Tap. Tap. Turn. Tap. Tap Turn.
The sound of plastic against metal didn’t ricochet off the walls, only a faint echo was heard from the repeated motion of tapping an edge of the outdated flip phone against the steel desk. The same desk Steve had used as the official leader of the World’s Mightiest Heroes. Heroes, yeah right. The Avengers became the World’s Most Praised Villains.
“The safest hands are still our own,”
How safe is a world where even the proclaimed heroes couldn’t even get their shit together, can’t even agree that they needed help. How safe is a world where the team leader is losing his grasp on reality trying to chase ghost of a life forgotten by all, but him? Thor was right the first time, Earth is not ready for major warfare from space if the team tasked with helping preserve that mentality is falling apart at the seams.
He was so sure with Ultron. Ultron was the bright life of the future, a safety net for all of mankind. Tony had a dream once, that they could finally sleep easy at night not having to worry about new nightmares haunting them. He had a dream where he could one day have a real family with the Avengers. Didn’t someone already coin that phrase though? Dreams, dreams, dreams, and more dreams. Dreams that Pepper would understand, dreams that Bucky would return to Steve, dreams that maybe one day Bruce could let out all that frustration and not have to worry about how much that building was going to cost.
Tap. Tap. Turn. Tap. Tap. Turn.
“Trying to wear a hole into the desk or the picture on the wall?”
Rhodey’s words were a misplaced rhythm among the repetition of the phone’s repeating tapping. The bioprosthetics molded to his legs, providing support to his body and helping him keep his balance. He is favoring his left, is it the bioprosthetics or his natural gant. Check into it. Tony mentally remarked before smirking at Rhodes.
“Picture. It’s not my style. Not enough...me in it.”
“And it always has to have you in it. Where is my War Machine representation?”
“Sorry honeybear, you have to have been apart of the group for 4 years and save the day at least twice before you get your face on the wall,” Tony smirked up at Rhodey.
“Seriously, Stank. What are you thinking about?
“About who I have to call to get a new delivery guy. Come on, it wasn’t even spelt wrong. How hard is it to pronounce. Stark. S T A R K. Stark.”
“I liked him, looks familiar though,” Rhodey contemplated this for a moment. “Wasn’t he at the party in the tower before the Ultron fiasco?”
“No, completely different guy. Similar glasses though, that guy had some weird phrase he kept saying after Thor enlightened him.” Tony’s thoughts returned from a life long ago. Trips down memory lane kept coming more often since Siberia, hell at this point he should just live on the deserted lanes as a hobo looking for a time when he was happy. Looking for a time when it wasn’t so bad. “What can I do for you, my dearest pal?”
“I heard the call from Ross. What does he expect you to do about it?”
Tony looked toward the phone quickly, “He’s still on hold, so I don’t know. It's a beautiful light though. Just the right shade of Iron Man red, don’t you think?”
The bursting laughter broke the calmness in the spacious office. The sound bouncing off of walls and flat surfaces, consuming the room in a way that had been lacking since the fall of the Avengers. A part of Tony was fixed in the slightest by hearing a forgotten sound. The sound of life inside the barren private quarters of the compound.
Maybe it would be okay after all. As long as laughter was in abundance.
“Boss, there has been a breach. South wall, the assailant walked right in.”
“Unknown or known personal, Friday?” Tony prepared to call a suit to him. He hadn’t been back in the suit since the last one was mutilated by a pissy soldier. Oh well, the saying with the horse and falling.
“Known,” the smooth voice was collected by the walls, keeping the sound for a rainy day. A day when laughter and familiarity were scarce.
Natasha leaned against the glass door frame, arms crossed in a relaxed fashion. However, there was a stiffness barely seen incase her return wasn’t received as well as she hoped. Most would miss that, but Tony had seen her after battles and among friends for movie nights, he knew her body language. He thought.
“The prodigal daughter returns, I see,” Natasha’s entrance into the room was just as fast as her appearance, claiming the seat in front of the desk.
The trademark smirk anointed her face. She looked well, kept the red hair, letting it grow out maybe or just been too busy to cut it, she has tanned since the last time he saw her, her eyes are steady not following the room, so she feels safe. “I never took you as one to know Bible.”
“I’m a man of many hidden qualities. Did you know I can juggle? Its very impressive.”
This laughter was different. It was not a sound freely given or rare in its unique meter. The sound bubbled from Natasha’s chest upward. The smirk turned into a low rumble to slowly pouring out her mouth in bursts separated by slight inhales of breath. “You and Clint should start a circus together,” she stated firmly after her laughter died away. The change in her eyes were minute when Clint’s name was mentioned.
Tony sat up straighter, “Speaking of the residential clown, how is he? How are the kids? I presume you took off there after T’Challa let the cat out of the metaphorical bag.” He was too sober to be casually having a conversation about their broken team, too sober to remember the insults hurled at him by Clint.
“Watch out for this one, he’ll stab you in the back.”
Yep, scotch was needed.
He slowly stalked over to the makeshift wet bar in the corner. Steve had used it for basics like water and juices. Tony gladly used it a storage for his favorite liquors of choice. “The usual?”
“Please. Clint is doing well, he’s at home now, but you're not supposed to know that. Scott’s with his daughter for a little while now.” She accepted the deadly mix from Tony with a slight nod of thanks. It turned Tony’s stomach watching her sip at the straight vodka so quickly. “Everyone else is with Steve. He put Bucky on ice again until they can find a way to reverse the brainwashing.”
The scotch didn’t last long before he returned for a second refill. “Can’t Wanda fix that? She can mess with our minds, can’t she find a way to fix his?”
Nat shook her head, “She can only manipulate our minds, not what is going on inside of them. Beside, even if she could I don’t think Steve would let her anywhere near Bucky. Steve is rather protective of Bucky right now.”
“Understandable. He just got him back. He has been wanting this since Bucky fell and more since the helicarriers went down,” that information hurt Tony. Even after giving his all to Steve, he wasn’t enough. Nothing could replace Bucky, not even another smart mouthed, smooth talking brunette with brown eyes. Replacement.
Two years of being a replacement for Bucky. Two years of living in the shadow of a once dead man then in the shadow of a ghost. Two years of being begged to leave Pepper then nights of sleeping alone because Bucky might be in the middle of bum fuck nowhere. Then that wasn’t even enough, Pepper wasn’t stupid and he felt guilty after every time he was hooked by a pair of hypnotizing blue eyes and a smile made for selling war bonds.
“Sometimes I want to punch you in your perfect teeth.”
The assassin’s eyes where more telling than her body language. There was something there he was missing. Her elbows met her knees while her head hung down, “No, Tony. He is obsessed. He has let this consume him. I thought that maybe if I let him go, if I gave him an inch, it would bring our family back together. I knew then that I was going to regret letting them leave and in a way I do. Something had to give, either you or him. Someone had to stop ripping us in half, so I let the mission get in the way of the outcome. I lost the goal in sight. Letting him go only broke us even more. ”
Natasha, for all her years, looked exhausted. She looked down to the bone tired. Guilt eats a person alive, it can consume all thoughts and actions. The what ifs. From the sag in her once strong shoulder to the already empty tumbler of Russian vodka, it was evident that she had regrets too.
“Do the ends justify the means, Tony?”
Now that was the question, wasn’t it? Was everything they went through worth it? Almost losing a friend, seeing his family locked in cells like common criminals, learning the truth about his parent’s deaths. Was it worth it?
“Yes. While our family was torn apart so were so many others because of the actions we made. People died because of what we did. King T’Chaka is dead just because we exist, Nat. We ripped thousands of families apart. Zemo was just a worst case possible, the worst happened. If it wasn’t this, then it would have been something else. Steve had a choice. The Avengers, his family or Bucky, the familiar life. He chose Bucky.”
“Bruce was right, you know. Back then. We were a bomb.”
“A bomb that turned into a supernova.”
Nat stood slowly, her shoulders finding their usual firm posture, “He has regrets too. He knows what he did tore us apart more than anything. He couldn’t see the forest for all the trees. Well, one tree named Bucky. I take it my room is still available?”
Tony nodded towards the door, this was still their home. They were still a family, just broken into a million pieces and dozens of factions. What Ross didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him.
The first time the phone rang was on a day filled with happiness and something that resembled the family he once had. Vision finally got paprika, Rhodey got to talk to the delivery man again, and Natasha woke up looking better than she had in weeks. Maybe they would be okay, maybe even better than okay. The sounds of endless laughter ricocheted off the walls better than Steve’s shield did. The sound felt right, for once.
The phone rang in a drawer in desk that no longer belonged to Steve Rogers. Steve had his own place to fix his messes now. The phone rang and rang, but no one was there to hear it, because things were finally going to be okay for Tony. Maybe just this once, he could be happy.