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To The Other End of the Line

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“That’s all I can do for you.” Bruce says over the line as Tony receives the computer files. “I’m sorry Tony.” He says as Tony flips them open real quick to verify the information contained within.

“No, this is fine. Thank you Doctor Banner.” Tony says as he looks at the sins that Bruce has collected on Secretary Ross over the years. He looks at it and he knows one simple thing: this is going to be war. And not like the pathetic ‘we’re gonna pretend we’re your friends while we stab you over and over again in the back and then have the nerve to get angry when you bleed’ bullshit that the Avengers pulled. This is going to be actual war, eyes wide open, full on Ides of March with him being Caesar – levels of war. Ross will have no hesitation or concern with walking right up to Tony and stabbing him while shaking his hand.

But Tony realizes that he’s the only one left who can take on this coming war. And he has no choice but then to walk into it – and walk into it alone. There are no more ‘Avengers’, with them having high tailed it to Wakanda to rest out the storm regardless of the fallout for everyone else, and Vision and Rhodey are in no place to undertake this for entirely different reasons. Vision is still unsure of his place and won’t be the voice of reason, rationality or calm in the upcoming battles and Rhodey is currently already fighting a war with his own injuries and the effects that it’s having on his entire life and career. Peter by proxy is not ready either. He’s got no experience and he’s too young to drag into this.

That leaves Tony.

And only Tony.

Cleaning up the messes and sacrificing himself yet again for people who couldn’t be paid to give a damn about him. And Tony will die before he allows Ross to win, before he allows him to start hunting down those who are different from everyone else and start experimenting on them in the name of patriotism.

If Rogers had payed attention at all, he would have seen the gift that the Accords were. It kept people like Ross from having sole and unchallenged authority or power over entities like the Avengers. However, like Tony should have expected, Rogers had to go and get pointlessly righteous and fall into his ‘rebel with too many causes and no time to think’ shtick and play right into Ross’s hands. Tony wonders if he should have allowed them to think that he was against them, then they probably would have thought the Accords were a fantastic idea, but no – since Tony Stark The Devil Incarnate™ agreed with them they must just be evil and therefore not worth the paper they were written on.

Zemo and Barnes must have been a big shiny gift for Ross that came in sparkly wrapped paper with a big fucking bow on it. The last thing he had wanted was for the Avengers to become a UN based unit, the last thing he wanted was to lose the control that he could get over them and Rogers and the others played into his hands perfectly.

“Tony…please don’t be like that. I’m just…I’m not ready to come back. I’m better off out here where I can’t hurt anyone. Please tell me you understand that.” Bruce pleads in his ear and Tony sighs. He doesn’t know why Bruce would ever think that Tony would think that he would come back. Bruce has always abandoned Tony in the moments that he’s needed him most and it seems like he’s going to keep to the script that he wrote out for the two of them long ago and leave Tony alone again.

“I get it. You walked away and you want to stay away. I’m not asking for you to come back, I just needed this.” He doesn’t add onto it, doesn’t offer up any form of fake comradery or friendship, and that’s probably for the best, because he hasn’t gotten any sleep in the last few days and he’s on a hair-trigger. He’d rather not chew Bruce out if only for the image that he used to have of the doctor as his friend. “Thank you again and I’ll do what I do best. Have a good life Doctor Banner.” He ends the call when Bruce offers him a similar sentiment and Tony runs his hands through his hair.

The tremor is back in his hand and he can feel it all up his arm and into his chest. The aches and pains are becoming something that he’s seriously starting to worry about, but he keeps pushing it into the back of his mind until he can get an outside opinion. No need panicking before he gets that second voice. “FRIDAY, is Doctor Cho ready for me?” There’s a pause before FRIDAY answers.

‘She says to come on by.’

“Alright, send the suit and let her know I’m on my way.”

‘Will do’ FRIDAY says as the suit comes into view a few moments later. He steps into it and takes off, mentally counting down the tasks that he has to accomplish over the next few months.

“FRIDAY…I’d like all of the ex-Avengers stuff out of the Compound by the end of the week. Can you please get someone in there?”

‘Will you be trashing, donating or storing the items left behind?’ Tony takes a second to think about it.

“If it’s theirs – put it in a movable storage container.”

‘Where will it be sent?’

“Wakanda. I’ll drop it on their front doors and I’ll lament about the fact that I can’t see their faces when they realize that they’re idiots and they’re not as hidden as they think.”

‘Very well Boss. And if it’s not theirs?’

“Donate it.”

‘Do you consider clothing and electronics given to them or purchased by them with your accounts as yours or as theirs?’

“…if it was given, it’s theirs. If it was purchased with the Compound Account, it’s mine.” He answers her and she goes silent for a few seconds before a date and time notification of the movers pops onto the HUD screen and he nods. “Thank you.”

‘My pleasure Boss’

Helen is waiting on the balcony for Tony as he approaches and he lands down next to her, stepping out with a tired smile.

“Hello again Doctor Cho, long time no see. Thank you for agreeing to see me on such short notice.”

“You shouldn’t be piloting the suit in your condition.” She scolds him immediately. “The strain it’s putting on your injuries is dangerous.” He nods in agreement, feeling the soreness all throughout his body as he follows her inside. “Take a seat.” She commands and he does as bidden of him.

“So, are we just going to rip off the band aid or dip our toes in the water a few times?” He asks and she gives him a look over her tablet.

“Your body has undergone a significant amount of damage in a short amount of time. Compound that with your heart condition which is worsening by the day and your lungs-” He nods, figuring that he doesn’t need a rehash of the Captain America beat down that he received.

He does know one thing for sure now, if he meets Rogers in battle again – he won’t hold back. He doesn’t even know why he did the first time, when Rogers couldn’t be bothered to give him the same courtesy.

“Things aren’t looking good Mr. Stark.” Helen says finally and Tony nods.

“How bad is ‘not good’ in your diagnosis?” Tony asks and he doesn’t even need her to say it by the way she glances down at the tablet as if to gather strength before glancing back at him.

“You’re dying.”

“Aren’t we all?” He asks glibly and she glares at him.

“This isn’t funny. You know you’re dying. There’s no way you don’t already know and with these numbers…you won’t last the month and if you do, you’re certainly not managing two.” She says. “Why did you even need to involve me?”

“Honestly? I was hoping for a second opinion and maybe a second option.” He admits. “A miracle I guess.”

“The cradle isn’t a miracle worker and it won’t help you. The deep tissue damage alone is far too severe and that’s without all of the other things.”

“…I know.” Tony admits tiredly, rubbing a hand over his face. “Is there anything you can do? Anything? I’ll even take untested, out there theories.” She frowns looking down at her screens.

“We could try the updated Extremis virus, but with how much it would need to fix-”

“I’d blow long before it could fully attach.” He finishes and she nods.

“Precisely.”

“Well…that’s crap.” Tony says and she lets out a small, shaky chuckle.

“That’s one way to put it.” She agrees and they both fall into silence for a moment.

“What if I did something crazy?” He asks, a thought coming unbidden to his mind. After all, Rogers got him into this mess, the least he could do is get him out of it. “Would you help me?”

“Depends on what your definition of ‘crazy’ is.”

“The super soldier serum.” He responds and her eyes widen for a second.

“Are you serious?”

“I don’t have a sample right now, but I’m sure I can get one.” He thinks about the blood on the armor and how some of it isn’t his. It’s Barnes and Rogers’s. He could reverse engineer it with that.

“Tony…I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

“The worst thing it can do is kill me and we both know I’m gonna be dead before the month is up regardless.” She looks away, but he can see the look in her eyes. She’s considering.

“You helped me.” She says after a while. “If it hadn’t been for your grant and you taking interest in my work I would have never managed to do half of what I’ve done…” He doesn’t say how he thinks she would have figured it out. She’s a bright woman and she’s underselling herself. “…if you get it, and you’re willing to sign something that absolves me of anything that goes wrong…I’ll help you with it.”

“Thank you Helen…really, thank you.”

+++

The lights are star bursting a little as he straightens his spine through sheer force of will and walks out of the council meeting. He has to get back to the lab, he’s almost finished creating something that he thinks will work but he’s almost out of time and each day drags on.

“Mr. Stark.” Tony bites back a groan as Everett Ross catches him. “I have to say, I’m so pleased that you’re still such an advocate for the Accords, I mean with how much you’ve lost because of them.” Tony almost wants to ask him if he thinks he’s giving a pep talk or trying to talk Tony out of supporting them.

“I still stand firmly behind the requirement of responsibility that the Accords demand. I think it’s just what the Avengers and any group that comes after them needs.” He almost stumbles but the body brace that he’s wearing under his clothes locks up in time and he sends a mental thank you to FRIDAY.

“I’ll admit, I’m still surprised that Rogers and the rest of his team didn’t feel the same way.”

“Well, Rogers is used to being protected from the fallout of his decisions.” Tony admits. “Mostly by me, I’ll admit to that. Perhaps I was too fast to arrive and clean up their messes each time they messed up and that made it to where they never fully understood the repercussions of their actions.”

“You speak of them like they’re your kids.” Ross says with an amused smile and Tony only matches it halfway.

“I guess in a way they were.” He replies. “I mean, I put a roof over their heads, put food on the table, kept them clothed and provided them with funds to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and when I wanted them to listen they threw temper tantrums. I guess in that way they kind of were.” Tony shakes his head. “Maybe it’s a good thing I never had kids.”

“You never know, maybe it’d be different with your own.” Ross says helpfully and Tony chuckles to himself.

“Between you and me, I hope we never have to find out.”

+++

“Are you sure about this Tony?” Helen asks over the video call and Tony nods.

“I think it’s ready.”

“If you think so, I’m ready to inject it. I have the cradle ready to the calibration that you’ve asked.” Tony nods, figuring that his own fascination with his fathers ‘vita-rays’ was finally going to pay off. He remembers a drunk (when wasn’t he) Howard answering a little Tony’s questions about how he made Captain America.

If only dear old Dad knew that it was going to possibly save his son.

Tony snorts to himself. Like Howard would care.

“I’ll be by tonight, I’m going to run a final diagnostic on it.” He says and she nods.

‘Boss? You have a call from Wakanda.’

“Let them leave a message.” He says as he shrugs to Helen’s curious eyebrow raise. “So, let me do this and I’ll be there tonight.” She nods and he cuts the call. “Did they leave a message?”

‘Yes, King T’Challa expressed his irritation about your antics with the storage container and wishes to have you return his call as soon as physically possible so that the two of you can talk about the Avengers within Wakanda.’ Tony rolls his eyes. He could care less about what the King wants to talk to him about. T’Challa made the choice to take Rogers and Company into his nation then he can deal with the fallout if it ever gets out.

Tony doubts that it’ll get out because of him, but at the same time there’s no reason for Tony to keep his mouth shut. He figures he just won’t bring it up but if someone asks then he’ll see what happens.

“Did you locate Ross’s private server?” Tony asks, running the final tissue test on the sample.

‘Decoding now.’

“Let me know when you have something.” It takes about an hour before FRIDAY flashes a red mark across the screen and a file pops up. File X32896-7. Tony pushes aside his work to take a look at it. “What’s up FRI?”

‘I believe it might be urgent for you to show up on site.’ She says and he lets the information seep into him.

Thaddeus is experimenting with some of Roger’s DNA, Tony’s figuring he got it during the SHIELD timeframe. There’s some talk of attempting to recreate it but without the information that Tony knows, the blood is useless. He scans through a few more paragraphs and he frowns when his name pops up with his IQ charts and stats.

“Thaddy…what are you up to?” He asks to himself as he flips the page and he feels his stomach practically hit the floor. “What the fuck?” He exclaims, rising to his feet. “FRIDAY, tell Helen I’m going to be a little late. I need a suit now.”

‘Very well.’ There’s a new rage running through him as he takes off into the night. The thought of ‘what the fuck’ keeps going through his head as he gets closer and closer.

Thaddeus is going down. There’s no other way about it now. He’s going down and it’s going to be glorious.

The scientists in the area run the second that Tony drops into the area – now was not a time for stealth, mostly because this was a black site and Tony knows that Ross will eat his own arm before he admits to its existence – and he uploads FRIDAY onto the servers.

“Have fun baby girl.” He tells her and he can only imagine what she’s doing as he goes over to the area where the test subject is. He pulls open the door and takes a look into the small pod as he does mental calculations of how slow he’ll need to go in order to safely transport it all.

The numbers on the pod show numbers and stats that calm Tony a little as he disconnects it and pulls it to himself.

The child within keeps sleeping.

“Stark, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” Ross says, coming into the room with some soldiers and Tony glances up at him.

“You’re finished.” He promises.

“That’s the property of the United States Government, put it back.”

“This is an experiment using Captain America’s and my DNA without approval.” Tony snaps back. “Good luck getting him back from me.” He takes off towards Helen and he’s not surprised that Ross doesn’t try to stop him.

Fucking fucker.

+++

“You’re late.” Helen scolds and she pauses when she sees the pod. “And you brought a baby?”

“I know, I’m sorry, he’s mine and long story.” Tony replies as he puts the pod down and steps out. “We need to do this test now, and if it doesn’t work I need you to get him to Colonel Rhodes ASAP. Can you do that for me?”

“Tony what’s going on?”

“FRIDAY will fill you in, but can you promise that?” She takes a second before she nods. Tony gives her a shaky smile. “Okay, while I’m in there…can you check on him? I need to know what’s going on inside there, can you do that?”

“Absolutely.” Tony gasps as a sudden stab of pain in his chest almost topples him. “We need to do this now if we’re going to do it at all.”

“Get in.” Helen says, helping him over to the machine and strapping him down. “And good luck.” He gives her a tight smile as she closes the machine on him and starts the process that will either kill him or save him.

 

Chapter Text

It’s a soft beep and a hiss that he hears as he’s pulled back into waking reality. The darkness lifts in the cradle as the lid cracks open slowly and Helen’s face comes into view. She immediately leans down to check on him.

“Tony?” She asks, her voice holds a note of excitement and concern. Tony doesn’t answer her right away, instead taking a deep breath as he lets himself just feel the difference in his body. He hasn’t been able to breathe like this since pre-Afghanistan and it feels like nirvana. The ever present pain is gone, having been replaced with a feeling of so much energy that he almost wants to go for a run a few times around the building just to prove that he can.

“It worked.” He says, and she answers it with a smile and a nod.

“It worked.” She agrees. “Initial scans show perfect integration to the subject DNA, or more accurately, your DNA.” She looks at the screens around them. “It’s absolutely amazing, I can’t believe we did it.” Tony gives her a return smile as she reaches down and starts to undo the bindings holding him down in the machine.

“How long did it take?”

“Just over two hours.” She replies and he figures that might be a lot longer than Rogers’ five minutes, but Tony got the added bonus of less trauma and no pain being involved in the process. He figures he’ll take it. A sudden thought rushes to the forefront of his mind.

“The baby?” He questions and she looks over her shoulder at where the pod is amongst the computer systems.

“Still in stasis, I didn’t want to risk opening it until all of the scans came back positive.” She sees the worry on his face and she’s quick to continue. “They just finished a few minutes before I had to start the awakening process for you. They came back fine, he’s perfectly healthy.” She takes a second. “And before you ask, the answer is yes he does.” Tony’s grateful that Helen already knows what he’s worried about and that she’s taken care of all of this for him but he can’t help the worry that rushes through him.

If the baby has the super serum, then Ross isn’t going to let this go so easily. Or even worse – if he does then that just means that he’s going to bide his time, wait for an opportune moment to strike against them. This whole development throws Tony’s meticulous plans into disarray, since he won’t be able to devote as much time anymore to forcing a quick solution to the Accords and the Ross fiasco. He’s also realizing that he’s going to have to make a lot of noise in a big way to protect his son against those who might try to use him or hurt him.

…his son.

The thought just repeats itself in his head and for a moment he feels nothing but blinding panic. He’ll be a terrible father, after all look at his own. Don’t people usually say that the son takes after the father? Tony would rather lay on a Jericho missile right now then cause that sort of abusive trauma to an innocent child. To be honest, Tony had never really considered children to be a factor in his future – well that was a lie, he’d considered it seriously once with Pepper and he guesses that maybe it’s for the best that they never managed considering how they did eventually part ways. He doubts the break would be as clean, if it can be considered clean right now, if there had been a child involved.

“How are you feeling?” Helen’s voice drags him out of his thoughts. “Dizziness? Drowsiness? Pain?”

“None.” He answers honestly. “I feel great, better than great.” He sits up and lets her fuss over him for a few moments, poking and prodding him, requesting responses to her antics and Tony answers her the best he can. He can’t help but wonder if this is how Rogers feels all the time, if this is how the Red Skull felt. It might answer some of the more pressing questions about their behaviors because right now Tony feels powerful, he feels unstoppable.

The second that Helen finishes her first round, he makes his way over to the pod. He glances down at the sleeping baby in stasis and a small smile comes to his lips as a thought crosses his mind.

He doesn’t have to worry about becoming Howard.

Not with his own son, because Howard may have been the man that Tony grew up hating, wanting recognition from him and idolizing, but Howard was never his father. No, that honor belonged to another man, and if Tony ends up even a tenth of what Edwin Jarvis was like for him, then he knows that he’s going to do just fine.

“Is it safe to get him out of there?” He asks and she nods at his question, coming over and typing a release code into the pod. He gives her a curious look and she shrugs.

“FRIDAY and I had to override the pod’s systems when you first went in.” She says and he arches an eyebrow.

“Why?”

“It had a self-destruct protocol.” She answers and his fists clench at the news. “Don’t worry, as you can see FRIDAY and I caught onto it and were able to turn it off when it got remotely activated.”

“Ross activated the self-destruct on a baby?” He grits out and he realizes that he thought that he couldn’t have any less of an opinion on Ross before now – but clearly there are deeper, Rogers level depths that Ross is willing to go to. He feels an irrational urge to storm over to Ross’s house, kick down the front door and show that jackass a thing or two about why you shouldn’t mess with Tony’s family, but he quashes it…barely.

The pod opens with a soft beep and Tony’s attention is immediately on the small creature inside. It takes a second, but he reaches out and gently scoops him up into his arms. There’s the moment when the baby’s head rests against his newly unscarred chest that Tony realizes that he’ll live and die for this tiny being. He’s never felt so in love, so terrified and so excited in such a quick succession before.

“FRIDAY, we need to get him registered with papers ASAP.”

‘On it Boss. What shall I do about the mother? Shall I create a dummy profile? Adoption? Surrogate?’ Tony takes a brief moment to consider how this should play out. He’d desperately love to keep the truth hidden, but to even attempt will put both Tony and the child under Ross’s thumb permanently. It’s probably what Ross is hoping for at this point. He’ll stay silent on the truth of the baby’s origins if Tony backs off and keeps his mouth shut. Not to mention, if Ross ever wants to fuck him over, if he lies and tries to get Ross outed, Ross can prove that Tony’s been untruthful to the courts and the resulting chaos would undoubtedly be in every paper in the world by the hour.

And that means that Rogers and the others will know.

Tony can’t let that happen.

“I want it kept as quiet as possible, get some of the lawyers on it, but discretely. We have to be honest, but that doesn’t mean we have to make it common knowledge.”

‘Will do. Have you chosen a name for him or shall I pull up babynames.com?’

“No thank you. I’ve got a name.” Tony says, rocking the baby in his arms gently as he thinks of the two men who have undoubtedly become family to Tony over the years. Tony wouldn’t be who he was today without either Jarvis or Rhodey. “It’s a mouthful.” He warns with a small smile as the baby starts waking up and fussing about. Helen reaches out and brushes the baby’s cheek.

“What is it?”

“Henry Edwin James Stark.”

+++

It’s been on each and every single news site, blog, talk show or magazine for the last four weeks. There isn’t really anywhere that someone can turn that doesn’t pay its own homage to the newly revealed Stark heir.

The first pictures that popped up on the internet Steve learned were actually from a clerk at a baby department store who had recognized Tony Stark instantly, as Tony would say ‘who wouldn’t?’, and snapped pictures of the billionaire with the baby swaddled to his chest onto their twitter or snapchat or something feed. Steve still doesn’t understand this generation’s need to be online constantly, but the resulting hashtags of the whole event were apparently ‘trending’.

#NewDaddyStark #StarkDoesn’tUnderstandBabies #BabyStark

There were a few pictures of Tony’s shopping carts – plural because apparently Tony can’t just live or exist with just the basics – and a few pictures of Tony’s expressions when he found the self-help baby book isle.

OMG He looks terrified. One of the pictures comments said and Steve recognized that look on Tony’s face. Whatever that book was talking about in regards to baby development must have been a doozy. The resulting weeks were full of snapshots and glimpses of ‘Henry Stark’ and his father going about their days.

Steve had to agree with some of the people who were commenting, Tony looked good. He looked like he’d finally caught up on all the sleep he’d been missing out on for a while and had started taking care of himself. He looked healthier, and had a smoothness to him. Like all of the stresses of the past years had lost their hold on the billionaire. That or Tony’s vanity had come back into play in a big way and Tony was desperately trying to restore and maintain the appearance of a youth that had left him behind.

The team had wondered if Tony had decided to do something this crazy to draw attention to himself in the aftermath of the Accords, but the news that the baby was biologically Tony’s put that to rest. The time frames wouldn’t match up at that point since the Accords hadn’t been a problem nine months ago.

“I still don’t know who’s letting Stark have a baby.” Clint mutters again for what feels like the hundredth time. “He’s just going to get bored with it or foist it off on some high paid nannies.”

“I’m just wondering who he convinced to have his devil spawn.” Scott says. “I mean; the mom isn’t Potts right? They issued a statement and everything about it.”

“He probably just threw money at someone to get it done.” Wanda says with a sneer. “He doesn’t know how to do anything any other way.”

“Well the records are sealed.” Natasha says, pushing some hair out of her face. “And I mean Stark sealed. No one is finding out anything on the mother anytime soon.”

“Why would he seal it?” Sam asks and Steve sighs.

“Because he’s hiding something.” He says. “Whatever he’s hiding must be bad.”

“Or would paint him in a bad light and that’d go against this whole ‘oh I’m a helpless single dad’ bullshit that Stark’s peddling.”

“We can’t worry about that right now.” Steve says, pushing away the computer with its most recent pictures of Tony and Henry from afar. “We need to deal with the Accords.”

“Why are we always cleaning up Stark’s fucking messes?” Clint snaps and Steve bites back another sigh.

“We need a plan of action. This isn’t just going to blow over unless we help it along.” He says. “I know that you all want to go home as much as I do, so we need solutions.” They all nod and Natasha stands up.

“I’ll hit the streets then.” She says and he nods.

“Good idea.”

“Do you want company?” Clint asks and Natasha shakes her head.

“I’ll be quicker on my own. I’ll keep in touch.” She says as she leaves and they all take a seat around the table.

“We need to find a way to get the people on our side.” Steve says. “If we can do that, then it will help considerably when it comes to getting these Accords thrown out.”

“Stark’s too public right now. We’d need something like New York if we wanted to garner up enough good will in a short amount of time.” Sam says and Steve sighs.

“We have to come up with something. We have to show the people that we fight for them, and that we’re not controlled by the governments.”

“Or Stark.” Wanda adds and they all nod.

“Or Stark.” They all agree.

+++

“What’s all this?” Rhodey asks as he enters the shop. The braces are looking smoother from where Tony’s sitting and Tony knows that he’s close to the final design.

“I’m trying to-” He looks at the open book in his hand with its garishly colorful images. “Engage Henry’s mind early on and help develop his cognitive abilities.” He adjusts Henry in his other arm.

“What are all these?” Rhodey asks with a sweeping motion over the small mound of children’s books and noisy toys that DUM-E is just having a blast with.

“All the books say to read to your baby during this time and have them play with toys that make so much noise that you’re probably going to end up insane long before they reach college.” Tony replies as Vision comes around the corner. Rhodey lowers himself carefully to the ground next to Tony with a soft hiss and waves off Tony’s concerned look.

“They also credit mirrors with cognitive development.” Vision says and Rhodey chuckles.

“Not you too. You’re both ridiculous.” He shakes his head before holding out his hands. “Hand my nephew over.” He asks and Tony adjusts Henry into Rhodey’s arms. Henry fusses and Tony pulls out his phone as he takes a photo of Rhodey cooing at him.

“How did the hearing go?” Tony asks after a minute and Rhodey sighs.

“Ross has a lot of friends in powerful places.”

“Or he has a lot of blackmail.” Tony supplies and Rhodey nods.

“Or that. I mean, it’s still moving forward, there’s too much there to fully ignore, but they’re all dragging their feet.”

“What level of ‘dragging feet’? Like they’re eventually going to get around to it, or they’re going to let him ‘apologize’ give him a verbal warning and consider it a job well done?”

“At this point? I’m starting to fear the latter, but I doubt that’ll happen. Ross might have a lot of friends, but he’s made enough enemies that they’re not letting this go.” There’s a pause that Rhodey gets suddenly and Tony’s on it in a second.

“There’s a ‘but’.” He says and Rhodey tries to divert attention by cooing at Henry again. “Rhodey?”

“…Ross wants to offer a pardon to Rogers and them.” He says and Tony stares at him.

“What?”

“Not as ‘Avengers’ since that’s now a U.N program, but as an American task force.”

“What the hell is he playing at?”

“He argues that they’ll only be pardoned in the U.S. and that they’ll be able to protect and defend good American’s from the threat of super powered individuals who are undoubtedly coming out of the woodworks soon.”

“Ross doesn’t believe in any of that crap. He’d rather line them all up and shot them with a firing squad. Hell, he’d probably shoot each one himself if he could.”

“Personally…I think it’s a giant ‘fuck you’ to you.”

“Not around the baby.” Tony says softly as he frowns. “And seriously? How much traction is that idea getting?”

“Far too much.”

“Son of a-” Tony runs a hand over his face. “Great, just perfect. Just what we needed.”

“If Ross gets this through…Rogers and them could be back within the next month.” Rhodey warns. “The president is all about it.”

“God what a follower.” Tony hisses. “If Rogers comes back, that doesn’t mean that he’ll be here. They won’t be Avengers and they won’t know about Henry.”

“And how long do you think Ross is going to keep that a secret? He’ll probably make it look like he’s stumbled across a crazy plot that you created and experimented with yourself.”

“We need to be ready. We need…I don’t know what we need, but we need to do something.”

“Perhaps Everett Ross and the Accords Council could offer us assistance.” Vision says and Tony nods.

“At the very least, we can make sure that they’ll never step foot inside the Compound again.” Tony reaches out and brushes Henry’s arm. “FRIDAY…just to be on the safe side, start preparations for the Manor to come back online.”

‘Boss?’

“Just in case something crazy happens and they come back to the Compound, I don’t want any of this stuff here. I don’t want the lab and I don’t want the rooms. I want the Manor outfitted even better than the Compound.” It’s the only reason they’ve been staying here, since the security features outshine even Stark Towers. “If you want something special Viz, let me know and I’ll get it set up.” He pauses. “Unless you don’t want to come live at the Manor?”

“I would very much enjoy remaining with you and Henry.” Vision assures and Tony smiles.

“Alright then, Operation Cover Our Asses is a go.”

“Not around Henry.” Rhodey scolds him with a smile and Tony sticks his tongue out at him.

Chapter Text

The days are starting to pass by in a blur.

Between Henry, SI, the lawyers gathering a case for Henry, the Accords Council and the Avengers, and now the meetings between the senators that Ross’s right hand man (aka Ross in everything but face) has managed to bring into session to discuss possible concessions to return the wayward Captain America and his followers back to America without any recourse for their actions.

Which of course means just one thing to Tony: Rogers and Company are coming back to the states, and they’re coming back soon since nothing Tony is trying to do seems to be gaining any traction with these morons. He would think that the growing hostility overseas would prompt a response from US leadership that would be less of a giant middle finger and a fuck you to all of the other countries in existence that Rogers and company have personally trampled over. But no – clearly that’s not what’s going to happen today. Instead, the idiots at the top are practically holding their arms open for the disgraced Captain America and those that followed him to come running into.

And like that wasn’t bad enough, the absolute nerve of some of them in these meetings are just appalling and baffling.

-           -           -

“Well, technically with how the wording is set up for the ‘American Task Force’, it allows those members to work with the Avengers without causing any due legality issues for the Avengers themselves.” Senator Grimes says and Tony fights back the eye twitch that wants to form. “With that, the ‘American Task Force’ could in theory be housed in the same location, using the same training technology as the Avengers themselves. It would be best for integration and dynamics.”

“Well, that would have to be something you would determine with the Accords Council since the Avengers Compound is under their jurisdiction.”

“Well if you were to talk to them and express a desire to put this whole silliness behind you, surely they would fall in line?”

“I’m sorry, I don’t call assault, attempted murder and terrorism ‘silliness’ so I don’t think I’m the person that you’d want to come in to order to try and get the Accords Council to – and I quote: ‘Fall in line’.”

-           -           -

“Mr. Stark, surely you wouldn’t mind stepping in on your old teammate’s behalf for a while. Just until they get their feet under them. To fund such an endeavor in such a short amount of time is complicated, you know that.” Idiot Senator #6 says – Tony’s stopped remembering their names at this point.

“I mind.” Tony says calmly.

“You once handled all of the Avengers daily needs.” Idiot Senator #3 butts in. “I don’t understand why it would be an issue for you now to return to that kind of setup. You already know that it doesn’t affect your bottom line. Whereas for them, maintaining a job is almost impossible alongside Avenging.”

“One: they wouldn’t be ‘Avenging’ they’d be ‘American Task Forcing’ whatever that means. Two: I maintain a job alongside my Iron Man duties and I will not step in anymore for freeloaders who cannot help or take care of themselves.”

“The Vision doesn’t have a job.” Idiot Senator # who the fuck knows, cuts in like he’s said something profound.

“The Vision is an Avenger, not an American Task Force member, and he is also one of mine.”

“But you could do it.”

“If I wanted to? Yes.”

“But you won’t.”

“Nope.”

-           -           -

“Well…technically, Mr. Rogers has a right to the child. An equal right as his other father.”

“I’m very much aware of that fact, that’s kind of the problem here. I need to know how to fix that. How do I make it to where Rogers doesn’t darken my, or Henry’s doorstep?” Tony all but growls, growing more and more frustrated by the day. With the push for Rogers to return to the states soon, Tony knows that he’s going to become a massive pain in his ass if something doesn’t happen soon.

“Well, if you could manage to get him to sign away his parental rights-”

“That’ll never work. Next option.” Tony cuts him off, he’s already said this the last time they mentioned that and he’s starting to wonder if he needs a new firm opposed to these idiots. If Tony reveals Henry to Steve, then Steve – just to be a jackass – will do everything in his power to exert himself on Tony and Henry’s lives just on principle. Regardless of how either of them may feel about it.

“Well, there is something you can do.” Irina says and Tony turns his chair to her. “With the charges still pending for what happened in Siberia and Germany, the permanent restraining order could lead to a custody claim that Rogers is unfit to be a parent and have his parental rights stripped from him.” She says. “You’ll have to work fast though, if they return on the pardons then you won’t be able to prove abandonment issues, and if the case isn’t already closed then the pardons might null and void any of their behaviors during that time.” Tony nods to himself, that could work in theory. “For the child custody though, it’ll benefit you if you can prove a history of aggression on Rogers’ part that shows that he could be a threat to the child himself.”

“Otherwise a court might rule in a joint custody arrangement.” Tony supplies and they all nod.

“And realize, when he gets pardoned, he can always contest it. You might end up in court for the next few years only to have to deal with this down the line.”

“Hopefully it doesn’t get there.” Who is he kidding? Of course it will. Rogers will bat those big blue eyes and do his whole ‘I’m just a boy scout’ routine and everyone will eat it up. If it were anyone else other than Captain Fucking America, Tony’s pretty sure that this wouldn’t be a problem, but if he gets a Pro-Cap judge, then everything could go to hell.

“Either way though, this is going to play out in court…Rogers is going to learn about Henry’s parentage. You might be able to prove that you’re the better parent for Henry in the terms of housing, and funds – but your past track record might cloud some people’s judgement and they’ll be more likely to find favor in his stability.”

“Rogers is many things, stable is not one of them.” Tony mutters before he runs a hand over his eyes. “Fine, let’s just get this pushed through ASAP.”

+++

It’s still strange to walk through the halls of Stark Manor. Tony had long since moved out by the time she had been hired on and Pepper had always assumed that he’d had the place condemned or something. He never talked about it, or reminisced about his time growing up there and Pepper had always figured that it was a sore topic to never broach. That was especially true when she learned about Howard’s and Tony’s relationship in his youth.

Pepper followed FRIDAY’s prompts about where Tony was and pushed open the door to Tony’s new office. The image that presented itself to her eyes was another thing that she was still getting used to. Tony was standing next to his desk, holding a sleeping Henry against his shoulder with one arm while rocking and humming softly, while with his other hand he was flipping through holographic screens, making adjustments and stealing sips of coffee from his desk.

“Bad time?” She asked quietly and Tony turned to her with a smile.

“Never a bad time for you.” He said and she returned his smile, closing the door gently behind her and coming over.

“I got the information you asked for.” She says, laying down the files from her purse onto the table. She spreads them out so he doesn’t have to disrupt the sleeping baby. “How’s he doing? Is Vision not babysitting today?”

“He’s doing great, he’s a perpetual black hole and I’m not a hundred percent sure that what comes out of him couldn’t fuel rockets, at the very least it could strip paint.” Tony says as his eyes glance over the information. “As for Viz, he’s with Happy and they’re tracking down some top secret thing that I’m not supposed to know about.” She gives him a look.

“You know what it is don’t you?” She asks and he gets a devious grin.

“Totally.” He says before shrugging. “But your lips are sealed because Viz went through a lot of trouble to track it down and I’m going to pretend that I don’t know so that he can get the surprise he’s hoping for.”

“How did you find out about it?” She asks and Tony gets a faraway look for a second.

“He was asking me about my mom…” He says. “I remembered a lullaby that she used to sing to me and I was singing it for Henry. It wasn’t too hard to put two and two together when Vision took notes on the musical key’s it was in and started looking up music boxes.”

“That’s actually really sweet.” Pepper says carefully. “…are you okay with it?”

“Yeah actually, I thought it was really thoughtful myself and I think Henry will like it. He’s already got great music tastes, curtesy of yours truly.”

“Please tell me you haven’t been playing Metallica for him.” Tony gets a grin again and Pepper lets out an amused sigh before her smile drops and she motions to the papers. “Why did you want this?”

“I needed to know where to start.” Tony admits and they both know it’s not enough information to fully explain what he’s doing and he presses on at her arched eyebrow. “Ross is going to get his whole ‘American Task Force’ passed soon, and I can’t let Rogers and the others sign on.”

“Why not? Let them be someone else’s problem for a change. You don’t owe them anything anymore.” Pepper says and Tony gets a complicated look.

“I can’t…Pep, I can’t.” He stresses. “If Rogers comes back and signs onto that, Ross will have everything he needs in a few short months to start pushing people to pass laws against super powered people.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a trap.” Tony answers. “The whole thing, it’s a-” He glances down at Henry and cuts himself off from what he was going to say and it makes Pepper smile. “It’s a trap. Ross is making it to where Rogers has unlimited authority, the ability to trample basically over first responders, cops or anything else. No hierarchy system at all in place to contain them.”

“Why on earth would he do that?”

“Because the public isn’t going to care about the rules of the ATF, they’re just going to see a super powered moron bursting into a situation with no restraint, no remorse and no care. Ross is setting them up to be the worst case scenario for super humans out there and when it all falls apart – which he’s going to make it fall apart, people aren’t going to look at the ATF they’re going to point at Rogers and Maximoff and say its people like them that are the problem.” Tony shakes his head and Pepper understands. “I can’t let that happen Pep, I just can’t. Not just for you and Henry, but for everyone else out there who might be different. What about Vision? How long until they come after him? Spider-Man?”

“And you.” Pepper reminds him. She may still have some Extremis running through her veins – which is good, at this point it’ll only make it to where she’ll never get sick again but that’s still too much strange for some people – but Tony’s gone and injected himself with the serum. “You do realize that if Ross knew, like really knew what you’ve done to yourself he’d be here in a second.”

“I know.” Tony admits. “Which is why Helen and I left a trail that points to Extremis for my miraculous healing.”

“He’s going to find out. You know he is and you have to be ready when he does because Tony…you’re the prize now. Henry and Steve, they’re useless to him because he’s already proven that he can only clone the original but he can’t just make super soldiers. Sure, he can make more Henry’s but it’ll take at least twenty years before they’re any good to him. But you cracked the code, you know how to do it and you know how to do it right now. In mass to whoever he wants.”

“…I know.” Tony says, and he sounds tired in a way that Pepper hasn’t heard in his voice for the last few months. “I know Pep, but it’s already done. I can’t do anything about that, but I can get in front of this next problem.”

“So in order to prevent Ross from destroying the image of super powered individuals around the world – you’re going to get Team Crap back on the Avengers?” Tony gets a small grin at her slip up.

“I’ll let that one slide because it was awesome and it’ll forever be how I refer to them in my head now.” He jokes before he nods. “And yeah, I’m going to fix this – but not for free.” It hits her what he’s hinting at.

“You’re going to offer the Avengers to Steve for Henry?” She asks and he nods.

“Rogers won’t take just the revised Accords. I’ll need to sweeten the pot so to speak.” He answers. “Which basically means: full pardons for all of their stupidity, a clean slate for Barnes, a new arm for Barnes and a visa for Maximoff. Hell, I might even have to throw in B.A.R.F. in order to really dig it in.”

“He’ll say you blackmailed him.”

“I’m going to have lawyers there.” Tony responds. “It’ll all be completely legal and clear what I’m offering for what I want.”

“Do you think it’ll work?”

“It’ll have to, it’s my only option. The courts aren’t going to give me sole custody of Henry against ‘Captain America’. I have to get him to sign Henry away.”

“He won’t do it.” She warns and Tony sighs.

“He’ll do it for Barnes, and he’ll do it if he thinks it gives him a martyr flag to wave around for people to see and pity him for.” Tony answers and Pepper shakes her head.

“I hope you know what you’re doing Tony.”

“Me too Pep, me too.”

Chapter Text

It’s obvious that something is wrong the minute that Natasha enters the room. Her blonde hair is tied back away from her face and there’s a seriousness written there and it makes a heavy feeling settle in his stomach.

“What happened?” He asks immediately as she lays down the bag over her shoulder onto the nearby table and everyone else stands up and comes over.

“I have…news.” She says, pausing on whether or not the news she has is something they want to hear.

“Good or bad?” Clint asks and she shrugs.

“Both.”

“Okay…what’s the good news?” Sam asks and Scott shakes his head.

“We should start with the bad news, that way the good news softens the blow.” He says and Steve shakes his head. He has a strange feeling about the bad news.

“Does the bad news have anything to do with Tony?” He asks and she looks him right in the eyes before she nods. “Then let’s start with the good news.”

“The US government is in the process of creating full pardons for us now.” She says. “They’re creating something called the ‘American Task Force’ and they want us to be on it. It’ll basically be like how the Avengers were before without a governmental structure or head to follow.”

“What?” Sam asks, and Steve agrees, that almost sounds too good to be true.

“Why would they do that?”

“I guess we have some friends in high places.” She answers with a shrug. “I don’t know much about it, I was only able to find out the basics. They’re keeping it pretty quiet for now. But from what I’ve learned, we’ll be a government unit apart from all others. We’ll answer directly to the President and have full autonomy within the states to protect the American people at all costs.”

“Has something happened over there that we don’t know about?” Clint asks, worry in his voice and Nat shakes her head.

“They’re worried about people with super powers and what they’re going to do when they start popping out of the woodworks. They want a team prepared to step in and contain the situations and protect innocent civilian life.” She looks at all of them. “Tony’s fighting it. He’s been the one holding it up. We would have had the pardons and the authorization in our hands two months ago if it weren’t for what he’s doing.” Steve sighs.

“Is that the bad news? Tony’s our enemy now?” He asks and Clint snorts.

“Tell us something we didn’t already know Nat. Stark’s always been a pain in our asses, and now he’s keeping us from coming home? From seeing our families? Is he on this Task Force?”

“No, he’s refused collaboration with the Accords Avengers. It’s what’s holding up the process now. The big brass want to show that there’s no bad blood between Captain America and Iron Man since Tony’s practically become the international face of the Avengers Initiative now. They want both teams to work together in harmony, Tony’s refusing.”

“That asshole.” Clint growls and Scott nods along with him. Steve inwardly cringes, he wishes things could have played out differently for him and Tony. Sure, maybe he should have told him about Bucky, but it was an honest mistake. Attacking them when he found out? Completely out of line, and now keeping them in Wakanda? Keeping Scott and Clint from seeing their families? From Wanda seeing Vision? That was just taking things a step too far.

“But that isn’t the bad news. That’s just news.” Nat says and there’s something about how she’s looking right at Steve that tells Steve that Tony has made this personal. Something he’s done is going to affect Steve himself, not the team as a whole.

“What’s the bad news?” He asks and she’s cut off from answering when T’Challa enters the room.

“Your majesty?” Steve greets and there’s a look of displeasure on T’Challa’s face that Steve hopes isn’t there because of something one of them have done.

“Your presence is required in the council room.” T’Challa says and they all glance at each other.

“May I ask why?” Steve says and T’Challa turns as he starts to walk out the door.

“Tony Stark is here.” He says as he leaves again, leaving behind one of his bodyguards to direct them to the aforementioned room.

“Why is Tony here?” Sam asks, and they all know that Tony’s known where they are – there’s no way to say otherwise when he literally sent only some of their stuff to the palace of Wakanda with a tag of ‘Backstabbers.’

“Probably to grovel because he realizes he’s fucked up and we’re coming back and he’s going to have to face the music for all the bullshit he’s done.” Clint replies and Steve sighs as they go to move forward and Nat catches his arm.

“Steve – there’s something you need to know before you go in there.” She says and there’s an urgency to her voice and they all wait.

“Okay?”

“Henry Stark…” She starts and he nods.

“Tony’s kid?”

“No Steve, I found out - Henry is a clone of you. He’s your son.” At first he feels cold – and then he sees red.

+++

“May I ask why you have come here today Mr. Stark, and with your lawyers in tow? Should we be expecting trouble?” T’Challa asks once he’s entered the room after alerting Rogers and the others about the brunet’s arrival and request for a meeting with the Captain. “You’ve been ignoring my calls for weeks.” He scolds slightly and Stark waves it off with an unconcerned air.

“I’ve been busy your majesty as I’m sure you can understand. I did tell FRIDAY to tell you that I’d call at the earliest convenience.” He says. “It just ended up being more convenient to show up in person. Plus I have personal business with Mr. Rogers so I figured why not kill two birds with one stone? What did you want to discuss with me?”

“I wanted to discuss your silence on a certain matter, but it seems we’re past that.” T’Challa says as he motions to the lawyers present.

“Don’t worry about that. They’ve signed non-disclosures, can't talk about anything they don't have permission to talk about. Besides Everett already knows where Rogers and his are.” T’Challa arches an eyebrow.

“He does? What makes you so sure, I have heard nothing of this.”

“They tracked the plane from the RAFT breakout to Wakanda’s borders. Just a heads up. I don’t know why it hasn’t been brought up yet, but I guess here’s a warning for you – they know. The Council knows.” The prospect of that is not good in any way and T’Challa nods.

“I thank you for the ‘heads up’.” He says and Stark shrugs.

“Good, well I have a request I guess to ask. You don’t mind if I record in this room right? I’d like video representation of my meeting with Rogers.” T’Challa thinks about it for a second, but he doesn’t seem to see any harm in it so he nods.

“You have it.”

“Good, FRIDAY – set the suits visual to record please.” He must hear his AI reply because he nods once. “Now, I’ll admit I-” Stark cuts off as the door practically swings open and slams against the wall with a loud clang. Rogers enters the room looking like a spirit of vengeance and T’Challa is surprised when he makes his way over to the two of them. “Oh…here it comes. I’m curious what I did this time.” Stark states calmly in the face of the Captain’s rage and T’Challa’s heart skips a beat when Rogers pulls his fist back and punches Stark hard enough to send the brunet sprawling on the floor. There are gasps and startled cries from the lawyers who have all pushed themselves back and away from the starting fight. Eyes wide in surprised horror.

“Captain!” T’Challa growls, reaching out and grabbing the blonde by the arm only to have himself be shoved away and the blonde is atop the un-struggling brunet.

“Use your words.” Stark says from under Rogers as the man grabs him by the front of his shirt and lays a few good hits on him to the background sounds of screams for him to stop from the lawyers before he’s pulled off by the Dora and T’Challa.

“What is the meaning of this?” T’Challa roars at Rogers.

“How dare you! How dare you!” Rogers snaps past T’Challa down to the other man still laying on the floor.

“We knew you would go low Stark – but even this is low for you.” Barton snarls in solidarity with his team member.

“How dare you Captain.” T’Challa snaps at Rogers, finally drawing his attention to him. “You dare attack a man under my roof?” Rogers goes to say something to that when the sound of laughter reaches all of their ears. T’Challa glances down at the billionaire, wondering if perhaps the attack and the stress have finally caused him to snap.

Stark is still laying on the ground, but he’s got his face covered by his hands as his whole body shakes with the mirth coming from his lips. It takes him a few minutes to calm himself before he drops his hands and makes an amused sounding sigh.

“Thank you Rogers.” He says, pushing himself up to his feet. “Truly thank you.” The sentiment seems strange and T’Challa feels a little off balance from the brunet’s reaction to his own assault. “I was here because I was afraid that I didn’t have any other choice but then to offer this – but now? Now you’ve gone and made my life a thousand times easier. Thank you for that.”

“What the hell are you talking about Stark?” Sam asks and Stark gives him a look.

“I’m talking about the negotiations that are now null and void in the aftermath of Mr. Rogers’ attack on myself.” He says and he walks over to one of the lawyers and grabs a small packet off the ground before grabbing a marker from the table nearby and writing ‘VOID’ on the front of it. “Have fun seeing what you just fucked up.” Stark sneers, sliding the file down to them as he motions to one of the lawyers. “Anita, are you alright?” He asks, sounding concerned for how shaken the woman looks and she nods, straightening herself out. “Please serve the papers and let’s blow this Popsicle stand. Plus, I’d like to add charges for what we’ve all just witnessed.”

“He didn’t do anything you weren’t asking for.” Clint snaps and Stark gives him a sharp grin.

“Thank you for clarifying your personal stance on the matter.” He says and T’Challa feels like something major has happened here that the lot of them don’t fully understand yet. This isn’t the behavior of a scared or broken man – Stark has a look in his eyes like he’s just won.

“You’re going to give me my son.” Rogers snarls at Stark and T’Challa can’t help but be confused by the addition of a new individual into the conversation.

“I’m going to do nothing of the sort.” Stark says calmly. “What I am going to do is finish pressing all the charges that I can think of and keeping you away from both of us for the rest of our lives.”

“He’s my son!” Rogers yells.

“He’s our son.” Stark replies in a growl and that information just throws everyone off in the room. “He’s just as much mine as he is yours and I’ve got the DNA tests to prove it.” T’Challa feels the muscles that were so tense and coiled a second ago, loosen and he goes from having to hold Rogers back to having to hold him up.

“What?” He asks and Stark gives him a nasty grin.

“What? Your little spider on the wall didn’t tell you the whole story? I guess I’m not surprised that she’s not as good as she seems to think she is.” He throws a look in Romanoff’s direction before ignoring her. “Ross’s fascination with human experimentation led to the creation of what they thought was going to be their crowning glory. A child with your strength and my intellect and thus: Henry was born.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Rogers asks and Stark snorts.

“I’m sorry, when should I have done that? In-between the moments your fist was hitting my face?”

“You could have called! I gave you a phone Tony! You should have called me, I should have known about our son. I should have been there.”

“Actually – I have no clue what your number is. I let DUM-E play hockey with it the day it came in the mail and I haven’t seen it since. I’m sure DUM-E thanks you though, he had a blast.”

“You knew where we were!”

“And I also knew about how you were international terrorists, and how I was currently in the process of healing from your last attempt on my life.”

“You attacked first!”

“You left me to die!”

“You know I would never have done that if you hadn’t made me! You were going to kill Bucky!” There’s a moment of silence when Stark seems to collect himself and Rogers tries to calm down from his own frustrated rage.

“No I wasn’t, I was going to arrest Mr. Barnes with extreme prejudice for the murder of my parents.”

“It wasn’t Bucky!”

“Keep telling yourself that. It might have been Hydra in control of his brain at the time but don’t you dare tell me it wasn’t him when I watched the video. When I stood there and had to see him punch through my father’s face before breaking my mother’s neck. Don’t you dare tell me it wasn’t him and that I should have just let it go.”

“I should have told you.” Rogers says suddenly and T’Challa almost feels like there’s some American soap opera level drama happening here. A clone baby, a brainwashed assassin friend who murdered one of their parents and who knows what else.

“That’s the least of your concerns now.” Stark says as he motions for Anita to go forward. The woman pulls out some papers from her bag and holds him out for Rogers with a dark, disappointed look in her eyes.

“What’s this?”

“You’re being informed of Henry’s parentage – yes I actually came here to tell you about it, go figure. If only you knew how to handle things without your fists.” Stark says flippantly. “You’re also being informed that I’m taking you to court for sole custody of Henry with no visitation rights and I’m also giving you the paperwork on the restraining order you now have from me. You’re not to go into a Stark owned building and after this moment you’re not to be within twenty miles of me at any time.”

“But Henry?”

“Didn’t you hear the part about ‘sole custody’? No visitations? I’m sure that’s self-explanatory.” Stark shakes his head with an amused look. “You know, I had two things worked up. I had one where I just had you sign away your parental rights to Henry and I’d make all that happen for you.” He motions to the paperwork with the ‘VOID’ written on it. “But because I knew you I thought – you know what, just to cover my ass I should have a second thing made up, just in case things go south and what do you know – they did.”

“You can’t take him away from me.”

“You don’t even know him.”

“Whose fault is that?” Rogers snaps and Stark looks right at him.

“It’s yours Rogers. It’s all your fault.” He says and it’s in a deadly calm voice. “If you had listened, if you had stopped and thought for a second – you wouldn’t be here. You’d still be an Avenger. You’d have been there when I first found out about him and you would have been there when I brought him home. But you’re here and that’s on you. Not me – you. You chose to go rogue. You chose to assault the police and collapse a bridge on helpless civilians. You chose to destroy an airport instead of taking the deal I had gotten for you and Wilson that would have cleared you of all that crap.” There’s a confused sound from Wilson and Stark gets a grin. “Didn’t tell him did you? That I managed to clear your names of all that shit when you were arrested. All you had to do was sign the pre-contract to the Accords and everything would have sorted itself out. But no – you had to do things your way, and you fucked everyone over. That’s all on you. It’s your fault.”

“You were holding Wanda captive.”

“Go to fucking hell. Was she in a collar in the Compound? Was she in a cell in the basement? Was I experimenting on her while twirling my evil little mustache? Was she hurt? Was she not protected by someone who would have laid down his life for her if someone had tried anything? Go to fucking hell. ‘You locked me in my room’ I’ve never heard anything more insultingly stupid in my entire life coming from the mouth of a full grown woman and let me tell you – that means something coming from me.” Stark shakes his head. “You’re done Rogers. You’ve fucked up with me for the last time.”

“We’re coming back.” Rogers says, and Stark tilts his head. “The ‘American Task Force’. We’re going to be back.”

“Wow…I mean…just wow. I thought you were a bad spy before, but now even I’m baffled by just how absolutely, horrendously terrible you are.” Stark says to Romanoff. “Check the fine print Rogers, that fucking ‘ATF’ is a goddamn trap. If you sign that – which I’m going to be honest I won’t be surprised at this point with your current stellar record of doing exactly what you shouldn’t do – you’re going to destroy lives.”

“What does that even mean?”

“If you sign that paper you’ll be playing right into Ross’s hands.” Stark says and Rogers looks at Romanoff who nods slightly.

“He’s right…to a point. It’s our only option right now and we’re aware of Ross’s plan, we’ll be in the position to turn the tables on him.” Stark starts laughing again, and it’s a laugh that T’Challa has only heard once, at that conference where Justin Hammer tried to explain some engineering thing to a pretty reporter and Stark was behind him just mortified and amused at his horrible understanding of mechanics.

“That’s classic.” He says when he stops and his face falls serious. “And absolutely terrifying. You can’t beat Ross at his own game, you can only hope to change the game entirely and get him playing one of your own choice.”

“You think we couldn’t?” Romanoff challenges and Stark chuckles.

“I’ve seen your track records. I know you couldn’t.” He says before rolling his eyes. “Now, I’ll be going, and I’ll see you in court. Try not to let it get out that Henry is yours, I’ve been doing so well trying to keep that secret. It’s bad enough that Ross and Romanoff know. If it gets out then Henry will be in danger and I know I don't have to explain why.”

“Nat wouldn’t do anything like that to us. She wouldn't risk it.” Rogers says so earnestly and Stark sighs.

“Please, I’ve learned that Natasha will sell me out for a pack of cigarettes and she doesn’t even smoke.” Rogers shakes his head, before looking down at the papers.

“Tony…don’t do this.” He says softly. “We should both be there for Henry…the Avengers should be there protecting him. What if Ross comes after him?”

“The Avengers are protecting him. In fact, Vision is babysitting right now.”

“I’m sorry Tony…I’m sorry. I’ve said it before and I meant it.” Stark gets a funny look on his face like it physically pains him not to say something in regards to that. “But we can fix this.”

“I don’t know what about this situation is not making it through your skull, but whatever. Sooner or later it’ll hit you that nothing is ever going back to the absolutely toxic way it was before. I’m not exposing Henry to that.” Stark gets a stubborn look. “I thought I’d broken the cycle with Howard when he died but I came to realize that I didn’t. I let all of you into my life and I let you destroy me and I fucking thanked you for it. I blamed myself for everything you did and I let you all blame me for every little thing that went wrong, and I’m realizing that I can’t allow an environment like that continue. I will never raise Henry in an abusive household.”

“Oh my god, play the martyr card why don’t you?” Clint snorts. “Abusive household? What the fuck Stark, are you really going to try and peddle that?” Stark flips him off and the Dora holding him back growls as the archer goes to step forward.

“Don’t sign the ‘ATF’ or do, I guess I have no responsibility or control over you anymore.” Stark says, grabbing his coat off of an upturned chair. “But prepare to learn that there are consequences to your actions. I’m no longer falling on your blade for you.” Stark gives them a grin that’s all teeth. “I wish you all the best of luck.”

Chapter Text

“You will leave Wakanda Captain. You are no longer welcome within the borders of this country.” T’Challa says with a firm voice. “That you dared to show such disrespect to me and my country by attacking a man within the walls of my own home is deplorable. I will give you until tonight to get your things and depart.”

Steve throws his bag over his shoulder in a daze. He’s felt like he’s on uncertain ground ever since he found out about Henry and his relation to Tony and himself. In theory, Steve’s always acknowledged that the miracles that this generation can do with science and technology, but he’s never once thought that a child could be created from two men with the express purposed of doing it just to see if they could.

There was once a time that Steve had considered children. It had been after the serum and he’d stood tall and strong, without any of the afflictions of his youth holding him back. It was like the world had finally opened up to him after so many years of watching it pass by through a window. Suddenly he was capable of anything – and then there was Peggy, a woman who seemed to actually care about him, had even cared about him prior to the serum entering his body. He had fantasied what their children might be like. Beautiful little ones with their father’s strength and their mother’s gumption. He had spent many a night thinking about all of the possibilities that lay before them once the war was done. Once the Red Skull had fallen and Hydra disassembled – but then he learned a terrible truth from Howard. The serum may have cured him, may have made him strong but it had an unfortunate side effect…sterility. In a second, all of those dreams of blue eyed children with dark chestnut hair shattered under the weight of the words. He’d never father a child with the woman he loved, he’d never get to experience that kind of joy.

Now though – now there was a tiny, perfect, blue eyed, dark chestnut brown haired baby that was his. The child he’d longed for and had given up on – and now through his own actions he might never get to hold him. Might never get to teach him to play ball or tuck him in at night. There was a whole lifetime ahead of them that was in jeopardy.

Steve doesn’t really mind that the other parent in this equation is Tony to be honest. Despite all of Tony’s faults, Steve won’t pretend that he doesn’t think that Tony and him could be great parents together. With the brunet’s bad habits being outweighed by Steve before they can be passed on to Henry, but this crater between them was something that Steve was trying to desperately fill in while Tony kept digging.

There was hope though. Steve saw the paperwork that Tony had originally brought to Wakanda, and in it Steve could see that Tony was finally realizing the truth of things and doing his best to pretend like he wasn’t siding with Steve while promising to do everything in his power to create the world that Steve saw for them all. It was just that now, because of a moment of rage on his part and Tony’s ability to hold a pointless grudge to the detriment of everyone around him – Tony had rescinded his offer and had left.

This sort of behavior on Tony’s part was unacceptable for a grown man in a normal situation, but now Henry was involved and that just made Tony using the child against him because he was cross, wrong. He wanted to call Tony and yell at him, track him down to the Compound and shake him until he realized his own foolishness and how it was hurting everyone else around him, but now Tony had made that even more difficult with these insulting papers demanding that Steve refrain from contacting him in any form.

Natasha had told him that the papers were legit, not some elaborate ploy that Tony was trying to pull over them and that going against the order would only hurt him in the long run if he ever wanted to see Henry, if he ever wanted to hold him in his arms. She’d explained to him the gravity of what Tony was proposing, and had pushed the ATF paperwork into his hands.

“It’s the only way now.” Nat says and Steve looks at it.

“But Tony says it was a trap and you agreed with him.” Steve points out and she shakes her head.

“T’Challa is kicking us out, if we’re caught outside of Wakanda we’re going to be in a place much worse than the RAFT. They’ll take Wanda apart, they’ll take you apart, and no one will stop them.” Nat motions to the voided paperwork. “Tony was our best chance, but that door is going to be closed for a while. We need to look after ourselves in the interim.”

“So, sign this for now until we’re able to be Avengers again?” Sam asks, looking at it from over his shoulder. “That sounds legit.”

“This will clear us of everything done during the ‘Civil War’,” Clint says, looking at Steve. “That means that Stark can’t use it against you in the custody case with Henry. You can get him from Stark if we play our cards right.” Steve takes a second and shakes his head.

“I don’t want to take Henry from him, I’m not Tony. I wouldn’t hurt our son just because his father had made a mistake.” Steve says. “I just want things to go back, I want us all together again.”

“Then sign the ATF.” Nat says, holding out a pen. “That’s how we get there. It’s not going to be glamourous, but it’ll do the job.” Steve feels unsure still, he knows that Clint and Nat have already signed as well as Scott, but something still holds him back.

“What if we could just talk to Tony? Let me apologize and get his offer back on the table. It’ll help all of us and Bucky.”

“Steve.” Nat admonishes. “Tony’s not going to be listening any time soon, and he’s certainly not going to be helping us either.” She sighs. “I might be able to do something about the restraining order though.”

“Oh?” Steve asks and she nods.

“I can get them to add it into the things that go under the pardon. We can use Ross to get it removed and then we’ll start working on getting Tony to listen to us for once in his life.” Steve takes a second before he nods.

“Okay…if Ross throws that in, I’m in.”

Nat had come back not even seven minutes later with a satisfied smile on her face as she nodded at him.

“He said it would be dealt with.” She says proudly. “God, he’s so desperate to get you to sign it’s almost sad.”

“So the restraining order is gone? I can talk to Tony again?” Steve asks and she nods.

“He said that when we return to the states, it would be gone.” Steve feels a moment like some of that weight that’s been on his shoulders lifts, and he nods before reaching over and grabbing the agreement for the ATF.

“Well then, let’s go home.” He says as he signs his signature with a flourish.

+++

Rhodey sighed as he entered the living area where the group was. This was not the kind of news that he wanted to deliver today – or any day really. He’d heard from Tony what had happened in Wakanda and he’d almost flown over there to beat the ever living shit out of Rogers himself when he was informed of the ex-Avengers addition to the American Task Force.

Like that wasn’t bad enough, he learned of the concessions that had gone along with it.

“Hey Tones.” Rhodey greets and Tony looks up from where he’s sitting on the couch. “Can I talk to you for a moment?” Vision slowly grabs a new toy for Henry to play with as he looks between the two other men in the room.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ll explain in the lab.”

“You can say it here.” Tony says and Rhodey shakes his head.

“No man…I really don’t think I should. In fact, I almost think we should go to the gym…you might want to let out some steam after you hear what I have to say.” There’s worry on Tony’s face when he says it and Tony nods, standing before leaning down really quick to drop a light kiss to the top of Henry’s head as he follows Rhodey out of the room. Rhodey waits until they’re in the gym before he turns and looks at him.

“Okay, lay it on me. How bad can it be?” Tony asks. “I’m guessing that they signed the ATF right after I left.” Rhodey nods. “Well I was expecting that when I took my offer off the table. Rogers is a moron and Ross understands perfectly that you can attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”

“It’s not just about the ATF Tony.” Rhodey says and Tony tilts his head.

“Okay? What is it then?”

“It has to do with the pardons.” He says carefully and he can see that Tony’s trying to figure out how the pardons have changed in such a way that Rhodey is worried about him learning about it.

“What about the pardons?”

“Well, as you know it clears them of all that bullshit they pulled over there.” He says and Tony nods.

“Yeah, I’m aware.”

“That also means the actions that Rogers took against you in Siberia are now null and void.” He hedges and Tony nods.

“I figured.”

“But…there was something extra that Rogers asked for in order to get him to sign.” Rhodey says and Tony rolls his eyes.

“Let me guess, something to do with Barnes? Is he going to be a member of the ATF? God, Ross would love that. I bet you that slimy rat already knows the trigger words and is just waiting to have them have an incident on American soil.” Tony waves a hand. “I don’t care about that. Barnes can go join Rogers in hell for all I care.”

“Tones…it doesn’t have to deal with Barnes, it has to deal with you.” Tony pauses at his words and tilts his head again.

“What about me? I’ve already refused to be a member of the ATF. They can’t make me sign.”

“It’s not about the ATF.”

“Rhodey, Honeybear, you’re dancing around the subject and I’ll admit I’m getting worried. What about me?” Tony asks and Rhodey takes a deep breath.

“Rogers agreed to sign if Ross made all his legal troubles go away…they’re rescinding your restraining order against him.” There’s a pause in the room as Tony goes deadly still.

“Say that again please.”

“Rogers’s extra requirement was that the restraining order against him was gotten rid of. Ross agreed, and I’m sure you’ll find out soon but a judge has already signed off on it. There isn’t anything keeping him from walking up to the front doors now and causing you and Henry issues.”

“Nothing except FRIDAY, Vision, you and myself.” Tony says calmly. “FRIDAY?”

‘Just looked into it Boss, Colonel Rhodes is right. The order has been rescinded.’ There’s a dangerous look in Tony’s eyes before he rolls his shoulders and shrugs.

“You know what? That’s fine. I’ll get another, and another, and another and I’ll blast it through the airways until they back the fuck off. Rogers is only clear of the actions he took in Siberia, that doesn’t clear him of what he did in Wakanda.”

“I’m pretty sure that there’s some clause in there that prevents you from bringing charges against him for that.” Rhodey says carefully and Tony gets a sharp grin.

“If Rogers wants to play this game, he better fucking get ready because he hasn’t seen half of what I can do when I’m motivated enough.” Tony shakes his head. “If Rogers thinks that this is going to solve anything, that this is going to fix his problems then he has another thing coming to him.”

Chapter Text

“How’s he looking?” Tony asks, hovering over her shoulder and Helen gives him an arched eyebrow.

“Not any different than when you asked me two minutes ago.” She says and his face scrunches up in embarrassment before he backs off with his hands up.

“I know, I know. I’m just worried.”

“I understand, but let me finish and then we’ll be able to see how he’s doing.” She motions over to the equipment set up nearby. “Shouldn’t you be going through your own tests?”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m going, I’m going.” Tony says with an amused exhaustion as he steps over to the treadmill and starts sticking the sensors on himself. “How long do you want me to go for?”

“I’ll let you know when you hit it.” She says over her screens and he nods.

“Do you want me to go for broke or just a normal run?”

“Let’s start off normal and push it later.” She answers and he nods, putting on the final sensor and starting the machine up. It doesn’t take long before she gets the green light for Henry’s physical development and she nods at Tony who gives her a smile and a thumbs up as he keeps running.

“So everything is alright?” The Vision asks her and she nods.

“Everything’s looking the way it should. How is he responding at home?”

“Perfectly, he’s hitting all of the mile markers for his age but he is still young. There isn't much to base our conclusions on yet." Vision says and Helen nods.

"Well, he's only a few months old so no reason to start worrying yet."

“And what of Mr. Stark’s development?” Vision asks carefully a few moments later and Helen motions for him to pick Henry up before they go over to where Tony’s testing.

“As of right now, I’d say you’re leveling out finally.” She says, looking over the information garnered from the punching bags in the previous test. “Your strength doesn’t seem to be growing rapidly anymore, the numbers are showing a much smaller in difference than the last three tests, and your endurance is showing similar numbers from your last two.”

“Where is it in regards to Rogers?” Tony asks, not even sounding winded and she swaps over to the old SHIELD files on Captain Rogers’ stats that Tony provided from the Widow/Captain leaks.

“You’re pretty close in terms of strength and endurance, he’s still got a little on you but not much at this point. I’m guessing that he tapered off as well and has maintained all of these years. Your healing however seems to be at a more accelerated rate than his, but that’s probably from the leftover Extremis in your body from the ARC surgery.” Helen manages to say all of this with a straight face, ignoring the internal rage inside her at how Tony returned to her after Wakanda, asking for her to monitor his healing rate after an unprovoked assault from Rogers himself.

“So in a full out battle, Rogers would still win?” Tony asks and Helen pauses before she answers.

“He’d probably win regardless, he’s had more time to adjust to his new abilities. He’s not really learning to hold back and when to fully let go like you are.”

“Crap.” Tony mutters to himself as he pushes up the number and starts running faster.

“Are you expecting to get in a fist fight with Captain America sometime soon?” She asks and Tony sends her a look that tells her how silly that question is, and she figures it’s deserved.

“Unfortunately due to the ex-Secretary’s interference, Mr. Rogers and the others are currently in route to the states as we speak.” Vision says and Helen can’t help the surprised, confused look at that.

“What? How?”

“Pardons.” Tony says, and he’s finally starting to tire out. He runs for a bit longer before he hits the off button and steps off. “They’ve offered them pardons for their actions on American soil and have offered amnesty to them along with a job.”

“That’s a horrible idea.” Helen states and Tony nods.

“Yup, and yet – it’s happening. Rogers probably took it because it gets him back here, closer to Henry. That and he always thinks he’s right so he probably doesn’t even realize why everyone is so angry with him.” Tony wipes himself off with the towel before coming over to Henry and making surprised, happy faces to the child and smiling when Henry gets excited.

“When will they be here? Are they going to be in the Compound?” She asks, looking around at the equipment that she’ll refuse to run for them. The Cradle is her property after all and she’ll decide how it’s used and for whom.

“They’ll be landing in about-” Tony takes a glance at his watch. “Fifteen minutes.” He answers before shrugging. “And no, I sold the rights to the Compound sans the lab to the Accords Council as a foothold for Avengers located in America. Rogers doesn’t have access to the Compound since he’s still on the Accords shit list.” Tony makes a surprised noise and face for Henry. “Oops, daddy said a bad word, don’t repeat that because Auntie Pepper will have my head.” He coos at the child before snickering to himself.

“Why are you so calm?” She asks. “Didn’t they repeal your restraining orders?” Tony gets a slow grin as he nods.

“Yup, they did.”

“…and that’s a bad thing, right?”

“Oh, it’s a terrible thing. For me and for them.” Tony says and Helen knows instantly that something has happened.

“What did you do?” She asks curiously and Tony shrugs.

“They’re going to have a huge press conference the second they land to try and garner some good press for the ‘returned American heroes’.” Tony makes air quotes with a roll of his eyes. “And I may have let certain pieces of information slip through my fingers to a few people who will undoubtedly be present.”

“Who?”

“Christine and J. Jonah.” Tony responds with that grin back on his face. “JJ looked like he had gotten the Holy Grail so he'll totally send someone there to take them to pasture, and Christine is all about finding the truth that the government doesn’t want the layman to know about.”

“What did you tell them?” Vision asks, and it’s clear that this is the first time he’s heard anything about this.

“I’ve given them the ‘American Task Force’ charter with a few highlighted sections. Technically it’s public domain although no one’s been able to find a current working copy. I just filled a need.” Tony says. “Nothing illegal, just something the brass didn’t want getting out. Plus, I may have already given a small press release with Pepper about some actions that Stark Industries is taking after the government’s interference in the private affairs of an American citizen at the behest of an international terrorist group. And the intention of filing civil suits against those idiots.” Tony’s eyes are full of mirth and Helen can’t stop the amused smile that reaches her face.

“So, its war then is it?” Vision asks and Tony shakes his head.

“Not at all, Rogers doesn’t know how to wage war – he only knows how to fight battles. War requires some level of threat and competence from the other side, which luckily for us – Rogers and them are lacking.” Tony grins. “Romanoff might think she knows how to ‘play’ the game, but I’m going to show them just how out of their depth they really are.”

+++

It’s not all that different to some of the parties that they went to before with Tony. They flew in, got escorted in the back and stood behind a curtain for a while waiting for someone to come in and tell them it was their time to go on.

The only way it differed was that instead of Tony running them through sample questions, ways to deflect and options for when they got caught in a sticky situation – Natasha was.

“If they ask about the Accords, you have no opinion on them.” She tells him and Steve frowns.

“Shouldn’t we be telling them the truth?” He asks and she shakes her head.

“They don’t want the truth, they want a pretty picture that they can sell on the seven o’clock news. Don’t give them something to grab onto that’ll paint us in a bad light. We need the public behind us a hundred percent.” She states and Steve nods slowly.

“Okay, I can do that. No Accords…but what if they ask about why the Avengers were fighting and why we’re split right now?” He asks and Nat waves it off.

“You let me answer that.” She says and he agrees. Next to Tony the second best liar on the team was Natasha. She could have these people eating out of her hand and begging for more. “Now remember what we talked about.” He nods, remembering all of his notecards on the plane ride over.

“Yeah.” He says as someone pops their head into the back and waves them out.

“We’re going to do fine. It might get rough, just don’t panic and keep calm.” Clint mutters to Wanda as the girl tries to calm herself and she gets a shaky smile before they all walk out to the table set up and take their seats. Natasha is right, the questions stay rather friendly and any time there’s any form of pressing about the Accords, the Avengers or what they think is going to happen now that America has just decided to start an international incident for them.

It all goes good up until the moment it doesn’t.

The woman who holds up her hand and speaks is someone with whom Steve is very well acquainted with. Tony both hates and respects her, but for some reason always made sure that the one reporter who would undoubtedly be a pain in his ass was present at each and every single press event. When Steve asked him why he did that once, Tony replied to him that despite what people believed, there wasn’t really any bad blood between Christine and him and that everyone, and he himself, trusted her to get to the bottom of things. He credited her with helping him out once, uncovering Stark Industries double dealing under the table under Obadiah and revealing it to him.

“Mr. Rogers.” Christine starts and Steve nods towards her. “I’d like to inquire about the specifics of your personal pardons.” She says and Steve feels Nat get a little tense beside him. “I’m curious how you personally feel about being cleared from persecution on American soil for billions of dollars in property damage overseas, actions taken that resulted in civilian casualties and attempted murder?”

“The pardons were giv-” Natasha starts but Christine holds up a hand.

“Excuse me Miss Romanoff, but I believe I asked Mr. Rogers that particular question.” She looks back at Steve. “Do you believe that this action, in direct opposition to several other nations, is a good move for the American government?” Steve takes a moment, the other blonde staring him down unflinchingly and he takes a second to answer.

“Well Ma’am, the pardons were granted because there were some extenuating circumstances surrounding the situation and there were a lot of people who agreed with our side.”

“Your side? Care to elaborate?”

“Not at this time.” Steve says carefully and she nods.

“Okay, then may I ask how you feel about Tony Stark’s personal restraining orders against you? Oh I mean, the restraining orders he had prior to your signature being given on the ATF and apparently how it was a direct request of yours that it be gotten rid of before you would sign?”

“The personal issues between Tony and I aren’t what we’re discussing at this time.” Steve says firmly and he doesn’t like it when she presses on.

“Do you feel that it was appropriate for the government to take away a legitimate order for protection from a civilian as a bonus for signing up with them?” She asks. “And what do you feel that shows everyone else in regards to that sort of action being taken?”

“It wasn’t a bonus.” Steve argues. “Tony can be a little…” Natasha makes a noise that tells him to end his sentence right there and Steve does, taking a moment before trying again. “I don’t have a comment on the matter.” He says instead and she nods, falling silent for a moment as another reporter cuts in.

“Mr. Rogers, Daily Bugle.” He says and Steve inclines for him to continue. “Can you give us some insight into the ATF’s budget schedule as defined in the ATF documents?” Steve takes a moment and his confusion must show because the man presses on. “The ‘blank check’ that your organization is going to be running on off of the backs of mandatory tax hikes in order to pay for it? What will these numbers look like? Is there no funding to be had separate from the pocket books of normal, everyday American citizens?”

“I’m not sure sir.” Steve says and there are far too many hands that pop up. There are questions being thrown left and right: how expensive will the ATF be for the American people? How dangerous is it that the ATF has jurisdiction over local law enforcement? What about the memories of their actions on American soil, what about the civilian response to this government force being set up? And so on and so forth.

Steve’s almost grateful when Christine speaks up again, although he knows he’ll come to regret it.

“Word has it that Mr. Stark and the Accords Council have refused to acknowledge the ATF or work with them, is this true?”

“Yes Ma’am.” Steve admits honestly.

“Is this due to the physical assault done to Mr. Stark that was pardoned away or is it because of the new civil lawsuits that he’s bringing against the lot of you?”

“No Ma’am, if Tony’s doing lawsuits it has nothing to do with either of those things and everything to do with him wanting to keep Henry to himself.” Steve cuts off when he realizes just what has slipped out of his mouth.

“Henry? As in Henry Stark? What does Henry Stark have anything to do with your team and why would Mr. Stark need a civil lawsuit to ‘keep him to himself’?” She asks and Steve takes a second, before letting out a sigh.

“Because Henry Stark is my son as well.”

Chapter Text

Pepper’s standing in the hallway when Rhodey lands and lets the suit pull away from him. She glances up and makes a motion with her head.

“He’s in there.” She says, inclining to the training room where Rhodey can hear the sounds of someone tearing something up in there and he nods, walking to the door and walking in. Tony sees him instantly.

“Not even one day Rhodey! Not even one fucking hour!” He snarls as he paces back and forth as DUM-E puts up another punching bag for him on the chain. “Fuck!” He curses. “I mean, I knew he was going to let it slip but day one? The first fucking interview! What the fuck?” Tony turns wide and frustrated eyes to Rhodey. “Damage control – that’s what I do, I see something going south and I get in front of it. But how the fuck do you stop a raging moron dressed like a fucking flag from giving out the one piece on information that he needed to keep to his fucking self on the national fucking news?” Tony throws his hands up in rage before he lays a few hits onto the bag, the chain creaking and the bag ripping under the assault. “Why didn’t he just send a fucking early Christmas gift to Hydra? Just go right ahead and put a giant fucking bow on Henry’s head and yell ‘Hail Hydra’ I mean god, what a fucking moron!” The seam rips and another bag’s insides join the mess on the floor moments later.

“What did Pep say about the interview?” Rhodey asks carefully and Tony growls.

“That we’re getting far too many inquiries about the truth in Rogers’ statement, not that it fucking matters because the kind of people who I was actually worried about figuring this out are the sort that won’t give a damn about waiting for proof, they’ll just come and try to take him.” Tony snaps out and Rhodey doesn’t disagree with him. He can’t- this is a nightmare of epic proportions. Even Rhodey had figured that Rogers would keep his mouth shut for a few months, until the court cases droned on and he wanted public sympathy for his terrible plight of fighting the horrible Tony Stark: Capitalist Pig who wanted to keep his baby from him – but to reveal it on the news? The first day he comes back from Wakanda? That was stupid even by Rogers’ standards.

“What are we going to do?” Rhodey asks, figuring that right now what Tony needs is to be making a plan, not to be obsessing about Rogers and his epic fuck up.

“FRIDAY, I need you to pull out the other AI programs.” Tony says and Rhodey gives him a look.

“The other AI’s? What for?”

“I need to rewrite the code, stop them from being vulnerable to outside influence. Then I need to do the same to you FRI.”

‘I’m amenable to that Boss.’

“We need backup, god we need so much backup.” Tony says, running a hand through his hair. “We need some kind of security for the Compound and the Manor – what about the Iron Legion? We can have those back online by the end of the month. We can start production-” Rhodey reaches over and grab’s Tony’s arm, twisting him to look at him and stopping him mid rant.

“Tony – Tony calm down man, you’re freaking out. You need to take a deep breath and calm down.” Rhodey watches as Tony’s panicked eyes grow slightly watery.

“He’s my son Rhodey…what if I can’t protect him? What if I can’t protect any of you? What if something happens and it’s my faul-” Tony’s voice cuts off in a panicked kind of hiccup and Rhodey pulls him into a hug.

“We’re here Tones. We’re here and we’re just as capable and we’re all going to keep each other safe.” He whispers to him. “I promise, we’ve got your back, you’re not alone, we’ve got you.” He keeps repeating the last two sentiments of: you’re not alone, we’ve got you in a soft voice as Tony’s arms come around him and the brunet clings to him, shaking and Rhodey curses out Rogers when the tears start falling from Tony’s eyes.

+++

“He’s going to kill me.” Steve says the second they enter the hotel room, running his hands through his hair. “He told me not to tell and I didn’t mean to, I was just – it wasn’t ending and I didn’t know what to say and I was just frustrated and tired and I didn’t mean to…I have to call him. I have to call and apologize, I didn’t mean-” Sam shakes his head.

“No, don’t do that. You can’t call him right now.” Steve gives him a confused look and Sam crosses his arms. “He’s going to be pissed, and rightfully so but you know how impossible it is to talk to Tony when he’s angry.”

“He should be angry, he asked one thing from me and I blew it.” Steve says and Wanda puts a comforting hand on his arm.

“He shouldn’t be holding that against you, not with his track record of messing things up.” She says and Steve sighs.

“Besides, it might be a good thing that it’s out.” Nat says and Steve gives her a look like she’s lost her mind.

“How is it a good thing? I’ve just gone out there and said that there’s a baby who may or may not have the serum in his body out there.”

“Do we even know if Henry has the serum?” Clint asks and Nat nods.

“From what I was able to find out before Ross got me out of his system is that Henry does.”

“How much were you actually able to get?” Scott asks. “I mean, no offense, but you didn’t know that Stark was the baby daddy as well as Steve here. How do you know you didn’t miss something else?”

“Hey, she did the best she could.” Clint snaps. “I don’t see you contributing to the solution.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect.” Scott says holding his hands up in surrender. “It’s a legitimate question.”

“I got what I could, and I left.” Nat answers. “Is there going to be more information? Yes, but do we have more than we had? Yes.”

“But do we have enough?” Scott asks and they look at him. “I mean, making decisions based off of only half the information is sometimes just as bad as making them without any of it.” Nat shakes her head and turns to Steve.

“This could be a blessing in disguise.” She says, returning the conversation to its original trajectory and ignoring Scott.

“I still don’t see how that’s possible.” Steve says and she crosses her arms.

“It was always going to get out Steve, and Tony’s a fool if he thought that he could keep that from happening. Maybe it’s better that it’s out in the open, now we can make plans for it instead of waiting around until something happens.” Clint nods with her reasoning.

“Nat’s right. This puts the power back in our court instead of Ross’s. He could have revealed that information whenever he wanted – hell he probably already has. It’s better that it’s out.” Clint says and Steve lets out a shaky sigh.

“Tony’s not going to see it that way.” He says and Nat shrugs.

“Tony thinks he’s got everything well in hand but he doesn’t.” She says and Wanda rolls her eyes.

“Isn’t that how it always is?” She asks and Clint snorts in agreement.

“Well…I do think he was right about keeping quiet about the kid.” Sam interjects. “I mean, whether or not it was coming sooner or later, or not – we’ve effectively just placed a big bullseye on that kid.” Steve cringes at his words and Nat shoots Sam a look to be quiet.

“Tony might have possibly had it in hand when Henry was an unknown, when the only people going after him were doing so because he was the Stark heir, but now that it’s out? Tony’s going to have to accept our help, it’d be stupid not to and it’d be all but signing the death warrant on Henry.”

“So you think Stark’s gonna accept our help now because we’ve effectively given him no other choice?” Scott asks, sounding surprised and Clint shrugs.

“However he backs off is fine with me as long as he backs off.” He answers. “And Nat’s right, he has to work with us now.” Scott looks unconvinced and Wanda calls him out on it.

“What is it?” She asks, drawing everyone’s attention to her and he shrugs.

“I don’t know, I guess…I just don’t see Stark agreeing to us being all up in his business because we fucked him over by telling the world about baby Stark.”

“Stark-Rogers.” Nat corrects and Steve gets a tiny little smile. “And Steve has as much right as Tony does to protect Henry now.” Scott gives them a look.

“I feel like you all didn’t hear the same threat that he gave when he was in Wakanda as I did…or maybe because I’ve gone through a child custody battle and lost, I understand the gravity of what Stark was saying.” Scott says before looking at Steve. “He’s got all the cards when it comes to the kid-” Clint goes to say something and Scott holds up a hand. “No- I’m serious. He’s got more lawyers than the Pope probably has and he’s got almost as much money to throw around. Do you know what that kind of clout gets you? It gets you what you want. And what he wants is sole custody with no visitation rights. Do you understand what that means? That means no weekends, no holidays, no birthdays, no school plays – nothing. He’s not going to turn around and let you come in and help ‘protect’ Henry any more than Maggie let me try and help out her and Cassie.”

“No one is going to choose Stark as a respectable parent over Steve.” Clint says and Scott sighs.

“A court might, and if they don’t then Stark can try again – and again – and again. Don’t you get it? People usually quit because they run out of money or something, but he’s never going to. He’ll tie you up in litigation for years, and that’s if you have the ability to even go that long.” Scott shakes his head. “And do you understand what got revealed? Stark had a restraining order against you? Do you realize that information being out will hurt you? It’ll hurt your case, it’ll damage your reputation.”

“Stark’s ‘restraining order’ was a joke.” Clint rolls his eyes and Scott gives him a look.

“Really? It was?” There’s far too much sarcasm in his voice. “Because I watched as Captain America here stormed into a room, went right for him without any action on his part and started beating the crap out of him – in front of witnesses, lawyer witnesses. I’d give Stark a restraining order after that, hell – I’d even vote to have Steve thrown in jail for felony assault if I were on that jury.”

“Whose side are you on?” Sam asks and Scott sighs, running a hand over his face.

“I have no idea. Mine I guess, and right now I don’t know if my side is equal to your side.” He looks at them. “I just want to go home, I want to hold my little girl again. You’re not the only one with a kid here and I want to get back to mine.”

“You’re not the only one with a kid either Lang.” Clint snaps. “Or what, do my kids just not count?”

“Then what the hell are you doing here?” Scott snaps and everyone looks at him surprised at the raised tone he takes. “Why have I not heard one thing about you getting back to…Laura right? It was Laura, and the kids? Why do I only ever hear you shitting on Stark and wanting him to lose some game you’re all playing with him?”

“This isn’t some game Scott.” Nat scolds and Scott lets out a laugh.

“No, no it isn’t. This is our lives. This is our families lives, this is the lives of those people we hurt and this is the lives of the people we’re either going to go on to help or hurt.”

“Hey, if you don’t want to be a part of this man, just say the word and you can go.” Sam says and Scott takes a second before he slowly nods.

“Okay…Word.” He says, turning around and grabbing his duffel. “I’m going home, I’m taking my pardon and I’m returning the suit. Don’t call me, I’m not interested.”

“Scott!” Steve says, standing up and reaching for him but the other man slaps Steve’s hands away.

“Don’t.” He growls. “Just don’t. I wish you all the best of luck, but I’m taking me and my pardon and I’m going to go start groveling to the people who totally deserve it.” Scott looks at them one final time before he shakes his head and walks out of the room.

“Can he do that? Just leave?” Sam asks and Nat nods.

“If he retires, then yes. He’s effectively no longer a member of the ATF.” She turns and looks at Steve. “We’re one man down now, and tomorrow isn’t going to be kind. We need a plan and we need a plan now. Get your head back in the game and help us.” She orders him and Steve takes a second before he nods.

“Okay. Let’s make a plan.”

Chapter Text

It all falls apart after that, and there’s no plan that they could have come up with that would have changed that simple fact.

The media flays them alive in the following days from the horrible press conference. What was supposed to be their moment to shine and assure the people of their good intentions has been overshadowed by J. Jonah Jamison’s need to be all up on them about the ATF’s limits and something about various concerning legalities that might run against the average citizens constitutional rights. As sad as it is, that’s all second to Christine Everhart’s need to drag Steve himself through the mud like she has a personal vendetta against him, citing his unpreparedness and his lack of concern when it came to knowing everything that they were stepping into as a team under his leadership. YouTube and various other sites have also run with clips and images of Steve during the interview with his uncertain looks and remixing them with new questions and stupid scenarios that always end with Steve’s responses.

Natasha forbid Steve from having contact with the outside world until she could get everything back under control, since the ATF didn’t have a delegated PR representative like they used to enjoy under the Avengers designation. Clint curses Secretary Ross out when Ross refuses to add a PR representative to their budget. Immediately Steve thinks of Tony’s warning, about how Ross wasn’t someone for them to trust and how he wanted only to use them to further his own agenda against super powered individuals.

Natasha’s told Steve not to worry, that this isn’t something that’s hopeless yet – and yet Steve can’t help but wonder if they’ve all already played into Ross’s hands, both Steve and Tony.

The first day of the court case isn’t something that Steve’s prepared for, even though he had thought himself more than ready. He thought that it’d be simple, that the answer that Henry needed both Tony and Steve there for him would be obvious even to the most basic of onlooker. He had been ready for the defamation of character that Tony’s lawyer had thrown his way: volatile, reckless, abusive, dangerous, bully; and he was ready for all the ‘he’s a threat to Mr. Stark and the child’ arguments that came after that over the next few days. He was ready for it…

But as strange as it was, the one thing he wasn’t ready for? He wasn’t ready for Tony to be sitting so close to him and to never once glance in his direction throughout the entire song and dance. It was like being on two separate continents while being in the same room and deep down, Steve knows that something important has changed.

Tony always looked to him. He always cared to know what Steve was thinking or where he was…but this new Tony? This new Tony seems to care less and it hurts.

He spends the nights after each day in court attempting to call Tony’s private number. He knows the number by heart and he types it in over and over again, laying there in bed as he’s immediately disconnected or transferred to Stark Legal. It doesn’t deter him as he just hangs up and dials the number again and again. He’s not really sure if he’s expecting to get through to Tony, or what he’s expecting to get out of this. He guesses that he just wants Tony to know that he’s trying.

Tony never answers though, the call never goes through.

It becomes a pattern after that. They sit in court, Tony ignores him while his lawyers drag Steve through the mud and Steve’s lawyers repay that in kind. There’s things said and brought up behind those closed doors that makes Steve’s jaw clench not just for himself but for the information that they’re dragging up for Tony as well. They sit there in relative silence as the days go on, and every night Steve finds himself lying in bed with the phone up to his ear calling a number that never goes through.

There was a moment when he thought that he might have a chance. That shared custody wouldn’t be something too crazy to ask for – until the final days roll around. Until the moment that Tony’s lawyers bring forth the ‘big guns’ and immediately Steve knows which way the wind is blowing.

He knows it the second that T’Challa and Scott enter the courtroom and wait to be called to the stand. He knows that he’s finished when he hears their retellings of their own experiences and personal beliefs when it comes to Steve and the kind of man he is, and how they do believe that is his a threat to Tony and Steve can see how the information damns him. He knows he’s lost long before the lawyers who had been present in Wakanda take the stand and long before the footage that Tony’s been holding out till the last few days is played for everyone to see.

Steve’s not surprised when Tony wins.

Then again, Tony always seems to come out on top so Steve’s not really sure why he was expecting anything else.

He’s certainly not sure what he’s expecting when Tony finally picks up that night.

“Rogers.” Tony’s voice greets and Steve sits up in his bed, instantly alert and awake.

“Tony.”

“What do you want?” Tony snaps and the semi-excitement that was winding through Steve gets dampened.

“I…I don’t know.” He admits. “I just…”

“You just what Rogers?”

“I just…I guess I’m used to calling you when I don’t know what to do.” Steve admits to him and there’s a pause on the other line for a few minutes. “This whole thing has blown up in our faces.” Tony doesn’t respond, but the line doesn’t cut out so Steve figures that’s a win. “Nat says that we have to keep our heads down for a while now, especially after the…verdict.”

“Romanoff’s an idiot.” Tony replies. “Please tell me you’re not delegating her to team strategist.”

“Well we’re down our usual strategist.” Steve says in response to that and he’s a little surprised that Tony doesn’t gloat about his recent win or rub it in his face.

“I was never your strategist Rogers.” Tony tells him. “I was your fall guy and the person left to clean up your messes. People tend to listen to strategists, you lot never listened to me.”

“What if…what if I said I was listening now?” Steve asks gently and Tony gives a chuckle that sounds disbelieving.

“I would say that it only took years of being a scapegoat and physical assault before you decided to lower yourself to that. That and you had to feel like you had no other choice.” Tony says. “And no offense Rogers, but I’m not interested in saving your ass from the fire you created. I’m done with that.”

“I’m sorry Tony.”

“For what exactly? I can honestly think of dozens of things that would require an apology.” He asks and Steve cringes.

“I didn’t…I never meant to…I’m so sorry about a lot of things…I’m sorry I mentioned Henry on the news....Nat says that it might have been a good thing though, but still…I’m sorry.” He ventures and Tony snorts.

“How the hell is the craziness you all just put me through a ‘good thing’?” He asks. “Because I’m breathless to hear this explanation. Do you have any idea the lengths I had to go to after your stupid little statement? The lengths I had to go through to protect him? The things I’m still going through? If you thought the craziness I had to go through after Vision was born was extreme, let me tell you that it doesn’t even hold a candle to the fucking miracle that I just had to pull off.”

“Nat says that it was going to get out anyways…and that maybe with it out we could all…well we could have all come together and come up with a way to protect Henry.” There’s silence on the other side of the line.

“Rogers….please tell me you’re all not that dumb?” He asks. “If Romanoff really thought that I was going to back down and let you all come into our lives because you fucked us over than I really don’t know what to say about that. Other than you’re all fucking delusional.”

“I thought that she might have a point.” Steve says softly and Tony snorts.

“Well she didn’t. And I highly recommend that you stop listening to her. She’s just going to keep digging a deeper and deeper hole for you all. Mostly because she won’t take a step back and acknowledge that she’s in over her head.” Steve takes a moment, letting the silence sit between them. This is the longest conversation that he’s had with Tony and he’s a little surprised that he’s even managed it.

“How can I fix this?” He asks, and he knows that Tony knows he means more than just the ATF. He means them, he means everything.

“Sometimes, when you go too far down a path, there really isn’t a way to turn around.” Tony says and Steve can just imagine that he’s shaking his head at him. “There isn’t anything left to fix Rogers. And if there had been, it was before you decided to acquaint my face with your fist in Wakanda.”

“…Natasha had just told me, seconds before that Henry was mine.” Steve says.

“And that justifies that response how?”

“I guess it doesn’t?” Steve ventures. “I just…did you know that I can’t have kids?” He asks and there’s a pause. “The serum…it did a lot of good, but I guess it had a cost that we weren’t expecting.”

“Howard never did care much for kids.” Tony says after a moment. “He probably knew but didn’t think it was important enough to mention…but no. I didn’t know that.”

“I thought about adopting.” Steve says, and he’s surprised when Tony’s silent. “When the war was done, I thought that I’d propose to Peggy and that we’d adopt a few kids…but I mean…I always felt the loss…and then I learned about Henry and I just…reacted.” There’s a moment before Tony responds.

“Why are you telling me this?” He asks. “Do you think it’s going to change my mind? How does that change how you’ve behaved or what you’ve done? What? Am I supposed to feel sympathy for you? Let you back into our lives now? If you wanted it to hold some kind of weight you should have brought it up in court.”

“No, I just…I guess I just felt like saying it aloud.” Steve admits.

“Well it doesn’t change anything.” Tony tells him and Steve feels the vice around his heart clench. “You’ve made your bed Rogers, enjoy sleeping in it.”

“Is there…is there nothing I can do?” Steve asks and Tony sighs on the other side.

“You know what, no – we’re not starting down this path. I’m not interested in making deals with you, or helping you out or doing anything with or for you.” Tony says firmly. “I’m not even sure why I answered past telling you to stop calling, its annoying FRIDAY.”

“You know…you know I’d do anything.” Steve tells him and there’s a sound like Tony’s just knocked his head into the desk.

“Rogers, I don’t know what you think you’re going to get from me with this call, but you’re not going to get it. After I hang up here I intend to never answer again, and I intend to make sure that the ATF gets disbanded and that none of you ever manage to rejoin the Avengers.” There’s a promise in Tony’s voice. “I intend to make sure that Henry and I are safe from you and your crazy cultists and once I’ve managed that I’m just going to forget about you all. Once that happens I never want to think about you again.”

“Tony please.” Steve begs and Tony makes a sound on the other side. “Please don’t do this.”

“It’s already done.” Tony says firmly. “I’m not your friend Rogers, and I’m sure as hell not your salvation. I’ve played that role once, and I didn’t like where it ended. I’m done.”

“I’m not going to give up.” Steve tells him and Tony sighs like he’s not surprised that those words have come from Steve’s lips. “I’m going to do whatever I need to do.”

“Whatever you need to do to do what Rogers? To get back into the Avengers? To get back into the good graces of the public? To try and abscond with Henry? Whatever you need to do in regards to what?” Tony fires back.

“To fix it.”

“There’s nothing here for you to fix. You’ve broken it beyond repair. So here’s my last word of advice to you since you’re suddenly so ready to listen to what I have to say – try to build something else from the pieces. Don’t try to get back the life you’ve already lost, focus on the future. I know it was never your strong suit, turning away from the past and all that – but you need to do that.” Tony takes a moment. “Never say you’ll do anything to fix something that isn’t fixable because sometimes that sort of thought leads you down the wrong paths.” There’s a pause. “I’m going to hang up now.” He tells him and Steve feels his grip tighten on the phone.

“Tony please.”

“Goodbye Rogers.”

“Please.” He begs him but that line cuts off and Steve is left sitting there, in the dark, with no hope of restoring the connection.

+++

Tony stares at the phone in his hand as he slowly lays it down. It feels…like letting go of a huge weight that he’d never realized that he’d been holding.

He won. At least for now.

Henry’s safe, legally from Rogers, and Rogers himself isn’t going to be much of a threat in the coming months. Not really, not with the current landscape that the blond will need to traverse to attempt to make it back into the nations good graces, and apparently not with Romanoff leading the charge.

Tony stands, leaving the phone on the desk as he heads into Henry’s room where the baby is sleeping and Tony comes over, leaning over the rails and reaching down to brush the backs of his fingers against Henry’s cheek. The baby doesn’t stir from his slumber and Tony’s lips curl up in a fond smile.

“We did it little one…we did it.” He whispers to him and he just stands there the whole night, figuring that he can spare one night of freedom with his son.