The street is packed, and the people are reluctant to part and allow the cab through. It’s slow progress, but Tony can see the destination from outside his window. The apartment complex has seen better decades with its brick and mortar having long since resigned itself to its crumbling fate.
“Yeah, we’re here.” He says into the phone. “I’ll call you back once I talk with him. You sure this is the address?”
“Yeah, I’m sure. Double checked myself.” Rhodey says from the other side of the line and there’s the sound of something crashing.
“Everything okay?” He asks, amusement and worry both warring in his tone. Rhodey lets out a dramatic sigh.
“I don’t remember us having this much energy when we were their age.” He says and Tony chuckles.
“Just make sure that Harley doesn’t run off with the suit.” He warns and he can practically see Rhodey rolling his eyes.
“What? I wasn’t supposed to let him out? My bad he’s already gone off to save the world. He says he’ll have your suit back by dinner.” Tony smiles and shakes his head.
“Whatever. You’re a moron. Make sure they do their homework and I’ll call you later.”
“You better, and I will. Carol says she can come by later tonight if you need.”
“Nah, Stephen’s already offered to ‘sling’ himself over and see what this guy says about it.”
“I still don’t think you should be going alone.”
“I got this Honey-Bear. I’ll call you later.” Rhodey says bye and Tony slides the phone into his pocket as the car comes to a stop. Tony gives the driver his thanks and a good tip before crawling out amongst the various calls from street vendors shouting to potential customers. He’s barely closed the door before the cab is starting its slow progress through the crowd again and Tony adjusts his grip on the suitcase. He takes a deep breath and rolls his shoulders, starting towards the entrance. He’s come this far and he’s not leaving, not until he gets what he came for.
The cab immediately catches his attention, being something that’s just out of place enough to stand out and yet still blend in. The man who steps out of it though is an entirely separate thing. Even in plainclothes, Clint can recognize him anywhere. Stark looks up at the building that they’ve been hiding away in for the last few weeks and seems to give himself some kind of pep talk before he starts making his way forward.
Clint taps the earpiece.
“Cap, we’ve got a problem.”
“Listening.” Clint watches as Stark moves through the crowd, pushing his sunglasses back up onto his face from where they were sliding down a moment ago. He seems to not be aware of the eyes on him. That works for Clint.
“Stark’s here.” There’s a momentary pause after Clint’s sentence and he can just imagine the others getting ready for the battle that’s coming their way. Clint’s a little surprised that Stark’s gotten the jump on them down here, Fury normally keeps them pretty aware of the brunet’s comings and goings.
“Possibly. He’s got a suitcase with him. Looks heavy.” All of them have seen the videos of the racetrack fight between ‘Whiplash’ and Stark. They’ve all seen how small the billionaire can compact the suit and how quickly it can be fully ready to go. Clint pulls an arrow out of his quiver and notches it back. “I’ve got a shot. Want me to take it?”
“No. Not out in the open. Too many eyes.” Comes Steve’s order and Clint releases the tension, rolling the arrow between his fingers. “Let him come. We’re ready for him. Keep your eyes out for any of the others”
“Copy that.” Stark’s made his way to the front door finally and slides in without any problems and Clint turns his eyes back to the sky. His fingers are still twitching with the need to put the arrow somewhere non-vital in the brunet’s body. Maybe somewhere in his back so that Stark can understand what it feels like.
Steve drops his hand from his ear and looks at the rest of his team as they finish pulling themselves together. He makes quick eye contact with Natasha.
“Do you think he can be reasoned with?” He asks and she takes a moment before shrugging.
“I think it’s a possibility that we’re beyond all of that.” Steve doesn’t disagree, not really. It’s been months since they’ve split over the Accords and Bucky, and with Fury keeping them out of the new Avengers grips Steve can only imagine where they stand in regards to each other these days.
“He wouldn’t attack inside, Tony’s not that crazy.” Steve argues, but the statement sounds hollow in his mouth. Wanda lets out a snort and flips her hair over her shoulder, giving Steve a look like he’s a foolish child.
“This is Stark. Since when has he cared about collateral damage?” The Sokovian asks and although the sentiment falls a little short – Steve can remember all the times that the general populace were the first thoughts in the brunets mind – Steve lets out a small sigh and tightens his arm protectors.
“Well then it’s our first priority. We don’t know why he’s here. If its Accords mandated or if it’s personal.”
“It could be both.” Sam says as he slides in his earpiece. “He could have pushed for the ability to be the one to come after us again.” Steve feels his shoulders sag a little. This isn’t how he wanted this all to go.
Why was Tony here? Why now? Why hadn’t he called Steve before coming? He had to have known that Steve would pick up, he would have answered in a heartbeat. Why had Tony never reached back to grab the outreached hand that Steve had been offering for months?
Had he not gotten the letter? What if Ross and these new Accords Avengers had intercepted it?
Far too many questions and no time for answers. Steve lets those thoughts go as he pulls on the helmet and looks at the others.
The hallways were narrow with plenty of sharp edges and turns, almost too many and Tony will be the first to admit that he doesn’t like it. Far too many places for people with ulterior motives to hide away and pounce upon unsuspecting prey. He pushes his sunglasses up higher on his face as he inches around a small group just lounging and loitering about.
For a moment he considers placing the call to Carol or Stephen and having one of them here as backup, but almost as quickly as the thought occurs he pushes it away. He’ll be fine, it’s just a quick stop in and then he’ll shoot out. He does however consider trying to call again, instead of just dropping by with no forewarning. People always tended to get touchy about those kinds of things, but Tony figures that it’s a little late at this point to be trying to get in contact.
He shifts the case over to his other hand, letting the awkward weight settle on the other side for a moment as he starts his way up the stairs. In most cases he’d consider holding the railing to prevent death, but the structure of the building makes him feel that the railing is just as likely to let him fall as anything else. He’s more than grateful the moment that he’s off the death trap stairs and walking down the next hall.
It’s not like the bottom floor, with its small packets of people and it makes the hairs on the back of his neck rise a little. His hand slides into his pocket and rests on the phone within as he starts down towards the room number on the directions. It doesn’t take him long to find it, and he shifts to put the suitcase down so that he can knock without taking his hand off the panic button on the phone when everything goes red then black.
“He’s on his way up.” Natasha says through the earpiece and Steve nods although she can’t see it.
“Alright, we’re ready for him here.” He pulls a small mirror out of his pocket and turns to Wanda and Sam. “If at all possible I’d rather avoid a fight,” Steve doesn’t think he could actually fight Tony again. He still can’t forget how it felt, bringing the shield down over and over again. The sound of crunching metal still haunts his nightmares, “and I certainly don’t want to get into one out here.” The other two nod at him. “Wanda, do you think you can put him under? Before he has a chance to suit up?” The young woman nods, her hands coming up immediately with small swirls of red already leaking from them. She’s keeping everyone else out of the hall and in their rooms, and Steve hopes that this isn’t straining her and her abilities too much.
Steve holds up the mirror to see around the corner, and as much as he knew that Tony was going to be coming around that corner, he’s still a little unprepared for it when he sees him. The brunet’s head is down, and the baseball cap and sunglasses are making him stick out more than they’re hiding him and it makes Steve want to smile a little.
Half of Steve wants to drop this charade and just step out into the hallway. He wants to ask if this is something that Tony really wants to do again. Or if they can just…stop. If they can be like they were before, before all of this happened. If instead of fighting they could join together again like it was always supposed to be. Steve’s not so proud that he won’t apologize again and beg the brunet if that’s what the other demands of him in order to give them, to give Steve, a second chance.
Steve’s almost ready to step out when Tony stops suddenly and it hits Steve like a bucket of cold water that he could have seen the mirror. He could already know that they’re waiting here to jump out at him, and he must have seen them before he got closer to their rooms. Tony adjusts his grip on the suitcase, lowering it to the floor and Steve barely hears Sam’s tight whisper of Wanda’s name before the girl steps into the hall, her magic lashing out quickly before Tony can open the case and get the suit on.
Steve’s already on the move when he sees Tony crumple to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. He reaches him in seconds, rolling him onto his back gently to check that he didn’t injure himself on his way down. Steve carefully pulls off the sunglasses and he’s not sure why he so relieved to see the bruise that used to be under Tony’s eye has faded into nothingness. Instead of the angry man who he saw last, both in his person and in his nightmares, he sees Tony. Resting and looking so peacefully fragile in his sleep. Steve reaches up and taps his ear.
“We’ve got Tony, returning to the room. Any other guests?”
“None, and is that a good plan?” Clint asks and Steve almost wants to ask the archer what else they’re supposed to do with the billionaire.
“It’s the only option. Rogers out.” He taps it again before he slides his hands under Tony and lifts the brunet up into his arms. The brunet’s head lulls against his shoulder as he adjusts his grip into something more solid before he stands to his feet. “Sam, get the door. Wanda, grab the suit.” The two move instantly at his orders and he knows that they need to get out of the hallway before someone starts to ignore Wanda’s subtle suggestion to stay indoors.
Wanda grabs the suitcase and lifts it with less struggle then Steve would have figured.
“It’s much lighter than I thought.” Wanda’s words mirror Steve’s thoughts as they move down the hall to the room. Sam opens the door and Steve walks over to one of the beds and lays the brunet down on it. Natasha enters the room seconds later and looks down at Tony with that unreadable look in her eyes.
It’s been there since she came for them in Wakanda, when Fury sent for his team. Clint and Steve knew instantly that something was broken inside the female spy, something rattled about and she’d yet to bounce back from it. It was close to her behavior after Bruce disappeared, and it make Steve wonder if they were at fault for this, if this Accords business hurt them in much deeper ways than just breaking up the family.
Natasha wastes no time reaching forward and brushing her fingers over Tony’s ears looking for communicators. When she comes up blank she starts a search over the rest of the brunet’s body. She’s careful when she pulls out the cellphone from his pocket and moves it away from the others reach on the nightstand. Steve will admit to being a little surprised when her search comes up with no other communication devices.
“Do you think he came alone?” He asks and she doesn’t respond to him, instead going over to one of her duffels and pulling out a bag of zip ties. “Is that really necessary?” Steve says as she reaches for Tony’s wrist and starts to bind the unconscious brunet to the bed.
“I think it’s better to be prepared.” She answers as she moves from one wrist to the other before starting down on his legs. “I think we got ridiculously lucky to get the drop on him. People don’t get a second chance to get the drop on Tony Stark.” There’s an ominous quality to her voice as Steve stands by and lets her work.
“I can keep him under.” Wanda offers, already stepping forward with her magic and Steve shakes his head.
“No.” Steve hasn’t forgotten how there always seems to be a darkness in Wanda’s eyes when it comes to the brunet. It’s gotten worse since the RAFT incident, and Steve’s not happy to see that it’s showing its head now. “There’s no need for that.” He turns slightly when he hears Sam opening the suitcase behind Wanda.
“Um…Steve? I think you might want to come look at this.” There’s confusion in Sam’s voice and Steve comes around the bed to see what he’s looking at.
It’s not the Iron Man suit. Or anything even remotely close to it.
The suitcase is open and the only things inside it from what he can see are a really old fashioned desk clock, several files and some clothes. Steve reaches for the clock, it’s sturdy and has a decent weight to it. Steve turns it over in his hands a few times looking at it from every angle, but he can’t see anything modern about it. It looks like a veritable antique. It doesn’t strike him as something Tony would be carting around with him.
“What is it?” Wanda asks and Sam shrugs.
“I don’t know but it seems a little low tech for Tony doesn’t it?” He says and Steve nods, turning it over one final time to see all of the old copper and brass gears. “Why would Tony be bringing this into a fight with us?” Sam inquires, “Unless he was just bringing it to us in general? Like for our help with something?” There’s a hopeful note in Sam’s voice and Steve knows that Sam misses his home. They all do, and they all know that the brunet was their best bet for ever getting back once upon a time.
Natasha reaches for the files and starts flipping through the pages. Her eyes scan a few of them before she shakes her head with an annoyed, almost amused sounding snort.
“He wasn’t coming to us.” She holds the file out for Steve. “He was here for someone else.” Steve looks down at the papers, at the directions to the building that they were in, to the floor that they were on – but to a different number. The number that Tony stopped at earlier. “I don’t think he knew we were here at all.” Guilt eats at Steve a little.
Does this mean that they attacked Tony for no reason?
“Should we wake him up?” He asks as he looks over to the bound man on the bed. Natasha shakes her head.
“He didn’t know before, he certainly does now.” She reaches up and taps her ear. “Barton, back to base.”
“On the way.”
“What use does Stark have for a clock?” Wanda’s question draws their attention back to the item in Sam’s hands. “And why would that bring him here of all places?” Sam looks up from his inspection.
“And what are the chances that he’d come to the middle of nowhere and come into the same building that we’re in?”
“That’s a giant coincidence.” Steve admits as he flips through the next few pages. They’re practically gibberish to him, but they look like scans of some antique documents and letters written in another language along with old artist renderings of the clock and some other random images. “But this is…this is all nonsense. I don’t understand a thing its saying.”
“That looks Celtic.” Natasha offers up, pointing to some of the drawings on the scanned pages. “I recognize some of these symbols, but whatever these ones are I don’t know.” She points to the bulk of the written words.
“What’s Stark fucking with this time?” Clint asks as he closes the door, coming over to the group. He shoots an annoyed look at the bed with Tony before glancing at the pages as well. “I don’t recognize it either, but if Stark’s interested in it then it can’t be as simple as ‘just a clock’.” He says and they all agree.
“Something says if he’s up to something though, like Ultron level something, he’s not going to be telling us anything when he wakes up.” Sam says and they all look at him with frowns of varying degrees. Steve knows Sam’s correct, they lost any and all rights to ask Tony anything when they left. When they left Tony with all the broken pieces and just stayed away as he glued them back together.
“…I could find out.” Wanda offers and Steve feels the emotions that also cross Clint’s face at the offer. “This worries me. Stark is not to be trusted.”
“I don’t think that’s necessary.” Steve says as Clint’s jaw tightens and Natasha puts a hand on his arm. He shrugs it off a moment later, nodding that he’s alright with them continuing this conversation in his presence.
“What should we do then?” Sam asks and they all look at Steve, and sometimes Steve wishes there was someone that he could talk to about how much he hates that look. He used to be able to tell Tony, and Tony always knew even before Steve said anything but now…now there’s no one. Not without causing doubts in the already fragile team dynamics.
“I think we should wait until he wakes up.”
“If he wakes up he can call FRIDAY.” Natasha warns.
“It might already know something has happened to its maker.” Clint adds and Steve shakes his head.
“He didn’t have anything on him.”
“That tells me it’s inside him. Not on him. You’ve seen him summon the armor to himself with a thought, do you really think he hasn’t perfected the ability to remain in touch with his tech without it being on him?” The arched eyebrow she gives him makes Steve feel slightly stupid, but sometimes his mind still rebels against the craziness of this century and the things that can be done in it.
“Not to mention, if FRIDAY alerts the other sellouts.” Clint pipes in. “We could have a lot of problems on our hands if they show up here.”
“Well we’ve got Tony, at the very least we’ve got a solid bargaining chip.” Sam offers up and Natasha shakes her head.
“Stark is no one’s bargaining chip.” She says and Wanda looks at Steve.
“If they know something bad is coming then we need to know as well. How else are we supposed to be ready? How are we supposed to protect them?”
“I don’t like the idea of just…taking it from him. It feels like a line we shouldn’t cross.”
“I’ve done it before,” Wanda reminds him and Clint looks away in the memory of SHIELD’s captives who have met the Witch inside interrogation rooms. “You’ve never had a problem with it before.”
“Those were terrorists and Hydra. This is Tony…it feels wrong.” Steve tries to defend. The memories of the pain on those people’s faces as Wanda dug through their memories comes to the forefront and he can’t imagine that he could stand still and let her do that to Tony.
“I can be gentle.” Wanda says as though she’s read his mind, and who knows maybe she has. “I can get him to tell me, instead of just taking it. It’ll take a little longer, but I can do it.” She offers up and Steve still feels dirty about the whole thing.
Tony didn’t ask for any of this, he wasn’t even here to pick a fight with them and yet here they were, getting ready to treat him no better than they treated Hydra.
“I don’t know.” Comes out of his lips and Wanda reaches out and puts a hand on his arm.
“Steve, he’s going to start waking up soon. I didn’t put him down for long.” She warns. “And it’s possible that he has the information that SHIELD has been trying to get for months now. It’s also entirely possible that he’s up to something he shouldn’t be up to. If Rhodes and Viz aren’t here then it’s entirely possible that he’s doing something he shouldn’t be doing again.” She looks at him with all seriousness. “We need to know.”
Steve’s silent for a few moments, and the silence seems to be enough of an answer because she starts towards the helpless brunet and Clint practically storms out of the area into one of the other rooms. Natasha’s look is as blank as ever, but it seems…colder. She doesn’t budge from her spot but her arms are loosely crossed and Steve wonders if she’s even conscious that she’s taken up a defensive position.
Wanda takes a seat on the edge of the bed and starts to let her magic pool at her fingers.
“Wanda – I’m not sure…” Steve starts but its moments too late as the red mist seeps into the engineers mind.
And Steve can’t help but feel wrong as he stands by and lets her do it.
He hasn’t been back in these halls since he was a small child. There are so many memories here, some good and some so painful. The Stark Manor itself has remained empty since that December –
“Barnes?” I know that street – Did you know! – How could you? – Mom! Wanda has to fight to pull the memories back from the strange path that they wished to take. She feels Stark’s horror, his betrayal and despair fade away as she guides him back to the memories that she’s looking for.
– the dust levels were almost of epic proportions but once it’s cleaned out he’s sure that he can get everything up and running again…He can’t stay in the Compound anymore, even with all of the new faces around. He can’t help but be haunted by the old ones…can’t help being haunted by him. He should have known that nothing he ever did or ever became was going to be good enough for him. Now if only he’d leave him in peace.
– the cleaning and the construction are coming along perfectly on schedule. There are new faces that swing by to check on him and offer helping hands. A young boy with a bright smile and a brighter mind Peter Parker Stark’s mind supplies, the Spider-Man, and the new members of the Accords Avengers. He’s still so unsure, and so timid with them but he can’t deny that they seem to come because they actually want to…not because he’s reached out to them or because they feel like they need to babysit him. They say they’re his friends, his team and after the horrors of the last ‘team’ he’s surprised to find himself believing them –
Wanda frowns, she’s gotten off track again. It’s hard to contain Stark’s mind, in both conscious and unconscious forms. She thinks of the clock, of the items in the suitcase and lets the images come to the front of Stark’s mind–
– there’s laughter, so much laughter as the kids play with DUM-E and the Avengers watch nearby, devouring the last few slices of pizza that’s been laid out before them. Captain Marvel Carol Danvers and Rhodey are both trying to outdo the other on embarrassing Basic stories. Laura and the kids are smiling and he feels so light after so long. The wall he’s working on gives way suddenly, emptiness and darkness swallowing him as he hears horrified cries of his name. There’s more of that god-awful dust everywhere and hands quickly check him over and pull him upright moments later.
– so many concerned eyes and it humbles him as they check him over before looking around. He didn’t know this room existed, he doesn’t remember it at all. It’s not in the blueprints he had pulled for the construction. There’s an old light switch that no longer works, but the answer of who might have put it there surprises all of them when Rhodey finds the letters.
She left them for Tony. “Your father’s legacy is not your only one.” The words feel like a warning, an omen in black ink and the clock that sits amongst them is strange.
It’ll answer everything in time. It’ll guide the way she promises from beyond the grave.
And she’s sorry, she’s so sorry to put this on him.
– None of it makes sense, but FRIDAY locates a professor out in the field who might know a thing or two about the strange markings on the gears of the clock. He promises to keep in touch, they’re clearly not happy but they promise to be there in a heartbeat if he needs them at any moment for anything–
Wanda pulls out right as Stark snaps awake and immediately tugs away from her. It takes a few seconds for his mind to recover from her magic and he yanks at the ties holding him to the bed before he levels a scowl on her.
“What did you do?” He snaps and she doesn’t answer, standing up and heading over to Steve’s side.
“He doesn’t know what it means or what it is. Only that his mother left it for him to find. He was here to meet with a professor to discuss the markings on the backs of the gears.” She says it loud enough so that Stark can hear her and there’s a pleased feeling that comes with the look of utter disbelief and betrayal that Stark sends Steve.
“You…you let her get in my head?” He asks as Clint comes out of the room and his voice sounds gutted. Wanda notices how Clint looks away from the brunet and there’s an emotion leaking from him that feels like shame. Stark tugs at the bonds again. “Let. Me. Go.” He snaps and Steve speaks up.
“Give us the room.”
Hope you enjoyed it, please leave a comment/kudo!
Although I do ask, please no comments of a negative nature.
Steve doesn’t take his eyes off of Tony as the others follow his order and leave the area, Natasha closing the bedroom door behind her softly. Tony for the most part has turned his attention to the zip ties and is rotating his wrists, checking how much give he’s got to work with.
“Stop that.” Steve scolds, “you’re going to hurt yourself if you keep that up.” That gets Tony’s attention as the brunet throws him a look that touches the spectrum between disbelief and anger. It seems to convey the not so subtle ‘fuck you Rogers’ that he’s throwing the blonde’s way. Steve lets out a soft sigh as he moves to inhabit the spot that Wanda sat just minutes ago. It hurts on some level deep inside when Tony flinches back at Steve’s sudden approach, and how he seems to be involuntarily pulling himself as far away from Steve as the bindings will let him move, which isn’t very far but Steve can sense the intent regardless. Steve pauses for a second before slowly sitting down on the edge and softening his voice to the spooked brunet. “I’m not going to hurt you Tony.” He says, almost as if he’s trying to talk someone off the ledge and Tony barely reigns in the snort that escapes him.
“Oh, well that’s new. That’s good to know, please tell me – what exactly is ‘hurting me’ by your definition?” Tony asks and his voice is almost mockingly patient. “Because apparently we have different understandings of the phrase. For example, I wouldn’t consider kidnapping someone and letting Wanda screw around in their heads as not hurting them but then again, what do I know?”
“It wasn’t like that Tony.” Steve argues instantly and Tony looks at him, just staring for a few quiet seconds before responding.
“You know, once upon a time I might have asked you ‘what was it like then?’, but in this case there is absolutely no justifiable answer that you can give that makes what is happening okay.” Steve looks away momentarily from the judgement in those brown eyes.
“We just wanted to know why you were here. That’s it. Wanda didn’t take anything else, I wouldn’t have let her.” The words feel fake even as they fall from his lips and he knows without looking that Tony is calling him out on that bull as well.
“The opportune word in that sentence was ‘take’. Do you realize that?” Tony’s voice is firm and it makes Steve cringe. “You let Wanda ‘take’ something that was not for her to take. What’s worse, you all just stood by while my mental state was violated not ten feet from you. How do you get off telling me that ‘it wasn’t like that’? Or that you ‘just wanted to know what I was doing here’? You could have and you should have fucking asked me.”
“Would you have told us?” Steve challenges and Tony let’s out a frustrated and cruel scoff.
“I would have told you to go to hell, because it was none of your business why I was here. I didn’t come after you, you attacked me. Don’t turn this around as if I need to defend my actions here.”
“I’m not saying you need to defend yourself Tony, I’m just saying that it’s understandable why we responded the way we did. How would you have responded if you had seen me?”
“I sure as hell wouldn’t have kidnapped you and violate your mind.”
“Stop using that word.”
“Which one? Violate? Why? Does it bother you? Try being on this side of the equation.” Steve turns away from Tony for a moment. It takes him a second to try and get his voice to return to the calm tone that he took earlier.
“We thought that you were getting the suit out. We didn’t want to risk a battle with you in the Iron Man armor, we didn’t have any other choice.” Steve glances back at Tony while Tony shakes his head.
“Haven’t you gotten tired of saying that yet? You had a choice Rogers, you’ve always had a choice.” There’s a clipped anger in Tony’s words and it doesn’t stop Steve from shaking his head as Tony continues. “You chose to go after Barnes. You chose not to tell me about my parents.” Tony’s voice doesn’t stumble over those sentences and Steve feels both ashamed and grateful for it. “You chose to leave me in Siberia with broken armor. You chose to break into the RAFT and condemn everyone else to be fugitives. You chose to go and work for Fury. You’ve chosen to undertake the missions that he gives you and you chose to stand by and let a telepath who has hated me for over a decade play around in my brain. Those are all choices you made. Stop saying the choice was taken from you, because it’s just getting insulting at this point.”
Steve’s first response is to argue, he wasn’t making those choices. What kind of choice is it when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place? Why should you get punished for making a bad decision when the only options you had open to you were bad decisions? How is holding to your guns in those cases the wrong thing to do? But he knows that Tony won’t understand, not really. Tony hasn’t had to deal with the situations that Steve’s had to deal with over the last year. In the time from the ‘Civil War’ Tony’s life just got easier, while Steve’s got darker. He can’t explain that to Tony in a way that Tony will realize the truth.
“We saw what was in your bag.” Steve says instead in an attempt to turn the subject back into safer waters. Tony follows his look over to the other bed where Tony’s suitcase has been emptied out.
“Wow, you’re just going for all the felonies aren’t you? Assault, kidnapping, torture and theft. And those are the ones I know about, I’m scared to think that there might be some I don’t.”
“We didn’t torture you.”
“Keep telling yourselves that.” Is the quick comeback and Steve clenches his fist. “Now where’s my clock?” Steve looks to see that the clock is currently missing from the suitcase lineup.
“It’s probably in the other room with the others.”
“I want it back.”
“It’s just a clock Tony.”
“That ‘just a clock’ was a gift from my mom.” Tony replies, his voice cold. “You will give it back to me.” Steve backtracks and nods almost instantly.
“No, I didn’t mean it like that, of course we will. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that it was worthless.” Tony twists his wrists again and Steve reaches up to stop the movement that’s starting to leave angry red lines on the brunet’s skin. “Stop that.”
“Get your fucking hand off of me Rogers.” Comes the instantaneous response the minute that Steve touches Tony’s wrist.
“I’m trying to keep you from hurting yourself.” Steve snaps back.
“Let me out of these and you won’t have to worry about that.” Steve takes a second before he slowly lets go of the other’s wrist and leans back.
“What happens if I let you go?”
“Don’t flatter yourselves. I just want my stuff and I want to leave. I don’t give a flying fuck what you’re all doing here.”
“Language.” Steve reprimands softly and Tony levels a glare on him that feels like he’s back in the ice.
“Go to fucking hell.” Tony snaps out. “Now let me go.” Steve takes a moment before he slowly shakes his head.
“Not yet.” Tony’s face shows his confusion.
“Not yet? What the hell Rogers, let me go.” Steve shakes his head again, his shoulders going back slightly.
“Not yet, not till we’ve talked.”
“Talked? Are you…please tell me you’re kidding right now?”
“This is the first time we’ve seen each other since…all of that.”
“Siberia? What you can’t say the place?”
“We haven’t had a chance to talk about anything that happened. I tried to talk to you before, but you never called.”
“Fuck you and your fucking flip phone Rogers. And we’re not having a conversation where I’m literally tied down and can’t leave. This doesn’t really inspire feelings of security or safe zones to me.” Tony spits out. “Besides there’s nothing to say.”
“I’ve tried to reach out to you Tony, I sent you a letter. I tried to tell you how sorry I was. You got the phone obviously, did you even read the letter?” Tony turns away from him, looking at the wall opposite him. “Just talk to me Tony. I’ve said I’m sorry, what more can I do?” Tony’s silent for a time and it makes Steve almost want to pull his hair out.
“I know that you think you’re sorry.” Is his quiet reply after a while. Steve almost misses it and he wonders if Tony meant for him to.
“No Tony, I am sorry.” He reaches out for him again, to offer him comfort or to prove his claim Steve isn’t sure, but he feels like he needs to do something to make the brunet see.
“I know that you might think that’s true, but it’s not.”
“Being sorry isn’t just about feeling bad Rogers.” Tony cuts him off, his voice staying so strangely soft and quiet. “It requires a certain level of empathy for the other person in the equation, and an understanding of their point of view without excuses or demands. Without that, you’re not really sorry…you just feel guilty.” It’s strange to hear Tony speak in that tone, with this underlying pain winding through the words that Steve doesn’t think Tony meant to reveal.
“No Tony, I do feel for you, I do. You have to know that. I apologized because I cared about you.”
“’I know I hurt you Tony. I’m sorry, hopefully one day you can understand.’” Tony quotes and it takes Steve a moment to realize that he’s quoting him. “That’s not an apology Rogers. I don’t know what it is, but I know what it’s not.”
“That’s…that’s not how I meant that.” Steve starts to argue and his hand is shaking a little. “You have to know that isn’t how I meant it.” Tony finally turns back to him with an exasperated look and eyes that seem suspiciously wetter than they were minutes ago.
“Honestly Rogers, I don’t even know half of the reasons or excuses behind the things you’ve been doing anymore, if I ever really did.” Steve almost wishes that Tony hadn’t turned back to glance at him, it was safer when those eyes weren’t focused on him. “You’ve fallen Rogers. Do you even realize it? Where’s that ‘good man’ that Erskine asked of you? What happened to him? When did this-” He tugs at his wrists again, “become standard procedure? Has Fury corrupted you so much that you don’t even realize how off the reservation you’ve gone?” Steve looks away.
“How long have you known?”
“That you’re back with SHIELD? Seriously Rogers? The minute you joined back up. I’ve known, we’ve all known.”
“The Accords Council?”
“Ross suspects, Everett has no idea and I don’t even pretend to assume what the King knows but I’ll say it’s a safe bet.”
“Why haven’t you done something then?” Steve inquires and Tony shrugs as much as he can.
“The Avengers were never meant to be without some form of oversight. I thought that Nick wouldn’t go much further than what he did the first time around but clearly I didn’t give that pirate enough credit. He must have been salivating at the thought of granting you asylum. You must have been so grateful.” Tony shakes his head with a scoff, and Steve’s silently grateful that the conversation has shifted from them into something much safer to discuss.
“We’ve been helping people.”
“No you haven’t Steve. You’ve been helping Fury."
“Fury’s heart is in the right place Tony. You’ve worked with him, you know that. He stood against Hydra.”
“And I’m sure he hasn’t let you forget that.” Comes the sarcastic reply. “Steve, isn’t it about time that you acknowledged that the world doesn’t cater to your black and white ‘Us vs. Hydra’ mentality?”
“Fury is one of the good guys.” Steve defends instantly and Tony shakes his head with a serious look on his face.
“Fury is what he is.” He says firmly. “He isn’t good and he isn’t bad. He’s what he is and he does what he needs to do just like anyone else. Don’t paint him as your savior or as some bleeding heart. Or have you forgotten that Fury was fine with Project Insight and using it against his enemies. He only brought it down when he realized it was going to be used against him.” Steve wants to argue against that, say how Tony wasn’t there so he can’t really understand what they went through. “Steve, how many times do I have to tell you that the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ does not actually mean that someone is your friend or even your ally?” It’s a familiar talk, one they had several years ago when Wanda first wanted to join them after Ultron. Steve had argued that she’d seen the light and joined the good guys in the end and Tony had been a lot more pragmatic saying that saving her own skin didn’t make her their ally. Tony’d been overruled in the end, and Steve had put that conversation out of his mind until now.
“Fury’s been good to us.” He says instead of anything else and Tony shakes his head.
“Fury’s been good to Fury, and don’t ever let him tell you otherwise.” Tony tugs at the bindings. “Now my patience has its limits. I want my clock and I want you to let me go.”
“I can’t do that yet.” Tony just sighs and looks at him.
“What’s the plan Steve? You’re just going to hold me here? Force me to sing Kumbaya with you and braid each other’s hair? It might be a little complicated you know, with the whole ‘kidnapping’ part of this.”
“Look, we’ve got a mission that finishes up soon. We’ll let you go then.”
“I could care less about your mission, I just want my stuff and I want to get the information I came for.”
“I can’t let you go yet.” Steve lets those words get infused with the apology he wants to say along with them.
“You know that the others are going to come looking for me, just let me go and I’ll call them off.”
“I’m sorry Tony, I can’t trust that you’ll do that.”
“And what’s the alternative Steve? Just let them come in here guns blazing? If you keep me here they’re going to come and mess up your precious little mission anyways.” Steve shakes his head.
“We’ll handle it when it comes.”
“See! That! That right there is why you feel like you don’t have any other choice than the ones that present themselves later. You’re always waiting for the fight to come, you’re always reacting instead of being fucking proactive.”
“Maybe you should have stuck around and that wouldn’t happen.” Steve says and Tony doesn’t back down.
“Maybe you should have sucked up your stupid ego and come back.” Steve takes a second after the words leave the brunet’s mouth and he shakes his head.
“It’s too late to go back now Tony and you know it.”
“I know that you’re a fucking coward.”
“Reinforcements are going to be on their way sooner or later. I’m actually surprised that they haven’t shown up already.” Clint says as he does the necessary checks on his bow, preparing for the inevitable battle that’s coming their way.
“If they know, then they’re probably trying to sort out a plan of attack and locate where Tony is.” Sam says and Natasha doesn’t join the conversation, choosing instead to continue leaning against the closed door and eavesdrop on the two men’s conversation on the other side.
“Have you told Fury that he’s here yet?” Clint asks and Natasha gives him a short nod. “What did he say?”
“He told me not to leave them in a room together.” Clint tilts his head at the reply.
“He didn’t want Stark talking to Rogers. He didn’t want him to get under his skin and confuse him.”
“How would Stark confuse Steve?” Wanda asks and Clint knows instantly what Fury was getting at.
“Stark’s the only one who has ever been able to change Steve’s mind about something, the only one who can get him to question everything.” Clint shakes his head with a snort. “Stark’s the only one Steve listens to without realizing that he’s listening to him at all.”
“So if Fury said not to let them talk…why are they in there and we’re out here?” Sam asks and Natasha just gives him a look, before bringing a finger up to her lips in the ‘shh’ position. Everyone wisely chooses not to ask what the Russian is up to and continues with their preparations. “Do you think that one of us should go down the hall and ask the guy about the clock?” Sam asks a few minutes later and they all look at him. “I mean, Tony doesn’t know anything and he was here to visit that guy so maybe the answers aren’t with Tony but with that professor guy.” Clint sends Natasha a quick glance.
“Do you think he knew that Tony Stark was supposed to be the one to visit?”
“Tony doesn’t give out his itinerary so flippantly so I’d bet against it. And even if he did it would be easy to swing a story that Tony was unavailable and sent someone else instead.” Natasha answers him and they all take a moment to think it over before Clint nods in Natasha’s direction and she knocks on the door. “We’re coming in.” She announces seconds before twisting the knob and entering.
Steve’s sitting on the bed next to Stark and glances up at them when they enter. There’s a splash of color on his face, a clench in his fists and an almost defiant light to his eyes that Clint and the others haven’t seen outside the mission for a while now. The empty ghost that’s been wearing Steve’s body seems to be affected by whatever conversation the two men were having and Clint kind of hates Stark for being the one to shake the Captain awake in so short an amount of time. Not when they’ve been trying everything for months with no success.
“Romanoff.” Stark greets, ignoring the other members of his old team as they enter and Natasha inclines to him.
“I take it these are your addition to this cluster-fuck of an idea? They look like your kind of thing.” He tugs at the ties and Natasha doesn’t even look the slightest bit remorseful.
“Does he know that you’re coming?” Natasha asks suddenly and Stark pauses. She looks at his face, reading something there before nodding. “He doesn’t does he? You were just going to drop in.”
“What does that matter?”
“I just wanted to know if he was expecting someone.” Stark shakes his head, instantly catching onto the previously agreed upon plan.
“Don’t…just…for god’s sake. Let me go. I’ll go down the hall and I won’t darken your doorstep again. You can finish up whatever illegal SHIELD thing that you’re here to do and we’ll all go on our merry little ways.” Clint’s not surprised that Stark knows about SHIELD, although he can tell that Sam and Wanda are.
“We can’t do that.” Steve says, and he says it with a healthy amount of exasperated frustration, like he’s been saying it for a while now.
“Why not? It makes more sense!”
“We cannot trust you Stark.” Wanda says and Stark gives her a look that would have killed her if it had been able to.
“What information would you like me to get?” Natasha interrupts, pulling the attention back to herself. “You tell me what you want and I give you my word, you’ll have it.”
“I don’t know what I want, I just wanted to talk to him. I can’t tell you what to get I have to be there.”
“I’ve seen the files, I know the overall ideas behind your visit today.” She offers and starts to tug her hair up into a ponytail. She does a few small changes and it’s so simple to realize why the Black Widow can still walk amongst civilians without anyone being none the wiser. “I’ll get you what you want to know and then some.” She makes eye contact with the brunet and seems to promise him that and Stark shakes his head.
“Nat…Nat just let me go. Hell if you’re all so curious I’ll even let you come with me just so we can put this whole thing behind us.” Stark is starting to sound a little desperate and Natasha glances at Steve for a moment. Steve shakes his head at her silent inquiry and she nods.
“I’ll be right back.” She says before she grabs a jacket and the empty suitcase and walks out of the room. There’s a few moments between her departure from the bedroom and the sound of the front door opening and closing. Stark struggles a little on the bed for a moment before letting out an angry huff of air.
“Okay, I’m done playing around with you guys.” He starts, frustration coloring his words. “Let me go right now. I get it, you thought I was here to hurt you or something equally ridiculous, but clearly I’m not. It’s time to let me leave.”
“I’m sorry Tony…I promise it’ll just be a little while.” Steve tries to use a light voice to calm the agitated brunet down. “Are you hungry? I can send Sam and Clint to go get you something to eat.” It’s clear that Steve’s first priority is letting Stark know that they’re going to take care of him, keep him as comfortable as possible. Clint’s not a hundred percent sure that’s necessary, the billionaire has had much worse kidnappings before this and Clint knows that he’ll be fine.
“I’m only going to ask this final time Rogers. Let me go.”
“Tony-” Stark nods, before Steve even has a chance to say whatever placating words that were going to come out of his mouth.
“FRIDAY CODE RE-” Stark starts to shout out and Steve moves fast, but not fast enough as he covers Stark’s mouth. There’s some muffled shouting under Steve’s hand as Stark thrashes as much as he can and the phone on the nightstand which had been inactive up till that moment lights up for a second before going dark again. Steve looks at Sam and points to it before making a ‘get rid of it’ motion. When Sam’s out of the room with the device, Clint looks at Steve.
“Shit.” He says as he runs a hand through his hair. “If they weren’t on their way before they are now.”
“There’s a chance that they don’t know where we’re holding him.” Steve says with a healthy amount of hopeful naivety.
“They’ll figure it out pretty quickly, and it won’t take long for his AI or War Machine to arrive as backup.” Clint shakes his head. “And something says this one’s going to tip them off if we don’t keep him quiet.” Stark levels a glare at Clint and mumbles something under Steve’s hand that Clint has no doubt is not friendly.
“I can take care of that.” Wanda offers, her magic pooling around her fingers as she steps forward, causing a look of honest fear to cross Stark’s face that makes Clint’s stomach do something uncomfortable. Luckily, Steve speaks up before he can stop the girl from approaching the other.
“No. There’s been enough of that.” Steve says and his tone is firm in a way that Clint hasn’t heard it in a while. “Will you be quiet?” He asks down to the brunet and the obvious ‘fuck you’ from under his hand answer the question. “Tony.” Steve pleads and Stark gives him a look like ‘What?’ complete with all the snark that he can manage in his current predicament.
“I’m on it.” Clint says with a sigh, moving over to where Natasha’s duffel lies and tugs it open. Most men fear what a woman keeps in her bag on a normal day, and Clint just wants to laugh at those men and show them Nat’s and watch them piss themselves. He digs around for what he’s looking for, before turning around with the roll of duct tape as he rips off a piece. “This will work for now.” He comes over and Stark is clearly not pleased with their chosen method of keeping him silent with how much he struggles and curses them out before they get it on him. “There, I like him better already.” Clint jokes and Stark gives him a dark look before flipping him the bird. Clint turns to Steve. “We need to be ready, they’re going to come in hot.” Steve nods and stands.
“I know, so let’s get ready.”
Thank you for all the lovely reviews! Please keep them coming!
“Alright, we’re done for today.” Rhodes calls over the speakers into the training area as he starts to power the system down. He glances up a few times through the window during the process to see the Vision congratulating the kids on another training exercise well done. They’re getting much better at communication and feeling out each other’s patterns and strengths, Rhodes figures that it won’t be much longer before the Junior Avengers work together better than the Avengers themselves. Rhodes pulls himself away from the control panel and wheels out of the room to intercept the group as they come up the hall. “Looking good out there.” He praises and he gets several exhausted smiles in response.
“Hey, can we get pizza?” Are the first words spoken to him and the other three teenagers perk up at Peter’s suggestion, before turning to Rhodes with hopeful doe eyes.
“Can we?” Harley asks, and Rhodes gives up wondering why Tony can never say no to these little con-artists.
“Geniuses can’t live on pizza alone.” Rhodes answers, trying to sound all knowledgeable and sagely while smiling inwardly at the memory of saying similar words to Tony once upon a time when they were kids. “You need healthier food; you know the food pyramid? Ever heard of it?”
“Bread is one of the levels.” Kamala says, grabbing a towel and wiping the sweat off her face. The three boys nods along with her statement, already jumping on the bandwagon of proving Rhodes wrong in his claim that pizza is not a viable health food choice.
“It’s got vegetables if we add peppers or mushrooms to it.” Dante makes a face as Peter mentions the mushrooms, but he doesn’t speak up against it. “Not to mention it’s made with tomato sauce. So you know, it’s got the fruit requirement.”
“Tomatoes are a vegetable.” Harley says with a kind of sigh and Peter shakes his head.
“Not according to science. It’s a fruit.”
“I dare you to drink tomato sauce like a smoothie and you tell me if it’s a fruit or not!”
“I’ll take that dare, ever heard of V8?”
“It’s a vegetable! Besides even science experts get things wrong, according to science Pluto isn’t even a planet anymore.” Peter pulls back with a look of sheer horror on his face.
“You take that back! You’ve gone too far!” The two boys devolve into a silly show of slapping hands at each other. Which is even more hilarious to watch since Harley is still in his new Rescue armor, not that any of them call it that instead choosing to refer to the boy as ‘Iron Lad’ in practice, something that Tony finds beyond hilarious and Rhodes is starting to wonder if the moniker is going to stick someday soon.
“Viz, back me up here.” Rhodes says with false exasperation at the teens antics and the android looks at him.
“I feel that the Colonel is trying to express the concern for your growing bodies and the nutrition required by them that is not present in your current dinner choice.” Rhodes nods.
“Exactly, thank you.”
“However, since it has been a while since you have ordered pizza after a training session I see no immediate harm in the possibility of allowing it today.” The four kids whoop in success and surround the Vision like he’s just been accepted into their tribe and Rhodes throws his hands up.
“Vision, you traitor!” He says with no actual reprimand and the Vision gets a small smile as he shrugs.
“What are we talking about?” Laura asks as she approaches the group, shifting Nathaniel on her hip and Peter gives her a sunny grin.
“We’re trying to debunk the, frankly outrageous, myth that ‘man cannot live on pizza alone’.” He says, shooting a glance in Rhodes’s direction just so that she knows without a doubt who said it originally. Laura gets a small smile at the declaration of intent.
“I see, and how’s the case coming?” The teenagers instantly start jumping into long rambles about why they should be allowed pizza every day, and how pizza is the food of champions “Are you saying we’re not champions Rhodey?” And how Rhodes is an evil heathen for ever suggesting the opposite.
Laura looks at Rhodes with an amused arched eyebrow and Rhodes shrugs helplessly, trying and failing to hide his grin.
‘Colonel Rhodes, Code Red.’ FRIDAY comes over the speakers and the hall goes eerily silent for a few seconds before Rhodes is hitting the button on his wheelchair, releasing the braces and standing up.
“Vision, you’ve got the Compound.” Rhodes delegates immediately and the other man nods as the kids step forward with confusion on their faces.
“Code Red? What’s that mean?” Kamala asks as Dante speaks up after her.
“Has something happened?”
“Can we help? We can help.” Peter says bare moments later and Rhodes shakes his head.
“I know you can, but I need you to stay here. We’ll be back before you know it, but you’ve all got the Compound.” It’s clear in their faces that they know that Rhodes is placating them, but Laura steps in and starts to usher them down the hallway towards the showers. Vision makes eye contact with Rhodes before nodding and going after Laura.
Rhodes turns and heads to the armor bay, entering just at the moment that a golden portal manifests and Stephen steps through.
“What’s happened?” He asks, his face all business and Rhodes steps over to the screens that have come online.
“FRIDAY initiated a Code Red, Tony’s been kidnapped.” Stephen’s shoulders go back and the cape adjusts itself in its own show of aggravation to the news. “FRIDAY, where’s Carol?”
‘Captain Danvers is in route to the Compound as we speak. ETA one minute.’ Rhodes steps over to the computers and puts in the code for the desired War Machine Armor and he watches as the plates on the wall slide back and the suit emerges.
“FRIDAY, get in contact with Everett. We need to let the Council know what’s happened and give them a heads up on our intent to mobilize.”
‘Contacting Everett Ross.’ The bay doors open during FRIDAY’s words as Carol comes to a landing.
“What do we know?” She asks, her tone firm and commanding.
‘Initial scans of the area indicate that Boss has been taken captive by Mr. Rogers and his team.’ Rhodes clenches his fist as the images of how Tony walked away from his last interaction with Rogers crosses his mind, and he has to let out an angry exhale.
“Son-of-a…Do we know where they are right now?”
‘Mr. Wilson has removed me from the apartment complex, but I have the last known location of Mr. Stark.’ The computer’s servers come online and project a 3D image of the apartment building that Tony had gone to earlier.
“I knew someone should have gone with him. What are the chances that Rogers and his cult followers would be there?” Rhodes has to hold back the anger flowing through him, “If they’ve hurt him in some way…” He lets the threat trail off and he’s not surprised at all to see Carol and Stephen give him nods in acknowledgement to his words and their approval of it. The elevator down to the lab chimes and Bruce steps out when the doors open, pushing his glasses up on his face.
“FRIDAY just told me what happened,” He opens with before he takes in the 3D model and the small red dot that showcases Tony’s last known whereabouts. “So they’ve kidnapped Tony? Why?”
“Who knows; maybe they’re still angry about the Accords, maybe they’re still angry about Ross, maybe they’re just grade A dicks and they don’t have a single brain cell to share between them.” Rhodes hisses out. Carol reaches out and places a hand on his shoulder to calm some of the jittery nerves running through him.
“We’re going to find him, and we’re going to get him back.” She promises and Rhodes nods after a moment.
‘I have Everett on the line.’ FRIDAY interrupts and Carol turns back to the screens.
“Put him through.” She waits till she sees the image pop up of Everett on the screen. “Sir.”
“Avengers.” He greets before looking down at his tablet. “I’ve just received the Intent to Mobilize and we are in contact with the local government as we speak. Do we have any word from Mr. Rogers or his camp? Have they made any demands or do we know anything on the current state of Mr. Stark?”
“There’s been no communication at this time other than Tony’s distress call.” Rhodes answers and an unhappy frown crosses the other man’s face.
“I’m putting through the information to the local police in the area.” He looks at another screen before glancing back at them. “They are expressing concern over an Avenger showdown in their city, and are wondering if they should start evacuating?”
“We’re not looking to get into a fistfight either, our priority is retrieving our captured member.” Carol says smoothly.
“But in all theory it could devolve into one?” Everett says and Carol does a short nod.
“In all theory sir, yes it could. If you have any other ideas, we are open to negotiation with our strategy.” She offers and Everett takes a second before looking up at Bruce.
“Mr. Banner, do you believe that your presence might prevent a breakout altercation with the ex-Avenger team?” Bruce gets a surprised look on his face as he shuffles forward.
“Sir?” Everett nods to him and Bruce pauses for a moment to think it over. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen or spoken to Rogers or his team, and I doubt that a fight with the other guy is something that they would want to have to deal with.”
“Do you think your presence might be enough to dissuade them from fighting entirely?”
“Honestly? No I don’t. I don’t disagree that it might make Steve and them think twice before doing anything, but they believe that they’re backed in a corner, who knows what they’re willing to justify at this time.”
“I believe that negotiation is our safest bet in this case. While the capture of Mr. Rogers and his team is a priority of this council, it’s not worth the potential civilian casualties or the loss of Mr. Stark. I’ll send word and you have the green light to go in. Bring our man back.” They all nod to his order.
“Yes sir. Thank you for your assistance in this matter.” Rhodes says and Everett inclines before the call ends.
“Do you think it wise to go in there Bruce?” Carol turns to the doctor, who seems to take a moment before nodding.
“I think I’ve got the best chance of actually talking before Rogers and them start swinging. They know me, they know that I’d rather have a peaceful ending then…well the alternative.” Bruce gets a small, secret little smile at that and Carol nods, turning to Stephen.
“You’ll be his backup. If the Witch is there, we’ll need you.”
“Understood,” Stephen turns to Bruce, who tries to hide his uncertainty behind cleaning his glasses. “If you’re concerned about the other guy, remember I can assist with that.” Bruce doesn’t say anything in response but there’s a tension in his shoulders that goes away a little at the remembrance of the Mirror Dimension and its ability to hold the Hulk without actual damage to the world around them.
“Alright, let’s head out.” Rhodes nods at Carol’s order as he steps over to the War Machine Armor and lets it close around him.
It’s nerve wracking, waiting for the other Avengers to arrive. Sam glances out the door and down the hallway before pulling his head back in. Natasha still hasn’t returned and Sam is silently hoping that she gets back before this whole thing goes down. He taps the earpiece.
“Not yet, give it time.” The archer’s voice sounds calm, but Sam knows that under that façade Clint’s also worried about how bad this is all going to get. Wanda tugs on her signature red jacket and pulls her hair out from under the collar with a huff of irritation as she glances in the room where Steve is standing guard over Tony.
“We should leave him.” She says with a shake of her head. “The others are on their way, he would be found instantly.”
“You know why we can’t.” Sam answers. “Steve doesn’t want to take the chance that someone else stumbles across Tony before they get here.” There’s a look that crosses the Sokovian’s face and Sam doesn’t need his experience as a group councilor to know that look. “It wasn’t Tony’s fault what happened to us. You know that Wanda, and letting something bad happen to him won’t fix anything.” He knows he’s hit it right on the head with how the girl looks away. Wanda’s discussed her problems with Tony before, loudly at times and well within the billionaire’s earshot, and Sam’s tried to navigate that field of mines but he’s never really sure that he gets through to her for any extended period of time.
“I just…don’t understand why Steve bothers, why he doesn’t just wash his hands of Stark.” She says after a few minutes and Sam follows her glance to the room where Steve has lowered himself to his knees by the bed and is speaking to Tony in quiet whispers.
“They’re friends Wanda. They’ve been friends for years.”
“They’ve never struck me as very friendly to each other.” Sam takes a moment before answering.
“They’ve got their own issues, same as the rest of us; but at the end of the day, they were still really good friends.”
“But no longer.” Wanda says and it doesn’t sound like a question. “Stark’s feelings on Steve don’t feel like he still considers him a friend.” Sam frowns and looks at the small brunet.
“What makes you say that?”
“I saw a glimpse of it in Stark’s mind.”
“Was this when you were finding out about the clock? Because in and out, you weren’t supposed to go digging for anything else.” There’s a slight reprimand to Sam’s words and Wanda’s shoulders go back defensively.
“I got the information, and it’s not that simple. Things are not like a computer, not even in Stark’s mind. Everything is inter-wound together. I could not ignore it with the restrictions that Steve requested of me.” Sam takes a moment, and he sighs with a shake of his head.
“Well, regardless of how Tony feels, Steve still feels like they are.” He says instead, taking the conversation away from potentially dangerous options. Sam knows that Tony is a highly private person who likes to play things close to the chest, as curious as Sam is to how the brunet thinks, he won’t add that infraction on top of all the others they’ve done tonight to him. “It makes things complicated and messy, but that’s just how it is.” Wanda plays with the seams on her jacket, before looking back into the room at the two.
“…he thinks we betrayed him. He thinks that all of you never cared about him, that we all just used him. Just like everyone always does…he thinks himself so foolish for believing that we were family.” She shakes her head at her own words. “How could he get it so backwards? Us betray him? He locked us up. We were the ones betrayed that day. And still he hunts us while he proclaims that we’re the monsters?” Sam cringes for a second, before taking a deep breath.
“Is he wrong Wanda?” He asks. “Is he really?”
“What do you mean?” Wanda glances at him with confusion written all over her face and it makes her look so young.
“Wanda…Tony could have caught us anytime he wanted, but he hasn’t.” She goes to say something and Sam holds up a finger to say to give him a moment to finish. “Wanda, realize that Tony has always been in an uphill battle- that no matter how smart he is or how powerful or really anything else that he can give, he’s losing it.” Wanda shakes her head, still not understanding, so Sam tries another angle. “How do you think the Civil War looked to him? He’s spent years covering for us, taking care of us, making sure we’ve wanted and needed for nothing- he’s staked his life, his company, hell everything he has really on us. Then when he needed us, when he just needed us to listen…we didn’t.” Wanda bites her lip in thought.
“You sound like you regret it.”
“I do. Every damn day.”
“Then why have you not signed the Accords and returned to his side?”
“I won’t leave you guys.” Sam answers honestly. “I’ve made my bed, now I gotta sleep in it. We all do.”
“But you think we were wrong?” She ventures.
“…I think a lot of it could have been prevented if we weren’t so puffed up on our own stupidity and our constant need to win.” Sam answers slowly while Wanda crosses her arms and Sam can’t help but already be wondering if what he’s said has even made a dent.
“He attacked Steve.” She says eventually, and it almost sounds like she’s already building up the foundation of ‘Evil Dictator Tony Stark’ that seems to be a constant in her personality these days. It sounds like she hasn’t heard a word he’s said.
“I’m surprised.” She looks at him. “What would you have done Wanda? If you found out what he did? What would you have done in that moment?” Sam doesn’t need to ask what she did- the whole world knows what she did to get back at the man that she held responsible for her parent’s death.
“It is not the same, Stark never claimed to be my friend.” She argues and Sam shakes his head.
“No offense, but I’d argue that makes it worse. Not better.”
“Heads up. The jet has arrived.” Clint cuts through their conversation and Sam feels the adrenalin start to race. He hopes that they make it out of this intact.
Steve lowers himself to his knees beside the bed currently containing the other man in the room. He lets out a sigh and runs a hand through his hair.
“I’m sorry Tony. I didn’t want…this isn’t how I wanted to see you again.” Steve says as he reaches out towards him. Tony turns his head away from him and Steve’s hand freezes in the air before he lets it drop back to his side. “I know you probably don’t believe me, you probably don’t believe anything I’m saying, but it’s true.” Steve sighs. “I’ve missed you Tony…that’s the honest to God truth. I can’t…I can’t think of a day that something’s happened and my first thought hasn’t been to call you just to tell you about it.” Steve gets a small smile as Tony looks back to him. “I sit in those meetings with Fury and I just think about how if you were there you’d be playing that ridiculous game of ‘Let’s get Fury to lose control and want to strangle you’…it’s…it’s weird the things you miss.” Steve shakes his head, letting out a soft chuckle. “Did you know that I used to get so frustrated in meetings when you would do that? I used to think that you just needed to be the loudest mouth in the room. I used to wish that you’d just stop it and be an adult…Now I just sit there and wish I could see it again…even if just one last time. I still glance to the chair that you’d be in if you were there and I feel like…like I’ve lost something…something very…someone very important to me.” Steve looks down at the floor. “Someone I lost because of my own arrogance and blindness…and I’m so, so sorry for that.” Steve shakes his head in an attempt to push the melancholy that has been so present these last months away. “But maybe you’re right. Heck what am I saying, of course you are.” He gets a slight snort from Tony and he looks up. “Maybe I just feel guilty…maybe I’ve only been feeling for myself in this whole thing.” It’s clear that Tony doesn’t fully understand what Steve’s getting at, so he clarifies. “I miss you, but I’ve waited for you to call me. I’m the idiot who allowed Siberia to happen and yet I keep waiting for you to fix what I’ve done because that’s what you do, you’ve always fixed things…and I just expected you to fix this…but that was wrong of me.” Steve slowly reaches up and tugs the tape off and Tony just makes a face at the tug on his facial hair. “I want you to know – no, I need you to know, that I don’t know how it’ll happen, but I still believe that someday we’re going to find our way back to each other.”
“Steve”- Tony starts to say but Steve shakes his head.
“But maybe the reason why we haven’t isn’t because of you.” Steve gets a sad smile. “Maybe it’s because of me. You…sometimes I watch the news and I see you on there, I see you with your new team and I get…I feel angry because it feels wrong. I feel like that should be us up there, but you…you’ve done amazing things Tony, heck you’ve done better than I have. I’m sorry…about all this…about everything…I’m so sorry Tony.”
“Heads up, the jet has arrived.” Steve lets out a quiet sigh.
“Your team is here. The jet’s just landed.”
“Steve…don’t turn this into a fight.” Is Tony’s soft request. “Let me go. Let me stop this before it gets out of hand.”
“Aren’t we a little past all of that?”
“No.” Tony’s voice is firm and it drags Steve’s eyes to him. “It’s never too fucking late to change direction. I have to believe that…and who knows, maybe it’s time you started thinking that way too.”
“They’re here to take us in Tony, I won’t have them put the team back in the RAFT, I won’t see Wanda in that collar again.”
“Okay, first things first- I designed that collar with Vision. Do you think he would have ever helped design something that would have hurt her in any way?”
“Why were you even designing something like that in the first place?” There’s a little bit of frustration that leaks into his words at the question because what was Tony even thinking creating a weapon against one of his own?
“Because she was having issues controlling her power and she was scared!” Tony snaps back, a defensive tone to his voice. “So we thought if we could come up with a way to dampen it she might learn control at a speed that she was more comfortable with, instead of constantly struggling with the whole thing all at once.” Steve shakes his head.
“But look how it was used Tony, look how they used it- you gave it to Ross.”
“You were the one who brought Wanda in. You were the one who took her from her home and put her in his path. He wanted to use sedatives to keep her under, I offered a better solution.” Tony shakes his head. “Now, I’m trying to offer you a better solution.” Steve takes a moment before he nods and reaches out, snapping the ties on Tony’s legs one by one before leaning up and breaking the ones on Tony’s wrists, gently rubbing the red lines as he frees him. “Where’s my phone?” Tony asks as he stands to his feet and Steve glances around.
“Um…I don’t…I told Sam to get rid of it so…it’s probably not around anymore.” There’s a polite knock at the front door and everyone turns to look towards it.
“Clint?” Steve asks over the com to only silence. The knock comes again a few moments later, and Sam slowly steps for the door.
“I hope I didn’t come at a bad time.” Comes a familiar voice and both Steve and Tony step out of the room, Steve getting a surprised look on his face when he sees the man standing in the open door.
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They’re slightly regretting the request to FRIDAY to give them a 3-D layout of the room that Tony was being kept in. Realistically speaking, on some level they had to know that it was going to be bad. There was no way that Tony was just sitting around while the ex-Avengers stood by. However, to actually see the ten seconds of footage looped is like a visual representation of nails on a chalkboard. It makes them all cringe and want to lash out and stop it.
In the recording, Tony struggles helplessly against his bindings as Captain America covers his mouth and motions for the phone to go, before the loop plays again and they’re stuck watching their friend’s futile fight over and over.
Bruce has turned away, walking into the back of the plane to meditate to calm down his nerves. Stephen almost joins him, but he can’t take his eyes away from the image being played. He looks at the other people in the room who react along with Rogers and Tony. Hawkeye’s face becomes a mask of disbelief and rage, the Scarlet Witch’s hands come up as if she’s going to intervene and the lack of footage after her step forward worries him. It’s the only thing that worries him more than Captain America’s own face. The look of cool, detached frustration that he has while holding Tony down is rage inducing.
Rhodes has become strangely calm, more so since he’s seen the recording, and it’s clear that he’s slipped into his role as leader, as they desperately need him to right now.
“Until we know otherwise, we are to assume that Black Widow is present as well.” Rhodes glances down towards Bruce, being the second person to successfully take their eyes off the recording. “Are you prepared for that Dr. Banner?” There’s a moment before Bruce nods and Rhodes accepts it easily. “My guess is that they’re going to have Hawkeye, and possibly Falcon, watching out for us. We’ll do a scan the moment we land.”
“Thank you FRIDAY.” Rhodes says and the recording cuts off as they approach their destination. It takes a moment before Rhodes finds a suitable roof to hold the plane without concern and he navigates them to it.
‘Colonel. I detect SHIELD communications in the area.’ FRIDAY offers up as they land the plane.
“Pull up locations?” A new hologram pulls up and displays the areas. There’s an extra one a few doors down from where three dots huddle in a room and Stephen guesses that must be Romanoff. He also guesses that she’s taken over Tony’s meeting in some way, shape or form.
“We should shut communications between them down.” Carol says and Rhodes nods.
“Agreed. FRIDAY, if you’d please.”
‘On it.’ There’s a brief moment before the red dots turn green. ‘Communications blocked.’
“Alright, Bruce and Stephen you’re up.” They nod and all move to the opening door, stepping out into the roof. There’s a brief moment of silence before the whistling sound of an arrow and then a metallic thunk of it hitting the outside of the WarMachine armor. “Are you kidding me? EMP arrow. Too bad for you Tony’s already fixed that little weakness.” WarMachine’s head snaps over to the roof where Hawkeye is already on the move. “Captain with me. You two, go get Tony.” Stephen nods and creates a portal that takes them to the top of the roof that they need to be at. Bruce and him share a look before stepping through.
“Doctor Banner?” Steve can’t help the surprise in his voice, or the confusion at seeing the man standing in their doorway. Bruce walks into the room, glancing around at everyone before looking at Tony who has come to stand beside Steve. There’s another man who enters the room after Bruce and Steve almost doesn’t recognize him without the signature red cape that he’s seen images of over SHIELD databases.
“Hey guys.” Tony says with false cheer in his voice as he does a little wave and Bruce gives him a tiny nod.
“Are you alright?” Tony gives him a shrug.
“I’m alive. I guess that’ll have to do.” Bruce looks at Steve, and Steve isn’t sure how to handle the cool detachment that the doctor’s look holds for him.
“We’ll be leaving now.” He holds out a hand, “Tony,” and Tony goes over and lets the other man do a quick glance over before seeming satisfied that Steve and them haven’t harmed him in some physical way.
“Doctor Banner?” Steve says, halting the three men who were preparing to leave. “When did you get back?”
“Shortly after Tony’s return from Siberia.” There’s an echo of chill in Bruce’s voice directed at Steve for that.
“They forced you to sign the Accords?” Wanda says, sounding disbelieving and skeptical all at once. Like she can’t process how someone with Bruce’s power can be forced into doing something he doesn’t want to do. Bruce barely spares her a glance and it seems more out of the polite curtesy that the doctor always had for everyone than an actual desire to engage with the woman.
“I signed the Accords willingly.” The statement takes Steve aback.
“But…why would you of all people sign them? Especially with your own personal history with Secretary Ross? Why would you ever want to be commanded by him?” He gets three separate looks at his question. The Sorcerer fellow gives him a look like he’s the dumbest creature to ever attempt to crawl out of the primordial ooze, Tony gives him a look like ‘drop it’, and Bruce tilts his head like he doesn’t understand the question.
“The Accords protects me from Ross and people like him.” Steve shakes his head at Bruce’s words and takes a step forward, only to halt at the flash of green in the other man’s irises. An obvious warning.
“I know that they might have sold you on that, but Dr. Banner that isn’t true.”
“If you’ll forgive me Steve, but I think you don’t have the slightest idea what you’re talking about.” Bruce cuts him off calmly. “Now, regardless of that. We’re going to leave now, because I doubt that you’re going to give yourselves up to the law that you have so flamboyantly and flippantly disregarded and flaunted, and we do not wish to put the lives of these good people around us in danger from your antics and our attempts to arrest you.”
“We don’t deserve to be in jail.” Wanda snaps and Bruce sighs before shaking his head and turning around. They’re barely to the door when it opens before them and Natasha is standing there. She doesn’t look surprised or concerned, going so far as to get a small little smile for the Doctor.
“Natasha.” He greets, and it’s not as awkward as Steve might have thought it would be the first time those two have crossed paths in all these years. Natasha steps into the room and closes the door behind her, placing herself in front of it in a silent challenge that they’ll have to go through her to get out. Steve knows that Bruce and Tony won’t do anything of the sort but he doesn’t trust the Sorcerer who has taken to Tony’s side as if he’s ready to battle all of them single-handedly to protect his teammates.
“How are things?” She asks, holding out the suitcase that Steve guesses holds the clock to Bruce. The Doctor takes it before laying it on the floor between him and Tony and Tony picks it up.
“Could be better.” She turns her attention to Tony. “And could be a lot worse. We need to talk.” She sends a glance down at the suitcase. “We really need to talk.”
“Schedule an appointment with my secretary.” Comes Tony’s glib response.
“Tony.” Comes out of Steve’s lips in reprimand on instinct and for a moment it reminds Steve so much of old times that it’s heartbreaking, well like old times except for the look that the Sorcerer sends his way. Natasha shakes her head.
“Tony, we need to talk now.” Tony goes to say something and Natasha just looks him straight in the eye. “Paladin.” There’s a weight to how she says the seemingly random word and Tony’s shoulders immediately go back. He just stares at her for a few moments and she returns his gaze unflinching.
“Okay.” He says a second later. “Fine. Come with us.”
“Not gonna happen.” Sam interjects and Natasha holds up a hand to cut him off.
“Rules apply?” She asks, looking at Tony and Tony nods.
“On my word, rules still fully apply.”
“To the jet then?”
“To the jet.” Tony nods and motions for her to go first. Natasha opens the door behind her before looking at Steve.
“I’ll be right back.”
“Natasha.” Steve doesn’t add the ‘are you crazy’ to the question because his tone is clearly broadcasting it.
“I’ll be fine Steve. Stay here.” She turns and leaves the room, the three men following behind her. There’s a moment of silence before Sam speaks.
“Okay…what the hell just happened?” Steve shakes his head.
“I don’t know, but we trust Natasha’s call. We stay put for now.”
There are so many people who say that Tony Stark has no patience. Rhodey really wants to subject them all to Clint Barton, and then just let them be amazed that Tony has not punched this jerk in the years that he’s known him. The metal cuffs hold tightly, despite all of Clint’s training and the archer has gone from ‘stoic silence as I get free’ to ‘I’m going to annoy the ever-living fuck out of each and every one of you’.
The portal opens at the base of the plane and Rhodey’s heart relaxes a little bit. He watches as Stephen and Bruce come through, and pauses when he sees Tony come out on the other side with Natasha’s arm wrapped in his.
“That’s useful.” She says as she comes up the walkway with them and Tony lets go with a shrug.
“So it would seem. So, what’s going on?” Tony says as Rhodey steps forward.
“I’d like to know the same thing.” He goes to reach for the cuffs to hold the red-haired spy but Tony shakes his head.
“Don’t.” His statement makes Rhodey look at him like he’s crazy.
“Don’t. We’re not taking her in, and we’re not going to do anything to her right now.”
“Why the heck not?” Rhodes asks, wondering what on earth the female spy could have possibly said to get Tony singing such a tune.
“Code Phrase.” Tony says and it makes Rhodey take a step back reluctantly with a small curse. Tony turns to Natasha and motions for her to go.
“I put the notes in the suitcase with the information that he gave me,” she tells Tony and he nods. “but the things that he mentioned…I’ve heard things about it before.”
“Back in the Red Room.” The words weigh heavily on those who understand the title’s importance.
“The Red Room? What could that possibly have anything to do with Maria?” Rhodey asks and Natasha shrugs.
“I’m not sure how Maria Stark is involved, but there were rumors. Experiments done, tests laid out. All of them failures.” Natasha shook her head. “The final test was the class before mine. The Matrons thought that they’d all be unbreakable but each one died. Afterwards no one was permitted to discuss it…but people talk, rumors travel. We were spies, it was our job to overhear these things.”
“Nat. Nat you don’t have to tell these people anything.” Clint snaps, seeing the faraway look that overtakes the spy’s face for a moment.
“I offered.” She says with a shake of her head and Tony sighs.
“No…No he’s right. You don’t have to pull up those memories for anyone, especially not for me. You’ve given me the notes; you did what you promised you’d do. If you want, you can walk out now and we’ll be solid.” She gives him a small smile.
“Thank you, but no. This is too important.” Tony motions to one of the chairs and she comes over, taking a seat and Tony takes the one next to her. The others settle around them and wait for the Widow to start speaking again. “Back in the beginning, Hydra was not the only sect to join its flag with the Nazi regime. There was another group.” She looks at Tony. “You’ve heard of the Thule Society yes?” Tony frowns at the name.
“The German occultists?”
“One in the same.”
“I mean; I’ve heard of them. Never really looked too far into them. Probably should now that I’m thinking about it. FRIDAY? Make a note?”
‘Done Boss.’ Natasha lets out a small exhale and Tony pauses for a moment before holding out his hand for her. She smiles and takes it, squeezing it before continuing.
“I was a little girl, but we got extras for spying on others and not getting caught. If you got caught it didn’t end well, but if you didn’t they always made it worth your time.” Natasha starts up the story again. “One day, we were visited by several members of the Society. The Matrons were furious, but they were paid well and that was that. I overheard them reference the class and I decided to see what they were up to.” Natasha shakes her head and Tony gives her hand a reassuring pat. “They were doing some kind of ceremony and something…went wrong, or right. I guess it depends how you look at it. There was this woman, and they killed her but she got back up…or at least her body did. She killed them all. She started drawing a symbol on the wall before they were finally able to subdue her and kill her again.” Natasha looks at Tony. “I’ve never forgotten that symbol… and it’s the same one on the back of your clock.” Everyone’s eyes go to the suitcase. “Those people messed with things that not even Hydra wanted to mess with, and they paid the price for it. The letters? That your mother wrote? They’re a record of occultism. Snippets of legends and myths all around Europe and Russia.”
They’ve been waiting around for a little while, and Sam watches as Wanda starts to get more and more aggravated. She moves around the room constantly, taking a seat and then standing up before moving over to another area and repeating the pattern. Sam figures that it’s some leftover energy from the Fight that Wasn’t, and he leaves it alone until it boils over.
“You should not have allowed Natasha to go.” Wanda reprimands Steve after a few minutes more of awkward silence, and the blonde shakes his head at Wanda’s declaration.
“I trust Natasha. If she said she’s fine then she’s fine.” Wanda sighs dramatically at his answer.
“This is Stark.” She reminds him and it doesn’t seem to have the impact that she either hoped or expected as he only shakes his head.
“No, this is Nat. She said she has it and to stay here. We trust in our teammate and we’re staying here.” Sam watches as the brunette picks back up her pacing around the room in frustration. It’s clear that she’s about to have another one of her ‘episodes’ by how the lights are starting to flicker and the furniture is rattling slightly as if a small earthquake were nearby.
“What is it with you two and Stark?” She snaps eventually, turning around to look at Steve who has crossed his arms in obvious displeasure at her tone and antics.
“What do you mean?”
“What is it with you two and Stark? He’s like this giant blind spot that you both have!” She throws her hands in the air in frustration. “Why? He’s not that special! He’s a traitor and a liar and you two just trail after him like little lost puppies.”
“Tony didn’t betray us Wanda and tell me one time he lied.” Steve replies with a frown.
“He is a liar by nature. Everything that comes from his mouth is dripping with poison and no one else seems to see it.” She shakes her head. “And you keep reaching out to him! Chasing after him like Natasha does!” This is news to Sam. In theory, he knew that Steve had been considering sending Tony an apology months and months ago, but Natasha reaching out isn’t something he expected to hear. “He doesn’t deserve it!”
“That is none of your business Wanda.” Wanda takes a step back and Sam can see by the calculating look in her eyes that she’s about to take this conversation to a whole new place that it shouldn’t go. He goes to step forward to stop it, but the words leave her lips before he can.
“He’s never going to take you back.” Wanda snaps and it’s like the air leaves the room. “He has his new team, his new family and he’s left us. We’re not the shiny new toy to him anymore, he’s got new ones.”
“We were never Tony’s toys.” Steve says, with more calm than Sam thinks he actually has right now with the way his hands have tightened into fists. “And there is nothing wrong with the Avengers growing.”
“Don’t be naïve Steve. They’re not ‘growing’, they’re leaving us behind. They’ve thrown us away.”
“Wanda, that’s enough.” Sam says, stepping in and the girl shakes her head.
“No, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of constantly hearing about Stark.” She snaps. “Every day and every night you think of him! It’s driving me crazy!”
“You shouldn’t be hearing anything.” Steve scolds and she throws her hands up.
“You’re practically hitting me over the head with it! Even if I couldn’t hear your thoughts, I’d still see how you watch every single time Stark’s on T.V. How you keep holding onto that phone and leaving message drafts that you never send.” Sam knows that she’s not wrong. It was something that Clint, Wanda and Sam had talked about in private.
Steve’s nightmares where he’d wake up yelling out to, or for, Tony. Steve’s constant need to check that stupid flip phone in his back pocket any time a cellphone alert went off in his presence. It killed them the way that he’d light up in hope, and then how it’d go away when he realized that it wasn’t his device making the sound. They worried how obsessed Steve was about keeping his fingers on the pulse of everything that went down with the new Avengers. ‘Just in case’ he always said when they asked, ‘I just want to know what they’re saying, that’s all’.
“What makes him so special? Why can’t you just let him go?” She shakes her head, clearly exasperated and Steve shrugs.
“I don’t know Wanda. I wish I had an answer for you but I don’t. I don’t know why, I just can’t.” The young woman tugs at her hair in frustration and Sam knows that this might all be stemming from something that Steve doesn’t quite know about.
He knows that there might be a different reason why all of this could be bothering Wanda.
It’s something that Steve’s been completely oblivious to since the get go. It’s the same thing that bothered Wanda about Sharon Carter. It’s the same reason why she put up such a fight about Sharon joining their team only to have the whole situation go away when Natasha rejoined them, and it’s the same reason why she changes the subject anytime Steve starts reminiscing about Peggy.
Sometimes, Sam wonders if Steve forgets that Wanda isn’t a little girl no matter how she acts.
Sam knows that Wanda used to, and continues to, trail after Steve anywhere he goes. He remembers how Wanda was always trying to get Steve’s attention and how frustrated she’d get when the billionaire would return and Steve would wander off to go hang out with him. Sam wonders if Wanda thought that the split would allow for those other distractions of Steve’s to go away, and for him to finally notice her in the way that she had clearly noticed him. Instead, just the opposite happened.
“We should just go get Natasha and Clint back from them and go. Go back to SHIELD.” Wanda says, a lot calmer than her previous statements after a few minutes.
“We’re going to give them some more time.” Is Steve’s final word on the subject and Sam watches something like rage cross Wanda’s face and for some reason that he’d rather not think about, it makes him worried for Tony.
“You’re telling me that this Thule Society played around with Ouiji and tarots and stuff – and now somehow that is all connected with Tony?” Rhodey clarifies and Natasha nods.
“I wouldn’t lie about this. There is proof. In the old bunkers.”
“Hasn’t SHIELD scavenged them all?” Natasha shakes her head.
“Some things buried should stay buried.” She says and it sounds like something she might have told Fury. “But perhaps…they don’t feel like they should.”
“What about the clock though?” Carol asks and they all look in her direction. “You said the symbol of the victim is on it. What does that mean?”
“Well, I don’t know if this helps or if it’s just…kind of ominous, but that clock isn’t meant to tell time.” Tony says slowly and they all look at him. “The gears are all backwards, it’s meant to count down.”
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No one says anything at first. All eyes just seem pulled to the suitcase as if the object inside might come alive and try to eat them in the night.
“Yeah cuz that’s not terrifying.” Rhodes says finally, snapping everyone out of their inner musings. “Thanks for that Tones. Perfect timing.” Tony shoots Rhodes a would-be innocent grin while he shrugs.
“You know I like to keep things interesting.”
“May I?” Stephen asks Tony, pointing down to the suitcase that holds the clock in question. Tony gives him a small nod and the doctor opens the case before taking the clock out again. They’ve all looked at it at one point in time or another since Tony found it, but now it feels like they’re looking at something completely different than the harmless object left behind by a caring, although cryptic, mother.
“I’ll take you to the bunker where it happened. It hasn’t been touched since that day.” Natasha interjects as they all watch Strange glance over each marking. “The Matron’s moved us instantly and buried it.”
“The coordinates will suffice.” Carol says calmly, glancing at the red haired spy with obvious distrust in her tone. Natasha seems un-phased by it.
“There will be security protocols and traps laid that only I can get you past.”
“I’m sure that we can manage.”
“Are you really willing to take that risk?” The challenge is clear in Natasha’s voice and Carol glances at Tony and Rhodes. Rhodes takes a few seconds before looking directly at Tony.
“This is your show Tones. What do you think?” Tony glances at the clock, biting his lips a little before nodding.
“I want a suit and I want to drop in. If the ‘Red Room’ has information about this then I want to know it. I’m sick and tired of Hydra having so much of my history in their hands that I know nothing about.”
“And her?” Rhodes reminds and Tony looks down at where he’s still holding Natasha’s hand and glances up to catch her gaze. There’s a moment of silent consideration that goes down between the two.
“The zip ties were fucking ridiculous.” He says and she shrugs.
“But effective.” She says. “Besides, I kept them loose.”
“And Wanda was a step too far.” Natasha has the decency to look ashamed and everyone else in the plane glance back and forth between each other, concerned and silently dreading the meaning of that statement.
“I know.” She says softly.
“You should have stopped them.”
“I seem to keep failing at that.” There’s a sad twist to her lips at the comment and Tony sighs.
“Come if you want, but we have to make a quick pit stop at the UN Accords Building.” Natasha tilts her head a little in confusion.
“We have to drop off the prisoner.” Everyone looks over at Clint at the brunet’s comment, having seemingly forgotten him in the moments prior. The archer’s lip curls back in a snarl, his gaze resting solely on the billionaire.
“Is there anything I can say that’ll get you to change your mind?” Natasha asks and Tony shakes his head.
“Not my call.” Is all Tony says about the subject, sending a meaningful glance in Rhodes’s direction and the spy doesn’t even try to argue any points with the Colonel about freeing the archer. “Wheels up. FRIDAY, release the restrictions on Nat’s and Steve’s communicators.”
‘Done Boss.’ FRIDAY answers and Tony stands.
“Let Rogers know that you’re leaving. I’d hate for them to think I kidnapped you or something.” Tony gives her a pointed look. “Because that would just be ridiculous and stupid.”
“Wait, what?” Steve asks when the coms come back online and Natasha relays her intended course of action.
“I’m leaving with Stark and the others to go follow a lead on this. I’ll see you back at headquarters.” Steve walks over to the window and glances out, knowing that he’s not going to see the plane or the spy but wishing he could none-the-less.
“Natasha,” He starts, before sighing. “You know that’s ill-advised.”
“I’ve already agreed. I’ll see you soon. Send in a message to Fury, let him know that Barton’s been taken into custody of the Avengers and I’m currently on a mission. Radio silence.” Steve lets out a frustrated huff of air. They took Clint, of course they took Clint, and now Steve’s worried about Natasha. He knows that whatever went down between them, Tony probably won’t let anything happen to her; but he can’t know that for sure with the others. There are too many new faces and unknown personalities.
“Are you sure about this Widow?” Steve asks for clarification again, listening to the soft tapping that Natasha is giving him over the earpiece while speaking.
“Affirmative. Let Fury know for me. I’ll see you soon. Got it?” Steve knows that she’s not referring to the conversation at hand and he writes down the coordinates on a nearby scrap piece of paper.
“Got it. Be safe and we’ll see you soon.” The connection ends and Steve sighs.
“What did she say?” Sam asks and Steve looks at the last two remaining members of his team. Wanda’s calmed down from the stressful situation and seems to have her head on straight again, and not a moment too soon.
“She’s leaving with Tony and them. They’re heading to drop off Clint with the authorities.”
“I thought they had an agreement!” Sam says and Steve shakes his head.
“No, whatever that was that went down between Tony and Natasha – it only dealt with Tony and Natasha.”
“So he betrayed us?” Wanda asks and Steve shakes his head.
“No more than we just did.” He holds up the paper. “But we know where they’re going next.” Sam takes it and shakes his head.
“We’ll never get there in time.”
“We will if we leave now. Remember, they still have to drop Hawkeye off. That’ll eat up some time.” Steve grabs his bag and starts to throw things in it. “Natasha’s asking for backup, you know the drill. Wheels up in five.”
Wanda and Sam don’t say anything else as they clean up the room and make their way to the SHIELD jet. Sam climbs behind the wheel and takes a final look at the coordinates before putting them in and taking off.
“We’re going to go get Clint back right?” Wanda asks and Steve nods.
“We didn’t leave him in the RAFT and we won’t abandon him now. Let’s get Natasha and then we’ll get Clint back.” She nods at his promise before holding tightly to the straps holding her in. Steve’s always found it endearing how she’s never adjusted to flying in a plane despite the dozens upon dozens of times that she’s been in one. “I’m going to go contact Fury.” Steve says as he walks to the back and puts in the code to contact SHIELD.
“Captain.” Fury’s voice snaps over the speaker in greeting when it gets through. “Tell me it’s all been handled.”
“If you’re asking if Tony is back with the Avengers then yes.” Steve says. “Clint’s been taken into custody though, and Natasha has joined them for a mission.”
“We’re not sure sir. She was able to give us coordinates to the location that they’ll be heading but we don’t know much.”
“Not much means you know something Captain.”
“Tony arrived at the apartment complex looking for a professor of some kind. He had this old clock with him that he said was his mother’s. Whatever they’re looking into probably has something to do with that.” There’s silence on the other side for a moment.
“Describe this clock.” It’s not what Steve expects to hear and it catches him off guard for a moment.
“Um, old. Really old. Fancy. It had a lot of engravings on it.”
“Was it ticking?” There seems to be an urgency to Fury’s question.
“No sir. It wasn’t.” Steve glances over at Wanda and Sam. “Sir? Do you know something about this?”
“Where are the coordinates?”
“Rogers. Coordinates.” Steve relays them off the top of his head and barely has to wait a second afterwards. “Abort mission. Return to base.”
“With all due respect Director Fury. Natasha is counting on our backup.”
“That wasn’t a request soldier. Get back to base.” Steve sends another glance at the two of them before shaking his head.
“Will do sir. We’ll head back to base.” The connection cuts off and Steve continues. “After we help Natasha.” Steve heads back to the second pilot’s chair and Sam shakes his head.
“I don’t know man, something’s wrong. Did you hear Fury?” Steve nods.
“Yeah, he sounded…panicked.” Steve shrugs. “Or as panicked as Fury can sound.”
“What the hell is going on?” Sam mutters to himself.
“And what has Stark gotten us into this time?” Wanda asks from her seat and no one answers her.
“You’re going to get what’s coming to you Stark.” Clint whispers into Tony’s ear as he’s led past him on the ramp and Tony just rubs his temple with a sigh while Rhodes clenches a fist. Everett Ross comes up after they’ve lead the archer off.
“It’s good to see you back with us Mr. Stark.” He greets and Tony gives him a smile.
“And good job on catching one of them.” He glances around the open area of the plane. “Any idea where the rest of them are?”
“I’m going to guess that Rogers and whoever was with him at the time, have already left the building. Who knows where they’d be now.” Rhodes almost wants to smile at the sentence, since in theory it was absolutely true. There’s the sound of repulsors moments later as the Iron Man suit comes in for a landing, walking up into the jet and standing off to the side. “Thank you for your assistance with this matter Mr. Ross. There is something that we have to do, so unfortunately we must be going.”
“Oh, of course. Well, thank you again and I’m glad you’re alright.” Tony gives him a smile and a wave as the ramp starts to close the second Ross steps off of it. They’re up in the air, looking down at them when Carol speaks.
“He’s going to be out by tomorrow isn’t he?” Tony shrugs.
“I’d guess by tonight. Guard rotations and all that.”
“If it takes him longer than three hours then I’d be disappointed.” Natasha says as she steps out of the shadows. “But you did what you had to do.”
“Thanks for validating our choices.” Carol’s voice has an icy warning to it that has Rhodes fighting back a smile, and Natasha wisely doesn’t respond.
“Alright, let’s get this show on the road.” Tony says with a clap of his hands and Rhodes nods before piloting them in the direction of one of the infamous ‘Red Room’ locations.
‘Boss? There are two calls for you.’ FRIDAY says and Tony walks over to the main screen.
‘Vision and the others wish to verify with their own eyes your rescue, and the other is Director Fury.’ Tony gets a small smile at the first caller identities but it drops with an eye roll at the second. He turns to Natasha.
“Please go in the back room. I’ll have FRIDAY let you out once the call is complete.” The spy seems to want to argue for a moment, probably about to say something along the lines of ‘I already know the secret identities of everyone in the Avengers’ but she turns with a nod and walks in the back. Tony waits till the door is sealed before turning back to the screen. “Busy signal for Fury, and put the others up.” There’s a brief second before the screen activates and they’re all greeted by the remaining members left behind at the Compound.
“Tony!” Harley cries out as he shifts forward and Tony’s smile reappears.
“Hey, in the flesh.”
“Are you okay?” –“What did they do to you?” –“I’ll kick their ass!” – “Peter!” Tony loses it at Laura’s scolding tone at Peter’s language around the smaller children and it takes him a second to wipe the tears away.
“Yes I’m okay.” He answers the first question. “They kidnapped me and it was annoying.” He looks at Peter. “And I have no doubt that you could.”
“I got your message Tony.” Laura says in the momentary pause that follows and Tony nods.
“Yeah, they’ll probably be calling but I didn’t want you caught off guard.”
‘Boss? Director Fury is trying to overrule my protocols.’ Tony shakes his head, a small amount of irritation coursing through him.
“Please be so kind as to give him some of the most annoying elevator hold music known to man.”
‘Will do Boss.’
“Fury?” Vision asks with a concerned undertone to his voice and Tony nods.
“Yeah, who knows what that old pirate wants, but I’m not in the mood to deal with him right now. He’ll have to wait. ‘Consulting hours’ are over for tonight.” He looks at the kids. “And so are Junior Avenger hours.” There’s a playful undertone to his voice. There’s some fussing on that side of the screen but Rhodes smiles as Tony navigates it like a pro.
“They love you, you know.” Rhodes says to him as he comes to sit down by him afterwards and Tony gives him a smile.
“The feelings mutual.”
“What do you think Fury wants?”
“To be a pain in my ass most likely.” Tony sighs before shaking his head. “He’s probably going to curse me out for handing Clint over.” Strange comes over as Natasha steps out of the back room.
“I’m not sure if this is the wisest course of action.” He says slowly. “We don’t know anything about what the professor said other than the rather poor summary that the Black Widow gave us. We’re going in blind, and into something that if she’s correct in her memory recall, could be something very dangerous.” Tony takes a moment to look at the clock in Stephen’s hands before glancing up at the magic user.
“I have to know.” He says with a healthy amount of apology in the words and Strange nods.
“I still think it’s a bad idea.” He puts the clock down before holding out a hand for Tony’s. It takes a second before Tony lets him take his wrist in hand and look it over.
“Well? Diagnosis Doctor? Will I live?” Strange glances up in amusement at Tony’s playful tone and he nods.
“Looks like you were very lucky Mr. Stark.” Stephen says in his ‘surgeon’ voice and it brings a small smile to Tony’s face.
“Let’s hope that luck holds out.” He says and Strange nods.
“Are you sure these are the coordinates?” Wanda asks, pulling her jacket around her a little tighter and Sam nods.
“This is what they said.” He answers and Steve glances around at the old, decrepit looking orphanage. “But this place is creepy beyond all hell.” Sam says as he looks around himself and Steve finds himself fully agreeing with him.
“They should be here any moment.” Steve says and Wanda looks at him.
“What’s the plan?”
“We’re here as backup.”
“For who?” Steve looks at her and she crosses her arms in more of a challenging pose then a cold one. “For Natasha or Stark?”
“For both if we’re lucky.” There’s the sound of the jet overhead and all of their shoulders go back. “It’s go time.”
The jet lands in the clearing next to theirs and Steve watches as the ramp lowers and the new Avengers and Black Widow get off. Tony’s in the armor now and it hits Steve with a pang of nostalgia so strong that he has to look away for a brief second before stepping forward.
“Rogers. Why am I not surprised to find you here? What a coincidence.” Iron Man’s modulated voice is dripping sarcasm as he turns and gives a look to Black Widow.
“I wanted my team.” Is her answer and it’s clear that the others with Tony are not as accepting of that answer. The blonde woman, Captain Marvel the news stations tell him, goes to step forward, her hand glowing and Tony holds out an arm, blocking her.
“No. It might actually be a blessing in disguise. We have no idea what we’re potentially walking into down there. It might not be so bad to have extra backup.”
“Backup is only useful if you can trust them to have your back Tony.” She says, clearly loud enough for them to hear and Iron Man doesn’t drop his arm.
“Are you here to assist or to cause us problems?” He asks and Steve takes a step forward.
“We’re here to help in whatever capacity you might require.” There’s a moment of indecision before Iron Man lowers his arm.
“This is temporary Rogers. This doesn’t fix anything.”
“I know.” He answers him and Iron Man walks towards the building. “But it’s a start.” Steve says, and he can tell from the brief pause that the speakers on the suit picked him up. The two groups fall in together, and Steve isn’t really too surprised that Tony is at the opposite end of the group from them. Blocked by War Machine, Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange. “Did Banner choose to stay on the plane?”
“He’s a non-combatant right now. He didn’t want to take the risk of a Code: Green.” They fall into silence after that, following Natasha through the upper levels of the orphanage and down into the basement levels. The air is stale and freezing, and they shift around several old traps before making it down to the ‘Red Room’.
It’s a little different than Steve expected. There’s broken mirrors all around the walls, and old ballerina costumes caked in dust and cobwebs.
“You know, I’m really concerned right about now.” Sam whispers and they all look at him. “Have any of you ever seen a horror movie? The brother always dies first. Rhodes is in a full body armor, I’ve got some wings. I’m totally first on the chopping block.” Steve shakes his head at Sam’s comments, but they seem to lighten the mood ever so slightly.
“It’s this way.” Natasha says as they go down a dark hallway. The door at the end is rusted and stuck, but proves to be no match for War Machine. The second they step inside however, Steve feels the strong urge to step back out.
There’s dark stains on the walls, splotchy and everywhere. Not to mention the skeletons that lay around the room in a twisted, macabre fashion.
“I want you to know, Clint does not get my gaming system.” Sam whispers, clearly still on the ‘first to die’ thought process as they all start looking around. Tony goes straight over to the giant wall which still bares the symbol on the clock. Steve comes up alongside him.
“We talked to Fury before we came.” He says and Tony hums. “He seemed to know something about your clock.” The armor turns to look at him.
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know. He wanted to know if it was ticking.” That seems to get a response as the members of the other team start to look at each other. “Why? Does that mean something to you?”
“The clock isn’t a clock, not really. It counts down.” Steve feels an uncomfortable feeling in his stomach at the confession. He looks around the room with a small shake of his head.
“Tony…I’m getting a really bad feeling about this. Perhaps we shouldn’t be here.”
“I second Steve, Stark.” Wanda pipes up and they glance at the girl who hasn’t stepped a foot into the room. “There is something…dark here. Something…not right.” Stephen goes over to the wall and traces the symbol.
“It’s definitely the same as the one on your mother’s clock.” He says, before pointing at some of the other symbols on the walls. “These worry me however. I’ve seen these before, in Kamar-Taj.”
“What do they mean?”
“They don’t really mean anything. They’re summoning circles.”
Maintaining his calm has been something that has never been simple for him in his whole life. Not before the gamma radiation and certainly not after it. Today was one of those days that was certainly harder than most. First with Tony being taken by Steve, then having to watch that horrible video and now being in this place. Something about it had the Hulk all riled up and ready to come forth at a moment’s notice.
He glanced down at the clock, a feeling like trepidation clawing at him, before he heard it. The sound of the helicarrier coming down for a docking.
Bruce stood up and walked outside, poking his head out to see the small landing craft hit the ground and he was a little surprised to see the landing party consist of Nick Fury himself and Maria Hill.
“Where are they Doctor Banner?” Fury asked as he strode over, the other agents following closely behind.
“They went inside a little while ago.” He can tell that something has gone seriously wrong with the way Nick’s face closes off and he sends a glance at the building. “Should I call them?”
“I doubt they’ll get it.” He turns back to Bruce. “Is it ticking yet?” It takes a second for Bruce to glance back at the clock before shaking his head.
“Then we still have time. Let’s go. Remember priority extraction is Iron Man.” All of the SHIELD agents nod before they start inside, and Fury turns to Bruce before he follows the others. “If it starts ticking Doctor Banner, then it’s time for a Code Green. Understand?” Bruce nods slowly as the group disappears into the building and Bruce turns back to look at the innocent relic.
What on earth is going on?
“Summoning circles?” Tony asks and Stephen nods.
“They’re actually quite common on their own, but these ones…they’re pretty advanced.” Strange says, looking around the room. “Summoning circles are harmless until you give them the name of what you’re trying to bring over and the link.”
“The connection between what you’re calling and what you’re offering in return.”
“So like a sacrifice?”
“Close, but not always. Links can be a variety of things.”
“Like what?” Carol asks and Stephen shrugs.
“They could be a sacrifice, or they could be a vessel. Sometimes a payment of some kind, really the possibilities are quite numerous.”
“Well what does this one say?” Steve asks, pointing to the symbol on the wall.
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen this symbol before. It’s not…it doesn’t bare a similar layout to most of the name requirements that I’ve seen before.”
“So it could be anything?” Sam questions and Strange nods.
“Without knowing more about the ritual and the summoner themselves, I can only surmise.” Stephen turns and looks down at the makeshift altar in the room. The summoning symbols have been carved on all the edges and he shakes his head at the fools who were crazy enough to delve into this kind of magic.
“It’s a start I guess.” Tony says in the background as he reaches out to trace the symbol himself. There’s the sound of footsteps rushing down the hall catch Stephen’s attention as the SHIELD Director comes around the corner, practically shoving the Scarlet Witch out of the way to stand in the doorway.
“Stark don’t!” The Director yells out, rushing forward to stop Tony from touching the wall a brief second too late as the armor comes in contact with the symbol.
There’s a strange moment of absolute quiet, before the whole place starts shaking, the summoning circle activating.
The ground all around him starts to shake and Bruce braces himself on the seats of the jet.
There’s a brief moment of chaos, before his mind registers the sound of ticking.
Thank you all for the kudos and comments! Please keep them coming!
Thank you again for all of the amazing reviews!
I had a little bit of a struggle with this chapter, since I've known that this is where I wanted to take this story, but it was a pain to write. I'm not sure if I managed the way I wanted to, but here's the next chapter regardless where we finally start getting some answers about what the heck is going on! Please enjoy!
The ground stops shaking almost as suddenly as it began and the world is quiet. The sort of quiet that Steve would imagine the eye of the storm grants momentarily, and the sort of quiet that has every hair on his neck standing on edge. No one has moved, all of them just glancing around the area for the obvious threat to materialize and reveal itself.
“What was that?” Steve asks, glancing at Iron Man, hoping that the brunet has some kind of inkling what’s just transpired. There’s a moment before the armor stumbles forward and falls to its knees and Steve is there instantly to brace the other man. “Tony? Tony what’s wrong?”
“Get him out of here Rogers!” Fury snaps, stepping forward with his gun raised high, glancing around at all of the shadows that seem more pronounced now than they did two minutes ago.
“Tony?” War Machine asks, coming around on Tony’s other side. “Talk to me man.”
“Rhod…I don’t…feel…” The armor slumps some more between them.
“Shit.” War Machine curses as he tugs the other man up, pulling the arm over his shoulder and starting towards the door.
There’s a shocked yell that surprises all of them, and several bullets get shot from one of the SHIELD agents who get ripped into the darkness in the corner of the room. They all spin around towards it, suddenly battle ready. Several shots go off into the area from the other SHIELD agents, before a scream echoes behind them and another is gone.
“Get him out of here now! Get him to the Helicarrier.” Fury’s command galvanizes everyone into action. Steve’s a little confused when the SHIELD agents surround them, two going in front of them down the hall and several standing behind, all of their guns at the ready. He has a moment where he wishes so strongly for the shield to be in his hand as he guards War Machine and Iron Man along with the others.
“Rhodey…” Tony says, and it sounds way too strained and weak through the speakers. It makes Steve’s heart seize in panic, but he knows that the safest place for Tony right now is inside that suit. FRIDAY will do everything to protect and keep her creator alive, and Steve has to pray that will be enough until they get Tony to safety.
“I’ve got you, we’re getting you out of here.” Rhodes promises before Tony collapses the rest of the way and Rhodes adjusts his grip to just holding the man up. There’s several gunshots and loud explosions that happen from down in the room where they’ve left the rest of them, and Steve can only hope that the rest of the team is faring okay. He’ll get Tony to safety and then he’ll go back for the rest of them. He’s not going to leave them there against an unknown enemy.
“We’re almost out.” Steve tells them as they see the exit and the hit comes from behind them unexpectedly, and it sends everyone sprawling across the open area of the first floor. The War Machine armor smacks into a support column and the section of the second floor comes tumbling down on top of him. Steve quickly rolls to his feet, blood already dripping down the side of his head as he turns to see some kind of creature emerge from the shadows. It’s at least three times their size, its arms and face covered in sores and boils. It reminds Steve of some of the failed experiments that Hydra tried in their desperation to recreate the serum and stop Captain America. It growls at them, its one good eye looking around at the men littering the floor before landing on the Iron Man armor. It reaches out for Tony, who hasn’t moved or shifted from where he’s fallen and Steve puts himself in between them as a protective barrier. “Not going to happen.” He tells it and it swings at him, missing him the first time but nailing him the second, knocking all of the wind out of him. War Machine pushes free from his captivity a moment later, shoving off the beams and rising to his feet.
“What in the hell?” He asks as he sees the creature and Steve pushes himself onto his knees again.
“It’s after Tony.” Steve says and the large gun over Rhodes’s shoulder snaps into a forward position.
“Well then it’s going to be disappointed.” The gun starts to power up, as the creature drags itself towards the downed Iron Man armor, before there’s a roar and a large, very angry Hulk smashes into the area; punching the creature dead in the face and sending it rolling back into the darkness of the hallway that it came from.
There’s a brief moment of silence as War Machine and Steve turn to look at each other, before Steve shrugs and they move, coming over to Hulk. “I’ve got Tony, start getting those SHIELD agents out. Hulk, if it comes back- hit it again.” Rhodes commands and Hulk does a huffing nod before turning back towards the hallway where the sound of something dragging itself back into the fight.
“War Machine, go. I’ve got them.” Steve snaps, and they both jump into action as Hulk rolls his shoulders and prepares for a second go.
“What is it?” Carol asks as she powers up and shoots off bursts into the darkness.
“Doctor, can you close that door?” Fury says instead of an answer and Strange glances at the summoning circle that has started to activate. There’s a moment of horrified realization when he takes in the whole thing.
“I’m not sure.” He admits and Fury motions for him to get to it. There’s this continuous black ooze that seems to be leaking from the edges of the seal and Strange immediately starts pulling together the spell he’ll need to force it closed. This isn’t the sort of spell that will be easily ended by one individual, and Stephen knows that instantly. “Maximoff, come here.” He calls to the young witch and she looks at him surprised for a few seconds before stumbling over to his side. “I need you to put your barrier around the entire circle, can you do that?” He’s not sure if he can trust Maximoff’s magic, but he doesn’t have the time or luxury of someone else. Wanda will have to do. Stephen is going to have to make due.
“I don’t…I don’t know.” There’s a panic in her eyes as the red mist starts to come from her fingers and Strange pulls the golden energy into this dimension as the spell takes form. “I’ll try.” She throws out her magic, attempting to immediately circle it around it without one anchor for the spell, and Strange is not surprised at all to see her technique fail horribly. Her attention isn’t on the spell itself, constantly flittering over to the other Avengers and agents who are in battle against unseen enemies, and the lack of focus shows as her powers waver. “I can’t.” She says as her hands shake and the red mist falls away. Strange frowns, centering himself as he pushes the seal onto the circle.
“Try again.” Strange grinds out through the strain of holding the spell. “Don’t try and take it all at once.”
“I don’t know what that means?” She says and there’s a shaky tone to her voice as the other Avengers and SHIELD agents continue fighting the small creatures leaking out.
“Focus your power on the points of the compass and dig it in. North, South, East, West…” He grinds his teeth at the pushback from the circle. “Then let them flow to each other to make your seal.” She glances at him and he gives her a nod, as much of a pep talk as he can give right now and he watches as she moves to do what he instructed. It won’t hold for long, that much is obvious. She’s powerful but she doesn’t have the necessary training required to hold anything. Regardless, it’ll keep more creatures from the other side from slipping past his defenses before he can get this damn door closed.
Natasha lets out a pained cry as she’s thrown into the edge of the altar and Stephen has to ignore how his mind has already catalogued which bones have snapped in the female spy’s body as Marvel immediately goes to her side, blasting into the darkness and protecting the downed woman.
He’s in the middle of setting in the next round of spell work when he sees the Scarlet Witch stumble and the edges of her spell start to grow soft. He needs more time, and he needs Wanda to hold the line.
“I can’t…” She starts to say as the strain grows on her as an old lesson from the Ancient One pops up in his mind and Stephen shifts over to be closer to her.
“Lean on me.” He instructs and she gives him a confused look. “I’ll anchor you. Lean on me, or put a hand on my arm.” It’s not a good plan, he knows that, but he’s dedicated to it anyways. She doesn’t say anything else, shifting closer and putting a hand on his arm. He doesn’t fight the rush of the connection between their magic and the instant kick from her side almost knocks him over, but he’s more grounded than she is and he holds.
Fury and Falcon are watching their backs, keeping anything from coming close and Stephen puts all of his attention into closing the door. There’s a horrible shrieking noise from the other side as the edges start to close and Stephen almost falls over when the spell takes full effect and the other shadows in the area disperse to the wind.
They’ll have to find them of course. Who knows the trouble that could be caused by them, but not today.
Wanda stumbles and Stephen reaches out to steady her before turning to Fury. “You have a lot of explaining to do.” Stephen says and Fury gives him a look before holstering his weapon.
“Did you manage to close it? Completely?” He asks and Stephen shakes his head.
“Temporarily. Once a door is opened it’s near impossible to close it again, that’s what makes them so dangerous.” He shakes his head. “I can go to Kamar-Taj and see what Wong has to say about it.” Stephen moves to go to the exit, holding himself strong, but he stops at the young witch. “You did very well today. You have a lot of potential.” He pats her on the shoulder as he walks past and heads out of the orphanage. Carol falls into line with him a few moments later, placing a steadying hand on his arm that he’s grateful for.
“Are you alright?”
“I’ll be fine, I just need rest. I’m worried about Tony right now, and I’m more concerned with what secrets Fury has been keeping.” She nods.
“I was thinking the same thing.”
Tony’s never been a big fan of waking up in a hospital setting. He’s been even less of a fan of it since he got the ARC reactor and even with it gone that feeling still hasn’t left. He’s already reaching up to pull the oxygen chord off of his face, when a familiar figure comes into his peripheral and gently takes his hand away from it.
“You should leave it on for a few more minutes, Tony.” Bruce says and Tony lets his hand drop.
“What?” He asks and he’s grateful that he doesn’t need to get a whole sentence out in his current state, because he’s not sure he could. He feels like he’s been hit by a truck and like the few times the ARC was drained of all of its power and the cold feeling of death started crawling through him.
“The ‘Dimensional Gate’ opened.” Bruce says, before shrugging. “Or that’s what Stephen says.” Bruce drags a chair over and takes a seat next to Tony after he helps him into a sitting position. “They’re currently browbeating Fury over his stupid secrets that almost got you killed.”
“Fury?” He asks, confused and Bruce gets a small frown before nodding.
“He arrived at the orphanage? Do you remember him showing up to help you guys?” Tony takes a second and tries to think past the fuzzy headache that’s making hell of his memory capabilities. He seems to remember someone yelling his name…maybe. He thinks he might remember someone calling his name, but he couldn’t be pressed to say who it was with any kind of certainty.
“We’re in SHIELD?” Tony asks once he’s settled and it comes out stronger than his previous sentence attempts so he’ll take that as a win. Bruce nods at the question.
“In the Helicarrier. They brought you here for observation and medical treatment.” He pauses, “You were unconscious by the time we were able to get you out of the suit. We don’t know for sure how long you were prior to it, but you’d been unresponsive since the fight.”
“Is everyone okay?” The thought of one of the other Avengers or SHIELD members laying in one of these beds because of him and his stupid need to know about his mom, makes his heart clench painfully in his chest. There’s a look on Bruce’s face as he shakes his head.
“Don’t do that to yourself Tony. It wasn’t your fault.”
“Bruce.” Bruce sighs at the warning in his voice and he takes off his glasses, cleaning them for a second before putting them back on.
“There were three SHIELD casualties, a couple minor injuries past that.” Bruce reaches over and takes Tony’s hand when Tony grips the sheet and looks away in shame. “They weren’t your fault Tony.”
“Whose fault were they then Doc?” Tony snaps out and he’s grateful that Bruce doesn’t respond to his aggressive tone in the slightest. “Fury tried to call me and I ignored it.”
“Hey, no. Let’s be honest, Fury could have gotten ahold of you if he had tried.”
“I wasn’t answering.”
“He could have called Vision and the others, told them to have you call them with an immediate emergency. He could have alerted FRIDAY about how serious the situation was, but he didn’t. He could have told Steve, but he didn’t. He thought he could get there before anything happened and he was wrong. That is not your fault.” Tony takes a few breaths to calm himself, but he can’t push away the feeling of the weight of more dead adding themselves to his tally.
“Has he said anything? About why he was there?”
“He wanted to wait till you were awake and in the meeting before he discussed it. Something about not wanting to repeat himself.”
“Then I guess it’s time for a meeting.” Tony says as he starts tugging of the sensors much to Bruce’s displeasure.
“Sir, Stark and Banner are on their way now.” Hill says after she pulls her hand away from her ear and Fury nods. There’s an air of barely concealed hostility in the room that’s been here since both teams got stuck in here together that’s so obvious that it doesn’t really take a telepath to sense it. Wanda takes a sip of warm cocoa, hoping that it’ll soothe some of the strain that this day has already taken, but yet again it does nothing more than warm her fingers against the mug. At her side, Clint is still raging internally at the New Avengers and Stark for his temporary incarceration. His mind is loud and so angry, and it makes Wanda twitch. She knows that he has every right to be angry at the other group who sit together like they’re so much better than they are. Clint looks over at the other group, his fingers tapping an unknown rhythm on the tabletop as the New Avengers whisper amongst themselves.
“And what are you talking about over there that’s so important that you can’t share it with the class?” Clint asks and the New Avengers lean away from where they’ve been whispering to glance at them. It was strange to find out that Stark had not placed himself into the position of leader of the new group. It would have been simple enough without them there to inform the new members of his faults and lack of leadership abilities, but instead Wanda is surprised to find out that Stark had a moment of rationality and made Rhodes the leader.
That or he just wanted the heat off of himself until this whole thing passed over, which she figured was much more likely than the first option. Not that Rhodes was a bad choice of the options available, but Wanda knew that when the two teams finally merged together again, Steve would take his rightful place as leader so she sort of wished that Rhodes wouldn’t get too comfortable in the temporary position.
“We’re discussing the meeting about to take place.” Rhodes says calmly before looking right at Steve. “And we would like anyone who is not on the current Avenger roster, sans Fury, to leave the room.”
“What?” Steve asks and Wanda seconds his exclamation.
“We were affected by this too and we deserve answers.” Wanda says and Rhodes shakes his head.
“No one deserves answers except for Tony. We don’t just get to decide that we get them without his consent.”
“This affects all of us Rhodes.” Steve says and Rhodes glances at him with a cool detachment.
“This is Tony’s life. If he doesn’t want us there then we’ll leave, but we do not want you here.”
“Well, by your own words, it’s Tony’s choice.” Steve says in response. “And I think we’ll wait for him to make it.” They’re all cut off in their tirades by the opening of the door as Banner and Stark enter. There’s a moment of surprise on the billionaire’s face when he sees Clint, and Clint gives him a nasty smirk and flips him off.
“Surprised to see me asshole?” He asks Stark, and Wanda’s a little surprised at the hostility in Marvel’s voice when she snaps back a ‘Fuck you Barton.’ It’s clear that Steve wants to say something about the disrespect of a team member, but Rhodes stays strangely silent instead of reprimanding Carol. Stark ignores Clint, and Wanda can feel the irritation on Clint’s side at the others behavior. Wanda feels it a little too. Stark has gone and gotten too high and mighty, and he’s forgotten that out of all of them he’s the one who deserves to be locked up.
Strange pulls out a chair next to him and Stark slides down into it. Wanda still isn’t really sure how she feels about Strange himself. He’s the only one whose mind is a blank void to her. She hasn’t been able to read his mind since they’ve been in this room, and anytime she’s tried he’s looked up at her like he knows what she’s attempting.
For all she knows he might, and that’s both terrifying and thrilling. She’s never met anyone else like her before, and it irritates her that he’s on Stark’s side when he should be on theirs. Stark’s already taken the Vision from her, who was originally trying to help her with her powers since they both possessed the power of the mind stone, and now he holds another potential teacher in his hands and keeps them both away from her.
“How are you feeling?” Strange asks Stark, with a healthy dose of concern in his voice and Stark gives him a smile that seems genuine, but Wanda knows that there is nothing genuine about the man.
“I’ll live to fight another day.” He says with a light tone and Clint snorts.
“Barton.” Fury stops them all and stands. “Stark, there are some things we need to talk about.”
“I would say that’s true Nicky.” Starks glib answer makes Wanda want to strangle the self-satisfied smile off of his face.
“However, there’s been some contention about who is allowed to be in the room during this.” Fury says and Stark glances at his team where he gets various shrugs in response. “Anyone you want out, kick them out now. You’ve got thirty seconds. I’m a busy man Stark.” Stark tilts his head for a moment, a calculating look in his eye and Wanda wants to know what he’s thinking. She wants to know whatever plan he’s coming up with that will ensnare them all to him and while she itches to reach out, her powers still haven’t recovered from whatever Stark’s stupidity did to them down in the orphanage.
“I don’t really think that it’s going to be kept secret for long from any of you.” Stark says slowly, “Although to be honest, Barton can jump off a cliff.”
“Go to hell Stark.”
“Barton.” Clint falls silent at the reprimand. “Do you want him gone Stark?” Stark sighs and runs a hand through his hair.
“No…just…get this over with. What do you know?”
“More than you could possibly imagine.” Stark’s lips twitch a little at that.
“Cute Nick. I meant about the clock and whatever the hell just happened down there.” Fury sighs and takes a seat again.
“I guess it’s time to start at the beginning. What do you know of your mother Stark? Of her time before she got married to your father?” Stark shrugs.
“I don’t know? I mean, she never really talked about it. She was some debutante who captured my old man’s black and hollow heart at some charity event once the war ended.” Fury nods and pushes the clock towards the middle of the table. He turns it around so that they can take in the symbol on the back.
“This here? It was one of the various tools of the trade that Maria used to use during the war and after it.”
“Are you trying to tell me that my mom was a SHIELD agent?” Stark cuts Fury off and Fury shakes his head.
“Director Carter would have given her right arm to have Maria on board SHIELD. No, your mother was freelance.”
“Freelance what Fury? You’re not really being clear.” Fury looks at Stark and nods.
“You want me to be clear? Fine Stark. Your mother was one of the last of a specific bloodline that battled against the Thule Society, Hydra and all those who sought to use dark magic on this world.” Fury motions to the clock. “She assisted SHIELD several times during the war, during events of a more…supernatural nature.” Stark has an amused look on his face at the information and everyone else seems less than believing.
“So Mrs. Stark battled ‘supernatural’ forces?” Rhodes asks, and there’s a sarcastic tone to his question. Stark gets a smile.
“Haven’t you heard Rhodey? In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone is destined to fight against the demons, the vampires and the forces of darkness. She is the Slayer.”
“You wish your mom was Buffy dude.”
“Don’t I ever. It might have made good old dad think twice.” With that out of the blue statement, Stark turns back to Fury and the director shakes his head.
“You’re not far off.”
“Nick, if you’re not going to tell the truth then I really don’t have time for this bullshit. No offense.” Fury shakes his head.
“I’m not lying Stark, and somewhere inside you know that. All of those ‘out of state charity events’ that you were never permitted to go on? They were missions. All of those times that your mother was checked into the hospital?”
“Oh, I have plenty of ideas about how she got put in there, thank you very much.”
“Listen to me Stark, your mother was an amazing woman. A hero to the likes that I’ve not seen since.” He looks at Stark dead in the eye. “And it’s all the more reason that I expect so much from her son.” Fury leans back and crosses his hands on the table. “I had the honor of assisting her on some of her missions.”
“I don’t believe you.” They all look at Stark who is rolling his eyes. “I don’t believe you at all. If my mom had been some super-agent slayer thing, she would have told me.”
“You were the last person she wanted told.” Fury argues and Stark levels a glare at him.
“She wouldn’t lie to me like that. She wouldn’t have kept that hidden.”
“She was protecting you.” Stark goes to say something but Fury continues, cutting him off. “As far as we knew, Maria was able to close the last few gates before she died. She had always hoped that they’d stay closed and that the burden and the danger would never come after you.”
“And what? Now it has?”
“Yes. And that’s bad for all of us.”
“This is stupid but sure, I’ll bite. How is that bad?”
“Because Maria locked all of the doors to the other side with the power of her own bloodline. That means the only key to opening them all up and bringing all of that chaos and darkness over here rests with the last of her line- you.”
Thank you for the reviews and I'll catch up soon in replying to them!
We're finally past the hurdle after this chapter! (semi-spoilers)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There’s a moment where both groups sit in silence and think about the information that Fury has just laid at their feet. It sounds almost fantastical, but Steve’s seen weird things before. Heck, he’s pretty weird and fantastical himself let alone Wanda or Strange. There are still so many questions, and concerns about this. Mainly: what does this mean? What does it mean for the team? What does it mean for Tony himself? How is Tony taking this information?
Tony answers that question himself seconds later, by bursting into laughter and startling everyone at the table with it. His body shakes with the force of his amusement and he covers his face with his hand as if this whole situation is just too much for him to handle right now. The laugh softens eventually, but never loses its disbelieving and exhausted edge.
“Tones?” Rhodes asks, reaching over and nudging Tony to get his attention and Tony lets out a final chuckle as he lets his hand fall from his face with a sigh.
“My life has just become a young adult novel.” He shakes his head. “I’m way too old for this shit.” It’s clear that Rhodes is determining whether to smile at that or remain the mature one through this whole fiasco. He clearly opts for the first one with the snort of amusement that escapes him seconds later.
“Only you would think about it that way.”
“What that I’m apparently living in a young adult universe?”
“No, that you’re too old for it all. I know that you’ve read-”
“Slanderous lies Rhodey, all of them.” Tony gives him a false look of horrified betrayal. “I thought we were on the same side Rhodeykins? How could you turn on me like this?”
“It was all part of my evil plan all along. Muhahaha.” The ‘evil’ laugh is as dry and monotonous as it could ever possibly get and it gets the reaction that it was looking for when Tony laughs again, but one a lot more genuine then the strained one moments before. Steve watches as the energy seems to leave Tony and he slumps back a little in his chair, running his hand over his face again momentarily in the way he always did before undertaking a task he didn’t want to do and needed to pep talk himself into.
“Okay…fuck. What does this mean?” He asks Fury. “I’m not saying I believe you, but for the sake of getting out of here sometime this century, what does it all mean? My mom allegedly fought the forces of the night. Okay fine. She somehow locked some doors and now what? I’m the key? What does that even mean?” Fury leans back in his chair.
“It means that you need to be careful. I’m going to assign some of my best agents to you for your protection.” Tony snorts at that.
“Yeah, good luck with that Nick. No thanks.” Fury levels an icy look on Tony that the brunet doesn’t even flinch at.
“You will allow them to protect you Stark. You have no idea what’s coming around the corner. If the acolytes of anything that your mother sent across find out that you’ve opened the first seal, they’re going to come after you. They’re going to want to use you to open the rest of them. If that happens Stark, we don’t need to worry about Thanos coming someday in the future because there won’t be anything left for him to conquer.”
“Acolytes?” Steve questions and Fury nods.
“As with all things, there’s always some crazy, stupid bunch of morons who think that it’s their sacred duty, or some other such nonsense, to bring about the destruction of the world.”
“And what, now all they need is Stark to do it? Go figure.” Steve goes to say something to Clint about his current behavior and attitude towards Tony but Sam beats him to it when he hits Clint upside the head. “Ow! What the hell Wilson?”
“Dude, I mean this in the nicest way possible…but for the love of god shut the fuck up.” Clint is prevented from any response he might have had, from a well-timed glance from Fury.
“Now, to get back on topic. I’m going to assign a protection unit Stark and you’re going to accept them and not cause them any problems.”
“No.” Is Tony’s quick and flippant reply.
“This is non-negotiable.”
“And I don’t work for you, and you have no power over me or what I do.”
“Are you seriously going to let your petty ego endanger the entire world Stark?” Wanda chimes in, Steve glances in her direction and shakes his head when they make eye contact.
“Oh Maximoff, I think you might want to be careful about going down a path where we drag out each other’s ‘petty world endangering’ egos.” Tony says back to her and it’s so clear that he’s poking at her time before the Avengers and Steve wishes that he could tell them both to stop it. This isn’t helping anything, and at worse it’s making things even more broken between them. “Besides, I’m not saying that I’m not going to be careful – but I’m an Avenger and I still have responsibilities. I don’t need your SHIELD agents to protect me Fury, I have my team. They’ve got my back.” It hurts to see how sure Tony is when he says those words and Steve knows that they’re not included in his ‘team’.
He intends to fix that somehow; he’s still just trying to find out how.
“You’re going to need all the help you can get Stark. You have no understanding of the storm coming your way.”
“I’m a fast learner.” Tony motions to the object on the table. “Now, tell me what that is. What does it do?” Fury glances down at the clock.
“Maria described it as an early warning system. Gates aren’t easily opened and it takes time to try to open one fully. When someone started any of the rituals that would bring something over to this side, this would start the timer of how much time before the door opened completely. Maria would track it down and close it before it could fully open and that would be that.” They all glance at the ticking clock.
“So, you’re saying right now there’s an open gate somewhere?” Sam asks and it’s not Fury who answers him.
“The one in the orphanage isn’t closed.” Strange says and they all glance at him. Fury is the only one who seems unsurprised by the sorcerer’s response. “It’s very…complicated to close an open door. All Wanda and I managed to do was put a stopper on it to keep it from opening wider. It’s still open down there.”
“I thought we closed it?” Wanda asks, looking horrified and Strange shakes his head.
“We didn’t have the preparation or the power to do so at the time. Now that I’ve gotten a better look at it I might be able to come up with a spell to close it, but we were working under immediate circumstances. It was more important to wedge it closed then it was to attempt to close it entirely.”
“Then we need to get back down there. As soon as possible.” Sam says, glancing at all of them.
“We still have time. The spell that we put on the door will hold till tonight at least. We need to be better prepared before we go down there again.”
“Why only till tonight?” Steve asks.
“There are far too many magical boosters that happen at night. Even if we were to manage to hold it closed during the witching hour, when the devil’s hour came about it would open.” Strange glances at Tony. “If he’s telling the truth, and you are connected to the gates as he says…I might be able to create a spell using your blood that will close it again.”
“You’ve got it.” Tony answers immediately, like it’s not even a concern what Strange wants to do with his blood, while Steve shakes his head.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea. We don’t know the first thing about this, and no offense Doctor Strange, but throwing Tony at this doesn’t sound like it will help in any way. It’s far too dangerous.”
“No offense taken Mr. Rogers; but in the future, I would caution against taking a stance on a subject that you know nothing about.” The calm reproach feels like a slap in the face that’s clearly directed at the Accords, and he knows it for sure when the other members of the New Avengers bite back smiles. “And I would not be ‘throwing Tony at it’ as you say. There would be a test run to see if Tony’s blood would even help in the slightest, before I would rest our entire plan on it at the word of Mr. Fury.”
“So we break, get everything ready, run some tests and hope for the best?” Tony asks as he stands to his feet, the other members of his team following him.
“We’re not done here Stark.” Fury says and Tony looks at him.
“We’re on a time limit here Nick, so unless you have more information that’s going to immediately help us solve this problem, I would say we’re done for now.” Tony levels a look on the master spy. “However, I do want a file that has everything you know about this delivered to FRIDAY ASAP, and let me be clear – you won’t like what I will do if I find out that you withheld anything from me in it.”
“Are you threatening him Stark?” Clint snaps and Tony doesn’t take his eyes off Fury.
“I would recommend you don’t push me to find out.”
“Knock knock.” Natasha glances up from her tablet at Tony’s voice on the other side of the curtain and she fights back a smile.
“Come in.” She says and Tony pulls back the curtain to step inside of it and pull it closed again. He turns to look at her on the medical bed with her ribs wrapped and her arm in the temporary sling. He cringes in sympathy before grabbing the chair and pulling it next to her.
“You look like you went ten rounds.”
“You should see the other guy.” Is the playful comment she gives and she’s gifted with a tiny smile from Tony.
“I’m…I’m sorry Nat. I didn’t mean for this to happen.” There’s a haunted look in his eyes and Natasha shakes her head.
“This was my choice. I’m the one who took you there and I’m the one who chose to go down there. This, this is all on me, got it?” Tony gives her a nod but it’s clear that the stubborn brunet is still blaming himself for her injuries. It’s sweet, but really fucking annoying. “Thank you for having FRIDAY route the meeting to my screen.” She says instead and Tony nods.
“It’s fine, I mean if I didn’t let you see the actual meeting then you probably would have gotten the information secondhand…from Barton.” Tony makes a face at that and it makes Natasha bite back a smile.
“Did I win the bet?” Tony knows exactly what she’s referring to.
“Not even two hours. Seriously, what the fuck. They need a better security system. I’m going to have to design them something. I bet you they have Hammer Security. Ugh.” He shakes his head like the thought is such a burden to him and they fall into silence for a while before Tony tries again. “I get it you know. Why you chose him.”
“I didn’t choose him.” Natasha argues and Tony gives her a look that clearly shows his disbelief of her sentence. “I tried to choose us. I didn’t want there to be these stupid teams and I thought that…if Steve was proven right about the Winter Soldiers that it could bring us all together again.” She sighs. “And it almost worked, you went to him and everything would have worked out if Steve had just fucking told you about the Winter Soldier’s hit like he swore he was going to. So instead of everything fixing itself, it broke worse.” She looks at Tony. “But I didn’t choose Steve over you.”
“I don’t know if you even realize that you did…but you did Nat, you chose him. And that’s okay, it really is.” His voice sounds genuine, but Natasha doesn’t believe it for a second. “I was actually really shocked when you sided with me in the first place, did you know that? I mean you and I…we’re friends sure, but you and Rogers? That’s a whole different level that I wasn’t on and I knew that.” Natasha goes to shake her head but Tony holds up a hand in a plea for her to wait and let him finish, so she does. “I hated you. I was so fucking angry at you that day and I said some things that…that I hope you know I didn’t really mean.”
“Yes you did.” She corrects softly and he gets a sardonic smile.
“Okay, I might have meant them a little…but I’ll admit Nat. I want to trust you; I want to believe you. You’ve done a lot over the last few months in the whole ‘bridge rebuilding effort’ and I hope you know…I’ve noticed, I really have…I’m just…I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole thing.”
“I just wanted you to know that you weren’t alone. That I was still here for you at least.” Tony gives her a look.
“I was never alone Nat. I know you guys seem think that, but even before the new team came in I had my family. Pepper, Rhodey, FRIDAY and the bots. I was never alone.”
“I’m surprised, you always seemed to strike me as someone who thought that they had to go it alone and hold the entire weight of the world on their shoulders.” Tony shrugs at her statement.
“Going it alone and being alone are two different things. Do I tend to go it alone when I shouldn’t? Hell yes. But that isn’t why I’m here now.”
“Not just checking up on me?” Tony gives her a small smile.
“Not entirely, but you know that.” And she does, it’s written all over Tony’s body language. There’s something else he wants to discuss, not just the Accords Civil War. “You said you did what you did to try and pull us together. Sure, fine.” He does a hand wave like it’s all in the past and inconsequential. “But what about now?” She tilts her head.
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t play me for a fool Natasha. Just because I let you get away with it doesn’t mean I am one.” Tony scolds. “You should have contacted Fury about this whole thing but you didn’t. You’re the only one who knew about the Red Room and what went down there. You called in Steve and them without consulting me and I know that was your attempt to force us together when shit hit the fan – now realize Natasha. I know that you knew it was going to.”
“I couldn’t have known-”
“People have died Natasha, I would caution against whatever lie you’re about to spin right now.” There’s a seriousness to his voice and a command that Natasha’s not used to hearing from Tony and she leans back in the bed. “You knew.” He clarifies and she nods.
“Did you know about the clock? About my mom?” Natasha takes a second before responding.
“I suspected.” She admits and she sees Tony clench his fist but motion for her to go on with his other hand. “I didn’t know until the professor filled in the blanks. I’ve heard stories, that’s what I do after all, and certain things started making sense. Then I recognized the symbol and I knew.”
“Why didn’t you tell me then? Right then? When you came back to the room?”
“You already know why.”
“I want to hear you say it regardless.”
“I wanted to pull the two teams together. Let’s be honest Tony, you’re the only way that’s going to happen. You’re the only middle ground between both of us. I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
“So you risked all of our lives? You should have just told me.” Natasha inclines to him, in a ‘perhaps you’re right’ sort of way and Tony leans back in his chair, shaking his head. “What is it with everyone thinking that they can just make choices and decisions for me and for everyone else and that it’s okay?”
“I made a bad call, but it wasn’t malicious Tony. I know you know that.”
“I know you made a terrible call, and now we’re stuck in the aftermath of it. What does it matter your intentions? Shit’s hit the fan regardless and now I’ve got to deal with something that I wouldn’t be dealing with if you had just acted like the teammate that you claim you want to be again and just fucking told me.” There’s a heaviness in Tony’s statement, a wound that’s festered over time and Natasha can see it plain as day.
“…I’m sorry Tony. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Tony shakes his head and sighs, standing up and gripping the curtain.
“You know, I’m getting pretty sick and tired of hearing that.”
“Stark isn’t going to back down from this.” Barton is saying, and Rhodes would like nothing more than to pass his fist over the annoying archers face. “He’s not going to accept help even if it’ll damn the world that he doesn’t. What does he care?”
“Kettle, pot Barton.” Rhodes says instead, giving them a look that just challenges them to say something to him.
“Tony cares Clint, but he’s right. Putting a few SHIELD agents on him isn’t going to protect him like the Avengers can.” Rhodes can’t help but notice the smirk that crosses Fury’s face and he knows that the Director is up to something long before he opens his mouth.
“I’m glad you feel that way Rogers, because I also agree with you.” He motions to Hill who stands and hands out mission folders to Steve’s team. “That is why I’m doing something in the middle.” Rhodes doesn’t really need to look over Sam’s shoulder at the file to have a strong inkling to what it says, but he does it anyways.
“Our next mission is to protect Stark?” Clint asks with a disbelieving tone to his voice and Fury nods. “That’s bullshit, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t. Not with the Accords and you know, being wanted felons.”
“That’s why you’re going to sign the Accords Agent Barton.” For a moment, it’s like all the air in the room has been sucked out as Fury watches both teams digest what he’s just said.
“I’m not sure that signing the Accords is the right thing to do here, Director Fury.” Steve says with a frown and the other members of his team nod along with him.
“The Accords are not what they were before Captain, and I would guess that the safety of a team member might be reason enough to give them a second glance.” Fury folds his hands. “I have already received pardons for all of you and have been assured that you will be welcomed back with open arms if you choose to sign the Accords Agreement.”
“And how long have you had that assurance?” Carol asks. Fury ignores her and Rhodes knows that Fury’s had it in hand for a while now. Who knows, maybe even back when the whole thing first blew up.
“If you sign, the Avengers would be whole again and able to provide adequate protection for Stark.”
“Tony wouldn’t have us.” Steve says and Rhodes wishes with all of his being that was true.
“Stark wouldn’t have a say in the matter.” Fury answers and there’s a feeling of frustrated rage that goes through Rhodes and he’s sure it goes through the others. The other team glances at his and they can see the irritation written over each of their faces.
“What do you mean?”
“The bunch of you are a special case when it comes to the Accords. You’re already accepted, approved Avengers members which means that the moment you signed you would return to the Compound regardless of Mr. Stark’s personal opinion on the matter. The current Avengers don’t have the authority to prevent your return, even if they might like to.” Fury glances in their direction and Rhodes is beyond glad that Tony and Bruce aren’t here right now.
‘Is that true?” Rogers asks him and Rhodes slowly nods.
“Director Fury is correct. You would be added back into the active roster immediately. Under my command of course, not a team of your own.”
“Which means that there are rules and command structures to adhere to Mr. Rogers.” Carol adds and Rhodes nods.
“If we signed, wouldn’t Steve return to team leader if things are to return to how they were before?” Wanda asks and Fury shakes his head.
“That’s not how this works. You would all rejoin, but Colonel Rhodes and Captain Danvers are correct. The team would be under the direct leadership format that it is currently acting in unless there were a vote called and acted upon within the Avengers themselves. The Accords does not control that.”
“So we sign this and we go home?” Sam asks, his fingers already playing with a pen nearby and Fury nods.
“None legally, everything else though, well that’s outside our control.” Rhodes clenches his fist under the table and inwardly curses Tony.
Tony’s known about this, because they’ve talked about it. The annoying little blind spot that could impose the old Avengers onto the new team members. Tony kept pushing off the required amendments that would prevent something like this from happening, and Rhodes always figured that it was Tony’s own way of leaving the door open, even though Rhodes wanted nothing more than for Tony to slam it closed. Now here it is, biting them in the ass.
“So…we’re signing?” Steve asked, glancing around at his team members and Clint shrugged.
“Sure, fine. I’ll sign. Not like I can’t just take it back whenever I want like Nat did.” Clint scribbles his signature on the paper and Rhodes has never been more grateful for video cameras that recorded that little tidbit. If Clint ever stepped out of line and tried to pull that whole ‘I was just doing what I thought was right, I’m so sorry’ bull like Natasha had done – then Rhodes would be there with this to show that it was all false.
A small comfort, but a comfort nonetheless.
“You don’t have to sign Rogers.” Rhodes says, since Fury clearly isn’t making it seem like the signature is an option at this point. Steve glances down at the paper in his hands and sighs.
“Maybe…maybe Natasha was right. Maybe it’s not about how we stay together, but instead just about staying together.” He shakes his head. “I mean…I had hoped that this would go away, but that isn’t going to happen. And maybe I was…a little rash when I first dealt with the Accords coming across my desk. I should have taken a second to look them over and come to a better decision about them. I regret the fact that Tony and I never got to work on them, maybe this is just…a second chance.”
“Don’t think that just because you sign those papers that you get a second chance Rogers. You might be back in the Compound, and you might get tapped for missions that would benefit your skill set, but that doesn’t mean that we’re forced to roll over and make things like they were. Things are never going back to how it was.” Rhodes warns him and Rogers looks at him before getting a stubborn look.
“I think that this might be a good first step for trying to get back there.”
“That’s not how this works.” Rhodes warns him and he shakes his head.
“I have to try.” Rogers looks at the others. “Of course you don’t have to sign it. I still don’t agree with them, but maybe it’s time to try to battle them a different way…Together.”
(falls down dead)
Finally! The Avengers are all heading back together and things can start to get tense between all the groups involved.
Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think!
Sorry about the delay on getting this chapter out, real life has been keeping me pretty busy these last few weeks, but I hope to have the next chapter out sooner rather than later. And I also want to say: Thank you all for the comments and kudos! It makes me smile each time I see a new one, please keep it up!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There’s a moment of silence on the other side of the conversation. The Vision seems to be mulling over the information that Tony has just provided to him, before tilting his head slightly as if in thought.
“So, the members of ‘Team Captain America’ will be returning to the states along with you?” He asks, and Tony nods.
“They’ve signed the Accords. Ross and the others have already approved, personally I think they just wanted this whole thing over but none-the-less, they’ve signed and they’re coming back.” Vision’s facial expression doesn’t change much, but Tony can see the slight shift in the android’s countenance.
“So their transgressions against civilians and various police forces, their ignorance of sovereign law and their behavior towards all of us – you most of all and most recently, is to be washed away and ignored?” Tony nods slowly.
“So it would seem.” Vision is quiet again before he shakes his head.
“I find this unacceptable.” He declares and Tony gives him as much of a comforting smile as he can manage. He can tell by Vision’s face that it doesn’t really help. “Is there nothing we can do?”
“Apart from waiting to see if they forgo the requirements of the Accords…no, not really.” Vision’s shoulders go back a little and the look on the other’s face is as if he’s being backed into a corner.
“I do not wish to reside with a hostile group of individuals who have already proven that they are more than willing to go through me and those I care about without a second thought or care. I do not feel calm or comfortable with the realization that I will have to reside in the same residence with my assaulter. I also find myself not at peace with the thought that you must reside and work with your abusers as well.”
“Abusers is a pretty strong word Viz.”
“I endeavor to choose my words quite carefully, and in this instance I stand by my choice.” Tony’s face immediately pulls into a frown.
“Please don’t do that Viz.” He pleads, silently begging Vision not to be cross with him, and the other man takes a second before he nods.
“I’m sorry…Tony, I just…I find myself quite at odds with this most recent development. I am attempting to distance myself accordingly, but I seem to be failing.”
“Well, you don’t have to live with Wanda or any of the others. You haven’t used your room in the Compound for some time, and I’m not going to make you use it now. The Manor is our home, and I give you my word- they are not welcome there.”
“But The Accords allows their ‘triumphant return’.”
“Only to the Avengers Compound. Stark Manor is not listed as an Avengers property. They have no authority to be on the grounds. Or any Stark owned property in general.” Vision looks slightly mollified by this new information. Tony gives him a second before he brings up the next thing. “If you don’t want to be there when they return, that’s okay. You know that’s okay right?” Vision takes a moment before nodding.
“Thank you Tony, and yes I am aware. However, I feel as though I should be present when they arrive.” Tony nods.
“Okay, sounds good. I’ll see you soon.” The call ends and Tony runs a tired hand over his face. How is it possible for someone to be this exhausted? He can’t help but find himself wondering.
Steve’s been waiting outside the room for a good half hour, waiting for Tony to come out from his calls to the other Avengers waiting back in the states. There was a little bit of surprise and frustration when he tried to enter and the door wouldn’t open, but that quickly went away under the tide of the realization that Tony didn’t want him in there, Tony didn’t want him overhearing whatever he was saying to the others.
It felt like a strange wedge between them that Steve longed to close.
The door opens with a soft hiss and the brunet steps out, looking a little more run down than Steve has seen him since the whole Secretary Ross fiasco and Steve steps forward.
“Tony?” The other man jumps a little, turning to see Steve and looking like he’s fighting back a sigh.
“Rogers.” The greeting is hollow and Steve has to push away his feelings on it.
“Can we talk?”
“I’m actually kind of busy.” Tony says, starting to turn away and Steve moves forward to catch him.
“Anything that I might be able to help with? We could get two birds with one stone. Isn’t that how the phrase goes?”
“Unless you’ve magically acquired the ability to diagnose, understand and write code sequences – and or magic, I don’t really think so.” Steve shakes his head.
“I still think it’s a bad plan Tony. We don’t know the first thing about what’s down there. Strange has already admitted that he doesn’t know if it’s going to work.”
“That’s why we’re going to test it. Now if you’ll excuse me.”
“Tony please. I’m not trying to start a fight, I just want to know that you’re going to be safe about this.” There’s a brief moment before Tony sighs and Steve knows that he’s stepped on a landmine without realizing it. The brunet turns back to him with a look in his eyes that Steve can’t read.
He used to always be able to read Tony’s tells.
“No offense Rogers, but Stephen has been doing this for some time. He’s the bloody Sorcerer Supreme of Earth, if that doesn’t make him qualified enough to take a small sample and test it out then I don’t know what does, but I choose to trust in my teammates skills and knowledge bases. Actually…some offense meant.” Steve shakes his head, lost in the quiet rage that Tony is throwing out at him.
“What are you talking about? I trust my team and their skills and knowledge.”
“Do you Rogers?” Tony asks with a heavy handed questioning tone. “Do you really?” With that Tony pulls out some sunglasses and slides them onto his face, turning away from Steve and walking down the hall towards the area where Strange and Banner have set up their lab.
Steve stands there until Sam comes to find him, feeling like he’s missed something important. He realizes that this doesn’t feel like the fresh start that he had hoped for all of them.
“I hate magic.” Tony says with a firm amount of frustration and Bruce bites back a smile as he nods.
“You’re not alone in that.” He says in solidarity as the two scientist’s watch Stephen’s complicated hand gestures and the stunning golden circles created by them.
“I don’t have a clue what’s happening? Do you know what’s happening?”
“I’m guessing that the dark purple-ish magic is the bad magic, and the gold magic is the good magic.” Bruce says and Tony tilts his head.
“What about the red magic?”
“Not a clue.”
“And the blue stuff happening over on that side?”
“…what about the pink?”
“Nada.” Tony shoots him an amused grin that he matches as the two of them continue to watch the Sorcerer Supreme in action. “Anything?” Bruce asks after a few moments of silence and Stephen nods.
“Director Fury is right about one thing, any of the magic that Tony’s blood touches is immediately overwhelmed.”
“Is that a good thing?” Bruce asks and Stephen does a small head tilt.
“It’s a good and bad thing. If used correctly, it’s a very good thing. If not…well, you can guess.”
“Oh, let me…um…very bad?” Tony offers up and Stephen gives him an amused glance.
“Yes, very well done. Gold star.” Tony does a small fist pump as if he’s scored a goal of some sort and Bruce shakes his head with a chuckle.
“So, our chances of closing the portal in the Orphanage is?”
“Looking very promising so far. There are of course a few more things I want to test out before we even consider doing a real life application of it.”
“But you think it’s working?” Tony asks and Stephen nods.
“I think it’s working, but like I said, a few more tests.”
“Not to be a spoilsport or the bearer of bad news, but we’re kinda running out of time.”
“I won’t take the chance of something going wrong.”
“I’m willing to risk it.” Tony says flippantly and Stephen levels a serious look at him.
“I’m not.” There’s something there, a heaviness to the words that Bruce hears and he glances between the two men who seem to be having some kind of staring contest. Stephen wins when Tony looks away with a shrug.
“Fine, but I do have one important, very serious question.” Tony points at the spheres. “Why is it pink?”
“Hey,” Clint’s voice calls out behind her and Wanda turns slightly to watch the man approach and take the seat next to her. “Good view?” He asks, pointing out the giant windows that she’s been staring out at since the signing meeting.
“It helps me think.” She says and he nods.
“I know the feeling. I like higher posts as well, glancing down at everything.” He looks at her. “Everything okay? How are you feeling?”
“I don’t know.” Wanda admits and Clint nods.
“If you want to talk about it? Or we could just look out the window together.” She takes a few seconds, trying to get her thoughts all together before deciding that it’s a pointless exercise and she speaks instead.
“We’ll be going home soon…I’ve been waiting for it since I left, and I guess I’m excited, but I’m also a little worried.”
“Can I ask why?”
“We didn’t exactly part with Vision on good terms.” She reminds him and he shrugs.
“Vision seemed pretty okay at the airport.” Wanda looks back out the window.
“He wasn’t. He said he was sorry that it had all played out like it had, but when the authorities came he just handed me over. He told me that this all could have been avoided and he wished that we had listened.” She bites her lip as she reveals the next part that’s been weighing on her since that day. “He said goodbye.”
“Like…goodbye until we see each other again or?”
“It sounded pretty permanent.”
“Don’t fret over it?” Clint says waving it off, “he might have thought that you were going to be trapped in that prison for a while, or he might have known that it would be a long time before you two saw each other again. I wouldn’t worry about it. The guy worships the ground you walk on, I mean he’s been in love with you since he first joined the team. I wouldn’t be too worried about what he said or did in the heat of the moment. He’s had some time to cool down and think things over. It’s all going to be fine.” She mulls over his words, and thinks of all the times Vision came to cheer her up, or attempt to make her food, or ask her to watch movies with him and she gets a small smile.
“Perhaps you’re right.”
“Of course I am.” Clint says assuredly and Wanda lets out a chuckle. She turns to him and nudges him with her shoulder.
“What about you? You’ll be seeing your wife and kids again…aren’t you worried about what’s going to happen?” Clint shakes his head.
“Nah, Laura’s always known that I’m an agent first and foremost, and that there were always going to be times that I was going to have to rejoin the fight. I’m more worried about what Stark’s told her then I am about her being angry that I went to the aid of Captain America.” Wanda feels her smile fall.
“That’s what I’m worried about as well. Stark has had Viz to himself for months, who knows what he’s said to him or what lies he’s led him to believe.”
“Well it doesn’t matter, because we can set all of these ‘New Avengers’ straight when we get back.” Clint glances out the window. “We’re all a team now, for better or worse. Stark might have had their ear for these last few months but soon enough they’ll be faced with the truth.” He shrugs. “I’m not worried.” The assuredness of Clint’s stance calms Wanda and she nods. “Is that all that’s been bothering you?”
“What else is there?”
“It’s not a bad thing. I’ve been thinking about Strange, and how he’s like me. I might actually have a teacher.” There’s a hopefulness in her voice that Clint clearly hears because he smiles.
“That’s great Wanda. He’ll be lucky to have you as a student.” She grins.
“It’ll be nice, Vision did his best but we were both learning about our powers and it was not something that came easily to either of us.”
“Well it might be nice when you return. There are the ‘Junior Avengers’ now. Other kids that you might like.”
“I am a full Avenger, I’m not a child.” Wanda says with a frown and Clint laughs.
“Hey, it’s just a thought. It’s not so bad to have other people closer to you that will understand what you’re going through.” She looks back out the window. She doesn’t say anything about how she does not feel closer to the children then to the adults, but that’s the burden she’s had to bare as the youngest member. It’ll be nice to no longer have that be true.
“Unless Stark has gotten to them as well and poisoned them against us.” Wanda warns and Clint shrugs.
“Look, any damage that Stark’s done we’ll fix. I promise.” Wanda can’t help but feel assured by Clint’s confidence.
Rhodey’s waiting for him when he gets back to his SHIELD appointed room. Tony gives him a smile as he enters and Rhodey matches it a moment later.
“What’s up Honey-Bear?”
“Just coming to check on you.” Tony opens his mouth to assure Rhodey but the other man shakes his head before he can even get it out. “Don’t man. You’ve been kidnapped, held hostage by people who claimed they were your friends once, and I’m concerned about a thought I have about something else that went down while you were there but for the sake of not getting on the armor to go kick their asses, I’ve wisely chosen to wait until I get the full story from you before I make any rash decisions.” Rhodey makes eye contact with him. “But know that I will lay the hurt on them if they did.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Tony says with just the right amount of flippancy and Rhodey gives him a serious look.
“No idea? So Rogers is going to be confused about what the hell I’m talking about if I go to him right now and say that I know what they let Wanda do to you?” Tony looks away and he hears Rhodey curse. “I’m being good right now Tones, but I don’t want to be. Just give me the green light and I will rain hellfire on their asses.” Tony gives him a sad smile as he shakes his head.
“It wasn’t all that.”
“Like hell it wasn’t.”
“They just had her pull out what I knew about the clock, which was nothing. So joke was on them, they got nothing.”
“It doesn’t matter what the fuck they got. What matters is that they did it!”
“Well it’s done, and I’d rather not think about it right now.” There’s a pleading tone to Tony’s voice and he watches as Rhodey’s face falls.
“Why don’t you let us-” Rhodey cuts himself off with a huff. “You know that I would end anyone who put a hand on you, right? And not just me, but the things Pepper would do, or how quickly the team would come to your aid? If you would just let us…”
“I don’t want to cause any problems.”
“It is not causing problems to let your family protect you from psychopathic assholes and bullies.” Rhodey says firmly. “You’re not responsible for their bullshit Tony, no matter how much they loved to tell you otherwise.” Tony looks away and sighs. He doesn’t want to get in this conversation right now with Rhodey.
“Stephen is finalizing his tests, he thinks we’re ready to go back down there.” Rhodey frowns and gets a frustrated look before shaking his head and allowing the change in subject.
“Does he need the whole team?”
“No, I think he wants to keep the party as small as possible. Like only you and Carol. He wants Bruce and I to stay here.”
“I agree, I mean…you should have seen how quickly it took you out man. I mean the armor didn’t protect you in the slightest, I’m not a fan of you going back out when apparently all those creatures down there will attack if they get a whiff of Tony-catnip.”
“Tony-catnip?” Tony says with a smirk and Rhodey grins.
“Apparently it’s a thing, who knew?” There’s a knock at the door that interrupts them as Bruce sticks his head in.
“Rhodes? Stephen says he’s ready for you.” Rhodey rolls forward.
“Well, then time to get back to work.”
They’re all waiting for the others to arrive in the departure bay. Maria Hill informed them that Strange had finally gotten the correct spell and that the others were suiting up and heading out. Steve had informed Clint, Sam and Wanda of it and the three were standing with him when the other members of the team entered the area.
Steve was a little surprised to see Tony outside of the suit as he approached and Colonel Rhodes came over and shook his head, letting the face plate snap open.
“You can all stand down.” He ordered and Steve shook his head.
“We’re ready to go and assist.”
“Captain Marvel and Doctor Strange are coming down with me. You’ll be backup if it’s required.” Steve felt a frown cross his face as his shoulders went back and he took a step forward.
“We’re a part of this team too Colonel. You just can’t sideline us because you’re angry with us.” Rhodes turned fully towards him with a look like Steve was the lowest pond scum that dared to come within a miles length of him.
“Stand down Rogers. That’s an order from your team captain. If you have an issue with how I run this team you are more than welcome to talk to me about it later.” Rhodes stepped forward and lowered his voice. “We will be having a discussion about challenging the authority of the team leader in front of the other team members later, but for now you will return to your stations and wait.”
“Being a team leader is about more than just throwing around your authority Rhodes.” Steve tries to inform him and Rhodes shakes his head with a baffled look.
“And what do you know about being a fair and capable team leader Rogers?” Rhodes shook his head. “We’re not getting into this here. If you have a problem with me then I recommend you thumb through the Accords and see what your options are, but for now- stand down. If I have to ask again this will go beyond a verbal warning into a full on written one. Not good for day one don’t you think?” Steve clenches his fist, and everything in Rhodes’s face is challenging him to take this to the next level, but Steve takes a step back.
“Of course. We’ll wait here till you need us.” Rhodes nods, clearly pleased with himself for some reason, Steve doesn’t know why because it’s not like Rhodes has won this fight, if anything he’s just made the integration between the two teams that much harder. Steve almost wants to shake his head, if this were the other way around, Steve wouldn’t be acting this petty against Tony’s team.
Rhodes walks over to Director Fury and Captain Marvel, no doubt filling them in on how he’s leaving more than half of his team behind for no other reason than a grudge – but Steve chooses to ignore it and glances over at where Tony is.
He’s surprised when he sees Tony reach out and catch Strange’s arm and he strains to hear the conversation between them.
“Are you sure you have enough? You can take more if you need.”
“I’m sure, to be honest I already have more than enough. A drop would suffice, but you need to be prepared for the backlash.”
“I know, I know. Bruce already has a bed with my name on it. Literally, he took a dry-erase marker and wrote my name on the clipboard. I feel so betrayed.” Strange gets a small smile before it falls into something serious.
“All joking aside, you’ll want to be lying down when this happens.”
“I already said I know. I’ll be in bed, I might even have someone track down some horrible jello just to get the look right.” Strange shakes his head.
“I’ve done the best I can with the protection circles in the room, they’ll bare some of the burden, but the majority is still going to fall on you. I’m sorry, but it’s not going to be fun for you.”
“Most things rarely are these days.” Tony says with an almost pained flippancy. Something on Strange’s face twists a little in sympathy for Tony before being masked again.
“I’ll do what I can on my side to lessen the fallout.” He promises and Tony gives him a tiny smile.
“Thanks…be careful okay?” Strange nods.
“I will.” He assures before looking at Tony in the eyes. “You too.”
“I will. I’ll have Bruce there, so I’ll be fine.” Bruce approaches the two of them as if he heard his name and nods at Tony before guiding him out of the room and the remainder of Colonel Rhodes’s team take off out the newly opened departure ramp, all of them flying into a battle that should have all of them present.
“Well that’s just bullshit.” Clint says, dropping his bow to his other side and Steve shrugs.
“They can posture all they want, eventually they’re going to have to get over it.” Steve glances in the direction that Tony and Bruce went. “Everyone be ready for the call to Assemble, but relax until then.” The others nod at his order and he takes off down the hall that the two scientist disappeared. It takes two inquiries from SHIELD agents about where they’ve gone before he ends up at the locked door. He knocks firmly and Bruce comes to the door, opening it before seeming to register who is on the other side, and Steve watches as he places his body in the doorway and closes the door slightly to block Steve from entering or getting a good view of the room itself.
“Mr. Rogers, can I help you?” It’s still so strange to see docile Bruce behaving in this way, as if he’s protecting Tony from Steve and Steve wants to pull Bruce to the side and explain his side of things. If he could just get people to listen then all of this would be fixed – they would understand, and that was always the first step to reconciliation.
“I’m here to see if I can help with anything. I overheard Strange say something about-”
“We’re fine, thank you.” Bruce cuts him off and Steve will admit that he’s a little taken aback.
“Doctor Banner if I have done something-” Bruce shakes his head.
“Don’t. I’m sorry but I don’t have time for this, I need to prepare with Tony. So please find somewhere else where someone might need your help because it isn’t here.”
“Doctor Banner I just wanted to-”
“Oh, I’m more than aware of what you ‘want to do’ or what you would like to happen but let me be very, very clear about something here. If you thought that you’d sign the Accords and that magically everything would be fixed and that we would welcome you all back with open arms then I regret to inform you that you were naively misinformed. I’m sorry, but you are back because you signed the Accords and that means, unfortunately, that legally we cannot shut you out. Please understand that you are not here because we were falling over ourselves to get you back, or that we want you to be here. The days of how things were are over and done with, if you’re looking to get them back or start them up again, then know that there is no place for you here.”
“Excuse me, Doctor Banner?” A voice cuts in behind them and they both turn to see a SHIELD agent with multiple colored jello’s in his arms. “They didn’t say what flavor…”
“Thank you, that’s perfect.” Banner reaches out and takes the cups from the young agent before inclining to Steve and closing the door.
So Steve's starting to realize that things aren't going to be as simple as he thought, just sliding back into the team and there's more where that came from for everyone else!
Thank you for reading! Please let me know what you think!
Well this chapter got typed up pretty quickly and so I decided to post it instead of holding onto it. :-)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
They’re a group on a mission when they return to the Helicarrier, and it registers as slightly amusing in the back of his mind how the SHIELD agents shuffle to stand on the side of the hallways to get out of the way of the Avengers team as they come marching down the hall. They turn the next corner and Stephen has to refrain from rolling his eyes in frustration when he sees the other team standing in their path.
“Is it finished? Is it closed?” Rogers asks and Stephen doesn’t pause as he walks past him.
“It is.” He says as an answer and he’s a little irritated when the others fall into step with them. SHIELD needs smaller hallways.
“Just like that? The problems fixed?” Wilson asks and Stephen figures that his previous response is more than enough to answer that question so he doesn’t say anything as he makes his way for Tony’s room.
“Are you sure?” Rogers asks, “Because you said before that it was almost impossible to close one of those doors. You were down there barely thirty minutes.”
“It’s been handled Mr. Rogers.” Carol says as they finally come to the door and Stephen knocks on it gently. There’s a worry that’s been strumming through his veins since he started the final spells to close the door down in the orphanage and he’s doing everything in his power not to project his worry least he affect the rest of the team.
Bruce opens the door in a few moments and stands to the side to let them in. Stephen nods to him as he enters and he’s a little surprised when he hears the argument start behind him.
“Doctor Banner, we just want to check on Tony.”
“I will make sure that FRIDAY keeps you up to date on his condition. Now if you’ll excuse us.”
“You can’t keep locking us out.” Rogers’s voice holds a tone that seems to be unsure if it’s frustrated or reprimanding.
“As his doctor; I can, in fact, make that call. Tony doesn’t need everyone in the room right now.”
“Doctor Ban-” Whatever Rogers is about to say is cut off when Bruce closes the door in his face firmly. He turns and looks that he rest of them, at their various arched eyebrow expressions, before getting a sheepish look and quickly pulling off his glasses to clean them.
“What? Tony doesn’t need all that stress.” He says as he puts them back on his face and Stephen gives a small nod to the doctor before they all move into the far area of the room where the sheets have been pulled closed. Carol and Rhodes pull them open and Stephen immediately comes over to where Tony is lying on the bed. He looks pale and Stephen reaches out to take his wrist and get his pulse.
“How’s he doing?” He asks as he times it, and Bruce gets a sigh.
“His charts are similar to FRIDAY’s scans after the seal activated.” Stephen nods and reaches over to check a few more things, and with each check coming back he feels some of that fear chip away.
“And how long did he remain conscious?”
“A little under a minute.” Is what Bruce says in answer to the question. Stephen stands up straight and holds out his hand for Tony’s chart, which Carol hands to him a second later and he flips through the readings.
“How’s it looking?” Rhodes asks and Stephen flips a few more pages before nodding.
“Very good actually, a little worse than I had hoped, but nothing that I’m going to raise concern about.” Rhodes lets out a huff of air, as if he’d been holding it in until he got the green light on his best friend and he gets a shaky smile.
“Good, that’s good.”
“Will it always be like this?” Carol asks a second later and Stephen feels all their eyes on him as he debates how to answer the question. He opts for transparency in the end and nods.
“In the beginning, yes. As time goes on and as he gets used to the feeling and learns how to control the flow of his own energy, he’ll get better and these moments will become less frequent.” Stephen hands the chart back to Bruce. “Our biggest concern when it comes to Tony’s health is going to be the gates.” They look at him with a silent request to go on. “He can’t sustain multiple closings close together. He’ll need time to regain his strength, but that choice unfortunately doesn’t rest with us. That isn’t something we can really control.”
“What happens…if he’s overwhelmed…or worse?” Carol asks and Stephen shakes his head.
“I don’t know; I’ll have to research it further. The obvious answer is that we would be unlikely to continue closing the gates and would eventually be overrun with demons and the like.”
“Is there a way to close them all again? Like Fury said Maria did?” Bruce asks and Stephen looks down at Tony.
“I don’t know. It was before my time and the Ancient One never spoke of how or why the gates stopped being a concern. I can only hope that there’s a written record of something in the library. Something that’ll help us.”
“Do we have an estimate on how long he’ll be out this time?” Rhodes asks and Stephen shakes his head.
“It’ll be worse than last time, I was actually surprised with how quickly he bounced back but I’m going to chalk that up to sheer force of will. He’ll need as much rest as he can get.”
“What the hell is all that about?” Clint snaps, waving his hand wildly towards the general direction of where the other Avengers are currently in the ship. “Are they going to stonewall us every step of the way?”
“Banner might have been right, if Tony’s healing in some way then perhaps having so many people in the room would have been too stressful for him.” Sam tries, as usual, to play devil’s advocate and Steve gives a slow nod.
“Then why did he let them in without a fuss, but us he slams the fucking door in our faces?”
“Strange is the only one who knows this kind of magic stuff, so letting him in makes sense. Rhodes is team leader so checking in on a team member’s health should always be a priority.” Steve says and Wanda crosses her arms.
“And Marvel? Why did she get in?”
“They were the active party, they probably just wanted to check in that he was alright.” Steve tries to sound sure about it, but he’s not. Not really. He’s pretty sure that Bruce is currently acting out on some frustration for them and is being a little childish in this whole thing, but he doesn’t want to say that aloud and add to the rapidly deteriorating team dynamics that have already begun.
“And what about us? Why aren’t we allowed to know about his ‘condition’?” She asks.
“Maybe Bruce wanted a second opinion before saying anything for certain.” Sam offers and it’s clear that the others don’t believe it even though it seems to end the conversation.
“We’ll get an update on Tony’s condition soon enough, that isn’t fully why I called this meeting.” Steve says and they all look at him. “Things aren’t going to be…well for lack of a better word- easy.” There are silent, sarcastic responses to his obvious revelation and he nods. “And I know that it’s frustrating, but it’s day one guys. The beginning is always going to be the worst. As far as both teams are concerned the other team is stepping on their toes and neither of us are liking it, but we have to be careful about how we approach this.”
“Why must it fall on us to be the ones who are ‘careful’?” Wanda asks with a sullen frustration.
“Because we’re the ones who are coming into a new situation and dynamic. We don’t know these people and they don’t know us. They only know what the media and other outlets have told them.” He doesn’t say Tony, although he knows that they’re all thinking it. He himself wonders what Tony has said in their absence, has it been kind? And more importantly, has it been true? They didn’t really leave on a good note and Steve has seen how quickly spite and rage can make good people twist everything about each other into something negative. He hopes that they’re not working against that.
He’s seen how calm Tony has been when he’s been faced with them, but inwardly Steve knows that there’s so much more burning under the surface of that armor that the brunet isn’t letting anyone see. Steve knows that everything Tony does comes from a place of passion, it’s one of the most amazing things about him…and one of the most exhausting at times, and so this play-pretend that Tony has going for him with ‘I don’t really feel anything’ feels more than fake.
“Well, we’ve got a job to do and they’re going to be blocking us at each turn.” Clint says after a minute and Steve nods.
“Yet we have to be the ones who take the higher road.” He glances mostly in Clint’s direction with this next part. “There can be no more of the jabs that have been getting thrown around in anger.” Clint huffs and rolls his eyes, glancing away. “We need to get to a place where we’re able to work together, and those sorts of behaviors aren’t helpful to that end goal.”
“Well excuse me for being a little bitter about being thrown in jail…twice.”
“Be bitter all you want, but we need you to keep it to yourself.” Steve answers. “Can you do that?” Clint takes a second before giving a small nod.
“As long as Stark doesn’t start it, I won’t either.” Steve sighs and looks away from the archer, figuring that’s as good as a promise as he’s going to get for now.
“Alright, well onto the next part. We’re going to be back at the Compound in a few hours. Things are going to be different than what we remember.” He gets several nods. “So before we land, I want each and every one of you to go through the Accords outline that Agent Hill made out. We need to know where the lines are so that we don’t accidentally trip over one of them.” His team makes several unhappy faces and he fights back a smile. “I know that it’s time consuming and unnecessary, but it’ll make our lives a lot easier if someone tries to say something about the Accords and we’ll know whether or not they’re being truthful.” He takes a second to let that soak in. “I’ll do my best to mediate between Rhodes’s team and ours in the meantime. If there are any concerns, let me know and I’ll try to get them handled.” There are nods from Clint and Sam, but Wanda bites her lip in concentration. “Wanda?”
“I have…a request I guess.”
“Okay.” She takes a second before she speaks again.
“Doctor Strange, he’s like me. I was hoping that perhaps he’d be willing to step in as a teacher. I think we had a good moment down in the Orphanage, and I would like to see if I can’t get better with his help.” Steve nods immediately with a smile.
“I’ll ask, and I’ll see what I can swing. I’m sure it’s not going to be an issue.” He says and she gets a small, hopeful smile. “Alright, we all know what we need to do. Let’s break guys.”
“Do you really think this is a good idea sir?” Hill asks after standing silent for a while. Fury shakes his head slightly.
“It’s the best option we’ve got.”
“There isn’t a lot of good will between them, how do you know that isn’t just going to make things worse?” Fury takes a second before glancing up from his files.
“Because they’ll have to make things work, or they risk losing someone important to them. Stark can be a great motivator to the right people in the right situations.”
“Are you going to give him what he asked for?” She asks and Fury shakes his head.
“Stark isn’t ready to know all of that yet, hell- none of them are. Let’s let them get adjusted first and deal with the more pressing matters before we touch on the rest of it.”
“But sir…what if they’ve been awoken? Wouldn’t it be wiser to warn them of what could be coming?”
“They’ve got enough on their plate for right now Hill, and there’s been no activity from the area in question. No reason to set off any alarms yet.”
“With all due respect sir, that doesn’t mean anything.” Hill says and Fury flips a page without looking up at her.
“We’ll tell them when they need to know.” Hill crosses her arms at his statement, but doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t really need to; Fury can hear her question of: Isn’t that line of thinking what got us in this mess in the first place?
There’s a media circus at the gates of the Avengers Compound when they fly over it to land on the roof. There are camera’s pointed up at them and flashes going off as each of the reporters down there try to get a glimpse of the newly returning Avengers members. Rhodes hasn’t had a chance to fully approve of whatever route Ross and the Accords Council has opted to go with for Team Cap’s return, but he knows that it’s all about to hit the proverbial fan any minute now.
The plane lands and the ramp descends to show them the greeting party consisting of Pepper, Happy, the Junior Avengers, Vision and Laura. Rhodes tries not to put too much stock in the fact that each of the Avengers members are in full combat costume, even the Vision who has taken lately to wearing sweater vests everywhere and anywhere that he can get away with it.
Rhodes is glad for the privacy of the private landing pad as they roll Tony’s hospital bed down the ramp slowly, and they’re immediately overrun with Junior Avengers.
“Is he alright?” Harley’s voice holds a panicked quality through the vocal modulator and Rhodes nods.
“He’s just resting now, he had a hard day.” Rhodes says and all of the Junior members glance at Team Cap.
“Oh I’ll bet.” Peter says in a dark tone and Carol shakes her head.
“It wasn’t them. We’ll debrief once we get Tony situated okay?” She says and they move aside and watch as Bruce and Stephen wheel Tony by.
“Are we moving him to the Manor?” Kamala asks and Rhodes shakes his head.
“It’s too much of a risk to move him right now with that’s happening at the gates. He’ll rest here, and when he wakes up he can decide where he’s going.” Rogers decides at that moment to approach suddenly, coming up to where Tony and the other kids are, and everyone is caught a little off guard with how the Rescue Armor’s gauntlet comes up and the familiar hum of the power building in it.
Everyone immediately reacts, in various different ways:
Team Captain America drops into defensive positions as if they’re under sudden and wrongful attack.
The Junior Avengers immediately fall to the side of Rescue, blocking Team Cap from getting close to Tony’s hospital bed.
Rhodes and the others with him let out sighs of frustration, and Vision looks as though he will single handedly drop any member of Team Cap that dares lay a hand on one of the Junior members.
“Rescue, stand down.” Rhodes commands and the kid’s hand doesn’t lower.
“Tell them to back off. They back off, I’ll power down.” Harley says and Rogers stands up to his full height.
“Listen here son, I don’t know what you think you’re doing but-” Harley cuts him off.
“What I’m doing Mr. Rogers is protecting a downed team mate against his kidnappers. You will back up or we will make you back up.” Rogers goes to say something but Rhodes steps between them.
“Rogers, back up. Rescue, back down.” He orders again and it’s clear that the boy isn’t fully powered down when he lowers his hand, and Rogers takes a few steps back. “Now, there’s a lot of hostility here and apparently some itchy trigger fingers. Everyone take a walk, be in the council meeting room in fifteen. If you’re not cooled off enough by then, have FRIDAY pass on the message that you’ll be a little late.” The teams back away from each other, the distrust now heavy in the air as Bruce pushes Tony inside. The Junior Avengers follow them and Wanda calls out to Vision when the man goes to follow as well.
Rhodes watches as the android’s entire body goes still as he slowly turns around to face the Witch. Wanda seems pleased to see Vision, even though the sentiment clearly isn’t shared by the other man.
“It’s good to see you again Viz.” She says, her voice small and hopeful, and Rhodes watches as Vision’s face is impassive.
“The sentiment unfortunately is not reciprocated Miss Maximoff. Gentlemen.” Vision inclines to the other members of Team Cap before he goes to walk away and Wanda moves forward to catch him.
“Wait! Viz!” She says and the other man pulls his arm out of the reach of her grabbing hands.
“I would advise you to keep your hands to yourself Miss Maximoff, and your mind while we’re at it.” Vision says. “This is your only warning.” She snaps back as if Vision has physically hit her and her eyes tear up.
“Viz.” Comes her soft plea and Clint comes up alongside her, putting an arm over her shaking shoulders.
“What the hell man? She just wanted to say hello. What have you been around Stark so long that you don’t know how not to act like a complete asshole?” The cool, unimpressed look that Vision gives Clint is so impressive that Rhodes almost wants to slow clap, instead he steps in-between.
“Enough guys. Take a walk remember?” Rhodes turns to Vision. “Viz, can you go check on Rescue and the others? Make sure they’re okay?”
“Absolutely Colonel Rhodes. I am glad to see your safe return.” With that, Vision moves to follow after the other group and it leaves Rhodes standing there with Team Cap, Pepper, Happy and Laura. Barton gets a big grin when he sees Laura and lets go of Wanda, heading over to his wife with his arms out wide for a celebratory hug.
The slap that Laura gives him when he comes within arm’s reach of her echoes in the hangar. Clint’s face is frozen in confusion and uncertainty as Laura takes a step back and smooths down her clothes in an attempt to calm herself.
“Laura…baby…what’s wrong? Why did?” Clint asks in short, confused, choppy sentences and Laura levels a look on him that would make the Vision proud.
“If you really have to ask that, then I don’t know what to tell you other than ‘wake up’.” She says calmly before turning to Rhodes. “I have the Accords Representatives here, they’re down in conference room six. If you need me to hold them off for a while, I can.” Rhodes nods slowly.
“That’d be great. We need to debrief first before the P.R. reps take them.” He motions to Rogers and company, and he watches as Wilson tilts his head.
“P.R.? What do we need P.R. for? And isn’t that usually Miss Potts?” He glances meaningfully at Pepper and the red-haired CEO glances up from her tablet.
“Stark Industries isn’t handling P.R. for this incident. The Accords has their own people that they’ve graciously sent over.” It’s clear in Pepper’s icy tone that she thinks that Team Cap should just be thrown to the wolves.
“That doesn’t answer why we need P.R. reps?” Rogers says, stepping forward. “I mean, we’ve never had them before.”
“Yes you did, you always did. You just never realized apparently because it was Tony who handled it all in the background. This will not be the case.” Pepper states and the others look at each other, clearly debating saying something that might come across as rude to Pepper, and then wisely thinking better of it. Clint is still staring at Laura who has turned away from him and is ignoring him like he doesn’t exist within her universe.
“But we got pardons.” Wanda pipes up and Pepper nods.
“Yes you did.” The answer doesn’t seem to give any clarity to Team Cap and Rhodes wants to shake his head.
“Let’s all get situated and do the debrief alright? You all know where your rooms are.”
“No, you still haven’t answered the question.” Wilson says and Laura turns to him.
“You’ve been pardoned for acts of international and domestic terrorism. That doesn’t change the fact that you still did those things and that there are a lot, and I mean a lot, of people who are not happy with you. The P.R. reps are here to try and minimalize the public reaction to the news of your return.” Pepper nods at Laura’s words.
“The Avengers answer to the public, and right now you’re going to need all the help you can get. Ross was kind enough to send over some of his best. I’d recommend that you listen to their advice and do what they tell you to do.” She says as she turns away, heading inside with Laura and Happy and Rhodes gives them a shrug before he follows her too. He waits till they’re out of earshot before he starts asking questions.
“So how bad is it?”
“On a scale of one to ten? A solid seven.” Rhodes cringes at the answer.
“Have you made a statement yet?”
“Nothing concrete, I didn’t want to put out anything other than the obvious without Tony’s approval.”
“What’s the worst case scenario that we’re dealing with right now?”
“You saw how Harley responded?” He nods. “Think that level, only less rational and less likely to be talked down before an act of violence.”
“So basically not good.”
“No, not good at all.” She taps a few things on the tablet. “FRIDAY is operating security protocols at a hundred percent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we still had an incident. And soon.”
“Alright, we’ll do the debrief and then I want everyone to head to the Manor. I don’t want the kids getting caught up in this if it goes sideways.”
“And ‘Team Captain America’?” Pepper asks with the smallest amount of spiteful sarcasm on the team title.
“The Compound is the safest place for them, and we’ll make it clear the present danger that leaving it will entail.” Pepper turns to him slightly.
“How is he? What happened?”
“A lot of craziness Pep, and even I don’t fully know all of it. Apparently things are about to get a lot stranger around here.” He catches her eye. “But Bruce and Stephen both said he was okay, that he just needed rest. I promise.” She nods and lets out a small sigh, before straightening her back once more.
“I’ll handle what I can on my side, and then I’ll head out with the others to the Manor and set up shop there for a few days.”
“That sounds like a good plan.” Rhodes turns to look at Laura, who has been silent through the whole conversation. “Hey, are you okay?” She takes a second before she nods.
“Yeah, I thought I was ready to face him…turns out I wasn’t. Oops.” She shrugs and shakes her head. “I mean, I know that sometimes he can be a little hard headed, but to actually think that I was going to welcome him with open arms after all that he put us through…” She lets out a frustrated sigh and Rhodes puts a hand on her shoulder for comfort.
“It’s alright, I knew I was going to have to see him sooner or later. I’ll just admit that I didn’t expect to see him this soon.” She gives him a small smile and he lets his hand drop. “But we’ve got bigger problems to deal with right now than my bird-brained husband.” She says and they all nod, the heaviness of that statement weighing down on all of them.
Thank you all again for your wonderful reviews and comments! Please keep them coming! They're like fuel to my story writing fingers! <3
Whew, so much ground to cover. And just barely scratching the surface. Here's the next chapter for you!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s less fun coming back into consciousness the second time around, but at least the company is still just as great as the first time. Stephen gives him a small smile as Tony’s eyes finally manage to focus on his face and Tony returns it as best as he can.
“Welcome back.” Stephen says and Bruce comes over on the other side of the bed.
“How are you feeling?” He asks and Tony takes a second to catalogue all of the numerous aches and pains.
“Like I just got personally victimized by a brick with a serious grudge.” Is the best description he can give and the two doctors nod and Tony can’t help the small chuckle that escapes him at how they both pull up clipboards out of seemingly thin air and start flipping through the pages in almost synchronous patterns. They both look at him and he grins. “Sorry, you both just look like actors in a really dramatic hospital drama.” He says as an explanation and he sees them take it in stride with their own amusement curling through their actions. “Did…I’m going to guess we won?”
“’Won’ is a very liberal word to use to describe it, but yes- we did manage to close the gateway.” Stephen answers him and Tony nods slightly.
“And everyone’s okay?”
“Yes, we were able to get in there before the temporary seals slipped too much. It was a relatively painless excursion.” Tony watches as Stephen keeps his eyes to the papers in front of him as he says it and he arches an eyebrow at the sudden lack of eye contact.
“Bullshit.” Stephen glances at him surprised.
“I’m calling you out on it, complete bullshit.” Tony starts to try and sit up and he’s both grateful and a little irritated when Bruce and Stephen rush to balance him and lay him back down, since the movement immediately caused everything to start swaying in a way that Tony knows the world doesn’t actually do naturally. He takes a second to get his stomach and his brain back on the right pages before he opens his eyes again and looks at the two doctors. “What aren’t you telling me?”
“It’s nothing to be concerned with right now.” Bruce tries and Tony isn’t having any of it.
“Well that’s too bad, because I’m concerned. Now what is it?” The two of them glance at each other over Tony and Tony waits patiently for them to come to the realization that he’s not going to let this go. He can see the moment it happens because they both sigh and look down at him.
“The gate closed easily, but…we’re unsure at this time how many entities escaped from it before we were able to contain it.” Stephen finally answers him and Bruce sighs.
“And it hasn’t stopped.” Tony frowns for a second, not understanding what Bruce means.
“Maria’s Clock.” He says and Tony feels a moment of concerned uncertainty. “It’s still ticking down.”
“Wait…so the door we were at, it wasn’t the only one?” Tony asks and Stephen shrugs.
“We don’t know. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up so that we can get access to Fury’s files on Maria’s work. We’re hoping something in there might help us determine where the threat is. But at this point any of the entities that escaped could have already started trying to open up other doors. There’s really no way to know at this time.” Bruce nods slowly.
“And if they’re opening them…well, with these numbers…” Bruce motions down to the clipboard and immediately Tony gets it.
“If they keep opening doors, I’m not strong enough to keep closing them.” He knows he’s hit it right on the head with how they both look down. “How many can I manage as I am now?” Stephen shakes his head.
“Honestly, there’s no way to know.” He says.
“Guess.” Tony presses him and Stephen looks away.
“I’d rather not cause unnecessary alarm without-” Tony glances up at the magic user.
“Stephen.” He scolds and Stephen stops and sighs.
“If I were being naively and blindly optimistic, maybe three.”
“And if you were being realistically pragmatic?” Stephen’s face gets a strange grimace, like the answer isn’t something he likes to think about, let alone wants to say out loud.
“You might not survive another closing anytime soon. I’d be wary about trying to close one single door with your readings as they are.” Tony takes a second to deal with the diplomatically stated death sentence.
“And there’s at least one still open out there.” He points out and Stephen nods slowly, his hands clenching on the clipboard slightly, but enough for Tony to notice.
“So it would seem.” He says, a heaviness echoing through the words. Tony takes a moment to get his thoughts under control.
“Well…maybe there’s something in my mom’s stuff that can help us out. FRIDAY, grant the Avengers full access to Fury’s files.”
‘Boss? Do you mean the full Avengers layout or just certain members?’ It takes Tony a moment to register what’s she’s saying and he curses slightly.
“Shit, I forgot. Crap, um…” Tony barely manages lift his hand to his face and feels it fall heavily on it. “I…No, no not the full roster.” He lets his hand slide off and rest on his chest. “Um; grant Rhodey, Stephen and Harley access. With full authority to share in the presence of another.” Tony figures that’s a safe bet. If Rogers or any of them try to raise a stink about why they weren’t allowed access then Tony can say that he gave access to the team leaders and the magic user. It makes perfect sense. “God, what’s happened so far?”
“Nothing much. Harley threatened to repulsor Steve’s face off if he came near you.” Bruce offers up helpfully and Tony figures that he should have seen that coming. “Oh, and the Junior Avengers refused Wanda as an addition to their team.”
“What? Why were they trying to add her anyways? Rogers realizes that she’s twenty six right? She’s not a child.”
“Well, Steve seems to think so and brought it up at the after mission debrief.”
“I missed that, I’m actually kind of sorry I did.”
‘Don’t worry Boss, I recorded everything.’
“Thank you FRI.”
‘Anytime. I’m glad that you are awake again and on the mend.’ Tony sends a smile towards one of the camera sensors at FRIDAY’s concern.
“Yeah, well the kids pointed it out too and said that any change to the Junior Avengers line up would have to be taken into consideration and voted upon. But it was more than clear that it would be denied.”
“Harley’s a lot more diplomatic than I would have been if I were him.” Tony lets out a soft sigh. “I’ll talk to him, we can’t create these lines in the sand. It’s not going to help anything.”
“Tony…” Bruce starts, biting his lip for a moment before choosing to continue. “Has it ever crossed your mind that our reluctance to draw those lines is what landed us here in the first place?” Tony tilts his head and Bruce continues. “The writing was on the wall since the beginning and we all just ignored it. That isn’t something that we can afford to do again. Things are different, and we have to be firm in how things are going to work now. No offense meant to Rogers’s team, but I’m less concerned with their fragile emotions and egos being catered to, then I am about making sure that the emotional and physical well-being of the rest of the team is not overruled or ignored.” Bruce shakes his head. “There’s a lot of bad blood here, and not without good reason. We just can’t ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen. And we shouldn’t ask everyone else to walk on eggshells just for the sake of playing house.” Tony takes a second before slowly nodding.
“Okay, I see where you’re coming from…but at the same time we need to make sure that we’re not stepping over the line either. Rogers and his team need to earn the trust that they seem to think they’re just owed, I agree. But we need to make sure that we don’t cross any lines ourselves in our frustration with this situation.”
“There are times I wish that your brain wasn’t always in damage control mode.” Bruce says with a frustrated softness and Tony knows what he’s trying to say.
“For what it’s worth, me too. I’d love to be petty, hell I’d love to tell Rogers to go shove it where the sun don’t shine, but they’re back whether we like it or not and there has to be some kind of middle ground.”
“Do you regret not handling those amendments?” Bruce asks and Tony takes a second, staring up at the ceiling.
“…yeah, yeah I do.”
Harley’s writing down the final answer on the paper in front of him when Rogers enters the kitchen. The watch that Tony made for him weighs heavily on his wrist and Harley does his best to ignore how much he’d like to pull the glove on and do some serious damage to the other man. Images of Tony in the hospital room after Siberia crosses in front of his eyes and it takes far too much energy to look back down and finish writing out the final formula.
Rogers notices him a few moments later and a look of confusion crosses his face before he clearly puts two and two together and determines that Harley must be one of the Junior Avengers outside of costume.
“Hello.” Rogers says and Harley nods.
“Hello.” Harley doesn’t offer up anything else and Rogers shifts his weight awkwardly.
“Um…I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced.” The blonde tries again and Harley glances up from his finished homework.
“Harley Keener.” He says and he almost wants to roll his eyes at how obvious it is that Rogers seems to think that he’s just been given some big secret and not something he can’t find out on Google.
“Pleasure to meet you Mr. Keener. Um, I’m Steve Rogers, but I guess that’s obvious.”
“Oh, I know who you are Mr. Rogers.” Harley says with just the right amount of practiced neutrality that Pepper has been drilling into him for future board meetings. Rogers takes a second, seeming to realize the barely concealed hostility in the room, but choosing to press on for whatever reason.
“Are you the Rescue Armor’s pilot?” He asks and Harley nods. He almost wants to clap and say ‘bravo!’ you had a 50/50 chance and he sounds nothing like Spider-Man so he’d have been disappointed if Rogers thought that he was Peter. Actually he would have been more disappointed if Rogers even thought that there was a chance that he was Inferno, that would have just been pathetic deduction skills. “I see, is there a chance we might talk?”
“Do we have something to talk about?”
“Well…the reaction on the landing pad might be a good place to start.” Harley slowly glances up as he calmly closes his notebook and caps his pen. He takes his time doing it, not rushing into this conversation.
“If we had something to discuss in regards to my perceived threat of a team member, then we might need to have that conversation with Colonel Rhodes.”
“Why would we need to bring Rhodes into it?” Rogers asks with a slight amount of confusion and Harley just shrugs.
“As team leader, he’d be responsible for navigating and mediating between team members who have any kind of concern or disagreement with each other.” There’s something that crosses Rogers’s face at the ‘team leader’ quip, and Harley can tell a wound when he sees one and he can’t help but file it away for later.
“I’m not here as Captain America talking to Rescue, I was hoping to talk between us.” There’s a sincerity to his statement and Harley can easily see how people could get blinded by the genuine charisma of this man- but Harley isn’t one of them.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” He says, keeping it as diplomatic as he can.
“And can I ask why not?” Harley glances up at him.
“Because Mr. Rogers, we’re not friends. We’re not comrades or anything else of a positive nature. Until that happens, or if that ever actually occurs, I think that we should remain as professional as possible and stay out of each other’s hair.”
“That doesn’t sound very professional.”
“Well I’m a kid. I’m doing my best.” Harley says with a tight, and undoubtedly borderline dangerous grin.
“I just…I just would like to talk, I mean…I get it. You thought that I was a threat to Tony, but I promise I’m not.”
“You promise?” Harley asks carefully and Rogers nods. “Hmm…is that what you told him? That you promised you weren’t a threat when you beat him half to death and left him to die in Siberia?” Rogers flinches at that, a look of surprise crossing his face like he didn’t expect Harley to know about what happened. It makes Harley instantly sure that whatever version of events that the ex-Avengers got were not a hundred percent truthful. “Or do you promise that you weren’t a threat when you kidnapped him and held him against his will?” Harley shakes his head. “I promise you Mr. Rogers that I’m not interested in whatever you want to talk about.” Harley looks up and makes eye contact with Rogers. “Because you’re clearly delusional as fuck.”
“Harley.” Pepper’s reprimand comes from behind him and Harley finds himself wondering how she manages to be a practical ninja in four inch stilettos. He turns and grabs his bag, slinging it over his shoulder.
“Sorry, am I running late?”
“It’s fine. It’s been a crazy day.” She says before looking at Rogers.
“Miss Potts, it’s good to see you again.” Rogers tries and Pepper just looks back at Harley and turns to the door.
“Let’s get as much done as we can before you have to head out.” She says as she starts towards the elevator and Harley follows after her, leaving Rogers in the kitchen by himself. “Tony’s awake.” She says after they’ve left earshot and Harley’s head whips up to glance in the direction of the medical rooms.
“Is he okay? What’s he said? What are the doc’s saying?”
“I don’t know yet, it just happened. Let’s get this finished and then we can go see him.”
“Do the others know?”
“FRIDAY’s informing them.” Harley nods, feeling a small knot of worry lessen.
“Good, that’s good.”
“There are times that I just want to strangle that man.” Rhodes says as he looks over the hundreds of files that have been transferred to his private server. “FRI, do we have any kind of organizational method that we can put these in?”
‘Currently they are in order of date Colonel. If you wished I could run a program to group them in other forms as well.’ He scrolls down, and keeps scrolling.
“Yeah, let’s get some other grouping formations here. We got the translations from the professor scanned in right?”
“Can you translate everything with what you have?”
‘I do believe so.’ Rhodes nods and closes the files.
“Alright, let’s get that done. Can you flag anything that references the Clock and the Gateways for now? Put them high priority?”
‘Of course sir.’
“Thanks FRI.” There’s a knock at the door and Rhodes waves his hands to close the files up in front of him. “Come in.” He gets a small smile when he sees Laura enter.
“I hope it’s not a bad time?”
“Not at all, how did the meeting go?” Rhodes almost wants to laugh at how badly Laura rolls her eyes. “That bad?”
“It was certainly an exercise of futility.” She says as she comes over and takes a seat. “None of them liked the options provided to them, and pretty much said that they’re not going to listen to the council of the Accords P.R. reps since they’re pretty sure that they don’t need to spin things in favor of the Accords.”
“Wait, they think they’re doing us a favor?”
“Yup, they clearly think we’re trying to cover our own asses now that they’re back.” Rhodes sighs and rubs a hand over his forehead.
“Great, okay. What did they recommend?”
“Public statements of remorse and a promise to do better.”
“That was the start of the plan, they never got to part B because all of them were immediately quite vocal about the fact that they were not going to apologize for – and I quote: doing the right thing.”
“So it’s going to be a bloodbath if a reporter or anyone gets a comment from them.”
“Not if, but when.”
“Great. Just perfect.” Rhodes takes a second before looking at Laura. “How are you doing? And the kids?”
“We’re good…I mean as good as we can be.” Laura looks towards the window and falls quiet for a few minutes. “I don’t fully know what I expected when I saw him again. I don’t really think I fully entertained the idea that he would be so detached from me and how I might feel about all of this.” She falls silent again and Rhodes lets her have a moment before he tries to broach the subject.
“And how are you feeling about ‘all this’?” She sighs and runs a hand through her hair.
“The kids are in a weird place where they know I’m angry with him so they want to be angry at him too for me, but then they also love their ‘Uncle Tony’ and so they don’t want to make him feel like they’re siding with their dad…but he’s still their dad.” She tugs at a stray thread and worries it with her fingers. “And I’m just reeling with the realization that this situation we’re in, we’re in it because I allowed us to be in it.”
“You didn’t make Clint leave and join Rogers.”
“No, I don’t mean that. Since we got married, it’s always been Clint’s show. His farm, his family just waiting for when he’s able to come home, all of it. It’s always been about Clint and his job or dreams and now I’m realizing that of course he doesn’t know to take my feelings into account because all these years I’ve not made them equal to his.” She sighs. “Now we’re in this situation, and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“You know we’re here for you right?” She gets a small smile.
“I know.” She shakes her head. “But our main concern should be the avalanche coming our way the minute someone manages to get one of them on record.” Rhodes nods and leans back in his chair. “You know the only one who is going to manage to get them all on board is Steve.”
“…and you know the only one who is going to be able to get Steve on board is Tony.” She says a second later and Rhodes slowly nods again.
“…I know.” He sighs and shakes his head. Silently wondering why everything seems to keep falling in Tony’s lap. Can’t the world just give the man a break for once?
Stephen is almost trampled when he opens the door and the Junior Avengers come rushing in. He makes a sound of startled surprise while Tony laughs as he’s practically dog piled by the teens. The smile on the brunet’s face is so fond and so soft, and it makes Stephen smile in return as he exits the room while each of the teens get their ‘required’ hugs.
He’s barely closed the door when the other man makes his presence known.
“Doctor Strange?” Stephen turns to look at Steve Rogers and inclines slightly.
“Can we talk about something real quick?” Stephen takes a moment before responding.
“I guess it would depend on what you wanted to talk about.”
“Oh, it’s…it’s about Wanda?” Stephen can’t help but say that he wasn’t expecting that subject so he nods and starts down the hall, motioning for Rogers to fall in line with him. “Wanda was saying how you two joined forces in the Orphanage, and how you helped her with her magic down there.”
“It was very fortunate that she was there.” It’s not a lie, Stephen wouldn’t have been able to contain half of what he did if the young woman hadn’t been present. Something about his sentence seems to make Rogers happy though with how the blonde’s shoulders relax and he gets a small smile.
“I’m glad to hear that.” Rogers takes a moment. “Well, Wanda was hoping that there might be a chance that you might consider taking her on as a student.” Stephen takes a moment and lets that request wash over him. “She hasn’t really had anyone else like her, or that has powers similar to her other than Vision and well…Vision is slightly less than inclined to assist or even interact with Wanda right now and I know that you realize how important it is that someone with her abilities have the proper training.”
“That’s an interesting request, and one that I will take into consideration- but even if I were to agree to it, it would not be before several stipulations.” That makes the hope in Rogers’s eyes fade out instantly and he becomes immediately wary.
“What kind of ‘stipulations’?”
“Therapy, schooling; things like that.” The distrust slowly ebbs a little, but doesn’t go away.
“Therapy? What kind of ‘therapy’?”
“I would guess therapy in a general sort of understanding. Miss Maximoff’s powers come directly from her emotions, so being in touch with them and working through them would only work in her benefit.” Stephen doesn’t say anything about how it would also work in the benefit of all those around her. Something tells him that Rogers isn’t really concerned about any of that.
“Oh, that…makes a lot of sense actually. I’ll tell her about it.” He takes a second. “And the schooling?”
“An education is never a bad thing to get or to have. A mind is a terrible thing to waste or so they say. I’m sure you agree?” Rogers takes a second before nodding.
“Yeah, yeah of course.”
“Good. Then both of those things are still for the benefit of Miss Maximoff, but realize that I do not promise to teach her if she fulfills these requirements.”
“But…if she did them, why wouldn’t you?”
“There are multiple reasons. I am very busy and I’m unsure if I can currently take on two students. Between Avengers requirements, my requirements as Sorcerer Supreme and now these new threats with the Gateways, I might find myself without ample time or attention to fully devote to a student in the way that a student needs.” Stephen takes a turn, “Not to mention, if Miss Maximoff does not show a positive turnaround in behavior I feel that it would not be in anyone’s best interest that I teach her how to better hone her magic.”
“Wanda’s doing the best she can.”
“Perhaps she is, perhaps she isn’t. I can’t weigh in on the subject because I am not her, but then again neither are you Mr. Rogers. So speaking for her is a pointless exercise.” Stephen stops and looks at Rogers. “If she were to show positive improvement however, and I were unable to train her myself there are a few teachers that I could reach out to for her. If she takes these first steps and shows that she’s willing to and does put in the work, I assure you that I will make sure that she is taken care of.” Rogers seems to take a second before nodding and getting a small smile.
“Thank you Doctor, it means a lot that you’re willing to help.” Stephen looks at the other man.
“A lot of people are trying to help you Mr. Rogers. I hope you’re coming to realize that.” It’s clear that the blonde wants to argue with him on that, but he opts not to.
“Well, thank you again.” He takes a second. “So one of the Junior Avengers are yours?” Stephen arches an eyebrow.
“What do you mean?”
“You said you already had a student.”
“Oh, I see. No I haven’t taken one on yet but I’m getting ready to offer my services to someone.” There’s an obvious look of ‘why would you go outside the team to offer your services when someone who is inside needs them’ but Rogers doesn’t say it aloud.
“Oh, will we be seeing them soon then?”
“Since he’s already here, I would say so.” That gets a confused look.
“What? Who?” Stephen looks at him like the answer should be obvious, but then again he figures maybe not.
“Why Tony of course.”
Thank you all for all the love, kudos and reviews! Please keep them coming!
Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own anything.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It’s not hard to find the other members of his side of the team, they’re all in the common area sitting around. Wanda is curled up in one of the chairs with a book in her hands as she glances up frequently to take in the proceedings of the very intense card game that Clint and Sam are playing. It’s the same game that Steve is pretty sure they made up from scratch when they were in Wakanda and he hasn’t even tried to understand the rapidly changing rules. Wanda glances up at him when he approaches and gives him a small smile, to which he easily returns.
“Hey.” He greets and he gets two grunts from the men at the table who are refusing to take their eyes off of the rapidly flipping cards. “Wanda, do you have a moment?” She nods and folds down the corner of the page she’s reading before glancing up at him.
“I spoke to Doctor Strange about your request.” There’s an excitement in Wanda’s eyes suddenly as she leans forward, only to stare at his face and have it go away seconds later.
“He said no.” She says and that gets the two others to stop playing and pay attention as Steve quickly shakes his head.
“He didn’t say no, he said maybe.”
“Maybe?” Sam asks and Steve nods.
“He gets that as the resident magician up in here, Wanda’s training is kind of his responsibility?” Clint asks with a scowl and Steve watches as Wanda’s shoulders slump.
“He said that he wasn’t sure if he’d have the time to devote to Wanda with all of his other responsibilities.” Steve says, rehashing what the magic user told him.
“And so what is she supposed to do then? Just sit here and twiddle her thumbs?” Sam says and Steve shakes his head.
“No, he said that he’d consider taking Wanda on at a later time after she did a few things.” That gets everyone’s shoulders back.
“What kinds of things?” Clint all but growls and Steve shrugs.
“He wants her to see a therapist and take some classes.” There’s silence for a while after his words leave his mouth and he waits to see how they’re going to fall. The results so far are polarizing. Sam seems mollified by the answer while Clint seems to be rapidly going downhill. Wanda herself has gone strangely neutral in a way that usually only happens right before she snaps.
“A therapist might not be that bad of an idea.” Sam ventures, and Steve figures that he should have known that Sam would side on that, with the man’s own history with veterans and soldiers back from war.
“Are you fucking kidding me? What the fuck? Wanda needs therapy before he’ll help her?” Clint snaps and Sam holds up his hands in a ‘hey, don’t attack me’ sort of gesture.
“Well, Strange said that Wanda’s powers come from her emotions so therapy might help her get…I don’t know, a foundation I guess before she goes into any training regimen.” He looks at Wanda, and comes over towards her, reaching out a hand and putting it on her shoulder. “Maybe, maybe talking to someone isn’t a bad thing?” He tries and it’s not hard to see that it falls flat.
“So he wants someone to get in my head before he’ll train me.” It doesn’t sound like a question fully, and Steve shakes his head.
“I don’t think it’s like that, he said that he was grateful that you were there at the orphanage. I don’t think that this is him trying to be petty or anything like that.” She glances up at him and shakes her head, clearly frustrated with the situation.
“Hey, it’s not that bad. Sign up for four or five sessions and bam! You’re done and he’ll train you.” Sam offers up and Steve slowly shakes his head.
“No…he said that he’d consider training her after she spoke to someone.”
“What does that even mean?” Clint snaps.
“He said that he’d consider taking her on after she did those things, but that if he wasn’t in a place to take on a second student that he’d find Wanda another teacher.” That finally seems to mollify the group, and Steve almost wants to let out a sigh of relief.
“He already has a student?” Wanda inquires, looking so curious about this potential other person like her and Steve cringes.
“Sort of?” Clint asks and Steve nods.
“Yeah, sort of.”
“How does he ‘sort of’ have a student?”
“He’s…getting ready to offer training to someone else.” It’s like the guillotine has dropped and instantly the anger is back.
“What? He said he can’t take on Wanda because he’s not sure he can devote time to another student but he has plenty of time now! Wanda needs him to train her, and Avengers should get first priority.” Clint snaps and Steve nods slowly.
“Um…well…the other student is another Avenger member.” Wanda tilts her head, and asks the dreaded question.
“Who?” Steve takes a second, before sighing and letting the name fall from his lips.
“So do we have anything concrete yet?” Bruce asks and Rhodey shakes his head in the negative.
“Nothing so far. FRIDAY’s still working on getting them all translated and organized, but so far –nada.” He says and Tony flips through the files on the tablet in his hands. There are hundreds of files that have been sent over from SHIELD, and Tony knows that there are more important ones to be looking at then the one he’s currently in, but he can’t help but let the video play.
It’s Maria, and she’s so young it hurts. She’s smiling at Howard playfully while she does some kind of complicated concoction and Tony almost wants to laugh at how his old man seems to be stumbling around and is so clearly smitten with her. The video is grainy, it jumps like all old recordings do, and it’s lacking in color but his parents are still so lifelike in their interactions with each other.
It’s a side of them he never saw. A side of them he wishes he had.
He can’t help but wonder how these two people would go on to become the people he would know. There’s a small voice in the back of his mind that wonders if it was him that changed them. If he was the variable that threw the entire equation out of synch.
“Tony?” Tony snaps his head up, looking over at Rhodey who seems to have been trying to get his attention for a few seconds by the way everyone else is looking at him.
“Yup, yup. Sorry Sugar-Bear, what were you saying?” He asks as he swipes his fingers on the screen and makes the video shut down. Rhodey gives him a look like he knows what Tony’s just been watching and he motions to the clock.
“I was saying that Fury said that this was only one of the tools of Maria’s trade, I know you’ve never seen the clock before but do you remember your mom having anything else that she kept with her?” Tony thinks about it, shaking his head at first before pausing.
“I mean, it’s possible. I’m realizing I never really paid that much attention to the little things like that.” There’s a wound slowly growing there, another betrayal that Tony’s trying to pretend isn’t bothering him.
How could his mom have lied to him like this? How could she have had this whole life and he not know anything about it? How is it that everyone else seems to know more about those that Tony loves than Tony himself does?
But he knows the answer to that, it’s the same answer he keeps getting over and over again: She was trying to protect him and in true Tony fashion he fucked it up.
“Can you think of anywhere that she’d hide something else?” Rhodey presses, clearly seeing the melancholic emotions that Tony’s warring with.
“She hid a clock in a secret wall room, I have absolutely no idea where she’d hide anything else.” Rhodey nods.
“Alright, we’ll brainstorm some ideas later okay?” Tony nods gratefully as Rhodey turns back to the others. “So until we know more, usual rotations are in effect.” He gets agreements all around as he ends the meeting and comes over to Tony’s side. “How are you feeling?”
“Like a fool, how about you?”
“It’s fine Rhodey, I mean it’s not- not really, but it’ll have to be.” Tony glances down at the tablet in his hands. “So what are we going to do about Captain Rogers and his merry band of followers?”
“Hell if I know yet.”
“Well, considering that this was a meeting and they weren’t invited…” Tony lets it trail off and Rhodey shakes his head.
“If I wanted to be petty, I’d just take a page out of Barton’s playbook. No, this meeting was specifically chosen to deal with those who had access to the files themselves or people you allowed in here after that. It wasn’t fully an Avengers meeting – more just, a meeting of the minds.”
“I like the wordy way of saying ‘I didn’t feel like inviting him’.”
“Trust me Tones, I’m already having enough issues with Captain Aryan out there. Adding to my stress levels with him for no good reason just isn’t something I’m willing to do to myself.” Tony nods, figuring that may as well be true. “How are you doing though, honestly?”
“Stephen and Bruce say I’ll be on my feet in a few more hours – I personally think they’re taking advantage of their Doctor’s privileges right now because I feel fine-” Tony raises his voice a little so that the two approaching doctors hear him clearly.
“That’s what you said thirty minutes ago when you tried to stand up and then passed out.” Bruce says, coming over with Stephen.
“It was for less than a minute, I think you’re overreacting.” Tony says with a little playfulness in his tone and Bruce shakes his head.
“If you try to get out of that bed before I clear you Tony, you won’t like the Other Guy’s bedside manner.” Tony huffs like he’s so put out before shrugging helplessly at Rhodey.
“I’m trapped apparently.” Rhodey shrugs back, in a ‘what can you do’ way before getting called over by Carol and squeezing Tony’s arm before leaving. “You’re a traitor Rhodey.” He calls out and the other man shrugs.
“Hey, if the Hulk says you’re not going anywhere who am I to disagree?” Rhodey answers before walking away and Stephen catches his attention.
“Tony, there was something that I wanted to discuss with you.”
“Shoot.” He says and the other man clasps his hands behind his back.
“I was hoping to set up sessions with you for when you finally get cleared.”
“Yes, you’ll need to learn to control the flow of energy in your own body if you’re going to attempt to close another gateway.” Tony immediately makes a sour face.
“Magic? Please no, I’m a scientist Stephen. I like the laws of physics.”
“Like them all you want, it doesn’t change the fact that you need to learn how to use your new abilities.”
“Are these even useful abilities? Or are they just ‘end up constantly bedridden’ abilities.”
“They’re going to be ‘end up dead’ abilities if you don’t take them seriously and devote time to learning them.” Tony looks away at the tone in Stephen’s voice, like he’s trying to impart how serious this is to Tony, but Tony isn’t really in the mood to hear it.
“So what would that even look like? Naked yoga?” Stephen arches an eyebrow.
“Why would you be naked?”
“Why wouldn’t I be naked is the real question.” Tony waggles his eyebrows at Stephen and the other man clearly bites back a smile.
“No, I don’t think we’ll need anything that…dedicated at this stage.”
“That’s too bad, I’ve always enjoyed naked hot yoga.”
“I’m not even going to ask.” Stephen says with a shake of his head and Tony grins up at him while giving him a wink. “But in all seriousness, yes there will be some meditation. You’ll need to learn to be in tune with your energy and become the master of it.”
“So what, like chi and all that?”
“Something close to it, yes.”
“That doesn’t really sound like something that you need to waste your time with. I can meditate on my own. I’ll buy some gongs – or better yet I’ll have FRIDAY download audio of the gongs and I’ll have her play it while I channel my inner yogi.”
“Nice try, but you’ll need guidance. It’s one thing to know how it works in theory, and a whole separate thing to try and make it work in reality.” Tony knows that’s true and he shrugs.
“I mean, I guess if you have time. But don’t you have to…I don’t know, keep an eye on the sanctum and all that?”
“I’ve asked Wong to send over a few watchers for it, and they can get in contact with me at any time.” Stephen seems to see the next argument that Tony’s about to make, the one where Tony tries to convince him that he’s not worth Stephen reordering his time. “The gateways opening are a huge problem and they fall directly in the duties of the Sorcerer Supreme. I would be remiss if I did not assist you in this.” Tony sighs and runs a hand over his face.
“Ugh, fine. I’m going to hate it, but I’ll do it.”
“He’s regaining his strength quickly.” Bruce says, flipping through the pages as they walk down the hall. “Much faster than our original projections placed him at. That has to be something right?” There’s a hopefulness to his voice that he didn’t really mean to put there and Stephen gives him a look as he slowly shakes his head.
“He may be gaining his energy back faster, but it’s still at a glacial rate. He’ll need at least a two or three months at this rate to have adequate stores again.”
“But we don’t have two or three months. We barely have two weeks if the Clock’s pacing is anything to go by.”
“I’m working on something with the other sorcerers. I’m trying to see if there might be a way to lessen the burden on Tony or take it off of him completely. Right now, my main concern is just keeping him alive.” Bruce nods.
“I overheard your take with Tony on training. Do you think it’ll help?”
“In the long term? Yes.” Stephen doesn’t say the rest of it, so Bruce does.
“That’s if we make it to the long term.” The other man inclines his head in agreement. “We’re going to figure something out.” Bruce says, making a promise to a friend who isn’t even nearby.
“We will.” Stephen agrees to his pledge as he looks over the numbers again. A thought crosses Bruce’s mind as they turn a corner.
“You mentioned that Tony needs to be in charge of his energy and the flow of it.” Stephen nods. “I don’t know if this’ll help, but when I had to learn to control the flow of my own rage to stop having…episodes.” He uses the word delicately even though he doesn’t know why he does. It’s not like these people don’t know, and for some reason they trust, the Hulk. “I subscribed to a technique called Biofeedback, it helped I think. Or at least I feel it did.”
“Tony might appreciate the science-y nature of biofeedback more than he’s appreciating the thought of Zen meditation.” Bruce smiles at that and nods.
“I’ll even be sure to offer the sensors and screens if it helps.” The two men share a smile at that before they’re interrupted by a call from down the hall.
“Strange!” Bruce and Stephen stop and turn to see Clint approaching. He looks like he’s about to be on the warpath and Bruce can only imagine what slight he figures he has a soapbox to stand on now.
“Where the fuck do you get off telling Wanda that she needs fucking therapy before you’ll touch her with a ten foot pole, but Tony is all well and good?” Bruce arches an eyebrow and glances at Stephen who seems completely unconcerned with Barton’s aggression.
“I guess the better question right now is where do you ‘get off’ coming up to me in this way?” Stephen’s voice is level and calm, a direct opposition to Clint’s. “I’m curious to know if you think that this behavior will somehow work out in your benefit. It won’t, just in case you’re wondering.”
“Cut the crap Strange. You’re punishing Wanda and if you think we’re just going to stand by while you insult her like that then news flash – we’re not.”
“Hmm.” Stephen closes the files in his hands and puts them under his arm. “I have no idea where you’ve come to the determination that suggesting that Miss Maximoff get the help that she direly needs is somehow insulting or being done to punish her in some way. I have already expressed my stance on this subject and I do not intend to, or wish to, continue discussing it at this point with anyone else other than Miss Maximoff herself.”
“Why? So you can spit in her face and then blame her when she loses control?” Clint takes a step forward into Stephen’s personal space and Bruce is grateful that the archer isn’t doing it to him because he doubts that he’d be as calm as Stephen is being right now.
Hell, he’s a witness to the whole thing and he’s already wanting to let his skin shift a few shades.
“Mr. Barton,” Stephen says, unflappable. “This constant ‘white knight’ routine that seems to keep happening in Miss Maximoff’s name is getting rather tiresome. If she would like assistance, or has any concerns it would do well for her to handle it herself. She is a grown woman after all.” Clint’s fists clench and Bruce notices the telltale warning that the cloak on Stephen’s shoulders is giving. “Now, I do believe that is the end of this discussion. If you wish to discuss something with me regarding yourself and only yourself, please feel free to ask. Otherwise, we’re done here.” Stephen turns to Bruce and motions for him to continue and Clint reaches out to grab Stephen’s arm.
“We’re not done here-” The words cut off in a cry as the cloak wraps itself around his arm before he gets a chance to make contact with the sorcerer and twists around him, dropping him to the floor in a perfect lock. “What the fuck!”
“I would advise against putting your hands on anyone else in this compound without their permission Mr. Barton. I don’t know if this sort of behavior was acceptable or commonplace before, but I assure you that it is not anymore. I will be filing a report on this, and I would caution you against trying it again. With either myself or anyone else.” There’s a clear threat in those words as the cloak retracts from Clint and wraps itself back around Stephen before the two of them start back down the hallway. Bruce waits till they’re out of earshot before speaking.
“What was that?”
“A poor attempt at establishing dominance would be my guess.” Is Stephen’s answer and Bruce shakes his head. He takes a second before touching back on another subject.
“You told Wanda to get therapy?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking, no. Although I’m starting to think that it might be better to actually have that conversation with her directly instead of allowing for there to be people going in-between.” Stephen looks at him and sees the question. “Rogers came to me earlier and asked me for Maximoff if I would train her.”
“Why didn’t Wanda ask you herself?”
“Why indeed.” Stephen says before shrugging. “Perhaps she has gotten so used to being spoken for that it no longer crosses her mind to speak for herself. Or maybe it’s something else, either way it cannot continue.”
“Do you really think that therapy is going to help her?”
“I couldn’t say, I don’t really know her. I just know that the Ancient One took those sorts of things very seriously. She used to say that being out of touch with yourself and her teaching you magic was worse than handing a child a grenade and telling them to pull the pin.” Stephen takes a moment, clearly lost in the reminiscing of the Ancient One. “But I do think that being firm in Maximoff’s agency is the first step to determining who she is and if she can be helped.” Bruce nods, before a terrifying thought crosses his mind.
“Wait, do they know that you’re going to be training Tony? Is that what Clint meant when he mentioned him earlier?”
“Yes?” There’s confusion in Stephen’s voice and Bruce slaps his hand over his face in despair. “Should I not have said anything?”
“Probably not, you don’t really know how they work. I bet you twenty dollars that somehow it’s going to come out that Tony ‘stole’ you from Wanda and that this is all his evil ploy for world domination.” Bruce looks at Stephen. “Heads up, don’t take that bet because you’ll lose.” Bruce shakes his head. “And you are going to file a report on Clint right? For all that back there?”
“Why wouldn’t I? I said I was going to.”
“I don’t know, in theory you could have been using it as a warning.”
“Normally, I would say that what happened was warning enough, but they’ve gotten away without recourse or reprimand for far too long. His behavior in the hall kind of proves that. I wouldn’t be doing any of us a favor if I didn’t inform Rhodes about it.” Bruce nods.
“That’s probably for the best.”
The hallways have been mostly empty and Steve is secretly grateful for it after the most recent P.R. meeting. He runs a hand through his hair as he tries to wrap his mind around it. Steve doesn’t really want to say anything, but the graphs and the charts and the surveys and the who knows what else – Steve isn’t really sure why they keep pulling them out and waving them at their faces.
Sure, some people are angry. That’s to be expected. It was a huge thing that Steve did when he said ‘no’ to the Accords the first time around and he still stands by his choice. They want him to say he doesn’t and he just won’t do that. Why can’t they just…tell the truth? It might not be the most diplomatic approach, but it’s still the truth. Shouldn’t they get points for that?
There’s movement up ahead and Steve looks up to see Tony glancing around a corner like he’s sneaking around and he’s somewhere he shouldn’t be. It makes him tilt his head a little as he takes a couple long strides to catch up.
“Tony?” The brunet jumps and Steve barely has time to reach out and catch the swaying man and steady him. “Tony? Are you okay?” He asks, worried as Tony leans on him for a second, blinking a few times before pushing back and slowly regaining his footing.
“Yeah, sorry about that. Head rush, moved too fast.”
“Are you sure? Should you be lying down?”
“No!” Tony says quickly, and in a way that totally lets Steve know that he should be. He arches an eyebrow at Tony and Tony looks away. “I’m fine, like I said – it was just a head rush.”
“If you’re sure…” Steve says slowly. “But if you’re avoiding Bruce then you probably shouldn’t go that way.” Steve inclines down the hallway that Tony was about to go down. “I think I hear him. Here.” He puts a steadying hand on Tony’s back to guide him down a different way. “Have you eaten? Cuz I haven’t and I was hoping to have a minute to talk to you.” Tony takes a second to weigh Steve’s hopeful request, looking unsure for a moment before nodding.
“Sure, guide the way.”
Hope you enjoyed it!
Drop me a comment or kudo and let me know!
Hey guys! Hope everything is going well for you all! This chapter is going to have a little author’s note about something that I was going to keep mostly quiet just in case, but because of the number of reviews asking about the pairings, I feel that it might be in all of our best interests if I just answer the question for everyone up here.
In regards to the pairing: Will it be endgame Steve/Tony or Stephen/Tony? I’ve been hinting at this (sometimes outright saying it in reviews) but this story doesn’t have an endgame of either Stony or StrangeIron. It has both.
Now I understand that this might distress some readers, who have been quite vocal about their disapproval of the Steve/Tony tag. Unfortunately I have to say- the tag exists for a reason and it isn’t going anywhere. If Tony ending up with Steve – which please let me be clear at this time – will happen, upsets you in anyway, I apologize and I thank you for your patronage and your brilliant reviews.
I do however request at this time, for a full stop on reviews that express displeasure at this decision. They have made me quite weary and I thank you for your understanding in this.
So with that unpleasantness out of the way – I hope that you all enjoy the next chapter and the ones to follow!
“Here.” Steve says as he helps guide Tony to one of the chairs and tries to pretend that he isn’t balancing the brunet as Tony gratefully takes a seat. Tony takes a deep breath, closing his eyes for a brief moment before putting on that ‘Everything Is Perfectly Fine™’ face. Steve bites his lip against saying anything about it, since right now he feels like they’re in a strange limbo that doesn’t really allow for genuine, concern-driven advice, and last time he tried to give it Tony hadn’t really responded all that well. “Did you want something to drink?” He asks instead and Tony shakes his head.
“No, I’m good. What did you want to talk about?” There’s a tenseness to Tony’s body language, and Steve can tell that it’s Tony prepping for some kind of argument – was it always like that? Or is this something that came from the ‘Civil War’?
“I just wanted to catch up…make sure that you were alright? Maybe have a little light conversation.” He ventures and Tony makes a face.
“Light conversation?” He repeats and Steve nods. “Steve, I don’t think I’ve ever done ‘light conversation’ in my life and I know I’ve certainly never done it with you.” Steve makes sure to keep his back to the other so that he can’t see whatever tells might be on his face at the words. They’re wrong, or at least Steve thinks they’re wrong. Tony and him used to talk, they used to talk all the time – didn’t they?
“Well, no harm in starting a new tradition.” He says as he pulls out some fruit and other tidbits, reaching out and pulling the cutting board under his arm before walking back to where Tony sits at the island counter and putting it all down. “I’m relieved to see you back on your feet, even if you probably shouldn’t be.”
“You know doctors, they love to over-estimate recovery time.” Tony says with a flippant wave of his hand, and Steve feels the wall between them and he doesn’t know how to work around it. The last conversation with Tony didn’t exactly go the way he wanted it too, and he doesn’t want to step back on whatever landmine he tripped over last time.
“Can I ask? How you’re doing? We haven’t really gotten any information on your…condition since SHIELD.”
“I’m right as rain. As you can see.”
“…that’s good to hear. What happened?”
“You getting wheeled out on a medical bed with a whole bunch of sensors stuck to you doesn’t sound like ‘nothing much’.”
“The stupid things take energy: it took – I took a nap, we’re all good.”
“Tony.” He doesn’t mean for it to come out so softly, pleading with the brunet and Tony looks away. There’s an awkward and heavy silence that falls between them for a few minutes before Tony huffs in annoyance.
“What do you want from me Rogers? Do you think we’re just going to jump right back into where we were? Everything transparent all the time? News flash, you broke me – literally, figuratively, spiritually or whatever ‘illy’ you want to put on it. I can’t trust you, I don’t even know if I want to trust you. You’re back now, good for you. That doesn’t change anything that happened between us.”
“I know.” Tony gives him a look.
“You know, or so you keep saying, but do you understand?” Steve immediately thinks of their conversation back in the apartment room, where Tony laid out how he felt about Steve’s apology and Steve’s ‘guilt’ and the answer hits Steve. He shakes his head, slowly.
“No…no I guess I don’t. I wasn’t the one who had it happen to me, I can’t possibly begin to understand.” For once, it seems to be the right thing to say, something that Steve feels he does so rarely these days as Tony nods and leans on his elbows against the counter. They don’t say anything at all for a few minutes, Steve cutting up the fruits and Tony stealing one or two every now and then. It takes a few more moments before Steve is shaking his head with a little self-depreciating chuckle. “I’m trying not to make this awkward but I feel like I’m falling flat.”
“At least the fruits good.” Tony offers as he steals another banana slice. Steve lets out a sigh and shakes his head.
“You’re right, I’m crap at ‘light conversation’. I’m not even really sure what ‘light conversation’ would sound like.” He admits and Tony hums.
“Want a lifeline?”
“Tell me about your day, you should have had a P.R. meeting right? How’d that go?” Steve tenses, thinking about the meeting but as much as he wants to avoid the situation, he did ask.
“We’re all settled back in, it’s weird being back. It’s like nothing changed and yet everything changed all at the same time.”
“Really? How so?”
“Well, the rooms are the same, but there’s been so much added to the Compound. I haven’t really had a chance to look at everything but it looks exciting.”
“Everything I build is exciting Rogers, I thought you knew that by now.” There’s a slight playfulness and Steve gives Tony a small smile.
“That’s right, how could I have forgotten.” He grabs some bread and puts it in the toaster, grabbing two plates while he’s at it and separating the offerings on the cutting board.
“Oh, I see your nefarious plan now. I thought you’d grabbed a lot.” Tony says when Steve slides one of the plates to him.
“I don’t like eating alone, figured you could at least have a plate in front of you?” Tony rolls his eyes, but doesn’t push it away and Steve figures that’s a win. “I met Harley…Keener?”
“I heard.” There’s amusement there.
“Can I ask?” Tony takes a moment before shrugging.
“Harley and I go back. He helped me out during that whole ‘Mandarin’ fiasco. We’ve kept in touch.” Steve considers asking more, but he’ll take what he’s been given so far.
“Oh, that’s nice. Um, the meeting went…as expected I guess?”
“As who expected? Because I expected Wanda to set fire to the ‘Plan’, for Barton to jump up on the table and do his best Hulk impression and for Wilson to smack his head in the wall repeatedly.” Tony gets a little grin. “And if that happened please tell me so I can get copies of the security footage.”
“What was I doing in this ‘expectation’?” Steve asks with a smile and it drops when Tony’s grin falls.
“Not a clue, sorry. I’m not really good at guessing these days.” The toast pops and Steve is silently grateful as he turns away and butters them at a slow pace, trying to pretend that everything is fine. He turns back around and takes a small bite, chewing before shrugging.
“I guess you’re not far off.” He admits. “It…could have gone a lot better…a lot more diplomatically at least.” Steve pushes the fruit around the plate. “But diplomacy was never really one of my strong suits.” He leaves the ‘it was yours’ silent, but it’s obvious that Tony hears it anyways.
“Um, they laid out the UN’s Five Step Plan to Redeem Team Cap.” He doesn’t mean to fully put the sarcasm in there but he does.
“Let me guess: Step One- Apologize.”
“And I take it that it didn’t go over well.”
“No, not really.” Steve thinks about the meeting, and the raised voices and the shoved papers and he cringes. “Not at all.” Tony’s looking at him with a thoughtful look.
“Do you regret it?”
“…you know I don’t.” Tony shakes his head at his answer.
“Not the Accords, I know that answer already. I mean the meeting. Do you regret how it went down?”
“It could have gone better.” He hedges and Tony sighs.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“…yeah. I kind of regret it. Tempers were high and there was really no reason that it should have gone down the way it did.” Tony pops a blueberry in his mouth.
“So what are you going to do different next time?” The question catches Steve off guard a little.
“Next time Rogers, what are you going to change?” Steve pauses, and thinks about it for the first time.
“I don’t know, I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“You just what? Thought it wasn’t going to derail next time on its own?” Steve feels a little bit embarrassed and Tony shakes his head. “Fine, you want my help? Here it is: get your team under control.” Tony looks at him. “They’re following your lead and I’ve never seen you so wishy-washy before. Make it clear that they’re going to listen, and they’re going to be adults about it.” Steve goes to say something to that, when the door opens and even Steve can tell that trouble just walked in.
Stephen and Bruce sit quietly as Rhodes looks over the final report, his eyes scanning the pages before he puts them down.
“Alright, so just to be clear: Mr. Barton approached you in the hallway and proceeded to attempt to physically assault you when a conversation that you were having ended before he was ready for it to?”
“That sums it up.” Stephen says and Rhodes glances at Bruce who nods. Rhodes sighs and gathers the papers together, their meeting finally over.
“FRIDAY, can you scan these into the files and attach the requisite security footage alongside it? And please have Barton come here.”
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, it will be handed.” The two doctors nod in agreement to his statement. “On another note, do we have any word from Kamar-Taj yet?”
“Wong has been researching in the library, he thinks he might be able to come up with alternative options for closing the gateways, but even if he does the burden to do it will still fall squarely on Tony’s shoulders.”
“If it gives him a better chance than he has now, I’m all ears. Keep me posted please.” They nod and stand, leaving the area and it isn’t long before Barton enters the room.
“FRIDAY says you wanted to see me.” There’s a challenge in his voice, like he came because he had to but he’s going to let Rhodes know about it.
“Yes, please take a seat.” Barton closes the door behind him and takes one of the chairs on the other side of the desk. “Be aware that this conversation is being recorded.” He says before glancing up at the man. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“Not a clue.” It’s a lie, they both know it and it’s a pathetic attempt at controlling the situation. Rhodes has had many a soldier underneath him who thought that their family ties or their history granted them some kind of special leniency, Barton is no different.
“I called you in because a report was filed a little while ago about a disagreement and an attempted escalation in the hallways.”
“There was no ‘escalation’.”
“Care to tell me your side?”
“Then you stand by the report’s series of events?”
“What does it matter whether I do or not? Not like you care and not like it’s going to matter.” Rhodes lets his fingers cross in front of him.
“I can assure you Barton that I am committed to neutrality in this situation. If for any reason you feel that this was not the case…” He reaches into a drawer and pulls out a set of papers. “These are the forms that you can fill out and an outside, unbiased party will investigate.” He slides them over to Barton who takes them with a smile.
“Oh, I’ll be sure to do that.” Rhodes nods.
“So, would you like to give a report on the incident?”
“I wanted to speak with Strange, he was an ass about it. That’s it.”
“May I ask what the conversation was about and how he was so disagreeable?”
“I didn’t say disagreeable, I said an ass.”
“He was being an ass about Wanda. If we’re going to be honest here, you’re all being asses.”
“Ever since we came back it’s been like we’re second class citizens. I thought that when we signed your precious Accords that we were back to active duty and we were all in this together.” Clint’s voice is a snide sneer.
“Alright, can I ask how you feel you’re ‘second class citizens’?”
“What does it matter?”
“I can’t try to handle the situation if I don’t know all the variables.” Clint rolls his eyes.
“Stop pretending like you deserve that chair Rhodes. We both know you only got it because Stark threw a hissy fit and Steve stepped down.”
“That’s an interesting recollection of previous events. However, I am in this chair and I will not abide disrespect. I am your commanding officer, regardless if you like it or not. You will behave as such or there will be consequences.”
“Ooh. Consequences. That’s your side’s favorite word to hide behind right? Smokescreen it behind something else that sounds rational and you’re able to get away with anything.” Rhodes sighs and reaches into his desk and pulls out a new set of disciplinary forms.
This is going to be a long meeting.
The only upside, if Barton continues in this way it’ll be one of the last.
“Stark.” Tony’s shoulders go back as he hears Wanda’s voice behind him. He tries to pretend like her tone doesn’t bother him as he takes another blueberry to munch on it.
“Maximoff.” He says in greeting and Steve feels the tension in the room.
“Wanda.” He greets as well and she gives him a fleeting smile before her eyes go back to Tony.
“I hear that Strange will be training you in the art of magic.” She says, almost conversationally and Tony does a small shrug.
“So I’ve been told.”
“You must feel so relieved.” She offers up, coming over and taking the chair next to Tony. “To have him.” Tony looks like he wants to lean away from her a little, but he just gives her a smile.
“I guess so. I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Are you hungry Wanda?” Steve tries to get her attention on him again and it fails spectacularly, Wanda’s clearly only got eyes for Tony right now and Tony knows it too.
“How nice for you, to not have to think about it.” She gets a sharp smile. “Things must be going so well for you.”
“Just peachy. Thanks for asking.” Tony goes to push away from the table. “Thanks for the snack Rogers, but I better get back before Bruce sticks the Hulk on me. I’ve been reliably informed that the Hulk’s bedside manner is no Florence Nightingale.” Steve nods, silently thinking that Tony making a strategic exit might be in all of their best interests.
“You must be loving this.” There’s a coldness in her tone and Tony clearly makes the mistake of looking at her with the most confused look on his face.
“You’re the center of attention again. Everyone has to just fawn over you.” She says and Tony rolls his eyes.
“Wow. You know what, I’m not having this conversation with you.” He goes to stand up and Steve watches in surprise as he seems to trip over something and crashes to the floor with a cry.
“Tony!” Wanda doesn’t even move out of her seat, just looking down at where Tony has fallen with a cold look on her face as Steve rushes around the island and drops down to Tony’s side. “Are you alright? Are you hurt?”
“You should be more careful Stark.” Wanda says and Steve glances up at her.
“Did you do this?”
“I didn’t touch him.” That isn’t a no and both of the men know it.
“Wanda, did you do this?” Steve asks again as he gently braces Tony and helps pull him to his feet. She shakes her head.
“Like hell I did.” Tony snaps and Wanda’s eyes just go to him.
“You look tired Stark, perhaps you should go lay down before you hurt yourself.” Tony goes to say something but Steve shakes his head.
“We’re going to talk about this.” He says to the girl as he leads Tony out of the room. “Are you okay?”
“She did that on purpose.”
“I know. I know she did, I’m sorry. I’ll talk to her.”
“What good is talking going to do?” Tony asks and Steve has a moment where he doesn’t have an answer for him.
“I don’t know, I’ll talk to Rhodes okay? We’ll figure something out.” He adjusts his grip on the other. “Let’s just…let’s just get you somewhere else.”
“What the fuck happened to you Stark?” Clint’s voice comes out of nowhere and Steve feels Tony tense more under his arm. There’s a moment where Steve doesn’t know what to do when there’s a familiar sound next to him and Vision pulls himself through the wall.
“Tony.” He says as he comes over and reaches for the brunet. “FRIDAY alerted me to your location.” Vision takes a second and gives a cool look to Steve. “Thank you Mr. Rogers, I’ll take it from here.” Steve nods and lets the android take Tony from him, before the two of them disappear down the hall.
“What was all that about?” Clint asks again and Steve runs a hand through his hair.
“Wanda.” He says and Clint gets a look.
“What did he do to Wanda?”
“Nothing, but I’m pretty sure that Wanda did something to him.” Clint follows him as they turn around and head back to the kitchen where Wanda is calmly eating the last of Tony’s plate. She gives an innocent smile when they enter. “That was beyond inappropriate.” Steve says firmly and she rolls her eyes.
“I didn’t do anything.” She says.
“Wanda.” He warns and she shakes her head.
“Did you see me do it? Anything? He tripped, it happens.”
“It does, but it seemed a little convenient and your behavior after the fact seemed suspicious.” She makes a face.
“Why? Because I didn’t jump to the rescue of ‘poor Tony Stark’?”
“You know that he’s hurt.” Steve tries, figuring that a different route might be necessary.
“Exactly, which means he shouldn’t have been up. It was probably just an accident.” She looks at Steve and there’s nothing behind her eyes that isn’t complete innocence. “Accidents happen Steve, yeah it was convenient but maybe it was instant karma.”
“That didn’t look like instant karma.”
“Did you see red?” Clint asks and Steve looks at him.
“You’re here accusing Wanda of doing something she said she didn’t do. Did you see her use her powers?” Steve slowly shakes his head.
“But I didn’t exactly have the best vantage point.” He says and Clint crosses his arms.
“Then you really have no proof that Stark didn’t just take a fall.”
“Why on earth would he ‘take a fall’?”
“Why else? To drive us apart.” Clint says like it’s so obvious. “We have to stick together Steve, they’re trying to tear us apart and of course the easiest target is Wanda.”
“You weren’t here Clint.”
“And you didn’t see anything.” He fires back and Steve feels his jaw snap closed. “Steve, look. Strange and Banner have already gotten me written up over something ridiculous, now you’re turning on your own. It’s too fucking coincidental.”
“I tried to talk to them and when I reached out to get his attention Strange had his stupid magic cloak attack me and then claimed it was done in self-defense.” Steve frowns. That doesn’t really sound like something Bruce would do, and from his interactions with Doctor Strange, the man seemed a little too above all of that.
“Are you sure it wasn’t just a misunderstanding?”
“How do you misunderstand being attacked?” Clint fires back before rolling his eyes. “And then Rhodes gets up on his high horse and says that I’m not respecting him as Team Leader enough for his liking so he filed a second write up.”
“Wait, that’s two already?” There’s worry in Steve’s voice as Clint nods slowly like Steve is just now getting it. “Clint, that’s bad.”
“I know, they’re trying to get rid of me.”
“But why?” Steve asks and Wanda answers him.
“Why else? Clint is loyal to you. They must realize that they’re not going to manage to pull the wool over his eyes so they’re just getting him out of the way.”
“That’s a pretty big jump to make.” Steve argues and the two of them look at each other and it makes Steve get a flash of irritation. “What?”
“Are you sure you’re not just getting distracted by a pair of big brown eyes?”
“What does that even mean?”
“You and Tony man. I’m talking about that.” Steve bristles a little at the insinuation.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Clint, but I know that I don’t like where this is going.”
“Tony’s your blind spot and they’re using him to get to you.” Clint argues and Steve shakes his head.
“No they’re not.” He takes a deep breath and runs a hand through his hair. “God, I mean I knew that we weren’t in a good place but this is crazy.” The two of them look at him. “I’m going to go talk to Rhodes and get the full story, then we’re going to have a meeting about what’s going to happen next.” He watches his tone wash over them and they both slowly nod in agreement and he turns on his heel and walks out of the room. He waits till the door is closed before he stops and leans against the wall to take a deep breath.
What on earth is happening? He knew that they were all off to a terrible start- with Wanda’s constant hatred of Tony and Clint’s growing hatred at the Accords and all the crap that’s been coming his way, but Tony wasn’t responsible for all of that and now they were just sounding paranoid.
Steve lets out a tired sigh before rubbing a hand over his face to try and relax. This was something that was going to need to be nipped in the bud right away least it get worse. And Steve can barely imagine what worse looks like but he knows that he would rather not sit around and find out.
“FRIDAY?” He calls out and it takes a brief second before she answers.
“Where is Rhodes right now?”
‘He is in his office. Shall I direct you to it?’ He nods.
“Yes please.” He stands as the lights along the floor light up going towards his destination and he pauses. “Can I ask…is Tony okay?” There’s a pause this time as if the AI isn’t sure she wants to reveal the information. Or hell, maybe Steve’s seeing monsters where there are none now and the AI is asking permission to give the requested info.
‘Boss is well.’ She says finally and he feels the knot of tension in his stomach ease up a little.
“Okay, that’s good. Thank you.” He starts forward, following FRIDAY’s instructions to the door marked as his final destination and he halts before knocking. “FRIDAY?”
‘Yes Mr. Rogers?’
“…do you have footage of what happened in the kitchen?”
‘I do.’ It sounds like a warning, or a threat. Or maybe both.
“Can I ask…do you have a visual of Wanda using her powers?” He waits for her answer.
‘There are several blind spots in the footage due to objects in the way.’
“So that’s a no?”
‘I do not.’ He nods.
“Thank you anyways.” With that he takes a steadying breath and he knocks on the door.
So, I've been struggling with coming back to this story from all of the negativity/arguing with me as a person and as a writer back when I was doing it and just general all around not respecting the lines and boundaries that I laid out.
As such, I am going to call it at this time and say that this story is discontinued and will NOT recieve an update. I had considered orphaning this work, but I put a lot of time and effort into it and would rather not do that. So instead I'm just coming out and saying this story is finished. It will not be updated.
And PLEASE DO NOT go on my other stories to comment about this one in any fashion whether you mean it as positivity or not, do not do it. I disabled the comments for a reason. Please respect that.
“Okay, I know you’re probably biting at the bit to get out of here so let’s get these final tests done and you can finally get out of medical and go lay in your own bed.” Bruce says, coming into the recovery room and pulling back the curtain to Tony’s bed. He’s a little surprised that Tony’s managed to sit still for any period of time with minimal complaint and he knows why the second that he sees the empty bed presented to him.
The first emotion that he feels is frustrated irritation. Doesn’t Tony understand how bad off he was? Doesn’t he understand how serious this whole thing is?
The second emotion is fear. What if Tony passed out somewhere? What if he tried to take some stairs or something and his body just gave out on him? Is FRIDAY under strict orders not to tell them about her creator’s location and status? Was Tony so foolish as to pull something like that again?
“FRIDAY? Where is he?” Bruce gets out, and it sounds slightly panicked and rushed. The AI responds promptly as she always does.
‘He’s entering the recovery room now Doctor Banner.’ And true to form, he hears the telltale hiss of the electronic door opening and he comes around the corner more than ready to give that billionaire a piece of his mind – but he freezes when the image presents itself.
He had figured that he’d see Tony stroll back in with a computer tablet in one hand and a Starbucks in the other and a look of sheepishness for being caught out of bed – instead he’s being practically held up by the Vision and his coloring is far too pale to be anything good.
“Doctor Banner, your assistance may be required.” Vision says as he guides Tony forward and Bruce nods, rushing over to help support Tony’s other side and help guide him back to the bed.
“What happened?” He asks, checking over Tony for any outward wounds or injuries that might require immediate medical attention.
“Nothing.” Tony says with a hand wave, as if he’s trying to ignore and push past the situation and Bruce knows that ‘nothing’ is certainly not what occurred.
“I ran afoul of the witch.” Tony relents a few seconds later as he leans back into the bed. “No proof I’m sure, but whatever.”
“Wanda did something?” Bruce doesn’t even really know why his voice sounds surprised. Even before the ‘Civil War’ such an event would have been common. From her ‘accidental magic flare ups’ or her ‘accidental mind reading/altering’. Pretty much the reason that Tony once confided to Bruce over a terrified and painful conversation over a phone call as to the reason why Tony had to move out. Why he had to leave.
He didn’t feel safe in his own home. He didn’t even really feel like it was a home anymore, just a place where enemies lay around every corner. Tony had told him with a panicked tone in his voice how she was going to drive him insane, he knew she was, if she hadn’t already.
It was the first time Bruce had told Tony where he was so that the brunet could come down and be with a friendly face while Rhodes was on a blackout mission. He had almost needed to let the Hulk out for a run after Tony had eventually fallen into a fitful sleep in his small shack.
“I’m pretty sure that she knocked me over. Just because she could.” Tony replies to him as he finally relaxes onto the bed. “I’m sorry…I shouldn’t have left.” He says seconds later and Bruce shakes his head.
“No you shouldn’t have, but that doesn’t mean what Wanda did was in anyway your fault or okay.” He stresses as he pulls out a penlight from his lab coat pocket and comes over to start doing quick checks. “Did you hit your head? Did you black out at any moment? Dizziness? Blurriness?” He asks, falling into his role as the primary care physician for the moment and Tony shakes his head.
“Um I don’t think I did. More my hip and my arm but it certainly knocked the wind out of me.” He answers dutifully. “Uh…no blurriness but dizziness is definitely on the table. And I don’t think I blacked out. You’d have to ask Rogers.”
“Steve was there?” Bruce asks, a tremor of rage towards the blonde and his constant babying and need to excuse Wanda’s behavior at the cost of his own team members.
“He stepped in.” Tony says. “He didn’t seem okay with what happened.”
“He shouldn’t have been ‘okay’ with it.” Bruce mutters. “Vision, can you please start an incident report on it?”
“There’s no proof.” Tony says and Bruce shakes his head.
“We’ll report it then as a written concern and not as a complete fact. But things like this need to be mentioned if you think it was done intentionally. We may not have proof yet, but if a pattern starts to emerge then that’s proof in its own way.”
“I will start the necessary paperwork and get it all ready for you.” Vision says with a nod and inclining to Tony before he leaves the room.
“Fury put them on me to protect me.” Tony says with a small huffed laugh. “I don’t think I have to worry about the gates killing me with ‘protectors’ like those.”
Bruce doesn’t say anything to the statement, but he does have to push back the small vines of green that start showing on the veins in his hands.
Steve knocks on the door and waits patiently for the reply of ‘come in’ to come through the door. He pushes it open immediately the second he hears it and Rhodes looks like he’s unsure if he’s confused or just annoyed by Steve’s arrival.
“Hey, can we talk?” He asks him and Rhodes nods, motioning to the seat. “Thank you.” Steve says, coming over and taking the offered chair.
“What can I help you with Rogers?” Rhodes asks. “And if this meeting has anything to do with the meeting that recently took place with Barton than I’m going to have to tell you to-” Steve shakes his head immediately.
“It’s not about that.” He feels the need to clarify. “It’s…about something else….something worse.”
“Worse? Worse how?” Rhodes inquires and Steve runs a hand through his hair.
“Tony had…an incident with Wanda.” He says slowly and he watches as every muscle in Rhodes body tenses like he’s about to get up out of that chair – paralyzed legs be damned – and go kill someone. “He’s fine. He’s okay.” Steve rushes out, putting a hand up to calm the other man. “I mean…I think Wanda did something…I’m not actually sure…”
“Start from the beginning. What happened? What was Wanda even doing in the medical ward?”
“Tony was in the kitchen at the time.” Steve says slowly and Rhodes shakes his head, no doubt inwardly cursing a certain brunet who was never good at listening to doctors’ orders. “We were getting a snack and having a little conversation when Wanda come into the area as well. She…was a little frustrated with certain things and I think that she may have acted out against Tony because of them.”
“What was she ‘frustrated’ with?”
“Oh, um…she really had her hopes up that Strange was going to teach her magic.” Steve explains. “When she learned that he chose Tony as a student over her…well it just kind of annoyed her.”
“Stephen has every right to take on or not take on students as he sees fit. Just because Wanda wanted him as a teacher does not mean that she was entitled to him as one, or that she has any right to attack any other students he might take. And clearly he made the right choice if rejection has her acting out against others in some misguided need to get even or get her dues.” Rhodes says with a deadly sort of calm and Steve slowly nods.
“I know. I agree with you.” He says and something about his words don’t seem to calm Rhodes down in the slightest. “And she didn’t really do much…if she did anything at all. I mean, it is quite possible that he fell on his own…but…” He trails off and Rhodes finishes the sentence for him.
“But you don’t think it was an accident?”
“…No.” Steve admits, and for some reason it feels like betraying Wanda and he doesn’t know why. “No, I don’t think he just fell. I think she tripped him, or pushed him, or just…had a hand in it somehow. I asked FRIDAY if she had any view on it, to see if Wanda was using her powers but FRIDAY said she didn’t have a good angle from the security cameras.”
“FRI?” Rhodes calls up for a second verification.
‘Mr. Rogers is correct.’ FRIDAY answers immediately and Rhodes rubs his temples with his fingers for a few seconds.
“And Tony’s status?”
‘He’s being attended to by Dr. Banner. Everything seems to be okay.’ Rhodes nods and seems to take a moment to calm himself again. It’s kind of impressive, Steve has to admit. He’s not really sure that he’d be able to maintain an air of professionalism in a situation where someone had harmed Bucky like how Wanda has ‘allegedly’ harmed Tony.
“Thank you for bringing this to my attention. Is there anything else I can assist you with?” Rhodes asks and Steve takes a second.
“…actually…yes, there is if you have some time…it might take some time.” He says slowly and Rhodes gives him a look like he’s not sure if he has the requested time yet. “I was wondering…I never actually asked back then…but why did you sign the Accords?”
“Me personally?” Rhodes asks and Steve nods.
“You personally.” He takes a second before continuing. “I think…I might like to hear why you think they’re a good thing.”
“Are you actually listening this time around?” Rhodes asks and there isn’t any heat in the words, no accusations despite the word choice. Just an honestly asked question.
“…Yeah.” He says, thinking about the kitchen and about a few other events that have happened recently that have made him question his own stance of: The best hands are still our own. “I think I’m ready to listen now.”
There’s a twitch in his eye that’s revealing the headache that he has right now.
“Sir? Is everything okay?” Hill asks from beside him and he just stands there for a moment, looking at the screens in front of him.
“Just a complication.” He says after a second. “A dumbass, stupid complication.” She comes over and glances at the screens. She’s the only one who has the gall to do such a thing now that Coulson is gone. Although Coulson was much better at hiding it while Maria will just step forward and do it.
“Are these disciplinary forms?” She asks, glancing at them. “Two of them on Barton already?” There’s a moment. “It hasn’t even been a full day.”
“So it would seem Hill. And that’s not even the worst of it.” He swipes up a screen for her to see easier.
“A newly opened investigation on the misuse of powers?”
“Apparently the kids aren’t getting along as well as we might have hoped.” She shakes her head.
“As you might have hoped sir.” She feels the need to clarify, since she hasn’t been quiet about her disapproval of this plan or how Fury is choosing to go about it.
“Get Barton in here now.” He commands and she nods, tapping her ear piece and relaying the command. “And I want to be kept up to date on this.” He says with a motion towards the investigation.
This is not at all how he wanted this to go down. He had hoped that he’d be dealing with semi-rational adults, not a bunch of toddlers with superpowers.
He figures he should have known better a few moments later.
“Will do Sir.” Maria says and he nods.
“Barring that, anything exciting happen?” He says, shifting the conversation to something a little more dire and Hill shakes her head.
“The landing team will deploy in about an hour.” She says and he shakes his head.
“Make it ten minutes. I want to know what’s happening down there.” She nods.
“Consider it done.” She says as she taps her ear again and walks off. He sighs and looks out of the windows at the beautiful sky in front of him.
God he needs a vacation.
“Are you going somewhere?” Harley asks, glancing up from his book as Stephen walks by with the cape on like he’s heading out to do battle. The sorcerer stops to look at him.
“I’m heading back to the Sanctum. I want to check on a few things.” Stephen says and Harley puts the bookmark back in its rightful place between the pages before popping up.
“Can I come too?” He asks and Stephen tilts his head.
“Did you really want to? It’s rather boring there.” He says as he looks over the smaller boy and Harley shrugs.
“I’m going stir crazy.” He admits. “The others went home for the day and I’ve been stuck trying to avoid Team Asshole.” Stephen’s lips twitch a little at that designation, but he doesn’t reprimand or join in on the joke. “Tony’s resting and Bruce says he needs sleep and I’ve finished all my homework.” Stephen takes a second before nodding.
“Alright. FRIDAY, Harley will be with me offsite.” He calls out and Harley does a little fist pump in the air.
‘I will inform the Colonel.’ She says and Stephen holds out a hand for Harley to come and Harley takes it.
“You’ve never slung with me have you?” He asks and Harley shakes his head. “Don’t worry, it’s perfectly simple. Don’t try to adjust for the walkthrough. The ground is in the same place on that side as it is this side. Even if it doesn’t look like it.” Stephen warns and Harley nods.
“The Sanctum is in New York right?” He asks and Stephen nods.
“The one I’m going to is. There are a few others that we might have to stop by.” He replies and Harley grins.
“Awesome.” Stephen chuckles a little at Harley’s enthusiasm before doing the circular motion with his hand and creating one of the golden portals that Harley has seen Stephen employ multiple times, but never actually got to use with him. Harley waits till Stephen motions for him to go through and he does, trying to be sure that he doesn’t overcompensate for the fact that the ground looks higher on the other side.
He thinks he handles it pretty well, stumbling only slightly as Stephen follows behind him and closes the door. “That’s really neat.” Harley says, feeling a little silly with how it comes out before he internally shrugs. “Do you have to have that ring? Or is it like a training thing?”
“The magic to create dimensional portals is actually very taxing and almost impossible. The sling rings are imbued with the necessary spells and runes needed to make it happen easier.”
“Have you ever tried without it?”
“I failed.” Stephen admits easily as they enter the giant museum looking room. There are artifacts and just general weirdness behind glass cases as Harley goes over and starts looking at them.
“What is this?” He asks, pointing to a scepter looking item that looks like something out of a renaissance painting.
“To be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea.” Stephen says with a smile and Harley gives it back to him.
“You would know if you took the time to.” A new voice enters the area and Harley glances up as Stephen stands up straighter with the air of someone who is so used to hearing this and is just amused at this point.
“I’m sure I would.” Stephen says. “It’s on my ‘to do list’ I assure you.” He says and the man that comes into the area purses his lips at Stephen like he’s so used to all of this and he’s so put upon.
Harley knows that look. Mom gets it sometimes between her kids and Pepper gets it sometimes between the board members.
“And who is this?” The man asks, looking at Harley and Harley does a little wave as if to say: Hi – I’m friendly and I’m not here to touch anything.
“Ah, Wong, meet Harley Keener, one of Stark’s children.” That designation as one of Tony’s makes him smile and feel a small amount of pride in himself. “Harley, this is Wong, the head librarian of Kamar-Taj and quite possibly the true Sorcerer Supreme.” Stephen gets a smile. “He just lets me wear the cape and play make believe sometimes.”
“And don’t you forget it.” Wong says, turning around and walking further into the area. Stephen and Harley follow dutifully behind him until he gets to this strange sort of…floating globe in a back room. It almost looks like Stephen’s magic, but in a more solid form, constantly moving and displaying the image in front of them.
“What is that?” Harley whispers to Stephen and the sorcerer inclines to it.
“This lets us keep track of any disturbances.” He says. “It also keeps us aware of each other.” Harley nods, glancing at the globe as Stephen circles it. “I take it you saw the disturbance the other day.”
“I did, but I also saw that you were on site.” Wong replies. “What happened?”
“Summoning circle activated.” He says easily and Wong’s face looks more pinched than usual.
“How many dead?”
“More than I would have wished.” Is Stephen’s easy reply. “But I’m not interested in that portal. I’m curious if there have been any other disturbances?”
“Nothing major.” Wong says and Stephen shakes his head.
“Not major, I don’t think it’d be major yet. What about small, almost insignificant?” He waves his hand and the globe takes on a few different colors and Wong looks at it like whatever Stephen is doing is saying more than his words are.
“What are you looking for Strange?”
“I’m not sure.” Stephen admits. “I just have a feeling.”
“A feeling?” The librarian prompts and Stephen waves his other hand, a new bunch of colors in a new section of the globe lighting up.
“We were assisted by SHIELD with the first portal.” He says, filling Wong in. “and although Director Fury has assured us all that he has told us everything, I am not so mollified by his empty words.”
“You think he’s lying?” Harley asks and Stephen inclines his head slightly.
“I think he’s omitting.” He clarifies. “Almost carefully so, and that worries me more than a flat out lie.” Stephen’s eyes keep glancing over the magical globe and whatever information it’s whispering to him and there’s a feeling of dread that starts to build up in Harley at the words and the ominous promise of more trouble that they seem to give.
Can’t they just catch a break?
“Status Hill.” Fury calls out, navigating the Helicarrier through the skies as his right hand agent returns to his side. There’s something about her stance and her almost reluctance to approach that lets him know whatever information she’s coming with is not going to be something he’s going to like.
“The landing team entered the structure some time ago.” She says, squaring back her shoulders as she prepares to give the bad news. “The ground team lost contact with them minutes later.” She takes a breath. “I lost contact with the remaining ground team a few minutes after that.” She says. “There’s been no response from either parties at this time.”
Fury bites back the urge to curse. It’s not going to do him any good even if it’ll make him feel better. Half of him wants to ask if it’s possible that connection just got thrown off – those are old ruins and some go pretty deep. It’s possible that they lost reception.
The other half of him knows that those are Stark Tech. And Stark Tech didn’t fail. Ever.
“How close is the nearest containment crew?”
“ETA five minutes to the camp.”
“I want them to bag up anything they find and I mean anything.”
“Sir, isn’t it time to tell-”
“You have your orders Hill. Get it done.” She bites back any retort, nodding a curt nod before walking away and Nick lets out a small sigh.
They have to contain this. If they don’t, no one is going to have to worry about Thanos or Loki, because they’re all going to be dead.
He pauses and pulls up a call.
“Yes sir.” Natasha’s voice picks up instantly.
“We have a possible Code Alpha issue coming your way.” He says to her and there’s silence on the other side of the phone. “There’s been an addition to your mission parameters. You need to keep an eye on Stark. If he so much as fucking twitches wrong, I need to know about it.”
“Yes sir.” He cuts the call and shakes his head.
This was going to get out of hand. He was becoming pretty damn sure of that now.
The room is cool and dark when Tony wakes up and he’s feeling much better after the mandatory nap that Bruce prescribed – more like demanded he take – and he rolls over from his side to stretch.
Truth be told, he’d rather go back to sleep and pretend that the ex-Avengers weren’t back with all of their bullshit from before. It’s hard to remember that sort of stuff accurately, but having it rubbed in his face so harshly after not having it for so long makes him wonder what the hell younger him was thinking letting bullshit like that happen to him.
Tony shakes his head, rubbing a hand over his face. Bruce was right – as he usually was – when he said that they need to stop tiptoeing around the extra members of the Compound. The day for rolling out the red carpet for them had long since past and it was about time that they realized it too.
No more Mr. Nice Guy.
It’s a freeing sort of thought, but true none-the-less. These people weren’t his kids and they weren’t his friends. They didn’t just get to say that they were anymore, they were going to have to earn it and Tony was done covering for them at the expense of himself.
“Fuck them.” He mutters in a kind of vocal solidarity to his new world view, and it feels good to say it. He figures it’ll feel even better to actually put it into motion.
“…fuck them…” A whispered voice repeats his words back to him and he sits up suddenly to see the shape of a person standing at the foot of his medical cot and his heart jumps into his throat.
“FRIDAY Lights!” He all but yells out and she immediately flicks them on – but there’s no one there. Tony puts a hand over his heart and tries to calm his terrified breathing.
‘Boss? Is everything okay?’ FRIDAY asks and Tony nods.
There couldn’t have been anyone in the room. FRIDAY would have alerted him, hell she would have alerted everyone.
“No…I’m fine.” He says, his eyes still glancing around the room for a phantom visitor.
‘Are you sure?’
“Yeah...It was just a nightmare.”