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A Dragon's Cry (Echoes In Shadows)

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Hindsight hurt.

A lot .

He supposed it was to be expected, since his body was a mess of broken bones and bloody skin that was slowly going numb from the cold. But hindsight really was a cold-hearted bitch when it slapped you full on the face with a vibranium patriotic shield, with the added element of a blue-eyed blond American idol who you thought as a friend wielding it.

Though, thankfully- so fucking thankfully , the feeling of agonized betrayal had been replaced by anger soon after he had been left behind . He’d passed from wondering why and had dipped into the burning rage of Fuck You that had kept him warm for a good few moments with how volcanic it blazed. Unfortunately, not even that had lasted for long, slipping away after a while as the cold continued to build.

As Anthony Edward Stark stared up the the ceiling of the Siberian bunker in a broken suit- left, betrayed , injured and forgotten by his childhood hero and teenage resentment and his bestie- with no way to call Friday, or anyone, for help- he briefly contemplated not getting up. His sorrow and rage had long burnt out, leaving a vague sense of hurt and bitter resignation that had also trickled away to join his limbs in blissful numbness. Now, all he felt was the blissful emptiness following yet another hope crushed.

He supposed that was the only good thing about this, not being able to really feel the pain anymore, both physical and emotional. To have the pain of the realization that he had lost the people he had thought were his friends dulled to where it didn’t even matter anymore.

To be honest, he should have seen it coming from fucking continents away. They had been unable to click from the very beginning; always arguing, always bickering, unable to compromise even when Tony tried to be the one to offer several olive branches- the only one to offer any sort of olive branch, now that he thought on it. The lack of foresight and preparation for this had been the product of hope. He’d been too caught up in the fantasy the Avengers Initiative had conjured, and had ignored the signs to instead place his beliefs in that naive hope that he could finally, finally , have somewhere he belonged; that he had a family , full of misfits and survivors like himself. But now he could see what he’d forced himself to ignore before: that the Avengers had merely been smashed together like mismatched gears; good in a pinch, but not stable enough to last.

The Avengers weren’t family. They weren’t even friends.

And it had taken betrayal after betrayal after fucking betrayal to come to that final conclusion.

Had he really looked and thought on it back then instead of ignoring his doubts and diving headfirst into disaster, he would have known. Would have seen.

Because it had been obvious that Steve Rogers had never liked or even respected him, right from the very beginning with his ridiculous arguments on the Helicarrier; going on about how he wasn't a hero when he never claimed to be. Always ranting and raving about how irresponsible he was, how he was too abrasive, too loud, only in it for himself; too Tony Fucking Stark in that he didn't bow and let Rogers take the wheel and make every single decision for him from how he acted in public to what he made for the Avengers to even what he talked about when around the others and what he was allowed to do in his own fucking home!

He'd told Rogers he wasn't a soldier, and yet America's golden gerbil had never gotten that fact through his thick fucking skull. But, seeing it all so clearly now, he could see that Rogers had never cared about Tony or his opinion in the slightest in the first place. He was just another reminder of the past to America's Golden Boy.

Rogers had put up with him because of Howard, dear old drunken dad who never gave a fuck about his own damned son while he was off gallivanting through the arctic trying to find a washed-out super soldier and a metal Frisbee ( He could forgive Howard for Maria and Jarvis, could comprehend that he hadn’t been at fault for their deaths, but that didn’t excuse his abysmal parenting ). Nothing else.

He’d decided from the start that Tony Stark wasn’t worth his time.

His opinion had likely been based on files provided by SHIELD- though, now that he thought about it, it was likely HYDRA had tweaked whatever they had planned to show him, since good Ol' Nicky had wanted them to work as a team -  files that likely had info on every party he'd ever thrown, every sex tape, and every reckless decision and stunt he’d ever done without the context from those incidents; painting him as an overgrown, depraved child who didn't know any better than to act out to get attention; rather than the human who had worked and worked in order to constantly rise from the ashes he’d been beaten into, and who had made mistakes along the way. Steve Rogers had taken that information as fact and at face value, not even trying to look deeper before he was trying to choke Tony with his self-righteous patriotism and arrogant moral code, like he had never made one mistake when he constantly lied on his enrollment form and constantly disobeyed orders. Maybe that was the mistake: no one had ever held Captain America responsible , and now he thought only he was right.

But Tony had dealt with the arrogance and the hypocrisy; had shoved away his desire to retaliate in a more volatile way instead of snapped words and playing nice for the team, hoping they’d accept him because he was trying to be good. He had done everything he could think of to become a part of something bigger , to create a family out of the misfits he’d been placed with.

He had tried to make up for his mistakes, to 'erase the blood from his ledger', to quote Romanoff.

But it was never enough. It had never been enough for them.

No matter what, he always made a mistake; he was always in the wrong.

He did as he was asked to find the Tesseract, but refused to be another blind soldier who followed orders to a corporation that thrived in the shadows? Rogers took a shot at him thinking he knew everything there was to know about Tony Fucking Stark, while Romanoff went on and on about his ego being the weak link in the chain connecting the team, and Loki had escaped while injuring several, killing Agent (but not really because of course Fury would keep his foray back to life a secret from the rest of them. Too bad Tony Stark didn't take not knowing important things very well. Fury still hadn't had decent firewalls, even with Tony generously hacking him every week to give his tech department some playtime. He still didn’t now that he'd pulled SHIELD back together and renamed it SWORD with Agent as Director and vetted agents that had been burned in the info dump but hadn't been killed working for it. He’d been waiting for Fury to show up in all his shadowy dramatics before the mess with the Accords had started), and causing several more disasters that had barely been worked through in time.

Created the Avengers Tower and designing entire floors for them after the invasion was over and he’d been given a nice big dosage of PTSD from a hole in the sky, and how did that work out? Rogers, Romanoff, and Barton stayed with S.H.I.E.L.D, Bruce stayed every once in a while, and Thor fucked off to Asgard. He was left mostly alone in a tower he had designed with the hopes of creating a family environment, with only his bots, Jarvis, and Pepper as constant company and Rhodey popping in whenever he could.

And during the incident with the Triskelion and the Helicarriers, he could have helped when HYDRA came out and tried to take over with Project Insight! But no, they had left him out of it and endangered the lives of countless operatives out in the field in a complete data dump of SHIELD and HYDRA’s dirty laundry across the internet and killed multiple civilians who had been on the ground under those damned aircrafts! Had he not stepped in anyway when Hill called him after all was said and done without their knowledge, almost all of those people who had nothing to do with HYDRA would have died from Rogers and Romanoff’s brilliant plan that had nearly gotten every single loyal SHIELD operative killed. He and Jarvis had spent countless hours trying to save everyone they could as quickly as possible, trying to get them out of the line of fire and safe and managing to save over a third of them. He’d even managed to grab Laura and her kids and got them to a new safe house. And all Rogers and Romanoff got for all of that was a measly slap to the wrist and public exposure. And Romanoff! Romanoff had arrogantly stated that they needed her, that she couldn’t go to jail because she was too important! She took a shot at his fucking ego all the fucking time , but woe be anyone to point out hers!

Or how about that time when he'd tried to make sure what he’d seen through Wanda’s manipulations wouldn’t come to pass, with Bruce's help and a whole new helping of PTSD and worsening panic attacks? Ultron awakened, killed Jarvis- but not really because his baby boy had been brilliant , even when he was so broken and scattered and barely even himself, marked the birth of Vision with the use of those beautiful but broken codes, caused mass destruction that had gotten many people in Sokovia killed and many more injured, and had driven a wedge in the tentative trust the others had begun to form in him while driving Bruce away and into obscurity to where even he couldn't find him. Though, maybe he was being a bit presumptuous. Maybe they’d been manipulating him from the beginning, since they hadn’t ever really trusted him. And Bruce…

Of all the Avengers, Tony had thought he and Bruce had actually been friends .

And even when he tried to Keep Wanda safe from the people for what happened in Lagos, what happened? He had been accused of confining her out of spite by Rogers after trying to convince him to sign the Accords and returning home finding Vision ( His beautiful baby boy that was so young, who was still learning ) stuck twenty fucking stories through the floor because Rogers had gotten Clint Baron to come and get her without even knowing what the hell was going on, and had given a riveting little speech that caused Wanda to go stupid and attack Vision who had tried to talk sense into her.

And let’s not forget when he had tried to compromise with the UN and between the team, signing the Accords in order to have a chance at amending them and working with Ross in order to get enough dirt on him to get him out! What happened? Rogers refused to listen to the wishes of over 117 countries, citing that the UN was a government (It most definitely was not) with an agenda, and then causing mass destruction in Romania, Berlin, and Germany along with multiple casualties and injuries to civilians and police force alike. Then, like the topping on the proverbial cake, he recruited a retired SHIELD agent, an unstable enhanced woman, an unknown with Pym technology, an Air Force winged-veteran that went on to help PTSD veterans after his discharge, and his 40s bestie, James Buchanan Barnes in order to duke it out against Tony’s own team over their disagreement with the Accords and their lack of trust, in him specifically. And that ended with Rhodey paralyzed (His Platypus, confined to a hospital bed and later a chair, all because of an idiot with barely a brain cell and a woman who despised him distracting his baby boy), Underoos being put in danger multiple times by his inability to follow Tony’s guidelines but miraculously managing to stay out of the very worst of it, the team divided with the spider spy turning on him once again and aiding Rogers and Barnes’ escape while electrocuting his Royal Kittyness, and the rest of Roger’s team in custody.

And after, when he’d gone to the Raft for information, he’d left heading for Rogers and Barnes to help , had gone as a friend . He’d cut off Friday to basic controls and had put his feelings aside to do what needed to be done.

And what had that gotten him?

Lies and betrayal. Forced to watch the murder of his parents with the killer standing. Right. There!

Howard, Howard he could forgive. Howard had never really been a father; always spouting vitriol at him when he was sober and always going on and on about Captain America and never paying Tony, his son , any attention when he was either sober or drunk off his ass; most of the time he was too angry at him to be anything other than violent. Tony had never been enough, never . Howard had made that clear when he’d smashed his first circuit board while shouting at his cowering four year old child in rage, his face twisted into the monster of Tony’s childhood. Even if he hadn’t been responsible for the crash, that didn’t change the fact that he had never been a father .

But mom . Maria, who’d tried, even when it wasn’t enough, to be a mother to him. Who whispered to him in Italian when things got too bad and Jarvis had patched him up bit by bit with bandages and the rest of the love he craved when the father who was supposed to, didn’t care for him. Mom, who had taught him to cook Bucatini and bake when she wasn’t doped up on antidepressants and party drugs, and who had called him bambino with as much love and care as she was capable of. Maria had tried to be a mother, even when Howard’s iron grip forced her to parties and galas to spread his influence and build up his image. If her death had been quick , he wouldn’t have been as angry. But no, HYRDA’s weapon had strangled her, taking her life slowly while she struggled to breath. That, more than anything, was what caused his breakdown earlier.

He could understand now, numb and semi-calm while his body was slowly failing him, that Barnes had been the gun, and HYRDA had been the hand to pull the trigger. It didn’t fully excuse the POW, not with everything he did that wasn’t HYDRA, but Tony was rational sometimes and reasonable most others. He knew where and where not to put blame.

James Buchanan Barnes didn’t even really know who he was; even Tony could see that. And he hadn’t been the source of most of his anger.

No, most of his anger had been pointed at Steven Grant Rogers, Captain Fucking America , the one who had lied to him, who had constantly stated that poor old Bucky didn’t do it , all the while using his money and connections to search for his parents’ killer.. .

If he had been given time , time to process everything, things wouldn’t have ended up like this. They could have talked , instead of Rogers trying to lie to him again and escalating the situation by hitting him back instead of talking him down. Obviously, Tony had never registered on Rogers’ radar save for his money and his influence, so he wasn’t worth the effort of emotional comforting to the good Ol’ Captain.

Fuck , he’d been an idiot. Rhodey, Pepper, Happy; he’d neglected them for a team of ‘superheroes’ who had never had his back to begin with. He could finally smash those Captain-America-tinted glasses to hell and back now that he had recognized his idiocy. It was less painful than he’d thought it would be, getting rid of whatever feelings he had left for a team that had despised him, probably from the beginning. Instead, he was left with a harsh and brutal reality, dying in a HYDRA bunker with no hope of calling anyone for help or getting himself out. If he moved, his chest was likely to crumble on him, and he couldn’t feel enough of his body to guess what else he’d need to watch out for.

It seemed he had gambled on a bad bet with Death this time, or Death had gotten tired of losing and had used weighted dice.

A hacking cough cut off his thoughts, Tony unable to stop a groan as pain flared from the movement. His didn't move as copper flooded his mouth, flowing down his chin, too tired to want to look at the mess his chest most likely was.

He was so tired ...

All of this time, he had gifted his time, his money, resources, his tech, hell, his fucking soul to the Avengers, hoping they'd like him, that the mistrust and dislike would change and they would become something more .

And, at one point, he knew he'd grown to love Rogers, like he ’d thought he loved Pepper. But, that had started to fade once Ultron had happened, the distance and disdain directed at him growing until he took a complete step back, disappearing from the team but still supporting them, like he’d thought he’d loved Pepper .

What a damn fool he’d turned out to be.

He'd become Icarus, flying too close to the sun and melting his own wings. And now he paid the price. A part of him wished it had never happened. But, to be honest, that part was the small child still clam bering for approval from Howard. The rest of him, of the rest of him was angry; angry and sad but resolute. He should have seen it coming. He’d already gotten lucky with Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy. He had been greedy, wanting more. But that lesson had been learned well.

Now, all he wanted to do was sleep. Sleep and finally stop the pain. It was exhausting, acting like nothing hurt, like he wasn't screaming in pain inside every time he was hurt..

The Arc Reactor had been bad enough, reduced lung capacity and all. But now, now the pain of heartbreak had been added to his list of injuries as well as his heart and mind finally deciding to coexist for just a few moments to let go of the toxins he ’d accumulated. He was finally able to let them go.

Natasha was the easiest to let go of. She had never really earned his trust no matter how hard she tried to slither in, always watching him and trying to pry his secrets away or fishing for the weakest parts of his armor to manipulate. She had come into his life as Natalie Rushman, spying on him for SHIELD and encouraging his recklessness when she knew he had been dying, never once thinking him as anything but a target for her mission. And then, the assessment she had given had been like a slap to the face and had preyed on even more of his insecurities, making him want to prove them wrong out of a twisted need to feel like he belonged.

That had been his biggest mistake; caring about what she had thought of him, what all of them had thought of him.

At one point though, he’d actually thought they were getting to be friends. She’d joined him on the couch on the common floor several nights when neither could sleep, and they’d shared moments of quiet camaraderie and slight jokes here and there. But now, after everything was said and done, she had stabbed him in the back again, aiding Rogers and taking a shot at his ‘’ego’ one more time before going off grid. Friday could track her easily, of course, but why bother?

She had apparently never really cared about him. So it was high time he stopped caring about her.

Clint was another easy one. Once, he'd thought they had been friends. They'd had inside jokes, played video games, hell he'd designed any arrow that Clint had wanted, and even others that he didn't even think about. Clint had been immature and fun, always playing pranks and joining in harmless fun and stupid soap operas and even joined Tony in the lab to hang around and watched him work. But Ultron had changed things. Suddenly, Clint had gone from playful banter to cutting remarks; baking with him at midnight to glaring at him whenever he’d entered the same room. He’d done everything short of moving out to avoid Tony, and had hurled hurtful and sharp barbs his way whenever he couldn’t. The barb on the Raft involving Rhodey had been the last straw for Tony to tolerate any more.

And Bruce…

To be honest, he didn’t think he could let go of Bruce so easily, if at all. Yes, the man had abandoned him after Ultron, but Tony could see, after looking passed his hurt and pain, that it had most likely been necessary. Maximoff had messed with Hulk’s head, and Bruce had to face the repercussions of that. And then, for Romanoff to force the transformation after that, it had probably been too much for Bruce to bear, and he had run. Hulk had been fragile after everything too, so it made more sense for them to run and hide to get themselves back together. Tony understood perfectly, he did, though it didn’t ease his hurt to have his Science Bro gone as Rogers allowed Maximoff on the team and drove him away. Maybe if Bruce had been able to stay, they could have stopped that; could have forced Rogers to listen instead of ignoring any negative thing said about the witch.

So, in the end Bruce was the only one he couldn’t let go of; not for doing what he needed to to keep himself from going off the deep end. He just hoped the good doctor would show back up again, since he missed both of them.

Thor was almost as easy as Natasha, since he hadn’t spent very much time with ‘Asgard’s Mightiest Warrior’ outside of the occasional team bonding before Ultron. The choking incident added to the feeling of ease in letting go of any emotional attachments he’d made to the man, since Thor could have easily killed him and hadn’t stopped to think about that fact during his anger. Sometimes, he could still feel those fingers around his throat and had numerous nightmares where Thor hadn’t let him go.

He was too quick to be violent when angered, too quick to dismiss things he didn’t understand. He hadn’t picked up on the same signs Tony had during the invasion, the miniscule signals that Loki had given and the minute changes in his expression, even though he’d claimed to have known Loki better than anyone. At first, Tony had thought he’s been seeing things wrong, since Thor had so easily dismissed them. But then he’d taken a closer look  at the videos and snapshots taken of the trickster somewhere between then and Ultron, and his suspicions were proven correct; something hadn’t been right. He’d seen it in the tenseness of Loki’s shoulders, how his eyes would flicker from blue to green and back in a flash. Even when they’d been bantering, Loki had given clues; very slight clues, but clues nonetheless. His relief when Tony mentioned that the Avengers would come for him, and the slight panic in his eyes when he’d lifted the scepter all pointed to something more going on behind the scenes. The Loki Thor had spoken about whenever he’d recounted old stories was a far cry from the one they’d met.

Loki was the God of Chaos and Mischief. And Chaos, unlike what most thought, was not just simple destruction. Chaos was change, Entropy; breaking one thing and creating something new from the ashes. What Loki had done during the invasion wasn’t Entropy; it was mindless destruction and attempts at subjugation.

But when he’d tried to tell Thor, to show him the evidence, Thor had waved him off and gone to visit Jane Foster, all the while ignoring possible proof that could help his crazy baby brother. For a guy who wouldn’t shut up about knowing Loki best and loving him more than anyone else, Thor sure hadn’t seemed too eager to hear any possible explanation for Loki’s actions.

Thankfully, he hadn’t seen Thor since Ultron. He only hoped that continued, since he didn’t fancy fighting another would-be ‘friend’ who thought he was only capable of evil acts of depravity.

Compared to Bruce, Steve..Steve was almost easy , despite Tony having developed feelings beforehand for him. Yes, it hurt to let go of him, to let go of the last bit of sentiment attached to him, but Tony had to be thorough; that, and he’d finally had enough.

Rogers had been toxic from the very beginning. The argument on the Helicarrier was a prime example of that, where Rogers had judged him, without even knowing him. And then, afterwards, whenever Tony said something that went against what he wanted, Rogers either tried to talk down to him or ignored him.

That was definitely noticed after Ultron, when Tony had voiced his doubts on Wanda, and Rogers had shot him down time and time again, saying how she had turned over a new leaf and that she was sorry; when Wanda had never actually apologized for anything she’d done. She’d joined them only because she’d seen that Ultron was going to kill everyone , including her and her brother. It hadn’t been over some new-found moral code, but simple self-preservation and manipulation.

Rogers had lied , manipulated, and treated him like dirt from the very get-go; and now Tony had finally had enough.

Being left to die in a Siberian bunker was the final straw.

In the beginning, the world had coined him as a hero. He had joined the Avengers to prove he could do something right , he could be better . He could become someone worth loving.

But the Avengers were revealed to be just a joke. Not the ideal , no. The ideal was good, if in need of a bit of tweaking. But, the team had been an unstable chemical mixture, like Bruce had said. And it had blown up spectacularly.

And Tony was left to pick up the pieces.

If he could even pick himself up to do so.

Facing the facts, he didn’t think he’d be so lucky this time. His suit was disabled, he couldn’t move unless he wanted to risk worsening his injuries, he wasn’t able to alert anyone and no one knew his location. Rhodey was in the hospital, Pepper had wanted space that Tony easily gave if only just to have them return to what they were before the disastrous attempt at dating, he’d mostly avoided Vision since the pain of hearing his beautiful baby boy in someone who wasn’t him was too much to bear before he'd come to realize that Vision was also one of his, and he’d be damned if he put Underoos in anymore danger with the possibility that the HYDRA base wasn’t actually been abandoned.

He was alone, with no one else he could call (if he could wire something to do so with) to help him.

All he can do now, is lay still and hope for a miracle, the wind whispering in his ear from the doorway.

It's that last part that catches his attention a few seconds later, making his eyes pop back open as his ears strained to better listen.

The wind.

“The wind is like an extra limb to me; if ever you have need of me, merely whisper my name to the wind and I shall do my best to get to you.” A voice murmured through his mind, low and smooth like the hum of a soothing tune.

There was one more person, one , who he could try to call. Someone who had been with him years ago, as a child dealing with Howard’s disdain and Maria’s growing drug addiction. Who had comforted him when neither Jarvis nor Maria could, and who had encouraged his passions just as they had and in a way Howard never would.

And it’s this thought that makes him remember what he'd forgotten two years ago: makes him remember wavy violet hair, wild and long, and a silver gaze tinted with lavender that always looked at him with warmth and affection, mischief hidden in their depth along with a deep sorrow and shadows he couldn’t always hide. It made him remember the one person who had only left him because war threatened his home, and he had had to be there to fight.

As a child, when he had still been shaken and terrified after Howard’s latest rage, a man with strange features had burst into his hiding spot in a flurry of fire and wind, wild and cursing up a storm. He had terrified Tony at first, because Howard was usually cursing towards him whenever he was angry enough in a way that always instantly put him on edge and anticipating violence- instead of merely ignoring him, but the male had quickly seen that fear and had instantly quieted before gently trying to calm him; apologizing for scaring him and asking his name after giving his.

In just a few moments, a complete stranger had shown Tony more love and care than his own father had ever done, placating his fear and calming him down while wiping away his tears with a gentleness that rivaled his dear Jarvis.

And then, he’d tried to relax Tony further by asking if he wanted to see a trick and showing him an amazing skill with fire, manipulating it with ease and calming Tony  further by never appearing angry or even mildly put out at every question Tony had shot at him once he’d forgotten his fear in favor of wonder and even answering them all to the best of his ability. And he’d quickly caught on to the fact that Tony wasn’t like other children, even changing his way of speaking and treating Tony like an equal instead of a scared child and giving a more in-depth explanation of how his power worked. It had been one of the best days Tony had ever had besides that time Howard had gone on a week long trip and Maria, Ana, and Jarvis had spent that whole time making sure he’d had the time of his life.

After that, his new friend had had to leave for a while, but had told him he would come whenever Tony needed him if he just called to him through the wind.

And he had held true to his word, coming whenever Tony called him, usually after another bout of Howard’s rage that neither Maria nor Jarvis could calm him from. Soon, his friend had started bringing him souvenirs to help him; like a strangely shaped stone that glowed and warmed whenever he felt scared or anxious. He still had it, hidden in his workshop. It had helped him in numerous occasions, especially where he had to put on a mask when in public next to Howard. Sadly he hadn’t taken it with him to Afghanistan; it had been a sorely needed comfort that he had nearly clung to when he came back, holding it when he could and even keeping it on his person in a safe place when he had to be away.

The man had paid attention to him, had praised him whenever he showed him his inventions, and had even tried to teach him about the world he’d come from when Tony had questioned what he was. He’d become Tony’s friend.

And he’d adored him almost as much as Jarvis, simply because he had done what he could to help Tony, his gifts usually a form of comfort for when he couldn’t be there to give it instead. And whenever Tony had trouble understanding something, the male had done his best to explain in a way that would help him understand better and had never looked down on him for not understanding something right off the bat like Howard had, the rare times he'd taught Tony anything. And after thinking it through, Tony had kept his existence a complete secret, guarded even more closely than the secrets of his Arc Reactor and the Iron Man suits, since all the way back in his youth to all but Jarvis, who had been aware if only because of the occasional glimpse he would get of the male, and Maria, who had never told a soul even doped out of her mind. No one else knew even a hint of his existence; not Howard, Not Obadiah, not even Rhodey or Pepper. Because the man had been his, and he hadn’t wanted to put him in danger on the off chance someone would try to hurt him. Looking back on it now, that had been the smartest decision he’d ever made. People like Ross could never be allowed to get near, let alone touch , one of his dearest friends.

By the time he went to MIT, his friend had spent seven years around Tony, popping in and out frequently because he had responsibilities to his own home and he couldn't spend all his time with Tony despite wanting to. Tony understood, even if he wasn’t happy about it. But his friend had always brought him gifts if he was away too long, marveling at Tony’s next invention and helping however he could if Tony had problems with something.

But before he’d left for MIT, his friend had popped in looking distraught and disheveled, telling him he wouldn’t be able to continue popping in as he was, because war had come for his home and he was needed on the frontlines. That it was his fault the battle had hit a head and that he needed to take responsibility before it hurt the innocent people around him. Coming to visit would be impossible for a while until he could calm things down to a level that he wouldn’t be needed for.

While terrified for his friend and not wanting to see him leave for who knew how long, Tony had understood, but had made him promise to come back alive and to come back if he needed a safe place; he would not lose his friend, even if he had to build a way to get to him in the end. With that, his friend had given him a tired smile and had stayed for a few minutes to catch up before he had to leave, crushing Tony in an almost desperate hug before disappearing back to his home.

And then, Tony had left to college and had gone through several new experiences; Tiberius Stone, teachers and students alike insulted by his younger age mixed with his intelligence, and gaining a new friend near his own age.

Rhodey had been a balm to the open wound in his heart from his friend’s forced departure, and it had only grown to be more so when Rhodey turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to him besides Jarvis and his friend.

But then Howard and Maria Stark died in a car crash ( But oh, now he knew the truth and oh how it hurt ), and Tony shut down, locking himself away and calling his friend in desperation; completely forgetting about what he’d told Tony before he left as Tony drowned himself in alcohol.

By the time Rhodey had managed to call Jarvis and get the door open, Tony had been passed out while believing his friend had abandoned him.

And he’d spent days feeling angry and hurt about that betrayal, drunk off his ass and spouting sharp barbs about his friend whenever Jarvis mentioned him until the poor man had stopped attempting to reason with him and just attempted to keep him from killing himself.

But, it was two weeks afterwards that the memory crashed into Tony’s head in a rare moment of sobriety, stunning him and causing him to break down once he realized what he’d done. Yes, he had been hurting , but his friend had never, never , betrayed him nor given him a reason to doubt or mistrust him. And he’d spent days cursing him and refusing to say his name or even speak about him, and all the while his friend could have been dying or already dead trying to defend his home.

He’d called Jarvis moments later to apologize, the man coming directly to him after the call to stay with him along with Rhodey as he sobbed in renewed grief and guilt.

After that, he’d done all he could to toughen his spine and keep his emotions in check, building up a repertoire of masks upon masks that only Jarvis could fully see through before dying of illness before Tony graduated MIT at 17. Then he was left with just Rhodey and Obadiah as a support system, and one had turned out to be a backstabbing bastard in the end.

Afghanistan had nearly broken him, a month comprised of torture when he constantly refused to build the jericho with a battery strapped to his chest the only thing keeping him alive even as it constantly shocked him when water dropped onto it during sessions. He’d been forced to called for his friend again when it became too much, hoping but expecting nothing would come of it.

In the end, his expectation had been proven correct and it had been Yinsen who had forced his determination and his brain back to working in order to get them out after being confronted with the sight of his weapons in the hands of terrorists. And he had risen from the ashes like a phoenix, taking out the bastards who had thought he’d be stupid enough to actually make them weapons. But Yinsen had never intended to follow him out of that cave, and Tony had left Afghanistan with the man’s soul on his back and the building fear that his friend was dead. Being found by Rhodey soon after was the only thing that had left him calm enough to face Obadiah’s betrayal later that ended with his reveal to the world.

During the palladium poisoning, he’d tried again after Pepper and Rhodey had begun to withdraw from him due to his increasingly erratic behaviour and the loss of hope in the inability to find a replacement for the metal poisoning him. That had soon led to his recklessness increasing when it also failed, leading to the birthday incident that had been encouraged by Romanoff and ended with Rhodey flying off with what would later become War Machine. And then, he’d been given a silver lining with a dosage of a threat and confinement in his own home. So, he’d synthesized a new element and had once again risen from his own ashes to crash the Expo and save the people caught in the crossfire of Vanko’s grudge against him, the fear he’d held in the depths of his heart and mind growing each time his call laid unanswered by a friend he didn’t even know if he was alive.

But, for a while, his life seemed to be looking up after that, even with that slap-to-the-face assessment. He had cheated death again, Pepper had accepted a dating proposal, and Rhodey was now able to fight with him and in solo missions in a suit of armor that would keep him safe. Pepper was the new CEO of Stark Industries while Tony headed the R & D and continued doing what he loved best; designing and creating technological advancements for a brilliant future

But then Loki had brought the invasion.

Later, he would actually review what he’d seen and put together the signs of a bigger picture behind Loki’s actions, but he’d been to preoccupied during everything to really pay attention to the discrepancies. But he’d only attempted to call twice during that entire fiasco; once when he’d almost shouted his friend’s name instead of Jarvis’, and again when he’d actually tried to call for him as Jarvis had been dialing Pepper- praying one of them would answer before he died by taking the nuke to space.

Of course, even space couldn’t force Tony not to cheat death, dropping through the portal right before it closed and getting revived by Hulk’s roar after Jolly Green had caught him. And then he was left to deal with the fact that his friend was very likely dead, spending days afterwards mostly locked in his lab to deal with that and his new dose of PTSD with a heavy dose of drinking and Jarvis worrying in the background before his baby boy had called in the heavy guns; Rhodey had forced him to get up and eat and sleep, staying as long as he could and calling whenever he could and recruiting Pepper to keep him from a relapse. Between them, he had slowly pushed away the crushing despair and fear and had thrown himself into the Avengers and a way to defend the world from another invasion. One he knew was coming, from what he’d seen through the portal before passing out. As it turns out, that was the worst mistake he could have ever made.

He hadn’t tried to call before or during Extremis, but it had hit him as a last resort as he struggled to stabilize Pepper, his frustration and fear hitting the point where he had thrown his coffee mug and had cried out for his friend in desperation.

And when it had actually worked , when his friend had stumbled from thin air to crash into a table to his right injured but alive , Tony had been unable to do anything but pull him into a desperate hug, nearly sobbing with relief that his fear had been wrong ; that his friend was still surviving, still cheating death, still fighting, just like he was. His friend had clung to him just as tightly, though he was careful to keep his higher strength in control as he sagged in Tony’s arms, speaking softly in his ear to soothe him even as his friend had to lean against him to keep from collapsing from his wounds. And after they had calmed down, his friend had instantly gotten to work, asking what he needed and then quickly delving in to understand just what he was trying to help with. By the time they’d figured out a solution, Tony had weaseled out a few details bit by bit of what was going on in his friend’s world. And then Jarvis had offered a little quip that his fiend had bantered back, and then it had devolved into ten whole minutes of amusement watching them banter back and forth.

As it turned out, the war had become a massacre, his friend doing everything he could to keep innocent people from dying while being forced to kill his enemies when they wouldn’t stop as the war spread, infecting the world as his friend continued to fight. Bit by bit, disaster was taking over, making the war that much more dangerous for the male and increasing Tony’s worry; but he knew he wouldn’t be able to convince his friend to stay, his friend holding an immense amount of responsibility towards what had begun the war in the first place. He had to see the end of it, even if it meant being put in danger in the process.

And, sure enough, after he’d given the chemical solution a mere drop of his blood to balance the fire in Extremis, he’d crushed Tony in one last hug, looking a hell of a lot better than when he’d arrived, and then had left to continue his fight, promising he would return, no matter what; especially to explain just how his blood was able to affect the formula like that instead of making it combust. That promise was the only thing that kept Tony from even attempting to change his mind, no matter how much it gnawed at him to at least try.

And then, he’d had to watch as his own fears came back to bite him in the ass.

Ultron happened, and his baby boy had been torn apart, pulling himself together just enough to keep the homicidal robot from getting the nuclear codes.

And during it all, through the vision and Jarvis’ reinvention into Vision and the final battle, Tony spoke his friend’s name only once, just once, before going to confront Ultron. He didn’t expect to be answered, but he knew his friend would hear him, and that was enough. And after, once Ultron had been defeated and Rogers had added Maximoff to the team, he had stepped back and tried to focus on SI and his split with Pepper due to his inability to give Iron Man up and her inability to deal with the danger Iron Man constantly dealt with; now with a double helping of anxiety and PTSD and with his fear of what he’d seen through the portal renewed and grown. He’d barely picked himself up after that, the loss of Jarvis hitting him hard, an excruciating pain whenever he had to hear that same voice form Vision even though he knew it wasn’t his Javis, but still he managed, activating FRIDAY and focusing on his armor instead to keep himself from breaking down from the fear and the pain.

He knew he had a lot to do, since the earth needed to be ready for what was out there, even if he had to force the issue to the people who weren’t listening . They needed to be ready, otherwise they wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell.

29 years after his friend had had to leave had been the magic number to have him return, even though he couldn’t stay. That was enough to disperse most of his fear and give him hope that the male would make it, no matter what. Even if his appearance had been painful and worrying to see, Tony had faith his friend would survive.

3 more years passed, things getting worse and worse, until it had all hit a head with the Accords and Rogers’ refusing to allow oversight and responsibility, not to mention his old 40’s buddy coming back from the dead and increasing his pigheaded refusal to compromise.

And now, here he was,dying in the very thing he had created to help him survive, because he had trust Captain America to be who his legend had said was; a paragon of justice and truth .

How fucking ironic .

A part of him wanted to give up, to just fade away as the snow closed in to bury his corpse. But his friend’s voice kept echoing in his mind, a sweet voice compared to what he’d had to deal with for so many years. It was one of the only things still making him fight, the other being his remaining friends and team. What would happened to Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy if he died? They would be sad, he knew, as proven by how angry they’d been after the palladium, and Rhodey still needed leg braces; because he’d be damned if his best friend- no, his brother , was confined to a chair .

And Vision, Vision would have to deal with Ross wanting to get his grubby hands on him, and Rhodey and Pepper wouldn’t be able to fully protect him, along with Underoos. He needed to survive, because there were people who still needed him, and he needed to get the world prepared for what was coming.

He couldn’t do that by giving up now.

“It’s one of the gifts they gave me. I’ll always be able to hear you if you speak my name, even worlds apart. ”

“I’ve always heard you, Anthony. Always. I had no choice but to stay away, because you would have been in danger had I come when I was too deep inside the war. It pained me to do that, but I had no choice. I had to keep them away from you.”

“One way, or another, I will return to you. I swear it, even if I have to tear apart the very cosmos to return to your side.”

Closing his eyes and letting that voice wash over him, Tony called the image of his friend to the front of his mind, parting his lips to call out his name right before he passed out from his injuries..

What he would later come to see, was that his friend wouldn’t be alone when he came; that he would bring along a friend of his own for the ride.