. He was obviously asking about more than his being allowed to leave.

“More than okay,” Steve reassured him. “Go to bed Tony. You look like you’re ready to drop.”

Tony smiled and gave him a sloppy salute. “Aye, aye, Captain. See you in the morning…” Iron Man turned and walked to the elevator.

Steve slanted his head and watched his friend leave. Was that… was he… Yes! He was whistling Star Spangled Man with a Plan! “Toooony!” he groaned out in exasperation.

He could hear the Iron Man’s laughter from the elevator as it took him to his own floor.



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