Tony sighs and leans against Steve. "If I wasn't broken, would you still stay with me?"
"Yes." Steve hadn't planned on this, but then he hadn't planned on a lot of things in his life. That didn't mean he couldn't recognize it when something was right, something he should hold onto with all his strength. "When you're stronger, you can tell me to go, if you want. But that's the only way I'll leave you."
"I'm a genius. Why would I ever do such a stupid thing?" Tony grins up at Steve.
"You seem better here. Is that just my imagination?"
Tony shakes his head. "No, you're right. It's... easier to...volunteer information... to have my own opinions... The association with punishment is much weaker here." Tony thinks a moment. "Possibly it's because I was being trained to work for... to invent things. I couldn't do that if I was concentrating on being obedient. Obedience kills creativity. You've got to be free to step outside the box in order to come up with anything radically new. So when I'm in my workshop, the compulsion is redirected along more familiar lines."
"Do you want to stay here? We could bring in a bed, anything else you need."
"I... yes. I think it would help. You'll stay with me, won't you?" If he can see Steve, then he'll know it's all right to do things on his own here, because he'll be able to see if Steve isn't pleased with him. "I'll try, but I need you."
"Sure." Steve smiled and touched Tony's hand. It felt a little warmer to him. "I'd like to watch you working."
"Oh! I haven't shown you the best..." Tony turns to face the display alcoves against the wall. "The suits. I wish I could put one on and really show you."
"Why can't you?" Steve walked over to the suits and looked at the red and gold one. "Is something wrong with them?"
"Not them. Me. What if... I don't know...I'm sure he never meant for me to wear a suit again. I don't know what might happen." Tony folds his arms across his chest, holding himself back from the yearning to be Iron Man again. To be strong. To be fast. To be free.
"It might hurt you?"
"Or I might... lose control. Hurt you. Hurt Pepper. I don't know." Tony is still calm, and not afraid. Just very sad. It hurt to lose so many things he'd once taken for granted, pride, self-confidence, independence, and the suits embodied so much of that. It was as if they were the symbols for everything that had been taken away from him.
Steve studied the suits. "Is there a way that you could make a... fail-safe, something to let me take control of the suit if necessary? I mean, it's not just metal and weapons, Pepper told me that it's more like a fighter plane. So if you could rig up an auto-pilot and give me remote control, I could tell it to take over, and stop you from doing anything dangerous."
"That's... you know... that might actually work. I use a copy of Jarvis to organize all the controls and responses, it could be set up to override the suit operator, and default to a 'return to controller' auto-pilot. You wouldn't be able to give the suit any detailed commands, but with Jarvis as the interface interpreter, you wouldn't have to. Plain English would do." Tony is swaying from foot to foot as the excitement builds up in him. He can do this. He can fix it. He can give Steve control and then it will be good, will be safe. "Oh, God, I could fly again. Steve, I could fly." And Tony is crying again, but this time it doesn't hurt.
"Tony." Steve went to him and wrapped his arms tightly around Tony. "I want to see you fly."
Agents Barton and Romanova have arrived.
"Thank you, Jarvis," Tony says. "Save the preliminary modifications to the suit interface control structure. Analyze for any coding conflicts and prepare a report." Tony stands up, leaving all the wireframe holograms of suit subassemblies still active, hovering around the room. He likes being surrounded by them.
As you wish, sir.
Steve sank a virtual basket, and grinned at the flashing lights and 'ding ding ding'. "You have the best toys, Tony."
"Yes, yes I do." Tony goes to Steve and takes his hand. "You've picked up on the gestural controls of the holos remarkably. I might not have to dumb down the remote too much after all."
Steve laughed. There had been more and more flashes of teasing humor as Tony became involved in the project. Steve thought he would probably fall in love all over again the day that Tony was able to really insult him. "That's good to hear." He put his arm around Tony's shoulders.
"Fury wants the suit," Natasha said without preamble the moment Steve and Tony entered the living room. She and Clint were standing there, and Pepper was facing them.
"That's non-negotiable," Pepper snapped.
Tony turns and hides his face against Steve's chest. He's shaking.
Steve glared at Natasha as he put his arms around Tony. He was furious. For a little while Tony had been doing so well. "What do you think you're doing? You're here to help, not to issue ultimatums. Which aren't going to get you anything. The suits belong to Tony. Fury can't just commandeer them."
Natasha shook her head. "He knows that. Without the power source in Stark's chest, the suits are nothing more than oversized paperweights."
Pepper pushed in between them. "Then what was that all about? Mr. Stark invited you here to assist him, not to threaten him."
"It was a test. One Mr. Stark has failed." Natasha looked Pepper in the eyes. "You can't control a press conference. Someone is bound to ask a wrong question, something Mr. Stark isn't prepared to deal with."
"You don't know that!" Pepper said, moving even closer to Natasha. "I am damn good at handling reporters!"
Clint sighed, drawing attention to himself as he sat on the couch. "This isn't going to be fun. Can we not fight among ourselves?"
Reluctantly, Steve nodded. "We don't have time to argue. But you will not pull any more stunts like that without talking it over with me first."
This entry was originally posted at http://feng-shui-house.dreamwidth.org/12