Hello my dears! This story actually comes as a response to several different prompts on LJ so I just mushed them all together to make one long fic :D and God...there will be sooo much Steve!whump in this story its ridiculous! XD This is set somewhere right after the film where everyone is still kinda new to the idea of being on a team so, obviously, Steve and Tony are still clashing a bit lol. I'm going to try to keep updates as regular as I can but I'm finishing a Summer class (with a written final?!) and working on another story all at the same time so it might be a few days in between chapters! I'll try to update as soon as I can though! :D
Quick A/N: Okay, I'll be really honest: I have no idea how a water treatment plant works. I tried doing some research on them to write this first chapter and got the basics down but there were no pictures of the insides of the buildings so I'm kinda taking some creative licensing here and doing ye olde method of guessing. Turns out when you type in: diagram of a water treatment plant or structure designs of a fresh water treatment facility, you kinda look like a terrorist so most of my searches turned up nil =/ Not wanting to risk men in shiny black SUVs showing up at my door and carting me away to a small room with no windows, I stopped my searches and just went to writing what I saw in my head. If anyone has ever been to a water treatment plant though feel free to tell me! I'd love to know how they work! (still not a terrorist) I'll explain more of Inman's plan in the next chapter too so never fear!
TL;DR version- I have no idea how a water treatment plant works so I'm flying by the seat of my pants here. I'm not a terrorist, I'm just a college student with way too much time on her hands. Also, Inman's crazy and we'll talk about him some more later.
Disclaimer: I own nothing =/
The whir of the generators is deafening, the interlocking network of pipes and tubes stretching for miles overhead. The room smells heavily of chlorine as it treats the water in the pipes, the chemical mixture strong enough to make a normal man dizzy if exposed for too long. Steve barely even notices it.
He's running across one of the catwalks now, feet pounding across the metal grates and drains on the floor. Long, metal pipes run across the ceiling and along the walls, surrounding him on all sides and leading to a large tank in the middle of the room. There's a heavy rumbling of machinery and turbines and the air seems to vibrate around him as he runs. The main tank should be right up ahead, in the center of the complex. That's where he'll find him.
"Tony, I need your help down here," he mumbles as he runs, bounding up a metal staircase two and three steps at a time.
"Just a sec, dear. I'm in the middle of something," Tony's voice sing-songs back over the earpiece and Steve frowns.
"Tony, I'm serious."
"So am I. Keep your star-spangled pants on and I'll be there in a minute."
Steve is about to retort when he reaches the landing of the staircase, his eyes drifting across the flat platform and landing on the solitary figure standing near the edge of the tank. The man's back is to him, shoulders straight and head held high like he's a casual observer in all this. His clothes are spotless and he's leaning against the railing surrounding the tank carelessly like a tourist taking in one of the popular hot spots. Had it not been for the fact that he'd shot two of his coworkers and planted a bomb in the middle of the complex, Steve would have almost mistaken him for a worker who had gotten lost in the chaos.
The man hears him approaching and turns around, greeting him with a warm smile. He's in his mid-fifties with salt-and-pepper hair that matches the stubble of a goatee forming along his chin and jaw. He's small, his stature thin and wiry like a stick figure come to life, but Steve knows better than to assume anything about his appearance. This man was a murderer and he planned on doing something horrible in this building before the end of the day.
"Good afternoon, Captain," the man greets happily like he's been looking forward to saying that for a long time now. "So happy you could join me today."
"Dr. Inman," Steve began carefully, taking a cautious step forward toward the man standing near the tank. "Please listen to me. You don't have to do this. Whatever you have planned, whatever your intentions were…it doesn't have to be like this."
"Oh, but you see, it does," Inman says, smiling just slightly in a manner that was a bit maniacal. "This needs to happen, Captain. Don't you see? The people need to know. They need to know how vulnerable they are, how helpless their lives would be without my direction. They need to understand that I'm doing this for their own good, just so they understand their faults."
Steve takes another step forward but suddenly there a gun pointed in his direction, the barrel aimed at his head. "Please don't come any closer, Captain. I've already had to shoot two people today and I can tell you I'm not anxious for you to be the third. It's a nasty business, guns. My method is so much more powerful…it has a much bigger message."
Steve stops, weighing his options carefully. He needs to get Inman away from that tank, prevent him from doing anything that might affect the water supply. The swirling tank of water behind him emptied out into the pipes that brought clean tap water to millions of people in upper New York. Steve wasn't sure what he was planning but it couldn't be good, whatever it was. Inman had already attempted to bomb one of the other buildings, it wouldn't be outside the realms of possibility for him to do the same thing in here. "Tony, anytime you could get over here would be great. I could really use your help down here."
"Little busy here, Cap. Doing some pretty delicate work on this end."
Steve inwardly cursed and turned his attention back to the crazed scientist standing a few feet away. "What is this message you're trying to send, Dr. Inman? What are you planning to do?"
Inman smiled that same calm, slightly chaotic smile and kept his gun leveled at Steve's head. "Oh, my dear Captain, my plan is already in motion. It's been in the works for weeks now but today it takes its first steps into completion. All it really took was a bit of tinkering here and there; a few settings changed here, a filter moved there. All completely unnoticed by the "professionals" who are supposed to work in this building." His voice takes on a bitter tone, one full of anger and loathing. "They knew I was right, they knew that our system was weak and flawed and too easily corrupted."
"I tried to tell them. I tried to explain the faults in the machinery, the chinks in the armor that would eventually lead to our downfall. I told them how easy it would be to destroy the entire system and no one would even know. It could go unnoticed for days, kill hundreds if not thousands by the time it was over. I did tell them. And do you know what they did to me, Captain? They fired me. They told me I was crazy and that I had become obsessed. They fired me without a second thought and turned me out onto the street." The gun shakes a bit at this point, the anger in Inman's voice making him appear even more unbalanced than he already was. He takes a deep breath and composes himself, rolling his shoulders back but never dropping the gun.
"But they forgot that it was my design that could bring this whole building to its knees, that I was the one who found all the weak spots in the system. They forgot that I figured out how to destroy everything and then they would be left to pick up the pieces. They called me crazy and I'm calling them fools."
The whir of the turbines and generators is deafening and Steve has to shake his head to clear the fuzziness from his ears. "Dr. Inman, it's not too late to stop this! We can work this out, we can find another way. You said you found weak spots in the system," Steve gestures vaguely with one hand, not even sure if this was the system Inman was talking about. "We'll show them to someone who can look into them properly. Please, you don't have to destroy it."
Inman smiles and simply shakes his head. "I'm sorry, Captain, but its far too late for that. They need to know that they were wrong, that this was their fault and no one else's. They need to see the bigger picture before anything else can be done. This is the only way, the only way they'll see the folly of their actions."
His grip on the pistol weakens then, just for a fraction of a second, and Steve sees his opening. Before Inman can regain his grip, Steve hurdles his shield toward him, ricocheting it off one of the nearest pipes and sending it careening toward the scientist. It knocks his feet out from under him and he topples to the ground, landing in a sprawling heap and reaching for the gun. Steve runs across the platform then, covering the distance separating them in a matter of seconds. Inman is just now getting to his knees, gun in hand, and trying to aim. Steve tackles him just before he shoots and there's a brief feeling of weightlessness as they both tumbled over the edge of the platform and land in the swirling tank of water below.
The brief second underwater is momentarily disorienting and when Steve's head breaks the surface, he gasps brokenly, coughing on the water he managed to inhale on the way in. Inman is a few feet away from him, caught in the swirling current as the water is pushed toward a large pipe at the back of the tank. Steve swims toward him, trying to call out over the roar of turbines. Inman isn't paying attention to him, he's too caught up in trying to grab hold of something, anything, along the edge of the tank that will anchor him in one place. The current is strong, pushing and pulling and dragging both of them ever closer to the pipe and Steve knows if they get sucked in, they'd both drown before anyone ever figured out they were in here.
His feet find some kind of traction along one side of the tank and he uses it to propel himself forward, grabbing hold of one of Inman's arms and dragging him more toward the center of the tank, as far away from the pipe as he can get. The undertow keeps tugging them under and both rise to the surface coughing and sputtering water. This can't continue, the whirlpool is so strong they're both losing energy fast and a few more dunks will be all it takes before they don't come back up. Steve sees an opening when they swirl closer to one of the rails, the metal bar holding strong to the platform surrounding the tank. He only has one shot at this so he has to make it count.
Using the strength of the current to his advantage, he pushes both he and Inman up the side of the wall and grabs hold of the bar. His hands are slick from the water, the material of his suit sliding across the metal as he tries to get a proper grip. Inman is thrashing in his arms, cursing him and yelling every kind of insult imaginable. Steve ignores him and lifts him up over the railing, dropping him in a sodden heap in the platform. Steve climbs up right after him, landing gracefully next to the raving scientist and hauling him to his feet.
"You fool! You Goddamned idiot! Do you have any idea what you've just done? You've ruined it! All my hard work! You've ruined everything!"
Steve rolls his eyes and responds with a single punch that knocks the scientist unconscious and silences his rants. Spitting out one last mouthful of water, Steve tosses Dr. Inman over one shoulder and walks away from the tank, leaving the roar of swirling water and machinery behind him.
Tony arrives just as a police officer is tucking Inman into the back of a squad car, landing gracefully in the parking lot like a knight in shining red and gold armor. "Oh good, you caught the bad guy," he quips as he walks forward, the visor of his helmet flipping back to reveal his face.
Steve doesn't look at him, he simply steps back away from the police car as it starts to drive away. He's soaked to the bone, the fabric of his suit clinging to him more than it usually does and darker in color thanks to the intake of water. The cowl has been removed and his hair falls forward into his face, sticking to his forehead in dripping wet tendrils. His face is flushed from exertion and he looks wet and miserable but otherwise unharmed.
Tony steps up beside him, clapping a hand on a wet, blue-clad shoulder and giving a charming grin to the line of reporters waiting just behind the police barriers, microphones outstretched and crying out for an interview. He looks at them evenly, all their questions rolling over him like the buzz of static electricity, and takes a steadying breath. He doesn't feel even the slightest hint of nerves or apprehension; he was born for things like this.
"Ironman, can you tell us what happened in there? Should the citizens be concerned about the stand off inside the water treatment plant?" One reporter asks, her eyes glued to the billionaire-turned-superhero right in front of her. She looks young, probably her first interview of this magnitude ever, and Tony flashes her a grin.
"No, the citizens shouldn't be concerned at all. There was a situation inside but it was handled by NYPD along with the help of the Avengers. All in a day's work for the city's favorite superheroes."
"Captain America, is there anything you'd like to add to that comment?"
Steve ignores them and shrugs Tony's hand off his shoulder, walking back toward the complex, away from the reporters and the police and everyone else vying for his attention. There's a confused silence, some of the reporters calling out after him, but Steve pays them no mind and keeps walking.
Tony frowns and follows him, glancing back over his shoulder at the rampaging reporters and slightly awe-struck police officers. He knew Steve wasn't big on interviews, even worse when cameras and flashing lights were involved, but PR was necessary for a team like the Avengers because it proved they weren't mindless vigilantes out to do more harm than good; it proved they were the good guys and that they were trying to help. "Uh, Steve? We should probably go talk to the press and tell them that the day was once again saved by Earth's Mightiest Heroes or something. The less you talk, the more rabid they get. Trust me, I've seen it first hand."
Steve ignores him and keeps walking, swiping a hand across his face and flicking water away. He coughs once, spitting a residual mouthful of water to the side as he continues to walk away.
"Hey, earth to Steve. Walking away from an interview used to placate the wary citizens of New York doesn't really reflect well on the Avengers. We need to do some explaining or they'll be at our throats for the rest of the week."
"Then why don't you go handle it, Tony?" Steve asks, never turning around and continuing to walk straight ahead like he knows where he's going. "After all, it's what your good at, right? Handling the situation on your own? Taking matters into your own hands?"
Tony frowns but keeps walking. "Well yes, I am pretty awesome all on my own but I don't see how that's an issue." He finally catches up to Steve and catches his shoulder again only to have the younger man shove him off with just as much dismissal as before. "Jesus, Steve, what the hell is your problem?"
"My problem is you!" Steve snaps, rounding on him them and facing him fully. "My problem is that you never listen to me and you constantly ignore what I tell you! You always do things your way with no regard for anyone else! God, you can be so selfish sometimes Tony!"
Tony quirked an eyebrow just slightly at the sudden outburst. "I'm selfish? Really? I'm sorry Steve, but while you were taking swimming lessons in the reservoir tank with Dr. Inman I was busy defusing a bomb. That's right: a bomb. I'm sorry if I fail to see how disarming a bomb that could have had the potential to easily destroy over half of this compound and cut off the water supply to all of greater New York is selfish."
"Clint and Natasha were sent to take care of the bomb, you were supposed to come with me," Steve counters, his eyes still dark with irritation and his tone still sharp and lancing like a surgical blade.
"And what if they'd failed, huh? They would have been blown up with the rest of the building. My suit protects me against trivial things like bombs and explosions, it made more sense for me to be there and disarm it than it did for Clint or Natasha to do it."
"And by doing so, you ignored a direct order."
"Is that what this is about?" Tony asks incredulously, a disbelieving laugh escaping his throat. "You're pissed because I disobeyed one of your orders? Because I took the initiative and did something more productive than following you into the reservoir room and talking down a scientist who's gone way over the deep end? That's what you're pissed about?"
"No, I'm pissed because I didn't know what Inman was planning on doing in that building and I needed you there for backup! I needed your help in case he had planted another bomb and decided to destroy the reservoir tank. In case he destroyed the pipes leading toward the city. I can only do so much on my own, Tony, and I needed you there in case he did something that required both of us to fix!"
"Well, Steve, in case you didn't notice, "in case" never happened! He didn't destroy the reservoir and he didn't plant another bomb. Lucky for us, Inman is more of a scientist than a bomb developer. That first one was a dud, it was little more than a chunk of metal with a few wires attached to it. Look, we all came out in the end with no trouble and we caught the bad guy so what does it matter if I didn't follow one of your stupid orders?"
"It matters because I needed you!" Steve cries irritably, an angry flush rising to his cheeks. "I needed your help, Tony! Why is that so hard to understand?" Steve shakes his head, pinching the bridge of his nose like he's trying to ward off an oncoming headache. It wasn't the first time Tony had seen that expression when he was involved. "Do you know why they drilled it into our head to follow orders in the army?"
"Oh, here we go…"
"Because out there it's not just you; its you and your unit. They taught us to follow orders because it meant the difference between life and death on the frontlines. If you made a mistake out there it wasn't just you who suffered, it was everyone. I'm not saying all this just to hear myself talk; I've seen way too many soldiers end up on the business end of a gun because they did something reckless and didn't listen to an order given."
"Well here's the funny thing, Steve, you keep forgetting that we're not soldiers! None of us are! Clint and Natasha are the closest things we have to soldiers and even then, that is an extremely loose term to use around them! You keep going on and on about how great the army was and how it taught you so much and blah, blah, blah but we're not in the army. None of us are soldiers Steve, so stop comparing us to them!"
Steve just shook his head slowly and let out a long, tired sigh. "I know you're not a soldier, Tony. I know you're not one now and you never plan to be and I understand all that." Steve drops his hand, suddenly looking more worn and exhausted than he has in a long time. "But you are my teammate and you're supposed to be my friend and I needed your help today but you weren't there…"
Tony doesn't do guilt or remorse if he can help it; it's a useless emotion that doesn't get you anywhere in life. It's like a rope tying a boat to a dock, tethering it in one place and never letting it go. Guilt can be all consuming and destructive and Tony has long since gotten past such trivial emotions. At least he thought he had because just then, with that look of disappointment and something close to hurt in Steve's eyes, he feels just a tiny spark of something that can only be described as guilt twist in his stomach.
Steve sighs and shakes his head again, bringing one hand up to card it through his still wet hair. His face is flushed from the outburst and he looks even more miserable than he had before. "Go back and talk to the reporters, Tony. Tell them whatever you like. I'm going for a walk…I'll meet you back at the Tower later." He turns to leave then and Tony feels like he should stop him and at least try to work this out before he goes too far but he knows Steve is just as stubborn as he is. The argument has ended for now but it certainly wasn't over. They'll be back to verbally sparring with one another in an hour, tops. That thought alone is enough to make the guilt vanish and Tony is suddenly right back to his previous self.
"Whatever, Steve," he mutters, rolling his eyes and flipping his visor back down. He turns on one ironclad heel, walking back toward the gaggle of reporters toward the front of the building. He knows Steve will get over it; this certainly isn't the first clash they've had about leadership in the past couple of months. It'll work itself out in the end, of that Tony has no doubt, but he's not going to be the first to apologize or back down on this matter. Steve needs to understand that he can't be the boss all the time; sometimes orders are meant to be broken. "JARVIS, call the CEO of Caitlin Enterprises and tell him we'll have to push our meeting back to 4:30 this afternoon. And see if you can get in touch with Rhodey about tomorrow, I need his help testing a new prototype."
"Also, get in touch with the Bankman group and tell them I won't be able to make that presentation today. This whole mess with the water plant terrorist has completely screwed up my schedule for the next three days…"
"Oh yeah, call Pepper and tell her our dinner reservations might have to be later tonight. I'm probably going to be stuck in that meeting at least until 8."
"Sir, it appears Captain Rogers is experiencing some form of physical distress."
"What?" Tony asks to no one in particular, whirling around and looking back in the general direction he'd left Steve. The soldier is nowhere to be seen and Tony is jogging back before he realizes his feet are moving. "Where is he, JARVIS?"
"Approximately 15 feet ahead of you, sir."
Tony sees him then, crumpled onto his knees and gripping the ground with both hands like he's stuck on merry-go-round that's going too fast. Tony skids to his knees next to him, dropping down and placing both hands on Steve's shoulders. "Steve? Hey, look at me. What's wrong?"
Steve shakes his head weakly, squeezing his eyes shut tightly. His face is beaded with sweat and his cheekbones are stained with a bright flush of color. "I don't know…I…" He winces, gritting his teeth and hunching forward a bit more. Tony was pretty sure if he wasn't kneeling right in front of him Steve would have toppled forward onto the ground
Bright diagrams fill his line of sight and it outlines a picture of Steve's body along with a readout of his vital signs. Tony frowns, noticing his heart rate and blood pressure are skyrocketing and his temperature is climbing by degrees with each passing second. "Steve, hey, listen to me." He cups the younger man's face, frown deepening when he can feel the intense heat filtering through the metal. "What's going on? Did you get hit? What happened?"
Steve looks at him then but his blue eyes are glazed and bright with fever. He shakes his head a bit, swaying even though he's sitting. The movement is jerky and uncoordinated and Tony has to keep a firm grip on the younger man's arms to keep him from pitching to the side completely. "Hey, easy," he whispers, hands still clamped on the delirious younger man's shoulder. "Its okay. I'm right here, its okay."
Tony feels the bottom drop out of his stomach at that one word and his blood turns to ice in his veins. Steve had called him Howard…he'd confused him with his father, someone he knew back in the 40's…this was bad. "No, Steve, hey…look at me." Tony ducks his head a bit so he's in Steve's line of sight, hoping the proximity will jog Steve's memory enough for him to recognize him. "Its Tony, remember? Billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, and all around royal pain in your ass?"
There's no recognition in Steve's glassy, fever-hazed eyes, no sign that he's even really aware of anything around him. Then, just as his gaze finally land on Tony's face and there's the smallest hint of recognition, his eyes flutter weakly and roll up into the back of his head. Steve sags forward in Tony's arms and its only the fact that he's right there to catch him that Steve doesn't face plant into the ground. Tony lets out a startled "oof!" and catches him awkwardly, metal-incased arms wrapping around Steve's broad shoulders and trying to keep him off the ground.
The fever is burning through his suit, making his own skin uncomfortably warm and he knows this isn't a normal illness. Something happened in that tank room and Steve had been exposed to it. Something happened and Tony wasn't there…
"JARVIS, get in touch with S.H.I.E.L.D and tell them to get the medical wing ready. Make sure Banner is there when we arrive. Tell them Steve's down and I'm not sure what's wrong with him."
Tony manages to get to his feet, Steve still limp and dangling in his arms. "Hold tight, super soldier," he mutters, more to himself than Steve as he's pretty sure Steve is far too unconscious to hear him right now. Keeping a firm grip on the unconscious, feverish soldier in his arms, he blasts off the ground, leaving a sizable crater in the sidewalk, and flies off in the direction of the Helicarrier.
Poor Steve, I'm really going to put him through the ringer in this one...Hope you all like it! :D