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Deep in December

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Kevin likes to antagonise him.

“Let’s start at that broken nose,” he says, pointing with the chewed end of his pen at the crooked bend of what was once Tony’s relatively straight bridge. “Tell me, Tony: did you provoke the captain?”

Tony, for his part, had sat their sullenly. “No,” he’d said eventually “of course not.”

“Right,” Kevin smiles. “You’re not a masochist.”

“Not the last time I checked.”

“Are you sure about that?”

Tony should psychoanalyse Kevin. He should point out he chews his pen and he wears his socks turned down, which is clearly indicative of a sociopathic if not immensely sadistic and irritating personality. Instead, he grits his teeth: “Yes, I’m sure about that.”

Kevin nods. “See?” He grins “We’re making progress.”

This is punishment, Tony knows. Punishment for the whole fucking debacle. Ross is going to chew Tony out as long and has hard as he can, until Tony relents and agrees to play by his rules, or bottoms out completely and resigns. God, he’d love to resign. It would be like being released from a fucking prison sentence.

Until such a point, however, accord-mandated therapy is what he needs to keep his suits. Something about being volatile? Tony isn’t volatile, he’s never lost control in his life. Of course, once it came out that he’d donned a suit and flown out to Siberia only to have Steve and Barnes in his grasp and let them go…

Well. Accord-mandated therapy was the easy route. Prison seemed harsher, but only slightly. At least there, Kevin would be behind a glass wall.

“God, Tony, we have so much to get through,” Kevin blows air up so it pushes at the fringes of his thick brown hair. “Let’s start with your testimony: you arrive at the facility, correct?”

“Obviously.”

“You’ve come under the guise of friendship, after violating our security systems on the raft.”

“Yes.”

“The captain and Barnes, they aren’t hostile?”

“Not after I explain.”

“And then,” Kevin heaves a sigh “and then something happens, doesn’t it Tony? Why don’t you talk to me about what happened?”

“You want me to repeat it?”

“Just once more, for the record.”

Tony’s fingers dig themselves into the leather of his chair. “You sure? You haven’t got it down enough times in writing?”

Kevin’s smile is steely. “Just once more.”

(Tony hates this.)

“Then – Zemo was there.”

“And what happened?”

“And he showed us a video,” Tony mutters.

“Yes, he did. Do you want to describe it, Tony?”

“No.”

Kevin makes a chiding noise. “It’s better to get things out in the open, Tony. Saying words out loud, they lessen anger. Let out pressure. Why don’t you just say what you saw in the video.”

“No.”

“We both know what it was, Tony. Don’t make this hard for yourself. I need to check off that you’ve overcome what is clearly a debilitating and crucial mental block. And if you can’t bring yourself to describe it…”

“A debilitating mental block?” Tony spits, voice rising. “Christ you’re a wormy little son of a – “

“Keep talking,” Kevin says, mildly. “I can see we’re still having problems with anger.”

It never used to be a problem, actually. Kevin’s probably right about something: whatever’s happened to him, it’s hard to keep a lid on it nowadays. He feels worn thin, like a violin string that’s been drawn too many times. But it’s not worth losing control like that, not again. Never like that again.

“You described it earlier as – mindless? Is that what you said?”

“Why do you keep asking me when you have a transcript right there?”

“I’m trying to encourage conversation.”

“Yes, Kevin, yes the rage was mindless. If I’d – if there had been thought to it, I wouldn’t have done it, would I?” He snaps, bunching his hands over his lap.

“Obviously, I’m sympathetic,” Kevin says, with all the sympathy of a honey badger. “If I had been in that position – Barnes has hurt so many of us. No one can blame you for what you did, not really. But fact is, in your position, it’s important to stay in control. And you decidedly did not. And what happened?”

Kevin pauses, as if waiting for an answer. Tony grits his teeth. “And I let them get away.”

“And you let them get away,” he echoes back, smug.

Tony taps the tips of his fingers against the worn leather. “Are we done?” He asks “Is that it?”

Kevin shrugs. “Sure, we can leave it for today,” he folds up the file and stands, clicks his back. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Right. Sure.”

“Got to keep tabs on you, of course.”

“Of course.”

“Ross would like to remind you,” Kevin says, glancing through his papers “that you’re on a strike system: letting Barnes and Rogers leave the airport – “

“Strike one, I know.”

“And you could tell me the others?”

“Letting Natasha leave. Breaking into Raft systems. Flying out without authorisation, letting Barnes and Steve escape. Five strikes.”

“One more, and you’ll find yourself in a world of trouble, Tony.”

“I know.”

“Hey,” Kevin’s voice goes mock-soft and attempts to be caring “I’m only saying this with your best interests at heart, as your psychiatrist.”

“Right. As my, accord-mandated, unwelcome, psychiatrist. Of course,” Tony stands, gestures with his arm as if graciously showing Kevin the door “you only have my interests at heart.”

Kevin stares at him for a long time. Then he snaps his briefcase shut. “You should watch yourself, Tony,” he says quietly. “I’ll be back tomorrow.”

 

“How’d it go?” Rhodey asks, pushing himself into the kitchen. “Oh, that bad? You shouldn’t do that. You should not drink this early.” He reaches up and tugs the bourbon from Tony’s fingers, empties it fluidly down the drain. “Use your words, Tones.”

Tony grunts, fumbles around the kitchen for coffee grinds and a clean mug. “Nothing he hasn’t said before.”

“Any word when you’re going to get off probation?”

“Honestly, probably never.” Tony’s shoulders slump, he exhales. Rests his brow on his hand and kneads his eyes. “This wasn’t – I’m out of action. You’re out of action. Vision, Vision is out of action, and we’re the only three left.”

“Yes,” Rhodey says, measuredly “that’s right.”

“And – “ Tony almost says ‘I can’t sleep knowing that there isn’t someone watching the world in my absence’ but he doesn’t want to worry Jim. Not anymore than he is already. Sometimes, Tony almost regrets the Accords – almost. Then he remembers what would have happened if he hadn’t signed, if none of them had, and the guilt lessens if only slightly. “And yeah. That’s it.” He lifts the pot off the stands and pours himself some coffee.

“You want some?” Tony asks, stirring in sugar. “It’s fresh.”

“I’m good,” Rhodey says, and he’s watching Tony with that – God, that look, that quiet considering look he’s turned on him too many times. “Pepper called, this morning.”

Tony’s first sip is too hot and he burns his tongue. “Christ,” he mutters, quickly setting the mug down on the granite tabletop. “Okay.”

“She’s going to come by for dinner. Tonight.”

“I can’t do tonight,” Tony says shortly, adding more sugar to his coffee, as if that will cool it down somehow.

“I don’t think she cares, and I think she knows when you’re lying.”

“We’ll need to cook, I can’t cook,” Tony spins his coffee furiously with a spoon “and besides the place is a mess. And I’m a mess. And – and she shouldn’t come.” Tony finishes, lamely.

“Well, you have the whole day,” Rhodey says with a small smile. “Get busy. It’s not like you have anything else to do.”

Tony narrows his eyes. “Don’t push it.”

“You been sleeping, Tony?” Rhodey asks, spinning and wheeling over to the couches. “You’ve got big bruises under your eyes, it’s kinda noticeable.”

“I’ll – cover them.”

“I won’t tell her if you don’t.”

“Great. Thanks.”

“You should make spaghetti, everyone likes spaghetti.”

“Can’t, she’s on a – low carb thing. I think.” Tony had read that in a magazine about a week ago, but he can’t be sure. “Maybe just meat and salad, I don’t know.”

“Just meat and salad,” Rhodey grins “what kind of meat? That’s very vague, Tony. If you saw that in a restaurant, what would you – “

Tony doesn’t remember throwing the mug at the wall, but he feels sickening pleasure when it wipes the smile of Jim’s face. At least for a moment. Then he feels mortification and a thick sense of guilt. “Shit,” he blurts “shit, sorry. That was – an accident.”

Rhodey isn’t smiling anymore. “Yeah,” he says slowly “sure.”

“I’ll clean that up,” he mutters, going for a dishrag. He uses his bare hands to pick the ceramic, and cuts his palm. It doesn’t even hurt. “You don’t have to hang over me like that,” Tony says “go. Go do whatever it is you do, just – leave, please.”

Rhodey’s lips are a grim line. “Clean that with antiseptic,” he says, referring to the new cut on Tony’s hand. “And then sort yourself out. You look like you haven’t changed your clothes in days.”

He hates what’s happened to his life.

 

“This is delicious,” Pepper say, almost too enthusiastically. “I was on a low-carb thing, but I can make an exception for this. Tony, did you cook?”

“Yeah.”

“You never cooked before.”

“Well I have more time on my hands now,” he says shortly, staring down his wine glass.

Pepper nods, lips tight. “Rhodey,” she says “how’s the physio?”

“Ah, it is what it is,” he says, and Tony hates how he can always be so fucking affable. Tony wants to be affable again. He can’t even smile, and he’s not the one who lost his legs, so what’s his excuse? “I’m never gonna walk unaided, let’s just put it that way. But – I mean, you should see the prosthesis Tony cooked up. We’ll see, you know? The future’s bright.”

“I should have visited sooner,” Pepper says quietly, but with a soft smile. “I should have seen how my boys were doing. But you know, things are crazy. The new head of R&D – “

Tony stands, abruptly. “Does anyone want anything to drink? Other than wine, I mean. I’m going to get something a bit stronger.”

“For fuck’s sake Tony,” Pepper snaps “could you just – be civil? For an hour?”

“I’m only asking if anyone wants a drink. Rhodey? No? And none for you, sweetheart? Oh, well in that case – “ Tony heads to the counter and helps himself, mixes his wine with some of the vodka that Steve used to drink. There’s still some left over, which is funny, because Tony could have almost convinced himself he never existed.

“You haven’t told me what happened in Serbia,” Pepper calls “when are you going to tell me?”

“Why would I? I don’t owe you that.” Tony shuts the cabinet door with his hip and makes his way back to the table. “They’ve stuck me in therapy, though. Everyday. I’m grounded, on probation. It’s everything you ever wanted.”

“This is never what I wanted.”

“Could have fooled me.”

“Really? Because you never asked.”

“Never asked?” Tony spits “I blew up my suits for you! I gave up my company for you! When I – “

“Did I tell you to do those things?” Pepper snaps. She takes a long sip from her wine. Exhales through her nostrils. Her hair is perfect, it’s just one of those things Tony used to find endlessly fascinating; the ends are always perfectly neat, she has no flyaways or even grey hairs. She’s old enough for grey hairs, now. Does she dye it? Tony doesn’t know.

“I don’t want to fight,” Pepper continues, calmly. She holds out her hand on the table and, reluctantly, Tony takes it.

“Yeah,” he breathes. “Yeah. No, sorry, that’s me. I’m tightly wound, uh. Hey, I should take a vacation.”

Pepper’s smile is genuine. “I’ve always said that.”

“You’d have to take Kevin with you,” Rhodey pitches in, and Tony glares.

“Kevin?”

“My – pysch. My doctor. Kevin.”

“He sounds nice,” Pepper says removing her hand and going back to her spaghetti.

Rhodey snorts. Tony starts to giggle. “What?” Pepper asks “Something funny?”

“The man has the personality of a slapped ass,” Tony supplies “so no, nice isn’t the right word. But hey,” he sighs “this is it, right? Accountability. If I want the suit then – then I can’t go losing my temper.”

“Is that what happened? You…” Pepper shakes her head “you lost your temper?”

“It’s not – no. No it’s not that simple,” Tony pushes his food around his plate. “You know – it was one of those things you sort of had to be there for, so. I don’t expect you to understand. It won’t happen again.”

“Tony, you didn’t – you didn’t do something to Ross, did you?” Pepper asks with dawning horror.

“Which one?” Tony asks dryly.

“The Secretary of State.”

“No. Well – not exactly. I mean I went against his orders. But apart from that, no not directly. I – “ Tony lets out a sigh he’d been keeping bottled in, sips from his glass. “It was a moment of madness, I – I had a tough week, you know? I put a lot on the line for Steve. To give him second chances. And then, yes. I ‘lost my temper’.”

Pepper is silent, just carefully rolling her spaghetti round her fork, saying nothing. And it’s in that moment that Tony realises, fully, just how selfish he’s being. He questions a lot how his mother put up with his father: short answer is, she didn’t. She stuck by him because she loved him, and because he was the father of her only child. His mom’s life was not enjoyable. She doesn’t need to be commended for what she did, and neither does Pepper. Howard was a blight on her life, and Tony is a blight on Pepper’s, and suddenly, crystal clear, he realises –

“This isn’t working.”

Pepper blinks. “What?”

“This. Being on a break. It doesn’t work.”

Pepper stares. “Excuse me?”

“Rhodey, could you – “ Tony gestures apologetically. “Sorry.”

“Yeah, I’m leaving,” he mutters, pushing his chair back from the table and rolling away. “You do what you need to do. I’ll see you soon, Pep.”

He pats her arm on the way out. Tony doesn’t say anything else until he sees him leave, and then Pepper turns back to him at full force.

“Explain.” She says shortly, pushing away her plate.

“I mean, why are we calling it a break. This isn’t a break, it’s final. We’re not getting back together, are we?”

Pepper laces her hands together, rests them on the table. “Someday we might. After your eval goes through, when you’re back on duty. If Steve ever comes to his senses and comes home, things could be how they used to be. And – and I still love you,” she adds, weakly.

“Things will never be like they used to be.”

“They might.”

“You need to find someone else.”

“Meaning?”

Pepper is quiet. She taps her nails against the wood of the table. “Have you found someone else?” She asks eventually.

What?”

“Is that what this is about? There’s someone else?”

“God – no! Christ I’m trying to do you a favour. You can’t – be with me, anymore. And I can’t be with you. Because after Extremis after, God, Stane, Hammer, Ultron, New York, whatever, on and on, it’s not fair to you, anymore. And I’m – tired,” Tony slumps “and you deserve better. And – I’m trying to be mature about this. And reasonable. And we both know we’re not getting back together, so let’s make it official.”

Pepper looks away, smooths one hand over the other, fiddles with a ring. “You know,” she says quietly “I’ll just say this. The people around you, Tony, we know the risks. And we’re always here by choice.” She stares at him, looks up. “Me, Rhodey. Happy, even. After Iron Man, before him, we knew the risks, and we all chose to stay. Don’t insult our choices; we all knew what we were getting into.”

Tony swallows. “Alright.”

Pepper stands. “I’m flying back to Malibu tomorrow night. You could join me, if you want. And we could make one more go of it.”

Tony knows his answer. “Thank you,” he says “but I can’t.”

So she nods, stiffly, and wipes imaginary lint from her skirt. “Come here,” she whispers, and fists her hands in Tony’s shirt, tugs him up so he’s standing. “I am so so sorry,” she breathes, and Tony’s brow finds her shoulder. Her fingers caress the hair at the nape of his neck. It helps soothe the headache that never really goes away anymore. “I know you only ever tried your best.”

For a moment, Tony wants to take it all back. Fuck him for being selfless and grandiose, he needs her, needs her like air, needs –

She kisses his brow. “You know where I’ll be, if you need me.”

And Tony smiles, as much as he can. “That’s all, Miss Potts.”

 

He’s started going grey. Well, he’s always had the occasional grey hair here and there, at his temples, in his beard. Now, it’s spreading out from his roots, obvious and very much in your face. He brushes his hair over his head; at least it’s not thinning. No, he has dad to thank for that at least. And then, the thought leaves an uncomfortable tug in his gut, and he pushes the thought away.

Fuck Bucky Barnes, and fuck Steve Rogers too. Fuck them for making it impossible to think about his parents without a shocking anger and then sense of guilt, mortification, and remorse all mixed into one. Fuck him for disappearing. And fuck Tony for not stopping them when he had the chance.

He still has the shield. Downstairs, in the weapons basement. He’s not supposed to have it. He remembers crying out like a child: You don’t deserve that shield! My dad made that shield! It wasn’t true. Steve deserved the shield, he made it what it was. Tony didn’t agree with what he made it, but still. Clearly, it’s not up to him.

They had found him stumbling in the snow. It was Tony’s fault: he’d gone undercover, in secret, and if no one knew where to find him, well, he’s to blame. He’d shed the suit, slipped down and out, and fallen somewhere about two miles west of the bunker he’d found Steve and Barnes in.

He was hospitalised with multiple contusions, a broken shoulder, broken nose, mild hypothermia, wounded pride, and a severe concussion. No one had visited, but Tony hadn’t expected them to, and that was okay. When he’d gotten out, Ross – well, both Ross’ -- had called him in. Told him he had taken unacceptable risks. That clearly, his actions were due to a fractured state of mind. That the Accords account for situations like this: the world needs superheroes, even when they’re suffering from mild PTSD.

And of course, there was a warning. Do it again, and you’re finished. There’s a cell in the Raft with your name on it. Don’t fuck up again.

Honestly Tony knows Ross would like nothing more than to just stick him in a cell and be done with him. Slowly scrape the remaining heroes away. Doesn’t matter what he says, Ross always hated super-powered, the whole Bruce debacle showed that. In fact, Tony suspects Ross’ grudge goes a bit further than simply wanting Tony put away for convenience sake; for him, it’s personal.

 

Tony can’t stop thinking about how scared his mom must have been when Barnes wrapped his hand around her throat. Or how she kept calling for dad. And how dad had been picked up like he weighed nothing, like a child, and had his brain spattered across the white of their car.

His nightmares are feverish and strange in tone. It’s been so long since he dreamed of Afghanistan, but tonight it’s as bright and real in his mind as if it was yesterday. Wormholes and glowing men, green eyes and electric whips. Snowy mountains, snowy roads. And then, don’t waste your life. Don’t waste it, Stark.

Ouch.

 

Tony finds himself talking often to the jury inside his head. Yes, we know you say it was better than the alternative, but look what the Accords did to your team Tony. And sure, we realise you were angry at Barnes, but you know it wasn’t his fault he murdered your parents. You built Iron Man, but why didn’t you do more to save Mr Yinsen, Tony? And what about Wanda Maximoff and her brother, they were only children. Who do you think you were taking little Peter Parker and sticking him in a warzone? And how to you justify the creation of Ultron, Tony? Why do you let your ego get in the way of sense? Why do you always think you know best? How many people died in Sokovia? How many people died in New York? Why couldn’t you have tried to save Obie from himself, Tony? If you’d been to nice to Aldrich Killian, he wouldn’t have planted those bombs. Maya Hansen wouldn’t be dead. What about Clint’s family? Tony, if you hadn’t forced the Accords on them, he would still be safe with his kids. The list goes on, Mr Stark, it goes on and on, and the only question we have is what exactly are you going to do about it?

He keeps tabs on them, actually. Clint’s family. Not – not in a weird way. Just to make sure they’re okay, that no one’s bothering them. That Laura isn’t having trouble putting food on the table, keeping everything together. The youngest, Nathaniel, is still so small. But the kids are doing well at school, that’s good. And he knows they’ll see their dad soon, one day.

 

Unfortunately, Kevin just pushes his buttons. He flies to DC to undergo official evaluation. Everything goes downhill from there.

“Tony,” he smiles. “How are we feeling today? Better?”

“Better than what.”

“Than last time.”

“I was fine last time.”

“Really? If I remember correctly, we were having some problems with controlling our temper tantrums.”

Yeah, see, there. That’s it. Don’t talk to him like he’s six.

“Do you go out of your way to be patronising or is it, I don’t know, some form of brain damage?”

Kevin sighs. “Let’s talk about what happened in Serbia, Tony. It appeared I couldn’t get you to be cooperative last time.”

“Nothing to talk about. I shot Barnes, and I took off his arm. Steve… wasted me. I went home.”

“Do you think it’s possible you didn’t fight as hard as you should have?”

“What, to bring them in?”

“Exactly.”

“No. I fought harder than I’ve ever fought in my life. I was driven by murderous intent.”

“And let’s talk about that. Have you ever felt murderous intent before?”

“Yes.”

“When. Tell me about that.”

“In Afghanistan, towards the end of my captivity.”

“You took revenge on your captors for holding you?”

A brief pause. “Yeah.”

“Interesting. So what you mean is that, in Serbia, you were fighting for your life.”

Tony grits his teeth. “Yes, obviously.”

“But you didn’t win. Now, let’s talk about that. How is it that a suit which can go toe-to-toe with the hulk on a good day couldn’t withstand a blow from a vibranium shield?”

“Cap had a lot of anger.”

“But so did you.”

“He’s stronger, clearly.”

“Strong enough to take down Iron Man?”

“Obviously.”

Kevin takes a sip from his coffee, drums his fingers against the desk. “At the airport, then.”

Tony sighs inwardly. “What about it?”

“Barnes and Rogers. Agent Romanoff let them leave, correct?”

“I – yeah. Yeah, she did.”

Kevin nods slowly. “And after, there’s footage of the two of you in a hospital, looking over the treatment of Colonel Rhodes, yes?”

Tony pauses. “Yes.”

“And then, Tony, you let her leave.”

“She left.”

“You let her.”

“Not necessarily. It was – a difficult time. Rhodey’s like a brother, I – I wasn’t thinking correctly.”

“You failed to bring her in. That’s a law broken.”

“You’ve already grilled me about this.”

“Of course. It’s all on record. I’m just establishing for the cameras that you have a history of being insubordinate to authority.”

And that’s when Tony starts to suspect. “Yeah, I was. But I signed the Accords, didn’t I? More than others. I gave a lot for the document.”

“Of course,” Kevin says seriously “and we’re all very grateful, Tony. But there is one thing. The Captain, Mr Barnes. Where have they gone?”

And then Tony runs cold. “I don’t know.”

“That’s a lie.”

“What reason do I have to lie?” Tony spits “What, you think I want to protect him? Christ, I’ve already thrown all my other friend’s under the bus.”

“So you don’t know? You’ve never heard that the Captain has been hiding in Wakanda?”

Of course he has. He can’t know for sure, but – where else would he be? How Ross and his goons got their hands on this information he doesn’t know. He also knows he can’t bring war to T’challa’s doorstep. That anything he says now will make everything a thousand times worse than it was before.

“Why have I been called here, I was told it was a psyche eval, not an interrogation.”

“The Accords are pretty flexible.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, Tony. They’re flexible with a lot. Lot’s of ambiguous writing. One has to take certain lengths with super-powered individuals that they can’t with ordinary, squishy humans, you understand.”

“I am human.”

Kevin nods. “Okay, Tony, here’s the thing: we intercepted Virginia Potts on her way to Malibu. She’s being held in a secure facility until we can assure the validity of your claim.”

“Are you out of your fucking mind? She’s a civilian, she’s – she’s the CEO of SI, she can’t just disappear, people will notice – “

“As of right now, James Rhodes is being called in on an urgent basis to a meeting in New York. From there, he’ll be transported to the same facility, at which point – “

“You can’t do that. It’s illegal. Rhodey hasn’t done anything, he hasn’t – why are you doing this? If this is an interrogation, then I deserve a lawyer.”

“No. Do you see where this is going Mr Stark? Your friends will never see the light of day again if you do not cooperate. Just tell the truth, and you’ll all be free to leave. Go on, Tony. Name Wakanda, go on.”

And that’s when Tony snaps.

He remembers smashing Kevin’s face to a pulp, and he’d forgotten how strong his hard, calloused hands were underneath the metal of his suit. Kevin’s cheek had collapsed so fantastically under his fist. And there are guards – why are there guards? Fuck, oh fuck it’s a set up -- dragging him away, and cuffing his hands behind his back, and Tony is screaming, cursing and kicking.

Kevin lifts his head, spits out a tooth, and grins.

Tony is fucked.

They must have drugged him. He wakes up on a bed in a cell. No need to tell him where: he helped design it. The Raft was designed to hold the hardest, most difficult to contain prisoners, although how Tony ended up in a padded cell he’ll never know.

He tests the cuffs; they hold. He twists his wrists, tries to tug free, but clearly that’s never going to happen. The cell is so quiet he can hear his blood pound in his ears. His ankles are similarly bound, and he can just about lift himself enough to see the glass window looking out onto other cells.

He goes for a scream to see what happens. He thumps his head back against the bed. A padded cell? Why a padded cell, he isn’t crazy, he isn’t suicidal, what are they thinking? He hears the glass door open but can’t raise his head enough to see who it is. He hears his voice though, soon enough.

“Oh, Mr Stark,” Ross says, and he almost sounds sorrowful. “I can’t believe it’s come to this.”

Tony spits in his face.

Ross shakes his head sadly. “Such a great mind, gone to waste. You know, I should have listened. Mr Wilde tried to tell me you were unstable, but I just – I just had so much faith in you.”

“You’re a fucking liar,” Tony snaps “you’re a cunt licking cretanic liar and I swear to God I’m going to fucking get you –

“Are you?” Ross asks. “Really? Tony, you’re not going anywhere.”

“What have you done with Pepper? With Rhodey? What have you done with my friends? You can’t – “ Tony tugs at the straps once more, screams in frustration “you can’t keep me here, I haven’t committed a crime! All I did was punch someone that isn’t even a felony! Give me a lawyer you fucking – “

“No, no, Tony, you misunderstand. You’re not well. And it says, quite explicitly, in section 12 subsection C of the Accords that any super-powered person of majority age must submit themselves to proper sectioning. So people like Maximoff and Banner don’t lose their minds and go on rampages where we can’t control them. So all of you can get the help you need.”

“But I’m human! I’m don’t have any powers – “

“Oh, semantics. You’re safe here, Stark. You’ll get all the treatment you need. You’ll be sectioned indefinitely, of course. It could be a week,” Ross smiles down at him “it could be a year. Hell, it could be longer than that. But hey, you can rest assured in the knowledge that dangerous individuals such as yourself are being kept under control, safe and sound, right?”

He’s taunting him. This was his plan all along. “You haven’t got all of us, you corrupt bastard. There are still people left.”

“Oh really? I assume you’re referring to The Vision? God, artificial intelligence. You made a life, Stark! But, how shall I say this; Vision has submitted himself for appropriate experimentation. Which is to say we’ll be taking apart his brain piece by piece until we discover exactly what it is what makes him tick.”

“You can’t do that,” Tony groans “he’s not a thing, he’s – why would he do that, you’re lying. I’m not sick, you’re all corrupt, and you can’t do this, not with – “

Tony slams his head against the bed again, grits his teeth with frustration and pulls with all his strength, desperate to do something, to punch Ross in the face, to kick him in the teeth, to just achieve something other that passive acceptance –

“Oh dear, you’re getting yourself worked up. I’ll call a guard.” Ross pushes Tony’s brow back down to the bed, pulls a strap over his head and buckles it tight. God, he can’t move. He strains, arches his back Ross pats him reassuringly, smiling that sickly smile.

A guard, armed only with a syringe. He depresses it into Tony’s neck. “This will calm you down,” Ross says, and he says it in slow motion, lips twisting and slipping down. “You be safe now, Mr Stark.”

He can’t move. Light is too bright and sound too loud. Everything moves slowly. Tony’s thoughts move slowly. He tells himself he’s not alone. He tells himself that there are still people who would help him, somewhere.

He figures he made his bed, and now he’s lying in it.