"On it, boss." As his AI maps everything about the rinky-dink phone, Tony watches Rhodey's eyes move side to side as his friend reads Steve's letter once, twice, three times, face twisting up at the same spots every time. The three remaining Avengers sat around the small table, eating dinner that Vision had made. Tony had come in late, dodging increasingly insistent calls from Ross, and placed the phone on a nearby Starkpad for FRIDAY's easy access while sliding the letter across to his best friend.
"'I hope you understand,'" Rhodey paraphrases with a derisive snort, handing the letter to Vision, who dutifully reads it in about five seconds. "I like that he puts the responsibility of accepting his choice on you."
Tony smiles tightly as Vision tilts his head curiously in his direction. "This letter seems private. May I ask why you decided to share it with us?"
He accepts the letter when its handed back over to him. "FRIDAY?" he prompts.
"All done. All files stored. Encryption broken. You'd think His Highness would be a bit more careful."
"His Panther-ness is always careful." The bitterness of Tony's voice pairs horribly with the sing-song tone. "He knows I'll exercise the same caution. Transfer now, please."
"Yessir." Suddenly Vision head tilts sharply in the other direction just as Rhodey's phone beeps loudly in his pocket. Rhodey pulls it out, staring at the new number listed on his screen, and then turns that sharp gaze on Tony.
Tony shakes his head. "I'm not going to call. I know - I know exactly what that says about me -"
"But I'm not - I can't. I'll do everything else I can possibly do, but I'm not going to call. I'm giving that choice to you. The smartest people I know - the best. You won't hesitate because you're angry or guilty. You'll do the right thing. That's Steve's number, okay. He'll be there if you need him, like he said. And if he needs us, the call will redirect to you, Rhodes." Tony takes a deep breath, turns the letter over in his hands so he can't see Steve's writing but not meeting Rhodey's eyes. "Please," he finishes on an exhale.
"Of course, sir," Vision replies promptly. His voice is calm, smooth, no hint of judgment. When Tony risks a glance up the synthezoid inclines his head before rising from the table. "If need of the Captain arises I will make the call immediately." He exits the room to the soft sound of Tony's sigh of relief.
He sucks it up and turns to Rhodey, not knowing quite what to expect, but he really shouldn't be surprised by the understanding he finds there. His friend leans forward to rest his forearms on the table, a smile devoid of happiness but not warmth on his face. "You've got a lot on your plate, Tones. Let me and Vision handle this one."
"Thank you," Tony replies quietly. It is all he wants to say to Rhodey these days. Thank you for standing with me. Thank you for staying with me. Thank you for every PT session you get through, every prosthetic you criticize. Thank you thank you thank you. But then, because Tony's still an asshole: "That's all you got?"
"Tony," Rhodey starts and then sighs, running his hand over his head. "You already understand why he did what he did. Not like it's hard to figure out, we fought over it. That's why you're not gonna call. You already get it and it's not good enough. That's fine, Tones. You've done inexcusable shit before that I got over. You need time, you take time. Viz and I got this."
It's bizarre for Tony, who's entire childhood was informed by what Captain America would do - what Howard said Captain America would do, at least - to contemplate the man not being good enough in any aspect, but as Rhodey laid it out so calmly and sure, a cold certainty came over him. No, he knew Steve's reasons. He understood, he wasn't stupid, and Steve's reasons weren't enough. They were not good enough for Tony, not now, maybe not ever. And that was something neither Steve nor Tony could fix. And until Tony got over it - if Tony ever got over it oh my God, my mother, my mother...
"I'm going to go down to my lab," Tony announces hoarsely, grabbing up the phone. "I'm going to smash this with a hammer."
"Sure," Rhodey nods sagely, like all the information isn't with FRIDAY, like Tony couldn't say the word right now and be on speakerphone with Captain America.
"Then I'm going to burn this." He reaches for the letter.
"Then I'm gonna build you new legs."
"Great. These here tend to go pigeon-toed. It's awkward, man, c'mon."
It's a mistake destroying Steve's gesture of goodwill, Tony thinks, even as he takes an unholy amount of glee smashing that stupid phone to bits down in his lab and DUM-E waits eagerly with a fire extinguisher for the last of the letter to burn down. But it's a mistake Tony is happy to make.
It's a mistake he can fix.
Tony has made a lot of mistakes in his life. Most of them he was delighted to make because he was too stupid, too selfish to realize how irreparable they were. Trusting Obie had been his first. He'd never been able to fix that.
(Tony's deepest, darkest secret seems almost trivial but here it is: he would've given almost anything just to have Obie survive. He would have thrown him in jail, of course, but he would've had visited. Even if Obie spat in his face, called him every name, he would have visited. The man had practically raised him.
Tony wishes he trusted someone enough to tell them how much he misses Obie.)
Ultron had been his biggest. Tony works everyday to make sure its not unfixable but the task seems insurmountable.
Attacking Bucky Barnes is his newest, and Tony is a bit ashamed that he hasn't worked up the same amount of guilt for that as he did for Obie and Ultron. Bucky Barnes wasn't the murderer, he was the weapon used to commit the murder. He's innocent, Tony Jesus just -
my mother, oh my God, my mother
-let it go.
Tony is even more ashamed that this is a mistake that is easily fixable and he - he doesn't want to fix it.
He does it anyway.
"Mr. Barnes will be exonerated of the bombing charges, of course," the representative reassures him, picking through the evidence from Zemo's interrogation with distaste. "But he still has to answer for the multiple counts of assassination, Mr. Stark."
Tony could say something here, say he's confident that when Sergeant Barnes is brought in it'll be clear that he was just as much a victim of HYDRA as anyone else, but he doesn't. He can't. His silence scalds his throat dry.
He swallows once, twice, then opens his mouth. "Until then, the Accords, ladies and gentlemen?"
He does exactly what he told Steve he would. He signs the documents and then immediately starts amending the shit of them. It's hard without the good name of Captain America to back him up, but the newly crowned King of Wakanda helps. Tony never meets T'Challa's eyes during the UN meetings, not entirely sure he won't ask a question about the team if he does, but he feels the Panther's eyes on him sometimes, watching.
Their missions will be screened beforehand by the council that's slowly being set up but the Accords allow for the immediate guarantee that any country who signs has accepted any structural damage that might be caused in their operations, and the UN will help negotiate with every country that hasn't.
It's not perfect, and it won't ever be. The UN aren't quite thinking of the kind of response time a team like the Avengers needs in rapid-development situations and there's still a pesky 'loss of life' clause that Tony fears would be far too easy to abuse but he's working on it. Every day he's working on it. "Can we get make some kind of Avengers insurance?" he jokes to Ross one day, and surprisingly the man looks like he's thinking about it.
The Accords are not a mistake, but he will fix them.
(T'Challa breaks first.
"My father would have been proud," he calls to tell Tony.
"Good for you," Tony says, and hangs up. He calls right back. "I'm an ass, and guess what, you're an Avenger now. Come to the States, see the compound. I've built you a nice scratching post."
T'Challa comes by while on a diplomatic visit and does not say anything when Tony doesn't join in on training with Vision and a reconstructed War Machine. He doesn't have to.
There's no suit to train with and that is Tony's mistake to fix.)
"Why are you giving this to me?"
"So you can read it," Tony says blandly, watching Peter pace as the young man flips through the Accords. "If you don't sign, you can't work as Spider-Man. I need you to be able to sign."
"And if I Spider-Man anyway?"
"You can't make yourself a verb, it's lame. You'll be arrested."
Peter stops and stares at him and Tony sighs, dutifully making a note on his own copy of the Accords. "Hard limits: imprisonment."
"No shit, Mr. Stark! I shouldn't get carted off to jail just because I want to help."
Tony sits back in his chair. "Then what should happen, Peter, if you're out Spider-Manning-"
"-and you hurt someone seriously. What if you, you who have said yourself that you're still learning everything you can do, take out a load-bearing wall on accident and collapse a building on innocent civilians. What should happen to you?"
Peter sits down slowly in a chair, staring down at the Accords. "...but I was just trying to help." And Tony sucked in a sharp breath, hearing the guilt in those words. Jesus Christ, this poor kid.
"You do good work, Peter, don't let anyone ever tell you differently."
"Nobody lets J Jonah Jameson do anything," Peter grumbles, but he smiles gratefully at Tony. He's a extraordinary kid, Parker, genuinely good and brave. A hero, through and through. Tony feels lucky to have met him.
"If a cop screws up and they're under good command, their actions get investigated. It's the same here. You're still helping, Peter. You sign the Accords, you do all that legally. Something happens, you have the rest of us and a UN council to back you up. I can't promise it'll be like it was before, and you'll have to attend mandatory training and psych evals-"
Peter's face shutters. "No one can know who I am. It's bad enough that you do."
Tony writes masks down. "Tell you what, kid. You read it, make a note of what you want to change, I'll be back in a week and we can talk."
"That...that sounds good, Mr. Stark. Thank you," Peter says softly, looking at the doorway. The door is closed but the kitchen is just beyond, and they both know May Parker is listening on the other side. "I trust you," Peter announces abruptly.
Tony's whole body locks up in his chair and he gapes ungracefully at the kid for a moment before he remembers how to breathe. "Thanks, Peter."
"No, I mean-" Peter exhales forcefully. "They're gonna lock up anybody with powers that doesn't sign?"
"Anybody using their powers to police. Unless they retire. Until I can get that changed." Ross' control on the Accords needed to be removed as soon as possible; it's him that's pushing so hard for this sort of rounding up and registering. But until then, Tony's going to play by the rules and protect as many people as he can.
Peter stares hard at him. "Get that changed, Mr. Stark. Seriously, it's messed up. I'll go on trial, probation, whatever, but jail - no way. I'm trying to help."
Tony knows now how arrogant that statement is, even if he finds himself agreeing with most of it, but he doesn't say this to Peter. Peter's telling the God's honest truth.
A true hero. Steve would be so proud of this kid.
Tony is so proud of this kid.
"If this is something that's happening," Peter says slowly. "Then there's something you need to know."
Tony fights not to sigh when Peter relays his information, shifting around his agenda for the thousandth time, chipping away at the few hours he's allotted for sleep. Rhodey keeps expecting him to get drunk, but Tony's just doesn't have time.
"Hey." He lays a hand on Peter's shoulder when the kid walks him to the door. "Come by the compound. Get some training in. I know the Avengers aren't your style yet, but it can't hurt."
Peter's eyes grow comically large. "I - really - no way - I - sure, Mr. Stark!"
"And please, kid, call me Tony."
Peter nods, so eager and so, so young.
He made a mistake dragging Peter to that fight.
But he leaves the house feeling like he's on the way to fixing it.
Daredevil nearly punches him off the rooftop. "I've heard all about you."
"I can't say the same. What I can say is this: blunt force head trauma."
"You're hurting people, Double D. I'll have a copy of the Accords on this rooftop tomorrow night. I'll come back a week from now. Tell me what you think."
Jessica Jones laughs in his face as they exchange a bottle of whiskey. "I'm not a crime fighter, man. I just - I'm a private investigator. I can't -" She looks down into her glass. "I can't do that again."
He slides her his card. "If you change your mind." It is a very long moment before she takes the card.
Luke Cage makes Daredevil seem like cake, sneering at Tony before he makes it all the way inside. Tony points at him. "I know that face. That face is not my friend. So I'm gonna do my pitch, leave a huge tip and this giant hunk of paper, then I'm gonna split. Deal?"
Cage eyes him suspiciously then gestures at a bar stool. He is already flipping through the Accords when Tony leaves.
Maybe they won't sign. Tony wouldn't chase them down if they didn't; so far they're pretty small-time and have the loyalty of their neighborhoods behind them. But the cops could. The government could. The government will, if Ross gets his way.
He retrieves each copy of their amended Accords the next week, snorting when he sees Jessica Jones' notes on Cage's copy, impressed by the extensive knowledge of the law evident in Daredevil's, amused by the copious amounts of 'WTF's and exclamation points in Peter's.
Daredevil and Peter both want masks, Luke Cage wants to be kept out of the Avengers but have mostly free reign over his neighborhood, Daredevil wants guaranteed help against the mob invading Hell's Kitchen, Peter's crossed out a request he made for financial assistance and Jessica Jones-
Tony swallows hard at the dark writing, gouged into the page, knowing there is something there he cannot fix.
Peter comes by every weekend, geeks out everytime.
"Where's Iron Man?" He asks the first week.
"I am Iron Man," Tony replies automatically, watching Rhodey re-learn flight from his spot on the floor. He can't see anything through Peter's mask but he still feels the kid's gaze on him like a weight on his shoulders he cannot bear.
He has nightmares. He has nightmares about Steve. You understand, he tells Tony as he brings the shield down on his neck.
He stares at the suit, the long gash across the torso.
There are mistakes Tony cannot fix.
"Bring up the Iron Man schematics, make a new template."
"What are we gonna call this one, boss?"
Tony stares at the slowly spinning diagram. "Just Mark I. Clean slate."
There are mistakes Tony cannot fix.
T'Challa considers the individually amended Accords that Tony has placed in front of him on his next visit. "This is good work," he murmurs over Daredevil's copy.
"If you ever see that guy, please don't tell him that."
"Consider, Mr. Stark: we make the Accords looser in exchange for tighter, more individual contracts. This Mr. Cage should not have to serve if he does not wish, but he cannot be allowed to run amok. Likewise, I must put my country first; that cannot be compromised for the Accords."
"Conflict of interest. I see where you're going. The council is talking about this like its registration but that was never the deal. Cage, Spider-Man, Daredevil - they don't want to be Avengers? They shouldn't have to play by the rules we do."
"But if rules are placed upon us, the same will be demanded of them," T'Challa finishes for him. "A compromise, then."
"Contracts with the United States within the parameters of the Accords might do it."
"We will present our case at the next meeting." T'Challa's face is as bright as Tony has ever seen it. "I believe we are close."
Tony chances a smile. "You've done good work, Your Highness." He can't say your father would be proud, he lost that right when he threw it back in T'Challa's face the first time. But he thinks the king hears it anyway.
"I could -" For the first time ever, T'Challa stumbles and Tony has to fight a laugh when realizes a man that smart was about to give up the game, even though Tony knows the Panther knows Tony knows.
If Steve wanted to compromise he would be here. Tony wasn't chasing after him anymore. Steve could have fought for himself instead of fighting Tony, but he didn't. "The Accords are at your disposal, T'Challa" is all he's willing to offer.
It's a mistake, rejecting that kind of olive branch.
Tony will not fix it. Tony cannot fix it.
"Please slow down," Rhodey says to him one day, out of nowhere. Tony just stares at him. "Please," his friend repeats.
Tony doesn't know what he means. Tony is moving through molasses.
The happiness that surges through him when the board approves his new prosthesis design for public consumption is so unfamiliar that Tony actually mistakes it for a panic attack when it first happens. He lets the board members exit the room and then reaches out.
They have not spoken in a non-professional manner since even before their break up but she is at his side in a moment.
"Tony, you're all flushed." And oh her voice is just uncanny. It rings all around his head. "Are you okay? Please look at me."
She leads him over to a couch and holds his head to her shoulder like she used to and Tony just - breathes.
"Are you okay?" she repeats.
"Little out of it."
"You did good today, Tony. You did so good. This - I'm proud of you."
She is a terrifyingly good person. He tells her so and she laughs. "I learn from the best," she says, and he doesn't know what she means.
He straightens up, stares at her, drinks her in. "I've been stupid, haven't I? You're right there."
"And I always will be. We were friends first, Tony." But her eyes are so sad. Tony has been a hard experience for her.
"I know I've been pretty shit at returning the favor," he says slowly, trying to piece this together. To let Pepper fade away would be the biggest mistake of his life. "I won't promise to try, you'd find that insulting-"
"I do. I'm going to be insulted by what comes next, too. Just a warning," she teases with a spark in her eyes. Tony just stares in her in confusion. "Tony, I'm not stupid. I knew what I was getting in to. I wanted what I was getting into."
"Until you didn't," he snipes. Pepper takes it in stride, nodding.
"Until I didn't. I changed. You changed. It wasn't working anymore, not for me. And you wouldn't want me putting myself through that."
In anyone else Tony would say that ran very close to emotional manipulation but this was Pepper - and while she wasn't above emotional manipulation, this was their friendship on the line. And also, she was telling the truth.
"And, Tony," she says, cupping his face in her palm. "I would never, ever put you through that. You're a good man, Tony Stark, and you deserve someone who'll love you through everything. I'm sorry I wasn't that person." Her eyes flicker down and the spark fades away and Tony is such an ass, such an all-consuming jackass of the highest order to have not seen that look of disappointment in Pepper's eyes for what it was. For whom it was.
"Pep, Pep, Pepper, honey," he tries, and her eyes well up and he pulls her into a hug. "You are the best woman I've ever known. And I knew Peggy Carter. I knew my mom."
oh my god my mother
He holds her tighter.
He and Pepper were never a mistake. This is not something Tony will fix. He will let it settle and grow into something else. Maybe something better.
On a Tuesday afternoon Tony wears the Mark I for the first time. He can't see T'Challa or Peter's expression through the masks and Vision just tilts his head as usual but Rhodey can't quite hide his grimace.
"You're stealing my thunder, man. They won't be able to tell us apart."
Tony looks down at his new black and gold suit, lit up all over with bright red mini-reactors. "I like it," he says simply. He thinks it covers the whole thing neatly.
I can't look at the old suit. Not without feeling it. Hearing it.
He personally swung the shield at Black and Gold himself, rejoicing in the solid thud it made on impact instead of the clanging noises that woke him up at night. T'Challa's gift of vibranium could not be more welcome.
"So, what do you say?" He says, clapping hands just to hear the flat thud again. "Team All Black Everything against the Rainbow Squad?"
"I don't think that's fair," Spider-Man says uncertainly.
"Iron Man has not been in action for many weeks," Vision consoles him. "He will be, ironically, rusty." That gets a laugh out of Peter and Rhodey. Tony's not entirely sure the synthezoid understands irony yet.
But he scowls good-naturedly as he brings down the faceplate. "Just for that, I'm gunning for you, Gumby."
"Oh man, it's got red eyes!"
Peter signs his version of the Accords. "It says if I screw up, it's on you," he mentions to Tony, trying and failing for nonchalant.
"Because I said I know who you are. Because giving up your mask was never part of the deal, its just Ross being a dick." Peter laughs. "You keep the mask on, Peter, but someone's still accountable. That was the deal. Your first psych eval is on Saturday. Take this." He hands Peter a card with his masked picture and 'SPIDER-MAN' written on it. "If you need us, press that little silver square. It's a communicator."
"And if you need me?" Peter says, something like hope on the edge of his voice. Tony raises an eyebrow at him. "I...I like training with you guys. I couldn't go on big global missions but - if the Avengers need help-"
"Kid," Tony cuts him off. "You are an Avenger." It's worth it just for Peter's smile. "People love tearing up New York. If we need you, you'll be there."
"Thanks, Tony." Peter cannot contain himself; he throws his arms around Tony and squeezes tight. Tony doesn't return the hug but his eyes are still closed when Peter pulls away.
"One more thing," he whispers before he changes his mind. "FRIDAY, 121691 to Parker's phone."
"Yessir." Peter's phone chimes and he pulls it out.
"That's Captain America's number." Peter nearly drops the phone. "He's in hiding but he's promised to come back if we need him. If you think we need him, call that number. It has to be pretty major. I'm trusting you, Peter."
Peter is speechless, gaping at both the phone and Tony. "I - I - of course, Mr. Stark - Tony! I mean, you can trust me, I swear!"
This is not a mistake, Tony knows that to his bones. Peter is the best of them. Peter is one thousand mistakes gluing themselves back together.
my parents oh my god that's my MOTHER OH GOD MOM
Steve Rogers kills him almost every night. And when he doesn't, there is Bucky Barnes.
He buys a piano and puts it in the den and plays it to distraction, the same song, over and over again.
Tony cannot let it go and maybe -
Maybe it's not a mistake.
Maybe it can't be fixed.
Maybe he can just let it settle and grow into something else, like Pepper. But for now he won't. Not when he's so terrified of what it might grow into.
Natasha Romanov is hiding one day. The next she is at their breakfast table, slapping her own copy of the Accords in front of a badly startled Tony.
"It still needs work," she tells him.
"There's a doorbell!" he shouts at her.
"The Raft is still-"
"Fuck off, Romanov."
Natasha actually leans back a little, even though her expression doesn't change. "You don't mean that," she says steadily.
"I do. I really do," Tony tells her, completely sincere and abruptly already done with this conversation. "But I am not the sole arbiter of the Avengers. We do things by committee now. It's a group effort." He is being unnecessarily nasty to her but it feels so good. Its not hard to guess she's seen Cap once or twice since she left. He doesn't know why she's back, she made her loyalties quite clear.
"So if War Machine and Vision approve, I'm good?" She clarifies needlessly, sliding into a seat. They'll approve. They need her.
"Spidey gets a say, too. I assume you already have the Panther's vote," he mentions cheerfully.
She just stares him down. She looks almost uncomfortable. It's delightful.
"It still needs work," she repeats. "But it's good work. If Steve saw this-"
"The Accords are at T'Challa's disposal," Tony says evenly.
The nice thing about Natasha is her ability to have an entire conversation in very short sentences and minute facial expressions, but apparently Natasha has forgotten this skill because she goes straight for the jugular. "Why haven't you called him, Tony? Or gone to see him, since you clearly know where he is. You could show him the Accords yourself, talk to him -"
"No," Tony says flatly. "I tried talking. I tried chasing. It didn't work. I'm trying this new thing of not making the same mistakes twice."
Natasha raises one scornful eyebrow. "You're going to let your pride get in the way of-"
"Natasha. Stop talking like you know me." Tony didn't realize his voice could get quite that dangerous and apparently, neither did Natasha because she actually stops. "Look," he says on a sigh. "First thing: phones work both ways. Second thing: FRIDAY, 121691 to Agent Romanov's phone."
"On it, boss."
Natasha's gaze grows sharp at the new number in her phone. "That's Cap's. He said he would be here if we need him. Call him, Nat."
She looks up at him, her face lit up from the screen, and then she slides her phone back into her pocket.
Vision and Rhodey approve of her with little reservation and Peter's enthusiasm cannot be contained.
Natasha smiles like her face doesn't remember how to and Tony, just a little bit, lets go. Lets it settle. He doesn't trust her. He doesn't even think Natasha trusts herself, and that's why he votes yes on her reinstatement as well.
If Natasha is a mistake he will let it happen.
Tell Falcon I don't blame him.
No. Just tell Sam.
Where's Tony? He gave this to you?
Cap just don't.
Captain Rogers, this is Vision. Do not be alarmed, this line is completely secure. I wished to inquire as to your well-being.
Tony gave you this number?
We're fine, thank you. How about you?
Tony said you would come if called. Please note this is not a call, Captain. Thank you for informing me. I'm quite well, considering.
Tell Tony to talk to me himself next time. That's what this was for so we could clear the air.
Please tell Wanda I asked her to feel better soon.
Did you tell Sam?
Sam told me about his partner. I know what that does to a person. Tell him I saw him trying to save me. Tell him it's not his fault.
You could tell him yourself.
No I really can't. Take care of your team Captain. We're going to need you. Tell Sam.
Is Tony alright?
I see him on TV all the time.
Are you alright? Is Vision?
We're all fine Cap.
Sam said thank you.
Do you forgive me? For taking Wanda
It was Wanda's choice. There is nothing to forgive.
Is this Captain America?
TELL TONY TO STOP GIVING OUT THIS NUMBER
HOYL CRAP IT IS YOU. Look i know im only suppose to use this in emergencies but tony gave it to me and i couldnt resist. im that kid in red and blue. you dropped a cargo thing on me?
You stole my shield
Did you ever get around to asking Tony Stark why he was right
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
Yeah. he wasnt right about everything you know?
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
still all kind of a mess
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
but he's working on it.
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
which is more than i can say about you
Tell Stark to stop using child soldiers
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
whoa dude what happened to u got heart kid? also thank you so much for implying i have no mind of my own i love that really are you sure youre captain america?
That wasn't what I meant. I'm sorry, it was uncalled for. Just be safe kid.
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
dude im STRONGER THAN YOU
HE STOLE MY SHIELD:
Nat why are you contacting me at this number?
Better encryption. You should ask T'Challa for the new version of the Accords.
You and Tony are a lot alike.