Actions

Work Header

Did you even wash your tears? ‘Cause mine have been dryin’ for days

Chapter Text

Rhodey is worried, as much as he tries to hide it. We’ve known each other for years, and that particular frown meant Tony was the cause of it. What was worse, it was paired with The Stance™ (though a different form of it since he was now in a wheel chair), his hand raised to cover his mouth and his body expanding to appear bigger than it was, as if to comfort him, or more appropriately protect him.

Rhodey wasn’t the only one worrying and fretting about him, perhaps the least subtle in his actions, more open, more questioning, a silent rage behind the calm demeanour (not angry at Tony, never angry at Tony even though Tony let that happen to him, to his legs) – he had always been that way and at any other time, any other situation, Tony would have been appreciative of it, would have drawn him close and wrapped his arms around him, and Rhodey would have engulfed him and kissed the top of his head like he always did.

Now though, he just wanted to sleep, to numb himself and sleep until he felt better, even if he didn’t deserve to feel better, not when Rhodey couldn’t walk, might never walk again thanks to him and the baby they hastily took out of him was somewhere in the very hospital he was lying in, fighting for their life. The nurses had told him it was a girl, which led to them sedating him after an incredible laughing fight which immediately led to a crying fit. At 46 years old, you shouldn’t be having kids, let alone preemies, despite having Jamie not 2 years ago, that had been under extreme medical supervision and he had at least known he was pregnant. This baby though, he had already ruined their life, bringing them into a world where their sire had smashed a vibranium shield in his chest and had promptly skipped off into the sunset with their grandmother’s killer. But then again Barnes didn’t kill Howard or Maria, the Winter Soldier did but that didn’t change the fact that every time Tony closed his eyes he saw Barnes’ hands and eyes and body murdering his mom. Boy, he should not be thinking about this right now.

It didn’t seem like he was getting out of here anytime soon, what with the post-partum hemorrhaging that’s been lasting the past two weeks and not to mention the impossibility of surviving without all these dumb machines. He wished by some miracle the world would just quiet down until he felt better, strong enough to deal with it. That the beeping of the machines would just stop (then again that would mean he was dead, but whatever, in a hopefully not-dead kind of way) and that all these doctors and nurses and specialists coming in and out of the room, checking vitals, speaking at him, about him like he wasn’t even a person, would just quiet down and leave, like Steve had. Given, they wouldn’t be leaving him in an abandoned Hydra bunker, but maybe before they left, they could drop one of the heavier machines being rolled around he place on his chest, but leave a way for him to survive and feel every aching second of his body going into distress and shutting down, with no sign of help coming, they could get the feel of it right. God, he definitely shouldn’t be thinking about any of that, the doctors said as much, and he’d rather not have them bring in the shrinks like they’ve been threatening to do. For that he was at least grateful, no one was breathing down his neck to speak about everything that happened, to share and to expose himself bare to the world. Stark men are made of iron, but so were the women, and god help him, his kid would survive. Tiny as she – they, she could decide who she wanted to be just as much as he had – was, the nurses had said the fluid in her lungs were drained and that they were keeping a close eye on her and that someone would be by soon to discuss their options going forward. Soon as he could, he had had the best surgeons and specialists flown in to care for them, strong as they were, they needed help and no matter how much iron ran in your DNA, everyone needs a little help weak heart such as that and fluid in the lungs. The both of them needed to get stronger so that they could be treated in the US, not that he wasn’t thankful to his Siberian carers but the first few days were terrifying, how they had kept him alive was still a mystery, but stealing floor space and resources from the locals, people in dire need of help, wasn’t something that Tony wanted to continue doing, he didn’t need more people suffering because of him. Rhodey and the kid should be the last, they deserved more than him but before they left, before they realised he was no good like everyone else seemed to do, he would make their lives better. Give them what they need and give them a fighting chance. Already, his mind was filled with the blueprints of an exoskeleton that could assist Rhodey, he just needed to find a way to make it work with brainwaves, he wanted it to be and to feel as natural as possible, and Rhodey deserved that at least. Tony would make sure the physio went well and gave him the best chance of walking again, and if he couldn’t he’d at least have something to fall back onto. God, Rhodey falling – he should have caught him, should have unarmed Sam himself to make sure the wings couldn’t be used against them but he didn’t want his teammates (ex-teammates, but was Tony ever a teammate in their eyes?) to feel like he was approaching with hostility. He had just wanted them to listen, but as always, Captain America’s word would always trump Stark’s, I mean he was just playing hero after all and Rogers was righteousness incarnate in everybody’s eyes. If only they knew what happened in that bunker, surely the government would be tripping over their feet to further distance from Rogers and his little band of lap dogs. No more, he didn’t need to think of them and their backstabbing and secrets. He needed to figure out an internal prosthetic, a valid and working substitute for his kid’s weak heart. He might not have done anything to fix his heart but his baby deserved to live, to grow up and be even more amazing than they already were, and if they wanted to do that away from Tony, from his poison and selfishness and ego (honestly, fuck Natasha and Fury and every other rat bastard who had ever used that as ammunition against him), Tony would let them and just be grateful that they were alive and well and safe, like Pete, and Harley, and Jamie are. For now, modern medicine would have to step in and do what they can until they can get a donor or Tony can come up with something, he didn’t want them living in pain, they didn’t deserve that and maybe the odds weren’t so great for them having a transplant so soon, but it was possible. He’d let them heal and grow a bit stronger before he had them moved and once he was back in the lab he could come up with something, maybe Helen would help him out and see if they cradle could be upgraded to help beyond tissue repair, if only for the baby’s sake, and he definitely needed to name them. Can’t be calling the kid kid for the rest of their life.

Pete had chosen his own name when he had started transitioning, and damn if Tony hadn’t heard a more perfect name than Peter Stark, May had been a big help and as a nurse, gave Peter and Tony lessons on safe binding and the number of a good doctor that could help with T-shots (Tony had been happy he could share this journey with Pete and his own experience, despite how horrible it was but being able to say “this body is not my own” was the most freeing thing Tony had experienced in his 18 years of life). Tony hadn’t fully transitioned, had always felt like he was tip-toeing around in his own skin and couldn’t make that decision, not with Howard having a say about it and later Obie, who had said that it wasn’t the right time after his parent’s death (murder) and taking over the company, and then Afghanistan and the arc happened and any type of invasive surgery was off the table for him. When he had started doing better and the therapy had finally started working in his favour he hadn’t gotten the surgeries, not after Steve had mentioned having kids, with that look in his eyes were Tony became the centre of his universe, the natural way, of course. They had tried, and yes, maybe Tony should have done more introspection and taken his own feelings into account before jumping head first and trying to make Rogers happy, but Peter, perfect and healthy and strong, with a heart that beat stronger than anyone else’s Tony had ever heard, was born. He’d stopped getting his T-shots during the pregnancy, and perhaps had never felt worse in is life, what with the media instantly jumping and doing I-told-you-so pieces that Tony Stark had never been a man and that “she” was just confused (whether it was “her” mother’s liberal nature or something picked up at MIT, ”she” was just playing around in men’s clothes), I mean, why else would a real man lay down and take it like that. They had a lot to say about him and Steve was spared the media flogging, after all they didn’t know that Tony and Steve were together because what would anyone say if they knew dear old spangled pants was willingly jumping into bed with Tony. Harley, had been a slip up, but a wonderful one and Tony had just not cared about what anyone had to say, he didn’t care that people were still not using his pronouns or that religious groups were protesting against his company and his products, because surely he was the devil incarnate for choosing to “confuse” his kids like this. Harley had always been, well, Harley and Tony had always left the door open for him to choose (plus Steve named him and Tony should have really kicked his ass for naming his child after a damn motorcycle but he had been heavily sedated then and Steve had been smiling so brilliantly at him, like he was something amazing and important, though that could never be true, definitely not now and of course not before). Jamie had been the perfect gender neutral name honoring the shared name of his and Rogers’ best friends (despite Steve still not quite grasping why they had needed to raise their kids in a gender neutral environment, because a boy was a boy and a girl was a girl, Tony - we’ll just confuse them with all this talk of no gender, and hadn’t that hurt. Rogers had no problem sticking it in any one of Tony’s holes and having him, a man birth his children but seemed to share that same attitude Howard had until Pete had come to them at dinner and said that he was a boy. Steve had had a little pinched smile and had excused himself, naturally Pete had taken that as rejection and had burst into tears and it had taken Tony hours to calm him down and get him to bed. After making sure all the kids were okay and in bed, he had found Steve in their bedroom with a laptop open and a frown between his brows. Tony knew (hoped) that Steve’s reaction was just one of shock and he hadn’t meant anything by it, but he was damn well going to apologise to Peter for hurting him, even if unintentionally. “I just- it doesn’t make any sense to me, Tony. You know how I was raised and back then, the only men dressing in women’s clothes were comedians or actors. J is getting me up to speed with understanding all of this though, and I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner, I should have done more to understand you and how you felt, I know it’s been tough on you but I swear, I’ve never seen you as anything but a man, and I’ll do right by him,” he had rushed out with that kicked look he got when he didn’t do right by one of the kids (in his mind, because the kids definitely worshipped the ground he walked on, yes he was Captain America, but he was also Pops, the guy who tucked them in at night and told them he loved them every chance he got). Steve was nothing but supportive of Peter’s choice and had taken him for his first T-shot so that he could understand what his son was going through and what procedures he’d need. The amount of NDAs signed throughout Ton’s life, especially following his first pregnancy, was laughable but necessary, neither of them wanted to put a bigger target on their heads by proclaiming to the world, hey, Captain America has three bastard children through an unholy union with Tony Stark, of all people, because having super soldier DNA was definitely a beacon for any super-secret evil people with lairs in remote locations and big shiny machines that make you talk, and even now the lawyers were ensuring the hospital’s silence. How did thinking of baby names go down this rabbit role and end with him thinking of Steve, again. Rogers didn’t deserve to even be a split-second thought, it would take time, but one day Tony would burn any and all memory of him out of his head.

Rhodey is still quiet and searching him with his eyes, a calming presence for his not-so-great thoughts. Apparently Mama Rhodes had wanted to come out here but her doctor had advised her against flying, and hey, what about Roberta? It was a strong name and names had power after all, and all he wanted was for her to be strong, and to survive (and in some small part of him, a Rhodes instead of a Rogers). Perhaps Roberta wasn’t gender neutral but they could always have it changed, Roberta Rhodes was strong and fierce, hard where Maria was soft and just as loving as she was. Pepper and Hope were the perfect mix of the two of them and Tony thanked every deity for the amazing women in his life. Perhaps something to honour them all, or maybe saying fuck it and naming them after Happy or Jarvis or Anna. Peggy was too painful to think of, because with thoughts of her came thoughts of Steve and maybe he shouldn’t have taken a man, who in another life would have been his godfather and married to his aunt, for a life partner.

And there they were again, thoughts of Steve (that rat bastard).

James Rhodes had never believed in distracting Tony from his problems, he always believed in taking them head on and dealing with them so that they couldn’t come back to bite either of them in the ass (in the bad way, Tony had always purred). Looking at Tony now though, body beaten and broken, with a million and one machines attached to his body keeping him alive, and no way of knowing what happened (he could guess, Vision brought the arm and the shield back after getting Tony to the hospital and thoughts of Rogers hadn’t been met with anything but rage and the need to go out there and find him, legs or no legs, and make him hurt so that he felt even a smidgen of what Tony must be feeling – and boy did he feel better thinking about the legs than he did a week ago, his therapist would be proud), Rhodey wanted nothing more than to make him feel better, to take away that pained look in his eye and the scrunch in his nose that meant he was over thinking everything and probably finding ways to blame himself for everything that had happened. Not for the first time, Jim wished he could help Tony, take some of the burden and worries off his shoulders, and spare him this world of pain that the last few weeks, years, had turned into. The baby would survive, she was Tony’s after all, and Jim willed it so. Losing the baby would just be another thing to destroy Tony, and the man was suffering through Atlas’ burden already.

He had gone to see her and she was just as beat up as her dad, the sight of all those tubes and machines broke his heart beyond explanation, and, with the nurses giving him the go ahead to hold her (she was tiny), he had teared up looking at the oxygen mask covering half her face. She hadn’t been given the best lot in life, but come hell or high water, she would make it, stubborn as she was. His father’s ring had slipped around her wrist like the bangles Ms Jones had always worn to church, clanging in tune with the band to send praises and hallelujahs to heaven. Rhodey had never known if he had ever truly believed in God, had spent years running from him and hiding from him - he had thought if he didn’t pray, didn’t say his name, God would simply not have been able to find him, that he would be safe from the all-seeing eye in the sky that wiped out all of humanity for disobedience and had men almost killing their sons to prove their loyalty. But, in that moment cradling the little one closer to his chest, taking calmer breathes to help her heart beat match his, and he should really stop calling them her, Tony would slap him with his research papers of the benefits of gender neutral terms and how they positively affect kids in later life, he can’t help but send a tiny silent prayer upwards, to whoever was listening, whoever would help, to help them through this and make them better. He had had several holy men come by to pray for them, the Imam leaving him with an “Inshaallah the baby will grow strong in body and heart, just wait, Allah helps all” and James had been holding onto those words for days now. Thankfully, they had been getting better, their everyday chats during the Kangaroo sessions made her weak heart a little stronger as the days passed and her lungs had been drained with success. This would be the perfect time for Thor to come back from wherever he had disappeared to, and give them a birthing blessing as he had done with Jamie’s birth. Deities and aliens, this little one already had him wrapped around their finger and praying to anyone for help, but he knew they would make it and grow to be tough, a Rhodes in everything but name (and genetics) through and through. They had been eager to enter the world but now had to regain their strength to face another day.

Both Tony and the baby needed to rest and heal. If it meant Rhodey had to step up and deal with everything else, the questions from Ross and the media as to where Tony was, and how the actual hell Rogers had broken his band of misfits out of the Raft (Tony didn’t know about that one yet and Jim would keep it that way for as long as he could, all news stations were barred from being played on the television in the corner and Tony had been too out of it to protest), he would. Vision had taken the kids to Malibu, along with Barton’s wife Laura and their kids (how he had ended up with a saint like that was beyond Rhodes) to keep them safe and away from anyone getting bright ideas to strike with all the confusion going on. Pete and Harley might be missing school for a while but Jim had made sure to explain the situation and have them do the work online. His family would heal, and whether that took months or years, he would be the wall that they could count on to keep them safe and sheltered from the world.

Chapter Text

It took six months, three days and several hours to stabilise Tony and the baby, to a point where they could be transported between hospitals. Once Stark had been stabilised in Siberia, after several emergency surgeries just to keep him alive, and the doctors were sure flying wouldn’t further deter his health, he had been flown to Helen Cho’s new facility in South Korea, supposedly for further treatment, according to her source. The baby had gone with, and so had Rhodes, who hadn’t left Tony’s bedside since arriving in Siberia months ago.

Tony had sustained more than internal trauma and superficial scars and scratches, his already weak heart and damaged sternum had taken the brunt of the damage Steve had done with the shield, with other organs and faculties failing and becoming more damaged in the time he was out in the cold. Not to mention the post-op trauma after having an emergency C-section done in the waiting room of a rural Siberian town’s local clinic.
The number of times the word ‘trauma’ had been used to describe some part of Tony’s injuries nauseated her, and the visuals his file provided were some of the worst things Natasha had seen in her long life. One had been trapped in her mind for days now though, keeping her out of sleep and making eating anything more than a few spoonfuls of soup and rice impossible: a torso-length picture had been taken by one doctor or the other, Tony’s body exposed, bruised a horrible shade of blue with large cuts and stitches littering him from collarbone to the underside of his belly.

The largest gashes lay horizontal across his sternum, the scars from the arc reactor all but unrecognizable thanks to the inflamed skin stretched across Tony’s chest, and she couldn’t explain it, but it was obvious there was no bone left in his concaved chest cavity, an exoskeleton somehow miraculously holding everything together. His nipples had been patched, although no breast tissue remained and a fresh horizontal pink scar twinkled morbidly below his navel.

Tony had been her friend, a man who loved her and took her in despite what she had done to him in the past, and all she had wanted to do was control him - first for S.H.I.E.L.D., then for Steve, and supposedly always for everyone’s own good. Tony was volatile, a ticking time bomb waiting to go off, he’d mess up somehow, it didn’t matter how or when, but it was inevitable, was what she had told herself and pandered to the rest of the team. He can’t be trusted to make decisions by himself, it’s best for everyone, including himself, to keep him on a tight leash. After all, who knew what years of untreated trauma could do to someone.

She had used his desperation for acceptance to keep him in check, like a beaten dog, she had kept him obedient and on his toes by looming the threat of the team shutting him out above his head and keeping him at arm’s length as he jumped through hoops to get their attention. She would strategically plan team dinners and movie nights around Tony’s schedule, making sure not to tell him or invite him, but have him walk in on them anyway, as a reminder that he didn’t really fit their puzzle, that he would have to keep shaving parts of himself off to fit in, that he had to constantly change himself to be a part of their team.
She had used his kids and his partner, his abusive childhood at the hands of his father, anything to keep him in line. She had sat by as Tony was ridiculed and torn into the by the team, had even joined in, in the wake of Ultron and had turned a blind eye when Maximoff had been assaulting his dreams for months, despite knowing Tony had nightmares all on his own, had had some bad shit haunting him even before Afghanistan – likely things his father had done to him, or maybe it had something to do with the whispers of what really happened between a thirteen-year-old Tony and fifteen-year-old Tiberius Stone, then hailed a ‘match made in heaven’, at that boarding school.

She didn’t think about his feelings, or the effect that had on his mental health, or how he and his children had become too terrified to even stay in the tower.

She hadn’t thought much about Steve talking down on him either, or how sometimes he handled him with a rougher hand than necessary or harsh words, because it was Stark.

A collapsed and bruised lung, heart failure after suffering a series of heart attacks, severe nerve damage in several areas of the chest cavity, minor trauma to the oesophagus, significant damage to breast tissue, the list seemed to be unending.
(“There wasn’t much to save,” the cardiologist who had been on standby in Tony’s O.R. had said to her after a few drinks, unaware of who he was talking to. “They had to take both tits, but hey, that’s what ‘he’ had wanted wasn’t it? That’s why I always say ‘Be careful what you wish for!’” the burly man had laughed, had made all of this sound like Tony’s just punishment for whatever slight he supposedly committed just by being. “Humans weren’t meant to mess around with what God made, you try to play God and he punishes you tenfold for it. You’ll get what you want, sure, but not how you wanted it – Old Testament for you! I saw pictures of him before he did all that stuff to himself you now, beautiful woman - I could see why the Captain would want her - and then ‘he’ had to go and mess that up. Now who would want him? And having all those kids? It’s no wonder the good Captain ran off with that other guy.”)

The surgeon had kept on laughing, had thought Tony’s pain and trauma was so damn funny, some cautionary tale for the ages – don’t be yourself lest thou wants the wrath of God upon them. Doctors having to cut away parts of him to keep him alive while he laid in a comatose state was somehow just, a price paid to someone’s selfish God to pay for some imagined debt he owed. Natasha briefly wonders who vetoed him joining the medical team, because there was sure to be more people who thought like him caring for Tony, happily taking his money while sneering in disgust behind closed doors (and wow, the irony there, she and the team didn’t even bother to badmouth him behind his back).

Natasha still took his eye for that, had left him bleeding out in the unforgiving cold – she knew there were all sorts of wild animals around this time of year. You hit the right spots, and no visible signs of force would even show up in an autopsy, or simply look accidental - there were many ways to make deaths look like accidents (like The Winter Soldier had made the Stark deaths look accidental, she thinks grimly).

She had been doing recon for the media-coined “Rogue Avengers” following the so-called Civil War; Steve wanted to get back home as soon as possible and had somehow convinced himself that Tony would welcome them back (preferably on his knees begging for their forgiveness and spouting out how wrong he was), that what they had done would just be forgiven and forgotten. But she had read people all her life, had scoped out the terrain and knew they wouldn’t be going home anytime soon - not without being shackled and thrown in some high-level security prison or the other – and it wouldn’t be like they didn’t deserve it.

But then Tony had disappeared, no known sighting of him in weeks and the Avengers who remained had all mostly fallen off the map – Rhodes had been spotted in Malibu with the kids, which wouldn’t have been considered weird except that the man himself had just sustained life-changing injuries, and that it was the middle of the school year – Stark may choose to disappear to lick his wounds but he wouldn’t ever do anything drastic that would affect his children’s lives unless it was absolutely necessary. Vision had gone off the map too and the Spiderman (still somehow so familiar) that had fought with them on Tony’s team had not been heard from or seen since.

Potts had eventually made a media announcement – Tony was being treated in some St. Petersburg hospital after sustaining “life-threatening” injuries in Siberia and being transferred for treatment. She had condemned the actions of the ‘Rogue Avengers’ on behalf of SI and had made it clear neither Tony or any of his affiliations were supporting them in any way and that more information would be made available as it came.

Ross had been arrested in the following weeks, a case orchestrated by Rhodes and the lawyers Tony had been working with behind the scenes since the Accords crossed his desk – Walters, she believed? Or maybe it was the guys down in Hell’s Kitchen, Tony had been making a few trips down there in the time since Ultron. Steve had enjoyed Ross’s downfall, had went on and on about how what they did was right, how the accords were inherently evil and would have fucked them over because Ross was tied to it, and that Tony had fallen into Ross’ trap and how even those on Tony’s side of the “war” had realised it, but the Black Widow couldn’t help but feel like it was a spit in the face, whether it was in Tony’s or all the other people that had gotten hurt because of them. Steve refused to acknowledge what had happened in Siberia, had maintained he did what “he had to do” and that he hadn’t hurt Tony like that. “Tony was crazy, unhinged, he had tried to kill Bucky,” was what he had told them, all righteous indignation. Barnes had just silently sat by, eyes averted, which told Natasha all she needed to know, but before she could corner the brunet and get the truth though out of him, Barnes had chosen to go back into cryo.

Natasha had realised two things then, 1) Steve was completely off the rails and whatever had happened in Siberia had burned all their bridges down and Steve hadn’t just been the one to torch them, he had taken a sledge hammer to its very foundation and 2) the one she should have been reeling in all this time was Steve.
Even now, months later, the super soldier was still buying into his own delusions, along with the rest of the team; she couldn’t even recognise who Clint had become these days, bitterness and hatred consuming his mind. Steve rarely mentioned his children, the children he had left without a word and betrayed within the blink of an eye, or expressed fear for Tony surviving, convinced it was just some media ploy to garner sympathy and to get them arrested – he hadn’t even reacted to the little girl Potts had announced was born to Tony, months too early and with minimal chance of survival, other than the initial surprise and grief that had filled his eyes when they first saw the announcement.
Steve had just stared at the television unblinking, and in a second he was gone. No one knew where he went or what he did, but Steve didn’t come back until hours later, jaw set and looking more hopeful and determined.

Maximoff, as expected, was delighting in Tony’s bad fortune and misery, claiming it was finally his time to answer for his crimes - she had become increasingly unhinged the more the world condemned what they did, and was staunchly buying into Steve’s assurances that in time they would be welcomed back, that the world would realise it’s mistake. Natasha wants to go back in time and kick herself for letting this delusional child onto the team without any control. They had let her run loose, had never made her face the consequences of her actions, and now, Natasha wonders when she’ll really snap and they become her target. She had vouched for Wanda because it was another convenient thing to keep Tony in line, having a reminder of what his weapons did, what they created; he would have been obedient for a very long time, but she hadn’t anticipated that he would leave the compound altogether.

It hadn’t taken the Black Widow long to realise that she couldn’t stand to be around them for too long, their long list of fantasies and delusions, and self-righteous attitudes infuriated her more than she thought it would, and once T’Challa had retracted his welcome, fed up with Maximoff and Clint’s damage to the lodge they were staying in in Wakanda, she had breathed a sigh of relief. Out in the world they had to survive, her mind could focus on the one thing so deeply ingrained into her. Tony had questioned whether she never stopped being a spy, but in truth, Natasha had never stopped trying to survive – in the end, she was a survivor above all else. She had taken Clint and sniffed out old S.H.I.E.L.D. safe houses, hoping time away from the group would settle him a bit. They made sure to stay under the radar and kept the more incensed members of their team inside and away from public places, gathering materials to help hide their identities. She had been quick to offer to do recon, claiming to want to read the terrain but in all honesty, she had needed to know if Tony was okay, if he and his little girl would survive.

It was easy to get men talking, and figuring out who was in the medical team assigned to Stark was made easier by S.I. had releasing their names. From there on, it was child’s play to track down a technician willing to talk. Besides Tony’s chart and disclosing his surgeries, the surgeon had spilled on how the Siberian doctors first tasked with stabilising Stark, who the Vision had brought in after finding him bleeding out in the bunker, had picked up on unusual readings in Stark’s vitals midway through suturing his wounds and getting the blood to stop. Blood work was done and the pregnancy had been found out, but how could they have missed it anyway? How could Vision have missed it? By the time they had realised Tony was pregnant, he had already begun to miscarry, whatever little fight his body had left had turned to focus on keeping him alive and saw the foetus as a danger, a malevolent entity eating away at his life. An emergency C-section had been performed at just 26 weeks, and both the baby and Stark were being monitored and operated on for the past six months. The doctors had written that she wouldn’t catch up to being a healthy baby until she was at least three years old. According to the surgeon, she had been born with her heart outside her body, already weak and with undeveloped lungs – it would take a miracle for her to survive and survive she did. She was Tony’s after all.
Natasha had turned to prayer, to wishing that that little baby survived, that another innocent victim caught in the crossfire of their bad decisions didn’t have to suffer at their hands. She had reached out to T’Challa, to have him extend his help to Rhodes, who she knew was Tony’s power of attorney. Though he gave her no answer, she had been relieved to see reports of Wakandan doctors joining Tony and the baby’s medical teams.

She didn’t deserve the relief, this she knew; she had abandoned Tony when he needed her most, had attacked him when he was weak, when his back was left unguarded. She had been part of the team that almost orphaned his boys and almost got his baby girl killed before she could even live, while their father remained aloof and maintained that Tony deserved it, and that everything he did was out of necessity – that in the end, they would understand why he had to take such drastic actions.

In all Natasha’s years, she’s seen many downfalls, and she can positively say it stops being special the third time around. All her life she had been surrounded by great and terrible people alike and had learned that the bigger ones always fell the hardest.
Steve was no different - he was falling hard, and fast at that, and Tony wasn’t going to be there to bring him back. She’ll admit that she had bought into the whole ‘Captain America’ thing too, she had followed Steve because some part of her believed everything he did had to be right, and in trying to correct her wrongs, her ledger had grown even more red. Playing favourites had never really worked out for her anyway, getting biases and feelings involved always steered her off the road, off her path.

Steve had led them down a path and didn’t know how to bring them back, had hurt her friends in trying to prove he was right, and she had done the same. Now it was up to her to make things right, it was time for Natasha to leave the masks behind, to atone for what she had done. She had made promises, to herself, and to others, and it was time for her to keep them, let people say Natasha Romanoff was loyal and had loved. That she was human, before spy, before double crosser and every other nasty word she had earned throughout the years.

The Red Room had always known she was weak to love, and now she had no reason to hide it; the time for playing cards close to her chest was over.

Chapter Text

Tony does, in fact, get better - physically and mentally. To no surprise to Pepper or Rhodey, he'd sold the Tower off (for less than it was worth he admits later) to none other than Reed Richards, and takes a break from Avenging, but remains a member of the Accords Council.

He buys a condo in Queens, enrolls Pete in Midtown High and Harley in Queens Vision Academy, and takes the year off outside of Accords business. In that time, Jamie and he grow their hair out, Harley loses his front teeth and Tony starts a new product line under StarkMed specifically for infants with birth defects. He develops a working (though not comfortable) exoskeleton for short-time assisted walking, learns to cook more than a burnt omelette, and Morgan finally gets to come home with them after 9 long months of going in-between hospitals. If he adds more charities under the Maria Stark Foundation, no one complains about it.

Most days Rhodey commutes between Queens and Manhattan, and is wheelchair-bound more often than not these days. Tony tries not think about it, and spends most of his free time working on the exoskeleton. Pepper, as only she can, keeps SI up and running while simultaneously sorting out his life. The therapist she gets him is really good, Tony books her and Happy a weekend getaway to Nice.

He initiates amendments to the accords, discovers three other superhero teams operating in New York (one of which Reed is a part of by the way, which firstly, makes him like 20x more interesting, and secondly, who knew?), and revamps the lakeside cottage his mother had left him. Peter and he have a "talk" - which honestly should have happened sooner - about Spider-Man, and the dangers and weight of becoming a superhero. Tony thinks it goes well, really, he even did a little self-reflection himself, until Peter almost gets crushed by a building fighting a villain named the Vulture, and single handedly safeguards the last of the Avengers tech being transported to the compound. He's grounded for a week with no suit, and Tony picks him up every afternoon in the hopes of discouraging any deviant behaviour, but Peter is the son of (quite possibly) the two most stubborn men in the world. So when Tony sees Spider-Man on the news on day 5 of Peter's grounding, he simply waits up to check Peter over, and leaves the suit by his bed.

Steve sends letters, his attempt at an apology and Tony almost breaks down seeing the envelope on his desk at the compound. Harley reads his to Tony the night he gets back from South Korea, and he finds another addressed to Peter in the trash. Siberia is (thankfully) never mentioned, just talks of "necessity" and a promise to come back "soon". Tony doesn't have the heart to tell Harley otherwise, not that he believes Steve and the rest of the rogues will be illegal fugitives forever (especially with how unsettled the council is becoming over Captain America operating without any oversight), but Tony wouldn't bet on Steve returning anytime "soon".

Natasha follows him home.

***

"I'll be honest with you, Romanoff," Tony says as starts the coffeemaker and rocks a fussy Morgan in his arms, "I didn't expect them to send you in. I thought Rogers would try to butter me up first."

A sad smile crosses her face, her eyes dejectedly focused on the table as she traced invisible patterns into the wood. "I'm not here for Steve, Tony. I'm here for me."

"Of course you're here for you, you're here to get your pet under control again. What, is T'Challa not giving you the star treatment anymore, or did you stab him in the back too?" Tony replies cruelly, keeping his tone light so as not to upset Morgan.

"I deserve that, I know," she starts, moving to her knees in front of Tony, "this is me being genuine, Tony. No Natashalie crap, no falseness, no Steve. I'm here to say sorry, for letting you down, for leaving you, for betraying you. You never deserved any of that, not the hurt or the betrayal. I'll spend the rest of my life trying to earn your forgiveness."

"Um," Tony replies dumbfounded, before his brain switches on again and he moves away from her to put Morgan in her walking ring. Taking out two mugs, he steals a glance over his shoulder, she's still on her knees. "Natasha, get up."

"Not until you accept my explanation."

"Fine, I accept it, happy?"

"That wasn't sincere, Tony."

Cracking one of his famous smirks, Tony teases lightly. "Have you ever known me to be sincere, Natasha?"

Sobering immediately, she stands and marches towards him, her presence absorbing the light atmosphere he had been trying to create. "Yes, I have, and I took it for granted. Tony, I know you have no reason to believe me, but trust in my shame. I will do whatever it takes to get your trust back, including giving myself up to the council."

Tony's kind of close to tears by the time she finishes, but how many times has Natasha duped him now? They could just be playing a long con, her the sympathetic shoulder to cry on, softening him up for the others to return.

"I've already called Rhodes," she says softly, twirling a stray lock of his hair around her finger. "Knowing him, they'll be busting the doors in at any moment. I'm not doing this for Steve, Tony, or any of them for that matter. I want to come home, believe that."

Chapter Text

"Tony," Rhodey starts, "I don't know what's going on in that mind of yours right now."

Tony sighs deeply, closing the project he'd been working on. "Right now? I'm thinking I'd kill for some pizza. And maybe some fries?" Tony asks lightly, hoping to steer them out of this conversation.

Rhodey huffs out a heavy, harsh breath, but doesn't say anything for a moment, sinking down into the couch across from Tony with effort.

"Platypus?" Tony sits up, smile dropping. "Do you want me to get your heating pads? Or I cou-"

"Thirty years," Rhodey interrupts, a hand wrenching his legs out of the brace with way more force than necessary. "Thirty years I've known you, and in that time, I've learned how your brain works - how you think, how you act, what pushes you to do certain things, and even how you reason. But this," he shakes his head, determinedly not meeting Tony's eyes, "I don't understand this Tony, and frankly, I don't think I want to."

"Then I would just be wasting both of our time explaining."

"Ah, but that's where you're wrong," Rhodey shoots back with that same false tone. "If you don't explain, I'll do everything in my power to have the council reject your motion. What were you even thinking, Tony?"

"I was thinking we needed the reinforcements," Tony says, drawing his legs up under him. "What's coming? What's out there? We're not prepared for that, Rhodey, and I can't let personal feelings stand in the way of doing what needs to be done."

"This is not the way though, Tony, and I'm sure you know that. When an infection starts eating at your arm and you have exhausted all other options, you cut it off before it spreads, not resow the arm back on and invite it to live with you!"

"I have no other choice, Rhodey."

"No, you have many, or else we wouldn't be doing the work we do," Rhodey argues back, finally meeting Tony's eyes, his filled with frustration. "Do you seriously think she's here for any reason other than to lay the groundwork for Rogers and his gang to return? She's probably hacked into the servers right now feeding them information."

"Rhodey, I'm not stupid, I kn-"

"You sure are acting like you are, Tony. What they did, what she did, was never okay. You can't keep rolling out the welcome mat and giving these people the star treatment every time they hurt you."

Balling his fists up, Tony takes a deep breath. "That's not what I'm doing here, I know what it looks like, but I promise I'm not that naive." Tony couldn't just release Natasha back into the unknown, she was most of that group's brains anyway, and without her, they couldn't go getting into any major trouble.

"I know she's not sorry, and I know she probably won't ever be sorry, and that's honestly not her fault. She was taught self-preservation and shit, but trust me here, Rhodey. It's better to have one of them here," Tony urges, getting up to pace across the lounge. "They're unpredictable, and clearly uncontrollable. Having them out there with no way of tracking them would just be counterproductive to our work. I don't feel comforted knowing they could dive in at any moment."

"Then why would you let one of them in here? You might as well have given her the rundown of all our plans, why not give her a key to your lab while we're at it? Should we just leave the doors unlocked and open from now on?"

"Rhodey, just try to understand, you wanted my explanation, and I gave it!"

"And it's not good enough, Tony," Rhodey scolds, a pounding starting up behind his left eye. Tony wasn't dumb or naive, but letting the Black Widow set up camp anywhere near them was an ill-made decision. "Let's say she's not here for any malicious reasons, as she's claimed, did she tell them she was giving herself over to the feds? Tell me Tony, when the media catches wind of her return, is there a guarantee they won't just break into the facility and try to free her?"

"She said she told them..."

"And you've told Rogers you have a fragile false ribcage for years, and yet that didn't stop him from drivin-" Rhodey pauses, running a hand over his face. "That was too far, I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Really, it was. Tony's had the same thought thousands of times.

"It really isn't, Tony, and I'm sorry. That was unfair of me, but you have to consider that these people aren't rational, especially when it comes to personal situations like this. Natasha may not be on Barnes's level of importance, but she was his second for years. Who says this isn't their shitty plan to force their way back in? Natasha's in the US, so they figure they divebomb the place and have just enough time to demand shit from us and the council."

"It wouldn't work, Rhodey. Neither of us are in the business of forgiving, and they're in no position to make demands."

"You think they think that?" Rhodey snorts. If there's one thing Rogers and his group of lackeys could do right, it was think that the world spinned for them only.

"If they step foot in the US or in any of the ally countries, they're toast. Besides," Tony walks over to window, spying Harley and Happy shooting hoops, "they won't know where Natasha's being held."

"As if that would stop them."

"It might not, but even then, at least if then they'd be locked up and can't do any damage."

"That's if Fury hasn't hired them to be his errand boys yet."

"I couldn't care less about Fury, but I acknowledge that he might become a problem."

"Two hundred and twenty six attempted hacks this week, and that's excluding the phishing emails the accords lines have been harassed with for the past month. Everything we do know has to be on a need-to-know basis, it's enough that you're pushing for that woman to get better than what she deserves. Can she even be rehabilitated? We can't just lock them up forever."

"'That woman'," Tony says, making air quotes with his fingers, "used to be a friend. And she always looks out for herself, she's probably the only one of them who can be."

"Was she ever though?" Rhodey asks quietly, the air around them becoming more tense by the second. "They were takers Tony, and they would have milked you dry for as long as they could. Everything that happened? A blessing if you ask me, no one can justify what they did, not even the part of you riddled with unnecessary guilt."

"Yeah," Tony says, a thickness to his voice. Before Ultron, and before the Maximoff girl, Tony would like to think that they had been friends at least. He still can't figure out why this even still bothered him. It's been month's for Pete's sake!

"I'm still not happy about the Romanov situation, but if you're sure about this, I won't protest it."

"I am. Trust me, Rhodey."

"I do," Rhodey says sincerely, eyes boring into his. "More than anything Tony."

***

He wakes up with a gasp.

Alone, and sweaty, and nowhere near stable or healthy enough to be going through near nightly panic attacks. Tony's sure the scratching he's done in his panic has caused semi-permanent damage by now, but goddamnit, he wasn't ready for anything invasive again either.

His chest burns from the phantom pains licking up his ribs and pooling right where the arc used to be, but at leastthere are no scratches tonight. He hadn't had arc-related nightmares in years, who knew a shield to the chest would make dying in space seem preferable?

With no hope of getting back to sleep, he gets up and walks to the lounge, stopping in front of Peter's door when he notices the light from underneath.

Peter was understandably a lot different post-Germany. Though he still kept up his grades, and interacted with his friends and the family, Tony could tell something big had changed.

Spider-Man should have never been out there, especially knowing what stakes were at play, but Tony had never expected it to break out into a fight in the first place. Steve could be unreasonable sometimes, sure, but he had never escalated things to physical violence between the team, a little one-on-one roughhousing with Tony, sure, but the team had never come to blows, so he hadn't considered them a threat.

Nervously, he shifts from foot to foot, finally deciding to knock. If the kid was up this late, he was either having a stroke of genius, or a rough night himself.

"H-hey, Dad," Peter stutters out when he pops his head out, eyes lowering to the ground.

"Hey, kiddo. I saw your light was on and I was just about to make some hot chocolate, you want to join me? When can get a movie playing or something?"

"Uh, I'm cool on that, Dad. I should really get to bed, school tomorrow, you know?" Peter rushes out, and Tony stomps down on the disappointment he feels. If I overwhelm him, he might never open up to me again.

"Oh, of course you do, kiddo." Tony shrugs, shoving his hands in his gown's pockets. "I can still bring you a cup if you want though? Maybe it'll help you sleep better."

"Sure, I'd like that, Dad."

"Okay, Kid," Tony whispers, stepping back as the boy disappeared back into his room, door shutting behind him, and the feeling of a metaphorical door shutting between them too.

They'd never been this stilted or awkward around each other. Peter was so perfect, Tony sometimes found it hard to believe he came from him, that he hadn't built him in a lab with code and steel. They spoke one language, and when Harley and Jamie started talking, they joined them. Now though, Tony felt like he needed a translator, he and Peter never seemed to be on the same page anymore.

Things had been in a downward spiral since May, but there was nothing Tony could do about it. Peter didn't speak to him, and his therapist kept warning him against pushing him, but she didn't understand. This was different from his split with Steve, he could live, is living, after that, but losing Peter would literally crush him. If Tony waited too long, who knows how they'd end up? He had spent holidays at MIT and Rhodey's trying to avoid his parents, he didn't want that for him and Peter.

Shuffling into the kitchen, Tony gets a pot out, searching the pranty for chocolate and grabbing a fresh carton of almond milk.

"Hey Fri, can you bring up our research on Atlantis?"

If he couldn't sleep, he might as get some work done.

***

Tony wrangles Reed, and later Stephen, the Sorcerer Supreme, into a meeting as soon as he can, proposing the establishment of a new superhero body that dealt with extraterrestial threats. The council agrees, and Ross, the other Ross, encourages him to continue recruiting.

Thankfully, nobody busts their doors in looking for Natasha, or breaks any bones (which was suspicious in itself), but Scott Lang and Barton do hand themselves in at an embassy in London a month later.

This time around, they don't fully have control over the situation, and can't control how much information gets out, so by the time they're transported to the US, the news is already splashed over the front page.

"This must be their new angle," Stephen laughs, sliding the paper over to Tony. "Get the news out to pressure you to release them from the 'inhumane' captivity."

Tony frowns, skimming over the report. "That would be giving me a lot of power I don't have. Rules have changed, and they need to answer to the big dogs."

"Fifty bucks they demand to see you within twenty four hours of getting here," Jess pipes up, Morgan sleeping in the cradle of her arms.

"Please don't wish that type of thing on me," Tony grumbles, ignoring the laughs from the table. The Defenders had agreed to sign the Accords, joining the Avengers roster as part-time members, along with the Fantastic Four and sorcerers of Kamar Taj. They were incredibly short-staffed, with Tony and Rhodey both out, and Vision still adjusting to his new form, the roster was practically empty.

No team leader had been picked yet, but Stephen had been appointed as interim leader on the field, while Rhodey held the position off the field. He approved all new and prospective members, along with the Accords council; every hero was subjected to a series of physical tests and mental health evaluations, which were ongoing once they made the roster, and ultimately, the decision for or against someone also relied upon a vote by the team and the leader, but there were strict rules in place now.

"Do you think the rest of them are hiding out in Europe? I have some sources I can contact," Reed offers, meeting Tony's eyes with an understanding expression.

"There's no need to, they seem to be giving themselves up. Seriously, I don't care as long as they stay out of my business."

Jess snorts, waking Morgan, and jumps to rock her back to sleep. "Scoping out the territory, I say," she whispers loudly, a gentle hand rubbing up and down the baby's back.

"Lang and Barton both have kids, they must have been feeling the heat from being international fugitives." Luke gets up with a shrug, heading outside to help Ben with the grill.

"That, or Captain Ass is getting nervous. No one's come calling for him yet, which definitely takes a hit at that huge ego of his," Matt supplies, sliding his glasses up his nose.

"The council has options, so I doubt they want 'heroes' who caused an international incident just a few months ago." Sue's voice is cool as she comes over to lean against the table, reading the article over Tony's shoulder. "Says they struck a deal for blanket immunity."

Danny reaches out to draw the paper towards him, an eyebrow quirked. "They definitely won't get that right. They haven't even stood trial yet."

"Even so, certain factions and certain organisations are eager to have them back, though I doubt anyone'll stick their neck out for Lang or Barton," Matt says matter-of-factly, inclining his head to Tony. "It's Rogers they want."

"Oh, the two of you know something we don't?" Stephen asks, looking from Matt and Tony.

Tony sighs, feeling ten times heavier. "Not much, just that there has been both internal and external pushes for their return. It's inching closer to a year, and the governments dont want them acting without oversight, so they figured it's better to have them here under surveillance, than out there."

"If the rest of them wanted oversight they'd have joined Lang and Barton."

"It's not an option anymore, especially with both the Fantastic Four and the Defenders signing," Tony explains, remembering the talks he and Matt had been in for days now. "More countries have joined in the last six months because they feel more certain that hero teams aren't just going to come knocking their front doors down."

"Rogers and his team," Matt picks up, "pose a problem though. They've been spotted sporadically, but when they do show up, it's usually in an Accords' ally's territories. Everyone knows they're not under the Accords purview, but it's making people nervous."

"Nervous?" Sue asks concerned, receiving a nod from Matt. "Enough to pull out of the agreement?"

"We don't know yet, we'll have to see how things play out," Tony informs them, stretching out his arms when Jamie comes barrelling into the room. "Okay, no more work for the rest of the weekend."

"What are you playing out, Daddy?" The toddler asks, excitedly sitting up in Tony's lap to peer up at him.

Tony takes his face between his hands, peppering gentle kisses to his brow and smoothing his wild curls down. "Nothing, we were just talking about your Christmas present, Baby. Dr Strange and I were thinking that we need to get your list to Santa soon."

"Really?" Jamie asks, perking up at the mention of presents. "I want Legos!"

"I know you do, Baby." Tony chuckles, wrapping his arms around the boy.

***

Prince Namor tapped the table in a steady beat, unmoved. "I don't get what you're saying."

"I'm saying," Tony starts, a little desperation bleeding into his tone, "we need a unified structure amongst ourselves, and a few teams have already agreed."

"The Avengers were a unified structure, no? Look at how that turned out."

"Combat-wise, things were smooth as butter though, half the team hated me and yet we were still able to do our jobs." Tony digs into his bag, sliding the proposal towards him. "Instead of groups of heroes and mutants running around and trying our best to stop a better and more organised enemy, we need to band together."

"Please," Namor snorts, pushing the binder away from himself. "You couldn't even control them in your smaller groups, how on Earth do you expect to organise and control them in a larger one?"

"The heroes who've signed on are all vetted for, and everyone who's signed the agreement agrees to answering to the higher ups," Tony explains, signalling for Stephen to jump in.

"It seems laughable, trust me, I had the same reaction," Stephen says, ignoring Tony's stink eye. "Superheroes dealing with bureaucracy seems strange, I know, Namor, but whoever's out there? Whoever's trying to make Earth their battlefield? They're more organised than us, and they sure have better numbers."

"If we pool all of resources and information together, we might just be able to do it right," Tony interjects, spying the slight change in Namor's demeanour. Good, it means he's listening.

"How do I know this isn't just a ploy to learn Atlantis's secrets? I've heard about you, Stark, and Richards. You'd stop at nothing in the pursuit of knowledge."

"I am the Sorcerer Supreme, do you think I would put Kamar Taj and it's secrets at risk? Think about it, Namor," Stephen implores, "if whatever's out there gets in, or even just points a huge deathray at us, not even Atlantis would be safe."

"So I should join up with people who've been threatening my and my people's existence? Joining this coalition of yours, should I expect more warships in the ocean?" Namor asks, pushing away from table. "This won't work, and you're a fool if you don't see it, Stark. How many questionable characters have you had on your roster? The Black Widow, Hawkeye, even good 'ole Captain American turned out to be criminals. Or maybe they knew something we don't about you?"

Tony grinds his teeth, schooling his expression before meeting Namor's head-on. "Go on and believe what you want, about me and about them, but this is me warning you and offering you something better. This is worth a try."

"We'll see, Stark." And with that, he walks out, leaving Tony dejected with his response.

"There are still others, Tony," Stephen says reassuringly, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Others who might react the same way, we might as well send an email at this point."

"A lot more people will see the good in this, and we at least have a different viewpoint now."

"What do you mean?" Tony asks, furrowing his brows.

"Namor thought we wanted Atlantis's secrets, many other superheroes might think that too. Not everyone operates unmasked," Stephen explains.

" And not a lot of heroes trust the council either, prior issues with authority, especially with Ross having been a prominent figure on the council."

"So what do we do?"

"Rebrand?"

Chapter Text

Peter is looming above him at three in the morning, his skin pale and covered in a sheen of sweat.

"Dad, I don't feel good, and I don't know what's happening," he cries, voice tiny as he clutches onto Tony's nightstand.

At one moment Tony is blinking himself awake, but at the sound of Peter's panic, he's leaping out of bed and grabbing the boy before he can collapse. "Shh, Baby, it's fine, we're going to get you some help okay?" Tony tries to reassure him, sitting back in bed and drawing Peter into his arms, his ear against his chest. "Listen to my heartbeat, okay? Can you try to breathe with the beats? Let's try it."

Peter's breaths come out shallow and harsh, his shaking hands clutched in Tony's night shirt as he sobs quietly. The brunet whispers quiet little nothings into his hair, rocking his baby boy from side to side to try to comfort him. Peter's anxiety had always put a lot of stress on his body, and manifested physically sometimes too, it's why he tried to keep the house as neutral as possible, and why they had had to leave the Tower in the first place. Maximoff had never assaulted their dreams, but Tony's nightly screaming and panic-fuelled inventing hadn't gone unnoticed by Peter.

After a few minutes of rocking in the dark, the boy's breathing starts evening out, his dad stroking his hair. Reaching over to grab his phone, Tony dials a familiar number.

"Med bay, Shauna speaking."

"Hi, Shauna," Tony says lowly, a hand cradling Peter's head. "This is Tony Stark, I need you to put me through to Dr Kemp please."

"Dr Kemp is unfortunately not on duty tonight, Mr Stark, but Dr Park is. Should I put you through?"

"Yeah that's fine, thanks." Tony pulls the duvet up, tucking it around Peter. Despite his feverish temperature, he's shaking like a leaf.

The line connects. "Mr Stark, how can I help you tonight... uh this morning?" Dr Park asks in his deep accented voice.

"Dr Park, we have a Code Blue, and Peter seems to have a really high temperature," Tony informs the doctor, listing off his symptoms. "Can I bring him in right now, or should I try to let him sleep the worst of it off?"

"We haven't had a Code Blue in a while, has he been taking his meds?" Peter had been taking Prozac since he was thirteen, both for his anxiety disorder, and to help him with a PMS disorder he'd been suffering from since he was thirteen.

"He always does, things even got better once he got the liquid valium last time."

"Tell you what," Dr Park starts, and Tony can hear shuffling on the other side of the line, "let's see how he fares tonight and then you bring him by in the morning. Do you have anything to help him sleep?"

"I have some heavy sleeping pills, but I don't want to give him that, is ibuprofen safe?"

"That's fine, make sure he takes his meds before you come over too, I'll get in contact with his therapist."

Tony thanks the doctor, peeking down to see Peter was fast asleep and drooling on him. Now that he has the chance to look at him more closely, even jn the dark Tony can see where Peter has been picking at his skin, and that he's been biting his nails again. While these didn't completely set his radar off, a full-blown panic attack in the middle of the night wasn't something they could ever take lightly.

Carefully, Tony shuffles them around, laying Peter against the pillows and crawling out of bed to go search for the medicine.

*

On his way back to the room, he spots Morgan standing up in her crib, staring at him with wide, wet eyes.

"Did you have a nightmare, baby?" Tony coos, cradling her in his arms and grabbing her baby blanket. Immediately she starts mouthing at his chest, and he let's out a laugh.

"Now we both know there's nothing in there, Pickle," he says, grabbing a bottle out of the bottle warmer.

When he's just outside the room, a door opens and a voice startles him. "Is Peter going to be okay?" Harley's gnawing at his lip, his brows furrowed in worry.

"Of course he is, what are you doing up, honey?"

"I heard him crying," the boy admits, fingers curled around his doorframe. "But he was already with you, I didn't want to disturb you guys..."

Seeing the boys worried look, Tony glances into the room, Peter still sound asleep. "Listen, Bud, you have nothing to worry about," Tony tries to reassure him, squatting down in front of the boy. "Do you remember when Peter was getting sick all the time a couple of years ago? His tummy was weak and he had to spend some time in the hospital?"

Harley nods. "I remember. You had to sleep at the hospital too, and me and Jaime stayed with Pops at the Tower."

"Yes, then. Peter didn't just have a cold or flu, what he has probably won't ever go away, but that doesn't mean he isn't able to manage it in a few ways," Tony explains, grabbing Morgan's hand as she starts leaning back out of his hold. "Every now and then, it gets really bad for him though, so I'll have to take him to the doctor in the morning."

"Will you guys have to stay there?"

At the boy's outward show of sadness, Tony stands back up, drawing him into a hug between him and Morgan. "You don't have anything to worry about, kiddo, and if we do have to stay, I'm sure it won't be for months."

"Do you promise?" he asks softly, voice thick with unshed tears.

"I can't promise that, baby, because we don't know how severe Peter's condition may be, but how about I promise to let you be the first one to know any news?"

"Okay."

"Okay? That's good. How about you come sleep in my room too? We can get the sleeper couch out and get Jaime too, does that sound like a plan?"

Wiping furiously at the tears that now streaked his cheeks, Harley grabs onto the back of Tony's shirt. "Yeah."

***

Tony feels like he's unravelling a bit at the edges.

"So you see, the meds aren't the problem. Peter's anxiety is physically manifesting because he's been under a lot of stress for a prolonged period of time. Whatever it is he's going through, he hasn't been working through it," Dr Park explains, running through the blood tests he had done with Peter. "I wouldn't recommend him using his binder any time soon either, he's likely to continue having panic attacks."

"Okay, but what do we do? What do I do?"

"For now we're going to admit him for a few days until we see a change in his condition, he'll be undrr twenty four hour care so there will always be someone checking up on him," Dr Park informs, sliding his spectacles up his nose. "All you can do is be by his side supporting him, Mr Stark."

***

Peter is glaring at the phone in his hand, like he has ever since he found it in his locker. He had remembered to grab it last minute, afraid his Dad would find it if he had to go back and pack for him.

Ned had told him to smash it, or throw it off of the side of a building, anything to just get rid of it, and Peter should, really. It would be the smart thing to do, he just... couldn't though. Not yet.

A small part of him (that he would never admit to it, or even acknowledge) felt relieved that he was only a call or a text away from his dad, despite the anger and resentment he felt towards him. His therapist had told him to cut off where his limits stopped, to not stand by the door waiting for him to come home (metaphorically and literally), but Peter's sure that isn't what he was doing, right?

He had barely gotten through the first paragraph before he had tossed the letter; it was just some junk about coming home and things going back to the way they were, but Peter knew any possibility of things going back to normal was impossible. Too much had happened, too much had been said, and it struck him that his father could be so naive, or maybe he was just wilfully obtuse.

Peter had been there at the airport, had taken his dad's shield, and brought the Giant Man and Sam and Barnes down - Rhodey had been proud of him, and even his parents had praised him (though his Pops didn't technically know it was him at the time). He had finally gotten the chance to show them what Spider-Man could do on the field, that he was an asset, but even that was for nothing. What good did it do that Spider-Man was great when Peter Stark wasn't?

Blowing out a breath of frustration, he flips the burner open, going to messages and furiously punching out a text.

From: Peter
November 23, 01:34

I'm in the hospital. Do you care?

From: Steve
November 23, 01:35

What happened? Are you okay???
Of course I care Peter. You're my son.

From: Peter
November 23, 01:42

My anxiety disorder is getting worse. The doctor says it's because I've been stressing too much.
I don't know if I can ever be okay.

From: Steve
November 23, 01:44

Does your dad know? Why isn't he doing anything about this? He knows how bad it can get for you.
I'll call him. It's irresponsible of him to just ignore this.

From: Peter
November 23, 01:46

OMG can you hear yourself?!
Who do you think brought me here, and why would I be in a hospital if dad didn't know about it?
You're saying dad knows how bad it gets for me, but do YOU even know?
This was a mistake.

From: Steve
November 23, 01:48

Peter please don't go!
I'm aorry
*sorry
I shouldn't have implied that about your dad. It was stupid of me.
Your dad is the best parent I know. Do you know how I know that?
He raised you guys, and you're all perfect.

From: Peter
November 23, 01:53

How would you know we're perfect? You're not even around to see.

From: Steve
November 23, 01:55

That's not fair Pete.
We're all in a difficult position right now. I'm doing everything I can to get back home to you guys.
Besides, it's not like your dad would even take me back...

From: Peter
November 23, 01:56

So? He shouldn't have to take you back after everything that happened.
That doesn't mean you should just abandon us. We're your children. Your family. We should come first.
Do you even know what my sister's name is?

From: Steve
November 23, 01:59

I would never abandon you guys!
You do come first. You guys are all I've ever wanted, even before Captain America.
You're my reason for living. The situation just can't be helped right now. When Morgan and I finally meet, and I can explain to all of you the situation, you'll understand. I promise.

From: Peter
November 23, 02:03

Then what do you call leaving without a word to become an international fugitive with your pals? What do you call prioritising them over us?
Did we really mean so little to you?
I want to understand now.

From: Steve
November 23, 02:04

I sent the letters, you said you got them??
Things are complicated buddy, I didn't have a choice.
So much went on that I can't explain to you. Don't ever think that I don't love you Peter, or that you aren't important to me.

Incoming Call: Steve

From: Steve
November 23, 02:06

Please answer the phone kiddo.
I can't type out what I want to say, it won't come across how I intended it.

Incoming Call: Steve

Incoming Call: Steve

Incoming Call: Steve

From: Peter
November 23, 02:12

I'm going to head to bed now.
Don't call me again.

And with that, Peter shoved the cell phone under the mattress, turning over to stare out at the sky. That definitely wasn't a good idea.

***

When his Dad brings the kids to visit him the next day, he can't bring himself to look at him. The phone feels like it's burning a hole through the mattress and at any time might just make itself known.

"Show Petey what you guys brought him," Tony says, noticing Peter's aversion to him.

Jaime climbs up on the bed beside Peter with his pictures, splaying them out across his covered legs. "I brought me!"

"Oh? That's real cute, Jaime, can I keep them all?"

"Yeah, I brought sticky stuff. You can put it up by your bed."

"You're so thoughtful kiddo, give me a snuggle." And with that, they fall into a pile of giggles.

***

"I don't mean to badger you, kiddo, but what's up?" Tony asks as he helps Peter lift his hospital gown.

"Huh?" comes his sleepy reply, staring at Tony with drooping eyes. "What do you mean, Dad?"

Tony injects his thigh with the syringe, soothing the area with a wet cloth after. "You think I don't notice things but I do, and..." Tony hesitates, "I don't think I can hold my tongue anymore."

"Dad?"

"You're not in trouble, kiddo," Tony rushes to reassure him, running a hand through his hair and over his ears. "We... haven't really talked much, huh?

"We talk all the time."

"Yeah, I guess we do, but we're always just scratching the surface. I think that has a lot to do with me. I'm too scared to push you."

Peter stays quiet, staring up at Tony with an identical pair of brown eyes.

"Everyone's been telling me to give you time, that eventually you'd come around, and really, I've been trying. I've been trying so hard to give you the space work out your feelings," Tony says clasping their hands together. "So I didn't meddle, and I didn't push, I didn't ask Friday to keep eyes on you and report your every move to me, I tried to give you the space you needed, hoping you'd find your way back to me on your own."

Tony pauses, swallowing back emotion. "But that was wrong of me, Peter, not the parts of giving you your space and time, but expecting you to be the one to reach out to me. And I'm sorry about that, I really am. You are one of the best parts of my life, and the most amazing person I know. I don't want you to do anything, or say anything, I just want you to know that when you're ready, if you're ever ready to talk, I'm here, waiting for you with open arms.

"I know that, dad. You've always been." Peter pulls Tony into a hug, and for a short moment, the rest of the world goes quiet.

***

The buzz he and Matt had heard before, became a hum, and Tony found himself getting ambushed from every angle all at once.

He misses a meeting a January, but from the minutes, some general had opened the floor to discussing the Rogue's return, and not in a 'we need eyes on them and a way to make sure they don't cause international tensions' way. Tony has to move fast, and with Matt and Jennifer Walters, gets the council to agree on capturing them with the intent of sending them to trial, instead of the manhunt that had started up after Barton and Lang had appeared. Some factions wanted them back, but there were many more who wanted to see a reckoning, so there Tony was trying to find a middle ground.

The US had always been greedy, had always wanted more and always had to have the bigger guns. Tony wasn't dumb, he could tell congress was getting shiftier with their alliances because of the manpower they saw in all the superheroes popping up. Tony wouldn't put rehabbing the image of disgraced American heroes passed them.

Time stretches on both too slow and too fast all at once, he's not sure how long they have to prepare for things on the ground, or how to navigate people into preparing themselves for a threat that may never come in their lifetimes, but he tries nonetheless. Ben, Charles and Stephen travel as envoys to meet the Inhuman king and queen, and share as much of the plans that might affect them, without giving too much away and compromising their position.

There's still so much to do.