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He burns the letter almost immediately, holding the lighter to paper until it singes his fingertips, whistling breaths through bared teeth from lungs that still ache and a heart that won’t fucking stop pounding beneath purple and black that form the rim of a shield, because how dare he think it would fix anything, how dare he try to justify anything, how dare he

He slides the phone into his suit pocket and gets to work.


Tony starts with the easy ones. A little fast talk and Barton’s free and clear within the month—so unfortunate there’s no security footage of him breaking out Scarlet Witch, Senator; nope, Vision’s not talking, Prime Minister; really weird that nobody can find video from Germany either, Ambassador, but hey, what can you do without evidence, so sorry, it’s the law.

He sends the news to Barton’s wife through his most secure anonymous channels, and brushes through the following media storm with ease. Not many can prove he had a part in it and not many care, really.

It helps that Ross is hunting for bigger fish, and without his support nobody really has the time or the inclination to fight about pardoning a basically retired non-enhanced archer, not with Europe and Nigeria still smoking, not with airports to rebuild and government facilities to upgrade and hospital bills to be paid—all on Tony’s dime, of course. They’re his mistakes, after all (he doesn’t need to listen to the media and the government and the public to know that) and hey, these ones he can fix with the one thing he has plenty of.

“—getting better. Hey, you listening to me? Paging Mr. Stank?”

His eyes snap up with a groan. “Seriously, still? Let it go already.”

“Never, man. Never,” Rhodey grins at him, a quick flash of teeth from where he’s striding around the room. Tony eyes the braces critically, sweeping over the joints and smooth curves of the metal, making sure they can carry his best friend like he’s never been able to himself.

“They’re okay?” he asks. He’s worked on them all this week in lieu of sleep, waiting for the decision on Barton, can still feel the burn on his wrist from where the soldering iron dropped from his grip when he got the news, not in time to heed Friday’s warning because his head was still ringing with the words thank fuck thank fuck thank fuck; one down, he remembers thinking, at least I could fix that one. “I can adjust the supports if it’s too much weight on the hips—”

“Man, keep your eyes off my hips, they’re great,” the colonel says, taking one, then two careful steps forward, his stride a bit more fluid than last week. “Of course, the last pair were great too. And the pair before that.”

Tony waves a dismissive hand. “I can do better, just give me time.”

Rhodey narrows his eyes and locks his jaw—his Stop Being an Idiot, Tony face. “They’re fine as they are; you got enough to do. You have to rebuild Europe—”

“One German airport and a UN center, honeybear, gimme a break—”

“You also have to sleep occasionally, Tones, maybe even eat—”

The buzzing of a phone cuts through, and Tony freezes, can’t breathe before he realizes it’s the wrong pocket and his shoulders come down from around his ears.

“Sorry, have to take this,” he flashes a patented Stark grin at Rhodey, and moves to the door. “You alright here?”

“Fine,” the colonel nods, grasping the iron bar behind him so he can point a finger at Tony. “This conversation isn’t over, though. I’m gonna make you take care of yourself.”

“Keep dreaming, honeybear,” he shoots back, and steps out the door, phone already to his ear. “What?”

“Oh good, you’re still an asshole,” comes the unmistakable voice of one Clint Barton, codename Hawkeye. “You had me worried for a minute after you had me pardoned for international treason or whatever so I could go home to my damn wife.”

Tony blinks twice and makes a little choking noise. “How the—what…”

“You gave your number to Laura last year in case of emergencies, dick,” Barton says. “And I know you’re the one who got me the pardon because nobody else would have tried.”

There’s a lump in his throat that Tony’s refusing to analyze. “You call just to tell me things I already know, Birdbrain?”

“Actually I called to apologize,” Barton fires back, without missing a beat, and, what?

“…Damn,” says Barton, after a minute, and it sounds like he’s struggling not to laugh, the asshole, “The great Tony Stark speechless. Nobody’s ever gonna believe me.” Another pause, and then, “Look, man, what I said to you the last time we saw each other? That was out of line. It was my choice to follow Cap, I knew there would be risks, and it wasn’t fair to dump all the blame on you. I mean, you had just gotten me locked in an inescapable floating prison at the time, so—”

“You and Wanda threw like eleven cars at my head,” Tony says, but the lump is back in this throat and there’s no heat to it.

Clint snorts. “Call it even?” he suggests, and Tony realizes he’s smiling.

“Yeah, Legolas,” he says. “Works for me.”

“Cool. And, hey,” Clint’s tone is abruptly serious. “Laura got a copy of the Accords—don’t know how, woman is crafty—and I’m reading them over. Don’t know if I’m gonna sign them, but even if I don’t? You need me, I’m there, man.”

Tony opens his mouth, goes to push back his hair with fingers that are shaking, and tries again.

“That goes for me too,” he manages to rasp, hand pressed over old scars, fingers tap, tap, tapping in old rhythms, “Me too.”

“Cool. Gotta run, man. Kids wanna go to the beach,” Clint says. “Take care of yourself, ass.”

“Love to the kids, dick,” Tony shoots back, automatic.

When he hangs up, he takes a breath, a little fuller, a little deeper than he has in weeks, tries to steady the straggling beat of his heart, still going under the blue and deep green imprint of a shield.

He braces himself against the weight of the phone in his pocket, and gets back to work.