Okay can I talk about this for a sec? No? Tough, because I’m gonna go ahead and do it anyway. Because this little exchange was so indicative of their relationship that I wanted to die.
We already know that without the armor, Tony sees himself as nothing. “Iron Man yes, Tony Stark not recommended”, right? There’s more than a touch of bitterness when he throws that exchange back at Coulson in his first scene. We know about his issues with his father, we know about his drinking, we know that he watched a man sacrifice his life in a cave in the Middle East so that he, Tony, could live.
Steve doesn’t. And yet almost by accident, he finds Tony’s weak spot, sticks in a knife, and twists. Steve’s trying to shame him, trying to hold Tony accountable for actions that he, as a soldier, sees as reckless and irrresponsible— he’s already furious with Tony for needling Banner, which potentially endangered the lives of everyone on the ship (He can’t know, of course, that Tony recognises something in Banner, a control on his inner demons that he can only envy; Tony knows what it’s like to have a monster inside of him that he can barely contain) and Tony’s devil-may-care attitude is the final straw. Steve sees right through Tony in a way few people do; but not deep enough, no, because if he could fathom just how deep Tony’s scars go (and if he wasn’t being influenced by Loki’s sceptre, just behind him) he wouldn’t have said those things.
Because hey, Steve is lashing out here. You saw him in the gym; all that coiled rage, the flashbacks, the way he destroyed that punching bag. Steve’s in as much pain as Tony right now. Not that anyone’s interested. They just want him to put on the suit and be glad they won the war. Tony’s comments earlier about Steve being “not of use” made their mark. Steve already feels outdated and useless. Tony represents everything Steve doesn’t understand about the new century, everything he hates; he’s an unreliable jumble of technology, ego and pop culture references Steve doesn’t understand. Oh, and Tony used to make weapons. Big weapons. How d’you think Steve felt when someone filled him in on the advances in warfare that happened while he was asleep?
And Tony? He’s having his insecurities thrown back at him by a living legend, by the man his father admired above all others; a man Howard Stark spent years digging through the ice for when he should have been caring for his son. Steve is talking, but I’m pretty sure Tony’s hearing his father.
“The only thing you fight for is yourself. You’re not the guy to make the sacrifice play.”
Half of that sentence is true. Tony does fight for himself; he fights to redeem himself every day, not because of the body count his weapons have amassed (Natasha’s not the only one with red in her ledger) but because he doesn’t see himself as worthy of anything. Of the suit, of the few friends he has, of his money, of his life. He fights every day to prove to himself that he deserves to exist. And that is why he would make the sacrifice play. In a heartbeat. If he doesn’t deserve to be here, it’s only right he die for someone who does. And Steve just told him “yeah, you’re right, you don’t deserve to be here. I know guys worth ten of you, and they’re dead, and you’re alive.”
It’s awful, really, how much these two men are capable of hurting each other.
And yet. Underneath the barbs and the anger and the hurt, this exchange shows exactly why they work so well together.
“…to lay down on the wire and let the other guy crawl over you.”
“I think I would just cut the wire.”
“Always a way out.”
That. That right there. Tony is a master at thinking on his feet, at improvisation, at taking risks that tend to pay off. He’s brilliant, but volatile. And Steve is strategic, methodical, noble almost to a fault. Tony could come up with solutions Steve would never even dream of, and vice versa; when Tony spends time hacking into SHIELD’s servers, Steve investigates on foot. They are exact opposites, in personality and skill, and that’s why they’re the unofficial leaders of the Avengers. The differences that drive them apart in this scene are what’s going to make them unstoppable later on. Because they’re not half as good at anything as when they’re doing it next to each other.
^^ All the applause. ALL OF THEM.