He knows long before he opens the door and steps into the room and he sees the group of them standing there. There was once a time when seeing them there, in their costumes would have created a feeling of giddy excitement inside of him, like the young child at Christmas.
Now it just makes him tired.
That’s par for the course these day though. Everything makes him tired, it’s hard to find joy in anything without hearing one of their voices in his head telling him that he’s not safe, that everything he touches crumbles to dust. That he’s a monster playacting as a hero.
“Now I’m pretty sure that each and every single one of you are illegal fugitives and that you should not be in my house. Breaking and entering? You’re really going to add that to your charges?”
“Tony…Tony we need to talk.” Steve tells him and his voice is soft and Tony wants to say something about how that softness is betrayed by the hard looks in their eyes. These aren’t friends who have come calling, these are wolves trying to slip themselves back into their sheep skins now that they’ve been revealed.
“You’ll have to forgive me, I don’t talk to terrorists.”
“Since when.” Wanda snorts and Tony just ignores her.
“Plus I have a major migraine so I’m going to have to cut…whatever this is, short.” Tony tells them. “You should probably get out while you still can.”
“Tony, please we need to talk this out.” Steve says and Tony rolls his eyes.
“Wow, you’ve completely ignored every word I said. How shocking and unexpected.” Tony states sarcastically. “As it happens to play out though, I have nothing to say to you.”
“Tony. Now isn’t the time to let your ego dictate what has to happen next.” Natasha says to him and her voice sounds so understanding, like she gets that he might be mad but there’s a bigger picture.
“My ego?” Tony laughs. “Ah, yes. That magical thing. The thing somehow responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world. It’s actually almost impressive? I mean, stepping back and looking at all the things supposedly that my ego has done and accomplished? I want to slow clap for it. It’s astonishing.” Tony can see the moment Natasha decides to come at him with a different approach. Was it always that easy to read her? Had he always been blind? And if he had, was it willful blindness? A kind of burying his head in the sand and pretending that he didn’t see the truth?
“Steve’s sorry.” Natasha says.
“So sorry he has to get you to say it even though he’s standing right there?” Tony cuts her off and there’s a look of irritation that crosses her face as Steve steps forward.
“No, I am sorry Tony. I know you got my letter.”
“I know I got the most terrifying piece of delusion ever written down on paper. Seriously, I considered letting people make a study of it. See where things went wrong.”
“Tony.” Steve says and there’s a little reproach there.
“Steve.” Tony says back. “Should I just start saying your names randomly too? Should I add on the exasperated tone to it as well?” Steve goes to say something to that. “Steve.” Tony cuts him off, mimicking the body language of the others and the heavy sort of fatalism in their tones. “See? It’s fucking annoying.” Tony tells them.
“Only when you do it Stark.” Clint says and Tony rolls his eyes again.
“Naturally. It’s only wrong when I do it. I should have realized.”
“Tony that’s not what we’re saying at all.” Natasha tries again and Tony just glances at her.
“Natasha, stop. Just stop for a moment. Look at me. Really look at me. Come at me like I’m a new target and not one that you’ve been bashing over the head every day for the last few years.” Tony stares her in the eyes. “Look at me and rethink your strategy.”
“Tony…I’m sorry about what happened. We shouldn’t have kept it from you.” Steve says and Tony glances at Sam.
“Wow, you knew? I thought maybe you were just too stupid and staring after Steve’s ass with heart eyes to actually take a moment to look around and see the big picture. But you knew? Okay, that’s good to know. Dick move Wilson.”
“It wasn’t like that Tony.” Sam tries to say and Tony sighs.
“No, it was always like that. You just expected a different end result.” Tony tells him. He glances back at Natasha. “Have you finished your ‘amazing little reading people’ thing? I’m growing bored and like I said. I have a headache and I’d like to go to bed.”
“The world needs the Avengers.” Natasha says and Tony actually snorts.
“Seriously, that’s what you’re leading with? Come on Nat you know better than that-” Tony cuts off and looks at her. “Oh wow. You don’t know.” Tony tilts his head a little and looks at her like she’s this fascinating little thing. “You don’t know.”
“What are you going off about Stark?” Clint snaps and Tony just shakes his head.
“You think this was about you. That all of this was about you.” Tony says. “Oh my god, that makes a lot of this make so much more sense. Terrifying sense, but more than what I was working with before.” Tony glances up at them, standing there in their costumes and he laughs. “Oh my god. That’s hilarious. Sad, but hilarious.”
“Tony…” Steve says and there’s a question there.
“You think it was about you.” Tony says and he huffs and smiles. “That’s adorable. You think the world needs you.” He shakes his head. “You’re wrong.”
“It needs the Avengers.”
“No.” Tony corrects. “No, it needs the Avengers Initiative.”
“That’s the same thing.” Sam says and Tony shakes his head again, but slower.
“No it isn’t. One is the institution, the other one is the ideal.” Tony explains. “I don’t need you. The world doesn’t need you. What the world needs is to believe in heroes. In the thought that their cries for help will be answered and that somewhere there’s a fight happening in their name and that the ‘good guys’ are winning it.” Tony looks at Steve. “That doesn’t require you. In fact, you’ve gone and almost fucked it up.”
“Seriously? Still with the names?” Tony cuts him off and he sees the irritation. “I don’t think you’re seeing the writing on the wall so I’m going to spell it out for you.” Tony tell him. “You’re done. You’ve done nothing but damage to the ideal and I can only hope that I can salvage what’s left like I’ve been doing non-stop for the last few years.” Tony says. “You think I was laying on that wire and letting you crawl over me because you were you? That’s horribly arrogant of you.”
“You’ve never laid down on a wire for someone else in your entire life Stark.” Wanda growls at him and Tony just smiles at her.
“And you’ve never been a hero my dear.” He tells her and she goes to take a step forward, red dripping from her fingers when all the security features of the manor activate. “Oh I’m sorry, did you actually think you’d taken FRIDAY offline?” Tony clicks his tongue at them in disappointment. “The arrogance abounds.”
“Tony, we only came here to talk.” Steve says, his hand flexing where it’s holding that stupid looking piece of metal that Tony guesses is his new shield from Wakanda.
“Well breaking and entering, and then threatening the host doesn’t do you any favors.” Tony tells him.
“I bet you’re just loving this.” Clint says, sneering at him and Tony glances towards him lazily. “Better deal with the facts Stark, you’re no hero either.” Tony pauses at that, before he gets a smile.
“You’re absolutely right.” Tony tells him. “Bravo. I’m not a hero.” He looks him in the eyes. “But I’ve never once thought I was.” He steps forward. “What I was, and what I have always been is the ringleader. The showrunner. The magician parading around and doing the real magic while everyone else is watching the assistant.” Tony shakes his head. “But now I’m afraid I’m going to have to cancel the show. It’s become too predictable – too much work for so little payoff.” Tony inclines his head. “I’m sure you understand.”
“Tony, whatever you’re thinking of doing-” Natasha starts and Tony turns to her.
“I wasn’t actually thinking of doing anything before you came here tonight. Out of sight, out of mind as it were. I was trying to come up with ways to save the sinking ship and now you’ve given it.”
“What does that mean?” Sam asks.
“Give the man a cookie, he’s finally asking questions.” Tony says before he walks up to Steve and looks up at him. “I know how to save the ship now. There’s some deadweight that needs to go overboard.”
“Tony, don’t.” Steve says.
“Oh come now Rogers. Aren’t you the one who seems to think that there’s honor or nobility in being the one laying on the wire for others to go over you? Isn’t that what you said? Well good, because I’m going to drag the future over all of you. You want to be useful? Then just sit back and enjoy the show, because you’ve already done all of the groundwork that I could ever need.”
“Tony, there’s no need for this.” Natasha tries to contain the situation and Tony looks at her.
“The sad thing is, there is need for this. You just don’t like the fact that the storm is finally coming for you and not for me.” Tony shakes his head. “I’m done drowning for you so that you can have an anchor.” Tony takes a few steps back. “I wouldn’t try to run if I were you.”
“You don’t scare us Stark.” Wanda tells him and Tony just smirks.
“Then you’re fools.” He lets the guns go down on one side, and they all watch as the Task Force enters the building.
“You called them?” Steve says and he sounds betrayed and it’s funny to Tony for some reason. This is what he considers betrayal? How pathetic.
“Of course I did. They were alerted the minute you tried to hack FRIDAY.” Tony motions to them. “Now, you could try to fight your way out of this. It’d be stupid and you’ll lose, but you can try. Or you can just let them take you in and hope that your lawyer is better than my P.R. rep.” There’s a moment of silence before Wanda snarls and throws some of her hex magic at him and Tony doesn’t even try to move. He just lets it hit him and crawl over his body, reaching into his mind. “I’m sorry.” He says, opening his eyes and looking right at the woman. “Was that supposed to do something?”
“Tony what?” Steve asks and his voice sounds confused and horrified now and Tony smirks as he feels Extremis return to its dormant state, the blue fading away back to brown.
“What indeed. Like what the fuck were you thinking attacking me in the middle of my own house with my AI currently in charge of the concussive weapons?” The second the words leave him Wanda screams as she grips her head.
“Tony stop it!” Steve snarls, moving forward.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” He tries to warn the idiot and he just shakes his head when Steve and the others cry out when FRIDAY catches them all with the same concussive field. “I tried to warn you. Thank you FRIDAY.” Tony says as he turns to the Task Force members. “They’re ready for you.” They nod and come forward, placing the cuffs on each of them and tug them to their feet, dragging them to the door.
“This isn’t over Stark.” Clint manages to growl at him as the Task Force leads him past Tony.
“Oh I know.” Tony tells him before he leans close and whispers in his ear. “I’m just getting started.”
“Mr. Rogers, please take a seat.” Tony says, sitting at the table and Steve looks at him distrustfully as he does. “Thank you Justin, we’ll be fine.” Tony says to the guard and they nod as they turn and leave the room.
“What is this all about Tony?” Steve says and Tony motions for him to sit.
“I’m going to show you.” Tony tells him. “Sit, please. There’s no need for you to be standing over me, I’ve had more than enough of you thinking you’re looking down at me for one lifetime.” Steve goes to say something to that, but he sighs and takes a seat, putting his cuffed wrists up on the table.
“What do you want Tony?”
“I’ve already gotten what I want.” Tony tells him. “And some extra bonuses.”
“That’s what we are? Extra bonuses?” Steve snaps and Tony smiles.
“See, you can be taught. I was starting to think it impossible, but here you are. Actually surprising me for once. I was afraid that you might still think that you were important enough to be the thing I wanted and not just the cherry on top.” Tony opens the file. “Have you seen the news?”
“I thought you might want to know about what’s happening with the Avengers.” Tony pulls out a picture of a group of individuals standing around in various costumes with Iron Man in the center. “Look carefully Steve. Do you see what’s wrong with the picture?” Steve glances at it and looks up at Tony’s expectant eyes and shakes his head.
“Because there’s nothing wrong with it.” Tony says with a grin. “You’re not in it, and everything is fine.”
“Is the only reason you’re here to gloat?” Steve asks and Tony nods.
“Yup.” He says with an obnoxious pop of the ‘p’. “Years and years of putting up with your bullshit and now I get to have the last laugh so sit there and enjoy it because I’m going to be laughing for a long time.” He slides the picture away and pulls out another page.
Captain America Exhibit Closed For Good
“Tony.” Steve says and there’s a tightness there as he reads the article title. Tony shakes his head.
“No, you’re missing the best part.” Tony tells him and he points to the page number in the corner. “You didn’t make the front page. Your ‘legacy’ is filler.” Tony looks at the number and taps it with a smile. “Ah, that’s nice. Honestly, I almost missed the article and I was looking for it. I wonder if anyone else saw it. It wasn’t very news worthy, so I doubt it.”
“Tony stop this.” Steve pleads and Tony shakes his head.
“Nope.” He says as he pulls out the next few pages and lays them out. The information kicks Steve in the chest.
Wanda Maximoff found guilty of crimes against humanity and mass murder. Natasha Romanov and Clint Barton found guilty of hundreds of accounts of espionage and murder. Sam Wilson found guilty for treason. T’Challa outed for his role in their escape.
“Tony…please.” Steve says and Tony grins.
“That’s not the best part Steve. There’s one more thing.” He pulls out a final page and lays it down like a poker player revealing the best hand.
James Barnes to be released into American custody.
“They mean me of course.” Tony tells him and Steve stares at him horrified. “Wakanda practically threw him at us when the lies that T’Challa had told started tumbling down.”
“Tony he’s innocent.”
“To a point.” Tony says as he just leaves the information out for Steve to see. “But as always you’re missing the real point.” Tony waves to the pages. “This is you. This is the sum total of your work.” Tony looks him in the eyes. “And now, you’ll go away. All of you. Forever. Sure, for a few months people will be talking about it. Steve Rogers – Captain America done in by the evil government. But I give it about four months and then do you know what people will be saying about you?” Tony smirks. “Nothing. They’ll say absolutely nothing.”
“And when people look back and when they want to see the start of the Avengers? They won’t see ‘Captain America’ they’ll see me, and I’m not going to lie. That is the greatest gift I could have ever given myself.”
“You’re not a hero Tony. All of this? It just proves it.” Steve tells him and Tony laughs.
“Actually I’m exactly as I’ve been with all of my other enemies. I don’t just kill you Rogers. What good is that? I salt the earth when it comes to you.” He smirks. “You’ve never had an issue with my methods before, because they were working for you. It’s not fun being on the other side of the table from me is it? And isn’t it just so funny that you once thought that you were constantly fighting me while we were a ‘team’? This is what fighting me looks like Rogers, take a long look.” Tony just looks Steve in the eye unflinchingly. “I don’t fight battles, Rogers. I win wars.” Tony says before he stands and buttons up his suit jacket. “Enjoy obscurity Rogers, because that’s all that’s left for you now.”