The thing is… Tony Stark should have died in Afghanistan. If the bomb didn’t kill him then having what was essentially open heart surgery in a cave without anaesthetic should have done it. Between the shock, the filthy conditions and just the surgery itself, there are a hundred things that could have… and perhaps should have… killed him. Getting water into an electromagnet wasn’t exactly fear of death free either. And crashing an experimental armour into the desert from a fairly decent height? Yeah, that should have done it as well.
Not that Afghanistan was the first place where Tony had shown a surprising lack of actual dying. There was the copious amounts of alcohol and drugs and general reckless behaviour after his parents and Edwin Jarvis died. That should probably have killed him several times over. Not to mention that car accident when he was twenty-five that he walked away from without a scratch, much to the shock and surprise of the police and paramedics who’d attended. All throughout his life, Death had shown a remarkable reluctance to claim him.
As he lay in the cold and dark of the bunker in Siberia, Tony wondered whether this was the time, whether this was the place and reason, that he would finally meet his maker. Not that he really believed in a maker but the phrase rolled off the tongue nicely. He could feel the way things were grating unpleasantly in his chest, bone against bone, in a way that shouldn’t be happening. He could feel the way his heart was labouring, the way his chest hurt like it was about to explode… or possibly implode, he couldn’t tell, and the way the cold seemed to creep in, inch by inch. He’d had some lucky escapes before, he’d even had some astonishingly unbelievable escapes before, but this… this seemed somewhat final.
As a darkness slowly crept over his vision and he felt an odd but not unpleasant numbness crawl over his body, he found himself not minding so much. Death didn’t seem that bad, almost pleasant even. As everything faded away into black, Tony gave in to it, gave in to death.
…only to wake up to bright lights, starchy sheets and the sound of machines beeping.
Tony sighed and forced his eyes open to the familiar sights of a hospital room. Even a well-appointed room in an expensive hospital (as this undoubtedly was) still had that depressing hospital smell and feel to it. And not even the nicest bed or carpet could disguise the machines.
“Ugh,” he said, letting his head sink back into the pillow, the question as to how and why he was alive fading from his mind as quickly as it always did.
He rolled his head to one side and saw Rhodey sitting beside his bed in a wheelchair. It was a sharp and biting reminder that the shit show they’d survived had exacted a high price.
“Hey, platypus,” he said, grimacing at how hoarse his voice was. “How long?”
“Four days, you jackass,” Rhodey growled, though the tears in his eyes spoke a different story.
“Well, shit,” Tony said, levering himself into a slightly more upright position.
Every part of him ached but his chest more than the rest. He looked down and then hooked a finger into the neck of the robe he was wearing. Looking down at his chest was a lot like when he woke up in Afghanistan, except without the actual arc reactor being there. There was a bandaged wrapped around his chest, mummy-style, but bruises leached out from both above and below the bandage.
“Ow,” he said reflectively. He was fairly sure things should be much, much worse. That was certainly what his memory told him and yet… all he could see was the bruises and all he could feel was the bone deep ache that those kinds of bruises tended to leave.
“Tones,” Rhodey said and the sober tone of his voice made Tony look over at him in surprise. “What happened?”
There was a momentary urge to be flippant, to blow off what had happened with a few jokes and try and forget it ever happened. To do damage control like he always did and paint everything in the best light he could. But another glance down at his chest and then one at Rhodey’s wheelchair and that urge died as quickly as it had arisen.
None of this had been about the Accords, none of Steve’s actions had been about the Accords. He’d let himself get blinded to that. He should have realised right from the start that there was something more going on. Steve and Sam had objected too quickly. They hadn’t even pretended to read the Accords, they’d just rejected them out of hand. He should have realised something was wrong back then. Maybe if he had, if he’d done a few hours of digging instead of running around like a headless chicken, trying to stem the flow of metaphorical blood from the myriad number of wounds Steve kept causing, he might have realised that this had never been about the Accords.
It had always, always, been about Barnes.
He wondered how long Steve had known about Barnes’ involvement in the deaths of his parents. His guess was since SHIELD had fallen since that was when the Winter Soldier had made his appearance on the scene. No wonder Steve had turned on him. They’d never been the best of friends but there had been something there, after New York, something that Tony had hoped would turn into friendship, had even thought it had for a while. But after DC, Steve had been… distant. Not obviously but the distance had been there.
Was that why Steve had turned on him during the Ultron affair? Why he’d been so willing to believe Wanda and turn Tony into the bad guy? Had it been less because he truly believed that but because it gave him a way of shoving an irretrievable wedge between Tony and the rest of the team, sufficient that Tony actually followed through on his idle thought of stepping back to get a handle on his PTSD? (Not that it had helped, he’d just ended up with a whole new plateful of PTSD.) A means to ensure that Tony was out of the way but still paying for everything?
Is that why Steve had forced Wanda down everyone’s throats, even though it cost him his two heaviest hitters on the field? Because if he could gloss over Wanda’s background and get everyone to buy it, if he could get people to accept a willing HYDRA volunteer as a redeemed Avenger, then he’d have no trouble convincing everyone about his BFF, who had been an unwilling HYDRA victim?
And given how things went down in DC, did that mean Natasha had also known about Barnes and his parents’ murders?
Once he would have tried to put the best light on all of that, tried to convince himself that he was reading too much into it, that Steve was a good man. Now, he knew better.
Steve was just a man. With all that entailed, good, bad and ugly.
Unfortunately, Steve hadn’t gotten that memo and when his bad and ugly raised its head, he didn’t allow himself to recognise it and it was amazing how many other people got hurt or killed by it.
So, once upon a time… Tony would have brushed this off, made flippant remarks, swallowed his pride and smoothed things over at his own expense but not anymore. Some things just couldn’t be brushed under the carpet.
With that in mind, he turned to Rhodey and told him everything. From the immediate aftermath of Rhodey’s fall at the airport to the final moments in the bunker in Siberia before he blacked out. He let Rhodey curse and rail at Steve and the others then, when his friend fell silent, he looked him in the eye.
“We’re going to make things better, sugarplum.”
Rhodey froze for a moment because he’d seen this Tony Stark before but not for years. “How?”
“The Avengers have shattered but they can be put back together again,” he said. “We’ll put them back together again. I have some things you should look at.”
Rhodey stared at him for a long, long moment then he nodded, a slow smile growing on his face. “Yeah. Okay. Let’s do this.”