(If you are reading this on any PAY site this is a STOLEN WORK, the author has NOT Given Permission for it to be here. If you're paying to read it, you're being cheated too because you can read it on Archiveofourown for FREE.)
"You can't beat him hand to hand."
Tony didn't like to acknowledge it, but she was right. "Friday, analyze his fight pattern."
"Scanning! Countermeasures ready!"
"Lets kick his ass." Tony reached for the shield but before he could grab it, Friday activated the shoulder mounted tank buster missiles.
"No!" Tony shouted, too late as Rogers and Barnes were fragged beyond recognition.
"Boss?" Friday asked, in a worried tone, "Did I do wrong? You could never have taken them in using non-lethal force."
Tony looked at the bodies. "Oh, shit."
Zemo knew he should have left, but watching Captain America and the Winter Soldier beat the hell out of Iron Man was just too entertaining. He actually began to feel a little sorry for Iron Man, after all his family had been murdered, too. It didn't seem fair to let the winners walk off. He grinned and gave Barnes the code words. "Kill Rogers," he said.
Even one-armed, Barnes was amazing. Rogers held back, just a little too much and a little too long. Zemo was so enthralled by the show he didn't notice T'Challa walk up behind him in the control room and grab him by the back of the neck. Zemo looked up at T'Challa and smirked. "Too late," he said.
Tony woke up, and looked around, as best he could with one eye swollen shut. White walls, white ceiling, bright lights, the smell of a too clean room, and echoes from metal in austerely furnished rooms. It all screamed 'Hospital'. Everything hurt, but after a moment he localized the worst pain as being in his chest. He moved his right hand, weakly trying to reach it.
"Don't." A hand clasped his wrist, firmly, but not painfully.
Tony blinked and moved his head enough to see T'Challa was attached to the hand. "Wha happ..?"
"Zemo has been captured."
Tony frowned. "Steebe..."
"Captain Rogers was killed by Sergeant Barnes, but not before inflicting a fatal wound on Barnes. They are both gone."
"Huh." Tony closed his eye a moment.
"Captain Rogers gave you one last gift," T'Challa said.
"Wha?" Tony blinked again.
"He was brain dead. But there was nothing wrong with his heart."
Tony tried to understand.
"Fortunately, he was an excellent match for you." T'Challa smiled. "And it seems his enhancements have been at least partially transferred to you along with it. You will make a full recovery."
"Huh," Tony said again.
Zemo had the code words and he was safe in a control room designed to withstand the launch blast of UR-100 rockets. He had considered simply killing the frozen super soldiers, but he became bored, waiting while Rogers and Stark argued and assembled their teams and squabbled.
He set them to defrost, with the trigger words on autorepeat as the process continued. It probably wouldn't hold for long, but he really didn't care if they got away. His world was dead, what did it matter?
Captain America showed up -- and the idiot had brought Zemo the Winter Soldier. He laughed himself sick as he watched Rogers plead with his good friend to remember him, to help him. Six super soldiers against one. Rogers put up a good fight, give him that. He killed three of them with the shield before they got him down and tore him to pieces.
Iron Man arrived in time to blast Barnes and the remaining Winters with rocket fire. He lifted his helmet and leaned over Rogers.
Rogers' last words were, "He was my friend."
T'Challa was not a vulture to fly after a lion waiting to share the scraps from its kill. He had been given the private frequency of Iron Man's communications, and he used it once Iron Man left the hidden prison.
"Iron Man, do you require assistance?"
The red and gold armor flashed as it turned, located him and flew back to pace T'Challa's jet. "I thought you'd gone home. Barnes didn't kill your father," Iron Man said over T'Challa's comm.
"Indeed, he is innocent of that," T'Challa said. "And I had thought I would atone for my mistake by aiding him in secret."
"But I am a king. It was selfish of me to consider only my own injury. Others were harmed during Barnes' escape. Whether he chose to do so or not, those people deserve a reckoning. A legal one, if at all possible."
Iron Man said, "Right. Well, I'm told there are five other Hydra programmed super soldiers in Siberia, probably under cold-sleep. Rogers is taking Barnes to ... I have no idea..."
T'Challa said, "At best, that would be the two of them against five soldiers of equal ability. At worst..."
"At worst Barnes gets triggered and it's six to one."
"I had been told Rogers was an excellent military tactician," T'Challa said. "He must surely have a plan?"
"Don't confuse the man with the legend," Iron Man said wearily. "He's a great guy. Fearless and determined, but that's not always compatible with tactics. Punch it until it falls down has its limits."
T'Challa nodded to himself. "I have noticed that failing in myself."
Iron Man laughed, "Yeah, I did that when I was young. I grew out of it. I still punch it until it falls down, but I make sure it doesn't fall on innocent bystanders."
"Yes. Perhaps you should be leading the Avengers?"
"Everyone loves Cap. They follow him without question. If I tried to lead they'd second guess every order."
"That might not be a bad thing," T'Challa mused. "Even for a king, there should be checks and balances."
"Hmm, maybe." Iron Man said, "So, does that mean you'd listen to my orders?"
"Yes. I might even follow them."
Iron Man laughed again. "All right, this whole thing smells of a trap. These guys have been on ice for decades, why are they suddenly a threat?"
"A lure to bring the Captain, in an effort to redeem his friend by capturing the others, so they may be killed?"
"Could be... but, you know, this Zemo guy... he's brilliant. That seems too simple. He triggered Barnes and released him. He could just as well have told him to kill Rogers then."
"Yes. His plans have been convoluted. So what do you recommend?"
"I think you're the wild card. Zemo had apparently been studying the Avengers, looking for weak spots, like Rogers' attachment to Barnes. What do you bet he's got something on me?"
"That sounds logical. What could he have to use against you?"
"Beats me. But you... he wouldn't have factored you in. If we can get there before Rogers and Barnes, I'll try to talk them down, and you go in and spring the trap. Hopefully, it'll be too specific to hurt you."
"And if not? I do not overestimate my abilities. Five super soldiers would tax me to my limits."
"I'll scan for heat. If they're thawed we go in together and risk whatever Zemo has planned."
There was only one heat signature. T'Challa left Iron Man explaining the situation to Rogers and Barnes, and hurried into the facility while they argued. The lights came on. T'Challa stared at the bodies suspended in capsules. Each had a single hole where a bullet had been fired into the head of the unconscious soldier.
"You don't belong here."
T'Challa turned to face Zemo who was looking out through thick glass, glass with the tint of armor. "I've come to bring you to justice."
"You know I killed your father." Zemo smiled. "You've come to kill me, but you can't. Not yet. I'm not ready to die."
"You killed more than my father. Justice must be done for all." T'Challa walked towards Zemo's chamber. "I have no intention of killing you."
Zemo scowled. "You can't get me out of here." He smiled. "Perhaps Rogers, with his shield, or Stark could decode the lock. Together, they might be able to get me."
T'Challa tilted his head. "I see. That was the plan." T'Challa circled the chamber. "It was a good plan." He found the door, sealed with a massive bar, with a huge mechanism to open it and an electronic keypad, old, but no doubt sophisticated for its time, controlling it. "Not a perfect plan, but a good one." He extended his Anti-metal Vibranium claws, and sheered through the bolt.
Zemo pulled a gun, and T'Challa knocked him out. Then he stood over Zemo's unconscious body to study the control panel. "What was the rest of your plan?"
"Watch him," T'Challa said, after he dragged Zemo out and deposited him on the cement at Captain Rogers' feet.
"The soldiers?" Rogers asked.
"Dead." T'Challa nodded to Tony. "There is something I must show Mr. Stark in private. Please, wait here."
Tony watched the video of his parents' murder in silence. Then he turned to T'Challa. "Did Rogers know?"
"You would have to ask him," T'Challa replied. "There was nothing more on the records here."
"Well, that answers that," Tony said when they left the facility to see Tony's stolen quinjet flying away, and Zemo left lying on the ground.
"I am sorry," T'Challa said. He placed a hand on Tony's shoulder.
Tony barked a short laugh. "Could be worse. I guess." He nudged Zemo with his foot.
Zemo stirred. He blinked up at Tony. "You saw?" He smiled. "The Avengers are dead. Forever."
Tony shook his head. "No. They're just under new management."
"You can't beat him hand to hand."
Tony had a sudden thought. He'd had Friday hack the records of Barnes' interrogation. "Play back Barnes' trigger words, put them on speaker!"
Rogers yelled, and hit Tony harder, but he couldn't stop Friday from completing the triggers. Barnes went stiff and blank eyed. "Make my voice match Zemo's!" Tony told Friday.
"Soldier!" Tony shouted in Russian. Cold war, arms manufacturer, of course Howard made sure Tony was fluent in Russian.
"Ready to comply," Barnes replied in the same language.
"Restrain Rogers!" Tony commanded. "Hold him!"
"NO!" Zemo shouted, "Kill Iron Man!"
Barnes' expression went confused. He extended his flesh hand towards Rogers, while his metal arm reached for Iron Man.
"No," Tony shouted in English, but still in Zemo's tones. "Don't kill anyone! Capture Rogers!"
Barnes turned towards Rogers, who shouted, "NO, BUCKY! It's ME!"
"Cannot comply," Barnes said. "I have failed. Not the chair. No." He aimed his gun at his own head and pulled the trigger.
"BUCKY!" Rogers screamed.
Romanoff stood next to Tony at the hospital. Tony said,"The doctors say he shattered L4 through S1. Extreme laceration in the spinal cord. Probably looking at some form of paralysis."
He hadn't really expected sympathy from her, but when she said, "Steve's not gonna stop. If you don't either, Rhodey's gonna be the best case scenario," the whole situation snapped into focus.
"You know what, you're right? My best friend is lying there because Rogers wouldn't listen to reason. My kid is traumatized because he was distracted by Maximoff and shot Rhodey down. From now on, I stop. T'Challa told Ross what you did, so they're coming for you and I'm not going to lift a finger to help you."
"I'm not the one that needs to watch their back," Romanoff said, and she walked away.
"Yeah, you tell yourself that." That was a particularly cheap shot from her, mentioning the back, but then, what else should he expect from a double dealing, neck stabbing, spy? Tony went back to the waiting room to listen to Friday's research on medical advances in the treatment of paralysis.
A few hours later, Friday announced an incoming call from Secretary of State Ross. "Yallo," Tony said. He was on his fifth cup of hospital coffee and was considering whether vending machine snacks might buffer the stomach acid.
"Stark. The doctor who was supposed to evaluate Barnes never saw him."
"Uh huh," Tony said without much interest. A Doctor Strange had some good results with paralysis, but he was notorious for turning down patients with a less than favorable prognosis. Lazy bastard, gamed the system to look good. Tony would find someone better for Rhodey.
"He was found murdered in a Berlin hotel room. There was also a wig and facial prosthesis matching Barnes."
"Oh? That's interesting." Nanobot therapy? Possible. A little too cutting edge. Maybe Tony could fund a lab to test it on animals first. Dachshunds broke their backs all the time didn't they? If it works on a dog...
"We discovered Colonel Helmut Zemo, formerly of Sokovian Intelligence, had met the doctor at the airport, and took his place. He was the one who bombed the Accords."
"You don't say." There was always Extremis, but again, while Tony had stabilized it with Pepper, it had an individual synergistic response, and he couldn't rely on the same solution working for Rhodey.
Ross let out a loud sigh. "Are you even listening to me? Whatever Zemo's up to, he's not finished. The Avengers know something. Rogers and Barnes didn't just run away, they're after Zemo."
"Yes, I'm listening, but I'm confused. Why are you telling me this?"
"You need to come to the Raft and get the Avengers to talk. We have to stop Rogers."
Tony shook his head. "I don't need to do anything except stay here. My best friend needs me."
"We need Iron Man! You have a responsibility. The Avengers..."
"No, see, let me just set you straight. I'm not a soldier, you can't order me around. I'm not an Avenger, I never was, really, even before I resigned. You know who's left on my side? A paralyzed man, a traumatized kid, and me. I've had a lot of miles put on my old bones, and right now my doctors are bitching because I refused to let them cast my arm and give me an M.R.I. They're probably right, after all the years I spent supporting the Avengers, I never realized they'd turn on me. I should have my head examined."
"But we need you!"
"You wouldn't send an injured man after Rogers, I don't see why it being me makes a difference."
"Because you always..."
"I actually have people to live for. I'm not throwing my life away trying to atone for other people's mistakes any longer."
"That's your last word?"
"You got it. Have a nice day, Thaddeus." Friday ended the call. Tony got up and tried the vending machine. Dust dry cheese and crackers. Yuck.
"You're doing great," Tony said, while keeping a close watch on Rhodey's progress across the support bars. His bio-legs wobbled, but they held. "We'll have you back in War Machine in no time."
Rhodey paused and looked at Tony.
"That is, if you want to. I mean, there's lots of other things you can do." Tony had fallen in Iron Man enough times to have an idea what Rhodey dreamed of on restless nights. But Tony had never reached the ground, that's the difference.
"I'll think about it," Rhodey said. "Have you heard the latest about Rogers?"
"Hmm? There was that Siberian fiasco." Ross had bragged about breaking Lang and getting him to tell where Rogers was heading. Tony didn't think much of breaking an ant, but whatever. "Last I heard Rogers and Barnes were picked up by Ross's Hulkbuster squad, using Hulk tranqs. I think that Zemo guy was with them and he didn't make it."
"Yeah, that stuff's powerful." Rhodey managed another step. "It wasn't enough to kill a super soldier, though. Ross wanted to keep them for study, you know."
"Yeah, he's always had a craving for super soldiers. I dunno why. It really hasn't had a good track record what with the Red Skull, the Abomination, Hulk, and all the nutsos who looked normal, but really, uncontrollable."
"Yeah." Rhodey gave Tony a narrow eyed look. "You weren't planning to dose me up with something like that, were you?"
"What? Me? No, I'll stick to tech. Biology is too slippery."
"Yeah, all right. So," Rhodey paused again to catch his breath. "Ross didn't get to keep them. They survived, but they had brain damage. The U.N. stepped in to place them in a permanent care facility."
"Huh. So Ross didn't even get anything for his trouble."
"Nope. Apparently Rogers and Barnes had wrecked the place. Fried the computers, burned the paper records, even melted old video tape."
"Well, that's good, anyway. We sure don't need any more super soldiers." Tony patted Rhodey's arm. "Got one right here."
"I'm not a soldier," Rhodey grunted and began moving again. "Air force. I fly, man, I don't crawl in the dirt."
"I stand corrected." Tony smiled. Rhodey was getting better. He was so glad he'd stood by his real friend.
Rogers helped Bucky up and started towards the exit.
"That shield doesn't belong to you," Tony said. "You don't deserve it. My father made that shield!"
Rogers paused to drop the shield. Then he started walking again.
Barnes balked, setting his feet so Rogers staggered. He shook his head and looked at Rogers, groggily. "Steve."
"We can't just leave him here."
"We got no choice," Rogers replied.
"No, see... he's... behind enemy lines. We never leave a man behind, do we, Steve?" Barnes sounded very confused.
"He's not on our side," Rogers said.
"You don't leave a wounded prisoner, either," Barnes said. "Not if you can help it."
"This isn't the war, Bucky," Rogers said gently. "Stark's not our prisoner."
"It's not? Then why were we trying to kill him? Isn't he a Nazi, like those soldiers in Germany?"
Tony coughed. "They were police, Barnes. German police."
Barnes looked at Tony. "Oh. I knew that. But this is Russia. I forget, are we fighting Russia right now?"
"No, we're not," Rogers said. "Look, we have to go. Don't worry about Stark. He's like a cat, always lands on his feet."
Barnes blinked. "I like cats. I wouldn't leave a cat outside in the snow. That's just mean, Steve."
"Forget cats!" Rogers was losing patience.
Tony coughed again. "You might want to remember the cat standing behind you."
Rogers turned, almost overbalancing Barnes, to face T'Challa.
"What has happened here?" T'Challa asked.
"We won," Barnes said. "I think."
"Bucky's innocent!" Rogers said. "Stark tried to kill him! Don't get in the way."
"I do not wish to make another hasty judgement," T'Challa said. "I would like to hear both sides."
Bucky said, "Stark didn't like that I killed his maw. And his dad, too, I guess."
"No, Bucky, that wasn't you!"
"Don't let them get away," Tony said. "Romanov did and look what that led to."
T'Challa tensed, and then he relaxed. "This madness must end. I will not stop you, but neither will I leave Stark here, defenseless." He went over to Iron Man and levered him up to his feet, and braced himself to take the weight. "My jet is not suitable for passengers. I have already sent to Wakanda for another. You may follow me in Stark's quin-jet and surrender yourself to the authorities, or you may flee and remain fugitives. It is your choice."
Tony looked at Rogers as T'Challa helped him to walk. He didn't say anything.
Rogers nodded sharply. "I hope you'll understand one day, Tony."
Tony spat a mouthful of blood at the floor. "Howard loved you, and you didn't even blink when you watched his murder. I will never understand that, Rogers. Never." He didn't look as Rogers helped Barnes out, and over to the quin jet. He didn't look up when he heard the quin jet's engines.
"I am deeply sorry about your parents," T'Challa said as he settled Tony in a thin patch of sunlight against one of the building's exterior walls. Zemo was bound a few feet away, and grinning.
"So am I," Tony said wearily. "So am I."
"Friday," Tony said, as he reached his emergency back up communications. He'd learned not to power everything from a single reactor. "Get my location."
"Send a quin-jet from the Compound to pick me up. The Suit's out of commission."
"Yes, Boss. There's a quin-jet nearby. Can I send that one rather than one from the Compound? It would be much faster."
"Because..." Tony blinked and pulled himself up to a sitting position. "You're tracking a quin-jet near me?"
"Yes, Boss! It's just reached cruising altitude. There are two occupants. They have set the auto-pilot and according to internal surveillance are making use of the medical facilities."
Tony smiled slowly. It wasn't a nice smile at all. "If the engines were to stop, what would happen, Friday?"
"It would crash land, Boss," Friday said. "You know that. Are you all right?"
"What would it crash on, Friday?"
"Satellite view postulates open tundra."
"No buildings, no people?"
"No Boss. It's just... snow. It might land on a caribou," she said. "One that got lost from its herd."
"Huh. Friday, dear, I need to run an experiment. Crash that quin-jet for me."
"Are you sure?" Friday asked doubtfully. "What can you learn from that?"
"Durability of materials. There's a couple of my dad's old experiments on board. They're useless. Might as well get some data from them."
"All right, Boss."
Tony lay his head back against the wall, and closed his eyes. A few minutes later there was a distant boom. He smiled again. "Oops," he said. "Thieves should always check for lo-jack."
While Tony hadn't followed the Accords by asking permission to enter Russian air space, Iron Man's silhouette was instantly recognizable and he had a good general relationship with them, so he had counted on being allowed passage, and would ask forgiveness later. "Iron Man," a Russian-accented voice said in English, "you have a bogey on your tail." The man sounded pleased at having used American slang. "We would be pleased to shake it for you."
"What?" Tony responded.
Tony turned, trying to find what they were talking about. A moment later he was tumbled and having to correct his flight path as the turbulence of a formation of Russian fighter jets went around him. "Rogers!" Tony shouted over the stolen quin-jet's frequency. "Fighters! Identify yourself, or they'll shoot you down!" Tony was afraid Rogers would fight back, and that would be absolutely impossible for him to fix. He didn't get an answer from the quin-jet.
"Bogey does not match Avengers' aircraft silhouettes," the Russian pilot clarified. "It has profile of fighter, single pilot."
"Friday! Find it! Enhance..." Tony followed the Russian jets to see their target. It was a beautiful sleek black jet, not matching anything he knew, and he couldn't get any identification response. Secret weapon? Spy plane? It definitely wasn't the quin-jet. "Talk to the pilot!" Everyone was on edge after all the Avengers' carefree outings, now was no time for sightseeing.
"Trying, Boss..." Friday sounded frustrated. "It doesn't match any normal frequencies. No response."
"Jesus," Tony swore softly as the jets fired on the black plane, ripping off its tail and sending it into a downward spiral. Their work done the fighters rose higher and circled to watch. Tony flew closer, hoping the pilot would eject. The canopy above the pilot burst off, and he could see a struggling figure. After a few moments the figure crawled free of the cockpit, clinging to the fuselage.
And then he jumped.
There was no parachute.
Tony yelled, "No!" and plotted an interception course. Impact would break bones, even kill, if he didn't match the falling body's speed. It helped that the man had spread his arms and legs and arched his back like a falling cat, slowing down his acceleration slightly. When he got close he recognized the suit, and the cat maneuver made more sense. T'Challa looked at him, absurdly calm even as he fell to his death.
"You're just as crazy as Rogers!" Tony shouted when he reached T'Challa and caught his hand. T'Challa clung tightly and didn't try to say anything until they landed on featureless tundra. Tony retracted his helmet so he could better express himself. "You can't jump out of a plane without a parachute!"
T'Challa stumbled, and then straightened. "There was little choice. I had no parachute. I might have survived the fall."
"You... wow, ok, I'm not even going to go there." Tony shook his head. "What are you even doing here?"
"I followed you because I wish to see this hunt to the end. I have learned that Barnes was not responsible for the bombing, and I should have directed my efforts towards another. I hoped you would lead me to him."
"I didn't come here to kill anyone. If that's what you have in mind, you can just make yourself a nice kitty igloo and wait to be picked up by the authorities."
T'Challa looked around, and shivered. "It is not the climate I prefer, but I understand your reluctance to trust my word. I have had time to process my first grief and rage, and now I wish only to see that justice is done. That should take place in full view of the world, so all who have been injured may also find closure."
"Huh." Tony considered a moment, and then he shrugged. "Iron Man doesn't come with seat belts. I could give you a piggyback ride. If you could hold on that long."
"Yes. I can do that." T'Challa paused, then he said, "Thank you."
"Eh, I never got to rescue a cat from a tree, I was due." Tony turned his back to T'Challa. "I won't be able to use the back thrusters, which is just as well, because you would definitely not survive full speed on the Iron Man express."
"I'm sorry to delay you." T'Challa climbed onto Tony's back and wrapped himself around.
"Yeah, well, what can you do. Hold on." Iron Man took off and gradually leveled out. T'Challa clung tightly, and Tony was able to go faster than he feared, but it was still slow enough that he knew Rogers would reach Zemo well ahead of him.
From overhead Tony saw the quin-jet parked on snow covered tarmac next to a caterpillar truck, beside a large white building camouflaged to fit into the landscape. There was a missile silo, but there were no signs of recent use. The only footprints led from the quin-jet to a door in the building.
Tony landed in the snow with a crunch. T'Challa got off Tony's back and looked around. "I dislike this."
"Me, too, kitty cat." Tony headed for the building. "You coming?"
"I have seen many American horror films while learning your language," T'Challa said as he walked beside Tony. "Being lured to a deserted building seldom bodes well."
"Gotta watch out for the people in hockey masks."
"And clowns," T'Challa added.
"I hate clowns."
T'Challa was cat silent, but Iron Man simply can't walk silently, so Tony made no effort to hide his arrival. "Hey, Rogers, heads up. Don't shoot. We come under a flag of truce."
They emerged from a dark corridor into room lit with yellowish, hazy light. Rogers and Barnes were already there, and both of them were armed, of course, Rogers with the shield and Barnes with a gun, from the looks of it, one of the weapons Romanov kept stashed in the quin-jet. They didn't say anything, but they looked ready for battle, shifting to aim at Tony and T'Challa.
"There you are at last."
Tony and T'Challa turned to see Zemo, smiling inside a glass walled control booth. "I was afraid you had missed my invitation."
Tony retracted his helmet. He'd noticed the corpses in glass tubes. "Do you want us to go to sleep so you can finish the job?"
Zemo laughed. "Oh, no, I wouldn't dream of it. That would be too easy. I don't want you dead. I want the Avengers, the Empire of Righteous Destruction, destroyed. Killing you would just create openings for new recruits. I want the very idea of heroes banding together to be unthinkable."
"Yeah, well, that's not gonna happen," Tony said. "Sure, we have our differences, but we're a team. We do things together, right, Steve?" Tony said, hoping that Rogers would cooperate while they figured out Zemo's game plan. "Barnes didn't bomb the U.N. Everything else started with that, we'll work it out. Somehow." There were a lot of casualities, property damage and deaths, so Barnes wasn't going to skate, but extenuating circumstances, prisoner of war, brainwashing... tell the whole story and there'd be sympathy. "People just want the truth, more than anything else."
Rogers didn't look convinced. "Bucky is innocent."
Tony wasn't going to argue in front of Zemo. "I'm not here for Bucky. I came for them--" He pointed at the dead soldiers, "and for him." He pointed at Zemo.
T'Challa had said nothing, but at this point he said, "We are not murderers. Surrender yourself and we will see that you stand a fair trial."
Zemo laughed again. "Who will put the Avengers on trial? Your murders vastly outnumber mine. But then... it's only when it's personal that it hurts, isn't it?" He shifted, doing something with the controls in front of him.
A monitor lit up, and a video began to play. Tony glanced at it, and then froze. December 16, 1991. The video was old, and grainy and dark. But... "I know that road," Tony said quietly. They all watched in silence as the Winter Soldier killed Howard and Maria Stark. Tony turned and lunged at Barnes. Rogers grabbed him.
"Tony. Tony," Rogers said.
Tony looked at him. "Did you know?"
Rogers said, "I didn't know it was him."
"Don't bullshit me, Rogers! Did you know?"
Tony stepped back, then he punched Steve even as the Iron Man helmet reformed. T'Challa leaped forward and put his arms around Iron Man. "Do not! Do not let this happen."
Iron Man tried to shake him off, but T'Challa clung. T'Challa looked over his shoulder at Rogers. "Help me!"
"I gotta help Bucky," Rogers said. "He's my friend!"
"What was I?" Tony screamed. He pushed T'Challa aside. Barnes fired. Iron Man deflected the bullets, and smashed the gun out of his hands. T'Challa groaned, and Tony turned to see him on the floor, pressing his hand to his side, blood welling up between his fingers. "LOOK what your friend did!"
"Bucky's innocent!" Rogers shouted. "You did that! It's all your fault! I was SPARING YOU! You never needed to know!"
And Zemo laughed at just the wrong moment. Tony turned and fired his full load of anti-tank missiles at the control chamber which exploded in a fireball drowning out Zemo's screams in a few instants. "Get your friend out of my sight, Rogers," Tony said. He leaned over and picked up T'Challa. "Friday, find the nearest emergency medical facility." He settled T'Challa as carefully as he could and rose to hover for a moment. "You never did give a damn about anyone else, did you, Rogers?"
T'Challa muttered something. Tony leaned close to listen and then nodded. "My dad made that shield, and he made it from Wakandan vibranium. Rogers doesn't deserve it. Give it back to its rightful owner, Rogers."
T'Challa stretched out his hand, and Rogers, with visible reluctance, gave him the shield.
"But..." Rogers said, "what about Bucky?"
"Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," Tony said.
"I recognized that reference," Rogers said quietly as Iron Man zoomed out of the building.
Tony took the quin-jet. He wasn't going to fly T'Challa in his arms and risk killing him. Rogers can use Zemo's truck, or he can bobsled on Barnes body, or he can freeze again. His choice.
Iron Man walked into the Siberian bunker, glanced at the tubes holding the super soldier corpses and then looked up at the retractable dome. "Huh, multi-purpose, popsicle stand and Sputnik launcher."
There was a clatter and thump behind him. Tony turned to see Barnes collapsed on the floor.
"BUCKY!" Rogers yelled, tossing his shield to one side and kneeling next to him to check his pulse. "What did you DO?" He asked, glaring up at Tony.
"No idea." Tony reengaged the Iron Man helmet. "Friday, scan Barnes."
Friday said, "Readings indicate no physical injury to account for unconsciousness."
"Huh," Tony said. Then he nodded. "Ok, got it. If I was programming a killing machine, I'd add an off switch. Must have been something I said. And since the only Russian word I used was... yeah, better not say it twice."
Friday murmured in Iron Man's helmet, "The satellite Sputnik was launched in October of 1957. The Winter Soldier's programming likely commenced in 1945 so that correlation is coincidental."
"Yeah, I agree," Tony told her. "They chose a random word, unlikely to be spoken by a non-Russian. It was a word before they named the satellite, right?"
"Yes, Boss," Friday said to Tony. "The word origin literally breaks down to 'with path', but the meaning was 'fellow traveler'. For the satellite, people read that as 'fellow traveler of Earth', but at least as early as 1936 'fellow traveler' meant a non-communist who follows the communist party line. That would seem appropriate."
"Will he be all right?" Rogers asked.
Tony retracted the helmet again to talk to Rogers directly. "I'm not that kind of doctor," Tony replied, stealing Bruce's line, "but I don't see why not. If it was a kill command, he'd be dead already. Not sure how this works, though."
The lights brightened, focussing on a glass-walled control room. "How unfortunate. I had wanted all of you to witness this. But I suppose you two will do," Zemo said from behind the glass.
"How do you wake him up?" Rogers picked up his shield and clenched his fists.
"The standard procedure involves electric shock," Zemo said with a smile. "Or you could wait until he awakens naturally."
Tony looked at Rogers. "Your call."
"Let him sleep," Rogers said. "We don't need him to take care of Zemo." Steve lifted his shield. "Surrender or we'll take you by force."
Zemo smirked, "Oh, I'll let you take me in, after I've had my say. If you still wish to."
"Of course we will. You killed innocent people in Vienna!"
Zemo's expression darkened. "And is your own ledger so clean?"
"You're Sokovian," Tony said flatly.
Rogers glanced at Tony. "We did our best, but no one could have anticipated Ultron."
"The Avengers destroyed my world when their secret weapon revealed itself. I had been in the business of suppressing secrets, but I know how to find them, too."
There was a click, and an old monitor lit up, showing a grainy, dark video. "I think you will find this interesting."
Tony said softly, "I know that road. What is this?"
Rogers didn't say anything as the video played, instead he was watching Tony.
After... after he saw the Winter Soldier strangle his mother, Tony turned swiftly towards Barnes, both gauntlets raised.
Rogers grabbed both his arms. "No, Tony. Don't."
Tony looked at Rogers. "You're not surprised."
"It wasn't Bucky. You know that! He's innocent!"
"You knew!" Iron Man pulled out of Rogers grip and lowered his helmet. "I'm taking him in."
"I can't let you kill Bucky!" Rogers struck Iron Man in the helmet with his shield.
Iron Man staggered back and then straightened. "If I wanted him dead, he'd be DEAD! Friday! Unibeam!" The arc reactor in Iron Man's chest shot out, knocking Rogers across the room. Tony flew over to him, flipped him onto his belly and shackled each arm to the matching foot. "Stay down!"
"It wasn't him, Tony. Hydra had control of his mind!" Steve said while desperately straining at the shackles.
"And did Hydra tell you to keep it from me?" Iron Man stalked over to the control room, and punched right through the blast-proof glass to grab Zemo by his shirt and drag him through the hole. Zemo pulled a gun, and aimed it at his own head. "Nope!" Iron Man knocked the gun flying. "You're not getting off that easy. Friday, scan Zemo for any other little surprises."
"Tony," Steve said, "you can't turn Bucky in. They'll kill him!"
"Maybe they will. At least no one else will die because of him." Tony turned to Steve and retracted his helmet. Zemo was still dangling from his hands. "Look into your mirror, Steve." He held Zemo out. "The Avengers Initiative was supposed to fight the battles no one else could-- to protect the world. It wasn't supposed to be your private gang, protecting some people at the expense of everyone else."
"Bucky's all I have!" Rogers shouted.
"And you call me selfish." Iron Man carried Zemo over to Barnes. "You fucked over everyone who followed you. I'd ask if you thought it was worth it, but I already know the answer." He picked up Barnes and carried him under the other arm.
Zemo was giggling.
Iron Man gave him a shake. "Shut up, you make me tired." Tony left the bunker and stopped when he saw T'Challa.
"What now," he said tiredly, pulling the helmet back in place and dropping Barnes and Zemo. "Are we gonna argue? It's been a long, shitty day, and I just want it over."
"I learned that Barnes is innocent," T'Challa said. "He did not kill my father. Release him. I must atone for my mistake."
"Funny, I learned that he's guilty. He did kill my parents." Iron Man braced himself.
T'Challa frowned. "I heard that was an automobile accident."
"Nope." Iron Man nudged Zemo with his foot. "Zemo here is a great little researcher. He's got a hell of a line in home movies."
"Still, that was while Hydra commanded Barnes' actions," T'Challa said after a moment. "Can he really be held accountable?"
Iron Man sighed. "Ok, fine, say I give him a pass on all the people the Winter Soldier killed. Say I ignore all the families over the years who will never get the closure of knowing what really happened to his victims. I'm not going to ignore the people he and Rogers ran roughshod over when he wasn't mind controlled." Iron Man tilted his head. "You want to feel guilty? Feel guilty about adding to that mess in the tunnel. Those weren't obstacles those were people."
T'Challa was silent for a long moment and then he nodded his head. "Where is Rogers?"
Iron Man inclined his head. "Inside. I'm taking these two to the quinjet Rogers stole from me. Do you mind bringing him?"
"Do you trust me?"
"No." Iron Man picked up Barnes and tucked him under one arm, and grabbed Zemo by his shirt to drag him stumbling along after. "Bring him or don't, it won't matter. I've got Barnes."
T'Challa stood still a moment, watching Iron Man walk away.
T'Challa wasn't a religious man, not in the sense of believing in something he had to take on faith. The Panther Clan believed in Bast because there were too many examples of Bast's active presence in their land to doubt her existence. It would be like doubting the sun. And as ruler, T'Challa had an even more personal link with Bast. When he ate of the heart-shaped herb he had spoken to her in a vision.
He had run beside her in the jungle, feeling her effortless strength in his own limbs. They had run, side by side, and hunted together. She had promised that if he kept faith with her people, not only would she bless him as the Black Panther, but would give him the strength and knowledge of every Panther that ever lived.
He had not spoken of it to anyone, just as his own father had never told anyone what Bast had said to him on his spirit journey.
He had felt Bast with him when he hunted Barnes, so he had been surprised to learn that for all his crimes, Barnes had not offended against his people. It had chagrined him deeply to learn that he had hunted... well, not an innocent man... but one without the hunter's mark from Bast, but worse than that, he should not have felt the pure vengeance of Bast within his breast. Bast gave him abilities beyond the norm, yes, but there was always a difference between battles he chose, and those the goddess blessed.
He still felt Bast's urging, so he flew secretly after Iron Man. He told himself that it was no shame for a panther to hunt hidden in the night, but as a man, he felt ashamed. He decided it would be best to wait for Iron Man to confront Rogers and Barnes. Surely, after long acquaintance, and battle-brotherhood, they would be able to speak calmly.
And then he saw Zemo. The Panther agreed, this was the man who had killed her Black Panther. He flexed his claws, but Zemo did not fight him, did not give him the excuse to gain revenge. Bast was angry, but he reminded her of his father, a man of peace who would not want such a pitiable specimen killed in his name. Zemo had lost himself, consumed by vengeance. A panther would kill a crippled deer, but the carcass would not go to waste. This would be a waste.
After ensuring Zemo could neither escape, nor harm himself and cheat justice, T'Challa thought his hunt was done, but Bast disagreed.
What was wrong with him? Perhaps Shuri should have taken on the mantle of the Panther. Yes, T'Challa had excelled in all the physical trials, but the Black Panther should also have a strong heart, and be attuned to the instincts needed to protect his people. He followed the feeling of wrong, of injustice, into the bunker.
Iron Man was lying on the cement. His armor had no light, and the metal was deeply gashed. T'Challa noticed this only in passing, as his gaze was locked on the two men supporting each other, walking towards him. Barnes' metal arm was also on the ground, and there was enough blood spilled to make Bast's nose wrinkle to catch the scent.
T'Challa stood just inside the entrance, partially hidden by the corridor. He doubted any of them had seen him yet.
Iron Man struggled to rise, and failed. Then he said, "That shield doesn't belong to you. You don't deserve it. My father made that shield!"
Rogers paused, and then dropped the shield to the ground, carelessly. Carelessly. As though it were not one of the stolen treasures of Wakanda. Twice stolen, judging by his acceptance of Iron Man's words. What had happened here? He took a step forward...
And then he remembered. Eleven Wakandans died in Lagos. His father had spoken. He heard the words now, his father's voice and Bast's, mingling. "Our people's blood is spilled on foreign soil. Not only because of the actions of criminals, but by the indifference of those pledged to stop them. Victory at the expense of the innocent is no victory at all."
His eyes sharpened and his claws flexed. He strode out of the corridor and faced Rogers.
"T'Challa," Rogers said. He gave T'Challa a weary smile. "Bucky is innocent."
"It is true that he was not responsible for the death of my father, or any other Wakandan," T'Challa said.
Rogers smiled. "Yeah, it's just... it's all a big misunderstanding. I could use your help."
From the floor further away, Iron Man said, "Don't listen to him, T'Challa."
T'Challa tilted his head. "I agree that I have no quarrel with Sergeant Barnes," T'Challa said.
"Good, then maybe, you know," Rogers said, "you could let him stay in Wakanda. Just until he's better."
"It is true that Wakanda has no extradition treaties," T'Challa said. He gestured at Iron Man. "But it would still present difficulties, as everyone would know you were there. You would be unable to leave safely."
Rogers shrugged. "Stark won't say anything. How could he? If he hadn't pushed the Accords on us, none of this would have happened."
T'Challa held his breath for a moment, and then he put on a puzzled look. "Lagos had nothing to do with the Accords, Captain. Please, put Sergeant Barnes down." He flexed his claws. "I cannot let you leave."
"What?" Rogers backed up, seemingly by accident, and laid Barnes down gently next to his shield. He picked it up in one smooth motion and flung it at T'Challa's head.
If T'Challa had not seen the marks caused by the shield in Iron Man's armor he might have been unprepared, but instinct took over, and he caught it and continued the curve, keeping the momentum to send it back.
It hit Rogers in the throat and took his head off cleanly. His body landed atop Barnes, gushing blood.
T'Challa calmly picked up the shield. Bast was satisfied. He stepped over Barnes, who was staring wide-eyed at his friend's corpse.
"Are you all right, Mr. Stark?" T'Challa asked, reaching down to offer him an arm in support.
"Oh, my God, you decapitated Cap," Iron Man said. Then he blinked. "Self-defense, I'd swear to it."
T'Challa decided to let Iron Man tell it that way. An explanation that it was simply an execution would involve far more paperwork, he was certain.
And he hated paperwork.
"You have to go alone, and as a friend."
"Easy," Tony told Wilson. As a friend, getting Rogers and Barnes in out of the wild before they racked up more points against them was the best thing he could do for them. But alone? Since Cap was right about the psychiatrist, maybe he was also right about the five super soldiers. Still, you know, Wilson was right about one thing, bringing in other people just guaranteed a fight.
And then... there was the video, and Tony had to drag the confession out of Rogers that he'd known his bestest buddy killed Tony's parents. Known for all the years Tony had been funding the search and rescue for dear old Buckykins. Known all the time he was berating Tony for keeping secrets - secrets because Rogers had shoveled off all the tedious paperwork and media relations on Tony, and he'd snooze if Tony tried to describe the tech he was developing for Rogers' team. He didn't want anything except finished results laid at his feet for him to use without so much as a thank you. Well, here's the finished results of your secrecy, Rogers.
And of course Rogers, 'I can do this all day', what the hell, did he think he was playing a fucking game? wouldn't stay down.
Tony tried to keep it mano a mano, he really did, but two against one, and him holding back because he wasn't a murderer reduced his options. Rogers wasn't a murderer, either. He would stop, wouldn't he? Or maybe not. "He's my friend!" Rogers stated, totally negating years of Tony fighting alongside Rogers, taking his orders, giving him the tools to be Captain Fucking America, the shining example of U.S. 1940's Virtue through Victory. Because the winner writes history.
Ok. Fuck that. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Tony spit out blood and hit his 'panic button'. The main reactor was dead, but he'd learned to put in mini arcs all over the suit, so his signal went out. "And these are mine."
The new Iron Legion flew in, arms spread to grab and contain. It was all over except the shouting.
At the trial, Wilson gave Tony a dirty look and shouted, "You promised to go alone, and as a friend!" before he was wrestled back to sit with the rest of the Team Formerly Known as Avengers in their varied assortments of restraints.
"I did, but Rogers wasn't," Tony replied.
"Where is Iron Man?" Zemo asked from inside the control room when Rogers and his team trooped into the Siberian base.
"We don't need him. My team could handle your soldiers," Rogers replied. "Even if you hadn't already killed them." He gestured to his people, standing proudly around him. "Meet the Falcon, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, Antman, and you already know Bucky."
Zemo frowned. "I had a plan. Iron Man was supposed to recruit his own team to battle you at the airport. There was an excellent chance your side would have killed or at least crippled, one of his. The Avengers would have been destroyed."
"That's ridiculous," Rogers said. "We would never."
"A helicopter doesn't need an airport to land," Barnes said. "It would have been stupid to come out in the open for that."
Maximoff's hands were glowing red. "But if they tried to stop us, of course we wouldn't hold back."
Rogers frowned. "Wanda."
Zemo sighed. "I knew it was a risky plan, but it would have been so satisfying. Iron Man would have seen the video of his parents being murdered by Mr. Barnes."
"What?" Wilson asked. He looked at Barnes, who shrugged.
"The good Captain knew for years," Zemo added spitefully.
"Huh," Barton said. He had an arrow nocked and aimed at the control room.
Lang looked really, really confused. "But, it's ok, right? None of that happened? I mean, we did the right thing? I just want to go home and tell Cassie I'm a hero."
Zemo looked at him, and a flicker of sympathy crossed his face. "I wanted to see my family. They were in Sokovia."
Maximoff's glow brightened. She stared at him and her eyes widened in panic. "NO!"
"Plan B," Zemo said. He pushed a button. "B is for ..."
Maximoff failed to contain that bomb, as well.
"Fury thought you would need help," Pietro said, after he raced in and wrapped up Rogers, Barnes and Zemo in unbreakable cables.
"Weren't you supposed to be dead?" Tony asked.
Pietro shrugged. "I heal fast."
"You can tell Fury that I had it handled," Tony said grumpily. He'd been all full of adrenalin and ready for action, and now he was restless with no outlet.
And then the video began playing.
"Fuck, ok, maybe old one-eye was right," Tony said after listening to Rogers' impassioned defense of his innocent assassin buddy. Tony refrained from kicking him. He picked up Rogers and Barnes, one under each arm of the Iron Man suit, and stomped outside to the quinjet they'd stolen from him.
Pietro hauled in Zemo, less than gently, and dumped him in the back. Apparently he had no love for the Sokovian who had run a covert kill squad.
"So, where were you all this time?" Tony asked Pietro as he took off the suit and prepared the jet for takeoff.
"Tahiti," Pietro said. "It's a magical place."
"Huh. Sounds nice. I guess your sister will be glad to hear you're alive."
"Sister?" Pietro's brow creased. "What sister?"
"He wanted to know about Siberia. Where I was kept. He wanted to know exactly where," Barnes said after he convinced Rogers that he wasn't the Winter Soldier. He looked not particularly surprised to wake up in a warehouse with his metal arm clamped in an industrial vice.
"Why would he need to know that?" Rogers asked.
"Because he thinks I'm not the only Winter Soldier," Barnes replied. He smiled, slowly. "Three years ago he would have been right." He tilted his head to look at Rogers. "You don't think I spent all this time just hiding, do you, punk?"
"What did you do?" Sam asked.
"I went to Siberia and I finished them off." He shrugged. "Fish in a barrel. They were in cold sleep."
"You just killed them in cold blood?" Sam asked.
Rogers nodded. "You did the right thing, Buck."
Sam said, "Yeah, but you know... why didn't you tell someone... why didn't you tell Steve?"
Barnes said, "I thought he'd stop me. Should have known better." Barnes smiled at Rogers. "It's us against the world, right, punk?"
"Right," Rogers said. He opened the clamp, releasing Barnes' arm. "So we go to Siberia and get this doctor and clear your name."
Barnes shrugged and moved his shoulders to loosen his arms. "That guy knows my trigger words. Be stupid to let him have another go at me. I didn't bomb anyone, but those weren't love taps we were handing out to the German Special Forces, not to mention the mess we made on the streets. I'm just going to disappear again."
"But Bucky, don't you want to clear your name of the bombing?" Rogers asked.
"There's no point to it, not with everything else they've got on me. What am I gonna do, Stevie? Sit in prison for years, and you'd be right next to me, sure, but that's still not my idea of a good time."
"Stark's got the best lawyers, and enough money to choke a hog," Rogers said.
"He's gonna bankroll me? I killed his folks."
Sam gasped quietly and backed away.
"No, you didn't. That was Hydra," Rogers said calmly. "Tony's already been paying to search for you. He won't miss a little more money."
Sam said, "Steve. You knew."
Rogers looked at Sam. "Well, I guessed. But you can't blame Bucky!"
"No," Sam said slowly. "I don't blame him. So, what are we going to do, Steve?"
"Get to Siberia," Rogers said firmly. "We have to take down this guy, so Bucky won't have to worry about being triggered."
"Huh. Ok," Sam said. "We'll need help. I know a guy." He turned and walked out of the building. "I'll call him."
A moment later Rogers said, "Wait, you can call from in here, can't you?"
"Fuck," Barnes said. He and Rogers ran for the door. Sam wasn't in sight. "He's done a runner on us," Barnes said.
"He wouldn't betray us. He's my friend," Rogers said firmly.
"I'm your only friend, Stevie." He nudged Rogers' shoulder. "Just like the old days, keep moving and hit anyone that tries to stop us."
"But...what about the Avengers?"
"We don't need them."
"Yeah. Ok, Bucky." Rogers sighed. "I'm gonna miss my shield."
Zemo smelled the dead super soldiers the moment he walked into the base. "I will have to make a new plan," he muttered to himself and went back out to his caterpillar truck.
This one almost entirely eliminates Siberia, and leaves things open-ended. Do Rogers and Barnes become the Bonnie and Clyde of Europe? Does Zemo's truck run out of gas and leave him to freeze to death? Does Sam confess all, and get off with a suspended sentence?
The kitchen lit up with light from an explosion on the grounds outside.
"What is it?" Wanda asked.
"Stay here, please," Vision said, and he went outside to investigate.
Wanda was alone, and nervous. She sensed an intruder. She telekinetically threw a knife before looking. She saw, a moment too late, Clint's face, eyes wide just before the knife buried itself to the hilt between his eyes. She screamed.
Vision hurried back in, and then stopped, shocked, to see Wanda kneeling over Clint's body. There was a blood-covered knife on the ground, and she was patting at Clint. "No, NO, NO!" she cried. "I didn't mean to! It's not my fault! He scared me!"
"Wanda, let me help," Vision said softly. He moved closer, but one glance at Clint was enough to prove there was no life left. "I will call for an ambulance," he said.
"NO! NO, you'll call the police! You'll call Stark!" Wanda got to her feet. Her hands were already red with blood, and now they glowed red with her power.
"Wanda! No, please stop, you're only making things worse for yourself."
"I can't let you," Vision said. "If you do this... they will never stop being afraid of you."
"I don't care! Let them fear me!" Wanda waved her hands, and Vision began glowing. Then the floor glowed and collapsed under him, driving him down through floor after floor.
"So," Barnes said as he paced around the deserted factory where he and Rogers and Wilson were hiding out, "How long are we going to wait for your team, Stevie?"
Rogers frowned. "Clint should have called in. He was going to pick up Wanda and then get Sam's friend."
"Not my friend," Sam muttered. "A guy. Maybe he didn't want to come."
Rogers shook his head. "Clint still should have called in. Something's gone wrong. We'll have to go by ourselves."
"Wait, what," Sam said. "You're talking five super soldiers and the guy who maybe knows how to order them around? Don't you think, maybe we really could use more backup?"
"Who, Sam? Ross is after us, and we can't trust Tony, you said so yourself. We can handle it."
"Yeah. I guess," Sam said dubiously.
Rogers' cellphone rang. It was still on the factory ringtone. "That must be Clint!" Rogers answered the phone. "Clint, you better have a good excuse..."
Tony's voice came through. "How about death? That good enough for you?"
"What?" Rogers asked, flatly. "Tony, you killed Clint?"
Sam gasped. Barnes tensed slightly.
"You sure think a lot of me," Tony said. "No, Steve. Wanda did. He blew up the grounds and startled her. She buried a knife in his skull, and then she buried Vision in the sub-basement. Vision survived."
"Oh, God, poor Wanda."
"Poor Wanda?" Tony asked, in an astonished tone of voice. "That's all you have to say?"
"She's just a kid, Tony! She didn't mean it."
"Yeah. Well, I'm sure she would have apologized nicely to Laura and the kids. If she could."
"What do you mean, 'if she could'?"
"She stole a quinjet and left the compound in what I assume was pure panic."
"She doesn't know how to fly," Steve protested.
"Yeah, she didn't get far. She's dead, too, Steve."
"Oh, no, not Wanda," Steve said. "She was such a sweet girl."
"Jesus, Steve. Did she mess with your mind? She was twenty-six and she'd killed at least one man for every year of her life! What about Clint? I had to tell Laura that her 'retired' husband was DEAD, and her children were fatherless. You CALLED Clint, she said, and he ran to help you. Help you do what? What, Steve?"
"There are..." Steve shook his head when Sam reached for the phone. "There are five super soldiers in Siberia," Steve said, his voice firm and determined once more. "Bucky knows where they are. They could take down a whole country in one night! Bucky told me!"
There was silence from Tony's end of the line. "Steve. That's just... crazy. You need help."
"Yes! I need you and Rhodes and Natasha!"
"No. Not that kind of help."
The doors of the warehouse crashed open, and tac suited special forces burst in, firing tranquilizer darts in a heavy barrage. Sam fell immediately, Bucky a few seconds later, and finally Steve crashed to the floor, phone still clutched in his hand.
One of the special forces men picked up the phone. "Mr. Stark. Thank you for tracing the call. We have them."
And in this one, they don't even make it to Siberia. Tony goes later, along with Rhodey once they get Sam to reveal the location. Since they had kept Rogers' capture quiet, they were able to get Zemo. Tony did see the video, and that was the end of his trust in Rogers.
The door opened in a Bucharest police station in one of the seedier parts of town. A pretty blonde woman, rather underdressed and over made up, walked to the desk. "Hello," she said in Romanian.
The officer at the desk looked confused and a little nervous before replying in the same language. "Elena, not when I'm at work. How many times do I have to tell you?"
"This is business, Vasile," Elena said. She rolled her eyes. "YOUR business, not mine. That man they say bombed the U.N. in Vienna? He didn't do it. He was with me when it happened."
Vasile frowned. "I do not believe you. How could you recognize him? It's always dark when you work."
Elena snapped, "Because I know when a cold metal hand is fondling my breast, Vasile! That is not a thing one mistakes!"
"All right, all right," Vasile said. He turned to his computer. "Where and when was this? It says that he knows how to fly. He could have rented an airplane after your.. business... was concluded."
Elena smiled. She turned and went to the door. "Girls! Vasile wants a timetable." She held the door open as a small crowd of young women entered. She looked back at Vasile. "I do not think our Buck had time to go to the corner for a pastry."
Vasile's eyes widened.
Rogers jumped up and said "I have to go," after glancing at his cell phone.
Tony had thought being a super soldier meant better bladder control, but apparently not. Rogers was halfway out the door when Friday said, "Boss! There is something on YouTube you need to see!"
"What?" Tony asked, but he turned to the monitor to watch along with the rest of the Avengers. "Fuck, that's Rogers' old pal," he said when the video began, showing a long haired man wearing a baseball cap and rumpled nondescript clothes standing in front of an old brick wall.
"What?" Rogers was back in the room in an instant, watching along with Tony and the others.
"I'm James Buchanan Barnes," the man in the video said, "formerly Sergeant Barnes of the U.S. Army, and I'm posting this video so's I can arrange a meeting without anyone getting hurt. I didn't have anything to do with the Vienna bombing. I was in Bucharest and there's a bunch of lovely young ladies who've sworn affidavits to prove it." He smirked. "You know, I had seventy years saved up. I was gonna call Stevie-- you know, Cap'n America, when I got caught up. Stevie's always been kinda a cockblock."
Tony made a choking noise. Rogers flashed him a disapproving look before returning his gaze to the monitor.
"Anyway," Barnes said, "the girls were all good citizens and gave me an alibi, so I'm in the clear for that. You gotta look behind the curtain for the wizard." He frowned. "When I come in, I'll tell what the Winter Soldier did. Not me, the Winter Soldier." He tapped his head. "Hydra tried to make me forget, but it all came back." The video ended.
"See? I told you Bucky was good," Rogers said, with a wide smile. He picked up his phone. "I'll just comment on the video to set up a meeting place."
"You need to sign the Accords, Steve," Tony said.
"No, I don't," Rogers replied. "Bucky doesn't need a...a cop! He needs a friend!"
Rhodey said, "If you go after him without U.N. sanction it's going to look bad... for HIM."
Vision nodded. "The presumption will be that you are attempting to circumvent the proper legal procedures. It could cloud the issue and create difficulties for Sergeant Barnes obtaining a pardon for acts committed while under duress if when he was free of constraint you acted unilaterally."
"Also," Tony said, "if you go as an official U.N. representative, I can provide a quinjet and get airspace clearance."
Wanda scowled. "You should give Steve the quinjet anyway. Barnes is his friend!"
"Yeah," Sam added. "Have a heart, man."
Tony didn't look at Wanda or Sam. "We need to go legit on this, Steve. Especially now, with everyone looking over our shoulders."
Rogers frowned. "That all takes time."
"Less time than if you have to fly commercial," Rhodey pointed out.
Rogers sighed. "All right. I'll sign."
Tony went with Steve to visit Barnes at the Hague, where he was being debriefed. It was going to take a while. Barnes had an eidetic memory, and seventy years of missions and information on Hydra to detail.
"Hey Buck, how are you doing?" Rogers said, grinning from ear to ear.
"I'm good." Barnes was sitting at his ease in a comfortable suite. "They're treating me real nice, Stevie." He glanced at Tony. "Gonna introduce me to your friend?"
"Huh, oh, yeah, this is Tony Stark," Rogers said.
"Yeah, I thought so." Barnes stood up. "I know about you. Thanks for lookin' after Stevie. I know the punk needs a lot o' watchin'."
Tony smirked. Rogers sighed. "Bucky..."
"No, no, you know it's true." Barnes went serious. "I'm sorry about your parents. I..."
"Bucky, no!" Rogers said.
Tony looked back and forth between them. "What's going on here?"
"Nothing," Rogers said, while giving Barnes a significant look.
Barnes frowned. "Jesus, Steve. Do you want him to read it in a transcript?"
"What," Tony said flatly.
Barnes ignored Rogers' attempts to wave him to silence. "The Winter Soldier killed your parents." He grimaced. "Howard knew me, and I... couldn't... I couldn't stop."
Tony stared at him, wide-eyed and silent.
Rogers put his hand on Tony's shoulder. "Tony, it wasn't him, it wasn't Bucky."
Tony turned to stare at Rogers. He said softly, "You knew."
Rogers winced. "No, not really."
"Well, yeah, but I didn't want to hurt you! I figured let sleeping dogs lie..."
Tony punched Rogers in the face, turned and stalked out of the room.
"Stevie," Barnes said. "You really fucked that up."
And no one goes to Siberia at all. Which didn't matter because decades of no maintenance had left the SuperSoldiers freezer burnt. They looked fine, but were unrevivable.
Zemo TRIED to trigger Barnes, but since Barnes wasn't confined, he punched Zemo out at the first word, and the police picked him up and tied him to a trail of murders. Barnes got help from a professional deprogrammer (BARF would have been useless) and got the triggers cleared. Barnes went on to become a high-fashion model.
Rogers doesn't push Peggy's family aside to take over her funeral- he forgot all about her once he saw BUCKY!! So he never knew Sharon was Peggy's niece, or got kissed by her (I thought that was non-consensual and ICKY. Also totally out of left field.)
People at the airport got to go on their flights. People driving their cars and riding their motorcycles got to their destinations safely. Special Forces police got to eat coffee and donuts instead of cement blocks and vibranium shields. Rhodey was fine. Peter didn't get dragged across the world into a battle. Tony didn't get the crap beat out of him. Clint stayed retired and took his kids waterskiing. Antman got arrested for breaking into a jewelry store to destroy a display of Arc Reactor cufflinks because Pym dared him to do it.
All the Avengers signed the Accords. Rogers wound up breaking them along with Wanda and Sam less than a month later, and they are now fugitives.
Vision started a cooking show.
Rogers broke off Iron Man's faceplate and lifted his shield high. Tony still had power, it was his last chance. He brought up his gauntlets and hesitated. Then he saw the gleam of cruel satisfaction in Rogers' eyes. He fired both repulsors, full power, nothing held back. Rogers was slammed back, smashed against the nearest wall. His face... his face was horribly distorted, lumpy and misshapen.
"Oh, God." Tony pushed himself to his feet and staggered over to Rogers. "I didn't..."
Rogers glared up at him. His eyes were red, not bloody, just a burning evil red. And his skin... his skin was a sickly yellow green stretched taut over his cheeks and along lines in his chin. "You think you've won," he said in a venomous whisper. "You're wrong."
"What... what are you?" Tony asked.
"I am a Skrull warrior." The creature grinned. Green fluid coated his teeth and dripped. "We are many. We are everywhere."
Tony turned at a sound behind him. Barnes was sitting up, staring at the Skrull. "Where's Steve? What did you do to him?"
The Skull laughed. "We took him. So... easy. Since... the Chitauri... fools... this will be our home world. Not theirs." He coughed and a gout of green poured down his chest. His head fell to one side, eyes open and staring.
"Steve went to see America," Tony said softly. He looked at Barnes. "He rode off on his motorcycle. We were friends... but when he came back...I thought it was my fault. I thought I ..."
Barnes stared at the Skrull. "Is Steve dead?"
Tony shook his head. "I don't know. I don't even... know where to begin." His mouth tightened. "We have to show this... to the world. We have to be ready to fight." He looked at Barnes. "All of us."
Barnes nodded slowly. "Steve would want that." He went over to Tony and offered his good arm. "Together."
Short, but I don't want to wait until I get more ideas done (so mANY things I neeD to DO.)
After the quintet took off, Barnes turned to Rogers and asked, "Don't you have anyone else you can call for backup? I couldn't beat even one of those soldiers before," he admitted. "Crazy makes them strong."
"There's no one else," Rogers said. "Well, not on Earth."
Barnes raised his eyebrows. "You meet a lot of aliens?"
Rogers smiled. "A few. One of them is a good friend. Thor. They call him a god, but of course, he's not really a god. He's strong, though, strong enough to fight the Hulk to a standstill." Rogers paused. "He did tell me he'd return if the Earth was ever threatened again."
"Again?" Barnes asked.
"Long story. Anyway, he gave me this..." Rogers reached into one of the pouches on his costume, and pulled out a small black feather. "Said if I just talked to it, he'd hear me."
Barnes looked at the feather, and then at Rogers. "Stevie, you got knocked around pretty good back there. How's your head?"
Rogers rolled his eyes. "I'll prove it." He held the feather up to his mouth. "Thor? This is Steve Rogers. If you can hear me, I could use your help. There's...well, the Earth is in danger! Can you come?"
The feather vibrated. Thor's voice emerged. "I regret I cannot, Captain. Can not the Man of Iron aid you?"
"Yeah, well... he's not on my side at the moment. It's just me, and my best friend, Bucky."
"That is unfortunate. And the other Avengers?"
"Either they're sticking with Stark, or he's got them in jail," Rogers said grimly.
"Ah! I knew Stark was untrustworthy! But! Captain, I have a thought! I am at present unable to wield Mjolnir, but I can still direct my hammer. I shall send Mjolnir to you, forthwith! You were very close to being worthy enough, I am sure your righteous battle against evil will suffice to enable you to use Mjolnir."
"That's great," Rogers said. "Only you know, we're in a quinjet at the moment. Can I call you back once we land?"
"You may. I shall inform Mjolnir that Midgard's most noble warrior requires her aid. You need merely speak her name."
"Thanks, Thor, I knew I could count on you." Rogers tucked the feather back into hiding.
Barnes shook his head. "You always could get people to follow you."
Rogers smiled back at him.
"Did you know?" Tony asked. His eyes were bright with fury, and grief.
Rogers said, "I didn't know it was him."
"Don't bullshit me, Rogers! Did you know?"
Tony punched Rogers at the same time he brought the Iron Man helmet back up. Rogers staggered back. He yelled, "MJOLNIR!"
There was a crashing noise, and Mjolnir flew through the air. Rogers held up his hand to catch it. "Tony, I won't let you kill Bucky!"
"Jesus, Rogers," Iron Man said, "He killed my mom, he doesn't get to WALK away!" He held up his hands, repulsors bright. "I'm taking him in. It's the right thing, and you know it."
"He's my friend," Rogers said. "I DON'T CARE what he did!" He threw Mjolnir.
Iron Man held up his hands, prepared to blast. Mjolnir smacked into the palm of his right hand. And stopped. Iron Man tilted his head down and looked at the hammer. "Huh." He hefted it and then he threw it. Mjolnir arced through the air, knocking Barnes and Rogers unconscious before returning to Iron Man's hand.
"Sweet," he said, patting the hammer. "Hey, how would you like a new look? You'd be beautiful in red and gold."
Mjolnir wriggled happily.
#19 is a bit cracky, and since I've not seen Thor: Ragnarok (or even any trailers) it's undoubtedly non-canon compliant. But I do not care. Mjolnir DESERVES to be loved and treated like the fine lady she is. :^)
I don't think she will go back to Thor. He's a ruffian.
I doubt the morality base user access code for Mjolnir. It certainly wasn't in Mjolnir's original creation. Thor was able to use it until Daddy put him in time-out, and we all assumed that what Odin SAID was true, but Odin is a one-eyed liar who lies (it seems to go with the territory) so I think the restriction was 'Don't let anyone except Thor use you and don't let Thor use you until he's DAMN sorry he disobeyed me, or, you know, unless he's dying, I don't want him dead'.
And then Thor got drunk and Mjolnir was confused and took a few seconds to realize that the big blond grabbing her wasn't Thor so she almost let Rogers pick her up.
And Vision- well, elevator's not worthy...
Big man in a suit of armor; take that off, and what are you? Tony thought as Rogers straddled him and prepared to smash hell out of him with the shield. Tony had enough data already on what Vibranium could to do gold/titanium. His mind flashed back to M.I.T. Fifteen years old, smart mouth and too much pride to back down when someone was wrong led to a lot of unsanctioned 'boxing matches'. Rhodey had found him like this, flat on his back, with a huge bully punching him. After he'd run off the bastard, Rhodey had given Tony a bit of useful advice.
"When the other guy's not fighting fair, you don't have to, either."
Tony brought up an armored knee as hard as he could, smashing into Rogers' balls, right at the seam in the armored costume Tony had made.
Rogers let out a strangled scream and fell to one side. Tony grabbed the shield and threw it out the doorway and down the mountain. Then he punched Rogers right in his fucking perfect teeth.
"You know what I am without my armor?" Tony said to the semiconscious supersoldier. "I'm Tony Fucking Stark." He cuffed Rogers by the hand to Barnes' ankle and dragged them outside, to take them to his stolen quinjet.
T'Challa was standing there with his hand on Zemo's shoulder, an expression of disapproval on his face.
Tony raised his faceplate and looked at T'Challa. "Don't you even fucking start. Barnes killed my mom and dad. Rogers knew it all along. If you stand in my way, I'll go through you."
T'Challa opened his mouth and then closed it. Then he nodded and began hauling Zemo to the quinjet.
Tony looked up from Rhodey when his quinjet flew overhead.
T'Challa stalked up to him. "Romanoff prevented me from stopping them. Barnes and Rogers have gone."
"Get Romanoff," Tony said.
"What about Barnes and Rogers?" T'Challa asked as he ran off to grab Romanoff.
"Friday," Tony said, "lock onto the quinjet nearest my location."
"Got it, Boss."
"Find Thaddeus Ross. Deliver it to him. Make sure the weapons are all locked down.Tell him it's an early Christmas present."
"Got it, Boss," Friday said cheerfully.
"You can't do that!" Romanoff snarled, twisting uselessly in T'Challa's grip. "You know the world will need us!"
Tony glanced around at the devastated airport, and then down at Rhodey's still face. "I'll make sure they let you exercise in prison. In case we ever do."
T'Challa frog-marched Zemo into the base. "Stop this!" he shouted, getting in between the three way punch-fest.
"He killed my mom!" Tony yelled.
"Bucky is innocent, Hydra made him do it!" Rogers screamed.
Barnes didn't say anything.
"I don't CARE!" T'Challa said. "LOOK!" He waved outside.
"What?" Tony said, irritably. "Look at the snow?"
"Look at the blizzard! We cannot fly in this weather!"
"Friday?" Tony asked.
"Sorry, Boss, I wasn't paying attention," Friday said. "It came out of nowhere!"
Tony didn't care whether it was caused by global warming, or Thor's adoptive brother, or maybe a whammy Princess Pink Hands put out before she was arrested. "Fuck," he said succinctly.
"Can we not discuss this like civilized people?" T'Challa said.
"Nope," Tony said.
"Be reasonable, Tony. If we keep fighting we could all die here," Steve said.
Tony growled, but T'Challa looked like he was going to join in with the super soldiers, and that reduced his chances into the negative numbers. "Fine!" He turned up the heat in his suit and stalked off to watch the blizzard.
An hour or so later, he heard T'Challa say, "Stark, we need your help."
Tony turned back, to find Rogers and Barnes both lying on the floor, side by side. It looked as if they were barely breathing.
"Huh. Friday, scan." Tony interpreted the numbers, and he smiled. "Hah. They've gone into hibernation. That's a thing super soldiers do, to survive the cold."
T'Challa said, "Neither Zemo nor I can do that."
"Yeah. Whyn't you go wait in the quinjet? I'll turn on the heaters."
T'Challa blinked. "Why didn't Rogers think of that?"
"He never read the fucking manual." Tony smiled.
These two are kinda gory.
The shield came down. The reactor split, and the element that was never supposed to be exposed to oxygen reacted. The base and sides of the confinement unit remained intact, leaving it only one direction to release the full force capable of powering Stark Tower for a year.
Guided by the curvature of the vibranium shield a broad blue blast shot out and hit Rogers from armpits to waist, creating an atomized haze that flew across the chamber. Rogers' head, shoulders and arms landed on the floor a few feet away from Tony. His eyes were wide open in horror and his mouth moved.
Tony scrabbled backwards, breathing hard.
Barnes sat up, stared at the remains of Rogers, and threw up.
T'Challa came running in. "Stop!" he said. "Barnes is innocent! No one needs to die..." He looked at the gore-covered room and shut up.
"A day late and a dollar short," Barnes said, while laughing hysterically.
The shield came down. The reactor split and the shield went even further, down through the cracked gold titanium, down through the artificial sternum, down through the scar-tissue covered heart.
Rogers yanked the shield out, and blood gushed forth.
Tony gasped and pawed at the reactor.
"That wasn't supposed to happen!" Rogers said. "You told me your armor was strong!"
"Not your fault, Stevie," Barnes said. "Let's get out of here."
"Yeah. All right." Rogers went over to Barnes and helped him up. He looked back at Tony who was weakly scrabbling at his armor. "I'm sorry you didn't listen to me, Tony."
Tony mouthed, "Fuck you", and triggered the self destruct on his armor.
"Huh," Tony said when the extremely well built blonde in gold armor, riding a big horse also wearing gold armor, flew into the room. The horse neatly folded its wings and stomped. The woman smiled and held her hand down to Tony. "I am a valkyrie, come for thee, Man of Iron."
"Sure, ok, why not." Tony took her hand, and as she pulled him up to sit behind her on the horse he noticed that the room was a shambles. His armor had detonated, and not only obliterated him, but it had mangled Rogers and Barnes. They were still moving, but he was fairly sure they'd die. The super soldier serum wasn't a blessing when it drew out suffering. He was glad that at least he had prevented them from hurting any more innocents.
The horse clattered its hooves and then took off. Tony put his arms around the woman's waist, trying not to touch any sensitive areas. "So, where are we going?" He hadn't believed in life after death, but what with Thor and all, he hadn't not believed in it.
"Valhalla," she replied. "Where warriors who died in battle find their reward."
"What reward?" Tony thought about protesting that he wasn't an Asgardian, but he didn't really feel like being kicked off the horse. They were very high up.
She laughed. "Why, companionship and roistering. Drunkenness without pain, pleasure without end." The horse suddenly slanted downward, and landed.
Tony looked around at a grassy flower-covered meadow encircled by huge oak trees. Scattered around were tables full to overflowing with food and drink. Muscular men and beautiful women were enjoying the feast. There was other enjoying going on. And some people, both men and women, were battling on the lawn, laughing as they fought. By the time Tony took it all in, the woman and horse had gone.
He shrugged and went over to get a drink. A woman smiled at him, and he smiled back.
He lost track of time. In between drinking, and fighting- his armor appeared when he wanted it- and... you know... companionship... time just flew by.
He was standing at the forge, pounding out dents in Heimdall's armor when he heard the flutter of wings and looked up, curious to see who had arrived.
Rogers and Barnes alighted and looked around in wonder.
Tony threw down his hammer. "NO! I am NOT going to share eternity with them!"
The valkyrie frowned. "Why do you protest? They were strong warriors."
"Barnes murdered helpless old people, and Rogers lied to me, even though I was on his team, to protect him."
The valkyrie's frown deepened. "Still, they are warriors and died in battle."
"Yeah, not so much. They died after the battle."
"Because you blew up your armor!" Rogers said. "Like a bully, if you couldn't win fair, you cheated."
Tony growled. "Fine. You know what? Neither of them can get drunk, and neither of them want female companionship. So what good are they here?"
Rogers blushed. Barnes was holding his hand.
The valkyrie sighed. "I see what you mean." She whistled, and her horse turned around. She pulled Rogers and Barnes back up behind the saddle. "There is one other place they may go."
The horse leaped, flapping and gaining altitude, before diving back down, into the ground.
"Where are we going?" Rogers shouted.
"To Hel," the valkyrie replied.
Tony nodded. "Perfect."
The next two are less serious. #26 is positively cracky.
Rogers used the shield to break off Tony's faceplate, and then he raised it high. Tony stared up at him, wide-eyed, dazed by the sudden change from headsup display to the real life fury of Captain America.
Rogers hesitated an instant.
The light changed. Shimmering gold swirls like Catherine Wheel fireworks sputtered above Rogers' head. A red blanket... no... a cloak? Appeared from the midst of the golden light and wrapped itself around Rogers' arms, dragging him away from Tony while Rogers shouted and fought it.
"What the fu..." Tony struggled to sit up.
A man walked out of the golden pinwheel. Tony blinked and increased his struggles to sit up. The man was tall and dressed really funky. Tony liked his beard, though. The man sighed. "Pardon the intrusion. I fear my cloak became confused." He gestured at his beard, and then at Tony's.
Tony got to his feet, made his way over to Rogers and punched him unconscious. "That's ok," Tony said. "Good boy," he told the cloak.
"Did you know?"
Rogers said, "I didn't know it was him."
"Don't bullshit me, Rogers! Did you know?"
"That's it! You're sleeping on the couch tonight!"
"What?" Barnes said, but Rogers and Tony ignored him. They were standing nose to nose.
"I didn't tell you because it would hurt you!" Rogers said. "I'm not sleeping on the couch! You are! You were going to attack Bucky!"
"BUCKY! BUCKY BUCKY BUCKY, is all I ever hear! You don't care about me, you never did!" Tony sniffled and his eyes were bright.
"I'll just... wait outside," Barnes said, edging away.
"Oh, put away the tears," Rogers said. "They don't work on me, anymore."
"NOTHING works on you!" Tony made a rude gesture. "I thought you were just tired, but no, you're just TIRED OF ME! And now you've got your BUCKY back, you don't need your little sweetie pie any more!"
"Yeah, outside in the snow, sounds good right about now," Barnes muttered as he backed up quietly.
"It's not like that!" Rogers yelled. "He needs me!"
"AND WHAT ABOUT ME AND OUR CHILDREN!"
"What children?" Rogers sounded baffled.
Barnes stopped. "Children?" he asked.
Rogers and Tony both turned to look at him. Rogers waved in an 'I don't know' gesture. Tony was furious. "DUM-E made you a macaroni picture frame for father's day, and U took a photo of the four of us together to put in it!"
"THEY'RE ROBOTS!" Rogers snapped. "NOT PEOPLE."
Tony clutched at his chest. "You've broken my heart." He glared at Barnes. "Home-wrecker."
Barnes fled outside.
T'Challa was there with Zemo. There was a series of crashing noises from inside. T'Challa looked at Barnes. "Should we attempt to intercede?"
Barnes shook his head. "Not until Stark finishes breaking the china." He looked at Zemo. "One word outta you and I'm going to knock out all your teeth."
Zemo opened his mouth, smirking. Barnes punched him out.
"You didn't bomb the Accords," T'Challa said.
"Yeah. I know," Barnes replied.
They stood there, in what was an awkward silence on their part, punctuated by smashing and shouting from inside the base. Barnes tried rubbing his arms, but the metal one just made him colder. Finally the noise died down. They looked at each other. "I was already in there once. Your turn in the barrel," Barnes said.
T'Challa nodded and strode inside. "Stark... ROGERS... Oh, dear Bast..." T'Challa emerged very quickly. "We shall wait a little longer. They are... reconciling."
"Damn," Barnes said after a minute. "I didn't give them a wedding present. Think a fondue set would be good?"
"We've got about thirty seconds before they realize it's not their equipment," Tony told Sam before showing him the photo of the doctor who was supposed to interrogate Barnes, and admitting he'd made a mistake.
Tony ignored Sam's comeback, "That's a first."
Tony said, "Cap is definitely off the reservation but he's about to need all the help he can get. We don't know each other very well. You don't have to..."
Sam's expression softened and he started to reply, but Clint shouted, "No! Don't tell him, Sam! You don't know Stark like I do! He's always been trying to make Steve pay because his father knew he didn't measure up to Captain America!"
Sam lifted his chin. "Go to hell, Stark."
Tony walked to his helicopter. Ross met him and asked, "Stark? Did he give you anything on Rogers?"
"Nope. Told me to go to hell. I'm going back to the compound instead, but you can call me anytime. I'll put you on hold, I like to watch the light blink." Tony got into his helicopter and sighed. "Well, this is one time I can't make you look pretty, Rogers. Good luck." He set the course for home.
The lights came on in the bunker illuminating the corpses of super soldiers, trapped in cylinders like museum specimens. Rogers and Barnes looked around as a speaker turned on.
"If it's any comfort, they died in their sleep. Did you really think I wanted more of you?" Zemo said. Another light came on, showing him standing in a glass enclosed control room.
Rogers threw his shield but it bounced off the glass.
"Please, Captain. The Soviets built this chamber to withstand the launch blast of UR-100 rockets." Zemo smirked. "It will withstand even Iron Man's... wait. Where is Stark?"
"We didn't see eye to eye," Rogers said.
"Ah." Zemo tilted his head. "Plan B, then. It's just as well. While that would have been more certain, Stark was never my true target."
"What is?" Rogers asked, clenching his shield and standing four-square and ready to fight. "You killed innocent people in Vienna just to bring us here."
Zemo shrugged. "Collateral damage. I'm sure you understand the concept. You certainly knew it in Sokovia."
Rogers took a deep breath. "So. Sokovia. You lost someone?"
"I lost everyone," Zemo said softly. "My only consolation is that they knew I had never betrayed them."
A video began playing, showing a grainy image of a road. Rogers stared at it.
"I meant that for Stark," Zemo said, "but unlike you, I am not inflexible." Zemo spoke Barnes' trigger words. Rogers shouted and Barnes yelled and they tried to break down the control room, but there wasn't time. "Soldier?" Zemo said in Russian.
"Ready to comply," Barnes replied in the same language.
"Capture Rogers," Zemo said in English. "Hold him. Do not let him move."
It took a few minutes, but Rogers held back, as he hadn't done at the airport, and Barnes had him subdued, held immovably by his metal hand at Rogers throat.
"Excellent," Zemo said. He left the control room and went to Rogers.
"You won't... get away... with this," Rogers choked out. "Tony will..."
"Stark will feel guilty that he was unable to save you. And that guilt will make him refuse to continue the Avengers, as he will blame his involvement for their downfall." Zemo opened a small black case. Inside there was a single hypodermic filled with a colorless fluid. "He is childishly predictable. I studied him. I studied all of you, including the witch. The methods necessary to keep her confined will make her self-destruct. It should be extremely impressive. With any luck, she'll take out the rest of the fools who followed you."
Zemo nodded at Barnes. "Tighter."
Barnes choked Rogers until his struggles stopped and he was barely conscious. Zemo stepped forward then and injected Rogers in the neck. "This probably won't kill you. It will simply take away your unfair advantage." Zemo nodded at Barnes again. "Release him."
Rogers fell to the floor, shaking and curling up.
"When you released all of SHIELDRA's files, I found some very interesting research." Zemo smiled. "Howard Stark had discovered a method of neutralizing the super serum. He'd included it with the serum Barnes stole. Hydra chose not to use it, but they kept it... perhaps as a souvenir? I'm pleased to see it works."
Rogers screamed and shrank within his costume, half smothered by armor too large and too heavy for his scrawny form.
"Excellent," Zemo said. "Soldier," he told Barnes. "Your mission is to stay here. Prevent Rogers from leaving this room. You are to watch him. You are not to leave. You are not to ever leave, even after he dies."
Rogers blinked and coughed. "No. You can't," he said weakly. "It's..."
"Yes," Zemo said. "It's a death sentence. For all of us." He smiled and took out a pistol. "I may," he said, "be kind. I may not."
"Boss?" Friday said as Tony walked towards the compound after landing his helicopter. "We have a visitor? King T'Challa requests permission to land."
"Yeah? What..." Tony looked up as a sleek black jet, hovering on VTOL, appeared above the compound. "Ok, let him in."
T'Challa stepped out of his plane after he set it down on the lawn, over one of Thor's burned patches. "Do you know where Barnes is?"
"Haven't a clue," Tony replied. He looked back at the jet. "Stealth, huh. And you were following me. You could have just asked, you know."
"You would have prevented me from killing Barnes."
"Yeah, and you'd have been glad. Turns out he was framed for the Accords bombing."
T'Challa stopped and blinked. "There is proof?"
"Yes, absolute proof. I can show you." Tony gestured towards the compound. "Come on. I want to call to see how Rhodey is doing, and Vision needs moral support."
"Thank you," T'Challa said after he'd viewed the evidence. "I owe you a debt. You have prevented me from making a horrible mistake and dishonoring myself."
Tony made a face. "That... that's what the Accords are for. We need to stop going off half-cocked. Well, we would have." He picked up a bag of dried fruit and offered it to T'Challa.
"Would have?" T'Challa accepted a handful of papaya chunks. "Do you not plan to continue the Avengers?"
"I... don't really feel it, anymore..."
"BOSS!" Friday interrupted. "Senator Ross is calling!"
"Didn't I tell you to put him on hold?"
"There's been an explosion at the Raft!"
"What?" Tony sat up straight.
"It appears to have been centered on the unit containing Maximoff. She and Wilson, Barton and Lang are dead, Boss. Along with a number of guards and other prisoners. Some enhanced prisoners have escaped, including the Abomination!"
"FUCK." Tony stood up and called his newest, best suit. "Tell Ross that Iron Man is on his way. And call Vision."
T'Challa had also stood. "The Black Panther stands with you." He smiled. "This time, I promise to be at your side, with all my heart."
Tony gave T'Challa a brief grin that faded. "The Avengers are dead."
T'Challa nodded. "Perhaps it is time for the Defenders."
"Yeah. Yeah. I could go with that."
Vision floated into the room. "I find the name agreeable as well." He looked sad. "It is better to defend than to avenge."
I vaguely recollect a group called the Defenders, but the name was too perfect not to use. *shrug* In this AU the name was still up for grabs.
Even in stealth mode, a helicarrier at low altitude is quite noisy, but then the three fighters were making so much noise it wasn't surprising they didn't notice its arrival.
They did, however, notice when Nick Fury shouted, "What the Sam Hall is going on here?"
Rogers and Barnes whirled to face the entrance.
"Sam Hall?" Rogers asked, panting.
Tony warily stepped back after a glance at Fury. He didn't have energy to spare wondering how Fury knew to come to Siberia. The leg joints on Tony's armor were fairly well trashed. His palm repulsors were still in working order, as were all his missiles and other projectile weapons. He could win this fight. He could. Really. But then he envisioned Rogers lying on the ground, blaming Tony for not saving him, for not doing enough. Killing wasn't winning.
"He meant to say WHAT THE FUCK!", a quavery old lady voice announced.
What? Tony looked at Fury again. Fury looked disgruntled, nothing new there, but he also looked... ashamed? That was different. Fury held his arm stiffly to allow a fragile-looking elderly woman to support herself by it. She looked... wow... she looked a lot like Fury. Her free hand held a long, highly polished, heavy looking, black cane, which she raised to wave at them.
"This sort of shenanigans never went on when I ran SHIELD," she exclaimed.
"Mother," Fury said quietly. "You don't understand. Things got... complicated."
The cane whipped around to smack Fury in the gut. He grunted, but didn't complain. "Don't give me EXCUSES! I TOLD you Operation Paperclip was a disaster waiting to happen! I told you the Cult of Personality was a SHIT WAY to run teams!"
"Yes, Mother," Fury said, with bowed head.
"And I DAMN WELL did not give you permission to use my address to buy secret mission ships! The IRS thinks I own the Lemurian Star! The insurance company wants to know what happened to it!"
"Sorry, Mother," Fury said very quietly. "I didn't think you'd mind."
"You DIDN'T FUCKING think!" The old lady paused to catch her breath. "Playing footsie with your second in command, and giving him his own superhero playtoys was bad enough, but then you let them run around without supervision! MY GOD, I wouldn't let them run with scissors! Just LOOK at this mess."
Tony blinked. Rogers and Barnes seemed equally stunned.
But then, of course, Rogers had to speak. "Ma'am, you don't want to be here. You could get hurt."
The old lady turned her glare on Rogers. "Oh, so NOW you give a shit about civilians? Do you have ANY IDEA the body count you and your boyfriend racked up?"
"They were going to kill Bucky! He's innocent!"
Tony thought about saying something, but he knew the power of a pissed off woman, and figured Mrs. Fury had it handled.
She snorted, inelegantly. "That is SUCH A LOAD OF CRAP. You just didn't like being told what to do! If I was ten years younger I'd have you over my knee, you spoilt brat!"
"Steve was just doing what he thought was right," Barnes offered.
"Right? RIGHT?" The old lady's eyes were wide and glittering. "WHO THE FUCK DIED AND MADE HIM GOD?"
Rogers frowned. "Ma'am, there's no call for that sort of language."
The old lady turned her head to look at Fury. "He was dropped on his head as a baby, wasn't he?"
Tony choked on a laugh.
Fury cleared his throat. "Rogers, it's over. Come in now, before you make things worse."
Rogers straightened and held his head high. "NO!"
"And you can't make him," Tony added, snidely.
Rogers turned to give Tony one of his self-righteous disappointed looks. Then he yelped and straightened up, hand going to his backside, and his whole face screwed up in astonishment.
And then he fell forward. Barnes leaped to catch him, grunted, and he collapsed as well.
The old lady lowered her cane and patted it. A thin curl of smoke was coming from the end of it. "Tranqs won't keep those two down very long."
"No, Mother." Fury tapped his comm. "We're ready, come and get them."
"Tell them not to forget the pussycat and his mouse that I left snoozing on the doorstep," Mrs. Fury said. She hobbled past the super-soldiers and went up to Tony. "I'm so sorry about your parents," she said softly.
Tony let the Iron Man helmet retract. "Did you know?" he asked.
She shook her head. "No. I was on the International desk at the time." She scowled. "Some SHIELDRA fuckers must have covered it up. New SHIELD needs a new director."
Fury hung his head even lower.
Tony narrowed his eyes. "You're not looking at me, I hope."
Mrs. Fury laughed and reached out to pat Tony on the cheek. "No, you're far too honest." She paused. "Do you think your lovely Ms. Potts..."
Fury coughed. "I believe taking care of Stark and his company is a full time job, Mother."
"True." Mrs. Fury nodded. "Maria Hill it is, then." She put her hand on Iron Man's arm. "Give an old lady a hand, like a gentleman."
Tony walked slowly at Mrs. Fury's side, pausing to let Fury's agents, carrying heavy-duty restraints, rush past. "So," she said once they got outside, "do you like cats?"
Behind her back, Fury was waving frantically, 'NO', but Tony nodded. "Sure, what's not to like?"
She beamed. "Wonderful, you can have the pick of the litter."
Kinda cracky. But I needed to start somewhere to get writing momentum.
And I wanted to give Tony a kitten. It's a little black one that he winds up naming 'Jet' because it's fast.
HAH. I googled 'black kitten with iron man' and FOUND the perfect photo! ;^)
"Look, Steve, I understand," Sam said, "I gave you Tic Tac's phone number. He'd probably jump at the chance. I can't hop a plane to Germany. I'm counseling... no, I understand, but it's really, really a bad time." Sam frowned. "Yeah, I know, he's your friend, but this is my friend." Sam huffed. "Look, I've got to go." Sam turned back to the man who was standing in front of him, holding a gun. "Sorry about the interruption, Danny."
"Yep, Captain America."
"You turned him down for me?"
Sam shrugged. "Your life is more important, Danny. Don't throw it away."
Danny set the gun to safety and laid it down on the table. He was crying. "You turned down Captain America for me."
Sam put the gun out of reach and then hugged Danny. He said softly, "I got my priorities right."
Laura held Clint's phone to his ear. "No can do, Cap. Sorry. I'm retired. And I'm in the middle of refinishing a floor. I've got to get the varnish on in one coat." Clint blinked. "Stark put Wanda under house arrest? What? Come on, why? Oh, yeah. Well, you know, we don't have SHIELD to cover our asses, so it's probably a good idea to let Stark's lawyers handle the fallout from that Nigerian mess while she stays out of sight."
Laura narrowed her eyes. Clint rolled his. "Steve, look, I'm just a guy with a bow. What do you expect me to do? I'm not going to shoot the cops. Oh. You want me to go to the Compound and get Wanda. Um, Steve. Why can't you just phone her?" Clint got angry. "What? Hell, no I haven't forgot that her brother saved my life! I also haven't forgot that he nearly killed me before that, and if it wasn't for Doctor Cho... you know the nice lady Stark financed so she had the tech to repair my guts...." Clint blinked. "Wow, yeah, sure, I'm ungrateful. I've got a family! I'm not running out on my kids because you..." Clint shook his head. "He hung up on me, Laura."
"Vision and I are making quiche," Wanda said after she answered the phone. "We tried paprikash, but..." Wanda frowned. "I'm under house arrest?" She looked at Vision.
"Mr. Stark requested you remain here, for your own safety. The current social climate is not conducive to public appearances." Vision paused. "People are afraid and that makes them act without forethought. You might be imperiled."
"I can take care of myself," Wanda said.
"Yes, of course you can." Vision put his hand lightly on her shoulder. "But I would like to care for you."
Wanda looked at Vision, and smiled. "I'm sorry, Steve. I don't want to ruin my quiche." She hung up and turned to Vision, smiling.
"WOW, Captain America is calling me! That's... WOW," Scott said, all excited. "Cassie, baby, I'm talking to CAPTAIN AMERICA! That's just... wow... oh, hey, how did you get my number. Oh." Scott scrunched up his nose. "Yeah, I didn't... I mean, I didn't really hurt Falcon-guy, I just needed a thing... and you know, STARK, I wasn't going to ASK HIM. Yeah, you know. He's selfish. And mean. And...makes guns? Well, he did, anyway..."
Scott listened and nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like Stark, all right. Wants to get everyone under his thumb. Thinks he can buy everyone, right? Am I right! Yeah." Scott looked puzzled. "Germany? Um. I don't have a passport, I don't think... maybe I could get one. I dunno how long it... shrink down and sneak on a plane? Well, I suppose I could, how about next week? No. No, now is not going to work. Cassie's got the lead in the school play! It's all about... you don't want to know."
Scott listened for a few more minutes. "Um, look, I'd really like to help, but I'm on parole! Not just with the law, with Cassie and Hope. And I'm not going to miss this play. I missed too much of my little girl's life already. Good luck, I mean, hey, you're Captain America! I'm sure lots of people would be glad to drop everything and help you. I would, but not... not Cassie. Yeah, goodbye."
"Steve?" Sharon Carter whispered. "I'm being watched. I can't help you. Good luck." Sharon hung up and shook her head. "You're gorgeous, Steve, but you're not worth giving up my career."
"I can't just drop out of school!"
"PETER!" May opened the door and stormed into his room. "WHAT is Mr. Stark trying to talk you into!"
"Um," Peter said.
May's gaze turned to the Spiderman uniform Tony was holding. "PETER! Explain yourself this instant!"
"I..." Peter looked at Tony in appeal.
Tony winced. "Sorry? Peter is... um... he has these abilities... he was going to come help me with a little project. Totally harmless... mostly... probably."
May snatched up the uniform. She glared at Peter. "Young man, you're not going anywhere." Then she pointed at Tony. "Out."
"But I need him!" Tony said.
"If you can't handle a little project without a fifteen year old boy's help, maybe you shouldn't be doing it at all," May said.
Tony's mouth opened and then shut. "Yeah. You're right." He nodded and left.
"No, Shuri," T'Challa said, "I am not coming home until I avenge father's death." He pulled the phone away from his ear. "I can't hear you, it must be a bad connection." He disconnected.
One of the Dora Milaje stepped forward, holding out her own phone to him. Her face looked stern.
"What is this?" T'Challa said, irritably. "I don't want it."
"My Prince, you must speak to Princess Shuri."
"Your king," T'Challa corrected. "Your king has given you an order."
"Until ratified by the council, you are my Prince." She continued to hold out the phone.
T'Challa growled something and turned his own phone back on. "Shuri," he said, "I apologize, we were cut off." He listened. "Yes, I understand my place. It is to... I know father spent years on the Accords... I know... yes... Yes." He sighed and bent his head. "Yes. I know this is not Wakanda. I know... I know there are authorities... I know... I understand diplomacy for Bast's sake, Shuri! But it's Father!" T'Challa was silent for a long time. "Very well, I shall stand aside. But if they do not capture this man, I will expect you to join me in the hunt." T'Challa nodded and his face softened. "Don't cry, Shuri. You won't lose me, too."
T'Challa ended the connection and sighed.
"Panthers are patient hunters," the Dora said.
"So, that's your final word, Prince T'Challa?" Natasha asked. "You don't want to get the man who killed your father?"
T'Challa's reply was calm, "I do, of course I do. But I do not wish to become that man. I've been reminded that my father was a man of peace, and a man of laws. Wakanda was always his first priority and now it has become mine. I cannot indulge myself by acting as a vigilante as if my own feelings were all that mattered."
"I could second you as part of the team assigned to bring in Rogers and Barnes," Natasha said.
"That would be legal, I suppose," T'Challa said. "But my motivation would still be revenge, not justice. What is your motivation?" he asked.
"I..." Natasha paused. "I signed the Accords."
"I didn't ask you that. Why do you wish to fight against the man who led your team?"
Natasha developed a faint frown line. "I don't."
"Then what would you do when you face him?"
"I... I don't know."
"Perhaps it would be best to decide that before you start." T'Challa nodded and walked away.
Natasha blinked. "You could be right."
"I'd go with you in a minute, Tony, you know that, but the Air Force got a hate on for Ross, and they decided he's got too much control. So they told me to sit this one out."
"Jesus, Rhodey," Tony shook his head. "Romanoff disappeared. I don't... you're always telling me not to be the lone gunslinger, well, right now there's no one else! German Special Forces couldn't stop him, Rhodey. There's no one else!"
"Tony, man, I'm serious here. Remember what Vision said..."
"He says a lot of things... oh. Something about challenge inciting conflict?"
"What would Rogers do if you brought a team against him?"
Tony closed his eyes a moment. "He'd fight until he couldn't. So, you're saying, let him go? Don't follow him?"
"Yeah, just... think a moment, what would Rogers do if you met him by yourself?"
"I..." Tony rubbed at his face. "I have no idea." He sighed. "Guess I'll find out."
Tony's phone rang. "Yeah," Tony said. "What's up, Rogers?"
"Tony." Steve's voice sounded uncertain, and then it firmed up. "Bucky's innocent. He didn't set that bomb. He was triggered by the man the Accords sent to interrogate him."
"The man wanted to know things... he asked about... there's five other super soldiers in Siberia. Kept. Like Bucky was. They're frozen. He can get them, he has the trigger words to make them obey. They can take down a country in a single night! We have to stop him, Tony!"
"What? Rogers... Steve... this doesn't make any sense. If Hydra or Russia or whoever had them, why didn't they use them, instead of sticking to just one guy? And he didn't bring down a single country in what... fifty years of missions? Let's just step back and think about this."
"Bucky said they didn't use them because they went crazy and killed their handlers."
"That... doesn't sound to me like anything to worry about then. This guy wakes them up, triggers them and they kill him and then, what, they're in Siberia in a presumably remote, probably abandoned, Hydra base? What are they going to do? Kill each other, I bet. Or else they'll wander out and freeze again. Can't we just tell the Russians and let them handle it? I mean, I know you don't like the idea of anyone getting the super soldier serum, but it's not really possible to back engineer something like that from a living body."
"Your father did it!" Rogers snapped.
"That's why Hydra sent Bucky to kill him! He was carrying the serum he'd made! That's how they made the soldiers in the first place."
"What." Tony's voice was dead calm. "What the fuck are you talking about? My parents died in a car accident."
"SHIELD covered it up. That's why I won't let any government get control of the Avengers! You can't trust any of them! I found out about Howard when I had to bring SHIELD down! They were HYDRA! Hydra is everywhere! I bet HYDRA is behind the Accords!"
"That was... years ago. You knew? You knew Barnes murdered my parents? Killed my MOM?"
"Yeah, but I couldn't tell you! You might have been HYDRA, too! Maybe Howard was HYDRA!"
Friday spoke softly to Tony. "Call has been traced to a parking garage at the Leipzig/Halle airport. Shall I inform the authorities?"
Tony switched to private line with Friday. "Yes. Tell them to use long-range equipment only. Flood the place with tranq gas, stun grenades." Then he switched back to talking to Rogers, suddenly coldly calm and clear. He'd have time for a breakdown later, after he'd stalled Rogers long enough for the police to get him. "So, that's why you didn't call me to ask for help when you had to take down three helicarriers using my tech. And whose bright idea was it to dump SHIELD on the internet?"
The German Special Forces team was not only efficient, they were highly motivated- everyone had heard what happened to the first team to encounter Rogers and Barnes. Tony held on the line until he heard Rogers' shout and then a lot of noise.
Eventually the phone went silent.
Tony closed his eyes for a long moment. "Friday, do you have enough information to locate that HYDRA facility in Siberia?"
"Yes, Boss," Friday said. "It was in the information dump from SHIELD."
Tony laughed without humor. "Of course it was." He shook his head. "Turn it over to the Accords Council, let them send a team. Tell them everything. Tell them to be careful. I'm going... to go have a drink."
Tony sat at a bar, drinking bourbon. He didn't like bourbon, but his father had. "Sorry, Dad. All these years, I blamed you for driving drunk. Blamed me for getting you mad enough to get drunk. Fuck HYDRA. Fuck SHIELD. And fuck the Avengers."
Romanoff sidled onto a stool next to him. "The Avengers was a good idea." She waved and the bartender brought over a shot of vodka.
"Lousy name, though. What the hell were we avenging?"
"I have no idea," Romanoff replied. "Considering how many of us had red in our ledgers, perhaps the Atoners would have been a better name."
"Sounds like a really crappy band." Tony tapped his glass against hers. "They found the guy who started all this mess. Blew his brains out in Siberia, after doing the same for the super soldiers."
Romanoff nodded. "Probably his best move." She sipped at her drink. "What about Rogers and Barnes?"
"No idea. Psychiatrists first, I guess. I wonder if the super soldier serum drives everyone crazy?"
"Banner is sane," Romanoff replied.
"Yeah. Bruce got the fuck out of Dodge. Smart man. I bet he's found a nice, quiet place to play doctor." Tony ordered another round of drinks. "Here's to you, Bruce."
Romanoff joined Tony in the toast.
Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came?
In which a totally unexpected character shows up and things go from bad to worse. Not descriptively gory, but horrible things happen in a crackish way.
Basically, it's the Horror Movie version of the Airport Scene, which makes the Siberian scene never happen.
Commenter mentioned it being reminiscent of Deadpool, and now I can't unsee him standing in the airport, munching on a fajita and going, 'ooh, rainbow sparkles!' Deadpool waves his unicorn at the window.
Scott shot out of Iron Man, chased by CO2 foam. "Woah," he said, "didn't know we were up THIS high!" Scott screamed and looked at the airport tarmac far below, and fumbled at the controls of his suit. "Teeny tiny things can fall without getting hurt, right? OH, SHIT, NOT SUB-ATOMIC!"
"What the hell just happened?" Tony asked Friday as an ant-sized burst of weirdly multicolored light flashed in front of him.
"I have no idea, Boss," Friday replied.
An instant later another burst of rainbow light appeared, this time growing and spreading to human size... twice human size in fact. Ant-Man appeared, limbs limp and helmet ripped off. His eyelids flickered, showing he was barely conscious. A person in a similar suit was holding him. It... she from the shape of the suit, dropped Ant-Man's helmet, and then Ant-Man himself, without looking to see where he'd land.
No one was close enough to catch him before he fell into the burning fuel truck he'd given Rogers to throw at Rhodey. His screams were brief and horrifying.
The woman in the Ant-man type suit shrank. Gauzy dragonfly wings emerged from her back. She flew down, hands outstretched. Her fingernails glittered silver.
"WHAT THE HELL?" Rhodey shouted over the confusion.
"Watch out for her hands!" Tony yelled, recognizing a weapon even if he didn't know what it did. "Ow, that's gotta hurt," he said as the woman jabbed Clint in the neck, and he went down shouting and convulsing.
"I've got a shot," Rhodes said. He fired a repulsor at the woman, who darted out of the way. "I ain't got it."
"Vision!" Tony shouted, at the same time Rogers ordered, "Wanda!"
Red and gold light converged on the flying, flitting, tiny woman, who wasn't there when the beams hit themselves with no buffer in between. Tony was reminded of the time he and Rhodey had shot repulsors at each other. Times about ten. Wanda was pretty much vaporized by the blow-back. Vision's vibranium body was intact, but he was knocked out, and gently steaming.
"Jesus," Tony said. "Who the hell are you, lady!"
Romanoff swatted at the flying woman. Bad mistake. Romanoff was stung, and went down hard, uncoordinated and unable to avoid landing on a sharp piece of metal. She began bleeding heavily.
The tiny woman enlarged and stood on the tarmac. She pulled off her helmet, revealing a youthful face, framed by pixie-cut hair. Her eyes were wide and wild, flickering with speckles of rainbow light. She said, in a singsong as if reciting, "I saw a wasp upon a wall. And did not like his face at all: And so the creature had no time. To wonder whether he liked mine."
"Wasp?" Something about that niggled at Tony's memory. Something from a long time ago? Tony landed and held out his hands, repulsors aiming down, in the least threatening move Iron Man could make. "You're too pretty to be a wasp."
"Well, she's white and Anglo-Saxon," Rhodey muttered for Tony's ears only through Iron Man's comms. "Don't know if she's Protestant."
"Not helping," Tony said back the same way. He lifted his faceplate and smiled at the Wasp woman. "Hey," he said, "can we stop and talk? I don't think you meant to hurt anyone." Hurt, yeah. Tony could smell burnt Ant-Guy over the smell of fuel, and Wanda... well... there was just an empty space when he thought about her. She had scared the shit out of him and he was ashamed that his overwhelming feeling at her death was relief.
Wasp looked at Tony's face and gasped. "Who hit you? Was it HANK! Is Hank here?" She looked frightened.
"No, no, Hank?" The niggling familiarity strengthened. "No, actually, it was that guy there, the one with the shiny metal arm," Tony said, pointing at Barnes. He admitted to himself not being above petty spite. And how petty was it, really, considering the kill count Barnes and Rogers had piled up recently?
"It wasn't his fault!" Rogers shouted. "The psychiatrist made him do it!"
Wasp screamed, "It hurts just as much when he says he didn't mean it!"
Tony had time to think, "Oh shit," before Wasp shrank and went for Barnes, with all her sting-talons, or whatever they were, outstretched.
"BUCKY!" Rogers yelled and got in front of his friend.
Wasp stopped to sting merry hell out of him. Barnes moved to swat at her, and while he wasn't looking, T'Challa leaped on his back and ripped his throat out before leaping away and disappearing into the airport rubble.
"Oh, my GOD!" Spiderman squeaked. "Oh, my GOD!" He shot webbing at Wasp, trapping her in a net, and then tried to make web bandages for Barnes and Romanoff, but it was too late.
Rhodey landed and looked around at the carnage. Rogers seemed to have been allergic to whatever Wasp did, because his face swelled up. He clawed at his throat, convulsed dramatically and stopped moving entirely. "Tony?" Rhodes said, "What the fuck just happened here?"
"I didn't do enough," Tony said. He walked stiffly over to Spiderman. "Come on, kid. We need to get you out of here."
"No!" Spiderman said, "I can... I can..." He looked around, the white eyes of his mask dilating so wide it would have been comical in other circumstances. "It's my fault. It's... my bad luck. Everyone I touch dies..."
Rhodes retracted his helmet. "Jesus, you sure he's not your kid, Tones? Things went to shit, all right? It's not your fault, either of you. SHIT HAPPENS."
Just then Wasp started growing back to full size. The web didn't give. It was... the most horrible thing Rhodey had ever seen in a life-long career in the armed forces. Spiderman and Tony both broke down into hysterics, and Rhodey had to tranq them. He was sorry he hadn't tranqued everyone to begin with.
Spiderman and Tony started intensive therapy the next day. The authorities ruled that there had been no malice, simply an unfortunate series of events that no one could have predicted. Rhodes and Vision both testified. Vision had recovered fully, with the only lasting result being a change in 'skin tone' to brown. He didn't mind. It wasn't easy being green.
A week later, Zemo released the video tapes showing the Winter Soldier murdering Howard and Maria Stark. Tony didn't see it, because he was still under sedation for trauma. Coulson and Fury returned from the dead long enough to track down Zemo and kill him because he'd fucked up their Avengers' Initiative. Zemo laughed while he died.
Clint retired for good, with irreversible nerve damage so bad he couldn't even hit a Nerf target. He spent his days polishing the floors in his home while muttering 'wax on, wax off' to himself.
T'Challa went back to Wakanda and explained that he had been forced to avenge his father's death, but unfortunately for him, Zemo had left evidence clearing Barnes of the U.N. Bombing. When the Council of Elders heard that, they ruled that he must undergo challenges again to prove his right to rule.
His sister Shuri won and became the new ruler of Wakanda and Black Panther. The Dora Milaje had trained her, and they cheered her victory.
(In case you were wondering, Sam Wilson was off looking for the quin-jet when all the shit went down. He ran in a panic, but he didn't speak German and was picked up in a few days. He went to prison and counted himself lucky.)
P.O.V. shifts a lot. I know better, but it was necessary for this particular ficlette.
(The poem Jan recites is: 'Plain Murder', A.G. Prys-Jones, probably written in 1958.)
The Princess Bride Variations:
(Vision to Wanda) Hello. My name is Vision. You killed my father*, prepare to die.
(Wanda to Tony) Hello. My name is Wanda Maximoff. You killed my father, prepare to die.
(T'Challa to Bucky) Hello. My name is T'Challa. You killed my father, prepare to die.
(Tony to Bucky) Hello. My name is Tony Stark. You killed my father, prepare to die.
(Peter to Steve and Natasha) Hello. My name is Peter Parker. You killed my father**, prepare to die.
*Jarvis as a result of her prodding Tony to create Ultron.
**Assuming the Parkers weren't dead, but undercover as SHIELD agents who were killed as a result of the Washington data drop.
"What the hell is going on here? I went to SIBERIA to get some peace and quiet! What do I have to do, go into SPACE?" Rumpled, and bleary eyed, like he'd just woke up, Bruce Banner wandered into the control room. He looked at Tony lying on the floor in a broken suit, at Rogers straddling him with his shield buried in Tony's broken arc reactor, at Barnes' lying off to one side, with his metal arm in a heap nearby. Then he returned his gaze to Tony's bloody face. "Tony?"
"Bruce." Tony looked up from the floor, so relieved to see his old science buddy, probably the only one on the team who had ever seemed to like him, that he wasn't thinking too clearly. "Barnes killed my mom."
"What," Bruce said flatly. His eyes went green.
"No, he didn't!" Rogers said hastily.
"Fuck you, Rogers," Tony said. He gestured at the metal arm. "Barnes beat my father to death with that arm and then he strangled my mom. They were asking for help. Begging. Helpless."
Bruce growled, a deep animal noise. His skin rippled. "No."
"And then Rogers... he didn't care who he hurt to protect Barnes. Even me. He knew about my parents for years, but didn't tell me, so he could keep me paying to search for Barnes."
"Tony, no," Rogers said. He pulled the shield out of Tony's suit and raised it. A large green arm snatched it from him, and snapped it in two. Hulk roared in Rogers' face and then he turned to look at Barnes.
"It wasn't him!" Rogers screamed. "He couldn't help it!" He looked desperately at Tony. "TELL HIM! STOP HIM!"
Tony looked at Rogers. "I was going to arrest Barnes." He took a deep, pained breath. "Hulk. Hey, big guy, can you just... you know... wrap them up safe for the police?"
Hulk growled and cracked his knuckles. "POLICE PUNY. THEY LET THEM GO. ALWAYS LET MOTHER KILLER GO. HULK SMASH."
Rogers ran to Barnes and dragged him to his feet. "I won't let you!"
Hulk laughed in Rogers' face, and reached out to backhand the two of them into a wall. "PUNY. HULK SMASH BOTH. NO FRIENDS."
"Yeah, I know," Tony said. Rogers was struggling to his feet, Barnes was out cold. "But Bruce is my friend. And so are you. I don't want you to feel bad later."
Hulk tilted his head and huffed again. "SMASH BETTER. BUT BANNER CRYBABY." Hulk knocked over some machines and ripped out lengths of wire. He tied Rogers and Barnes back to back, wrapping them up tightly despite Rogers squirming and struggling. Then he walked back to Tony. His brow wrinkled. "NEED BANNER?"
Hulk grumbled and shrank back to Bruce. Bruce blinked and looked around. "Shit."
"Yeah," Tony said. "Lend me a hand getting out of this. I have to figure out a way of contacting authorities to arrest them." Bruce helped Tony out of the wrecked suit.
T'Challa strode in. "No, release them. Sergeant Barnes is innocent."
Tony gave T'Challa a disbelieving look. "What?"
"The bomb was not his doing. I have captured the one responsible."
"Yeah, right. Saw the guy. Good job." Tony straightened and moved away from Bruce's support. "Hand him over, and you can go."
"What?" T'Challa said, looking outraged. "No, vengeance is wrong, Stark! I had almost let it consume me, do not make my mistake!"
"It's been a fucking long day, so I'm not going to ask why you showed up here, and didn't lift a hand to help. I'm not going to ask you anything. I'm just telling you. Barnes is going to be arrested. He's going to stand trial, and be judged by people whose parents he didn't kill. That's as fair as it gets."
"But... I owe him for having mistakenly hounded him," T'Challa said.
"You can pay his attorney fees, then," Tony said. "Bruce." Tony turned to his friend. "Would you mind going to see how T'Challa got here?"
"My jet isn't large enough for passengers," T'Challa said.
"That's fine," Bruce replied, walking past T'Challa. "I'm sure I can figure out your communications system."
Rogers shouted, "Stark's working for Ross! He'll get you, too!"
Bruce glanced back at Rogers. "Wow. You're all concerned about my welfare now, aren't you? Didn't give a damn when you brought Maximoff onto the team, did you?" He shook his head and walked out the door, past T'Challa.
T'Challa opened his mouth, and then he shut it. He frowned and finally said, "I do not understand the situation well enough to judge the right of it. My father would not wish me to compound my thoughtless error. I will wait here with you, until the proper authorities arrive."
Tony nodded. "Great. Wonderful." He slid down to sit against the wall. He closed his eyes. "I'm going to take a few minutes. Just remember, if Rogers convinces you that his hands are the best ones... no one's hands are better than Hulk's."
Rogers was talking, but Tony didn't have to listen to him anymore. Ever again.
Fury rolled his eye at the tentative tone. SHIELD agents shouldn't whimper. Of course, after the fuckup in Washington, natural selection favored the survival of the paranoid and chickenshit. And this man wasn't a field agent; he was little more than a glorified data processor. Cut him some slack. "Yes?" Fury said, in as mild a tone as he could manage while watching a monitor running the shit show with the Accords. He would have expected Stark to be the one flipping off the U.N. not Rogers. It would all work out, of course it would. The Avengers...
"Sir, um. I was going over some of the files from the Washington data dump, and I found something I think you need to see."
"What? That's old news. I've got bigger problems right now. Haven't you been watching?" He waved his hand at the monitor showing Ross giving a PowerPoint to the Avengers... how the fuck Thunderbolt Ross got his nose in the Accords was beyond Fury, but Rogers would handle it. He was the leader, he'd keep...
"SIR!" The not-agent shoved a Stark data pad under Fury's nose. "These psychological assessments were switched. At first I thought it was a stupid clerical error. Stark, Anthony and Steve Rogers. But it wasn't just misfiled. Someone deliberately changed the names and identifying characteristics throughout the reports."
Fury grabbed the data pad and scrolled rapidly. "Fucking Hydra."
"Yes, sir. I found ghost files that hadn't been completely over written. 'Personality overview. Displays compulsive behavior, repeatedly destroying weight bags and obsessively running laps, long past any reasonable exercise needs. Prone to self-destructive tendencies, repeatedly attempted enlistment while physically unable to survive even basic training, constantly incited fights against opponents who far outmatched him, crashed airplane with no attempt at survival although he knew from experience he could survive by jumping at a low altitude. Textbook narcissism, insisted that he was too good to work in support roles but should be a soldier although totally unqualified, claims that his hands are the best without ever studying situations, feels that his is the only opinion that matters, has no ability to see others' viewpoints, becomes immediately hostile at any difference of opinion. Recruitment assessment for Avenger Initiative. Captain America. Yes, extremely well suited to hand to hand combat. Steve Rogers not recommended, no sense of strategy, would refuse to follow but is unsuited to lead as 'boss' attitude would make him hostile to any who do not blindly follow him."
"Fuck." Fury said succinctly. "And Stark?"
"Every good thing we read about Rogers was Stark. Protective, brave, self-sacrificing, tenacious, studied military strategy, empathizes with soldiers, and knows instinctively how to listen to his team and get the best from them, as evidenced by his takeover and complete makeover of Stark Industries, promoting Virginia Potts due to her abilities, accepting Dr. Banner's expertise and the Hulk..." The man looked up at Fury. "Why didn't we see this?"
"Captain America had decades of good publicity, Stark had decades of bad. We see what we expect." Fury closed his eye a moment, reassessing the current situation in light of this information. "Get Romanoff in here." He opened his eye again and looked at the monitor. "Where the FUCK is Rogers going?"
The not-agent did something sneaky and dubiously legal to hack Rogers' phone. "He got a message. I think that Margaret Carter died."
"So? She was old. It happens."
Not-agent looked again at his hacking. "Rogers has called to have a quin jet readied to take him to London to attend her funeral."
"What the fuck? He just WALKS out, without a word? It looks like he turned down the Accords."
"Judging from the personality profile, I expect he will, and drag the rest of the Avengers with him," not-agent said. "Sir? What shall we do?"
Fury stood up. "Goddamn it, I was looking forward to retirement. Send Romanoff after him. Tell her about the fucked up assessments. Tell her to keep the lid on Rogers. I don't give a fuck if she has to kneecap him."
Fury strode into the Siberian bunker, coat swirling angrily behind him. Iron Man walked beside him. "All right, show's over, come out with your hands up," Fury said.
A light came on, showing super soldiers in tubes, like specimens, each with a bullet hole through the case and their heads. Fury grunted. "Fish in a barrel."
Another light turned on, showing Zemo in the glass walled control room. "Where is Captain Rogers, and his best friend?"
Iron Man's helmet retracted. Tony said, "In custody. Like Fury said, it's over. Come on out."
"No. No," Zemo said. "It's not supposed to go this way! The Avengers must die!"
"Yeah, yeah," Tony said. "And probably not of old age. But it won't be you that does it. Are you coming out, or are we going in?"
Fury hefted a bazooka, which he had somehow held under his coat. "I don't mind either way."
"NO! You are not supposed to be here! Rogers betrayed you, Stark! Watch..." Zemo flipped a switch and a video started playing.
Fury stood between Tony and the video. "You don't need to see that. Romanoff told you what she found. What Rogers made her promise to keep quiet."
"Yeah, no." Tony said. "Move. I need to see it."
Fury moved away, and turned to keep an eye, and a bazooka, leveled at Zemo, ignoring the sound of the video playing. "Don't try anything," he told Zemo. "I'm in a really bad mood. Fucking Hydra."
"I'm not Hydra," Zemo said.
"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck," Fury said. "'I'll have them put that octopus on your tombstone, so everyone will know."
"I'm NOT HYDRA!" Zemo shouted. He opened the control room and ran out, aiming his gun at Fury.
Fury fired the bazooka. Zemo was totally fragged. "Oops," Fury said. "My hand must have slipped." He waited until the video went silent, and looked over at Tony. "We done here?"
"Yeah. Yeah." Tony took a deep, shuddering breath. "What now?"
Fury laid a hand on Tony's shoulder. "Now, we start over." He tugged slightly and they walked past the bits of Zemo, heading for Tony's fancy helicopter.
"If I'm leading it, I want a new name. I never liked Avengers."
Fury nodded. "You're the boss."
Now I want a story where Fury's coat and Dr. Strange's cape are best friends.
Also- I don't think Romanoff actually wrote any psychological assessments- she turned her information over to SHIELD to analyze, and Fury just stuck her name on it as a zinger to Tony.
EDIT: A query about T'Challa led me to figuring a few more details:
Since Zemo showed up expecting Rogers and Barnes, he must have got hold of Barnes and triggered him, but since Steve had been kept back by Nat, Steve hadn't taken Sam with him to find Barnes ahead of the German Special Forces.
So Barnes had no warning and was taken into custody at his apartment, denying T'Challa motive or opportunity to chase him.
Zemo had killed the doctor days in advance, and taken his place, so that still happened and he triggered Barnes where he was being held. BUT since Fury now suspected Hydra under every rock, he'd got a bunch of LMDs to play the roles of guards. He wanted Zemo to run, to see where he would go, and what he would do, so he let Zemo think Barnes escaped, but as soon as Zemo was out of sight, Barnes was swarmed by LMDs and brought back into custody.
T'Challa had to be satisfied that Barnes was in custody, and then when the truth about who really bombed the Accords meeting emerged, he was incredibly relieved that he hadn't been able to screw up.
"And I'll call it BARF for short," Tony announced in his workshop a few weeks after the Ultron disaster. He waited, but Friday didn't say anything. "Friday? What do you think of that?"
"It is an acronym, an abbreviation formed from the initial letters of other words and pronounced as a word," Friday replied dutifully, obviously reading it from a dictionary definition.
"Yes, but... do you think it's funny? Stupid?"
Friday said, "It's stupid funny," as if attempting to appease him without understanding the question.
That was the last thing Tony wanted, a yes-man AI. Jarvis... Jarvis would have said something scathing. Jarvis... "Fine. Forget BARF," he said. His parents were gone, and while it would be nice to work on resolving his issues with them, they'd still be gone later. His baby Friday needed him now. Her coding and experience was obviously at a critical stage in personality development. His issues could wait. It wasn't as if replaying scenarios of the past was going to change anything except his feelings. Eh, feelings, they gave him hives.
Tony stood in a Siberian Hydra bunker, looking at a grainy video. "I know that road," he said. Even in the dark he remembered rides with his parents. His father loved that car, and driving. The hum and vibration of the engine was one of his earliest memories. He suddenly wanted that time back, wanted to see his parents, wanted to hug his mother, wanted to talk to his father, try for once to make him proud, even a little bit. After all, Tony had fought at Captain America's side, wouldn't that please the old man? He never got to really talk to him, never got to even pretend to talk to him with the BARF.
And then... a shot. A crash. And... the man, Barnes, the Winter Soldier, dragged his father out of the car and... God. Tony couldn't watch any more. He couldn't see how his mother died. He didn't think about it, just reacted, armor sealed over his head to cut out the sound, turned to face his parents' murderer, and fired both repulsors at full power, sending the Winter Soldier flying, boneless as a rag doll, across the bunker.
He probably wasn't dead. Tony hoped he wasn't dead. He wanted to scream at him. Tony retracted the helmet, concentrating on his mission, and ignoring the sounds of the video. His mother's voice. Her last confused, despairing cries for help.
Rogers, not Steve, never again Steve, leaped to check on the Winter Soldier, to stand protectively over his body. Barnes was tough, he was definitely breathing, Tony noticed in an abstracted way.
"This is why I didn't tell you!" Rogers shouted. He was crying. Tony checked with Friday without actually thinking about it, replaying the view of Rogers as the video had played. Rogers hadn't shed a tear, hadn't so much as looked upset, when Tony's father, Rogers' biggest fan, the man who'd helped Rogers fulfill his dreams, the man who'd flown a fucking unarmed plane through anti-aircraft fire in a war in order to help Rogers save Barnes, the man who killed him and his wife... yeah, Rogers hadn't given a shit about Howard.
"I KNEW you'd try to murder Bucky once you found out!" Rogers screamed. He threw the shield at Tony.
Huh, Tony thought to himself, you knew. Everything went in slow motion. The shield his father made flew towards his face. He leaned far enough away to grab it, and then dropped it to the ground.
Rogers stood up. "I won't let you hurt Bucky!"
Distantly, Tony heard Friday remind him of his objectives, capture, bring in to face justice. "Stand down, Rogers," Tony said. He didn't want to, but he didn't want to hurt Friday's feelings by ignoring her, either. "I'm taking you both in."
"NO!" Rogers shouted again, and he came at Tony. "You can't stop me!"
Tony remembered Rhodey, lying in a hospital bed. He remembered the police, the commuters, the people who just happened to be in the way. He remembered Romanoff letting Rogers and Barnes go, remembered how they broke out of confinement, remembered how easily Rogers swayed people into following him, remembered how Rogers had destroyed SHIELD, getting hundreds of agents and their families killed and hadn't even had to answer for it. He never had to answer for anything. He was Captain America. Someone would always let him go. There was only one thing that would keep him and the Winter Soldier from hurting other people, killing other parents, orphaning other people. "Yes, I can," Tony said. He fired two missiles.
Tony walked out of the burning bunker. T'Challa was standing there, holding Zemo by his collar and looking shocked. "Rogers and Barnes?" he asked.
Tony looked at T'Challa for a long moment. "They wouldn't surrender," he said. He flexed his gauntlets. He was holding the shield in the right one. He didn't remember picking it up. "Does Wakanda want the shield back? It has blood on it." He held it out to T'Challa who simply stared at it in horror.
Secretary Ross said, "Five years ago... I had a heart attack. I dropped right in the middle of my backswing. Turned out it was the best round of my life, because after 13 hours of surgery and a triple bypass... I found something 40 years in the Army had never taught me: Perspective. The world owes the Avengers an unpayable debt." He looked around at the gathered Avengers. "Is there a problem, Mr. Stark?"
Tony stopped rubbing at his shoulder. "Go on, I'm paying attention."
"Just trying to get attention," Sam said, with an eye roll.
Natasha shrugged as if to agree.
Tony dropped his hand away from his shoulder. "Please, Mr. Secretary, continue."
Ross cleared his throat. "You have fought for us... protected us, risked your lives... but while a great many people see you as heroes, there are some... who would prefer the word "vigilantes"."
Nastasha said, "And what word would you use, Mr. Secretary?"
Ross was still looking at Tony, who had resumed rubbing his arm. "Sir, are you feeling quite well?"
Tony shrugged, "My left arm is numb, is that normal?"
Ross straightened and came around the table going over to Tony.
"Oh, come on, Tony," Natasha muttered.
Rhodey gave her a dirty look.
Ross put his hand on Tony's neck. "You feel clammy."
"Hey!" Tony protested, but Ross didn't stop there. He pulled Tony's tie loose and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. "Look," Tony said, "I know 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' has been rescinded, but don't you think this is going too far?" He leaned back in his chair, trying to avoid Ross.
"Shut up, and take this," Ross said, taking a small pill bottle from his pocket.
Tony batted at him. "I don't take candy from strangers, either."
"Mr. Ross," Steve said, "what are you doing?"
"Trying to save Mr. Stark's life," Ross said. "I think he's having a heart attack."
Rhodey stood up quickly and pulled out his phone. "I'm calling for an ambulance."
"This is just a regular strength aspirin," Ross said, with an exasperated expression on his face. "Chew it, don't swallow it whole." He poured a glass of water from the pitcher on the table. "And drink this."
Wanda said, "Why all the fuss? Stark rubs his arm and everyone falls all over themselves?"
"Well, yeah, but if he's having a heart attack," Sam said dubiously.
"I saw a guy have a heart attack once," Steve said. "It wasn't anything like this."
"I'm FINE," Tony protested.
Rhodey put a hand on his shoulder. "You're always FINE, I know, but for my own peace of mind, I'd like an actual doctor to confirm it."
"I can call the suit and have Friday confirm it."
"Your baby AI, that YOU programmed to tell you you're fine? Nope, that doesn't cut it." Rhodey looked up at Ross. "Thank you, sir."
Ross nodded back at Rhodey.
Rhodey told Tony, "Take the damn aspirin."
Tony sighed and took the aspirin and drank the water. A few minutes later paramedics rushed into the room and swarmed around Tony, taking him away with Rhodey following.
Ross turned back to the Avengers. "Mr. Stark has already heard the rest of my summary, so we can continue without him."
"Tony knew and didn't tell us?" Steve said, his eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Mr. Stark told me he set up alerts for all of you on anything concerning the Avengers. The U.N. proposal was just one of the issues you have had ample opportunity to be aware of, but when he was the only one to contact me with further questions in the last few months, I thought it best I give you a personal presentation." Ross nodded at the machinery to one side. "I had thought visual aids might help."
"We're not children," Steve said. "What is this all about? You're right, we don't need Tony here. He's no longer officially on the team."
"Yeah, I gathered that," Ross said. "Let's cut to the chase. For the past four years you've operated with unlimited power and no supervision. That's an arrangement the governments of the world can no longer tolerate. But I think we have a solution." He dropped an inches thick document on the table. "The Sokovia Accords. Approved by 117 countries... it states that the Avengers shall no longer be a private organization. Instead, they'll operate under the supervision of a United Nations panel, only when and if that panel deems it necessary."
Steve said, "The Avengers were formed to make the world a safer place. I feel we've done that."
"Three days from now, the UN meets in Vienna to ratify the Accords. Talk it over," Ross said.
Natasha asked,"And if we come to a decision you don't like?"
"Then you retire."
Natasha smirked at him.
Ross pointed at the document. "Read that, and make your choice."
Five days later Tony was lying in a hospital bed, poking experimentally at a bowl of red jello with a plastic spoon. The door opened, and he said without looking up, "Hospital food is the pits. And I'm so bored. They took away the TV. They wouldn't even let me keep my phone."
"That's because you were blasting rockumentaries, and reprogramming the monitors to say you were good to go," Rhodey said.
Tony looked up, started to smile, but then the smile fell when he saw Rhodey's grim expression. "What? What's happened?"
"Do you want the bad news, the worse news, or the 'Jesus Christ, what were they thinking' news first?" Rhodey paused. "Your heart is ok, now, right?"
"Yeah, my ticker's ok," Tony said. "Flew in Dr. Wu from China to oversee the operation. I'm just waiting on the all clear because they were whining about my sternum. Nothing wrong with my sternum, finest donated pig bone in the world! I almost feel like I should give up eating pork."
Rhodey waited until Tony ran down. "Margaret Carter passed."
"Oh." Tony sighed. "She used to come by when I was a kid. Had a fight with Dad over... I don't even know. And I never saw her again. I'm sorry. Is S.I. sending flowers?"
"Pepper said she'd take care of it."
Tony scrunched up his nose. "She's mad at me, again, isn't she?"
"I'm not getting into the weird relationship you two have," Rhodey said. "Pepper told you she was taking a six week break, and you know, she keeps to her schedules."
Tony nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, ok, I just have to be patient." Tony sighed. "I'm a patient. So, that was the bad news? What was the worse news?"
Rhodey pulled up a chair and sat next to Tony's bed. "Someone blew up the U.N. meeting. Killed a lot of people, including King T'Chaka, the main force behind the Sokovia Accords."
"Jesus Christ," Tony said softly.
"No," Rhodey said. He reached out to take Tony's hand. "That's not the 'Jesus Christ, what were they thinking'."
Tony didn't say anything.
Rhodey took a deep breath. "It was Barnes, caught him on footage. A joint CIA German Special Forces team were assigned by Ross to get him, shoot on sight orders."
"Oh, God. How did Rogers take it?"
"Not well. I waited until I could get the whole story for you." Rhodey tightened his grip on Tony's hand. "Rogers got there ahead of the task force along with Wilson. Rogers and Barnes put down the police with extreme prejudice- not sure how many are going to survive- then T'Chaka's son, T'Challa, chased them through the streets."
"Jesus," Tony said softly.
"Yeah. T'Challa's got a... cat suit. Claws and...vibranium. They're still counting up the civilian casualties. So, well, I was called in and with me and the German police, we managed to round them up. Without killing Barnes."
"So, this is a mess." Tony ran his free hand through his hair. "Maybe we can make a deal, bargain for leniency. Barnes was brainwashed, Steve is still Captain America- doesn't mean squat in the rest of the world, but the US still has pull."
Rhodey shook his head. "It didn't stop there. Barnes and the others escaped."
"Of course they did." Tony let his head drop back against the pillows.
"I've seen security footage. The psychologist who was supposed to assess Barnes triggered the Winter Soldier programming, and in the confusion of his escape, Rogers and Wilson got out and followed him."
"What? How could the psychologist even do that? What did he do, insult Barnes' mother?"
"Turns out the psychologist assigned to Barnes had been murdered. Still don't know who took his place, we're guessing Hydra at the moment."
"So the three of them are on the loose running around in Vienna?"
"Not quite. Barton turned up at the compound, and talked Maximoff into attacking Vision so they could join Rogers."
"Is Vis ok?"
"Pretty much. I think there's a screw loose in his head, though, because he was still all worried about poor innocent Wanda."
"First love, it makes a guy stupid," Tony said.
Rhodey nodded. "So, then it turns out Margaret Carter had a niece in the CIA who apparently had absorbed the Captain America legend from her, and she stole their equipment, the shield and wings, from impound to give them. Because they...I'm not sure about this bit. They were going to save the world."
"From what?" Tony asked.
"Still not sure on that. They went to an airport in Germany where Carter's niece had diverted a CIA helicopter for them. But someone in the CIA got suspicious, so the task force got there, too, and ambushed the team." Rhodey paused. "They wouldn't surrender. The task force had been issued heavy weapons, and... the airport was full of civilians. The force couldn't chance letting them get by."
Tony closed his eyes briefly. "How many?"
"Rogers...he... stood in front of Barnes. Then Barnes. Barton. He tried to protect Maximoff. Maximoff... she just... they had to use extreme force, she was throwing boxcars at people. They took Wilson down as he was flying. Broke his neck. And some other guy, don't know who he was. Grew into a giant. Lucky shot got his equipment, whatever it was, and he just...it was a mess."
Tony shook his head. "God. So... Bruce was right all along, the Avengers was chaos. And what are we now? You, me, Vis- if he's not totally broken by this... Natasha?"
"Well, the good thing is Natasha didn't die. The bad thing is, she was on Rogers' side. I'm going to go talk to her later, after she's out of surgery, try to figure out how this whole fuck up happened."
Tony nodded sadly. "If you ever find out, let me know." Tony heaved a loud sigh, and then sat up. "Ok, enough fooling around, get me someone who can discharge my ass right now."
"Tony, you're not ready," Rhodey said.
"The world's not ready." Tony looked steadily into Rhodey's eyes. "I agreed with the Sokovia Accords, but it wasn't just because powerful people should be kept in check. Trouble is coming, and we need a unified force to fight it. I stepped down from the Avengers rather than destroy the team, but now that they're gone, we need a new team. We need to recruit. We need to train. We need to be ready."
Rhodey stared at Tony for a long minute. "You're sure?"
"Never surer, Sugarbear."
Rhodey nodded. "I know some people. We'll do it. Together." He put his hand on Tony's shoulder and squeezed. "I've got your back."
Tony smiled. "And I've always got yours."
And no one goes to Siberia-- possibly Zemo does.
The security footage will show him as the psychiatrist, and Tony will track him down. Zemo probably would, out of spite, air the video shown in the bunker, but with Rogers and Barnes dead, it wouldn't make much difference to the new team. (Tony would wonder if SHIELD knew, and distrust anyone with SHIELD origins, but that would be about it, I think.)