The taste of grief,
As the hand
Lifting the cup.
"The Gray Sky"
The silence closed in around him. Tony Stark was unaccustomed to silence. He surrounded himself with noise, whether heavy metal blaring at ear-splitting decibels or people rushing in and out of his presence with any manner of distraction.
He sometimes wondered if he liked the chaos so that he would not have to be alone with himself and his thoughts. Thinking about inventions was fine. Thinking about his own company was a different story.
He was supposed to be a futurist. Look forward, not to the past. Because his past? Littered with screw-ups and refuse from a lifetime of both. If it wasn’t the Merchant of Death it was Ultron. All weapons, all deadly.
The Avengers were supposed to fix all that. No more screw-ups.
He stared gloomily out the window of his Tower at the Chrysler Building. Maybe he should move back to the Mansion. No memories of the Avengers there. No romantic ones of Pepper from those days. But his parents’ presence was all over the place. It was hard enough to deal with that, but after…he abruptly stood up from the couch and strode to the bar, pouring a glass of whiskey.
The liquor burned down his throat as he tried to ignore the silence. The team had moved to a S.H.I.E.L.D. facility upstate after Ultron, but Tony had assured them they could stay here in the Tower whenever they were in the city.
He poured another drink. His hand shook as he lifted the glass to his lips. He tasted the whiskey and suddenly slammed the glass down onto the bar. The taste made his stomach turn.
Steve had been right. Oversight of the Avengers by the United Nations would have been a disaster. By the time the diplomats had finished debating whether or not to activate the Avengers, the bad guys would have succeeded with their plot.
The Government treated my friends like criminals, put them in a prison designed for supervillains, not superheroes.
The Sokovia Accords had tried to fix the problem of civilian deaths, but the bad guys never cared about innocent people. Heroes had to stop them, and sometimes people got hurt or worse. It was definitely a problem, but the Accords were a poor fix.
Tony rubbed his shoulder. He had accumulated quite a few aches and pains during the recent battles. Especially the last fight.
He downed the whiskey in a single gulp. That ancient film of his parents’ murders was seared into his brain. The Winter Soldier had killed them.
How could he process that? His friend Steve’s oldest friend had killed his parents. Yes, he was brainwashed, but his parents’ assassin was alive and enjoying his old friend’s company while his parents’ bones rotted in the ground. There was no justice in this world.
I can’t just go merrily along and forget what Barnes did.
The sky outside the Tower was a light blue with clouds drifting by. The weather app on his Starkphone predicted a storm later.
The silence grew too oppressive. It was time for his daily visit to Rhodey.
Of course, there is no team anymore, and I’ve got no friends and teammates except for Rhodey.
Tony parked his Jaguar in the parking lot, seeing Steve’s motorcycle in one of the slots. He walked to the shiny entrance doors and signed in at the reception desk. He walked through several corridors, taking a left and a right until he reached a bank of elevators. The elevator ride was smooth and deposited him on the medical floor.
Hospitals were alike no matter where they were located. There was always the air of quiet efficiency interspersed with antiseptic smells.
He had experienced more than his share of hospitals since Afghanistan. The doctors had puzzled over the arc reactor, and only Tony’s ability to throw his weight around as only a rich man could get him out of their clutches. After the arc reactor had been removed, he had tolerated the poking and prodding, but only for so long.
Walking through the halls of the rehabilitation wing, he was back in that quiet, antiseptic world, and he was unhappy about it. He nodded to a passing nurse and reached Room 602.
Rhodey was in bed, flipping the pages of a magazine. He looked tired, but that was Situation Normal these days. Arduous physical therapy drained him, not to mention pain that only strong doses of medication could alleviate. The room was filled with cards, flowers and balloons, one of which Tony poked casually as he sauntered in.
“Hey there, Mr. Stank.”
Tony winced. Damn that doddering old deliveryman! His misreading of ‘Stark’ on the paperwork would plague Tony to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say.
“How did therapy go?”
“Okay. My therapist says I’m making good progress.”
“Great.” Tony looked out the window. “Nice view.”
“You say that every time.” Rhodey put aside the magazine onto the nightstand. “Does the pastoral view make you nervous?”
“I do prefer a view of skyscrapers.”
“Trees can be very soothing.”
Tony snorted as he sat in the one chair in the room. “Don’t go all New Age on me.”
“Didn’t Natasha teach you about tree spirits?”
“So she went undercover in a Wiccan coven once! Does that make her an expert?”
Tony could feel Rhodey’s eyes on him. The problem with old friends was that they knew you too well.
“What are you thinking about?”
“That leave it to Steve Rogers not to get in touch with me by text or e-mail but by letter.”
Rhodey laughed. “Sounds like Steve.”
“Such elegant handwriting, you know? Probably the Palmer Method.”
Tony deliberately did not mention the postmark and Rhodey didn’t ask. It was better that way. Nothing to tell his superiors.
For a lot of things.
“Well, that’s a start.” Rhodey sounded pleased. “That sounds like Steve. He knows he went waaay off the reservation on this one.”
“He didn’t apologize for his stance.”
“Of course not.” At Tony’s surprised expression, Rhodey laughed. “He isn’t going to apologize for his stand unless he changed his mind about that. I’d expect apologies for hurting you and stretching your friendship to the breaking point. That’s Steve.”
Tony grimaced. “What makes you think it’s not broken?”
Rhodey shrugged. “Is it?”
Tony rubbed his face. “I don’t know.”
“Bucky’s always going to be in the picture,” Rhodey said softly.
“Yeah.” Tony’s tone was bitter.
“Bucky is his oldest friend. Now that Peggy’s gone, Bucky is the only link to his past.”
“Sure.” The words grated on Tony, but it wasn’t Rhodey’s fault. He hadn’t told him about the fight in Siberia, or the reason why. It was all too raw.
“It’s like us…”
Rhodey blinked in confusion. He took a sip of icewater from his glass on the nightstand. “Something you not telling me?”
Tony abruptly stood. “Just that it all went to hell sooner than I thought it would.”
“Isn’t that always the way?”
The wind was blowing through the trees as the light blue of the sky turned a light gray. There were no birds singing outside Rhodey’s window. Damn, he wanted a cigarette. Pepper wasn’t around to disapprove.
Still, he had not smoked since the arc reactor had become a part of him. Even after its removal, he had kept himself smoke-free. Unfortunately, the craving was still there.
“Looks like a storm is brewing,” Rhodey observed.
“Yeah, it’s been predicted.” Tony picked up the magazine. “Pretty old school. Let me get you a new Stark Tablet and you can read hundreds of stories.”
“Old school aren’t dirty words, you know.”
“You going all Captain America on me?”
Rhodey grinned. “Is that so bad?”
Tony tossed the magazine on the bed. “It’s a brave new world where the old ways don’t work anymore.”
Rhodey looked skeptical. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
A gust of wind blew against the windows, rattling the glass. Tony frowned.
“Guess you’d better get back to town.” Rhodey sounded tired.
“Yeah, looks like I’d better.” Tony clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You keep up the good work.”
“You know I will.”
Tony smiled. “See you tomorrow.”
“I’ll be here.”
The sky was dark from the approaching storm, flashes of lightning arcing over the city. The clouds came in fast and rain began to fall. The living room lit up with a series of lightning flashes as thunder rumbled, rolling over the Tower like a gigantic wave of sound. He opened the balcony door and tottered out onto the concrete balcony.
Tony lifted his face toward the sky, the cool rain stinging his skin and drenching his clothes. The whiskey was spilling out of his glass and he staggered to the railing.
Wonder if all this is just Thor making a grand entrance.
He laughed and hiccupped, jumping as a loud crack of thunder shook the balcony.
Steve’s betrayal hurt you, Rhodey. All For Barnes. Always for Barnes.
Tony staggered out onto the ramp, falling to his knees as he drank his watered-down whiskey. Rage was boiling up inside him as the windswept rain buffeted his body. He stared up at the sky as he howled his rage just as a jagged blast of lightning sizzled down from the heavens and struck him.
Nothing was left.