Steve, Nat, and Sam wandered into the boardroom to the same sight that Pepper had found, though tony was sipping on a bottled water. Sam and Steve were laughing and Sam clapped his hand on Steve’s shoulder with one more chuckle before they took their seats.
“Tony, is this about my proposal,” Nat said with an easy smile, like she and Tony were friends. It was clear to Rhodey they thought they were being called to receive good news. “Because my widow bites could use an upgrade before we start on any more missions too.”
“Yeah, Stark,” Sam added with a smile like he had known Tony for more than the five minute conversation they had outside of Steve’s hospital room after SHIELD fell. “I really would appreciate it if you could take a look at the Falcon Wings as well. I know that your R&D department developed the project, but I’ve heard from these guys that you’ll be able to make it even better,” he added with an eager smile. Rhodey closed his eyes for a moment and breathed deeply. The sheer presumption of these people was astounding.
“I’m sorry, will you remind me who you are, Mr.?”
“Oh, right! Sorry,” Sam said, sitting up straight, and Steve frowned at Sam’s sudden unease. “Yes! Mr. Stark, it’s nice to see you again. I’m Sam Wilson,” Sam said, holding out his hand. Tony took it and shook it briefly while Steve’s look grew darker.
“Tony, you met Sam. He helped Nat and I with SHIELD and Hydra,” Steve said, crossing his arms over his broad chest.
“I have no idea why you think that explanation clears anything up. I was kept separate from that maneuver quite deliberately, if you recall,” Tony said seriously.
“I told you why, Tony,” Nat said softly in the voice she used as a handler. It was the opposite of Pepper’s sharp, barking instructions, but Tony was familiar with the many methods of manipulation that the people around him used.
“You gave me an excuse, not a reasonable explanation, Nat. The fact remains that I was left out of the loop and really have no idea why you’ve brought Mr. Wilson to this meeting.”
“Don’t be rude, Tony. Sam helped us, and he’s going to continue to help the Avengers in a part-time capacity as we continue hunting Hydra,” Steve said sharply.
“That’s a good starting point, Captain. Why are you two approaching me now about the Avengers? You certainly didn’t call me to aid with the Mandarin.”
“I . . . something had come up,” Steve said, looking away uneasily, and Tony made a note to get back to Nat’s data dump.
“We knew that you could handle it, Tony,” Nat sat, putting a calming hand on Steve’s as if to settle him.
“Right. Everyone thought Tony was dead.”
“Well, AIM isn’t really at the same level as Hydra,” Nat shrugged. “The idea that Tony Stark could get taken out by them seemed ludicrous,” she added with a quirked eyebrow, as if judging Tony’s need for any help in the first place.
“Sure. Not on the same level at all. It was only an attempt to assassinate the President and overthrow the entire United States government, and start a third world war,” Rhodey muttered, eyes rolling. Nat’s face was blank, but Sam looked disturbed suddenly.
“I didn’t know anything about all that!”
Tony looked at all three of them in shock.
“You have been working as a world defense force. Don’t you watch the news,” Tony erupted. “Nevermind,” he said, waving his hand as if batting away a fly. “Let’s get back to Nat’s proposal. Explain this to me.”
“Well, you’re an Avenger,” Steve said, perplexed. “And we need your support since SHIELD fell.”
“Captain, SHIELD didn’t fall, it was felled—by you,” Tony added turning to Nat.
“We did what we had to do, Tony. SHIELD needed to be brought down in order to weed out Hydra,” Nat said, face still blank. Tony knew that meant she was feeling hunted.
“At the cost of the other agents.”
“Sacrifices had to be made,” Steve said, raising his chin.
“And what sacrifices did you make, Captain?”
“Nat gave up her own secrets just like everyone else. She risked everything!”
Tony reached out and touched his tablet. A hologram appeared before them of several rotating files. Nat’s face reappeared again and again throughout in various disguises mixed among the text. Tony tapped again and a second file appeared with Clint’s information. The hologram cycled through the info and repeated on a loop as they all watched.
“What is that,” Nat whispered dangerously.
“These are the files that you miraculously had the time to separate and bury, Agent Romanoff. I’m insulted that you thought yourself capable of hiding anything from me. That’s quite the ego you have, and it appears that you didn’t feel it was necessary to sacrifice your friend and his family though no one else was as lucky. And I wonder how and why you felt these specific 215 mission files needed to be protected out of all the data that was dumped when you sank SHIELD? Well, I don’t really wonder because I’ve read them, agent,” Tony said. “You didn’t make any sacrifices, but you did sacrifice plenty of others when it suited you. And it only suited you because Tony Stark wasn’t recommended. Right, agent?”
Tony knew there was more, but he kept his face just as blank. He knew that Nat would be banking on this meeting being about his “ego” and wanting to put them in their place. She would expect her proposal could go either way based on that, and that’s where her manipulation would come in. If she suspected that he was really putting things together, though? That might be a game changer.
Nat and Tony were in the middle of a very dangerous staring contest when Steve spoke up.
“But Nat put everything on the Web! We agreed that full disclosure was necessary. And we didn’t have time to contact you Tony!”
“But you did have time to go meet up with someone that you had only just met and help him steal government property before taking the time to infiltrate SHIELD, get on the helicarriers, and bring them down. I could have done all of the last bit in exactly 5 ½ minutes, Steve, and Romanoff knew it.”
“What’s happening here” Sam asked nervously.
“So, the question is, why did you need that information on the Web, Agent Romanoff? What was the real purpose behind the fall of SHIELD,” Tony asked.
“I don’t understand,” Steve said, shaking his head.
“Romanoff, you move and I blow you away,” Rhodey said, raising his arm above the table and pointing and cocking his gun at Romanoff who still had not looked away from Tony. “I know a threat when I see one, agent. And I don’t have the same sort of sentimental nostalgia that you’re hoping will protect you from Tony. I don’t hesitate—EVER.”
Romanoff finally glanced away, looking at Rhodey for a moment while everyone else looked on tensely. Steve was staring at Rhodey like he’d never seen him before, but he hadn’t moved to rise from his spot yet. Tony knew that if he felt either Nat or Sam was in danger that would change. Then Nat abruptly sat back and a sigh wooshed out of Sam and Steve.
“Put your weapon on the table,” Rhodey said, refusing to lower his gun.
“Not on your life,” Nat sneered while Steve sputtered.
“No, on yours. Do it now, Romanoff,” Rhodey said. “Jarvis,” and suddenly the entire boardroom was weaponized, Tony’s trademark lasers lowering from the ceiling at various points. “You might survive me, but the house always wins,” he finished.
“We didn’t bring in weapons!”
“Widow is always armed, Steve,” Tony said simply.
“What is going on here!” Sam looked completely out of his element.
“You didn’t get to know Peggy as well as you might have Steve. You knew her when she was a soldier, but I’ve lived my life with spies. They’re a different breed altogether, something that Nat and Fury were both betting you wouldn’t notice. Fury counted on it, in fact, when he passed you Nat’s profile of me at the start of all of this. Peggy was one of the best spies in the business. Though I don’t want you to be to proud of that as it isn’t really a compliment to her humanity. But that’s not the point. You see, in the spy business there is always more than one way to do things, and once you’ve settled on an action there is always more than one reason why that is the step you take. Howard learned this the hard way. It was why he originally stepped back from SHIELD, and that was when Peggy became a less significant part of my childhood. You know what happened with SHIELD, Steve, but you only know one reason why it had to fall. And Romanoff’s instinct to bury certain info is a tell. It let’s me know that your reason and Romanoff’s reason are not the same even if they aligned in that moment.”
“Has a meeting with the CIA downstairs, Steve. She won’t be leaving with you today. Sgt. Wilson, you’ll be leaving those experimental military grade search and rescue wings with Colonel Rhodes, who had agreed to return them to the Air Force without seeing you dishonorably discharged for the theft of those devices.”
“You didn’t really believe that Captain America, a soldier in the Army, or the Black Widow, a retired KGB operative, had the authority to take Air Force property off base, did you SGT,” Rhodey asked severely, and Sam cringed a little.
“Steve, I’m sorry, but the Avengers are through. It’s time for you to move on with your life and learn to live.”
“What! No,” Steve said hurriedly. “You can’t! Not now. I need this!”
“This is non-negotiable. After the fall of SHIELD—which you were correct that it needed to happen, Steve, it’s your methods that I find unacceptable—the Avengers only continue if Romanoff’s hail Mary proposal was accepted . . . and I’m saying that it wasn’t.”
“I don’t understand,” Steve said, shaking his head and clutching at his hair.
“Yes. That’s it exactly. You simply don’t understand. You are a lovely person, Steve, but you aren’t fit to lead a team of this nature. You never were,” Tony replied.