Pepper was on a mission.
Happy was wheeling Rhodey behind her, talking quietly. Her heart had broke to see Rhodey in this condition, but she knew that Tony must be torturing himself for it. Vision was behind them, keeping a distance away from the group. Pepper still didn't know how to interact with the android, having spent little time together.
But right now it didn't matter. Because Pepper was on a mission.
"FRIDAY, how long has Tony been in his lab?"
"Approximately 72 hours Ms. Potts," the AI replied, and Pepper could hear the worry in FRIDAY’s voice.
"Has he slept at all?"
"Boss had slept for two hours before waking up from what it seems to be from a nightmare. Boss has refused to sleep or eat and has been working ever since then," the AI replied.
Pepper started to walk faster her high heels. Rhodey had called her in desperation when Tony denied his access to the lab. He never did that before and it scared both of them and Pepper was going to make sure that Tony snaps out of his guilt.
It was going to be useless, Pepper knows, but he needs to know that Rhodey doesn't blame him.
Rhodey, Happy and Vision decide to stay behind the glass wall with Pepper’s insistence. She lets out a deep sigh when she can access the lab to find Tony tinkering around with what looks like to be prosthetic legs. He quickly turns and was about to throw the screwdriver when he realizes who is in his lab.
"Pepper? What are you doing here?"
Pepper can see the walls that Tony is putting up, the distance he putting in between them. And her heart clenched with pain with how distant Tony was.
But she wasn't going to let him go away.
"Rhodey couldn't get into the lab," Pepper said, knowing that it didn't need any explanation.
Tony shrugs and turns away from her. "I am busy," he said, his back tense.
"Oh no Tony, you are not doing this." Pepper goes up to him and forces him to look at her. "You are not going to shut me out on this."
"On what Pepper?" Tony says with a bitter laugh.
"What happened in Siberia?"
Pepper knows it's a touchy topic when she can see his body go rigid. Rhodey told her that he hasn't talk about what happened in Siberia, and they both know that Tony doesn't tell them when it is bad. Afghanistan bad. Or New York bad.
"Why do you even want to know?" Tony was pushing her away, she knew it but to see the cold eyes that had once held love made her want to cry. "Why do you care anymore? Isn't that why you didn't want to be with me? So that you wouldn't have to care?"
"That's not what I meant," she screams and she knows that people are watching but Tony needs to hear this. "I wanted a break because I was going crazy with the Extremis problem and I didn't want you to deal with it! I was terrified that I will lose you because of the suit! We both needed time to evaluate what was important in our lives but I realized that even if you are going to be Iron Man I don’t want to be away from you. I wanted some time for myself but I was always come back to you! We are not going to leave you Tony, whether you like it or not."
Tony breaks. Because oh god his Pepper, his sweet Pepper, was not leaving him. He breaks because at least not everyone left him.
Pepper catch him before he falls, and lowers them onto the floor. She lets his head rest on her shoulders and can feel the tears on her skin. She runs her fingers through his hair, comforting him as much as she could. The sobs quiet down but she doesn't let him go.
"In Siberia," Tony starts out softly, as in a trance. "I went to help Rogers and Barnes, but Zemo showed us a video. December 16, 1991. Turns out dad was traveling around with super soldier serum with mom, and he wasn’t drunk to crash the car. Barnes killed them.”
Dread starts to fill her.
“My mom. He killed my mom. I heard her die. She screamed for my dad, and his metal arm choked her. And he knew.”
“Barnes?” She asks softly.
“He lectured me about honesty between teammates during Ultron and he kept this away from me,” Tony continued, his voice breaking.
And Pepper’s heart froze. Because he is talking about Steve and oh god he knew about his parents.
“I always blamed dad for mom’s death. I blamed him for the accident and for taking mom away from me and -“ And Tony breaks in her arms and she holds him. Her shirt is getting wet from his tears but she doesn’t care. She cries for him, is angry for him and devastated for him. “I tried so much,” he starts again, hyperventilating. He pushes away from her comfort and faces away, believing he will the disappointment in her blue eyes. “After Ultron, I tried so hard to fix my fault, and I thought that the accords would do good because it was about accountability and I fail at everything I touch and -“
“Stop it!” Pepper shouts as she forces him to look at her. His brown eyes were broken and lost and it felt like someone was stabbing Pepper’s heart. “You are doing right. After Ultron, you took on the responsibility for it and even taking blame for that witch. You are doing so much and I love you for that,” A small light comes his eyes and Pepper relishes in it. “None of this is your fault Tony,” she whispers to him.
She allows him to pull her body against him, allows him to let his head rest on her shoulder. She looks up to see Rhodey, Happy and Vision circling around them, as if protecting them from the rest of the world. Rhodey’s eyes held fury as he silently fumed in his wheelchair, though Happy didn’t make any move to hide his angry tears. Vision tried to look calm and Pepper knew that he was trying to reign in his conflicting emotions.
Rhodey wanted to kill the team for hurting his best friend. He wanted to kill Steve Rogers for almost killing his brother. He looked at Happy and knew that the man was feeling the same way he was. He looked back at his Tony, crying in the arms of the woman he loved and vowed to be there for him.
“We’ll go to therapy,” Pepper whispers to Tony, who tightens his arms around her. “We’ll be okay.”
And there in his lab, Tony finally feels like he will be okay.
(Few days later, he locks the flip phone and the letter in the cupboard and never looks back.)
Three years later…
Thor was in Wakanda.
It was about three years since the “Civil War” happened, and five years since Steve last saw Thor. Before Steve could ask anything as the god walked towards him, Thor turned everyone’s curiosity into trepidation.
“Midgard is in danger.”
“From what?” Natasha asks, calm as ever, although Clint could hear the terror in her voice. Thor explains that a mad Titan called Thanos has set his eyes on Earth and wants it destroyed.
And all Steve think was Tony was right, and oh god there is going to be another alien invasion.
“Is it going to like the Chitauri invasion?” Steve asks. Thor looks at him, not holding any warmth in his gaze. “Thanos wants the Mind Stone to complete the infinity gauntlet, and with that he will be unstoppable,” he tells them.
“Vision,” Wanda whispers.
“We have to call Tony,” Steve tells them. He had expected Clint to protest and wasn’t disappointed. Sam replied that they didn’t have any choice, and Natasha agreed. Scott and Wanda don’t add anything to the arguement. “Enough,” T’Challa commands and everyone shuts up. “I believe Mr. Thor has more to say."
“Yes,” Thor simply said. “I have already talked to Tony and he agreed that he could ask for the your United Nations to let you in the Avengers compound, and now with the permission you all are temporary pardoned.”
Silence fills in the space as Steve turns to T’Challa. “Did you know, your highness?” He asks politely, trying to squish down his anger.
“Yes,” T’Challa replies and looks at the thunder god with a small smile. “I was about to tell you until Thor graced us with his presence.” There was a teasing in his voice, and Steve didn’t know when they had gotten close to be joking around each other.
“So after the invasion we would have to go back to hiding? Because we don’t agree with the Accords?” Clint asks, his voice angry. Thor looks at him, his eyes hard. “You are hiding because you are breaking the law," T'Challa responds. "And I am offering you an asylum to atone for my vengeance. Just because I am providing you protection does not mean that I agree with your ideology. Do not forget, my father was one of the first people to support the accords."
"As a warrior, I understand your need to protect everyone. However, as a prince, I have to listen to my subjects that I have a duty to. I have learned it the hard way that though I am a prince, even I cannot be above the law," Thor finishes, with a disappointed look that sends the renegades looking away.
"We have to go," Natasha states, her green piercing eyes lit with determination. "We have to save the world."
And that's how Steve and his team were in a jet, with T'Challa the pilot and Thor leaving on his own. Bucky had to be brought back, Thor stating that they needed as much as help possible. Bucky was back at his side as always, a bit confused and anxious. Everyone was talking quietly, letting Bucky know everything that has been happening.
What Bucky wouldn't know is that Steve always wakes from his nightmares with a pair of dead brown eyes burned in his mind. What Bucky would never know is that his best friend wake up in the middle of the night in sweating because he had blood on his hand and Tony wasn't breathing. What no one would know is that sometimes Steve clutches onto a flip phone in the middle of the night while everyone is sleeping.
Everyone in the plane knows that whenever there is any news of Tony on media Steve will be watching it, holding onto a flip phone. Everyone knows who's the other person on the phone but no one dares to push Steve as he almost calls or texts.
FRIDAY lets Tony know that T'Challa is bringing his ex-Avengers in five hours. Five hours until he has to meet with them. Five hours to get his emotions in control because this will be okay.
He walks to the lab where Peter and Harley are working on something that is definitely explosive, with Bruce hovering around them. Vision, Rhodey, Carol and Thor were talking about themselves, probably about tactics.
He is happy that his best friend has found someone who could depend on, and Rhodey definitely deserved Carol Danvers. Now only if he could get the guts to ask her to marry him. Not that Tony could say anything.
A soft smile is on his face when he feels Pepper’s hand fit in his. He could see the worry in her blue eyes, a silent question in her face. He kisses her forehead, bringing her closer.
He survived Afghanistan. He survived New York. He survived Ultron. He survived Siberia. He survived without them. He survived without him.
“I am okay,” he whispers to her.
And it is true. Tony Stark is okay.
Steve had expected to see the Avengers Compound when he got off the plane. Instead he saw a mansion.
“What happened to the compound?” Clint asks for him.
“It has been turned to a school and safe house for Inhuman population,” T’Challa said, ignoring the shock looks and wary glances. He doesn’t need to tell them to follow him.
It hurt a bit because the compound was their home, one they had carelessly thrown aside. Steve refused to think about it as he followed the King of Wakanda, his teammates following him. While the outside looked like a traditional mansion that you would find on the Internet, the inside was updated with the newest technology.
"Good afternoon Your Highness," FRIDAY announced her presence.
"What the-" Scott jumps but Sam holds him down, a small smile on his face. He remembers his first time when he met the invisible AI.
"Good afternoon FRIDAY. Is Tony here?" T'Challa asks the AI.
"Yes, Boss is here along with the other members at the lab. He has asked that you bring the rest to the common area," the AI replied.
"Of course," T'Challa said and started to walk, knowing that the others would follow him. They walked and as they got closer they could a conversation occurring.
"No Harley, you won't stay," Tony said, his voice deeper than it used to be.
There was a pause and the renegades walked into the room to see Tony arguing with a boy almost his height. “Harley,” Pepper said, who was beside Tony, and give him a look. The boy stared at Pepper and then sighed petulantly.
“Party poopers,” Harley said and turned and to see who entered the room. Without hesitation, Tony pulled the boy to be behind him, looking shocked at what he did. However he didn’t move and pulled Pepper by his side, holding her closer.
Steve didn’t know what to think.
He could see Rhodey and a woman standing together, Spiderman beside them with Bruce and Vision standing beside Pepper. They all looked good.
Tony looked good with salt and pepper hair, and he looked fine.
“Your Pantherness,” Tony said in a light voices that made T’Challa rolling his eyes. “Rogers,” he said, with no warmth.
“Tony.” Steve was proud that his voice didn’t crack. Seeing Tony’s cautious brown eyes was better than seeing nothing.
“What’s the plan?” Natasha said, cutting the awkward tension. There was no point in bringing up the past, even though her heart clenched seeing Bruce after so long.
Tony starts to explain the contingency plan he was working on while Pepper and Harley left the room, not without giving the renegades a cold look. Thor explains that he could track where the other stones were and the team in Midgard could start bringing in more members that can fight. Steve felt a distance from Tony that he never knew before, and he knew that it was fault.
The tense atmosphere didn’t evaporate, but there seemed to be a truce between the two sides of the Avengers. Tony is about to leave but Steve needs to know.
“You never called,” Steve said Tony, knowing that everyone is looking at him.
Tony just shrugged and said,”You said to call if I needed you.”
And Steve thought back to the cold glare from Pepper, the protective glances from Harley, the hard stance from Rhodey, the cynical look from Spiderman, the hint’s of green in Bruce’s eyes when he looked at Steve, the bright smile from Thor to Tony, and the caring glances to Tony from Vision.
It was like they were his family.
Because Tony was fine without him. Tony didn’t need him.
And god did it break Steve.