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Holding Out (For a Heroic Nemesis)

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“How are we doing, J?”

“Everything in order, Sir.” The robotic voice of the A.I. echoed on the room. “The laser is ready for activation.”

Tony turned on his chair, eyeing the monitor. There it was, right on the wall, in all his star-spangled glory: Captain America, also known as Steve Grant Rogers, also known as Tony Stark’s biggest nemesis.

As a villain, Tony wasn’t a big believer in maintaining long-term rivalries with heroes. He had heard enough horror stories of villains who got so caught up in defeating their counterparts their plans ended up slacking, turning lazy. Having a designated hero to fight could seem simpler in the surface, but in the long term, it just got messy. And if there was one thing Iron Man, twice-named most influential villain of the world by People’s magazine (take that, Gotham city), definitely didn’t need, was for his plans to get messy because of heroes who couldn’t stop sticking their noses where they didn’t belong.

However.

The Captain had been a different case. They came across each other by complete coincidence – Tony was running a very common world domineering plot, definitely not one of his most inspired works, and the Captain showed up with a few people from his team, What’s-His-Name and What’s-His-Name-With-Wings. To Tony’s surprise, the Captain cracked the steps of his plan easily, managing to surprise him when he marched into Tony’s lair, shield in hand, strong posture and confident voice as he turned his azure eyes towards Tony and proclaimed: Nowhere to run, Iron Man.

It had been rivalry at first sight.

Tony tried to fight it, but as time went by, it was impossible to ignore. Captain America was the embodiment of everything Tony disliked – he was a model hero, fighting for freedom, justice, and protecting and helping the weaker. He fought against Tony’s evil plans so valiantly: He’d charge into battle majestically, stronger and braver than any hero Tony had ever seen, and Tony would feel a rush inside his chest, presumably of joy of finally finding an worthwhile opponent. Other costumed clowns had attempted to stop Tony before, of course, but none of them had ever succeeded, and none of them were able to catch Tony’s intere- Ahem, hatred, the way the Captain did.

Tony rested his chin on his hands, watching as the Captain struggled on the table. It had taken a while to get him there. He had fought Tony’s bots admirably. It was always such an incredible display of a mix of grace and power, the way the man moved, effortlessly defeating enemies Tony knew an army would have a hard time dealing with.

Now, though, he was trapped, held down by separate gauntlets of Tony’s suits. Still, he didn’t give up, constantly struggling. Always so stubborn. Tony took a sharp breath, taking in the Captain’s endless determination. God, he was so…

“Sir?” Jarvis’ voice interrupted his thoughts. “Perhaps you should proceed with the plan?”

Oh. Oh yeah. The plan. Tony pushed a button on his panels, activating the laser beam. It was programmed to keep moving through the room, starting at the wall on the far end opposite to where the Captain was trapped, until it reached him. The energy levels were lethal – not even a super soldier would be able to survive it.

“Five minutes now, Cap,” Tony said on the mic. It had been a fairly clichéd plan, he had to admit – the good old oh no, there’s a bomb in the building – oops, not really, and now you’re trapped in my lab play. But Tony preferred to think of it as a classic.

The Captain frowned, scrunching his nose. It was cute, in a very hateful way. Tony adjusted his HD resolution of the video feed to see better.

He was pleased by the fact that his choice of an underground isolated bunker had, apparently, been processed by the Who-Cares-If-It-Even-Has-A-Name organization the Captain worked for as a stealth mission. That meant the Captain was wearing his stealth suit, the dark-blue uniform that fitted his body perfectly. That was just according to Tony’s plan, because the suit made the Captain look… Very, uh, very…

Vulnerable to Tony’s evil weapons. Yeah, that was it.

“Iron Man.” The Captain looked around, immediately finding the main camera. Tony bit his lower lip. So fucking smart. The bastard. “It doesn’t have to be this way.”

“Oh, come on, Cap, you’ve got better lines than this.” Tony grinned, making sure the monitor camera was catching his best angle. He had spent a long time trimming his goatee in the morning and picking out a lovely red tie that he knew complimented his skin tone.

What? Looking good for one’s nemesis was basic courtesy.

For a moment, the Captain didn’t say anything. His expression was a bit strange, but his body kept struggling (Jesus, that suit was fitted. Whoever designed the uniforms at Don’t -Give-a-Fuck-About-The-Place was a pervert).

“I just don’t understand why you keep doing this,” The Captain said. His voice was strangely low, as if he was thinking aloud.

Tony felt confused. The laser had moved a few inches by now, and, while no self-respecting hero would ever cave into full terror, Tony expected a more enthusiastic response. A rivalry was a two-way street, and, in order to allow it to bloom, Tony needed the Captain’s feedback to his plans. Some amount of fear or tension was to be expected, while facing a respectable villain plot. However, for someone who would die in less than five minutes if they didn’t find a way to get untied, the Captain seemed almost… Calm.

Tony frowned. Could the Captain be… Bored? The thought made Tony’s stomach clench. Sure, it wasn’t the most original plan in the book, but Tony had thought the execution would be enough to provide a good challenge. Had he misread it? Maybe the Captain wasn’t very intrigued by the classic villain aesthetic. Suddenly, Tony wished he had shaved his goatee.

“I’m a villain, that’s what I do, buddy,” Tony blurted, and, God, that was such terrible banter. What was he doing? At this rate, the Captain wouldn’t want to deal with his schemes in the future anymore. God, he’d probably send the Wings guy to handle Tony – or, worse, he’d move on to attempt to defeat all those other classless, tacky villains who kept fighting for his attention, like that ridiculous Batroc or the creeper with the red face. None of them were good enough to provide the Captain with a decent challenge, they’d just hold him back.

The Captain’s expression was impossible to read. “You know, Iron Man, with a mind like yours, you could actually do some good.”

The compliment sent a burst of relief over Tony’s chest. His face was also strangely warm, presumably because of a healthy amount of purely professional pride. “Well, Cap, I think we both know that-“

“What is this table made of?”

Tony raised his eyebrows. The Captain had never seemed curious about his design choices before.

“The trap table is perfectly covered by the softest synthetic material, originated from pure Peruvian cotton,” Jarvis chimed in.

Tony wished he hadn’t said anything. Jarvis had argued against the changes to the table, saying it would be a waste of time resources, but that was a total overreaction, Tony thought. Sure, he had spent some money on it – yeah, maybe a few thousand more than it was strictly necessary, but, well, it wasn’t like he had to save on infrastructure. Besides, the other table had been so… Cold and impersonal. This time, the Captain was going to be held down for a while. There was no point in making it uncomfortable. Tony wasn’t a monster.

“It’s really soft,” the Captain whispered. “Softer than last time.”

“Uh,” Tony said. “Thanks,” he blurted, for some reason, and the Captain’s mouth curved in a smile. Tony felt a weird rush on his chest, and looked away, checking the timer. “Three minutes now, buddy.”

To his complete surprise, the Captain sighed. “Is this really necessary?”

Tony blinked. “What?”

“This.” the Captain apparently tried to move his arms to gesture around, but the armor secured him further. “I’m trapped. Can’t you just shoot me?”

Tony’s eyes widened. “I. Uh, that’s…” He said, his head spinning. What was the Captain talking about? And why wasn’t he focusing on disabling the laser bean?

“Uh,” Tony cleared out his throat, attempting to gather his thoughts. “Not that I wouldn’t love to melt you immediately, Spangles, but unfortunately, there’s not enough energy to make the laser move faster.”

“Actually, sir, there is,” Jarvis interjected. “We could easily revert the power used in other less necessary functions.”

“What?” Tony asked, feeling betrayed. “Less necessary functions? What less necessary functions?”

Tony had the impression that, if Jarvis could grit his teeth, he would have. “Superficial features, sir.”

“Such as?”

“The ambient music, the water fountain on the background, and the artistic lightning system set up to hit Captain Rogers’ hair.”

Oh. Tony blinked slowly. “Those… Those are aesthetic choices. They… They’re important.”

On the screen, the Captain’s mouth curled again. It was really distracting.

“In fact, sir, they aren’t,” Jarvis said, sound strangely tired. “Removing them would allow us to use their power to force the laser bean to move more efficiently, killing Captain Rogers instantly.”

“Wow, wow, wait a minute,” Tony said. “There’s no need to do that. I mean,” He scrambled his brain for something say. “It’s… It’s more fun to watch him going down slowly.”

Giving Jarvis the ability to sigh was a mistake. “Sir, the plan is bound to fail.”

“What? No, it isn’t. He’s trapped.”

“No, he isn’t,” Jarvis insisted. “If he manages to wriggle his body slightly to the left, he will be within the magnetic reach of his shield, allowing him to summon it and get rid of the gauntlets restraining him.”

Jarvis!” Tony exclaimed. “You’re – how can you…”

“I think what Jarvis means,” the Captain interjected. ”Is that you’re not really trying to kill me. If you were, you’d have already done it.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Jarvis traitorously replied. “Sir, not only could you easily kill Captain Rogers now, but you could have killed him at least a hundred and eight times during the past month.” As Tony gaped in indignation, he added: “I’m afraid this situation can’t keep going any longer. It is against the principles of my programming to keep designing deliberately inefficient plants, sir.”

Deliberately– what are you implying– He is my mortal enemy, of course I’m trying to kill him–“

“Well,” the Captain interrupted, sounding strangely casual. “I’m not trying to kill you,” His blue eyes looked away from the camera, fixating in the ceiling, while a slight smile formed on his lips. “Haven’t even been really trying to arrest you, lately.”

Tony stared at the monitor in complete shock. “What? No way,” He babbled. “You – you live for arresting bad guys.”

“Yeah,” the Captain nodded. “But you’re not really a bad guy, are you? I mean,” – he turned back to the camera, with an almost amused expression – “you don’t target anyone except me. And none of your plans ever hurt any civilians.”

Tony felt his face warming. “What the hell are you talking about? You don’t see me as threat, Rogers?”

“To the world? No. Not at all.”

“Then why the hell are you still here?”

To Tony’s surprise, a slight flush spread over the Captain’s cheeks. It… Wasn’t a bad look on him.

“To be honest, fighting your evil plans is the most fun I’ve ever had in this century. I… I’m not very good at relaxing.” He said, a little sheepish. “But decrypting your codes, fighting your bots, figuring out your schemes… Makes me really happy.”

Oh. Oh.

Tony’s hand touched his chest. Was he… Was that really what seemed to be happening?

“Your hero antics make me happy too,” He managed to say, his eyes finding the Captain’s through the monitor. “I… I like your catchphrases.”

“I like your monologues,” The Captain replied, with a gorgeous smile on his lips.

“I like your inspiring speeches,” Tony blurted. He felt the Captain’s eyes staring deeply into his through the screen, his heart fluttering on his chest under that deep blue gaze…

“Thirty seconds for the laser to reach Captain Rogers’ body, sir.”

“Oh, shit,” Tony said, snapping back to reality abruptly, reaching forward to turn off the gauntlets, which loosened their grip on the Captain’s limbs, letting him go. “Sorry, Cap.”

“Call me Steve,” he said, that lovely flush on his cheeks deepening slightly. “I’d, uh. I’d really like that.”

“Steve,” Tony echoed, a bit ridiculously, true, but the name sounded wonderful leaving his mouth. “You, uh. You can call me Tony, too. If you want to.”

Steve stood up, facing the camera. He pressed his lips together, seeming a little giddy, when noise started coming from his comm device. Tony immediately regretted not breaking it. “Well. I guess I should be going now,” he said, picking up his shield from the floor.

“Oh.” Tony said, a little disappointed. “Okay. I guess I… Will see you on my next evil plan?”

“Yeah,” Steve breathed. “Though, uh…” He bit his lower plush lip, making Tony forget the basic fundaments of human language. “Maybe your next evil plan could be, hm, this Friday? There’s a restaurant a couple blocks from Shield that’s very, uh… vulnerable.”

“Sounds great. Yeah,” Tony blurted, and Steve’s face brightened wonderfully. “I could start putting my evil schemes in motion at around… Seven?”

“Seven, seven works,” Steve nodded, a bit breathless.

Tony grinned wildly. “This time, Captain,” he said, exaggerating his voice in a cartoonish tone. “You won’t be able to get away from me.”

He was expecting Steve to laugh, but as he turned, his smile was more sly than anything. “I’m counting on it.”