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Facing Reality

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Though it certainly wasn’t something he would wish on anyone else, Tony sometimes did appreciate growing up in the cutthroat business world and the media spotlight, for the skills it had taught him if nothing else. The ability to make “fuck you” sound like an apologetic statement, the nuances of questioning someone’s intelligence while complimenting them on the surface, and of course, the ability to resist rolling his eyes during serious discussions. He had intentionally forgone these rules and customs many times, but when the situation was particularly serious and he was feeling stressed and upset, he could always fall back on being unfailingly, stiffly polite and formal.

Sitting alone in a room with a bunch of lawyers and discussing the return of the Rogue Avengers certainly qualified as serious and stressful. However, after extensive talks with his team—his real team—and the therapy he’d been going to, he was more than prepared for this. Three years was a long time to be apart, and things had changed. Calmed down. Tony had a support system he knew he could actually count on, a team that really worked together and trusted each other, and he knew he was holding all the financial and legal cards in this game.

One of the most important lessons he had learned over the last few years was how to focus only on the things he could control. He couldn’t stop the US government from getting a bug up their ass about the “image” of American heroes and aggressively pursuing pardons for the Rogues. However, he could take the news gracefully and work to protect himself and his new team from the fallout. He couldn’t stop the Rogues from being rebranded “Avengers,” or a third of the public from lapping up their bullshit and thinking the Avengers were once again one big, happy family. But he could put his personal issues aside and, for the good of the public they were working to protect, treat the Rogues with polite formality.

He was also learning—slowly, with a lot of help from his team—how not to take responsibility for everything. He was slowly but surely learning to let go of his guilt over things he couldn’t change, or wasn’t responsible for in the first place. This had been the subject of quite a few of their discussions when the news came through that the Rogues would be coming back. After a lot of work, Tony could feel firm and justified in greeting the Rogues with professionalism and working with them to transition back into being responsible, regulated superheroes, but not offering anything more than that. He had no obligation to do more, and so he wouldn’t. That was one point Rhodey had been driving further into his head every day.

The others in the room were mostly the liaisons each of the Rogues now had for dealing with their real-world responsibilities as well as the new, revised Accords, which each of them had been required to sign in order to be granted a pardon and return to the United States. Part of the requirements from Germany and Romania for granting pardons to the criminals rather than demanding their arrest and trial in an international court was that they sign the Accords and repay their debts by working for the good of the world. It was a sickening sentiment, particularly to the families of those they’d killed, but a realistic one. Even as rich as he was, Tony had paid a heavy chunk of money to Germany for the destruction he’d caused at the airport, as well time spent personally assisting with the cleanup efforts. Rogers and his crew had caused far more property damage than Tony’s side, particularly those involved in the tunnel collapse in Bucharest, and none of them were billionaires. Even if they worked normal jobs and had their wages garnished for the rest of their lives, none of them could come close to paying for the damage they’d caused.

Naturally, one of the first issues to be addressed was Barnes, because of course Rogers was more concerned about his brainwashed ex-assassin buddy than anyone else. Hadn’t that been what the entire media-coined Civil War was about? A lot of bitter feelings came with the beginning of their dealings with the pardons, but Tony had eventually stamped it all down to focus on working through it all. Barnes himself, after he was taken out of cryo in Wakanda, was surprisingly cooperative. Tony had actually felt for the man; he had been brutally tortured for decades, forced to do horrible things, and finally broke free of his brainwashing, only to be dragged by his old friend Rogers into a fight he didn’t need to be in, causing more damage and hurting more people along the way. It wasn’t long after Siberia that Tony was looking into ways to help Barnes overcome his unprecedented trauma and deal with the Winter Soldier triggers in his head.

After much argument with Rogers, who of course trusted only himself with his buddy despite his utter lack of experience in dealing with psychological trauma, the Accords council was finally able to get everyone to agree. Barnes would be taken under guard to a state-of-the-art psychiatric facility in Nevada. The place was practically a vacation home. Tony had generously flown out some of the top psychiatrists in the world, doctors who specialized in war trauma, cult brainwashing, and memory loss. He also had designs in his mind, though not yet on paper, for a new prosthetic. He’d wait on that until Barnes was declared stable—better to leave him one-armed while there was any chance of triggering the Winter Soldier programming and making him attack his doctors. Barnes would have guards present during any interactions with other people. Everyone who would have contact with him had been thoroughly vetted.

After the initial insanity with the announcement of the pardons and the Barnes situation, it was time for the gritty, stressful reality that the Rogues were coming back to work with them. It was nice enough to be able to send away the man who’d murdered his parents—in body if not in mind—and then helped to beat him half to death and leave him stuck in a broken suit in a freezing Siberian bunker, but he knew it was not going to be so easy with the others, particularly Rogers.

Which led to him here, stuck in a room full of lawyers who asked him for a meeting to discuss the Avengers Compound, now renamed the International Superheroes’ Training Center and Compound. Pepper had wanted his name attached to the building, partly for press and partly to remind people that he owned it, but at the time the Compound was being revamped and they started welcoming in some of Xavier’s graduates, Tony’s name was still too intertwined with the Avengers and their drama. He hadn’t wanted that tainting what he was trying to build.

He was exercising his ability to not roll his eyes to its maximum, listening to these people try to kiss his ass and “hesitantly” ask for what they assumed he would be giving them. Really, access to the Compound at all was a gift he didn’t have to give them, but he would. At least there, they could be watched and would have to conform to the rules.

He resisted sighing, though his tone flattened even more as he stated things they could easily have read in the ISTCC legal paperwork. “As I’ve said before, the training facilities are continually upgraded to match our users’ unique needs and qualities. If any new patron of the Compound has a need for additional facilities, they may request them through the Equipment and Training office. Because upgrades to the space are typically lengthy and require a large budget, the request will be discussed and voted on by the designers, who typically work multiple requests into one design to conserve space and money. Ultimately, design changes need to be approved by me, since I’ll be paying for them, but there is a budget set aside specifically for continual updates to the Compound and we have not yet had a request we couldn’t meet.”

The lawyer currently questioning him—he’d forgotten which one, they all looked nearly identical in their uncomfortable suits—pressed forward with his pointless questions. “And requested upgrades to living spaces are handled the same way?”

Ah, they were getting close to an important topic, finally. It was time to be very clear. “Living space arrangements made out of necessity, for accessibility or containment of mutant abilities, for example, are handled through the E&T office, yes. Personal changes or updates to a living space must be cleared through the design board for safety reasons, but nearly any change is free to be made at the user’s expense. However, those are for individual living spaces, not common lounge areas for daily use by off-site members. Were your clients planning to request updates to common areas?”

There was a brief flash of confusion across multiple faces before they smoothed back out into calculating politeness. “No, I am talking about individual living spaces. It was assumed that our clients would maintain residence at the Compound, as they used to.” There it is, the slight accusation hidden in a question. That the fact that things changed while the Rogues were away for three years is somehow not their responsibility to deal with, but Tony’s.

Tony adopted an expression of mildly surprised understanding. “Oh, I see. Well, there is plenty of living space available and we aren’t planning many more move-ins in the next few years. We typically have notice long beforehand if someone is planning to move in, but we can have apartments furnished and ready for move-in in approximately ten days. The base cost for a Compound apartment is two thousand dollars per month, which I can assure you is quite reasonable considering the costs to run the building. There are additional fees involved with certain services, which are detailed in the rules and regulations for the Compound. I won’t waste your time reading them all aloud.”

There was a long, uncomfortable silence before Marie Jackson, the representative of the new SHIELD branch that would now oversee and take responsibility for the Rogues as a group, opened her mouth. “That is not really in the budget for the group.” She was addressing the liaisons rather than Tony, thankfully. Tony had met her a few times before today; she was a wonderful woman, smart and talented, and had infinitely more patience than Tony himself, which was how she had gotten stuck with the job of making the Rogues understand that they’re now living in the real world, where actions have consequences and things cost money.

Tony’s apologetic expression was genuine this time, though it was only for what Marie had to deal with. “Yes, unfortunately with the costs of maintaining a facility like this, there is simply no way to bring living costs down to what would be considered affordable to the average person. I understand that Dr. Xavier’s students receive some sort of a sponsorship to come and train there, which covers their living costs. Most of our on-site junior trainees are there through scholarships and funds for superhumans as well. If living at the Compound is not in your budget, however, I’m sure you can make arrangements elsewhere. Most of the current active Avengers live off-site, myself included, and I can assure you that daily access to the Compound for training, activities, and meetings is quite simple.”

That brought the lawyers up short. It was logical and there was really nothing they could argue with. Tony wasn’t lying or inflating the costs. The Compound was a bitch to maintain and if he wasn’t getting help from fundraising, superheroes’ charities, and investors, it would be eating him out of his very considerable bank account.

It was obvious to anyone who looked or did a minimal amount of research that Tony was sponsoring Spiderman as well as several of the others, and of course everyone knew that Tony paid for everything related to Rhodes’ Avenger work. But none of these lawyers were quite bold enough—yet—to come right out and ask whether Tony would be spending his personal money on the Rogues like he had in the bad old days. Half of him hoped they were smart enough never to try it, while the other half knew they were all thinking it and wanted one of them to ask so they could get it over with.

After a few moments of silence, another of the liaisons shuffled some papers and cleared his throat. “Well, I’m sure we can… work something out for residence. I wonder if you could further explain the rules on equipment inspection in the paperwork you sent over?”

Tony took a deep breath. Here was another potentially touchy subject. “It’s a safety precaution. Any new equipment, including replacement parts and items like ammunition, must pass a thorough inspection before being brought into the Compound. Even if any members choose to contract with one service for repeated deliveries of the same standard items, each shipment must be inspected before it can be allowed into the Compound. I know it creates a slight delay in delivery and can be a bit of a hassle, but the potential for harm to the Compound and its members is too large to forego these precautions. Equipment can be stored at the Compound once it has been cleared, and if it is taken outside the Compound and then returned after that, it only needs to pass through the basic security inspection done each time someone enters the Compound.”

“What about equipment designed or created at the Compound?” This was asked with slight hesitance. Tony knew where the man was eventually hoping to go with this, but if he didn’t want to get to the point, Tony had no obligation to help him along.

“There are labs at the Compound for these purposes, yes, and they undergo frequent safety inspections. Any raw materials or parts brought in must pass the same inspections as finished equipment, and the same rules about leaving and reentering the Compound apply.”

“So equipment designed within the Compound itself can be freely used within the Compound once it is completed?”

“Yes, but since I assume you’re asking for your clients’ sake, I must warn you that there are strict rules in place regarding the design and manufacture of equipment within the Compound. With few exceptions, all work of the type must be done within approved lab space. Most of the labs are currently being used by myself, other residents of the Compound, or the Stark Industries Youth Science Program. There is some space available for rent, but there are considerable safety regulations to be aware of if your clients are planning to set up a lab area, and anyone they wish to hire to work within the labs must go through very thorough background inspections, which can take up to a month.”

“No, none of our clients were planning to set up lab space of their own at this time.” He was clearly suppressing signs of frustration, and Tony himself was getting a headache. Legal and political maneuvering was exhausting.

“Well, then if you would like to help speed the process of equipment inspection along, you can give a list of the companies that your clients plan to contract with to the Safety and Inspections office at your earliest convenience. Inspection is required for each shipment, but there is also an initial vetting process for any new company and the sooner we can get that out of the way, the sooner your clients can have their gear at the Compound.”

It was clear that everyone in the room understood Tony’s point. Several slightly surprised looks were directed at him. “I was under the impression that you designed and created equipment for the Avengers, Mr. Stark.”

Tony could admire the man’s bold move, and at least they could finally get this out in the open, even if he had to hide it all behind formal, professional language. “I do design and manufacture equipment for myself and several of the other active Avengers, yes. All of them have worked out a contract deal or are compensating me in some way. My responsibilities have multiplied since the last time any of your clients were Avengers. At present, I have very little free time available beyond my already considerable duties that would be open for contracted design work. Also,” he nodded slightly to Marie, “if the living expenses at the Compound are beyond the budget for the team, I highly doubt you would be able to afford to contract with me for weapons or gear.”

Many of the lawyers deflated a bit in the face of this firm reminder that Tony had no obligations to their clients. To cover his ass, the one who had asked the question said smoothly, “Of course, Mr. Stark, I’m sure your duties are considerable. Perhaps we can work something out in the future, but until then, we will have a list of our contracted companies sent to the Compound as soon as we can.” Which Tony knew to mean they would be scrambling to come up with someone as soon as possible, since up to now they had been assuming Tony would be pulling everything the Rogues needed out of his ass.

It had been nearly an hour of this type of back and forth and Tony was progressively losing his patience and his unaffected, professional manner. Thankfully, their time was almost up. Tony looked down at his watch and then surveyed the room, putting on his best important businessman voice. “I’m sorry gentlemen, ladies, but I have another meeting to be at in just a few minutes. I encourage you all to review the policies and procedures of the Compound again, I’m sure they will answer many of your clients’ questions.” In other words, the majority of this meeting had been a gigantic waste of his time. “Are there any more matters to address now?”

“Yes, actually.” This was one that Tony recognized: Kaito Matsui, Wanda Maximoff’s new superhero liaison. Tony had to stop himself from reaching up to grab at the pendant Amilie had given him. He blinked and forced himself to focus as Matsui continued, rather than disappear into sense memories of Wanda’s induced nightmares. “There is a section in the Compound regulations mentioning power suppression?”

Tony took a fortifying breath. He’d almost forgotten about that; it was such a normal thing now, one that all of the responsible people at the Compound accepted, that he’d nearly forgotten that there were some, namely returning Rogues, that would surely throw a hissy fit about it. “Yes?”

His slightly challenging tone made Matsui fidget. The man must have known that Wanda would be unhappy with him for this news, and Tony felt a stab of guilt at putting him in this position—but then reminded himself that this wasn’t his fault, it hadn’t even been his idea, and he wasn’t willing to compromise on this point, no matter what. It wasn’t even a matter of his own safety anymore, thanks to Amilie, but the safety of the rest of the Compound’s residents.

Matsui continued nervously, surely knowing he didn’t have a leg to stand on to argue against this. “Isn’t that a violation of the rights of the members of the Compound?”

Tony leveled a glare at him and let his voice go completely cold. He raised his voice just slightly to be sure the rest of the room was paying him the utmost attention. “The measure was suggested by several of Xavier’s graduates when the mutant training program began. As much as they are in control of their powers, there are always slips, and they all believed that mild power suppression in the common areas, with the exception of training rooms of course, was a helpful solution. The non-mutant magic users at the Compound also appreciate the measures. At the time it was proposed, every member of the Compound and its administrators unanimously agreed on it. Since then, there has been no complaint from the new members.”

Tony stood up, leaned forward and braced his hands on the table in front of him. Most of the lawyers leaned back, away from the ice in his eyes. “Let me make something very clear here. The ISTCC is not a necessity for your clients, and this is not a negotiation. If any of your clients find the rules or regulations of the Compound intolerable, then they are perfectly free to not live or work at the Compound.” He pushed back off of the table and strode to the door. “Please thoroughly review the legal paperwork you were sent with your clients before you schedule another meeting with me.”