There’s actually a really good reason why Tony chose the password he did.

It goes back to one of the first fights they had way after they began to stop fighting. He can’t even remember what they said, only the way how after everything was sharp and jagged when Steve lost it and grit out you never tell me anything and it’s like you think you don’t need to and you’re not listening to me Tony

(all Tony hears is big man in a suit of armor, take that away and what are you)

Suddenly they’re back at square one and Tony thinks maybe they never left, that he’s never moved from it after all because this is what he does, what he’s always been doing: things don’t work so he takes things apart and then he tries to put them back together in the shape of something brilliant and sometimes he can’t. It’s like he’s the wrong thing in the equation, and he should never have touched it in the first place, because there were things that weren’t broken until he tried to fix them.

The way the angles of Steve’s face looks under the lights makes the blood-rush roar in his ears, his skin prickle, something on his tongue petty, reckless like an inside-out itch, and this is what Tony does: he walks away, throws out something careless that makes it past his teeth, and the first thing he does is to go down to the workshop and take his armor apart.

There’s something vicious in it, something satisfying, and he could have had one of the smaller AIs do it but he doesn’t, because there’s something so viscerally good in unscrewing the bolts himself. Let’s deconstruct that, he thinks, let’s deconstruct that. Take it all apart and try to find that something hiding inside, isn’t that what everybody wants. 

He feels like he’s been looking for years and years.

He plies it all apart until what he has are the fragments of his helmet, and then he starts on the rest of his suit, puts his hands to the planes of the metal and then he hammers it down because he can, and there’s something delicious about that ache, too. The metal yields and comes apart and bends under his hands and this is something he can do, you see, this is something he can take apart and put back together the way he wants and he has to take this apart because it’s not right. He pounds until his skin is sweat-slick and hot and he has to stop to catch his breath, to loosen his grip on the heat of the metal dented in and shapeless with abuse.

When Tony turns to the glass windows what he sees is the reflection of an angry edge of a man with eyes that too hard to be his own, all muscle and sinew and bone-deep exhaustion and he thinks I’m looking, I’m looking, and what he can’t say is what if I can’t find a damn thing, what if there’s nothing here, what if this is all there is and this is nothing.

He stares at the mess he has strewn across the table, the harsh red bleeding into the steel under the fluorescent glare, and he stares long enough for it to blur out of his vision before he reaches for the drill.

Tony works till six in the morning and then he has a new armor, melded out of heat and salt and grit, and if his face is slick it’s only the sweat. The light creeping into the workshop is too bright, and he could shut the blinds, but he doesn’t.

The chair he’s sitting on is turned away from the windows, and there’s something sour-sick and satisfied curling in his belly when he looks at the glint of his new armor, solid and impenetrable like he’s never been. He thinks if he looks long enough he could convince himself he carved out something else tonight and that this hollowness is just the ache from a job well done.

JARVIS filters through after long moments. “Shall I have the armor put away, sir?”

Big man in a suit of armor, Tony thinks. “Yes,” he says, eyes closed, and it’s only when JARVIS comes through again that he opens them.

"Do you need anything else, sir?"

Tony breathes out, one quick hard exhale.

"Reprogram the access code," he says, finally. "Reprogram it to activate on Steve Rogers.”

JARVIS pauses. Tony’s made him too close to human for an AI, dammit. “Sir?”

"Reprogram it to Steve Rogers,” Tony grits out. “And then bring me something I can break.”

"Yes, sir," JARVIS tells him, and then Tony’s handling the weight of a wrench, easy and familiar in this hands, because this is something he can do, this is something he can take apart and dredge up something from, this is something he can remake, this is something he knows.

He stares hard at the way his warped reflection blinks back at him against the steel, tasting the bitterness of it tucked away under his tongue at what he finds there.

He raises his arm and then he swings.

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