The phone was still there. He'd checked about three times in the last hour so he was pretty sure it was still there, right in the third draw of his desk he'd hidden it in. It was still there. Definitely.
It wouldn't hurt to check one more time though.
Yup. Still there.
Staring at the outdated flip phone in his hand for the fourth time now in the hour was Tony Stark, the most exhausted and quite honestly, strung out human currently making amends with the government. Well making amends was kind of a nice way of saying he was trying to keep them from setting his compound on fire. Because they were that close to storming the place and demanding some answers. His voicemail was kind of being owned by Ross right now.
'Mr.Stark this is General Ross, you are being called in for your statement by the UN in two weeks time.'
'Mr. Stark, it has been a week and you have not yet given correspondence as to whether or not you will be meeting with the UN to discuss recent events regarding Captain Rogers and the remaining avengers.'
'Stark, you missed the meeting and the UN are filing a case for disregard of the law. This can be avoided if you simply disclose information. Where is the location of Captain Rogers and the avengers? We know you must have had some form of contact with him.'
The first message had come through three days after Tony had gotten the letter and phone from Steve. And the last message had come through five days ago so it had been twenty-two days since he'd been given the phone. And hadn't so much as turned it on. Instead, the moment he'd finished reading the letter, he'd grabbed it and chucked it into the nearest empty draw on his desk and wandered off to spend some time with Rhodey during physio. That same night he'd walked passed the desk and wandered up to his bed only to remember that the letter was still on his desk in plain sight. And come to think of it, so was the shield. And that phone was still in the draw.
Which was why, twenty-two days later, Tony was standing by the same desk that had been reinforced with steel alloy locks to prevent anyone from opening it without a his fingerprints.
As Tony placed the phone gently back into its designated compartment of the desk, he thought about the letter and what Steve had planned. He wouldn't have written that letter otherwise and he wouldn't have given him a phone which he could easily use to track him. Surely Steve knew that he could do it with just a phone call? He wouldn't even have to say anything, he could just ring it and wait for someone to pick up. It was so simple.
And yet he hadn't.
Tony hadn't told Ross or the UN or any government body about it-he didn't dare after the stunt they pulled with prison cells for his team, his family. After that, he couldn't trust the government and neither could Rhodey or Vision since they also hadn't mentioned the phone to anyone. Although Rhodey did tend to call him Tony Stank nowadays. Thanks a lot post guy.
"You actually gonna use that at some point or are you just gonna stare at the steel for another month?"
Tony turned around and stood up when he heard the familiar voice and took a deep breath. He was greeted with a familiar face he hadn't seen in a month and for some reason, it made him smile slightly.
"You shouldn't be here Natasha."
The Black Widow smiled back at him calmly before walking up to him to face him. She looked well with all the things that had happened and Tony guessed she was probably enjoying her time with Clints family. That's where she said she'd gone after the whole mess. Probably because she thought Clint would go back there soon enough.
Ignoring the pleased but confused look on his face, she put her hand on his cheek gently and looked at him carefully.
"Tony, how are you? Are you alright?"
That actually caught him off guard for a minute and his smile faded. Was he alright? How was he?
"Well...I miss people... but I'm fine, how are you? Kids still treating Aunt Tasha well? They dress up as black panther for a birthday party yet?" His earlier genuine smile had somehow molded into a fake PR one that actually felt so brittle he was worried it would break right there and then. He couldn't afford to have another breakdown here. He'd already had enough of those to last a lifetime and besides, Natasha was concerned about him. That had to mean something.
Natasha however wasn't looking very pleased at all. She just sort of glared hard at him and dropped her hand from his face before pointing at the draw behind him.
"Why haven't you used it yet?"
"The phone that Steve sent you. You could at least check it works."
His hands shook as he clenched them and his heart skipped a beat. A rush of fear shot through him before he calmed down and remembered. This was Nat, his friend who was on his side more or less. It was okay if she knew about the phone as long as no one else did.
"How do you know about-"
"All of us know about it. Steve told us to make sure it was delivered to you. And make sure you kept it with you." she sighed as she crossed her arms and rolled her eyes.
"Why would he do that? And why me?" His eyes widened slightly with surprise and despite everything he had been telling himself he had that compulsion to pick up the phone and call Steve again. Why him? And why did he tell all the Avengers? And why did he say to keep it with him?
"If you want to know, call him at some point. But I think you should head to bed before anything else. You may say you're fine but believe me Tony, you're looking way too run down. I'm pretty sure that's not what Steve wants."
"Who care what he wants. It's not like he actually cares." He breathed out and turned to face the desk but not before a hand grasped his shoulder making him face Natasha's gaze, eyes piercing .
"You should really call him. Tony."
The engineer blinked once before nodding slowly. There was something wrong that she wasn't telling him. He could see it in the way she was staring at him. Like her eyes were glued to him.
"Natasha? Is everything okay?"
She didn't say anything for a moment but then seemed to consider the statement.
"Yes everything's okay. Just call him Tony."
When he watched her take the lift down to Rhodeys floor, he thought about her visit. Why would Natasha visit him now after a month just to tell him about the phone? It didn't make sense.
Something about Natasha's expression worried him. Was it just him or did she look scared?
He wasn't sure how he felt about that and decided it didn't matter then anyway. He's probably forget in a few days and continue to bounce between government agencies, his best friend's medical treatment and an android that spent most of his time distracted.
"Lights out Friday."
It took three whole days before Tony finally broke and turned on the phone. He hadn't been able to stop thinking about Nat's visit and couldn't help the growing feeling of fear. Natasha had looked worried and that usually meant someone was in trouble and Tony didn't want to even consider Steve and the others being captured again. No, he had to make sure they were okay.
Taking a deep breath and loosening his grip on the keypad, he went into the contacts of the phone and found one solitary number with the name 'Nomad'. Obviously Steve's attempt at being subtle which made Tony want to laugh. What kind of alias was that?
He pressed call and held the outdated block to his ear, waiting for an answer.
A few rings and there was a click, then Tony could hear breathing on the other end. He swallowed and tried to ignore the horrible feeling of sweat trailing down the back of his neck. He shivered. He really needed a haircut.
There was a sharp intake of breath and then-
For some reason, he could feel his eyes start to sting. He thought he was over this, he thought he had accepted everything with Steve and James and his mo-
A sob escaped despite his trying to not show it and before he knew it, tears were flooding his eyes and he gasped. He just wanted-
"Tony? Tony, are you there?"
It was more than he could take, more than he deserved. He wanted to be by Steve's side again, along with the others. He wanted that back, even if just for a short while, surely he'd tried hard enough to keep things together? But Steve had left him behind with a letter and an old piece of technology.
He'd been left behind because no one wanted him. And wasn't that usually how it was with him? First his parents, then Stane, then Pepper and the Avengers and finally Steve who didn't care what happened to him-
"Tony, for gods sake say something or else I'll-!"
He felt so so tired. All of a sudden it actually didn't matter. What difference did it make what he did in the end? He'd lost everything and cost his best friend his legs in the process. He'd torn everyone apart. He should've just agreed with Steve-
"-I don't know, he's not listening to me but I can hear him-"
Clearing his throat lightly, he spoke as if on autopilot. He felt numb as he blinked and stared at the window, trying to picture what Steve may have been looking at wherever he was.
"I'm sorry for everything Steve..."
That actually stopped all the chatter on the other side.
"Tony no, it wasn't your fault-I should have told you. I shouldn't have kept it from you. Don't blame yourself, just-just relax okay? Sleep. Get some shut eye."
"Yeah. Okay." He didn't know why but he felt so tired. Maybe he just didn't want to deal with it all anymore. He needed to sleep. What time was it?
"Tony? Did you hear me?" For some reason, the captain sounded worried.
"Yeah Steve." This was a bad idea. He shouldn't have called.
There was a brief silence as Tony went into his room and got changed into a black tank top and sweatpants and eventually just sunk onto the covers not bothering to get under them. The phone lay beside him and he picked it back up.
"Tony? Are you still there?"
"Yeah. It's me."
"I'm glad you called me. I was getting worried."
For some reason that didn't make sense to him. He scrunched his eyes tight and waited for the lights to go dim in his room, curling up on his bed.
"I'm fine. Nothing to worry about."
"I left you with a phone for a month and until now, you haven't contacted me. Forgive me if I was a little concerned."
"The more you say that the more worried I get, you know that?"
"Okay stop apologising. You've done nothing wrong."
There was another awkward silence of just breathing being heard before Steve sighed and shifted.
"Tony, what do you need?"
Need? It was such an awful word. It made him feel like a burden. An extra set of problems no one wanted. Actually Tony wasn't quite sure why he had bothered calling in the first place now. If it hadn't been for Natasha he probably wouldn't have.
"Natasha told me to call. She said I should."
There was a slight rustling on the other end before Steve spoke quietly.
"You-I-yeah. She was right. I'm glad you did. Really glad. Actually I want you to do something for me."
Tony would be lying if he said this conversation made sense. Why had he even called? Steve was probably busy anyway and just because he missed Steve and his friends, didn't mean he had the right to intrude like this. He-
"I want you to carry this phone with you wherever you go. At least until this whole mess is sorted out."
Despite trying to not care, that still made Tony curious.
"Wh-what would be the point in that?"
There was a faint muttering from Steve's end again. "Just do this for me. I want you to. Don't you want to talk?"
"Uhm yeah. Sure why not."
He would have imaged Steve nodding in that moment before answering."Good. That's... Yeah just make sure...you know what, call me as soon as you can tomorrow okay? Get some sleep and then we'll talk. How's that sound?"
Even though he didn't have a reason to, Tony still smiled a little. He could almost pretend Steve wanted to talk to him and wasn't doing this out of pity. Could almost pretend nothing was wrong.
When he woke up the next morning, he was very confused. For one thing, he'd called Steve yesterday and hardly been able to string a full sentence together which sucked. And the other thing, was that calling Steve again was on the agenda. Great.
"Friday, what are Rhodey and Vision doing?"
"They are currently in the kitchen eating breakfast if you'd like to join them."
Tony quickly got ready and made his way there, trying desperately to ignore his conversation from yesterday. He'd not planned to do that so why had he? Yes he'd been exhausted but still...
"Hey Tones. You alright?" His best friend watched him carefully as he sat down opposite him on the sofa. The same sofa the whole team had sat on when they'd all first listened to Ross about the accords. That was back then. Before.
He shook his head slightly and smirked. "Morning hey! How was it with Nat yesterday? She say anything important?"
Rhodey sighed and leaned back and both men listened to the sound of Vision cooking some breakfast in the background. Tony felt like stopping him, it wasn't like anyone actually felt hungry these days.
"I thought it was strange that Nat turned up here. Why now, after a month would she suddenly appear?" Rhodey said. Vision floated across, gently laying down several plates of toast, eggs and bacon before drifting back to the kitchen. There was also some orange juice. Of course. They didn't want to die of scurvy did they?
"I don't know. But she knows about the phone."
He tried not to think about the current added weight in his pocket. He was just keeping it till he put it back in the desk.
Rhodey raised an eyebrow as he scooped up some eggs into a plate. "That's actually not that surprising. Of course she'd know. Did she tell you to use it?"
"Yes. She...Vision, what is that?" Both men stared at the red curry splodge on the plate in Visions hand. Tony could swear he could see the red bleeding out of it from where he was sat.
"It's a paprika based dish." The android for some reason, looked very ashamed. "It's actually paprika this time."
"Wanda..." Rhodey whispered as he took the plate and gently set it down. Tony's eyes followed the dish and stared for a moment. Sometimes he forgot that even the tiniest things were a reminder. No, actually that was wrong, he never forgot. He only closed his eyes to it mostly, turned a blind eye. But he wasn't the only one damaged from this entire war.
Abruptly, he stood up, holding his hands behind him, to hide the shaking. "I'm going to my room. I need to sort something out." He barely waited for a reply and quickly turned towards the door, away from two more people he'd hurt with his ignorance.
"I'll see you later." He left ignoring the near-silent "Sir." and headed to his room. A crushing disappointment came over him. The morning had ended just like every other one. He'd turned his back on his friends. Why couldn't he do better?
He sighed shakily and dropped onto the floor, huddled and back pressed against the wall. Desperately fighting back a sob, he buried his head in his arms and cried silently for a good half an hour. This horrible, overwhelming feeling of resentment, hatred and desperation. All three directed at himself, haunting him and no matter what he did, he always seemed to end up alone and crying at his mistakes. The world really was better off without him-
A sharp ring, tore through his thoughts and he jolted at the sound. No, not just a ring-vibrations. The phone. Tony swallowed carefully and shoved his hand down his pocket to grab the phone. Why now? He just couldn't deal with it right now!
His hand tense, he flipped open the phone and snarled. "What!?"
"...is this a bad time?"
It was Steve. Of course it was him. Because he gave him the fucking phone.
"Yes it is. What do you want?"
"I was worried about you yesterday. You hadn't called back yet and you didn't sound okay so I just wanted to see how you were doing."
That actually made Tony laugh for a moment which then turned into hysterical giggling. He actually sounded concerned, what a joke! "Well, that's really sweet Steve. Thanks for checking in!" He laughed down the phone, pulling his knees closer to his chest and ignoring the increasing sting in his eyes. Everything hurt but this was kind of funny, hell it was the funniest thing he'd heard in weeks.
"Are you alone right now?"
No. Obviously not, he had his family with him right? "No Steve, of course not." For some reason the hint of sarcasm in his voice made him laugh harder. God he probably sounded crazy but who cared? Who. Cared?
"Tony, where's Rhodey? I want you to find him and-"
"FUCK YOU STEVE! I DONT NEED YOU TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO!"
And there. There it was. The fear, the hate, the bitter loneliness finally lashing out at the cause of it all. Steve had left him. His teammate, his Friend, the man he would've trusted with his life had walked away and taken his family and friends with him. And left him to pretty much die.
The silence on the other end of the phone was almost painful to listen to.
"...I'm so sorry, Tony. "And the phone cut off.
Why couldn't he have just taken him with him? Or better yet, actually killed him that day?
He dropped the phone and went back to tucking himself away from the world. There wasn't any point anymore. He was reaching his breaking point and now even Steve had nothing to say to him.
He'd stopped laughing. Now there were just silent tears on his cheeks.
"Boss, general Ross is in the foyer. He is requesting your presence."
Tony looked up from the tablet in his hand and closed his eyes, trying to fight off the headache. It had been another week since his breakdown in his room. In that time, he'd made some mild improvements to the prosthetics for Rhodey, built up schematics for a new suit, made a new retractable bow and had developed a newer, more concealable widow bite to go around the wrists and ankles. He'd locked up the phone and had tried to ignore it since then.
Sighing, he pushed himself away from his desk and made his way down. As he stepped out of the lift towards the general, a brief idea came to him for some falcon wings. Maybe if he worked on the retractability of the corner joints, he could-
"Stark. It's been weeks since we last spoke. Why have you been ignoring the calls?"
General Ross stood in front of him, posture tall and demanding. Behind him were five guards all decked in black and holding different sized guns that seemed way too excessive for Tony. What did the guy think would happen, that he'd need some guards to follow him around?
"I've been busy. Sir." Tony tried to hide his grimace. Respect for authority never came easily to him.
"You have blatantly ignored the UN's summons, not to mention, you have done nothing to aid the search for the hostiles. And especially that criminal Rogers." Ross was frowning at him now. But seriously, hostiles? That was his team he was insulting, war or not. And Steve was not a criminal.
Standing his ground, the engineer squared his shoulders and before he could stop himself, shot back. "Don't call them that. The Avengers have never been anything less than heroes and Steve was never a criminal ever."
Shit. Shit shit shit. Why couldn't he keep his mouth shut? He was already treading dangerously as it was.
"Mr. Stark, am I to believe you have been compromised?" Then Ross' eyes narrowed at him, studying him closely and he took a step closer to the genius.
"Have you been in contact with Steve Rogers in this time?"
Tony was excellent at lying. He always had been because he knew how to clamp down any emotions. But for some reason a terrible feeling of fear welled up inside him and the urge to check that the phone, letter and shield was still in place was nearly overwhelming. He felt like he was gonna be sick and he could feel himself sweating.
"No. Of course not, why would he talk to me? He hates me remember?"
That phone was still in that locked compartment. But if they started searching they could notice-
"Captain Rogers may have pushed back when it came to the accords Mr. Stark, but don't try and kid me into believing he doesn't care about you. It would not surprise me to find out he has attempted to contact you."
Tony swallowed carefully and raised his hands, giving his best unimpressed look. "Really? You clearly don't have a clue about Rogers at all do you? He doesn't want anything to do with me and I think he's made it pretty clear."
There was a pause in the conversation where Tony just stared back at Ross as if almost daring him to disagree. He just hoped Ross couldn't hear his heart pounding in his chest right now. Eventually the general stepped back but spoke.
"Very well. If the captain has not made contact then there is not much to be said. But if we find that you have had any hand in assisting Rogers, do not doubt that we will come for you first Stark."
Ross strode out, his guards following behind in and trail and Tony wanted to lie down. That had been far more stressful than usual but Ross wasn't joking. That was a warning and next time, it would be an arrest.
"So you're saying Ross just threatened you?"
"And you're not gonna do anything?"
Rhodey spoke as he carefully made his way through the physio exercise. Tony stood on alert at all times, ready to catch Rhodey if he fell. Because he was clearly better at catching Rhodey than anyone else.
Because he was the worst fucking person in the world that he'd let Rhodey get hurt when he himself was still standing just fine. That he'd failed to catch Rhodey when he needed to.
"I'm not going to do anything."
His friend paused and stared up at him. "Tony, you have to at least come up with a backup plan. They seem pretty serious about this. What if they arrest you?"
He shrugged. Wasn't that an idea? "If they do, it'll be for good reasons."
"Really? Because from where I'm standing it looks like you're just too busy blaming yourself to actually defend yourself. How many times do I have to tell you, this isn't your fault!"
Rhodey was trembling with exertion from the workout but he kept going. Sometimes Tony wished he had that level of determination. That he could just pick himself up and keep going.
"Rhodey, just don't."
"Please." He ducked his head and whispered alost hearing Rhodeys heart break at seeing his best friend beg. This wasn't like him, he knew that. He was behaving like someone who had been abandoned and blamed themselves for being left behind. He was breaking apart and Rhodey could see it.
"You need to tell Steve what's happening with you and Ross."
Tony shook his head, adamant and crossed his arms. "He doesn't need to know."
"He wouldn't want you to be hurt for his decisions Tony."
"He doesn't need to hear it."
"I can't help you Tony, but he can!"
"Don't you see! It's my fault you can't help me! It's all my fault!" Rhodey watched in horror as tears started to well up and fall down Tony's cheeks. He'd known Tony had been crying, whenever he came out of his room and his eyes were red, it was obvious. Rhodey had to be able to tell. But Tony had always been careful to hide when it actually happened. Rhodey didn't need to see this.
"Hey it's not your fault."
The Iron Avenger swiped angrily at his cheeks and stepped back.
"You're nearly done with this session. I'll send Vision down."
He turned and ran far from Rhodey who just watched with his own tears.
He'd never wished so hard for his legs to work if only just to be able to chase after his friend.
The next few nights were hard for Tony, who slept in and out due to nightmares. Sometimes they were about Rhodey and the team. Other times, they were about his mother and the winter soldier. He didn't dream about Steve anymore.
Today was yet another day of modifications. More suit fabrications, more armour for Natasha and Wanda and a new comm for Scott Lang.
Finally, after a full day in the lab, he took a short break to get some water. As he walked towards the kitchen, he mistimed a step and knocked into the desk.
"Ow!" He rubbed at his knee and turned, remembering something he'd desperately been trying to forget.
He knew how this went. He'd stand there for ten minutes, staring at the desk and then the door and then he'd open the draw and pull out that piece of shit he called a phone when he knew no one would walk in.
"Shit." He cursed and decided to save time and pull out the phone straight away. Untouched and cool in his hand, he held it there before Friday spoke.
"Boss, it appears there's been a breach to the complex from the rear entrance."
"Do we have visual? Can you give me the exact coodinates?"
"Friday? Hey!?" The lights went out and the entire place darkened within seconds. The only light was an orange evening glow coming from one of the windows in the other room.
Cursing, he ran past the corridors to the stairs. Without power, the lifts wouldn't work so he had to take the stairs down and make his way round to the armoury. But the route would probably mean an encounter with the burglar.
Activating his watch, he pulled the wrist piece of armour around his hand and felt it click into place. At least he had some way of defending himself till he got to the armour and rebooted Friday.
Wait, what was he gonna do about Rhodey and Vision? Suddenly he remembered Rhodey mentioning he wanted to go to the nearest coast for the day since he'd been making good process with his prosthetics and Vision would accompany him since no civilians lived in this area.
But that meant he was alone in the entire facility. He had to be careful.
As he reached the ground floor and continued to run past several bedroom doors (he knew who's but didn't have time to think), he heard a soft snick and paused. There were footsteps headed his way. He pressed himself up against the wall and slowly made him way into the dark room next to him, easing the door closed behind him. When he turned, he felt the urge to groan. Wanda's room didn't really have much for coverage but at least the wardrobe was there. But was he really gonna hide in his teammates clothes?
"He's here somewhere. I heard him." Without hesitation he slid into the open wardrobe and closed it, immersing himself into the darkness and fabric. There were at least five people out there based on footsteps and they were onto him. Maybe if he'd locked the door that would've been better? But would these people start going through the Avengers bedrooms? He could understand them taking out Friday to steal something but going into these rooms would be counterproductive unless they were looking for something specific.
The door to the room opened and he covered his mouth with both hands, holding his breath. Three of the assailants walked in and he could hear guns clicking. Armed. Great.
"He's here, I heard him. Start emptying the room."
Shit shit shit! What was he gonna do? He was outnumbered and they were looking for him. What could he-
The phone! He'd stuffed it into his pocket when the power went out.
He pulled it out with as little sound as he could and flipped it open. Just as he was about to press call on the number, the wardrobe door was wrenched open and light flooded in, exposing him to the three men. They grabbed him by his wrists and squeezed hard, making him drop the phone but also fire his repulser at them, sending two flying back but not the third. He'd ducked in time and kicked underneath Tony when he jumped out of the wardrobe, sending him to the floor. Tony rolled over, onto his back and fired at the man who was pointing some kind of gun at him. The guy fell back, giving Tony just enough time to scramble to his feet and spin towards the door. The three were down and he bolted past them and ran back out into the corridor. He turned left and kept running, blood roaring in his ears.
He'd dropped the phone when he needed to keep it with him. God he was such an idiot, what was he doing!?
"He's there! Get him!"
He could hear footsteps behind him and turned another corner. They had clearly studied the place beforehand since they didn't slow down at all when he made sharp turns. It was like they expected it. Then he noticed more footsteps and realised he was heading towards more of these guys. Who were they? Why were they after him?
He held his hand out and fired again and again, trying to hit them all in front. It seemed to work when he cleared passed the fallen bodies until he heard a gun trigger behind him and felt something hit his neck.
Despite trying not to, he staggered and tried to press down on his neck and feel the damage, still running. Had he been shot? But there was no blood and what he felt instead was some kind of needle.
All of a sudden his body felt slow and sluggish and a strange lightheaded sensation hit him. He didn't fully process his slowing down to a walk, until hands came around him and covered his mouth and grabbed his hands. Before he knew it, his hands were cuffed behind his back and something was slipped around his neck. The needle was pulled out and that something was clipped around his neck and he tried to pull away but something wasn't right. The man behind him held him by his waist and Tony could actually feel his body give in.
Things blurred into grey for a moment and then everything went dark.