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Die Hard (But Only If No Other Options Are Readily Available)

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Time didn’t pass normally on the Raft.  

There were meals three times a day in the mess hall, and an hour of physical activity in the gym every afternoon that Tony suspected was actually about keeping track of whose powers were acting up, and then there was a whole lot of... nothing.  The Raft wasn’t a state penitentiary or a federal prison, it was a secret supermax on a rock in the Atlantic Ocean, and while they nominally observed things like human rights, quite a few people made the argument that the Raft’s prisoners - supervillains and evil geniuses and mass murderers - weren’t human enough for those rights to apply.  

Anybody who wasn’t crazy before they got to the Raft caught up pretty quickly.

“Lights out,” came a voice down the hall, and all at once the entire Raft went black.  It wasn’t darkness like Tony had ever experienced in Manhattan; it was thick and heavy, the kind of dark where it didn’t matter if your eyes were open or shut.  

Most of the prisoners went quiet at night.  The darkness choked them out, silenced their tortured screams and maniacal laughter and the sizzling and whirring and crackling of their powers.  Tony couldn’t hear anything but the waves splashing against the rocks.  He drifted into a dream of constructing a new Iron Man suit, crudely built out of anything he could find in his cell, worse even than the suit from Afghanistan, with just enough power to get him off the Raft but not enough to make it back to New York, so somewhere over the Atlantic it just went quiet and he fell, hard and fast into the black ocean -

There was a crash from the hallway.

Tony sat up, gasping for breath in the water, his hands fisted in the thin cotton blanket, sweat dripping down his back.  There was another crash, and then the ting of metal bouncing off metal.  

Blind in the thick darkness, Tony stood up and fumbled toward the door.  It wasn’t unusual for there to be trouble at night, but usually by now there were guards running down the hall, yelling for quiet or firing warning shots into the ceiling.  But tonight there was nothing.  The entire Raft was holding its breath.  

Tony leaned against the steel door, straining to hear.  There was one set of heavy footsteps coming slowly down the hall.  

There was the sound of a key card sliding, and Tony threw himself backwards, hands in the air, as the door swung open.

“Tony?”

Tony blinked in the harsh, unexpected light.  

Steve lowered his shield.  “Come on.  We’re getting you out of here.”

-

Tony hadn’t written off the Avengers.  He’d expected some of them to testify in his favor; they would remind the court of everything he’d done over the past five years to make the world a safer place, talk about the Battle of New York, point out that Ultron had been a mistake and argue (wrongly) that Tony wasn’t dangerous.  He’d expected that they, more than anyone, would understand that the weight of the world had been on his shoulders, that he’d been trying to do something good and, because he was Tony Stark, he’d fucked it all up.  He didn’t necessarily want any of that, but he’d expected it.

What he absolutely hadn’t expected was for one of them to show up on the Raft to break him out.  

“Let’s go,” Steve said, waving him forward.

Numbly, Tony followed Steve out of the cell and down the hallway.  A patrol guard lay on the ground, his eyes red and blank.

“Wanda?” Tony whispered.  

Steve held out a hand to stop him before they rounded a corner, then waved him forward after he’d checked that it was clear.  “She’s in the guard booth now, making sure that they’re not seeing any of this.”

“Why are you - ”

“Natasha, I have him,” Steve said into his comm, because apparently being in prison for creating a sentient WMD didn’t stop your team from using your tech.  “All clear in the tower?  Wanda, clear in the guard booth?  Okay.  We’re coming up to level 3.”

“What’s on level 3?” Tony said.

“Sam, anybody on their way?” Steve said, still ignoring him.  “Okay, good.  Clint, we should be there in 90 seconds.”

“Gang’s all here,” Tony said, following Steve up a flight of metal stairs, his too-big prison slippers slowing him down.  “Not that I don’t appreciate this whole breaking me out of prison thing, but would you mind explaining to me - ”

“Later,” Steve said shortly, pausing at the top of the steps.  “Are you ready to run?”

“Sure,” Tony said.  “Just tell me whe - ”

An alarm wailed.

Now,” Steve said.  He shoved the door open and took off sprinting.  

“Fuck,” Tony said, and ran after him.

He was blasted immediately with biting cold air and pinpricks of icy rain, and he took a deep breath, sucking in the salt air for the first time in weeks.  This was the upper deck, just a level away from the landing strip where all prisoners arrived.  They were hundreds of feet above the ocean, but he could hear it crashing against the rocks, and he’d barely adjusted to the moonlight when he was blinded by the spotlight from the tower.

Without warning, the air was full of bullets, and Steve grabbed Tony’s arm and pulled him down, holding his shield up in front of both of them.  

“Been a while since I’ve been shot at without a suit on,” Tony yelled over the dinging of bullets against vibranium.  

“Sam, kill the light,” Steve said into his comm.  “Nat, can you buy us another thirty seconds?  I don’t want Clint to de-cloak until the last second.”

“Do you happen to have a spare comm?” Tony said.  “It’s actually really annoying not being able to hear what’s going on.”

The lights went out, and the hail of bullets faltered.  “We have to get across the open deck to get to the landing strip,” Steve said.  “On my mark.  Ready… go!”

They stood up, and Tony heard a bullet whistle past his ear.  Steve held his shield out in front of them, and bullets ricocheted off of it.  They careened around a corner and up a flight of steps, and then Tony could see the airstrip where he’d touched down weeks ago.  There was the tell-tale shimmer, visible only to someone who’d designed it, of a cloaked Quinjet.

There were also a dozen guards running across the airstrip.  They didn’t need the spotlight from here, they were close enough to raise their guns and fire.  Steve kept running straight ahead, and the guards faltered; they clearly hadn’t expected to see Captain America barreling toward them.

“Cap!” Tony yelled over the wind.  “Look out, they - ”

A blast of red light nearly blinded him, and half the guards fell to their knees.  From the base of the tower, Wanda shot a second blast of light at the guards who still stood, and they dropped their guns and joined their comrades on the ground.  Tony could hear the thunder of more guards behind them, and he ran flat-out, his lungs burning, wishing like hell that he had a repulsor on him, his boots, anything -

“Clint, now!” Steve yelled, and with a ripple, the Quinjet de-cloaked right in front of them.  Steve and Tony ran up the ramp, and Natasha darted out of the guardhouse and jumped into the jet just before the ramp shut.  

“What about Wanda?” Tony yelled, running to the front window.

“I have Ms. Maximoff,” came a familiarly calm voice over the speaker, and as Tony watched, Vision swooped down, scooped Wanda up in his arms, and flew straight up, away from the approaching phalanx of Raft guards.  

The Quinjet lifted off, the repulsors roaring as they gained altitude and left the Raft shrinking away below.  Clint took them into a sharp roll, and Tony held the grab bar to avoid losing his balance.  There were a few moments of tense silence, as they all listened for the ping of the Quinjet telling them that there was a missile in pursuit, but the comm was silent, and Tony let out a deep breath.

“Uh,” he said.  “I guess this is the part where I say thank you?”

“Don’t mention it.”  Clint looked over his shoulder and grinned.  “Good to see you, man.  Glad you didn’t die in there.”

“Me too,” Tony said, grinning back.  “Now can somebody explain what led to this little prison break?”

“We decided it was time for you to leave the Raft,” Natasha said.  “The World Security Council disagreed.”

“So you went rogue?”  Tony raised his eyebrows.  “Not that I don’t appreciate it, because I do, really, you wouldn’t believe the conditions in there, I haven’t had decent Chinese food in months - but isn’t this kind of out of character?  I mean, S.H.I.E.L.D. was responsible for putting most of those guys on the Raft in the first place, I didn’t think they’d want anyone to know that a breakout might be a po - ”

“This wasn’t S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Steve said.  “This was us.  Just us.”  

“Well, and Fury,” Clint said.  “Fury’s on alibis for the rest of us.  If anybody can spin up an alibi, it’s that guy.  One time I was on TV in Russia, long story, and he convinced the government that I’d been scuba diving in Australia.  I even got a spray tan.”

“Rhodey’s in too,” Natasha added.  “Half the Air Force is scrambling toward a possible bomb on an airplane over Philadelphia.  It’ll all be a big miscommunication by the morning.”

“You guys faked a terrorist attack just for me?  I’m flattered,” Tony said.  “Again, super appreciative, but Jesus Christ, it’s not like I was about to die in there - ”

Steve froze.

“ - or something,” Tony trailed off.  He looked around at Clint, who was staring straight out the windshield, to Natasha, who was examining her pistol, to Steve, whose jaw was set so hard that Tony was afraid he might crack a tooth.  “Okay, maybe I’m misreading the room, but I’m kind of getting the feeling there’s something you guys aren’t telling me.  Should I guess?  Okay, I’ll guess.  You’re out of money and you need me to dip into my secret offshore accounts.  Not that I have secret offshore accounts, who said anything about secret offshore accounts - okay, it’s not money, no, you need tech, you need something I was working on back before I went all supervillain.  I’m not getting a lot from you guys right now, should we do charades?  Okay, okay, how many words - ”

“They were going to execute you,” Steve said, slamming his hand against the center console so hard that it cracked.  “We broke you out because they were going to put a bullet in your head tomorrow morning.”

Tony swallowed the sick feeling in his stomach.  “Gotta say, Cap, I’m a little surprised you were so bothered by that.”

“I want you brought to justice,” Steve said.  “Murder isn’t justice.”

“And breaking me out of prison is?”

“Guys, let’s cool it, okay?” Clint said from the pilot’s seat.  “Tony, nobody here wants you dead.  I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know any of that crap, but no matter what, you should get a trial.  Somebody leaked that you weren’t gonna get one, so we got you out.”

“So what’s the plan?” Tony said, crossing his arms.  “I go on the run?  I’m not sure I’m packed to be a fugitive.”

“Rhodey is going in front of Congress next week to try to get your case taken away from the WSC and back to the federal government,” Natasha said.  “Until then, we keep you hidden.”

“Where?”

“We’re going to a S.H.I.E.L.D. safehouse in France,” Clint said.  “We’ll drop you two there, and then - ”

“Two?” Tony said.  “Who’s coming with - ”  He looked at Steve.  “Oh, of course.  Mr. Eighth Amendment over here is my new warden.”

“Tony,” Clint said.  

“No, I get it,” Tony said.  “I might not belong on death row, but I’m still a danger to society, I can’t be trusted - ”

“No, you can’t,” Steve said.  “You threw out your own safeguards and built a machine that was capable of destroying the world, and then you hosted a party.  Do you really expect anyone to trust you?”  

“No, I don’t,” he said, meeting Steve’s cold gaze.  “I don’t expect anyone to trust me.  I don’t even trust myself.”

There was a heavy silence in the jet.  Tony could hear the buzz of the dead comm line, the quiet whir of the repulsors.  The anger drained out of him in a rush; all the weight of his months on the Raft took its place, knocking the breath out of his chest.  He dropped into the nearest seat and buckled up.  It was going to be a long ride.

-

“Well, the view’s better than from my cell, at least,” Tony said.

Northern France was spread out in front of him, a golden-green patchwork of fields and villages, their sodium lights winking in the distance.  The safehouse was small and nondescript, far enough from the road that you could see anybody coming long before they could tell if you were watching, and it backed up on a thick clump of trees.  In the distance, dawn was nudging at the horizon.  

Clint handed him a duffel bag.  “What, you don’t like the ocean?”

“I don’t mind the ocean,” Tony said, following Clint off the jet.  “It’s just kind of one-note, after a few months.”

“Better than this prison I was in once in Karachi.”  Clint pulled a lockpick out of his backpack and jimmied it into the rusty old lock on the front door of the house.  “It had a view directly into some gross old guy’s house, and he wouldn’t stop walking around naked, worst three days of my life even without the waterboarding.  Gotcha,” he said as the lock clicked.  He shouldered the door open, and a cloud of dust billowed out.

“Steve and I are going to walk the perimeter of the property and check out the village a few miles away,” Natasha said, dropping a crate that looked suspiciously like it might hold old Stark weaponry onto the creaky wood floor.  “We don’t want any surprises, and nobody’s used this place in almost fifteen years.”

“You don’t say,” Tony said, running a finger along a table next to the door and cringing as it came away grimy.

“Maybe you could clean up a little?” Natasha suggested, clearly suppressing a grin.

“Emphasis on the maybe,” Clint said.  “Bring back some breakfast, yeah?”

“Will do,” Natasha said.  “We’ll be back soon, we have to be at the Eiffel Tower by noon.”

“How romantic,” Clint said, fluttering his eyelashes at Natasha.  She rolled her eyes and shut the door behind her.  

“So here’s a question,” Tony said, pulling a dustcover off what turned out to be an old but very comfortable-looking chair.  “I know firsthand Wanda can do some amazing stuff with those freaky hands of hers, but several supervillains and a couple dozen guards saw Captain America on the Raft a few hours ago.  Everyone’s going to know he’s the one who broke me out.”

“Exactly,” Clint said.  “He’s got favors for days, man.  The rest of us they’ll throw in the Raft in the cell next to yours without a second glance, but not him.  You know his name, right?  If Steve’s vouching for you, they’re gonna have a hard time skipping your trial.”  

“He doesn’t actually want me out, though,” Tony said.  “He’s just got a hard on for the Constitution.”

“It’s not that simple,” Clint said, running a rag under the faucet and starting to wipe down the countertops.  “Look, I know you’re mad that he, you know - ”

“That he went to the World Security Council and turned over my records on the Ultron project?” Tony said.  “That he provided the information got me thrown in the Raft?  Look, I’m not saying I didn’t fuck up.  I’m not saying I didn’t even deserve to be there, because I did.  I’m no better than the rest of the guys in there.”

“Tony - ”

“No, seriously,” Tony interrupted.  “I’ve had a long time to think - not a whole lot else to do in supermax, turns out, they don’t even have HBO, god, I have missed so much Game of Thrones - and I’m not arguing I shouldn’t be there.  I should.  It’s that it was - it’s that it was Steve.  Of all the people who have turned on me in my life - and that’s a lot, for the record - this is the one I really didn’t see coming.  I thought he was my teammate, I thought he was my friend. ”

“He is your friend,” Clint said, throwing the rag on the counter and whirling on Tony.  “Think about it, man.  He wanted SHIELD to do an investigation, maybe set up some kinda oversight committee in your lab.  He never thought they’d put you in the Raft, Tony, Jesus.  You think he woulda gone to the WSC if he’d known that?”  

Tony dragged a cover off the sofa and threw it on the ground with a little more force than necessary.  “Honestly?  I don’t know anything about him anymore.  I thought I did, but - yeah, no, I don’t.”  

Clint sighed.  He picked up his rag and ran it under the water, staring out the kitchen window at the lightening French countryside.  “All right, man.  I get it.  I do.  Just - look.  Don’t be too hard on him, okay?  Oh, gross gross gross, there’s a huge spider over here, ugh, can you come deal with this?”

Tony raised his eyebrows.  “Are you fucking kidding me?”

“Laura does the spiders at our house,” Clint said.

“If I kill the spider, you have to start cleaning the bathroom,” Tony said, taking the rag from Clint’s hands.  “That’s the deal!”

“I should have left you in prison,” Clint muttered.

-

Shortly after sunrise, Clint and Natasha rode away on the sleek black motorcycle they’d stowed in the back of the jet.  The safehouse was bright in the morning light, and Tony opened the creaky windows to let the cool air into the tiny bedroom that looked out over the weed-filled garden and watched the light filter in through the clump of trees behind the cottage.  He hadn’t heard the sound of birds in months.  

He sat down on the freshly made bed; the mattress was lumpy and the sheets weren’t exactly egyptian cotton, but compared to his cot on the Raft it felt like a marshmallow.  He didn’t even realize he’d closed his eyes until he woke up several hours later in the hazy afternoon light.  He stretched as he got out of bed, feeling his vertebrae crack satisfyingly, and padded toward the kitchen.  Steve was standing at the stove, pushing eggs around a pan.  

“Sleep well?”

Tony leaned against the doorframe.  “Better than last night.  Or the night before.  Whenever it was I last slept.  Prison lag.  Are you cooking?  I didn’t know you could cook.”

“I lived alone for a long time before the war.  Well, with Bucky.  Bucky sure couldn’t cook, though.  He’d have eaten a can of beans on a piece of toast every night if I hadn’t been there.  You want some?”

“Sure,” Tony said.  “So, what’s the plan?  The WSC knows I’m gone, and by now they know you’re with me.  They’re going to be looking for us.”

“Which is why we’re staying here,” Steve said.  “This place requires a level 8 security clearance.  We’re not sure there’s anybody left who knows about it besides Nick Fury.”

“And we trust Nick Fury?”

“If Nick wanted you dead, he’d kill you himself,” Steve said.  “We have bigger problems.  This place is out of the way, but they’ll be using face-tracking technology, satellites, you name it.  Hopefully, things will go well for Rhodey next week, but until then - ”

“Until then, this is my new prison,” Tony said.  “Got it.”  

Steve scooped the eggs out of the pan and slid them onto a plate, then pulled two forks out of the drawer and rinsed them off.  “It’s a little dusty, but it’s nicer than the place I stayed last time I was in France.”

“Wasn’t that during World War II?”

“Well, yeah,” Steve said.  He put the plate down, and Tony sat down across from him at the cramped table.  

“It’s not the Ritz, that’s for sure.”  Tony shoveled half an egg into his mouth.  “But I’m not complaining.”

“Give it a few days, I’m sure you’ll be ready to complain soon,” Steve said.

Tony snorted.  “Here we go.  Am I not being grateful enough for you, Steve?  Should I get down on my knees and grovel at Captain America’s feet?  I don’t know what you want from me.  If you don’t think I should’ve gotten out of there, you should have left me.”

“This is the 21st century,” Steve said, pulling the plate toward him and knocking Tony’s fork away.  “We don’t execute people without a trial.”

“But if I get a trial, you’ll be all for it.”

The temperature in the room dropped from chilly to below freezing.  “No.  I won’t.”  Steve shook his head.  “How can you think I want you dead, Tony?  I broke you out of prison.  I’m doing everything I can to keep you alive.”

“And that’s what I don’t understand,” Tony said.  “You’re what I don’t understand.  Why are you going through all this effort to get me out when you were the one who put me there in the first place?”

“Because you’re my responsibility,” Steve said.

Tony raised his eyebrows.  “I’m really, really not.”  

“The Avengers are my team,” Steve said.  “I brought us back together after SHIELD fell, and I’m responsible for everything that happened because of that.”

Tony crossed his arms over his chest.  “I see what you’re saying, Cap, but there’s one little flaw in your logic.  This was my fault.  I made Ultron, and Ultron decided to kill people, and I wasn’t smart enough to stop him until he’d already hurt a lot of people.  And you know what the worst part is?”

Steve stared at him.

“The worst part is that I thought I could buy my way out of it.  I thought cleaning up Sokovia would make it better.  I though helping the Avengers set up the new base would scrub it all away.  But you know what?  Nothing ever will.  I’ve been getting away with my mistakes for my whole life, because of my money and my name and my suits, and it all finally caught up with me.  So you’re gonna have to get over thinking I’m your responsibility, and you’re gonna have to get over thinking you can save me, because when it comes down to it, I deserve whatever the hell I get.  And nothing can change that.”  Tony pushed himself back from the table.  “I’m gonna get some air.”

“Tony - ”

“What?” Tony shouted, whirling around.

“Don’t go too far.  The perimeter of the property is alarmed.”

Tony snorted.  “Right.”  He pushed the door open and squinted in the fading afternoon light, stared at the sprawling countryside and the thicket of trees beside the house.  The rolling hills pressed in on him from every side, and he was hundreds of miles from the shore but he could still hear the waves beating against the rocks, because this was a beautiful prison, sure, but it was a prison all the same.

-

Tony spent most of the next day sleeping, and the rest of it brushing off Steve’s attempts to make conversation.  On the third morning Steve left a British newspaper lying on the sofa, so Tony spent the morning catching up on the news of his own escape.

“There’ve been sightings of me in, let’s see, Rio, Stockholm, Abu Dhabi - man, I’m all over the place,” Tony said from the couch as Steve walked in with an armful of groceries late in the morning.  “But apparently not everybody’s convinced we’re hiding out together, because Captain America has been seen in Kyoto, Marrakech, and where was the last one - oh, right, Wichita, Kansas.”  He grinned up at Steve.  “Been to Kansas lately, Steve?”

“Not since 1942,” Steve said, stashing a bottle of milk in the fridge.  “Fury’s been hard at work.  You done ignoring me?”

“I was getting bored,” Tony said, turning to financial news.  “Jesus Christ, SI is up 20% since my escape.  Just proves all my investors are idiots.”

“Ms. Potts should be happy.  I imagine they brought her in for questioning after we got you out, but she didn’t know anything, so they’ll definitely have let her go by now.”

“Good,” Tony said.  “Can’t see how anybody could think she’d bother to break me out of prison when she dumped me even before I became a mass murderer.  Did you get any more of that cheese?  The good one?”

“I got some cheese.  I don’t know which one was the good one,” Steve said.  “I got a phone, too.  It’s a burner, but - ”

“But I can use it to hack into Stark Industry’s satellite systems and send a message to Rhodey,” Tony said, jumping off the couch.  “I’ll have us on the internet in five minutes.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Steve said uncertainly.  “Won’t they be tracking that?  We shut down all the Quinjet’s systems so it wouldn’t be picked up by anybody looking for it.”

“The Quinjet is huge,” Tony said.  “Its systems are massive and completely unique, and they’ll be all over the satellites looking for it.  But a burner phone, even one piggybacking onto a Stark satellite, is just a blip.  You think I don’t know how to cover my trail when I break into my own tech?”

Steve shrugged.  “Just be careful, okay?”

“Phillips head screwdriver - huh?  Yeah, of course,” Tony muttered, pushing the front door open and jogging over to the shimmer that was the jet.  He felt around for a few seconds to find the hatch that opened the front window, then jumped in, shaking his head as it blinked into existence around him.  

“Toolbox, toolbox.  If I were Natasha, where would I hide a toolbox…”  He opened several drawers to find most of the Quinjet’s storage areas stocked with weapons, ammunition, spare comms, replacement parts in case they were hit in midair, a few bobby pins that Tony figured belonged to either Nat or Thor, and finally a whole drawer of neatly arranged tools, right in the back.  He just had to push past whatever was in the way in this giant case, jeez, it had to be six and a half feet tall, what was -

Tony froze.  He reached with shaking hands to the clasps at knee level and shoulder level, then slowly opened the case to see - his own reflection in red chrome, staring back at him.

It was Iron Man.

It was an Iron Man suit, here.  He hadn’t worked on a suit in months, since the day before they took him to the Raft.  He hadn’t fought in one since Ultron.    

He could put it on right now.  He could put it on and fly away, fly until he ran out of power, fight off anybody who tracked him down, disappear until nobody could find him, until Steve and Natasha and Clint and Rhodey and everybody forgot all about him.  

He could put it on -

“Tony.”

Tony sighed as Steve dropped into the cockpit through the open hatch.  “Just in time.  I was about to go for a joyride.”

“Tony - ”

“Why didn’t you tell me you had it?” Tony said, turning to him.  “Worried I’d take off?”

“Worried you’d do something stupid,” Steve said.  “If the Quinjet is a giant flashing light on the WSC’s radar, what do you think the suit would be?”

“So why did you even bring it?  Just to taunt me with it?  Remind me of what I used to be, remind me of everything I could have been if I hadn’t built a murderbot that destroyed an entire city - ”

“We brought it so that you could defend yourself,” Steve said.  “So that you could escape if something happened to the rest of us.”

“If something happened to - and how was I supposed to use it if I didn’t even know it was here?  Do you know what would happen if this fell into the wrong hands, Cap?  This armor is the most powerful thing I’ve ever - okay, well, the second most powerful thing I’ve ever built, and you just left it out here in the jet?”

“Were you thinking about leaving in it?” Steve said.

“Of course I was.”

“Then I made the right call.  If you took off in that thing right now, somebody would see you.  They’d see you, and they’d shoot you down, and if that didn’t kill you, it wouldn’t be long until they found you on the ground and finished the job.  Do you know what that would do to the team?  To me?”

“Yeah, it would make your life a lot easier,” Tony snapped.  “You could go back to New York and forget you ever even knew - ”

“Shut up.”

Tony slammed the Iron Man case shut.  “No, I think I’ll keep yelling, actually - ”

“No, shut up!” Steve said.  “There’s somebody outside the jet.”

Tony shut up.  

“Do you hear them?” Steve said quietly.

Tony listened.  “No.”

Steve waved him forward, and they both crept to the open hatch at the front of the jet.  Tony strained to hear anything, but the countryside was silent; he couldn’t even hear any cars in the distance.

“What was it?” he whispered.

“Footsteps.  Moving toward the house,” Steve said.  He winced.  “My shield’s right by the door.”

Tony opened one of the drawers he’d opened earlier and produced two Glocks.  “Courtesy of the Black Widow.”

Steve took one, and they both slowly climbed down from the Quinet.  The sun was high in the sky, and Tony thought distantly that it wasn’t exactly the best time of day for a sneak attack.  

“I’ll put on the suit,” he said when they were halfway around the cloaked jet, just yards from the front door.  

“No,” Steve said.  “It might be nothing, just somebody who saw the lights on and wondered who was home.  Cover me.”

He darted forward, pressing himself against the wall next to the front door with his gun held aloft, and Tony cursed under his breath and followed him.  

“Do you hear… music?” Steve whispered.

Tony could hear it now too.  Jazz, filtering through the open window from the staticky old radio in the living room.   “What the hell?” he said as Steve reached for the door handle.  “Wait - ”

Steve pulled the door open and pointed his gun into the living room.

Natasha waved from the couch.  “Hey, guys.”

Steve lowered the gun.

Tony slumped.  “Fuck you, Romanov.  We could have shot you.”

“But you didn’t,” Natasha said.  She lifted up an empty glass. “Wine?”

“You should have said it was you when you heard us coming for the door,” Steve said, setting the glock down on the kitchen table.  

The toilet flushed, and Clint opened the door to the bathroom.  “We heard you guys yelling when we pulled in, figured we’d let you wrap it up.  Anyway, I’ve had to piss since Paris, but somebody wouldn’t pull the motorcycle over.”

“Too likely we were being followed, golubushka.”  Natasha handed a glass of wine to Clint and turned to Steve.  “We had a visit from some friends last night.”

“Friends?” Steve said.

“Oh, you know.  CIA, FBI, Interpol,” Clint said airily, downing half the glass of wine.  

“Did they interrogate you?”

Clint snorted.  “They tried.  So you two haven’t killed each other yet?”  He held his glass out for a refill, and Natasha smacked his hand away, pouring another and holding it out to Steve, who shook his head.  

“Miraculously, no,” Tony said.  “Thanks for telling me you brought a suit along, though, super helpful to know.”

Clint rolled his eyes.  “Don’t be such a drama queen.  He was gonna tell you eventually.  It’s not like you needed it for anything, anyway.”

“Did something else happen that necessitated an in-person visit?” Steve said, before Tony could open his mouth to keep arguing.

“Kind of,” Clint said.  

Natasha leaned back in her seat and took a sip of wine.  “Bruce called me.”

What?” Tony said.  “Where is he?”

“He didn’t say.  He doesn’t want us to come after him, he just wanted to check in,” Natasha said.

“He figured we were in on your breakout and he wanted to make sure Nat was okay,” Clint translated.  

Natasha turned to Tony  “He said he’ll come out of hiding and turn himself in.  He said he’d take responsibility for Ultron if they let you go.”

“No,” Tony said.  “He can’t do that.  They can’t put the Hulk in prison, they can’t kill him - he’ll kill them.”

“Exactly,” Natasha said.  “We told him they won’t do a trade, they’ll just try to take him in too, and that - ”

“And that would be a massacre,” Steve said.  “Did you get any idea of where he is?”

“We tried tracing the signal, but he’d blocked most of our tracers,” Clint said.

“He said that he’s somewhere where he doesn’t think anyone will ever think to look for him.”  Natasha stared down at her glass.  “And I think I know where that might be.”

“Where?”

“He told me once about a village on an island off the coast of Bangladesh,” she said.  “The people there had been workers at a nuclear plant near Calcutta, and some of them had - deformities.  From the radiation.  When he was traveling after what happened in Harlem, he spent a month there, trying to treat their kids.  He’d only left a few weeks before S.H.I.E.L.D. tracked him down before the Battle of New York.  He said once that he felt safe there because - because it was a place nobody wanted to remember.  It was a place for people that everybody wanted to forget.”

Tony set down his glass.  “I should go there.”

“Tony,” Steve said, “maybe once all of this is resolved, we’ll go looking him, but for now we need to focus on - ”

“No, I mean, I should go there too,” Tony said.  “Permanently.”

“What, like, exile yourself?” Clint said.  “Come on, man.  You know they probably don’t have good wi-fi, right?  You wouldn’t last a week.”

“I’m serious,” Tony said.  “I’ll go there and, I don’t know, build things for kids, work on Bruce’s medical equipment, do something where I can’t hurt anybody anymore.”

“No,” Steve said flatly.

“I’m sorry, since when is it your decision where I spend the rest of my life?” Tony said, turning to Steve so fast that some of the wine sloshed out of his glass.

“Since I broke you out of prison,” Steve said.  “You’re not going there.  Rhodey goes in front of Congress in four days.”

“And have you considered what we do if Congress tells him to fuck off?” Tony said.  “I kinda have a feeling you don’t want to spend the rest of your life in this shack, in France, with me.”

“If it meant keeping you alive?” Steve said.  “I’d do much worse.”

There was a long silence while Tony tried not to think too hard about that, because ugh.  Feelings.  

“We don’t have to decide anything now,” Natasha said finally.  “We don’t even know for sure where he is.”

“Right,” Tony said.  “Sure.”  

Clint let out a deep breath.  “You guys got enough food for dinner for four?”

-

“You’re telling the story wrong,” Natasha said, ripping another piece of bread off the last baguette.

“I’m telling it wrong?” Clint said.  “I’m telling it how it happened, Nat, and how it happened is that I was getting the grand tour, you know, of the new facilities, right, and it’s like broad fuckin’ daylight, two in the afternoon, and we walk into the weight room and - ”

“But you skipped a part,” Natasha interrupted.  “With the cameras.”

“Oh, right,” Clint said.  “Okay, so I’m getting the tour, and this security guard comes up and says, Agent Romanov, he says, there’s something wrong with the cameras in the weight room.  They’re all getting this red stuff all over them, like some kinda fog or something.”

“It was more of a haze,” Natasha said.  

“Okay, a haze, fine.  So we’re like, okay, we’ll check it out, right?  And so we go in, and there’s nothing - no red fog, or haze or whatever, it’s just empty.  Or so we thought.”

Tony leaned forward.  “What was going on?”

“So we turn the corner, right?  And right next to the big dumbells, the ones Cap uses, right up against the mirror, it’s Wanda and Vision just going at it.”

Tony’s jaw dropped.  “You’re kidding me.”

“I wish,” Natasha said.  

“They’re just making out like you would not believe, like they’d never done it before, which I guess Vision probably hadn’t,” Clint conceded.  “And I mean, you know me and Nat, we move pretty quietly, so we just stand there watching for a minute, and then Nat clears her throat and you’d think they’d been tased or something.”  He threw his head back and laughed.  “Turns out Wanda was fogging up the cameras by accident.”

“So are they, like, dating now?” Tony said.  “Oh my god, does this mean Vision is getting more action than I am?”

“And so the student becomes the master,” Clint said.  

“I’m proud of him,” Tony said.  “Wow.  Is this what it feels like to be a dad whose kid is dating somebody super hot?”

“I don’t think so,” Steve said.  He glanced at his watch.  “Shoot.  You guys, it’s almost three in the morning.”

“We have to wake up in less than three hours if we want to get back to Paris in time for our flight,” Natasha said, turning to Clint.  “And we’re flying commercial, so you can’t just walk up thirty seconds before take off like you usually do.”

“Ugh, commercial,” Clint muttered.  “What’s the point of being an Avenger these days?”

“You guys should take the bedroom and catch a few hours sleep,” Tony said.  “If you don’t mind sharing a bed, that is.”

“I’ve shared with worse,” Natasha said.  “Steve’s a blanket hog.”

“I don’t hog blankets,” Steve said, grinning and leaning back in his chair.  “Most blankets just aren’t big enough.”

Clint rolled his eyes and threw a pillow at Steve’s head.  “Poor me, I’m Captain America and I’m too muscular and patriotic to fit under a normal man’s blanket.”

When Clint stopped teasing Steve long enough for Natasha to force him into the bedroom and Steve settled in at the kitchen table with the newspaper Natasha had brought for him from Paris, Tony curled up under the ratty throw blanket and listened to the sounds of the house breathing around him: Clint snoring gently in the bedroom, Steve rustling the paper, the pipes creaking.  For a few hours, it had been almost like they were back at the Tower, drinking and shit-talking after a raid.  It had been almost like the past six months - the sceptre, and Ultron, and Pietro, and the Raft - had never happened.

Almost.

Tony didn’t know when he fell asleep, but when he woke up everything was quiet.  Through the window, the stars were fading and the sun was rising over the trees; the world seemed to be holding its breath.  Clint’s quiver and Natasha’s boots were still by the door, but the light was off in the kitchen, and Steve was no where to be found.  

Tony padded through the cottage to the front porch and pushed the door open.  Steve was standing in the clearing, not far from the Quinjet, staring out at the countryside toward the road.  Tony watched as he lifted his hand to his mouth and inhaled.

“Are you smoking?” he said as he took a step forward, and Steve looked around at him, the end of the cigarette glowing in the pre-dawn light.

“Seems like it,” Steve said.  

“Those things will kill you.”

“Somehow I doubt it,” Steve said.  He lifted it again and breathed in.  “Lucky Strikes.  The - the Commandos smoked these a lot.  They don’t sell them back home anymore, but I saw ‘em in the grocery store here, and I just - I like the smell.”  

Tony didn’t know what to say to that.  “You sleep at all?”

“Nah.  Maybe after Natasha and Clint leave.  I wanted to stay up and make sure nobody followed them here.”

“Right.  Look, about last night - I’m not gonna take off in the suit.”

Steve raised an eyebrow but didn’t take his eyes off the road.

“I mean, I thought about it, obviously.  But - and you know how much it pains me to say this - you’re right.  I’d get killed, and you guys would have done all of this - you would have done all of this - for nothing.”  Tony stuck his hands in his pockets.  “I guess what I’m saying is, I’m gonna do my best to be not so much of an idiot.  And also, you know - thanks.  When all of this is over, I owe you a drink.”

Steve snorted.  “A drink, huh.”

“Maybe that stuff from Asgard?”

“It tastes like rubbing alcohol.”

“But it works,” Tony said, grinning.  “I’ll call Thor, get you a whole barrel of - Cap?”

“Yeah?”

Tony squinted toward the hazy horizon.  “What’s that?”

There was something is the distance: something small and getting bigger, something like a bird, or a frisbee, or a -

“Missile,” Steve said.