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If there's one thing that hot irons or wild horses or whatever couldn't drag out of him, it's that Tony Stark actually sort of enjoys golf. It's something that keeps him active and half occupied so he can multi-task while he does it. He's had some of his best ideas - admittedly a good portion of them golf related - on the golf course. There's not enough technology of course, and he could think of at least four hundred and fifty six ways the game could be better if it wasn't so old fashioned. Even if Tony won't admit it out loud, he believes it's good to unplug sometimes. Even for a couple hours. It was quiet, usually solitary, and normal enough behavior for someone as wealthy as he was, so no one really paid attention.

The problem was that today would be none of that. He could ride a big neon pink elephant onto the course and dictate his shots to a crack team of trained monkeys (Steve might get the reference), and it wouldn't be any more of a circus.

Tony usually lives for this. Having the spotlight is a useful tool and there's nothing the masses like more than a little showmanship in a good cause. What irritates him more than the invasion of what is usually one of his more private affairs (certainly more private than his sex life) is that he's expected to share. That he's just going to be one of a half-dozen faces, lumped in on whatever meaningless feelgood crap Rogers spouted when the government pulled his dual-action parachute-and-cliche-phrase ripcord and let him loose.

Tony Stark feels like the donkey in the pony show, while everyone else is oblivious to the fact that Rogers is an even bigger ass. He's just been painted white (and red and blue). So while everyone gears up in the club house, talking away like they've all forgiven each other, Tony keeps his mouth shut and prepares to take the bit in his teeth before Fury or one of his lackeys starts using the whip.

He would have been fine, even with Bruce being the only one to notice his brewing storm, except that no one has really forgotten. Except Thor, who can't even be coaxed into wearing course dress code. Three pairs of eyes keep bridging the gap between Tony and Steve, wondering if anything is really mended.

And Steve is apparently in one of his damn giving moods because as Tony pulls on his polo and yanks on his gloves, he crosses the distance with a big winning Steve Rogers grin on his face, oblivious to Tony's warning stare and Bruce's discomfort at the ratcheting tension. Bruce at least knows Tony well enough to see the impending problem if Rogers pushes on this.

"Ready for the game, Tony?" Rogers asks, blinded by his own good intentions and his perception of himself as infallible. His faith in the world's basic goodness and the belief it still runs on some archaic set of good manners. Tony wants to smack the idiot out of him, and kick him until he's sure the lesson sticks. He wants to do it now before the world does it for him. Rogers claps a hand in good comradeship on Tony's shoulder, and it's enough to shatter Tony's resolve to see this through without conflict.

"I believe I owe you an apology," Steve says, all ideals and sincerity and homegrown goodness.

"Don't touch me," Tony answers sharply, jerking himself back from the contact. The truth of it is, no matter if Steve were right or wrong about Tony, no matter how badly the man had judged him without even extending any effort to know him ('I've watched the footage'), no matter if it was influenced by Loki's magical stick of mindfuckery, Rogers was right. And he was right because Tony had spent a lot of time making him that way. He had summed Tony up in the words Tony did his best to put in everyone's dossier of him - but of all people, Steve Fucking Rogers should have known better.

Rogers had stung him, and Tony had stung back and that should be enough, but Tony won't give Rogers the satisfaction of being the bigger man just because Rogers expects that he's going to get to be. He can feel his expression transforming, even as he sees confusion coming over Roger's features. Yeah that's right Captain America - just because you come up and pet my ego, you'll get what you fucking want.

Tony knows how much he looks like his father when he gets angry, and he hates it - except when it serves him to be that vindictive. He can feel Bruce's eyes on him, measuring what he sees here against all the things Tony's given him, and Tony knows that he is going to suffer for this.

"Not this time, Rogers. You can go apologize to ten other guys and get the same worth right? So why don't you go do that?" Tony can't forget those words. He'll see to it Rogers doesn't, either.

"Tony," Rogers starts, lost and somewhere between anger and extreme repentance. Tony hits him while he's torn, while he's floundering for the best decision, and enjoys every second of it.

"Now you listen, and you listen well. We have to work together? Fine. If the world's going down the crapper, I won't hesitate to take my orders from you. I'll even play nice for photos and feel goods. But what I don't have to do is like you. Keep your apologies, Captain Feelings."

And there it is. The divide in the team - with the line clearly in the sand between the two best qualified leaders. Tony knows how this is supposed to go - knows how Rogers is lining this team up functionally in his head with Tony as just another part of it. A part that might require a little finesse to keep in line, but a valuable and charismatic second in command that was worth the extra efforts to keep him as in love with Rogers as the rest of the world seemed to be. Rogers has never had a subordinate that did not love him, he's come to expect and rely on it.

Tony is going to use that against him, even if it puts a strain on the team. Tony's pretty sure Banner's on his side, after all they've gone through, and maybe Thor if only by the loosest of connections, but the rest of the Avengers is bought and paid for by the U.S. government. It's a natural splinter, so Tony's not surprised when Romanov and Barton shift their attention warily in his direction and don't exactly look like they'll be rushing to his defense.

Rogers doesn't look like he knows what just happened. Good. Tony grabs his golf bag, shoulders it, and puts on his biggest smile as he walks out to greet the press.
-

Answering enough stupid questions actually puts Tony into a better mood. It's comforting, and it allows a more conductive channel for his irritation. He's expected to make educated and thoughtful statements on everything from his history with golf to the foundation he's supporting - but he notices, acutely, that they seem to be holding most of their 'left field' questions about the Avengers in check.

Who calculated that move, he's not sure. Could be Fury, trying to minimize danger to the image of a stable defense force. Could be the press itself, waiting to get them all as a roup and catch reactions and corrections in real-time. Too bad for them, Tony could play that game.

When Rogers emerges, composed, the press abandons him and Tony surrenders the spotlight to go loosen up. He's so irritated that his swings are going to be all over the place. Tony gets so into the focused aspect of driving, the ritual of it, that Bruce jumps him almost out of his shoes when he moves up behind Tony - dangerous when he's got a club in his hands - and gets a discreet handful of Tony's sports mesh polo at the small of his back.

Tony doesn't shout, but he can't stop all his muscles from jerking and his hang going back instantly to remove the restraint. He drops his club in the middle of the motion.

"Sorry," Bruce says, and Tony realizes he's glaring through his sunglasses. He's not really that upset.

"Not your fault," Tony says, and re-composes himself, picking up his golf club. "You'd think with two super-secret secret squirrels on my speed dial, I'd be a little more used to surprises."

'Boris and Natasha' seemed too easy. Bruce gets the reference, at least, glancing back toward the rest of the team. He looks - worried. Tony's probably given him a good reason. He doesn't insult either of their intelligences by admitting it.

Bruce isn't moving out of his personal space, either, and while Tony doesn't normally mind, at least in the specific case of Bruce, he can't swing with Bruce standing there.

"You gonna tell me I was too hard on Rogers or just keep throwing off my swing?" Tony prompts gently, when he sees that Bruce's attention is elsewhere. Worrying, maybe.

"What? No. I mean - what's between you and Steve, that's between you two. NO offense, but I'm not taking a side there," Bruce says, his attention coming back to Tony briefly.

"Pick up that seven-wood you're so fond of," Tony instructs Bruce, who does and takes up the lane next to him. "Loosen up a little. And tell me what's on your mind."

Tony sets a ball on the rubber wedge, and is only momentarily distracted by how easy it would be to automate that process so that the ball was set for you.

Bruce swings once or twice at open air, just to loosen, before he admits, "Tony, there's a lot of reporters here."

The statement almost hits Tony as nonsensical. His drive hooks sharply as he loses focus, but it doesn't irritate him. "Yeah," Tony fills the expectant silence. His words preceed Bruce's swing, and are bridged by the sound of his driver hitting the ball. It's a satisfying noise. "That's to be expected-"

"No." Bruce corrects him, and Tony already understands that he doesn't' mean 'no, he hadn't expected so many reporters' before Bruce qualifies, "Yes, I mean, but I'm not sure-" Bruce trails, sparing a nervous glance at all the cameras. 'It's a lot of reporters."

Bruce is thinking more about damage control than his golf game. Typical. And - well it probably was a bit of culture shock. Tony finds it a little easier to forget exactly how much his privilege does to isolate him from the world. He makes a thoughtful noise, and drives. The ball curves up and out, slicing the air with cleanness and incomplication.

"You can take it?" Tony asks, after Bruce has sent his next shot out onto the driving green. Bruce looks good doing it - he fits his own clothes better than Tony's, and the newness of them gives a better appearance still.

"I never know," Bruce admits. "But I'm less afraid of trying than I would have been."

Tony smiles, and then quickly cancels the expression. "Then just focus on your golf game, or you'll disappoint the pandas."

"No offense to your teaching methods, Tony, but I think the pandas are already disappointed." Bruce's next shot has distance, but no control. It hooks and bounces off a distance marker. He sets his next shot, and then hesitates. "Are you really going to hold that grudge against Steve forever?"

So much for staying out of it. Tony gets this, though. Bruce is trying to place Tony's actions in context to each other. The truth is he hasn't actually bothered to set parameters for his theoretical forgiveness of Rogers yet.

"Yeah," Tony says, "For a short answer."

He sends his next ball well past the 150 yard mark, unabashedly channeling his frustration.

"And for a long answer?" Bruce, in a way he knows he can get away with, presses further.

Tony would shut anyone else out, but he respects Bruce. He likes him enough that he thinks he's losing perspective a little, of how he lets himself be seen. How deep was he going to let Banner, just because he was smart and good looking and maybe needed Tony more than Tony actually needed him? Or maybe it was just as much. His answer turns sharper for the realization that he's deeper down this rabbit hole than he'd ever intended.

Tony might be in love again.

"I'll be satisfied when the world thinks he's as backwards and wrong as he actually is, and then I'll have 'Steve Rogers is a giant ass' engraved on my tombstone," Tony explains, and finds himself unable to stop. "When people realize that there are smarter ways to fight for a cause than to throw yourself into a meat shredder because Captain America tells you that's what you should do."

Tony watches his next shot instead of Bruce's expression.

Coulson's belief may have brought them all together functionally as a unit, but without him, the team didn't have a heart. Tony wasn't even sure he liked the guy, but somehow it was still a loss he felt most acutely. They weren't soldiers, it was utterly unfair to have to die without question as soldiers did. Even Fury understood how this worked, but Steve Fucking Rogers, super tactician, didn't have any clue how to get his head out of the clouds, glorifying a soldiers death.

Dead they were useless. Alive they could fight. It's why they weren't 'soldiers' or 'stoppers' or 'die tryings', but Avengers.

Bruce doesn't have a response right away, but he will in time. It's alright that way. Tony's blown his anger, he's ready to focus.

Which means when Thor breaks a club approximately five seconds later, erupting in extreme mirth, it breaks the tension as well.

"By Magni, we have not the like of this on Asgard! I like this game!"

Tony finds it funnier still because Thor's using borrowed clubs. He's not only missing the point, but missing the ball, and Tony laughs in spite of himself.

"We got him all the way back from Asgard for this?" Bruce asks, in a quietly rhetorical tone behind Tony.

"Buck up, Banner," Tony tells him, without looking away from the spectacle. Thor's picked up another club, while Rogers and Fury try in vain to finish explaining the finer points of a finesse based game to an Asgardian thats' more excited than if he'd been given his first puppy. "He's worse than you."

"Thanks?" Bruce asks behind him, and Tony grins reassuringly back at him to show he hadn't meant anything by it. Bruce had gotten monumentally better in the short time they'd had. He was passable, which very few people would understand as amazing. Tony, however, had seen his first round.

They had already made headway and Bruce looked better for it. Maybe not whole or confident quite yet, but he could stand next to the rest of the team and not feel weighed down with inferiority. It was as big a step as his golf game and as likely to go unremarked, but Tony knows.

"You'll do fine. Let's go play buddies for the press and then all we have to think about is playing, right?" At least with Thor taking most of the media attention with his antics, it'll take some of the pressure off Bruce. It must get worse with all those eyes staring at you and expecting, which is why Tony does his best to forget how dangerous Bruce could get and how quickly. That and Banner's intellect which meant the guy deserved some respect. Even if his work hadn't turned out ideally, there was still a lot of potential in the Hulk, too, if the concept could be carefully approached.

They slide their clubs back into Tony's golf bag and Tony leaves it there when a worried looking shield agent - likely the impromptu event organizer - trots up to hurry them over for press pictures. Tony recognizes the man.

"Hey, look who it is," Tony tells him. "I took the liberty of uploading my highest score into your database. Having any luck getting past it?"

The agent turns a strange color as Tony slings an arm around his shoulders and laughs companionably. "If you don't want to get stuck with the crap jobs like nerd-herding the team playboy-scientists, stop playing Galaga on company time. Free advice."

Bruce is laughing behind them as they head for the rest of the gathered team.