Work Header

As Subtle As Cognitive Recalibration

Work Text:

When SHIELD’s response to a world-wide crisis in the form of a legitimate alien invasion [and hey, Tony’s all for the future way of life, but he didn’t seriously think aliens would be a part of it] is to throw four very different people with very strong personalities and not the best of past relationships with each other into one room, Tony expects some sort of friction.

He expects to be the cause of most of that friction, actually. There’s a big fat 'not a teamplayer' stamp on his file for a reason.

[That reason being that Tony is petty as fuck and takes pride in it and JARVIS can harp all he wants, he’s also a wonderful enabler. And pissed about that time Fury shut him down like you wouldn’t believe.] 

So when Steve Rogers aka Captain fucking America stalks towards him like a man on a mission, Tony expects a lot of things. What he doesn’t expect is for Rogers to falter suddenly, face twisting with an expression Tony can’t name before it’s gone again, and reach out to shake his hand.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Doctor Stark,” Rogers says with a ringing sincerity that does nothing to cover the pained edge to his smile, the shadow of grief in his eyes. “I look forward to working with you.”

The asshole sounds like he means it too.

“Likewise,” Tony answers automatically, more than a little weirded out. Especially when Roger’s expression visibly brightens. As in he doesn’t just look happy, he looks ecstatic.

It makes Tony twitchy.

Rogers opens his mouth but doesn’t get the chance to say anything before another man — whom Tony until now hasn’t even noticed has been hovering at Rogers’ back — steps forward to shake Tony’s hand as well with a friendly grin that’s not as bright but just as honest.

Which, Tony’s a huge fan of Dr. Banner’s — “You’re welcome to call me Bruce.” “Pleasure to meet you, Brucie-Bear.” “…it was worth a try.” — work don’t get him wrong. But he’s also got it in good authority that the guy doesn’t like to be touched and has a serious complex concerning his very green larger half, so this is a tiny bit unexpected. Still, Tony rolls with it, more than happy to pick a brain like Banner’s.

Particularly since the man seems happy to indulge him and isn’t the personification of all his childhood issues. Win win.

The way Banner watches him is maybe a bit unsettling, all 100% focus when Tony is used to talking more at people than with them, but hey it’s not a like making friends with a fellow genius scientist has any downsides, no matter how unexpected the amused fondness Banner regards him with is. Clearly Banner’s got great taste.

[It’s a bit odd though. So is the way Rogers watches them from across the table with something that Tony would’ve sworn on anyone else was affection. Romanoff, at least, has barely looked at him — too busy glowering at the mission briefing to pay any of them any mind, really, which makes sense once Tony puzzles through Fury’s less than forth-coming information and realizes her partner is among the compromised agents — which puts Tony more at ease than it probably should.

At least someone in this room is acting the way Tony expected them to.]

“What you’re saying is your sole job as Director of SHIELD is to keep track of global threats and you’ve narrowed down the whereabouts of the mad god with mind-control Jedi tricks to the planet Earth,” Tony summarizes flatly.

Fury’s expression could be carved out of stone but Tony is in no mood to play nice.

“What’s the plan then? We wait till he blows up another super secret facility whose mysteriously undocumented existence doesn’t make me suspicious at all?”

“Germany!” Rogers blurts out, interrupting Tony’s epic stare-down with Fury.

Everyone turns to stare at him. 

Huh. Is- Is Roger’s blushing?

“We should go to Germany,” Rogers repeats in a much calmer but insistent tone of voice.

“But. Why?” Surprisingly it’s not Tony who asks this very reasonable question. It’s Hill.

Rogers blinks. Then his expression darkens. “Nothing good ever happens in Germany.”

Which wow. Tony didn’t think a silence could get that awkward. Color him reluctantly impressed.

To his left, Banner is nodding along in agreement. “That makes sense.”

Tony exchanges a disbelieving glance with Romanoff, who thankfully looks as unconvinced as he feels because no?! No, it doesn’t? But Coulson redirects their course anyway.

Ten minutes later the first video clips about the chaos Loki is causing in Stuttgart hit the internet. 

The whole incident is kind of weird but Tony is willing to let it slide. And by ‘willing to let it slide’ he means ‘too damn busy fighting an actual god what even is his life’.

It goes something like this: They fly to Germany. They fight a god. They win and take said god prisoner which is more than Tony thought they’d manage, especially with so little effort but okay. Kinda suspicious, especially with how Rogers keeps alternating between staring their prisoner down and staring up at the sky.

Shit, is Rogers religious? Tony really hopes he isn’t because he’s in no way equipped to deal with a crisis of faith.

They make it back to the helicarrier, where Banner congratulates them, then takes one look at Loki and blanches. Tony double-checks but nope, Loki’s still chained up and about to be locked up in whatever cage Fury’s got on hand, the paranoid bastard.

“You alright there, Brucie?”

“Yeah, sorry.” Banner shakes his head but he keeps staring at Loki with a focus that’s making Tony distinctly uncomfortable.

He exchanges a glance with Romanoff who is clearly the sanest person in this group. Are they sure that Loki needs the scepter to pull off the mind-control thing?

“Bruce?” Even Rogers sounds concerned which is definitely a bad sign. The guy was smiling all the way through the battle and Tony would’ve been amused by how much that seemed to piss Loki off if it hadn’t pissed him off as well.

“It’s just.” Banner makes a complicated gestures towards Loki that Tony is pretty sure he just made up. If only because Rogers looks as confused as the rest of them. The furrow between Banner’s eyebrows deepens. “Loki’s got really pretty eyes, don’t you think, Captain?”

Tony stares. Romanoff stares. 

So does Rogers.

Then before Tony can make a bad joke or ask a very serious ‘What is wrong with you people?’ Rogers turns around, gives Loki a sharp look and slams his shield down on the god’s head hard.

There’s a very audible cracking sound that makes Tony wince involuntarily. Loki sways, then slumps down on the ground, motionless.

“What the fuck!” Tony shouts and doesn’t care if his voice is too high-pitched to pass as indifferent. “Since when do we fucking kill captured prisoners?!”  

Rogers, who less than two seconds ago smashed a supposed god’s head in with a blunt object, gives Tony a wounded look. “That’s not... I wasn’t... It’s... cognitive recalibration?”

So it turns out Captain America didn’t actually murder a god. [And now that Tony’s thinking about it, it’s really too bad that he hasn’t. That would’ve made one hell of a headline.]

As soon as he finishes his mini-freak-out which Tony will never admit he's had, he’s got the suit running a check. Loki’s definitely still alive although there’s still the potential damage from his substantial head-wound to consider. For the time being he’s unconscious though, so Tony labels that a potential future issue and moves on. Too the much more imminent issue that is the simple fact that Rogers [and potentially Banner, Tony hasn’t missed that their interactions speak of a far closer relationship than their files indicate] is insane.

Also possibly brilliant if his jumbled explanation about breaking mind-control through a concussion is true. Unfortunately that’s just about all that explanation clarifies because what it doesn’t explain is: “Loki’s the mind-controller not the mind-controllee. Why would your first response be to bash his head in?” 

“You think Loki was controlled by the scepter?” Romanoff asks a fraction of a second later, narrow-eyed gaze not leaving Loki’s body for a moment.

Rogers shrugs. “If he was I didn’t want to tip off whoever’s pulling the strings.”

Whoever, Rogers said. Tony presses his lips together before he says something he’s not yet sure how to articulate. Because granted, it sounds more plausible than that the scepter is some cursed artifact that acts on its own but they’re talking magic here. Tony is by no means its biggest advocate but Rogers’ words imply a very specific suspicion. Especially considering it suggests that the scepter also functions as a monitoring tool of some sort.

Tony side-eyes Romanoff, but her expression is unreadable and whatever she’s thinking, she doesn’t seem eager to share.

“Okay,” is what Tony settles on because when in doubt agree with the crazy supersoldier who just knocked-out a god. “But how did you know cognitive recalibration would work?”

It’s a good idea, Tony’s not gonna lie. But well. Tony’s been confused, in over his head and off his game since the get-go, but he’s also Tony Stark. There’s something off about all of this, so much so that it’s itching at Tony and letting things go isn’t his strong suit.

Rogers looks him dead in the eyes and says, “I saw it in a movie.”

Tony’s still trying to decide whether the asshole is fucking with him or whether he’s serious when a deafening crack rings out as something collides with the aircraft, causing the floor to shake dangerously. Before Tony’s done much more than readjust his stance so he doesn’t fall flat on his face, there’s a terrible tearing sound as a chunk of metal on the ceiling above them is literally ripped off and then a huge blond guy drops down into the helicarrier right in the middle of the hallway.

Tony’s got his repulsors aimed at the stranger who is way too tall not to be an asshole before the dramatic cape he’s wearing even registers. It’s gratifying that Romanoff is also aiming a gun at the guy because Rogers and Banner sure can’t seem to bother.

That’s when Tony notices the hammer.

“It’s just not a good day to be mortal, I suppose,” he quips. Then promptly regrets it when the blonde guy who Tony’s 80% sure is Thor — as in brother of Loki, the guy lying unconscious at their feet, fuck — snaps his head around and.


At Tony.

“Man of Iron!” He booms because what use do you have for an indoor voice when you’ve already ripped a hole through the ceiling. “I am gratified to see you well!”

He takes two steps towards Tony with an air of determination that makes Tony want to turn the other way and run, which doesn’t make sense at all because this doesn’t seem to be an attack? A second later the foreboding feeling makes perfect sense when the guy who is probably Thor reaches him and pulls Tony into a hug.

Lifting him off the ground and all, which is just overkill and also Tony isn’t that fucking light, especially not with the suit on.

“What the fuck.”

The words come out muffled against the stupid cape. Seriously, what an asshole.

[Tony wants it noted down in the protocol that Banner, Rogers, Romanoff and Loki are no help at all and how sad is it that Loki is the one with the best excuse? At least Romanoff hasn’t lowered her gun.]

Tony misses whatever discussion follows Thor’s — hah, got it right in one, he hasn’t lost his touch completely yet — arrival before the god carries his brother off towards a containment cell with the sort of cheer that causes Tony to carefully keep at least two people between himself and Thor, lest the asshole tries to hug him again.

Not that it can be that big a loss considering they all — sans Loki — end up back in the command center of the helicarrier, where Fury glares balefully at the most recent invader of his precious aircraft that clearly isn’t meant to stand in the way of gods.

A glare Thor aggressively doesn’t notice. Likely because he’s too busy partaking in the on-going discussion on what to do next.

And by ‘what to do next’ Tony doesn’t mean the expected we were invaded by a mind-controlled alien nutbag and there’s probably more out there seems like the kind of oh shit situation we should plan for. No. That would be reasonable and expected and Tony’s spent all of three hours in the company of the esteemed Captain America and already he can tell that Rogers is none of the above.

[Which, not cool, Capsicle. Dazzling and befuddling people with crazily brilliant ideas is Tony’s job.]

So far, Tony’s been paying attention for ten minutes. In that time, Rogers and Thor have gotten into an argument over how to handle Loki — which holy shit, that went from a calm, rational discussion to a battle to the death between two superhumans on a sugar high in zero point four seconds — that Tony is so not gonna touch. Nope. Let some other fool [i.e. Rogers] throw himself head-first into norse god family drama, Tony’s own feelings concerning his family are complicated enough. Anyway, that conversation devolved into a not-openly-fighting-while-totally-fighting stand-off between Rogers and Banner over a way too bitter comment from the latter [something about ‘you’d know all about choosing one brother over the other, wouldn’t you’ and what?], which in turn gets derailed by Banner needling Thor about the merits of beheading over stabbing.

Romanoff had the good sense to disappear — probably to interrogate Loki while his apparently protective big brother is distracted, now that Tony thinks about it. 

Unfortunately that still leaves Tony stuck here, having to play the role of the mature adult because no one else fucking will. Tony hates being responsible. It’s like being back in high school and being left to do all the work on your own in group project.

[Tony failed that project. Got a straight up zero on purpose because spite is a wonderful motivator. Which doesn’t say anything promising about the current situation.]

Tony leans even further back in his seat, only balancing on the back legs of the chair, to give Fury a very sharp, very judgmental look.

These are the people you’re betting Earth’s survival on, that look says.

Fury’s already pissed off expression darkens further, which brightens Tony mood substantially. That one of the suit’s sensors flashes green twice in quick succession less than a minute later really just makes for a delicious cherry on the top. Or more precisely a good excuse to ditch this train wreck of a match-making attempt.

“Whoops,” Tony says, clearly audible but not too loud to draw real attention from the three still arguing while pretending not to stooges on the other end of the room. “Looks like I gotta take this call.”

He jiggles his fingers at Fury. The guy rolls his eyes — probably jealous that he doesn’t have an excuse himself, that bitch face doesn’t fool Tony — but no one tries to stop him.

“Alright, J, what do you have for me?”

Tony pretends not to notice the shuffling footsteps. Glances at the disturbingly normal clock on the wall that is so not up-to-date with the rest of the technology in the room, it must be an inside joke. Tony would love to meet the SHIELD agent behind it — it can’t be easy, being the only person with a sense of humor in an entire agency.

30 minutes.

Well. That’s longer than Tony thought he’d get. JARVIS still hasn’t cracked the last layer on SHIELD’s really fucked up dirt — and given what he’s already found, that says a lot — but it’s only a matter of time now. Besides, Tony’s got a job to do.

“To- Stark.”


Tony doesn’t turn. Neither does he stop typing.

“What are you doing?”

Tony scoffs. He’s not in the mood to pander to inferior minds — not when they’re so fucking frustrating, don’t make any sense and worst of all make him do all the work

“He’s tracking the Tesseract, using the scepter as a point of reference,” Banner says after taking one look at the screen over Tony’s shoulder.

Tony raises his eyebrows, impressed despite himself. Banner’s credentials clearly don’t do him justice — and they were pretty damn good to begin with.

“Huh,” says Rogers.

Thanks for playing. Now buckle down and make yourself useful or fuck off, Tony wants to snipe but doesn’t get the chance to because the gods — this god at least — just aren’t on his side.

“Even without my brother’s help, a weapon of the tesseract’s might should not be underestimated,” Thor speaks up. “Should we not make haste and collect it?”

"Great idea.” Tony’s voice is dryer than the sand dune he crash-landed in back during his fun little trip to Afghanistan. “If only I’d thought of that instead of inventing fifteen new algorithms to try and get a read on SHIELD’s precious magic eight ball while you were busy defending your brother’s honor. Speaking of, I’m pretty sure Romanoff is a greater danger to his virtue than Captain Shockfreeze over there, so why are you still here?”

Okay, maybe poking the hornet nest that is godly family isn’t his smartest move [didn’t he just say he wasn’t gonna touch that?!] but damn if Tony isn’t curious. And too annoyed to care about unimportant, subjective things like good manners and tact.

He sort of regrets his cavalier attitude when Thor sobers. At least there’s no tears in sight. Tony is the last person on Earth who should be left unsupervised around crying people. It just never ends well.

“Ah.” Thor sighs heavily, stems his body against an unfortunate table that creaks dangerously. "I’m afraid I can’t afford to see my brother right now.”

It’s the way he says those words, the weight they carry more than anything else, that tells Tony he needs to drop this issue right now. Talk about one huge trigger button. Must be inconvenient to have siblings. Thankfully that’s one family issue Tony can’t relate with.

“Well, in that case, unless you have a magic trick with which you can pull the Tesseract’s position out of your sleeve, how about you sit as far away from these delicate instruments as possible and don’t touch anything while I work my magic, hm?”

Tony doesn’t let his gaze linger on the crushed edge of the table. Thor hasn’t even seemed to notice. He’s too busy lighting up at Tony’s snappish response. Which is surprising. Tony’s aware he’s a bit of an asshole right now. In his defense, he’s an asshole most of the time.

Rogers leaps across the room — almost crashing into the previously mentioned delicate sensors as he does so — to slap his palm over Thor’s mouth.

Tony stares. How quickly can you develop a new habit again? Because this is starting to feel like one.

“That sounds like a great plan!” Rogers beams at him, so wide and fake it must be physically painful for the epitome of all that is good and holy. At least Tony hopes it is. The supersoldier his father worshipped is still clinging to their resident god of thunder’s face.


Tony resolutely turns his back on both of them because their madness doesn’t seem to come with a refund-ticket and if Tony doesn’t finish this program, no one will.

Not even Banner — whom Tony had been kind of hoping for. Speaking of, the man’s been awfully quiet for a while now.

“You alright there, Brucie-Bear?” Tony turns around — a little because it’s polite to face people when you talk with them and mostly to have an excuse not to watch the ongoing doomed wrestle-match between Blondie 1 and Blondie 2. His awesome nicknaming skill doesn’t get so much as a twitch. Then again, that might be because Banner is so busy staring straight ahead with an epic rendition of the World’s Most Thoughtful Expression™ that it doesn’t seem like the man heard him. At all.

Until he suddenly speaks up.

“I think we’ve forgotten something.” Behind Tony the impromptu wrestling comes to a sudden halt.

Probably something negligible like how to focus on a mission, the sarcastic voice in the back of Tony’s mind drawls. Though it should be noted that Tony’s consciousness only comes in sarcastic or not at all. Sorry, everyone, all the other flavors are out.

Banner’s frown deepens. “Something— Something important.”

Right on cue an explosion rocks the aircraft.

They run into Romanoff on the hallway. 

She looks just about ready to murder all of them. Considering she’s never graced Tony with that much emotion when he was actively trying to get under her skin at his most annoying, he makes the executive decision to get the fuck out of dodge. Meaning he calmly takes a step to the left to hide behind Rogers. From what he’s seen so far, they can afford to lose him if it comes to that.

“What’s going on?” Rogers asks with a relaxed air that violently clashes with the murderous air Romanoff eludes.

Part of Tony wants to do a Thor, blow a convenient hole through the nearest wall and make a graceful exit. The rest of him desperately wishes he had popcorn.

“It’s Barton,” Romanoff states grimly. “He’s leading a team of eight hostiles. Their aim appears to be to free Loki.”

Oh. Tony grimaces. Yeah. That would do it.

Romanoff’s narrow-eyed gaze fixates on Rogers, confirming once and for all that Tony chose the right sacrificial offering because his instincts are amazing like that.

“I take it cognitive recalibration will work on him as well?” Romanoff asks politely. There’s a very loud ‘you better tell me what I want to hear or I’ll use you to beat some sense into that little shit’ at the end of that sentence. It’s almost impressive how unfazed Rogers’ seems when Tony can see his life expectancy dwindle right before his eyes.

...nah. The much more probable conclusion is that the man — supersoldier whatever — is an idiot with zero self-preservation.

And after having read his file that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

“Oh yeah,” Rogers nods, already hefting up his shield and moving. “Don’t worry, I can-”

Romanoff has her gun aimed straight at his head before he finishes. It’s a very big gun. Where did she even hide it?

“You,” Romanoff enunciates slowly, “can handle the rest of the minions. Or the control center. Barton’s mine and if you try to go after him, I’ll shoot you.”

“That escalated quickly,” Banner mutters under his breath.

Tony for his part can’t say he is surprised. He still regrets the lack of popcorn though.

“But wouldn’t it be easier if I-” Rogers, proving once and for all that he has less common sense than DUM-E before his first ever upgrade, starts.

Romanoff removes the safety. “The last time you recalibrated someone you almost crushed a god’s skull.”

And alright, fair point. Tony still recalls the terrible cracking sound the shield made against Loki’s skull even if he really wishes he didn’t. A human. Unfortunately he can imagine the outcome just fine and it’s a lot more than just messy death.

“She’s got a point, Captain,” Banner cuts in, speaking right over Rogers’ outraged “I’m in perfect control of my enhanced strength, thank you,”, shrugging off the betrayed glance Rogers shoots him. “We don’t need to argue about this.”

“I shall ensure my brother is not disturbed,” Thor announces with a thunderous — pun very much intended because Tony has to take his fun where he can get it, what with the company he’s currently keeping — scowl and walks away. Without another word.

Thanks for that, man. Go team.

“Alarms register intruders on the second level as of three minutes ago, moving towards Storage Unit 33,” Tony repeats JARVIS’ message because his boy is fucking amazing and also it’s high time to blow this joint before something else goes wrong. “Seems like Barton’s minions are on the move. Might want to stop them, from what SHIELD’s super secret files say, they really shouldn’t get in there.”

That earns him a fond grin from Rogers. Tony blinks, feeling like he’s taken two quick steps to the left without his brain registering the motion.

“Guess we’ll take care of that then, huh Stark?”


“Not like I can trust you to get the job done on your own, Icicle.” Tony blinks, surprised by the amount of sarcasm his mouth is capable off sprouting while his brain reloads.

“Glad to see some common sense under all that posturing.” Romanoff smiles sweetly and stalks off into the opposite direction with a fuck-with-me-I-dare-you stalk that could clear out an entire shopping center on Black Friday.

“Hang on, what did you mean by handle the control center?” Rogers calls out after her.

“It’s on fire.” And with that cheerful proclamation and a casual wave over her shoulder, Romanoff takes a turn and disappears out of sight.

Tony blinks. Recalculates. “Secure 33 and the minions first, then worry about the fire.” Because the fire will be the least of their worries if any of the intruders get their hands on even one of the weapons cleared for Phase 2 that Tony knows are in that room.

Thankfully, neither Rogers nor Banner question his decision, just take off after him. 

Well, Rogers does. Banner takes two steps, freezes, slaps his forehead hard enough to be heard over the distant sound of another explosion, cries something about ‘fill’ as the aircraft tilts sideways and runs off without another word.

Tony would really like an explanation for that. [And for 47 other things while he’s at it. He’s keeping track — and what he misses J definitely doesn’t.] And he’ll get one. 

As soon as the walls stop shaking and the floor doesn’t threaten to break away under his feet.

Really, who thought keeping an entire agency’s base on a flying aircraft that doesn’t even need a missile to get a hole ripped into its outer shell would be a good idea? 

Tony blames Fury. For everything.

It takes quite a bit of effort — and some outstanding teamwork that Tony didn’t think he and Rogers would be capable of — but they manage to break the helicarrier.

Hang on, that came out wrong.

To clarify [because Fury will undoubtedly be on Tony’s ass about this]: They don’t set out to break the helicarrier. But Barton, it turns out, is a damn talented saboteur and while Tony and Rogers successfully intercept his minions before they can get their hands on some of the very secret alien weapons SHIELD should’ve never gotten its hands on, they are way too late to do anything about the control center.

Or the rampaging Hulk. Who, if JARVIS is to be trusted — who is always to be trusted because it’s JARVIS — got into a screaming match with Thor. Wonderful.

Saving the helicarrier is a lost cause but they manage to break only part of it off — the part they’re on because why wouldn’t they be — so there’s a good 60% chance that not all of SHIELD’s top-of-the-top agents died in the crash.

Solid win for the good guys that.

Sarcasm aside, they’re all alive. Tony caught Rogers — not a fucking team player, ha —, Hulk is pretty hard to kill to the surprise of absolutely no one, save perhaps Ross, Thor and a very concussed-looking Loki can get downed by Captain America’s shield but are too godly-Asgardian-whatever to be phased by falling a couple of kilometers through the air and Romanoff just shows up amidst the rumble, covered in dirt, an ugly bruise on her jaw, blood tickling down her neck and the unconscious shape that is probably Barton slung over her shoulder.

Tony doesn’t even ask.

He’s too busy staring down Hulk. “Aren’t you supposed to be bigger?”

Instead of snarling, squashing him or whatever rage monsters do when they are told they aren’t impressive enough, Hulk claps his hands. “Tin man back!” he booms. “Hulk happy!”

Tony takes a wary step back. If Hulk tries to hug him too then big fan of the green guy or not, he’s taking to the sky and never coming back down again. Tony’s more than filled his hug-quota for the month, possibly for the year. And also people need to stop being so damn enthusiastic to see him, it’s gonna give him a complex.

Thankfully, there’s plenty of other people around him to serve as a distraction. Not to mention their current whereabouts. Not that there's much to see. They’ve landed in an uninhabited, random hill in the middle of nowhere. Thank whatever higher power is responsible for that small mercy. The last thing Tony needs is more civilian causalities on his conscience. That said, he doesn’t recognize much of anything within eyesight, which isn’t promising.

Sure, his suit can probably get him out of here, but that still leaves a supersoldier, two secret agents and two Asgardians — after Thor’s insistence on the term, Tony’s gonna stick with it, even if ‘god’ would freak more people out, see how well he’s taking other people’s feelings into consideration? — unaccounted for. Plus the Hulk. But getting Big Green anywhere he doesn’t want to go would be impossible anyway.

“You alright there, Cap?”

“I’ll live.” Rogers grins at him, a little more tired and still with that same shadow that Tony can’t properly identify, but real nonetheless. Ugh. This much genuine happiness can’t be healthy. “Thanks for the help, Stark. You did good.”

Tony shrugs. “Hey, I’m all for team spirit and all that shit, ask anyone.” What else is he supposed to say?

Rogers snorts. Turns around to face Thor, who is carrying Loki towards them. Their future evil alien overlord doesn’t look too good up close, pale and haggard, with dark shadows under his eyes that would give Tony at his first post-Afghanistan depression a run for their money.

Not a record any sane person wants to beat.

“Everything alright with your brother?” 

Tony’s impressed how casual Rogers makes the question sound. It’s impossible to tell if he’s concerned about Loki’s welfare or subtly requesting information on his mental state or even demanding a report about potential trouble. Well done.

“Nothing he won’t recover from.” The expression on Thor’s face is hard to read, almost blank, but the way his grip around Loki tightens is a tell on its own.

Sternly reminding himself that he’s not gonna involve himself in Norse god drama — again — Tony catches Romanoff’s eyes and nods towards her carry-on. “Barton good as well?”

“He’ll be fine.” She says evenly. A threat if Tony has ever heard one. 


They both turn back towards the rest of the group. Even Hulk has joined them, perfectly content to just stand there and casually crush what’s left of the wreck inside his left hand. A power move if Tony’s ever seen one — really, if Tony didn’t already have his precious honey bear he’d claim Hulk as his best friend in a heartbeat. No second thoughts, plenty of regrets. For other people, that is.

“Well, we’re all alive so that’s great.” Rogers rubs the back of his neck, wincing like he’s just realized how depressing that sounds. Shoots Loki an anything but inconspicuous look. “I guess we should get back to the Tower, just in case.”

“What tower?” Tony asks over Thor’s agreement and Romanoff’s raised eyebrows — they’re very loud raised eyebrows, okay.

Rogers freezes. The look on his face bears an odd resemblance to how Rhodey looked that one time Tony caught him with a Hammer gun. 

“Uhm. Stark Tower?”

Tony crosses his arms in front of his chest. “Why would we go there?”

Why would they even go to NYC? They already have Loki, even if he doesn’t look particularly chained up from where Tony’s standing and they’ve even gotten some of the brainwashed minions back. Shouldn’t they focus on the Tesseract now? Or barring that on pissing off Fury into telling them what else besides hella illegal if anyone knew about it weapons manufacturing they haven’t been told?

“ regroup?” Rogers asks slowly.

Tony gives him the look that statement deserves.

“That sounds like a sensible course of action,” Thor adds. “And I would like to leave my brother in a place where he can rest.”

What, his high-level security cell wasn’t chill enough? Tony swallows that comment at the last second, vaguely remembering the protective fervor Thor has shown in defense of his brother and not at all eager to become its target.

“Hulk sleep,” Hulk says, not being much of a help at all.

Romanoff’s eyebrows judge them all.

“It’s decided then!” Rogers claps his hands, blatantly ignoring the lack of agreement from the sanest two people present. “Let’s go see if we can find a car to hot-wire.”

Tony stares after him. “I can’t believe Captain fucking America just said ‘see if we can find a car to hot-wire’.”

Romanoff scoffs, even as her gaze flickers restlessly back and forth between Rogers, Hulk and Thor and Loki. “I can’t believe they call him the man with a plan.”

“Well, no one said it would be a good plan.”

“Don’t worry,” Rogers calls out over his shoulder, cool as a cucumber and doing a terrible job of concealing the amusement in his tone, “if a giant hole gets torn into the sky, you and Thor get to play flying taxi.”

Tony exchanges a glance with Romanoff — not an easy thing to do considering his faceplate is still up. “The scary thing is I can’t tell if he’s joking or not.”

“He’s not,” Romanoff deadpans.

Yeah. That’s what Tony was afraid of.

They’re half-way between the crash site in who-cares-nowhere and NYC, driving a car that is not hot-wired. Not that Rogers wasn’t willing, but he didn’t get the chance before the owner handed them the keys — as well as a delicious sandwich — and wished them good luck in their future endeavors.

Really, if that’s the end-result of Loki being left unsupervised around strangers, Tony’s all for letting the guy handle it. When he’s not shooting for world domination, he’s damn effective.

All in all, Tony would rate this road trip a solid 4/10. 

[Those four points are for the sandwich that Tony hasn’t shared and doesn’t feel guilty for keeping all to himself either.]

In the front, Rogers and Romanoff are discussing their route while Romanoff’s playing around with the radio stations, gazing back to check that Barton’s still breathing every minute. In the back Loki is doing a marvelous job of pretending Thor doesn’t exist. Tony would feel bad for big blonde but Thunder Boy’s blown his shot when he tried to strangle Tony in a hug

He’s Team Loki all the way now.

[”What did I just say about not getting dragged into their shit show of a family reunion?” an exasperated voice in the back of his head pops up. Tony ignores her with the ease of long practice.]

Tony’s munching on the last of his sandwich, generously ignoring the still-unconscious Barton to his left, who’s drooling all over his shoulder. That can’t be comfortable, Tony’s still in the suit after all, but oh well. Banner, back to his less-green but no less awesome when he isn’t being an uncommunicative prick state, is mumbling half-sentences that Tony doesn’t understand the context of and is trying hard to tune out. You know, before he gets pissed enough to shot someone in the face with his repulsors.

All in all, the drive is going pretty well, considering how many superpowered, previously hostile-and-or-strangers-to-each-other people the car contains.

Then Barton comes to, eyes that are no longer that unnaturally bright blue fluttering open, only to do a full-body jerk.

“Easy.” Tony catches the man’s shoulders because magical brainwashing must be a disorienting experience. “You got your brains rolled there for a bit, probably best to take it slow.” And wow, now that he’s said those words out loud, it’s a miracle Tony doesn’t choke on the hypocrisy. He can certainly feel J’s judging silence, even if the others are unaware of it.

“Tell me about it,” Barton rasps with the sort of gallows humor Tony can appreciate. “You’d think I’d get used to— Stark?”

“Live and in stereo.” Tony aims for light-hearted, but in the face of the agent’s intense look he probably misses by a mile.

Barton frowns. “Not that I’m not glad to see you, but didn’t you—” 

He twists, takes in his surroundings the way you’d expect of a successful field agent valuable enough to get himself brainwashed by an alien conqueror and now that Tony thinks about it, having Loki in close proximity to the guy he mind-controlled might not be the best idea. Before he has the chance to act on that realization, to stop him, Barton makes a sound like he’s been stabbed in the lung with the blunt end of the stupidly dramatic scepter and throws himself forward.

Forward not backwards.

Barton crashes into the driver’s seat, hard enough to drive it painfully into Rogers back going by his startled yelp, proceeds to knee Captain America in the face in his haste to scramble forward, ignores the startled shouts and very explicit cursing as their car severs sharply in a desperate attempt to keep them from crashing headfirst into a minivan on the other lane whose pale driver is honking like crazy — because they’re on a fucking interstate, Barton, what the hell — to bodily throw himself at Romanoff in a tight hold that looks several degrees too painful to be called a hug.

Nat,” Barton rasps like he’s choking on the syllable. 

Which he might. Romanoff certainly looks ready to murder him. For the nickname, the stranglehold or for catching her off-guard — Tony caught that stunned expression and he’s never gonna let her forget it — is anybody’s guess.

“Clint,” she says in a perfectly friendly tone of voice that makes Tony’s insides shrivel up and fold into themselves, “what are you doing.” 

They make it to Stark Tower without causing a traffic accident and without killing each other. The latter especially is quite the accomplishment.

There is no hole in the sky over the tower. Granted, Tony wasn’t expecting there to be one, but Barton seems disturbed by that fact. Which in turn disturbs Tony. And possibly Romanoff. Judges are still out on whether she’s the last sane one left or is just hiding the madness better than everyone else.

“Welcome back, Sir,” JARVIS greets him the moment Tony walks through the lobby and steps straight into the elevator. 

To his surprise, none of the others, who have all piled in after him, so much as flinch or look around in search for the origin of J’s voice. Even Pepper needed some time to get used to him at first. Half of these people may be trained secret agents, but still. Maybe that’s his never-denied personal bias talking but Tony wouldn’t have thought Rogers had it in him.

“It’s good to be home.” Tony winks at one of the hidden cameras. “J, these are the Avengers, Earth’s mightiest hero club, yada yada. Everyone, this,” he waves losely around them, “is Just A Rather Very Intelligent System or JARVIS for short.”

That results in a round of greetings, which while short and to the point are still a nice surprise. People rarely acknowledge JARVIS directly.

“A pleasure,” J replies with only a hint of dryness because J is awesome like that and has probably enjoyed seeing them flounder all day. "And how wonderful to have you back with us, Miss Romanoff,” he adds mildly.

Tony suppresses a shudder. Yep, his AI definitely hasn’t forgiven SHIELD for that disastrous infiltration mission yet. Unsurprising but always good to have it confirmed.

“Take us to the penthouse, please,” Tony cuts in before Romanoff has the chance to do more than incline her head. The last thing he needs is to relive one of her passive-aggressive wars with JARVIS. He just knows he’s gonna get dragged into that mess somehow.

"Ah, hang on,” Rogers actually raises his hand like a kid in preschool. It would be adorable if the guy wasn’t almost a head taller than Tony and talking over everybody— alright, fine, it’s still adorable. But it definitely shouldn’t be and the unfairness of it pisses Tony off.

“We should probably check the roof first,” Rogers continues because the guy can’t read the room to save his life.

Tony blinks. “Why would we check the roof? Scratch that, what should we check the roof for?”

Barton freezes mid-motion into a double thumbs-up. For a man who’s mind was overridden by the Asgardian standing two feet to his right, he’s doing an admirable job of keeping his shit together. On the flip-side, he keeps Romanoff within grabbing distance at all times, so whatever the fuck kind of trauma the brainwashing brought up, Tony’s hesitant to call it a win.

“Uhm,” Steve says.

“Seriously, Stark? Are you telling me you don’t check your roof regularly?” Barton demands. “Don’t you think smack in the middle of an alien invasion is the wrong time to get lax with your security?”

Tony rolls his eyes, then does a double-take when he realizes the guy is serious. He’s not sure why it takes him off-guard like this. Maybe because Romanoff seemed pretty normal and competent for a lying throat-stabber? Clearly, between the two of them she’s gotten the good sense and Barton’s got the big mouth. “I wasn’t aware my tower was being invaded,” is what he settles on.

Although he has just walked two aliens in through the front door. Oh, what the hell. “Fine. J, you heard them. Roof first, then penthouse. And please tell me the bar is fully stocked.”

“Of course, Sir.” 

JARVIS sounds offended at the very idea it might not be. Actually, that offense might also be aimed at the people surrounding him who are — however indirectly — implying that JARVIS isn’t doing a proper job with the Tower’s security. Tony would feel bad for them if he wasn’t so busy cackling at their future misfortune.

On the roof, they stumble over one four of SHIELD’s missing brainwashees and the fucking Tesseract.

Yeah. Tony’s got nothing.

Rogers gets to prove that he can in fact knock out a regular human without making their head explode though, so there’s that.

Standing inside his penthouse, listening to Rogers, Barton and Banner explain to Fury how they just happened to stumble over the Tesseract on a routine security check of Stark Tower’s roof and wouldn’t you know, they’ve managed to fight off the looming alien invasion before it could really start and secure the missing overpowered nightlight is one of the most surreal situations Tony has ever had the displeasure of experiencing. And he once watched the devastation of a never-to-be-mentioned game of tag between DUM-E, a drunk Rhodey and their way too sober linear algebra TA play out from up close. 

That said, all’s well that ends well and you don’t get much more of an all-around win for Team Earth than this, right? Great. Everybody grab your commemorate T-shirt on the way out and let’s go back home. 

Or out of Tony’s home at least.

Of course none of them make any move to get up from Tony’s very comfortable couch. That’s precisely why he takes a savage pleasure in the ominous twitch Fury’s eye has developed. Hey, if Tony has to suffer through this bullshit — he’s living it and he doesn’t fucking believe it, how dare reality let him down like this — he’s gonna take everyone he can reach down with him.

Although at this point, it’s more Rogers and Barton that are taking everyone down, with the occasional casual [read: mind-blowing] comment from Banner thrown in for shits and giggles. If Thor wasn’t too occupied gazing soulfully at his brother to join the fray, Fury definitely would’ve already pressed a self-destruction button somewhere.

The worst part is that Tony isn’t even sure what’s pissing him off so much about the mad quartet. It’s not that they’re plain crazy — plenty of great people are, in fact that’s usually a pro where Tony’s concerned — or capable when they get their shit together for like two seconds. And it’s not because of the thousand-yard-stares they keep exchanging like they’ve come up with their own secret language during the twenty minutes Tony turned his back on them either. Though those are annoying and the only reason Tony hasn’t chucked a glass at someone’s head yet is because they can’t seem to agree on the same fucking code. 

All of that is frustrating, don’t get him wrong. But it’s not the things they obviously don’t say [on a related note, Tony’s mental list of questions to ask and pointed remarks to make is growing steadily] it’s the things they do say. Case in point:

"-caution seemed appropriate," Rogers comes to an end with his long-winded speech in response to Fury’s direct "Why the fuck did you refuse to hand over the Tesseract to the recovery team?". A response that could be summed up with 'We don’t trust you', the first sign of common sense the legendary supersoldier has shown in Tony’s presence.

Before Fury can even open his mouth, Banner snaps his fingers. "The scepter! Did anyone keep an eye on the scepter?"

"I assure you," Agent Agent, who looks a little singed and has a bandage wrapped around one ear, yet continues to rock the personality-free drawl that tricks people into thinking he’s not worth paying attention to, speaks up, "that the scepter is still safely in SHIELD custody, Dr. Banner."

Banner scoffs.

Rogers grimaces.

Barton winces.

Tony feels utterly justified in the doubtful look he sends at the screen. You know your show sucks balls when even your own operatives don’t buy what you’re selling.

"That’s great," Banner says in a painfully droll voice. "But I’ll feel a lot better when we hand it over to our resident Asgardian prince for safekeeping rather than put it into a secret high-security facility and hope for the best. Like the one you stored the Tesseract in took Loki what, five minutes to take over?"

Woah, talk about burn. Tony doesn’t bother muffling his snicker. Who’d have thought Banner has it in him?

"Hang on, wouldn’t it be better—" Rogers interrupts before Fury or Coulson can come up with an excuse, which judging by their sour-slash-carefully-blank expressions isn’t as easy as they’d like it to be.

Banner raises one hand. It shouldn’t be a power move on part with his green counterpart squashing a car in his fist, isn’t even particularly aggressive but for some reason Rogers shuts up. Immediately. The bright, eerily green eyes might have something to do with it. 

"If you’re going where I think you’re going, I advise you to reconsider," Banner growls, the vocals deep enough that Romanoff reaches for the nearest weapon. "Even setting my personal issues aside, it’s not worth the risk."

Barton sighs with what sounds less like exhaustion and more like sad resignation. "Hate to say it, Cap, but he’s right. Sending the scepter off-Earth with the Tesseract is probably the safest course of action we can take right now. We can’t count on being that lucky again."

"Agent Barton," Agent Agent’s words drip with such a pointedly polite friendliness, it’s a wonder he doesn’t spear his own tongue on it. "Please desist in trying to hand off objects that pose an immediate threat to global security to an unvetted alien who, while a valued ally, is in line for the throne of a foreign world."

And wow. Tony’s not gonna win a prize for his sensitivity any time soon, but there’s some things you just don’t say to a guy who got brainwashed into doing an alien’s bidding less than forty-eight hours ago. Going by the way Romanoff has gone rigid, she agrees.

Luckily for everyone present, Barton doesn’t bat an eye at the dig. He leans forward instead, elbows placed on his tights, the picture of relaxation. As long as you ignore the expression on his face that could possibly pass for a smile. If you catch sight of it out of the corner of your eye. Through a dirty mirror. 

"Not that I’m not glad to see you alive and well, Phil, because I am. But getting my head rolled once was already one time too many and if the Tesseract is powerful enough to draw fucking aliens to it then it’s too fucking powerful for us to protect." Barton’s voice becomes progressively lower as he continues his little not-having-any-of-your-shit rant. "More people are gonna get killed over that thing. Good people. Because we don’t have the damn resources to keep it safe. So if we gotta bet on Asgard for this, then that’s what we’re gonna fucking do because to be frank with you sir I rather lead the hostile aliens to a world ready for interstellar warfare than my own."

Thor straightens from where he’s been fixated on Loki for the past hour or so, trying to crawl into his brother’s skull through willpower alone by the looks of it, and dips his head in Barton’s direction. "Thank you for your faith," he says gravely, as though Barton hasn’t straight up told everyone in this room he wants to use Asgard as a shield-slash-sacrificial-offering. "I hope my people will prove worthy of it."

"Should be fine." Banner shrugs with a nonchalance Tony envies. "’s long as we take care of your murderous sibling first."

Thor winces. Loki’s face loses whatever expressiveness it had left and it already was at state zero: emotions not welcome here to begin with. 

But. Tony tilts his head. Why not just call Loki by his name? Unless, of course, Banner isn’t referring to him. But how would the infamous Hulk-slash-brilliant-scientist have gotten himself wrapped up in alien family drama? And is there a form Tony can sign? Because he hates being kept out of the loop.

"Avengers!" Fury snaps before things can get any more awkward. Which, good for him, but in Tony’s fine opinion he should have taken the win and be done with it. There’s just no winning against whatever type of madness — not to mention feelings — these people are so inconsiderately spreading inside his walls. "You’re not bartering off our best chance to defend ourselves against alien invaders, have I made myself clear? That’s an order."

Rogers scoffs at the screen and damn it, Tony’s determined not to like the guy but the way he just smirks humorlessly as he stares Fury down, all aww shucks did you want the pretty, glowy thing too and well too damn bad for you makes it hard. Especially when Rogers goes that little extra mile and asks with a plain as day air of who fucking cares: "Whatever gave you the impression that this is a negotiation, Director Fury?"

It’s just too great a line to resist and Tony is only human. He makes a sharp gesture with his hand and JARVIS disconnects the call before they witness Fury pop a blood vessel. Let that be Agent’s problem for the time being.

"So," Tony states after a moment. "Besides all but declaring war on SHIELD, the organization two people in this room are officially employed by, for the record, and dealing with Reindeer Games over there, what’s the plan?"

Nervous shuffling. Awkward grins. Badly-hidden glances going back and forth. 

Notably no one protests the declaring-war-on-SHIELD part. Tony would ask but frankly he’s still on his first glass of scotch — meaning way too fucking sober for whatever madness the answer to that question will undoubtedly raise. It’s a sad, sad day in the history of mankind when Tony is the voice of reason in a room filled with one-person-armies.

"What about Shawarma?" Rogers, apparently the most uncomfortable with the pressing silence, blurts out.

Tony gives that pitiful attempt to change the subject the nice try, have to admit I didn’t see that coming but you’re gonna have to give me more than that look it deserves. As it turns out though, he may have been overestimating his present company’s average ability to read a room.

"I could go for a bite," Barton pipes up, earning himself a soul-shriveling, dead-eyed, where the fuck did I go wrong with you and how have I not killed you yet stare, courtesy of Romanoff that he brushes off with admirable ease. Still not moving an inch away from her either and if Tony’s noticed the way her hand’s been edging ever closer to the knife strapped to her calf, there’s no way Barton hasn’t.

"Sounds good," Banner chimes in with a level of twisted amusement that makes Tony want to scratch his eyes out. "I know just to the place."

They do eat Shawarma together. [All of them, even Loki, because Thor insists his brother is far too thin. Considering Barton doesn’t protest and the only person Loki tries to stab with his salad fork is Thor himself, nobody comments on it.]

As if to add insult to a very long list of injuries that Tony is dying to poke and prod at, the food tastes delicious.