“Hey- we’re about fifteen minutes out. Make sure you’ve got like…half a store’s worth of food; Drax hasn’t eaten for 29 minutes,”
Tony laughed; twisting around on his chair and holding the phone against his ear with his shoulder as he worked on Peter’s new suit- that boy seemed to go through them like they were made of silk rather than titanium-lined ballistic nylon.
But hey, the kid beamed and thanked him every damn time Tony gave him so much as a cup of coffee, so he’d say it was worth it.
“Well I can’t actually move around in my kitchen thanks to the amount of food in there now, so I’d say we might just about have enough. Hey, is the helipad even big enough for your ship?” Tony asked.
“Ehhhh, let’s find out.”
“Groot’s using his weird plant-powers to regrow my lawn if you can’t”
“That’s fair. Oh, by the way; Rocket’s got some of our fancy space tech to show you, too. Just a head’s up, though, he’ll totally pretend it was him that got it to work and not you, because he’s a little shit like that,” Tony heard Quill’s voice raise a few octaves and grow sharper toward the end, and he guessed the last part was directed straight at Rocket, rather than himself.
His prediction was proved right when he heard Rocket mumble something about “that was one time, Peter, get over it. It’s not like you patented it, was it?”
Before Quill could reply and begin the usual five-minute argument, Tony cut in. “Great! Although, is it technically ‘fancy space tech’ to you if you’re always in space? Isn’t it just ‘fancy tech?’”
He heard Quill groan theatrically down the line. “Don’t get philosophical with me, Tony, I get enough of that from Drax. Ever since you ordered takeaway that night, he’s been asking everyone whether Chinese people just call it ‘food’. Anyway- let’s just say it’s some ‘fancy space tech’ that Rocket is getting angry at, and we’d rather he didn’t get angry at it because there’s a possibility it could go boom.”
“So you’re dumping it with me, instead?”
“I thought you were compellingly attracted to things that go boom?” Drax asked down the line.
“…Point. I’ll look it over when you get here.”
“Thanks, Tony. Also, we brought you some units to pay for the repairs you made on the ship last time we visited. I know it’s not Earth-currency, and I’m really sorry, but we thought that…you know, Unit’s are pretty- well- universal, so if ever you’re floating around outside Earth and need cash-“
“Hey, what? No. You don’t need to pay me back, Peter. It’s fine,” Tony said, eyebrows furrowing in confusion as he clicked his fingers to catch FRIDAY’s attention and bring him up the Guardians’ ETA.
“Uh, yeah, we do? The maintenance probably cost loads of…what were they- dollars? Man, you’re all so weird. Anyway- we’re paying you back, dingus.”
“No- Peter, if you didn’t already realize, I’m a billionaire-“
“So? Since when did that equate to it being okay for us to just take all your money to fix our own shit? Look- unless you want Gamora to physically shove them down your throat, just accept it, dude.”
Tony opened his mouth to reply, and then Gamora added, “He’s not wrong, you know.”
He closed his mouth.
“Right. Fine. Whatever, be weird about it,” Tony shrugged, slightly confused at their behavior. He had no idea why they were trying to give him, a billionaire, more money, but for whatever reason it was, they certainly seemed set on it.
“Do you need a favor? Aside from the apparent bomb disposal I’m gonna have to perform when you touchdown, that is,” he asked curiously.
“What? We…no, Tony, Jesus, the money is just us saying thank you!” Quill exclaimed.
“Thank you for what? The hell did I do?”
There was a sound of exasperated bafflement down the line, and Tony winced. He’d only met the Guardians a few months ago, and they got on really well- he really didn’t want to piss them off so damn soon-
“For not trying to kill us when we- a burning ship full of aliens- crashed down at your doorstep in some sort of fucked-up version of your worst nightmare? When you offered to fix the all the goddamn engines on our ship and had to spend like a gazillion human dollars? When you let us all stay at your compound while we were grounded even though you had no idea who the fuck we were? Remember any of that?”
Tony did, actually.
He had to admit, when he’d been informed by FRIDAY that an Unidentified Flying Object was trying to land itself in his front garden whilst two of the four engines were on fire and four non-humans appeared to be jumping out of it- he’d been kinda shaken up.
After New York, and all…well, that kind of shit didn’t do his heart any favors.
But he’d gone out to investigate anyway, in case of Invasion pt. 2- and instead he found a group of aliens who called themselves the Guardians of The Galaxy.
One of them was a juiced-up raccoon with a gun. Another of them was a small tree.
Tony had been convinced he was hallucinating for the first hour.
But once he’d established that no, they weren’t planning on killing anyone and actually, they had simply needed a place to crash safely and nearby somewhere they could try and fix their wrecked ship, he relaxed considerably, and even let himself out of the suit as a gesture of friendship.
He’d watched in confused amusement as the green lady had argued with the raccoon for two minutes about him giving up his gun too- and eventually he did, although he shot Tony the stink-eye as he chucked it at his feet.
“I…thanks?” Tony had said, honestly kind of speechless for the first time in his life.
He’d just met intelligent alien life. And it wasn’t trying to kill anyone or take over the world.
It was a welcome change.
Anyway- long story short; the Guardians had needed a place to stay and lie low, so Tony had offered up the compound. It had ended up being two months before he could gather the correct parts and redesign the engines properly, and during that time he’d managed to acquire four new friends. Somehow.
They hung out with him and trained with him, occasionally including Peter when he swung by (literally). The kid had been over the goddamn moon when Tony had introduced him to all the alien tech he was playing with, and for some reason made firm friends with Groot. Rhodey; who was also pretty much living in the compound while he got his legs fixed, was also made aware.
The weird alliance he and Gamora had going on was creepy, but Tony didn’t question it. If they decided to prank you, you just accepted it. Gamora was scary.
They had spent many a night explaining one another’s cultures- with the Guardians trying to fill him in on the outside universe and answer every one of his frantically excited questions, and then Tony giving them a brief history of everything over the last hundred years in return.
( It hurt more than he’d cared to admit when he had showed them the files on pop-culture and general history that he’d already created, a long time ago, for someone else. But then Drax had scoffed and told Tony he didn’t need to catch up, because he was faster than everyone but Gamora, and Tony had found himself laughing, which was definitely an unusual but welcome change to the usual way his moods were after a thought like that.)
One night- Tony had been sat on the kitchen counter, staring at the wall and gripping his hand over the place his arc reactor had used to lie whilst trying to quell the unshakable thoughts of the people he had loved as they destroyed it.
He hadn’t even been sure which person he was thinking of; Obie or Steve. Either way, it had made for a restless night.
Then Quill had come down too. They’d stared at each other for a good few seconds; neither of them sure whether they were ready to discuss their reasons behind their 3am forays- until Quill had blurted out “this purple douche called Ronan nearly destroyed the galaxy and it stills fucks me up sometimes.”
Well- it wasn’t like Tony had anything to lose from admitting his own experiences.
They both decided to get drunk that night and complain about their traumas- a lot. Tony spoke about the Battle of New York, and the Accords, and Afghanistan. Quill told him about Ronan, and the world that he’d sort of been thrown into without his choice.
They laughed and cried and got smashed together, every action loud and disorderly. So much so that it somehow attracted everyone (even Peter; it was 4am, where had that kid even come from?) down to join them.
Suddenly; when Tony looked up around at the 6 other people- three of them drunkenly singing some alien tune whilst Rhodey attempted to copy and Parker just filmed it all on his phone- he realized that this was the first night he hadn’t faced his nightmares alone since… since before.
It was nice.
Gamora, the only sober person in this room (she’d taken a single sip of Tony’s best bottle before muttering something that sounded like “pathetic”, and giving it back to him) had taken one look at his tired eyes and slightly haunted expression, and rolled her eyes before kissing him on the cheek, waving a knife in front of his face as she did so, and Tony told her she reminded him of another woman with a strange obsession with twirling menacing-looking blades.
She’d wrinkled her nose and frowned. “The Russian? I could totally take her,” she’d said, before shoving him away, directly into Drax’s arms.
-Who had apparently assumed that he too, needed to kiss Tony- because he’d lifted him up under the arms and smacked one on his forehead, beaming in inebriated happiness.
And then planting Tony back on the floor, right next to Rocket.
“Don’t look at me like that, I ain’t fuckin’ kissing you,” he’d mumbled, kicking lightly at Tony’s shin.
“I am. My turn,” Quill said, before grabbing his waist and dipping him.
Had Tony been any less drunk than he was, he would probably have been having a small mental breakdown over the fact that he hadn’t been touched this much in about six months- but luckily, the six shots of tequila and whatever the fuck Rocket had concocted while he’d been hanging out in Tony’s lab were doing a fine good job of holding it back.
Plus- Quill sure was a brilliant kisser. And hot, and funny and nice and- well, Tony was man enough admit there was probably a small amount of feelings to do with it. But whatever.
Unfortunately, he eventually did get their ship fixed, and they had to leave. Which Tony was fine with. Obviously.
It’s just the compound was a big place and Tony had been getting really tired of being alone and God- he really fucking liked the Guardians. Also; he was pretty sure they’d collectively have to tear Groot and Spidey apart, which was going to be annoying.
He’d tried not to act somber or sulky on the last few days. The Guardians all had places to be, after all. Apparently they were Hot Shit up in space, and they clearly needed to get back to that.
Tony would do just fine on his own. He had Peter and Rhodey, anyway, and a goddamn business that needed running, not to mention all the Superhero Shit that still needed to get sorted out. He was too busy to be hosting them anyway.
He was fine.
Except for that embarrassing moment when Quill handed his version of a phone number over to Tony and told him they’d be crashing at his place again in month so he’d better be ready, and Tony had kind of, sort of… cried.
Only a little. The Guardians were all just really nice, okay?
And Tony was on the phone to all of them, right now. He should probably reply.
Except he didn’t really know what to say.
“You say thank you a lot,” was all he ended up with.
On the other end, Quill went quiet, and Tony heard a frustrated sigh.
“No,” Drax interrupted, confusion evident in his voice. “We say thank you when thank you is due, which in your case, just happens to be a lot of times. This only perplexes you because you because you are unused to being appreciated-“ there was a sudden hissing noise, and Tony heard Rocket smack him around the head, whispering something about being insensitive.
“I… no, guys, it’s not… I really didn’t do that much-“
There was yet another sigh, and this one was definitely Gamora’s, because he heard the growling undertone that always came with it.
“Man, who the hell have you been hanging out with, Tony,” Quill breathed sadly.
Tony didn’t know how to answer that one, either.
“Right. Cool. Okay. I’ll- I’ll see you guys in ten okay bye now safe journey,” Tony spoke rapidly, before ending the call.
He hadn’t been going to think about… any of them, today. Today had been going to be a Guardians-Only day. And those days were rare enough as it was.
Funny how it only took one stupid thought, and he was right back at square one again.
None of them except Natasha had contacted him. Tony knew where they were; hell, he’d helped them escape there in the first place. But as far as Tony was aware, they didn’t seem to be doing much.
Steve might have given him a phone, but he’d never called. And Tony certainly wasn’t going to be the one to back down- Steve knew that when he’d given it to him.
Tony was fine with not talking. It didn’t hurt him, every day, as if it were just as fresh as the first few weeks.
(Okay, so maybe that was a lie. Maybe it did sting. Just a little. Didn’t mean Tony was going to back down and call them, though.)
“FRIDAY, call Peter. Tell him his new suit’s ready, and to bring me a coffee on the way here. I haven’t had caffeine in like, an hour. Blasphemous,” he muttered, clapping his hands and pushing them downward, shutting off all the holo-screens around him.
He stood up from the desk and cracked the vertebrae in his back. God, he was getting too old for this shit. He was so fucking tired; trying to argue for each Avenger’s freedom without actually having any of them show up to testify was…frustrating. Plus the added stress of SI, whose stocks had completely crashed after the airport disaster, and then the 117 countries who had apparently decided he was to blame for Steve going rogue, and were now all up in arms.
There was rarely a free moment in his day any more.
Sometimes Tony missed not caring. He was sure it hadn’t hurt this much.
Jogging up the stairs and heading for the kitchen, he thought wistfully about the beautifully stocked cupboards he had, and how they were about to be ravaged in the space of about five minutes.
Ah, well- he couldn’t say he wasn’t used to it.
“Boss, you might want to see this-“
“Friday, unless something is about to explode in an inferno or die in the next five seconds, it can wait,” Tony brushed her off, opening the two doors that lead into the main communal area and sliding in, head bent low over the tablet he was using.
“Well Boss- you might not be too far off, actually,” FRIDAY said, anxiety obvious in her voice.
Tony was about to ask her what the hell she was talking about, when suddenly there was an awkward cough from across the room.
Immediately, Tony’s hand had snapped to the bracelet that was permanently attached to his wrist, calling the armor and getting himself into fighting stance as he turned to face his opponent.
Steve Rogers was sat at his kitchen table.
Steve at least had the decency to look abashed, his thumbs twiddling together nervously as he forced himself to look Tony in the eye.
He looked like shit- pale and tired and thinner than usual, despite his usual bulk of muscle. Even the blue in his eyes seemed washed out; greyer and more faded than usual, contrasting against the darkness under his eyes.
He…well- he looked like Tony had done in the first few months of the split.
Except they were six months in, now, and Tony had got better. Tony had picked himself up, as he always had to do, and he’d thrown himself into fixing the Avengers’ mistakes.
He’d created and funded a project designed to protect and help civilians that had been affected by Avengers-related business; giving them temporary housing, funding and attorneys for their cases.
He’d opened up a new hospital dedicated to the people killed in the explosion in Wakanda.
He’d been travelling all over the world, re-establishing liaisons and relationships between countries. Him and T’challa were actually good friends and allies now- plus, they had a hundred-long streak on snapchat, which was his personal best.
He’d met the Guardians. Rhodey’s legs were slowly beginning to get better, and he was smiling a bit more. Peter hung out with him in the lab whenever he had a spare moment, and his scientific knowledge was coming on leaps and bounds.
Tony was coping. In fact, he was feeling…kind of great, actually.
It didn’t seem like he could say the same for Steve.
“Um? Explanation? Please?” Tony said, his voice cold.
He didn’t stand down. Just in case.
“I… there was an accident. I needed somewhere safe. I’m sorry- my code was still working, and I didn’t have any other option-“
“Accident?” Tony asked sharply, clicking his fingers and summoning the newsreels to pop up on his window.
Steve blushed, and finally looked down. “No, not like that. I was- um- spotted. The compound just happened to be nearest, but I can’t stay long, once someone alerts the cops, they’re probably gonna start looking for me-“
“No, they won’t.”
Steve looked up. “What?”
“I- um, I managed to get them to grant you amnesty. Only you and Wilson, for now. Still working for the rest of them. So they won’t come looking for you,” Tony shrugged, wandering a little closer and heading toward the coffee-machine, making sure to keep facing Steve.
He wasn’t sure what their situation was, right now. Last time they’d spoken, Steve had been ramming his shield into Tony’s chest. Although on the other hand, weak as Steve’s letter had been, it had obviously been his attempt at an apology. So Tony couldn’t really say they were enemies.
They weren’t friends, though. That was for sure.
“Oh,” Steve looked taken aback, leaning back a little on his chair and breathing out, “um…great. I’ll let Sam know.”
Tony waited for Steve to finish, his eyebrows rising further with each passing second of silence. Steve looked at him in confusion for a moment, before blurting “what?”
Tony’s brain ground to a halt.
He’d kind of been getting used to being thanked for doing that sort of stuff. Steve’s return was sort of a shock to the system- and he obviously had no idea what Tony was waiting for.
He came so close to just dropping it.
Because he’d always dropped it- he’d always let it lie. It hadn’t even bothered him after a while, he’d just gotten used to the lack of thanks. That was normal. That was how it had always been.
He’d work on the weapons, he’d clean up their mess and pay for their damages, and the team would just nod and move on.
He’d work himself to death in his workshop, splitting his time between SI and The Avengers until he could barely stand and was tearing his hair out from stress, and then bite his lips until they bled when the team just took all of his new inventions without blinking. And then end up dropping them off a building or something a few weeks later.
It had been fine before.
It wasn’t any more.
Not after the Accords. Not after he’d done everything to try and keep them safe, keep them together- and then Steve had gone and thrown it all away.
Not any more.
“I’m sorry- is that all you have to say? ‘Oh, um, great, I’ll let Sam know’? No ‘thank you Tony’ in there anywhere? Seriously, Rogers, what the hell? Do you know how long it took me to convince the UN to let you off? Do you even understand how much paperwork I had to fill out? The hours I spent fixing your shit? And what do I get when I tell you? ‘Oh, um, great. I’ll let Sam know.” Tony laughed, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have expected anything else, really- not from you.”
Steve looked at him in shock, as if he would never have expected those words to come from Tony’s mouth. “I… I’m sorry? Thank you, Tony. It was-“
“Great, good save there, Rogers. Thank me after I have to physically prompt you to do so. If you really want to go all out, maybe you could try saying it another five thousand fucking times. Might make up for all the other times I pulled the sun out of the goddamn sky for all your ungrateful asses,” Tony snapped, unable to keep it all down now Steve was here, right in front of him for the first time since he’d destroyed Tony’s suit and left him in Siberia.
“Tony- where the hell has this come from? We always said thank you- did you want us to start bowing at your feet; feed that ever-growing ego of yours? Is that it?” Steve snapped back, his eyes cold and hard as he tensed up.
Tony could feel the pressure in the air. Six months of not seeing each other had left an awful lot of things unsaid. And Tony wasn’t going to let this lie- not this time.
He was so sick of their bullshit. He was sick of them taking all his shit, sick of them treating him like dirt and assuming the worst of him, no matter what he did.
He was sick of Team-Freeloader, to be honest.
“Oh, boy, seriously? You think it’s my ego?” Tony challenged, eyebrows rising dangerously. “FRIDAY- pull up a list of all the time’s the team has said thank you to me when I put my ass on the line for them, or worked myself into illness for them, or something of the like?”
He kept his eyes fixed on Steve, unwilling to back down as Friday spat out the number “3, over the past year. Would you like me to collect more data from before my integration to your systems? I still have the security footage in my databanks, if you really want to drive the point home.”
Tony loved FRIDAY. FRIDAY took no shit.
He watched in a twisted sense of glee as Steve’s draw dropped a little, and he waved FRIDAY off. “Nah. I think Captain Asshole’s got the point. What were you saying about how I thought too highly of myself, huh?” He couldn’t help adding.
Steve looked stung at the insult, and opened his mouth to undoubtedly defend the team, but Tony brushed it away- a wave of sudden viciousness overcoming him as he thought of the unfairness of it all; the way he’d been treated for so many goddamn years.
“God- Steve, don’t even argue this. You’d all… God, you treat me so badly, you know that right? You’d stand in the compound that I offered to you, eat the food that I bought you, and wear the armors I spent hours designing, and then you’d call me things like ‘selfish’ and ‘egotistical’ on the daily. It was like, ‘hey- we can all shit on Tony, right? Because Tony doesn’t care; Tony can be our emotional punching bag because he’s fucking used to it, so it doesn’t matter’,”
Tony shook his head, and caught his voice just before it could break. “Well guess what, asshole, it did. It does. Fucking Barton; trying to blame me for being in jail like I forced him to leave his family and break the law. Wanda; trying to make out as if I put her in solitary fucking confinement, when I was protecting her goddam ass from being lynched. You were all just… fucking ungrateful assholes, to be honest.”
Steve stood up suddenly, but this time Tony didn’t even flinch. If Steve wanted to try and fight him in his own fucking home, he had another thing coming. Tony might have been holding himself back last time, but if he tried anything again, then Captain Ungracious was getting taught a fucking lesson on how guests should behave themselves.
Enhanced or not- see if he could supersoldier his way out of a laser up his goddamn ass.
“Where you going? Running away from your problems again? Maybe set fire to the kitchen before you leave; I haven’t had to pay for anyone’s unnecessary damages in like, six months-“
“Unnecessary?” Steve yelled, flinging his hands up in the air, “Tony- I’m sorry we didn’t say thank you, okay! I didn’t… I didn’t know, and if I could rectify it, I would. But any damage we caused was because we were too busy saving the goddamn world, if you hadn’t noticed!”
Tony didn’t even need FRIDAY for that. He just laughed again, and rubbed a hand along his left arm, the phantom pain still tingling in his fingers.
“Do you know how much the average high-end Audi costs, Steve? Let me tell you- it’s around a hundred and sixteen thousand dollars. Do you want to know how many high-end Audi’s Wanda threw at me when we were at the airport?”
Tony paused, trying to remember the figures that he’d done in his head all those months ago. “About seven. And then she literally crushed me with like, ten other models. Altogether, I think the cost to repay all of the civilians who ended up losing their fucking cars because of her reckless tantrum was about 2 and a half million. Guess who had to pay for it?”
He stuck a finger up and pointed it downward at himself, a vicious smile still on his face. “Kind of ironic, really. It’s like getting beaten up by a baseball bat and then having to pay them when it splinters against your fucking head. But hey- there wasn’t anyone else who was gonna refund those twenty-seven people whose cars got smashed, were there? I mean, how many other times do you think all of us have just scampered off into the sunset, and left behind our trail of destruction for all the civilians to clean up? Do you see where I’m going with this, Rogers?”
Steve rolled his eyes and looked down at Tony. “I’m not going to argue with you about this again-“
“Why? Because there isn’t anything to fucking argue with, that’s why. Steve, do you know that police officer you kicked out on to the road while you were chasing T’challa and Bucky? Remember him? You threw him out into moving traffic, Steve. He was fucking run over. Broke his hip and left leg, still can’t walk right,” Tony shook his head, watching as Steve appeared shocked by that fact.
Because that was the problem here. Steve might be a master tactician, but sometimes he was incapable of thinking ahead. He panicked, he tried to avoid the problem until it just went away by itself (see: Tony’s parents), and then didn’t know what to do when everything went to shit.
“And this? This is what I mean by accountability. We’ve all wandered through countries, wreaking our destruction and then walking away from it as soon as it stops becoming our problem, and the public are tired of it. They’re tired of us wrecking their cars, or running them over, or causing them damage. Jesus- 117 countries, Steve. 117! You say you’re a man of the people, and yet as soon as the people collectively decide on something you don’t happen to agree on, you go rogue? We can’t just decide we don’t want to be held accountable for our actions-“
“It wasn’t about being held accountable! It was about signing ourselves over to a group of people with agendas! Agendas that could have made us go places we didn’t need to be, when we should have been somewhere else! It was about putting our trust in another organization, after the last one turned out to be swarming with the enemy!” Steve yelled, eyes on fire with anger.
Tony rolled his eyes and groaned. He still didn't get it. “Jesus Steve- you think SHIELD didn’t have agendas? What about the military you spent the first years of being Captain America working for? The UN is not some fucking spy agency; it’s not something that we have the option to work for. The UN is a worldwide organization founded after the fucking war so that we would never have that sort of chaos again, and the united States are a part of it. There are 192 other countries, and 117 of them were asking for us to be controlled. That’s 60% of the UN, Steve. And you just sat down and said no to them all.”
Steve shook his head, as if it were Tony who wasn’t getting this whole argument, and it only helped to rile him up further.
“I stood my ground. Because it was the right thing to do. If everyone just rolled over and took whatever came to them, where would we be? For starters, Nazi Germany would probably be a leading force in our world.”
“This had nothing to do with ‘rolling over’ and taking anything, Steve-“
“It was! It was us; being forced into doing something that I didn’t feel was right. Come on, Tony, you were the last person on Earth that I expected to just agree with whoever spoke loudest, what the hell happened to you?”
“I grew up, Steve!” Tony yelled, furious. “I goddamn grew up and realized that you can’t just say ‘fuck it, I’ll do what I want and I don’t have to listen to anyone else’. That mentality was what ended up getting me a hole in my fucking chest!”
Steve sighed, and wiped a hand across his face. He looked so tired.
“Tony- I wasn’t going to give up my rights like that. Maybe you were okay with bending over backwards and doing whatever they told you, but I’m not. And neither were any of the other Avengers. Why do you think you ended up alone? No one agreed with you.”
“A lot of people agreed with it, actually, or it wouldn’t have gone down. Just because we are superheroes, it doesn’t make us Gods. Our opinion isn’t somehow ‘better’ than anyone else’s, you know. Believe me, I’ve learnt from experience- thinking you’re untouchable does you absolutely no favors,” Tony explained, leaning against the kitchen counter and folding his arms, the picture of calm. Steve, on the other hand, looked like he was about to punch something.
It was almost like old times. They hadn’t argued like this in a long while, but Tony still knew just how to wind him up.
“Fucking Christ, Tony, you think I don’t know that? I was- I was fighting for our freedom-“
“You were fighting for control, Steve, don’t lie. Every action you made was based around having control of the situation. It was the reason you didn’t sign the accords. The reason you chose not to share the information about Zemo. The reason you never told me about my parents,” Tony spat, “you dragged your best friend into a problem he didn’t even need to be in, and he ended up in exactly the same situation he would have been in had you just taken up my damn offer at the start. But no- it had to be your way. Everyone called me a control-freak, but you, Rogers, you take first prize.”
Tony paused, and there was a moment where he wanted to be sad. A moment where he wanted to mourn for his ruined team, for the torn and broken relationship between him and Steve that had used to be so good.
But he couldn’t find it in him. Steve had been willing to abandon everything he stood for, and everyone he stood for too- in order to keep Bucky safe in his own Special Way. It had cost them all so dearly.
Tony couldn’t forgive him for that.
His voice was quiet as he muttered, “you had to run- goddamn it, you had to run away and leave me to deal with the fallout you left behind!”
“Because PEOPLE WERE TRYING TO KILL US!”
“I WASN’T!” Tony was screaming now, gesturing wildly at himself as he pushed himself off the counter. “I did everything, everything in my power to keep you all safe. You know damn well that you could have talked to me. I would have protected you. Well, you know what, scratch that, I did protect you- I was working my ass off in the middle of it, putting out your fires and somehow--God knows how I managed-- getting the UN to let you all off, time and time again. And yeah, I mean all of you; you know what I’d said about moving Bucky to a place that would help him. I still don’t know why you tried to put it all into your own hands, but there you go. You just thought your way was right, and there was no room for discussion. And in the end, Barnes ended up in the same situation I offered in the first place- so it was literally all for nothing. Everything, Steve- it was all for nothing.”
Steve sneered then, his face twisting in the way it always had done when he was furious and sad at the same time. It was weird; knowing him so well, and yet standing in front of him and feeling like a stranger.
Six months of time to think about what had happened was probably the reason for that.
“I was trying to stop Zemo from-“
“You know what?” Tony interrupted, throwing up a hand, “that’s enough. We’re going around in circles here, and neither of us were ever any good at backing down.”
Tony sighed, glancing at his watch.
“I’m late now; I’m supposed to be helping five idiots land a 25-foot spaceship on to a 15-foot landing pad,” Tony muttered, running a hand through his hair and beginning to walk over to the door.
“Wait, what?” Steve asked, thrown for a second as he digested what Tony had said.
“Yeah, Steve. While you’ve been chilling in Wakanda for six months, I’ve been kinda busy forming intergalactic relations, you know, that sort of stuff.”
“But what?” Tony bit out, the flame of anger rising once again as it so easily did when it came to Steve.
They’d always been like that. An explosion.
From the start- there had just been something about the other that had been dangerous. They were capable of both extremes; being the perfect team, or the bitterest of rivals. Destined for one another, whether it be to complete each other or destroy.
Tony thought about it a lot- Steve could very easily have been Tony’s soulmate.
But it had been easier for him to be Tony’s downfall, instead.
There had never been a middle ground.
It had been bound to end in tears, one day. Two sources of energy like the both of them…it had been fifty-fifty as to whether they’d succeed with flying colors or go down in fire.
It had just so happened the latter had happened first.
“Were you expecting me to be unhappy? Like I’m guessing you are?”
Steve opened his mouth to argue, but Tony cut in again, “don’t try and bullshit me again Rogers, you’re a terrible liar. You look like shit, you haven’t been active in the field for half a year, and T’challa is pissed at you- of course you’re unhappy.” He paused, watching Steve’s brow furrow a little.
“Or did you not know about T’challa? Sorry- we talk quite a lot, so it’s difficult to remember what stuff you do and don’t know. Anyway- back to the matter at hand- were you expecting me to be unhappy too? Were you thinking I was going to be doing worse than you?” Tony shrugged, finally breaking his gaze to look out of the window.
“Eh- I’d get that. When you left me, I’d pretty much lost everything. I can see how that would look.”
He dug out the wallet in his back pocket and opened it up, pulling out a few lose photographs and holding them up, knowing Steve would be able to see, even from their distance.
“But fortunately, these guys managed to bring me back off the ledge, y’know. Far left, you got the 15 year old Spiderkid who always has coffee and is really, really smart. I got to see his science fairs, sometimes. They’re awesome. Then there’s Rhodey, and you can see he’s stood up all on his own, no help even needed any more, isn’t that great? And yeah; the guys that are all throwing me in the air like some sort of cheerleader whilst the woman on the far right looks exasperated? They’re the Guardians.”
“What, you put together a new team? That was… fast,” Steve muttered, and Tony felt a sense of satisfaction that he at least looked saddened by that.
Showed he must have cared, a little bit.
His clothes were too loose. It didn’t look right on him.
“Oh no, I didn’t put this team together. This team kinda fell out of the sky in their spaceship and put me together. It’s weird. You know how much they say thank you? Lots. And they hug me too. They’re even insisting on repaying me for the money I chose to spend on them. Like I said…weird. But nice.” Tony said, his voice unable to stop softening a little as he rubbed his thumb fondly over the photo and tucked it into the wallet again.
“I… I don’t know what to say, Tony-“
“Then don’t,” he snapped, “don’t… you don’t need to say anything. You just need to stay here until all the fuss dies down, and then go back. Lucky for you, I’m not actually gonna be here- I’m taking a short trip into space to test out my new Suit, and I’ll be gone a few days.”
Tony paused, and he looked at Steve; at all the good memories he carried with him. And the pain and the hurt and the loss, too.
Tony had always known something like this would happen one day.
Something would pop up, and both of them would take different stances. They’d get stuck, like two pawns on opposing sides stood face-to-face, unable to move forward.
Because that was who they were. Stubborn bastards on the best of days, who cared too much and fought too hard.
“Eat,” he said bluntly, grabbing a box of cereal and throwing it across the room at Steve. “Like I said, you look like shit. I might not be your friend any more, but I still give a crap,”
“We’re… we’re really not friends, then?” Steve asked quietly.
Tony turned to look at him, a long, hard stare that drilled right down into the soul of Steve Rogers. There had been a time when looking at that face would have sent his heart racing and his spine tingling.
There was a time when there wouldn’t have been anything on earth Tony Stark had not been willing to do for Steve Rogers.
“No. Not after everything. There are people out there who… well, they’re just better showing that they give a shit about me. I’ve lived for 45 goddamn years being taken for granted and fucked over. It took me that long to realize that maybe… well, maybe I deserved better. Maybe I deserved happiness just as much as the next guy. And now I am. I have people, and they’re good-” Tony paused, thinking of a better way to phrase it.
“Aww, Stark- you’re gonna make me blush,” came a voice from behind them, and both Steve and Tony spun around to stare at the person who had just entered the room, leather boots scuffing the ground as he walked.
Immediately, Tony broke out into an involuntary grin at the sight of Peter Quill, scruffy and relaxed at the threshold of the back entrance.
“Who says I was talking about you? I hate you; you’re my least favorite. I’m only in this for Rocket, he’s the one who loves me so much.”
“If you classify him calling you an asshat a minimum of seven times a day as a sign of affection, then sure, he loves you,” Quill shrugged, before flicking a thumb over in Steve’s direction, “who’s that?”
“Oh…uh…” Tony stopped, wondering how awkward this was going to get when Quill was told Steve’s name.
“I’m Steve Rogers, it’s… a pleasure to meet you,”
Tony watched as the grin dropped off Quill’s face, and his hands remained folded firmly under his arms, refusing to shake the outstretched hand Steve had offered.
“I can’t say the same about you.”
Steve stopped; not even bothering to look surprised this time as he lowered his hand, and bit his lip. He looked… Tony liked to imagine he looked remorseful. It would have been nice to think that he was sorry.
He knew Steve wasn’t, though. Not really. And he had to admire that, in a twisted sort of way. The guy was stubborn and believed what he’d been doing was right. Just like Tony had. It had always been the problem between the both of them- like he’d said, neither of them had ever been any good at backing down from a fight.
Quill cocked his head at Steve, and opened his mouth to say something that was almost certainly incredibly offensive or rude.
“Oooookay-“ Tony stepped in between them, grabbing Quill firmly by the arm and leading him away to avoid potential for fighting, “we have to go, right now.”
Steve looked at him, and Tony looked back. There were still so many things he wanted to say. But it would only end in argument, and Tony was already late. So he turned his back- he let it go.
It was over now, anyway. Irrelevant. He’d been hurt and taken for granted, and there was no going back from that. Arguing would just imply that there was.
He hoped Steve would be happy again, someday. He really did. Steve… Steve deserved it. He’d lost enough already- Tony didn’t want him to lose himself along the way, too.
He had the team. They’d look after him. And Tony was working on developing something that would help out Barnes’ mind control issues, which worked like something along the same lines as BARF (God, he really needed a new name for that).
Steve would heal, in the same way Tony had. He’d make sure of it. Like he said- he still cared.
“Steve, make yourself at home. There’s food in the cupboards and FRIDAY will keep everything- Whoa there, Peter, what the hell!” Tony exclaimed, as he was suddenly hauled into a bridal-carry and bounced around as Quill began running down the hall, cackling manically.
“Tough shit, Rogers, you had your chance. Tony’s mine now. He officially wins the breakup!” He was yelling behind him at a bewildered Steve, and Tony couldn’t do much more but cling on to Quill’s neck and curse as he was carried down the corridor.
“What the fuck are you doing, crazy alien man?”
“Being your knight in shining armor?”
“Excuse me, I am not a fucking princess-“ Tony began, but was shut up as Quill just smacked a kiss on his cheek.
“Yeah you are,”
Peter just laughed and continued carrying Tony down the halls, eventually stepping outside into the landing platform, where the rest of the Guardians were waiting.
As well as Peter and Rhodey, for some goddamn reason.
“What the fuck?” he asked again, as Quill dropped him to the ground again and then grinned delightedly, despite Tony’s smack across the back of his head in retribution for spiriting him away in the middle of a sentence.
Rocket gave him a friendly kick, and chucked the weird alien object they’d been talking about earlier at Tony’s face before launching into speech.
“Well- it was gonna be a professional mission and everything, just to get your suit acclimatized or whatever, but then Groot started complaining about not being able to see the Spiderboy-“
“Spiderman, it’s Spiderman,” Peter mumbled grumpily.
“- Spiderguy, spiderdude, spiderqueen, does it fuckin’ matter? Anyway- so we thought we’d just give him a heads up that we were arriving and he could stop by to say hi. Anyway- then Gamora said if Groot got Parker, she should get Rhodey-“
“I did not say that, moron!” she hissed, her voice terrifyingly low and threatening enough to have Tony stepping away a little, but Rocket didn’t seem fazed- simply waving her off absently.
“ So we asked Rhodey along too, and he was like ‘cool bro,’ and now we have two extra passengers ‘cause they won’t leave. Also, you’re late,” Rocket finished, immediately beginning to climb back into the ship without a second glance backward.
“Yeah, sorry, I got held up by a colleague. And also, Quill- Steve and me… we were never together. There was no breakup,’ Tony told him, turning the alien tech around his hands and observing it for a few seconds.
“You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to break up, dingus. And after every breakup, there’s always a competition to see who is doing best. Quite obviously, in this case it’s you. I mean, look at this upgrade,” Quill gestured around him, at the group of people all beginning to climb back into their ship whilst Peter stopped behind, eyes fixed on the alien tech in Tony’s hands.
Tony shot the kid a look, and Peter blushed. “Rocket said I wasn’t allowed to look, because I wasn’t an adult. But you’re cooler than him, so I was just wondering-“
“One condition. Does Aunt May know you’re here? And have you done your homework?”
Peter rolled his eyes. “That’s two.”
“Okay. Two conditions. Does Aunt May know you’re here, and have you done your homework?”
The boy shuffled a little, and shoved his hands in his pockets, the picture of innocence. “Welllll-“
Tony groaned in resignation. Is this what it felt like to be Pepper? God- responsibility was exhausting. “Peter! Come on, kid, you know the rules, I can’t just let you go up to space if she doesn’t-“
“No no no-“ Peter held up his hands and shook his head, “condition number one has been fulfilled. Somewhat. She knows I’m here, so there’s that. I’m gonna have to put a pin in the homework thing, though-“
“No poking at dangerous alien tech, then,” Tony finished, shoving him gently in the shoulder and up toward the ship, “get in, kiddo, we don’t have all day.”
“Nuh uh. In. Now,” Tony gave him another push, and Peter turned around sulkily, muttering under his breath as he stormed off toward Groot, who was waiting for him eagerly at the entrance.
“You know Groot is just going to pickpocket you at some point and give it to him, right?” Gamora said absently, letting their shoulders touch briefly in her version of a ‘hello’, before turning her back on them all to follow Peter up into the ship.
“Of course I am. I wasn’t gonna stop him anyway, I checked his schedule; the stuff he’d been set is easy, he’ll get it done in ten minutes. I just like annoying him,” Tony admitted, grinning along with Rhodey as he rolled his eyes and gave Tony a one-armed hug.
“You ready for your first trip to space?” Tony asked him, hand gripped around the War Machine’s shoulders.
Rhodey grinned at him, a lovely full-on beam that Tony had missed so much on his best friend, before calling an enthusiastic, “hell yeah I am,” and then looking at Tony with a slightly raised eyebrow.
“Are you gonna be okay with this though? The whole… ‘space’, thing.”
Tony could almost pretend that he would be. That it had been long enough ago now, that he could look at the stars and not feel an involuntary shudder run down his spine.
“Probably not,” he ended up telling the truth, instead, “but I’ve got to get used to it again- if what Quill tells me is really true, then we’re gonna be dealing with a whole lot more space-related threats soon, and I’ve got to be ready. I’ll be okay,” Tony said, more to himself than anyone else, really.
“What makes you so sure of that?” Quill asked, his voice serious, before apparently realizing that fact and adding “don’t want you throwing up all over my baby, y’know,”
Tony smiled, and bumped against the both of their shoulders, shrugging his shoulders a little.
He missed the Avengers. Every day. But…
“I’ve got you guys. What’s there to worry about?”